England: Geronimo, Serbian Strays and Badgers. All Policy Victims Of Governments That Will Not Accept The Evidence.

40. This difference illustrates the need to put badger culling on a scientific footing. Until there is a clear and quantitative understanding of the link between badgers and cattle TB, it is impossible to develop an effective and rational policy on its control. The disappointment and frustration of both farmers and wildlife groups that Krebs was unable to come up with a definitive answer to the problem is natural and to some extent can be seen as the inevitable result of a clash between scientists who want real scientific proof and practitioners who want action, as most clearly evidenced by the attitude of the RCVS. However, we accept Professor Krebs’s conclusion that the evidence of a link between badgers and cattle TB is compelling but not conclusive and that a field trial is required to test and quantify the link between badgers and cattle.

41. It has been argued by several witnesses that the trial is unnecessary as the link has already been established by previous culls, especially those at Thornbury, Gloucestershire from 1975 to 1981 and East Offaly in the Irish Republic from 1989 to 1995.[100] These examples of large scale badger clearances, together with two further instances at Hartland in Devon and Steeple Leaze in Dorset, are described in the Krebs report.[101] In addition, we are grateful for a memorandum from the Irish Government on the outcome of the East Offaly project. In all four cases, where badgers were cleared the incidence of TB in cattle fell significantly. However, the difficulty with these results is that in none of the cases were adequate experimental controls in place. As Krebs commented, “badger removal might have caused the observed fall in herd breakdown rates, but the possibility remains that some other unidentified factor could have been responsible”.[102] The study of the Irish experiment concluded: “As this study involved just a single area with high badger numbers and a high cattle density, it is not possible to directly extrapolate from the outcome to other areas. Further studies will be required to confirm the conclusions”.[103] The Irish Republic has instituted a new trial involving four areas, each consisting of an area designated for complete removal of badgers and one for more limited removals, the results of which will be reviewed in December 2002.[104] Their action in establishing this trial following the East Offaly experiment underlines Professor Krebs’ argument that these previous clearances provided “pretty strong circumstantial evidence” but that in order to convince the doubters it was necessary “to address it more rigorously”.[105]

42. One factor in deciding whether the culling trial is justified in principle is the number of badgers likely to be killed in order to implement it. Media headlines have repeatedly cited as fact the figure of 20,000 badgers.[106] This is based on an estimate made by the NFBG[107] and is at odds with Krebs’ own estimate of 12,500, which has been accepted by the Government.[108] The discrepancy is largely accounted for by differing views on badger densities in the trial areas. The figure given by Krebs also reflects varying totals of badgers culled during each year of the trial, ie 7,500 to establish the proactive and reactive triplets in the first year and around 1,250 for each subsequent year. To put both estimates into perspective, however, in the last year of the interim strategy (1997) 2,447 badgers were killed in official programmes,[109] and every year some 50,000 badgers are killed on the roads.[110] Our concern for animal welfare extends not just to wildlife but to domestic animals as well. We conclude that, seen in context, the number of badgers likely to be culled in the trial will not substantially affect the overall UK badger population and is justified in pursuit of a soundly-based policy which should save unnecessary slaughter of both badgers and cattle in the future.

43. The emphasis on the culling trial has deflected attention away from Krebs’ other proposals. Professor Krebs told us that “We clearly said at the beginning that this is a multifaceted problem; it is complex; there is no simple, quick fix”[111] and we believe that his report reflects this complexity. It goes some way towards setting out the holistic approach called for by the NFBG and others, while reflecting the balance of evidence that the badger has a part to play in the transmission of bovine TB to cattle, a fact that justifies the particular attention paid to the badger. It was suggested to us that the lack of a theory of causation invalidated the trial and that it would be preferable to abandon the trial in favour of molecular testing.[112] Both Professor Krebs and Professor Bourne were adamant that while molecular testing may have developed sufficiently in a few years’ time to help identify transmission routes and indeed the Krebs report contained proposals for using this method, it was not feasible that “we could put in place now molecular epidemiology which would negate the need of doing the trial”.[113] On balance, therefore, we conclude that Krebs’ approach of combining a culling trial with other research is the correct one and we see no reason why any of the Krebs proposals should be abandoned. We agree broadly with Krebs’ conclusions and recommendations.

44. Nevertheless, we have reservations about the priority Professor Krebs awarded to one particular area of interest. From the evidence we have received, we are convinced that more attention should have been paid to the role played by husbandry in preventing TB breakdowns.[114] The Krebs group did briefly touch on this subject in the report and suggested that areas outside the trial would be suitable for an experimental comparison of proactive husbandry methods. They recommended that the farming industry itself should take the lead in this “comparison of the impact of simple husbandry techniques”, aided by advice from MAFF. Krebs concluded that “Husbandry may well play an important role as part of the long-term solution”.[115] However, the weight of this finding is not balanced by analysis in the report itself which we find disappointing in this respect. Professor Krebs explained that “we did not write a great deal about it because we did not have the expertise” and the group also wished to complete their work in good time.[116] We understand this explanation and acknowledge that the introduction of the subject was at the instigation of the group since it did not fall into the remit given by the Government, but we regret that Professor Krebs and his colleagues were unable to review the literature relating to this important area with the thoroughness of the rest of the report.

45. Our one remaining concern about the Krebs report is that it failed to consider the situation of the farmers in areas outside the hotspots chosen for the experiment. As we have seen, the problem is worsening with the result that, as the NFU told us, “when Krebs came out the ten triplet areas that he had proposed would have covered at least 75 per cent of affected areas and in this period where we have gone on it now covers less than 50 per cent”.[117] Of course, Professor Krebs is not to blame for the delays in implementing his recommendations but in any case he offered farmers outside the triplets only the chance of participating in the limited husbandry experiments and he strongly recommended that no culling should be carried out in these areas.[118] In this way, he took no account of the need for short term containment measures while the long term strategy is developed. At the moment, badger-culling is the only measure for which there is any evidence of short-term effectiveness. In the treatment areas, this is recognised since the trial itself is a control measure as well as a source of data but farmers in the other areas face continuing problems with TB with no means of addressing them.

Conclusions on the Krebs report

46. On the whole, notwithstanding the reservations expressed above, we congratulate Professor Krebs and his team on his cogent report. His findings have been accepted by the vast majority of witnesses to our inquiry, while the NFU told us that the report “represents the only real method of finding a lasting answer to this problem in the management of TB”.[119] The TB situation has become even more urgent in the 16 months since Professor Krebs published his report, with the continuing rapid increase in the number and spread of herd breakdowns. We turn now to the progress made by the Government in implementing his recommendations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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