In Brief

Badger culls: government statistics dismissed as ‘barefaced lies’

Experts challenge claim that strategy is cutting spread of tuberculosis in cattle

020816-wd-badger.jpg

Leading vets and animal rights campaigners have accused the Government of telling “barefaced lies” about the success of its controversial badger culls in England.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published data in September indicating that cases of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Somerset and Gloucestershire had halved since pilot culls began there in 2013. But the Prion Interest Group claims that the Government has issued  “unclear and deliberately opaque” figures on the effectiveness of the strategy, the BBC reports.

In Gloucestershire, the government data “showed TB incidence fell from 10.4% before culling started to 5.6% in year four of the cull, while in Somerset it has reduced from 24% to 12%”, says the news site.

Farming Minister George Eustice has claimed that the figures “are evidence that our strategy for dealing with this slow-moving, insidious disease is delivering results”. 

But Prion Interest Group director Dr Iain McGill, a veterinary surgeon, told the BBC that the figures were not supported by scientific evidence. 

“The current situation in the cull zone says there is an increased prevalence,” said McGill. “So either their figures were calculated on an extremely inaccurate basis and they’ve got it very badly wrong, or they have actually gerrymandered those figures to make it look as if the incidence is falling when the evidence clearly shows that the prevalence has gone up.

“Badger culling has not worked. They are issuing barefaced lies in this matter.”

The campaign group has sent a letter to the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Christine Middlemiss, asking her to ensure that Defra retracts its  “insupportable” claims. Published on the Network For Animals website, the letter warns: “When ministerial statements are used as justification for the slaughter of badgers on an industrial scale across swathes of England, it is vital that they are accurate and reflect the best available veterinary and scientific advice.” 

But a spokesperson for Defra insisted: “The latest statistics showed reductions in new outbreaks of bovine TB in the initial cull areas, an encouraging sign that the steps we have taken have had a positive impact.

“Based on this scientific data, Minister Eustice was absolutely correct to describe this progress as encouraging.”

England has the highest incidence of bovine TB in Europe, Farming UK reports. The disease costs taxpayers more than £100m a year, with more than 33,000 cattle slaughtered in England to control the disease in 2017 alone.

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