Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is caused by the Mycobacterium bovis. It is easily transmitted cow-to-cow most commonly through droplets in the breath (rather than ingestion) and is also transmitted cattle-to-badger, badger-to-badger and badger-to-cow. There are some suggestions that around 50% of bTB in cattle may be attributable to badgers even though prevalence in the badger population is low. The bacterium would normally die quite quickly outside a host, but there is evidence of it being able to lie dormant in the soil for up to 11 months in dark and moist conditions and it infects all kinds of mammals including mice, cats, dogs, llamas, pigs as well as cattle and of course badgers.
In 1971, a badger was found in Gloucestershire with bTB. The southwest of England remained a hotspot for TB despite huge strides being made across the rest of the country following the national TB eradication scheme launched in 1950. It involved the compulsory skin testing of cattle and slaughter of ‘reactors’. Focus turned to badgers as a wildlife reservoir of the disease.
Increased testing of cattle in recent years has seen greater numbers of reactor cattle identified and compulsory slaughtered – over 34,000 in 2011, up almost 2,000 from 2010. The percentage of incidences where a farm has lost its TB free status peaked in 2008 and appears to have remained static since 2009 (4.9% Defra GB statistical notice 4 April 2012, table 1).
The TB Eradication Advisory Group and the Animal Health and Welfare Board are taking ideas and comments on solutions to achieve eradication of TB. The deadline is 19 October 2012.
Badgers and their setts are protected under The Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
*£29.9 million had been pumped into research into bTB vaccinations between 1998 and 2010.
The RSPCA's position
On the basis of the current science, welfare concerns and a realistic assessment of what is practical, a widespread cull of badgers is totally unacceptable to the RSPCA.
This position is reflected by the provisions on wild animal control set out in the RSPCA welfare standards for farm animals that must be applied by all Freedom Food scheme members. Under the standards, Freedom Food members are required to apply all reasonable non-lethal and humane methods of wild animal exclusion/control - the RSPCA believes it is unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice.
As such Freedom Food would regard it as unacceptable for any of its members to voluntarily take part in a badger cull for the above reasons. To do so would also bring the scheme into disrepute and be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension.
This is not a new position. All members who voluntarily join the Freedom Food scheme, sign up to these standards.
Further reading and sources:
DEFRA - Bovine TB: the disease, its epidemiology and history of its control in England:
DEFRA - Bovine TB - Key conclusions from the meeting of scientific experts, held at Defra on 4th April 2011
DEFRA: GB National Statistics – released Wednesday 17 September 2012
DEFRA: National Statistics on the incidences of tuberculosis in cattle to December 2011 – 3 April 2012
DEFRA: Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence. Independent Science Group, final report, - 2007
DEFRA: annex B - RBCT
DEFRA: Comparing badger control strategies for reducing bTB in Cattle – November 2010
DEFRA: Options for vaccinating cattle against bovine TB – April 2008
DEFRA: Options for the use of badger vaccines for the control of bovine TB – April 2008