I leave you to formulate your own opinions:
Dear Mr Smith,
Thank you for your email of 9 March to the Secretary of State regarding bovine TB and badgers. I have been asked to reply and I apologise for the long delay in doing so.
Bovine TB is one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. Over the last 12 months over 33,000 cattle have been compulsorily slaughtered in England to control the disease. That is why we are taking strong action to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries, with a comprehensive strategy including tighter cattle movement controls, more cattle testing and badger control in areas where badgers are an important factor in spreading disease to cattle. There is no evidence to suggest TB in other wildlife species is a problem that is driving the epidemic in cattle.
We are carrying out a review into what we should prioritise in the next phase of our strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status in England by 2038. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-strategy-for-achieving-bovine-tuberculosis-free-status-for-england-2018-review
In response to your query regarding the scientific validity of badger culling, The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) provides scientific evidence that proactive badger culling in areas of England with a high incidence of bovine TB reduces levels of the disease relative to similar un-culled areas.
With regard to your comments that the outcome of previous badger culls were not made public, the results from the 2017 cull show that the culls were carried out safely, humanely and effectively in all 19 badger control areas. The Chief Veterinary Officer's (CVO) advice states that data gathered from the 19 areas showed that industry-led badger control can deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits. Results of badger control in previous years can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bovine-tb-controlling-the-risk-of-bovine-tb-from-badgers
Regarding biosecurity, the encouragement of better on- and off- farm biosecurity (i.e. measures to reduce the risk of transmission of TB between cattle and between badgers and cattle) was one of the commitments in the Government's TB Strategy in 2014. It is a key part of our strategy (alongside tougher cattle measures, badger vaccination and culling where the disease is rife). A biosecurity initiative is the five point plan. This practical biosecurity guidance was collectively agreed by Government and industry. It sets out basic good practice for TB biosecurity. The guidance contains five key recommendations that farmers can implement to help protect their herd from TB, which can be found at http://www.tbhub.co.uk/biosecurity/protect-your-herd-from-tb/
In response to your concerns regarding other TB reservoirs, cattle and badgers are the two main reservoirs of infection in this country. Other species are considered 'spillover' hosts and so play an insignificant role in the persistence of bovine TB in England, particularly when compared with cattle and badgers.
Cattle measures - including reducing the disease transmission risks from cattle movements - are the foundation upon which our Strategy is based. As we tackle the disease in wildlife, we must reinforce our cattle measures to sustain the benefits we expect to achieve. We continually look for opportunities to enhance them. In recent years TB cattle controls have been tightened considerably. For example, in 2016 we introduced compulsory post-movement testing of cattle moved from annual (or more frequent) surveillance testing areas of England and Wales to the Low Risk Area (LRA) of England, the compulsory pre-movement testing of cattle from such herds has been in place since 2006.
Regarding your concerns of the welfare of the badgers being culled, the CVO's advice remains that the likelihood of suffering in badgers culled by controlled shooting is comparable with the range of outcomes reported when other culling activities, currently accepted by society, have been assessed, such as deer shooting. We publish a report of humaneness each year which makes clear that the likelihood of suffering in badgers culled by controlled shooting is comparable with other culling activities accepted by society. The report can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/bovine-tb-controlling-the-risk-of-bovine-tb-from-badgers
In response to your concerns that culled badgers were not assessed for the presence of TB, as part of the evidence base to support an adaptive TB Strategy, it is important that we understand TB disease in both cattle and badger populations. To supplement the existing comprehensive TB surveillance in cattle, in the 2016 badger control operations we initiated development of a TB surveillance program on badger carcasses obtained from the culling operations. Tissue sampling, followed by culturing and genotyping is the most reliable method for diagnosing TB in badgers, but challenges remain with this technique when the quality of the carcasses is variable. Once the method has been optimised, the data obtained will not be used to inform short term decision-making, but to provide a longer term view of the disease pattern in the cull areas. The information on the 2016 surveillance project is available on the GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/go vernment/publications/bovine-tb-surveillance-in-wildlife-in-england-2016-to-2017
Finally, in response to your comment on Natural England's "Opportunity to Comment" consultation, a consultation was previously run in 2010 which allowed individuals to comment on the social, ethical and scientific aspects of badger culling.
TB Correspondence Team
Ministerial Contact Unit