It has long been an approach of government to publish bad news amongst worse news or at least use the smokescreen of a major event to smuggle out news. Five days ago, the Government published the results of the Godfray Report, an investigation into the efficacy of the Badger Cull in England. Sadly, the findings of this report did not garner the news time it deserved due to the ongoing development of Brexit.
The BBC at least ran a short piece on the findings, but anyone not already involved in the debate could easily have missed it. So, what did the report say and what were its aims?
Sir Charles Godfray is a population biologist who was commissioned by Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, to review the Government’s 25-year Bovine TB strategy with a view to gaining a better insight into planning the next step in the aim to eradicate TB by 2038. Godfray was walking a fine line in his report and when I saw him interviewed, I felt him choosing his words very carefully. The thrust of his findings was that whilst Badgers do transmit bovine TB to cattle and are part of the problem the farming industry must take more responsibility for biosecurity and develop safer trading practices. This may not sound like much but Godfray is providing more evidence that whilst there is a reservoir of TB in the wildlife the primary transmission vector is between cattle themselves.
True the culling has had a modest effect, modest is the key word the report uses. Its obvious, if you kill any reservoir of the infection then there will be some effect, however we know that the perturbation effect reduces this benefit and does not stop reinfection from cattle.
Even I, an environmentalist understands that the fight against TB is a holistic one. It needs many parts for it to work. You must tackle the reservoir in the wildlife as much as the reservoir in the stock. What has happened so far is an over emphasis on the wildlife and the use of culls rather than vaccination. Farmers are easily demonised in this response and I certainly get angry with the NFU’s blinkered view, but this ire needs to be tempered by the realisation that farmers are business men and that this needs an element of business behind the decisions. Farmers need to be rewarded for good biosecurity and compensated for loses. Biosecurity needs a legislative footing and powers to prosecute more easily alongside the assistance for those that are trying. Because of these points I applaud Godfrays suggestion of an independent body for disease control, if the cull has taught us anything DEFRA, Natural England and the NFU have an inability for a coherent scientifically backed approach.
This report is a small but significant step in ending the cull and still moving towards TB free status, we just need to keep up the pressure. I would urge all interested to read the report and then contact you MP requesting that the cull be replaced by a vaccination programme, biosecurity is increased and that an independent body is established.