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BVZS changes tack on badger control for bTB

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By Josh Loeb

The British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) has changed its policy on the control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle to officially state that badgers may sometimes need to be culled to help control the disease.

The association had previously argued that there was an absence of scientific evidence to support the view that such interventions could in any way contribute positively to the overall control of bTB in the cattle population.

The new BVZS position statement, agreed at the association’s annual conference in Manchester last weekend, acknowledges that there are some limited circumstances in which culling may be warranted.

However, the BVZS does not support the widespread badger culling currently taking place in parts of England and suggests culls should be considered only as a last resort.

The association has produced a flowchart setting out steps for reducing transmission of infection between badgers and cattle.

In a written summary of its 24-page position statement, the BVZS states:

  • Control of bTB in cattle must continue to focus on cattle testing and movement controls, as well as improved and enforced on-farm biosecurity, to reduce disease transmission between cattle and badgers (in both directions).

  • All methods of badger control should follow the principles for ethical control of wildlife.

  • Badger culling should only be considered where (a) human activities have been modified, namely through biosecurity measures, (b) there is confirmation of persistent bTB prevalence in the local badger population, and (c) all other control methods have already been carried out.

The BVZS also says it supports the development of a BCG vaccination for cattle and an oral badger BCG vaccination, as well as improved in-vivo tests for both badgers and cattle.

It wants to see a field trial of immunocontraception for population control of badgers and more investment into research looking into bTB epidemiology.

Furthermore, the BVZS is calling for steps to be taken to ensure that all culling is humane, adheres to the welfare and biosecurity guidance set by Natural England and demonstrates an ‘evidence-based significant and sustained (year-on-year) impact’ on bTB reduction in cattle.

According to the position statement, the BVZS ‘considers that badgers are currently the only important wildlife species of concern in the epidemiology of bTB in the UK and Ireland’, but it states other species, in particular deer and wild boar, must be continually monitored.

The position statement was produced by a BVZS committee headed by Elizabeth Mullineaux and was subsequently approved by BVZS council.

I think we would be poor veterinary surgeons if we totally ruled out removing diseased animals

Speaking to Vet Record after the BVZS conference, Mullineaux said: ‘I think we would be poor veterinary surgeons if we totally ruled out removing diseased animals.

‘There are basically three ways of dealing with disease – you either vaccinate and prevent it, treat it, or you remove contagious animals. For us to say that we are never going to do the third – in a situation where you can’t treat and you haven’t got a vaccine that works in the way a viral vaccine would – would be bad. It’s not good veterinary science to say that.’

However, she added: ‘I think that if you were to follow through those principles for the ethical control of wildlife, then actually the number of situations in which you would remove diseased badgers would be certainly a lot smaller than the situation we’ve got now. At the moment more or less all you have to do in order to get a licence to cull badgers is to be in the high-risk area.

‘Obviously you have to tick some other culling requirements too, but you don’t have to do anything that special in terms of biosecurity. You don’t have to show you’ve already got biosecurity in place. I think we would turn that around so that you’d only get a licence to cull once you’d done all that other stuff and all that stuff had been shown not to be working.’

The new position statement replaces the previous position statement, agreed in 2013, in which the BVZS stated that it ‘does not believe there is evidence to support a badger cull.’

That policy also echoed words from the final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB from 2007, which stated that ‘culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain.’ •

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