These days when a group of like-minded people have an issue they want to solve they can only get the government to act they if they relate the issue to some pressing scientific or social problem. In this case I am thinking about the badger problem.

It didn’t used to be a problem because when colonies of badgers grew too big and caused serious damage to crops the farmers would shoot them and all would be fine for a while. The badger only has man as its control in the UK now since all other carnivorous animals have gone from our lands.

Then the do-gooders came along and made a case that the badger was not a problem and it was cruel and anti-environmental to let farmers kill them off whenever they chose. So our parliament passed the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and it does not take a rocket scientist to realise that they will then breed so much as to become real pests everywhere.

So the farmers got together and tried to have the protected status reversed but no one was listening. The solution of course was to blame the badger for spreading tuberculosis (TB) to cattle. Presumably then the government listened and someone came up with a study, suitably biassed by cherry picking data, to show that severely reducing badger numbers would reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis.

Other groups of scientists thought this was a rubbish idea and that it wouldn’t work. They did their own studies to prove the point. Unfortunately the government were no longer listening as they had already made up their minds in order to placate the farmers. Apparently they spent £9.1m in 2010 on studies to support the case for reducing TB in cattle by reducing badgers.

In 2013 the government approved a cull of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset. From memory of a Telegraph article I think the intention was to kill (cull) 2000 badgers in total but they only achieved about 700. The cost of the whole exercise including committees and planning and policing and cost of observers etc ran to about £2,500,000, which put the cost at about £3600 per badger. Over half the badgers killed were not infected with TB!

The tuberculosis bacterium exists in the environment mainly in the south-west of England. It can be carried and spread by just about all sorts of mammals, though badgers and cattle are most affected.

TB in humans

Tuberculosis was fairly common in the human population in the UK who caught it from infected cows milk. In the late 1940’s pasteurisation of milk became an important tool against many infections including TB passing to humans. Later on a vaccination for TB was created and many of us older ones remember the TB jab that was given as a rosette of pin pricks onto the upper shoulder and subsequently developed a very itchy scab.

Presumably like most immunisation you are actually given a tiny dose of the offending bacteria and the body fights it off by creating anti-bodies against it.  Subsequently further exposure will just reinforce the immunity.

TB in Cattle & Badgers

So now we have a situation where some cattle and badgers have TB and are always in danger of catching it from each other and the environment. As proved by the 2013 cull, despite estimates of badger numbers they were only able to find and kill about a third of the planned total. Either the information on numbers and locations were wrong or we just don’t know where they all are.

On the other hand the cows are used for meat and for milk and we know where they all are. So logically a vaccine needs to be made for cows and administered once every year for their lives to keep them free of the disease. Unlike humans who mainly come into contact with TB from cows’ meat and milk, cows come into it constantly when feeding on pasture that is home to all other local wild animals.

Subsequently vaccines given to badgers would also reduce the incidence of TB in areas where there are a lot more badgers than any other species. The alternative route to reducing TB by repeated badger culls is ineffective and costly, and they have just decided to do it again including in Dorset, and are hoping to kill 5000 this time.

If badgers are so numerous as to become pests to farmers, and considering they were never an endangered species, another worthwhile move would be to repeal the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and let the farmers control the numbers again.  The remainder can be vaccinated, if they can be found.

Historical note

In 1949 as a one-year-old baby I contracted bovine tuberculosis in the glands of my neck from unpasteurised cows’ milk. The infection almost killed me because it was miss-diagnosed as mumps and medicated accordingly. After a short while, when I was really poorly and close to death’s door, my mother in desperation took me to the cottage hospital in Farnborough (Hants) where it was correctly diagnosed.

Subsequently the operation to remove the infected glands also severed the nerve bank running down the right side of my neck that led to poor development of the muscles of the right chest and arm and those controlling the right shoulder blade. The massive operation using gas anaesthetic triggered asthma that further disabled me for another 9 years, when after another gas anaesthetic administered for removal on my tonsils switched the asthma off again.

The muscles of my right chest are not quite as well developed as the left side and the right shoulder leans slightly more forward than it should.  Otherwise there has been no disability from the age of 10 and I never had to receive the TB inoculation like the rest of you.

 

Photo by Andrew 3457

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