After 9 months of correspondence with Ranil Jayawardena MP about the Hampshire cull, letters sent directly to the bTB Engage Team at Defra, Lord Richard Benyon (Minister responsible for the bTB/badger cull policy area at Defra), the UK Chief Veterinary Officer and the Animal Plant & Health Agency, this is what the current Secretary of State at Defra, Therese Coffey, regards as a “substantive response”. It’s woefully, sickeningly and laughably inadequate and I’m writing back to tell her that.
Coffey is justifying the slaughter of at least 1,346 badgers in Hampshire since 2021 (and the continued slaughter due in 2024, 2025 and possibly beyond) because, in 2021, some vets ticked the default "possible" and "likely" boxes on a contrived “Disease Report Form” when filing reports about cattle herd outbreaks. That’s despite no bTB reservoirs in badger populations ever having been identified and there being no confirmed cases of badgers as a source of herd infection here. Ever. You can see the DRF output here (taken from the 2021 Animal & Plant Health Agency Year-End bTB Epidemiology report for Hampshire. Note the none of the vets had the confidence to tick the "most likely" or "definite" box for any outbreak.
It's a fact that no badger has been confirmed as testing positive for bTB in Hampshire. Not yet at least. The last non-bovine mammal to test positive was a domestic cat in 2020. Its infection was traced back to raw pet food. None of the 1,346 badger shot here to date have even been tested for bTB. Nationally, none of the badgers slaughtered last year were tested for the disease.
My reply to Coffey will ask her to look to the success in Wales and Scotland at managing down bTB herd outbreaks and prevalence without badger culling. And I’ll ask once again why Government policy in England is to slaughter a protected species? It's got nothing to do with a serious attempt at bTB eradication.
I’ll also ask the Minister, yet again, why farm biosecurity and herd management protocols in Wales and Scotland are mandatory whereas in England they're only encouraged as "best practice" and frequently ignored? And why, in Wales, farmers are only compensated for cattle losses if they have complied, whereas in England it doesn't matter?
It’s a fact that badgers can host bTB. So can deer, mice, cats, dogs, hedgehogs, sheep, llamas, alpacas and even earthworms. And micro-organisms in the soil. But what’s the largest reservoir of bovine TB in this country? Cattle. And the largest spreader of the disease? Cattle (94% of cases). Defra and Coffey should be looking to the national herd, improved, more regular vaccination and cattle testing, mandatory protocols around farm biosecurity, cattle movement, herd management and enforced control of slurry distribution. The problem is in cattle and so is the solution. Let's stop talking about badgers.
But you know that already. As does Natural England, although it continues to licence the slaughter of untested badgers across the country until at least 2025. Enough is enough. Let’s bring an end to the cull, help farmers learn from the approach of their peers in Wales/Scotland and wake up.
We’ll be taking this message to the Parliamentary Lobby Event on 12th July. If you can join us, and want to, there’s still time for you to register. Sadly, Ranil Jayawardena isn’t going to meet us on the day. Because he’s busy. And a dick.