The nitty-gritty behind TB testing badgers

Recently news surfaced via Network for Animals that Defra might be TB testing badger carcasses during this year’s cull. As often the case with all things to do with the Government’s badger cull, this is more confusing than it might seem. More than that, it could be a bad thing for badgers living where culls have been carried out in Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Data from the Randomised Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) shows that TB rates in badgers increased during and after culling. By the fourth cull, in fact, the scientists concluded that the ‘prevalence of infection was approximately double that recorded on the initial cull’. So if Defra tests badgers in the cull zones this year – and yes, it’s the fourth year of culling – it’s not rocket science to guess what the results might be. There is a caveat, though. The culls haven’t been carried out adhering to RBCT methodology so the results could be different. And with no TB testing of badgers in previous years, there will be nothing to compare it to.

Going back to hard-won scientific data from the days of the RBCT, it’s noticeable that as TB in cattle rises, infection rates in badgers rise too. The clue is in the name – bovine tuberculosis. Reduce the rates in cattle with more effective cattle testing and controls and the rates drop in cattle, followed by the reduction of TB in badgers.

So it doesn’t seem to be a good thing to test badgers for bovine TB right now. Added to that, there’s also the thorny problem of finding out whether a badger that tests positive for TB is infected or infectious. There’s a world of difference between the two and, again looking back at the RBCT data, very few of the badgers that tested positive for TB were infectious.

Added to this, who is going to check that the badgers tested by Defra are randomised samples and how thorough will the testing be? Who, indeed, will carry out the testing?  And what if the badgers that test positive are actually carrying natural resistance to the disease?

So after the initial prevarication about testing badgers for TB at the start of all this, is Defra trying to reinvent the wheel or is there a hidden agenda? Seems that, once again, the Government isn’t as open and transparent on this issue as it could be.

So don’t forget our badgers need you more than ever before. Contact us to find out where your nearest local badger protection group is operating.