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To cull or not to cull - that is the question

By The Citizen  |  Posted: October 31, 2012

fighting spirit:  Bruce Willis takes aim in the action thriller Looper.

fighting spirit: Bruce Willis takes aim in the action thriller Looper.

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TO cull or not to cull...

Given the modern day enthusiasm for animal and environmental rights, it's difficult to decide where to draw the line between cruelty and necessity.

The current issue in Gloucestershire regarding the culling of badgers has polarised opinions, arguments for wildlife conservation and cost effectiveness taking up stubborn positions within the debate, but how can either of these voices be dismissed?

The cull may have been put off until the summer but the debate over it happening at all still rages.

A fact that cannot be disputed is that the bovine tuberculosis spread by badgers is an issue for everyone, being that it costs the average taxpayer millions to control every year.

Bovine tuberculosis is the biggest threat to the UK livestock industry, proved by the randomised badger culling trial, which demonstrated conclusively that badgers contribute significantly to the disease infecting cattle. However, the matter which can be debated is whether the density of badger population directly affects the rate of transmission, leading to doubt whether the selective slaughter of badgers would improve the situation.

In fact, some have argued the culling of badgers could actually increase the problem of tuberculosis in cattle. This theory, among other reasons, led to protests about the approval of two pilots to be carried out in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire, although they have been put off for now.

In 1992, the Protection of Badgers Act was established, making any killing or injuring of badgers illegal. Given this act, many animal rights activists in Gloucestershire are taking a stand against the cull. Protesters warned as soon as 'the first shot is fired', supermarkets that continued to source milk from farms where the cull was being carried out would be targeted. One campaign known as "you kill the badgers, we kill the machines" has been encouraging the covering of cards in superglue and inserting them into cashpoints at supermarkets. Less extreme measures have also been carried out, with more than 150,000 people signing an anti-culling petition. Lorraine Morgan, owner of a camping site in the Forest of Dean has spoken out against the cull, claiming: "If it goes ahead, it can only do us harm." This is a reference to the damage expected to be done to the tourist industry in Gloucestershire.

An equally crucial factor to consider is the severe impact tuberculosis has on cattle. Whenever a cow is known to have become infected with tuberculosis, they are culled immediately to prevent the spread of the disease. This brings into question why it is acceptable for cows to be killed, but not badgers. In 1998, less than 6,000 cows were killed as a result of TB. That number rose to more than 26,000 in 2011, in correlation with the population of badgers, costing taxpayers £90m in measures taken against TB. There is currently no vaccine available for cattle against tuberculosis, making their protection an increasing challenge for farmers.

The issue has sparked much controversy, with little being agreed upon by both sides. The culls were originally set to begin any day now in Gloucestershire before the decision to suspend them.

Gloucestershire is well known for its significant population of badgers, a much celebrated fact in the past. The question is if the cull is then carried out next summer should we consider it an asset or a grievance?

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  • Charlespk  |  November 01 2012, 9:34AM

    I believe Brian May would be better employed using his great wealth and influence getting BCG vaccination programs established for the children and deprived populations of the Third World. . The BCG is now a failing vaccine. . Using it on badgers and just contributing to the reduction in its efficacy whilst there are human populations still in desperate need, is both crass and insensitive. . Close to two million human beings are dying each year from tuberculosis although WHO say the number is reducing despite the marked increase in MDR and XDR stains of the disease. The science of Mycobacterium bovis and the difficulties of control of the whole Mycobacterium genus is now well understood by scientists around the world. . What these last devastating years for our farmers have shown is that the Badger Trust and their followers are determined to keep the infected badger population growing exponentially without any concern for the effect on the human population or any other animals. . The badger (and cattle) vaccination program is based on 90 year old BCG science that is no longer even accepted as really useful for humans, let alone animals. . The only real advance in TB treatment in recent times has been the discovery of enzymes that will increase detection rates in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and the discovery of enzymes that can also increase the efficacy of currently used anti-biotics. . The particular Mycobacterium that cause TB are all very slow growing and insidious, and notoriously difficult to stop reproducing, let alone kill. . Some of the best work being done at the moment is by scientists trying to develop a vaccine using phages and phage therapy. . That is over 60year old Russian science that uses bacteriophages; viruses that can attack and kill the TB bacterium. . But it's still a long way off and might never happen. The thing the badger groups just will not accept and now even deny with sophistry and distortion, is the fact that we once conquered this problem by clearing badger setts in the locality of herds and culling all and any reactor cattle. . The 'clean ring strategy'. The national herd was clear of disease and all herds in the UK were officially designated 'Brucellosis Free' in October 1985. . That is 'all such pathogens'. With the discovery of Streptomycin and other antibiotics and drugs; we thought we had beaten tuberculosis and all the sanatoriums had long been closed. . . Then some in their mistaken wisdom decided the risk from badgers was by then minimal. . With the explosion in the badger population, we can all now see just how 'minimal' that was. The gassing of badgers ceased in the late 1970s and testing of cattle continued. In 1986, a total of 38,000 herds comprising 3,200,000 cattle were tested, resulting in the slaughter of just 506 cattle that reacted to the test. . The latest position with over 30,000 being slaughtered is neither acceptable or sustainable. . The Badger Trust and all their followers apparently now believe we can just let this situation continue until some one comes up with a new effective vaccine for cattle and wildlife. . That may never happen. The only way we will ever have a clean badger population again is if we first close down all the infected setts.

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  • eyeopener  |  October 31 2012, 10:23PM

    Thanks 2ladybugs :-)))

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  • 2ladybugs  |  October 31 2012, 10:13PM

    Hi eyeopener it's only me sticking my nose in and I haven't got the reports in front of me at this present time but I can find them for you tomorrow if you need them. There is a vet down here in Devon who caught TB from I think llama's but I wouldn't swear to that. There are also another two who are undergoing tests for TB. they own llamas. There was a child who died (recently)_ and her only connection with TB was trailed to wildlife. The cases are rare but they are out there.

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  • Charlespk  |  October 31 2012, 10:10PM

    No one ever said it would happen tomorrow. Back in 1997, Dr. Jerome Harms, now Senior Scientist, Pathobiological Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote. "Recently, there have been many outbreaks of M.bovis caused tuberculosis in humans especially HIV+ patients. Most have occurred in countries where M.bovis is endemic in the animal agriculture population. Multi-drug resistant strains of M.bovis are now appearing as well. The significance of this TB threat from M.bovis has not been taken as seriously as the threat from M.tuberculosis (Human TB)" "However, the scientific and medical community must not ignore the potential of an M.bovis TB epidemic." Again; quite prophetically, he wrote that back in 1997. XAR and XDR TB (M.tuberculosis or M.bovis) http://tinyurl.com/6ddk4pb I'm away.

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  • eyeopener  |  October 31 2012, 10:00PM

    I meant to say: "I am only surprised that it has taken so long, before a person-to-person transmission case was documented."

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  • eyeopener  |  October 31 2012, 9:58PM

    @Charlespk I have delayed responding because I wanted to fully take on board the article titled "Molecular typing of Mycobacterium bovis isolates in Argentina: first description of a person-to-person transmission case." I would be less than honest if I didn't admit that hitherto I was not conversant with either spoligotypes, VNTR profiles or PRA techniques. If nothing else I have learnt more than I knew before. I am not at all surprised it is that it has taken so long to document a person-to-person transmission case, but I am not sure that this study impacts directly on the UK human TB increase situation. Like the UK, Argentine milk must be pasteurised by law, but the rise in the incidence of UK human TB infection is linked more directly to drug resistant strains such as the MDR-M strain. It was the MDR-M bovis 2 strain that was documented in a hospital in Paris in the early 1990s. The rise in the UK incidence of TB is also linked to immigration because many third world countries drink raw milk as well as live in densely populated communities. The other factor is that in one recent case reported by Anna Burdett Farming and rural affairs editor of The Northwest Evening Mail a Cumbrian farmer tormented by bovine TB for more than 18 months and who had more than 120 valuable pedigree cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB found that he also had caught the disease from his cattle, confirming my assertion earlier that badger bovine TB and human bovine TB maps differently throughout the UK.

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  • Charlespk  |  October 31 2012, 9:40PM

    CONSUMPTION..(Tuberculosis). "It happens then as it does to physicians in the treatment of Consumption, which in the commencement is easy to cure and difficult to understand; but when it has neither been discovered in due time nor treated upon a proper principle, it becomes easy to understand and difficult to cure. The same thing happens in state affairs; by foreseeing them at a distance, which is only done by men of talents, the evils which might arise from them are soon cured; but when, from want of foresight, they are suffered to increase to such a height that they are perceptible to everyone, there is no longer any remedy." . . Niccolo Machiavelli 1469-1527 Enjoy the rest of your evening.

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  • Charlespk  |  October 31 2012, 9:22PM

    Granny, don't 'bet the mortgage' on it, because there will be a cull. The only way they will survive the consequences of not doing so will be if they die first.

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  • eyeopener  |  October 31 2012, 9:18PM

    @Charlespk Thank you for responding. I wouldn't for a minute ask you to be less forthright. Why should you be? You believe in your case passionately. What's wrong with that? Your friend may have been epitome of courtesy and charm. . . and in the end have been treated diabolically. But we are not in the same circumstance. Neither of us can persuade the absent, and I am simply suggesting that by changing the tone of our discourse we might encourage others to participate. Isn't that what we both want?

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  • 2ladybugs  |  October 31 2012, 9:11PM

    grannyonline1 and eyeopener I thank you both for your comments but I will just say this, Charles has far more knowledge about TB than I could ever hope to know.:(( I am a mere novice. Good day to you both.

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