Big Badger Debate goes on without Defra

Updated: Apr 27

Badger Trust hosted The Big Badger Debate webinar on 13 April 2022 with Tom Langton and Dr Mark Jones – two of the authors of a new scientific paper that analyses Defra’s own cattle bTB data. Also attending was zoonotic expert Professor Dr Paul Torgerson, who wrote a scientific commentary on the paper. Defra was invited to the debate but declined to take part.

The peer-reviewed paper, published in the Veterinary Record in March 2022, has rigorously analysed government bTB surveillance data and concludes that culling badgers has had no effect on reducing bovine TB in cattle. Instead, incidences of bTB reduction were due to cattle measures implemented either before the cull ever began or during the cull period.

Defra says the new study's conclusion is based on a 'manipulation' of data and doesn't reflect the reality of the situation.

Dr Mark Jones, Veterinarian and Head of Policy at Born Free, gave an excellent presentation on the new report he co-authored at the debate's opening. The report carefully analysed Defra’s own data on cattle bTB to demonstrate how the badger cull had not affected disease rates. The chart showing how rates in England and Wales have fallen slowly in a similar trend was particularly telling as Wales does not cull badgers.

Badger Trust: The Big Badger Debate. Chart comparing England HRA with Wales High Risk – bTB herd incidence as a percentage of herds on SAM 2011-2021 © Mark Jones April 2022

For ten years, this lack of evidence has not stopped Defra from using the badger cull as the primary method to eradicate bTB in cattle. Throughout this period, Badger Trust has repeatedly highlighted that the controversial cull is not the answer to the cattle bTB problem; the new study outlines this in detail.

Defra has tried to discredit this new study and referred to its own study (Downs et al) that looked at bTB rates in limited areas from 2013 to 2017. Yet the new paper dealt with this, showing how the areas where disease rates declined went up again in 2018. However, no one heard Defra’s side at the debate because they declined to appear.

Defra has also refused to meet the authors to discuss the study, or the data, or to present their own detailed report on those data. At the end of the debate, Mark Jones expressed his disappointment that Defra refuses to appear or engage, and we agree. It’s in the interest of farmers, taxpayers and wildlife lovers everywhere that Defra comes forward and explains the continuing badger cull justification in detail. The cull has cost millions of pounds and has led to the slaughter of over 176,000 protected badgers. Yet still, the problem of bTB in cattle continues.

It is time for the debate to take place and for Defra to move away from the failed badger cull policy before any more areas of the country face this wildlife catastrophe. Scotland and Wales show the way – it’s time for England to follow. Please listen to the Big Badger Debate yourself. We wish Defra could have taken part.

We are always open and transparent in our role of protecting badgers; we look forward to more openness from all sides in the future.