A review of ongoing debates surrounding the scientific integrity of Defra’s badger cull strategy reveals a campaign devoid of transparency.
On 18th March 2022, independent researchers Thomas Langton, Dr Mark Jones, and Dr Iain McGill published their paper “Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009-2020” in the peer-reviewed scientific journal ‘Vet Record’. In the article, which analysed Defra’s publicly available badger cull figures, the authors concluded there was no evidence that the culling of badgers reduced bTB in cattle. Instead, they theorised that cattle-to-cattle transmission was the main route of transmission and recommended cattle biosecurity measures over the continuation of the already contested badger cull strategy.
Alongside the peer-reviewed paper, in the same journal issue, Defra published a rebuttal to the findings and provided its own interpretation of the data. Defra’s charts, which were not subjected to peer review, purported to support the badger cull as an effective bTB prevention method. Then, in a shocking turn of events, Defra wrote to Tom Langton and his colleagues, admitting the charts published in its rebuttal had been incorrectly calculated. Upon the request of Langton and his team and increased media attention on the error, Defra agreed to publish a revised version of its chart in the Vet Record. The article, which has not been subject to peer review, clearly shows that when calculated correctly, the badger cull does not significantly reduce rates of bTB in cattle. Therefore, Defra’s calculations of its own data appear to agree with the original independent study, despite Defra maintaining its original point “still stands”. Yet the transparency ends there. Defra has since updated a press release, where it had originally published accusations towards Langton’s team, stating the independent research had been subject to data “manipulation” and that the results had been rendered to “fit a clear campaign agenda”. Having now been caught out on its own miscalculation, Defra claimed to have amended the press release to include the renewed chart. However, in a statement that reads, “This blog was updated on 24th May to amend the graph and text related to the areas where no culling took place”, no statement indicates the initial error. Even more bizarre is that the chart has not been updated at all. Instead, the original, incorrect chart remains in the publicly-available blog, alongside the claim that badger culling is effective in reducing rates of bTB in cattle. Is this yet another error in Defra communication? Is this a mere oversight? Or did Defra simply believe the public would not notice? The continued use of data that are known to be false is not only misleading but does little to reassure various stakeholders that Defra is competently managing bTB eradication.
Farmers and animal welfare groups are tired of the government's persistent failings on what is becoming a relentlessly politicised issue. Badger Trust is now calling on Defra to properly correct its public statement by publishing the correct graph to fully acknowledge the error. Badger Trust agrees with Farmers Weekly, that Defra ought to ‘