Last week local vet Paul Rodgers outlined why he believed the planned badger cull in north Pembrokeshire was needed to tackle the threat of bovine TB. Here, as the proposed start date of the cull draws nearer, Dr Adrian Stallwood, of pressure group Pembrokeshire Against the Cull gives the group’s response. Dr Stallwood, a senior emergency physician who has treated patients with tuberculosis, is heading up the anti-cull campaign and launching a new information drive aimed at landowners in the area. He says the cull would be “an expensive and misguided folly.”

“Pembrokeshire Against the Cull (PAC) has always taken bovine TB very seriously, and recognised its impact on the farming community.

However, the arguments against killing badgers — and in favour of vaccinating them — are now extremely persuasive.

As a medical doctor, I know that vaccination does not cure disease. What is undisputed is its value in protecting people and animals from contracting it in the first place. Interestingly, we in the medical profession refer to ‘herd immunity’ — the way in which whole communities can resist infection when a high enough number of individuals are protected. This is how we keep diseases such as measles or bacterial meningitis at such low levels. Successful eradication programmes have always used vaccination as a cornerstone, this is how we rid the world of smallpox, for example.

About a quarter of adult badgers die each year. Annual vaccination would protect an increasing proportion of TB-free badgers, and lead to a declining level of infection. The Assembly’s own studies specifically said that vaccination is as good as culling for TB control. Vaccination by injection is also cheaper, as the badgers still have to be trapped but there is no carcass disposal.

A badger cull, by contrast, could make the problem worse. Repeated culling increases the prevalence of TB infection among badgers, and causes them to range more widely. As the badger population recovers afterwards, cattle in north Pembrokeshire could face an increased risk of infection compared to before.

The Assembly has suggested that an oral badger vaccine could be an ‘exit strategy’, so why spread TB before it becomes available? A cull would not cause a reduction in cattle TB, just slow the increase for a short time. In trials, within the cull zone, there was only a small and temporary impact on the disease, and all benefits disappeared after two and a half years.

There were drastic side-effects, however. The trials caused almost as much TB as they prevented, as badgers carrying the disease were disturbed and left their settled territories.

The farmers in PAC, who live and work near the cull boundary, are gravely concerned, as cattle TB rose by 43% in these areas in the first year. Boundaries like coastlines and major rivers were used in previous trials, yet detrimental effects were highly consistent across areas and lasted throughout the cull.

As a doctor, I was perturbed by the advice about infection control. Our members have had visits from their vets to discuss biosecurity, and were shocked to learn that it is a voluntary, subjective evaluation.

Bovine TB, like all mycobacteria, is a very hardy organism. It can survive in stored slurry for up to six months. Yet the Assembly recommends only that cattle do not graze pasture for two months after slurry has been applied. It is like putting patients back into an unsterilised ward after an outbreak of diarrhoea.

The isolation of clinical cases and high-risk suspects is no better. There are no plans to control the movements of cattle within, into, or out of the area based on TB risk.

In Australia, where there is no wildlife reservoir, they insisted on four follow-up tests following a breakdown, yet it took 27 years to eradicate TB. The Assembly proposes only two follow-up tests, which is no change from existing practice. TB can remain latent in cattle for their lifetime, and become infectious at any time. This can account for closed herds experiencing breakdowns after 12 years clear of the disease. But, sadly, there is no commitment to wider use of the more sensitive Gamma Interferon test.

It is vital that landowners realise the true implications of this programme. It stands to be an expensive and misguided folly that will benefit neither farmers nor the taxpayer, and certainly not cattle or badgers. Vaccination has to be the way forward.”