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Claims that ‘high number of badgers are sick’ undermined by Welsh research

Out of nearly 1200 badgers caught in Wales for vaccination, none showed any signs of illness.

Consistent claims by the UK government that badgers are very sick with TB and at a high risk of spreading disease to other badgers and cattle have been shot to pieces by statistics from the Welsh Government Badger Vaccination Project.

Environment Minister Owen Paterson has justified the current badger cull many times by claiming or insinuating that most of the animals being killed are disease-ridden: and thus culling them is actually a blessing for the badgers themselves.

In an interview with the Independent Newspaper on the 13th October he stated that many badgers are “sick, emaciated animals spewing out disease”.

He went even further in Parliament on 10th October when stating in a Parliamentary Question to Angela Smith MP that “some of the animals we have shot have been desperately sick in the final stages of the disease.”

But evidence suggests that the badgers are nowhere near as sick as is being made out. In a response to a Parliamentary Question from Caroline Lucas MP on 18th November we learned that Owen Paterson has no evidence to back up his claims that shot badgers have TB, and was basing his statements on unsubstantiated reports from NFU contractors and farmers involved in the cull – none of which are known to have any veterinary qualifications.

In addition, figures from a report into the Welsh Government’s Badger Vaccination Project show that out of 1193 badgers caught to be vaccinated last year, NONE were visibly sick.

Dominic Dyer, Policy Advisor for Care for the Wild, said that very sick badgers which could spread the disease – often referred to as ‘super excreters’ – could have visibly poor skin condition, weight loss and ulceration.

“Owen Paterson has misled MP’s, his constituents and the wider public by stating that nearly 40% of badgers suffer from late stage TB and are at a high risk of spreading the disease to other badgers and cattle,” he said. “But he has no evidence to back up these claims and is simply creating a climate of fear to justify the badger cull policy in the face of rapidly growing opposition.

“The Randomised Badger Cull found that of 9919 badger killed, only 166 (1.67%) were suffering from late stage TB and therefore could be considered ‘super excreters’, and this is backed up by the Welsh Government Badger Vaccination Project, which found no badgers falling into this category despite being undertaken in a TB hot spot area.”

While identifying diseased animals by sight is far from ideal, it is the only method left as the government refused to test any of the culled badgers for TB. By using ‘visual evidence’ as a way to justify the policy, Mr Paterson has scored another own goal. Other claims he has made that have been shown to be untrue or misleading include:

  • Culling has been successful in the Republic of Ireland. But this has been undermined by the fact that Northern Ireland has had greater success in lowering the rate of TB – without culling a single badger.
  • The sharp drop in the alleged number of badgers in the cull zones over the last few months was due to natural causes (leading to the famous ‘the badgers moved the goalposts’ quote). But the likelihood of this being true was dismissed by experts, who said that illegal killing was a more likely explanation, and contradicted by Natural England’s own study sites.
  • The level of transmission of TB from badgers to cattle is 50%. This figure is disputed by many leading scientific experts, as it is based on a desk based mathematical model, not peer reviewed field based scientific research.

Dominic Dyer added: “When we focus on the scientific facts and not the fiction from Owen Paterson, we find that a vast majority of the badgers being killed at huge expense in Somerset and Gloucestershire are likely to be perfectly healthy and will pose no risk to cattle at all.

“It is extremely worrying that a senior minister of the British government is being allowed to make unsubstantiated statements repeatedly in order to persuade the public that this policy is necessary. This may not be the first time it’s happened, and it won’t be the last – but surely the government must now call it a day on the badger cull and focus on cattle management to beat this disease.”

Care for the Wild is a wildlife charity based in Horsham, Sussex. To find out more, see


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