A letter printed in the Veterinary Record this week.
Badgers, TB and Modern Farming Practice.The words of the Royal Society on the position of the Badger in relation to the current upsurge of TB in our cattle population come as a timely warning. (VR,April 8,2006,vol 158 p459) It would seem that too many individuals on all sides of this debate are taking an over simplistic view that by culling the badger the problem will go away.
Presumably in the 1950s and'60s when the push to eradicate TB was in full swing, there were badgers infected with TB in a number of areas. However since that time there has been enormous changes in both the profession and in farming . The profession at that time both in practice and the SVS had a large number of members experienced in TB testing and the interpretation of those tests and farmers were keen to clear their herds.
Since that time, under various administrations testing intervals have been increased and the portion of the herd tested has been reduced and the number of members with first hand experience of TB has dwindled. Also with the increase in the mobility of animals and change in farming practice individual animals can easily miss being tested for a number of years.
However it is the change in farming practice and cropping which may possibly be an equally important factor in the story. Back in the fifties the '50s forage crop on most farms was hay, cut with a knife mower, kale and maize were commonly cut by hand and fed in the manger, silage was by mower and swept into the pit. In today's world all these crops are in the main cut with either flail harvesters or rotary mowers. Now these harvesters in principle are similar to the garden rotary mower and if you have used such a mower, you will be aware how it sweeps up all the debris by its rotary suction and blows it in to the bag, leaves soil and any other debris. Consideration should therefore be given to what happens in maize crops, beloved by badgers, silage etc. which have been contaminated by any infected mammal from man, deer, badgers down to mice that are excreting TB. Faeces dried urine and saliva are swept and chopped up and distributed into the forage in an efficient and random way thus infecting the crop. Could this be a factor in the spread of TB in herds? It would appear more likely than cows picking it up from badger latrines ,since cows would not normally pick up actual faeces. Other factors that may play a part are the stress involved in the push for ever higher yields and the ever increasing use of chemicals in all forms of crops, with their residues affecting the immune system.
Perhaps it is time for the SVS to take a long hard look at the wider picture and not to be dictated to by Government advisers and committing themselves to yet another disastrous policy as in the Foot & Mouth contiguous cull.
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