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Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Great Debates

I'm sure many of you are aware that there is considerable debate over whether Badgers are responsible for the spread of bovine TB.

In June the Independent Scientific Group on bovine TB published its final report, which concluded that badger culling ‘could not meaningfully contribute’ to the control of bTB in Britain.

But a report published last week by Sir David King (the Government’s chief scientist) pronounced that badger culling could, under certain conditions, make a ‘significant contribution’ to the control of bTB in the hotspot areas. Sir David's statement was based on a review of the ISG report.

On Wednesday the head of the ISG Professor John Bourne and Sir David King were interviewed by the Parliamentary EFRA committee which is carrying its own investigation into the ISG report

Professor Bourne accused Sir David of "cherry picking" data and coming up with hasty and coming up with a "superficial soundbite".

Sir David got a very torrid time from the committee.

EFRA chairman Michael Jack wanted to know, had the group not ‘actually gone out and looked at any of the reality of what you are commenting about on

the ground?’ And why, Labour MP Patrick Hall asked, did they not even bother to interview the ISG members themselves?

Sir David stressed that his group’s job was to give a ‘commentary on a very detailed piece of work’ for Ministers, not to look at fresh evidence'.

He said that the experts on his group had ‘all been engaged over a long period of time on the issue of TB in cattle’ and ‘knew their stuff’. He admitted, however, that it had only met on ‘one full day’.

Sir David claimed he agreed with much of the ISG findings.

Labour MP David Taylor accused Sir David of criticising the ISG ‘for things which you then go on and repeat yourself’, namely drawing conclusions without the sufficient scientific evidence to back them up.

He also described Sir David’s approach as ‘cavalier and unsustainable’, something Sir David strongly denied.

It would seem the Professor Bourne won the round comprehensively.

This may seem like a pair of scientists having an argument over science. This though matters greatly, Food and Farm Minster Lord Rooker is minded to back a cull but has said he will be guided by the final report of the EFRA committee.

Interestingly the scientific journal Nature has backed Bourne and the ISG and accuses Sir David of mishandling the question of whether to cull badgers.

Of course this is also very complex. In a letter to the excellent British Widlife Magazine, Prof Humphrey Kay (former member of Maff's Badger Panel) backs culling the last paragraph may interest a few of you "The long-term relief to the taxpayer will also extend to Hedgehogs, now reduced to small islands of survival in much of the countryside".

The Ruddy Duck controvery continues. Wigan council gave DEFRA permission for a cull of Ruddy Ducks at Pearson Flash. This was despite strong public protest. The council kept quiet to stop people organising a protest.

The reason for the cull of Ruddies in the UK is that the Spanish believe a small number are migrating and breeding with their native white headed duck, leading to concerns they are weakening the blood line of their indigenous species.


Jan said...

The trouble is that the Government is shit scared to upset the farmers, and most farmers want the badgers eliminated from the face of the earth, after all, they don't earn them any money do they? Maybe if we farmed and ate badgers, and used their fur, then they would be welcomed everywhere. So now they are trying to blame the shortage of hedghogs on badgers then, or have I misunderstood that bit? Couldn't possibly be the lack of suitable habitat then of course. Sigh.

Pete said...

the professor who made the hogs comment said that Badgers had no predator. He said that up to 1950 farmers and farm labourers exerted a control on badger numbers. "in times past, for the farm labourer on ten shillings a week the Badger wa a valuable item of protein-rich diet, as well as providing income from sales of fur and fat".