The BTB Problem

Bovine TB or Mycobacterium bovis or bovine tubercle bacillus is part of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex. The organism is carried by many animals including deer, cats, dogs, pigs, alpacas, sheep and of course cattle. Mycobacterium bovis is an aerobic bacterium and the cause of TB in cattle . Bovine TB can jump the species barrier and cause tuberculosis in humans and this is where the problem has historically been. In the 1930’s and 40’s it was responsible for over 50,000 cases a year and 2500 deaths annually. By 1960 all herds had been tested twice for TB and all animals which had tested positive, or ‘reactors’, were slaughtered and it became a notifyable disease. The government introduced compulsory cattle testing and devised compensation programme for all destroyed cattle. In the last decade human contraction of Tb from animals has seen only handful of cases.

Pasteurisation of milk, immunisation and healthy diet has seen the number of cases reduce dramatically over the last 100 years and in most circles it is consider no longer a human concern. Farming practices have changed and food has become cheaper. Ironically this intensive farming leads to poor condition for cattle causing poor health and could itself be contributing to the increase in bovine TB in herds.


For the farmers it is a different issue. Cattle with Bovine Tb cannot be moved and cannot be sold in Europe causing great financial strain on farmers. Whilst vaccination for BCG are available for cattle there is currently no approved test to differentiate between wild Tb and vaccinated TB although one has been researched.

It should be noted cattle with bTB lesions do routinely and legitimately enter the food chain .

Team Badger fully sympathises with farmers who are affected by this awful disease but it does not believe, based on scientific evidence, the solution lies in the culling of badgers. It believes culling could make matters worse.

The Krebs Review on Bovine TB in Cattle and Badgers reported in 1997 and concluded that despite there being “compelling” evidence that badgers were involved in transmitting infection to cattle, the development of a control policy was made difficult because the effectiveness of badger culling could not be quantified with the data available. It therefore recommended that a large-scale field trial – the Randomised Badger Culling Trial- be set up to quantify the impact of culling badgers on incidence of TB in cattle, and to determine the effectiveness of strategies to reduce the risk of a TB cattle herd breakdown.

The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG), which included several members of the Krebs Review group, was formed in 1998 to plan and subsequently provide independent oversight of the RBCT. It also provided advice on the content and direction of Defra’s (then MAFF’s) TB research programme. The ISG published their Final Report on 18 June 2007. This trial slaughtered 9818. It stated that “culling Badgers would have no meaningful effect on bovine TB in cattle”. You may have expected that to be the end of culling badgers however……….

On the 19th July 2011 Caroline Spelman announced that the government would carry out two pilot badger culls in the areas shows below. This was part of the governments bovine TB eradication program

Caroline Spelmans announcement of the proposed pilot badger cull.


  • Landowners who wish to cull badgers would need to apply for a licence from Natural England
  • The trials will assess the humaneness, efficacy and safety of the free shooting of badgers.
  • Groups of qualified landowners under licence will be able to shoot badgers at night with a high velocity rifle.
  • 70 % of the badgers in any trial area must be slaughtered.
  • Each trial area must be at least 150

TEAM BADGER is shocked the government would ignore all scientific advice and evidence and proceed with these pilot culls. We will campaign to prevent these pilot culls going ahead.

Information from The Cattle Book 2008 DEFRA

Total cattle population on 1 June 2008 GB was 8,868,469.
Total number dairy cows over 2 years of age in GB, 2008, was 1,593,949. Total GB dairy cattle 3,133,006. Total number of dairy cows estimated to have been culled prematurely in GB, in 2008, was 301.087
35.3% of cattle in GB are dairy cattle and 62.7% are Beef cattle. 2% are dual-purpose and ‘unknown’ cattle.

Total figure for cattle culled in connection with the bTB eradication programme in GB 2008 is 39.9731 Dairy cows have over twice the incidence of bTB than beef cattle.

All figures in the chart, though carefully compiled, should be regarded as a close approximation and not exact. However they are useful for comparison purposes.

In the absence of Official Government Data on the premature culling of dairy cattle these above figures have been carefully extrapolated and compiled from data gathered by the Kite Health and Culling Monitor 20093 for the year 2008 (Overall culling rate in the Kite Monitor for 2008 was 10.89%). The ‘black-column’ marked Bovine TB has been added to the Chart by the author to represent dairy cattle over 2 years of age culled for bovine TB in GB, 2008. It should be noted that the excellent Kit*scheme is an advisory service for herdsmen. It is designed to help improve health, welfare and profitability of dairy cows. An aim of the scheme is to achieve a lower culling rate thus the culling rate amongst nor participating farms is likely to be higher rather than lower than figures given in the chart.

Almost all of the cattle slaughter i connection with the bTB control programme go into the human food chain and th money obtained is used by Defra to offset some of the costs of the programme.

1. BTB poses negligible risk to human health in the UK. The current policy has a greater adverse effect on cattle welfare than the disease could.

2. The existing test and cull regime would take decades to achieve OTF status, if it ever did, whatever is done or not done to badgers.

3. The “skin test” is only suitable as a herd test. It misses far too many cattle (and condemns too many falsely) to be very effective in finding infected individuals and removing them from the herd.

4. It is widely said that countries which have achieved OTF status have addressed any wildlife reservoir. It is conveniently forgotten (by those wanting to slaughter wildlife) that the two examples they choose most often, Australia and USA, have used the skin test as a herd test – if one reactor is found the whole herd, however large, is slaughtered.

5. Most importantly cattle vaccination must be allowed. It could be used alone or alongside any other policies and methods. The vaccine and the accompanying test could be licensed this year with the political will.

6. Only EU law prevents cattle vaccination, and EU law over rules ours. Defra claim that it would take 5 years to change. They have been saying this for as long as anyone can remember and there is little evidence of efforts to actually change it. Other authorities say it could be changed very quickly. The French and Italians would probably just ignore it. It is intolerable that we cannot use vaccines to protect our cattle and the interests of our farmers against BTB. The reason for the EU prohibition, interference with the skin test, is no longer relevant as a different test would be used on vaccinated cattle.