TB and Dairy: Badgers
Bovine TB (bTB) is an infectious and contagious disease of cattle caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. Although the main reservoir and natural host of M. bovis is cattle, humans and a wide range of mammals, including badgers and deer, are susceptible to the bacterium.
Although bTB is rarely fatal in cattle, with signs of infection usually only appearing in advanced cases, it does lead to reduced milk yields, making it a particular concern for dairy farmers looking to maximise their profits (101).
Badgers are often blamed for spreading the disease. However, in the most part it is cattle that have infected wildlife. The cause of blame lies more with intensified farming practices and political incompetence – an example of which was the rapid restocking and suspension of testing after the foot and mouth crisis of 2001, which is often blamed for allowing bovine TB to regain a foot hold in England and Wales (102).
Also, animals that are worked beyond their limits – which, as this report clearly shows includes the modern dairy cow – are unsurprisingly more susceptible to disease. Fraud (103) and poor biosecurity have also been linked to the rise in bovine TB – and a 2010 investigation by Viva! showed that biosecurity precautions have been watered down at Welsh and English markets despite the supposed crisis (104). When you add in the infamously unreliable testing methods and mass cattle movements around the UK, it is not hard to see where the real finger of blame should point for the TB crisis – and it is not at badgers.
Despite the hysteria surrounding bovine TB, annual mandatory slaughtering of cattle fell by almost a quarter between 2008 and 2010 (105). This was all without killing badgers. However, sadly a ‘trial cull’ of badgers is currently in progress.
You can read more about bovine TB and badgers at www.viva.org.uk/badgers.