Defra publish correct Bovine TB herd breakdown data – previous figures were inflated by one third

The Badger Cull has been found to be ineffective and inhumane according to Defra’s own expert panel looking at the Pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

The BBC report Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said that the panel’s “findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.

“I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Paterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle,” she told BBC News.

In January, Defra announced that the figures it used to justify the badger cull, namely the number of cattle herds that had tested positive for Bovine TB, were based on flawed data. The number of herd breakdowns were lower than had previously been reported. Now the data have been published for all to see.

I have to say this is pretty astonishing. Gloucestershire – one of the cull pilot areas on account of how much bTB there had been – originally published cases – 259, actual cases 194 – that is 34% over-reporting or an error of one third.  Somerset –  published figure (used to justify badger cull) 327, actual figure 264 – a 24% over-reporting error, or one quarter.

Now I am not decrying the pain and hardship suffered by the farms in Somerset and Gloucestershire that have had TB breakdowns. But there must be some very serious questions to ask of Defra and its agency the AHVLA (the Defra vets), who were recording and reporting these incidents. How could they have got it so wrong?

In Dorset, where I live and which is now in line for a badger cull this year if it is not abandoned, the figures are 175 published, 133 actual incidents. That’s  32% over-reporting or again an error of one third. For Hereford and Worcester the error was a staggering 58%, but this was beaten by Cheshire –  with a 68% over-reporting!

For the West and South West as a whole (which is all under a 1 year testing regime), there was an over-reporting error of 30%.

Not only is this stunningly awful in terms of the errors in the data, but previously herd breakdowns were published by Parish (until 2010), meaning that there was far greater resolution in the published data, for those of us interested in such things. The EC have been apparently encouraging Defra to move towards county and eventually Regional bTB status. That may be all well and good but the parish level data are still essential for monitoring the spread (or decline) of bTB and the public should be able to see these data. After all, AHVLA hold data on herd breakdowns at farm level.

It’s easy to say “heads must roll” but there is one distinct possibility, other than yet another public sector IT foul-up. The cuts at Defra (and its agencies) have been deeper than any other Government department. This extraordinary mess could well be the result of cutting that quickly and that deeply. And of course it does give new and powerful ammunition to any pro-cull organisation seeking to use statistics to support the badger cull.

One head that should roll of course is Secretary of State Owen Paterson, who has unambiguously nailed his own colours to the Badger Cull mast. What will he do?




About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in badgers, Defra and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Defra publish correct Bovine TB herd breakdown data – previous figures were inflated by one third

  1. biod49 says:

    Reblogged this on Force10.

  2. Adam Mantell says:

    Personally I don’t see the badger cull as a matter of great importance for the environment. They are not endangered and lets be honest if they weren’t cute n’ cuddly there would be much less concern from the public at large. That said, the whole process has been such an utter catastrophe from the start it is hard to see how it could have been handled worse if they had tried. More worryingly for me if Govt is not paying proper attention to the figures on such an emotive (for some!) topic, it really does make me wonder if even the basic facts can be trusted on other more important environmental subjects let alone whether the analysis and conclusions are flawed.

  3. Miles King says:

    Thanks very much Adam. I agree – if these statistics can be so humungously wrong, what other errors are lurking in the background.

  4. Pingback: NFU claims badger cull is working; Defra continue to “revise” their bTB figures, downwards. | a new nature blog

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