23rd February 2012
Viva! demands Governments look at possible link between hunting and the spread of bovine TB
GOVERNMENTS in both England and Wales are being called upon to examine whether hunting is linked to the spread of TB in cattle by a leading animal group.
Viva!, who have been campaigning against the potential culling of badgers in efforts to curb the disease, are demanding Defra examine the possibility fully, before badger culling commences in two approved trial areas in England later this year. The group have also written to John Griffiths AM (Welsh Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development) asking him to also consider the possible link ahead of an imminent decision on culling in Wales.
The move comes following correspondence received from Wales chief vet, Christianne Glossop to a Viva! supporter, in which she recognises that hunts could potentially increase the risk of the spread of TB.
Concerns have also been raised after Prime Minister David Cameron made clear his support for overturning the ban on hunting foxes with dogs.
Viva! has studied the instances of hunting in England and Wales and the spread of TB in cattle and says that there may be a correlation, with an apparent proliferation of both in the West and South West of Wales and England. The group says TB infection may be spread by hunting, and that this biosecurity risk largely appears to have been ignored until now.
Viva! campaigns director, Justin Kerswell, says: Despite the ban on hunting of foxes in 2005, around 170 hunts with foxhounds still exist across England and Wales. It is possible that no link between these hunts and the spread of cattle TB has been ascertained because it has never really been looked at. That does not mean that it isnt a considerable vector. Drag and trail hunts still gallop over vast swathes of land, churning it up and potentially taking the infection which can live in the soil and animal droppings with them. How can the Government be thinking of killing many thousands of badgers when it doesnt appear that hunts have ever been held accountable for their potential role in spreading the disease?
He adds: It is even more pressing to consider this given the fact that the prime minster would like to see the return of fox hunting, which, if happened, would potentially increase the activity across parts of England and Wales. Fox hunting is still very unpopular with the majority of people in Britain, and this could be yet another reason why we should consign it once and for all to the history books.
Viva! believe a simple glance at where bovine TB incidences are at their highest in England and Wales appear to show a correlation with incidences of organised hunting*.
The group points out that hunts can move across land where livestock reside and that it is questioning the Governments both in Wales and England whether there are clear guidelines in place which would prevent horses, dogs and hunt vehicles entering an area that could be infected with TB (and what penalties, if any, are in place).
We believe that there is a case to be made that the sheer size, breadth and nature of hunts could provide a vector for spreading TB across large swathes of land. Often across county borders and sometimes even country borders. Typically, hunts consist of around 20 horses, 30-40 dogs and 2-3 quad bikes (plus in some case spectators). Often they go out up to three times a week. Also, observers of hunts have told us how terrier men will often enter into wooded areas to flush out foxes (which are subsequently shot) the same areas where badger latrines could be located.
At the very least this appears to be a significant biosecurity concern, but it could also be a vital part of the answer to stopping the spread of TB. We urge the Governments in England and Wales to halt any planed badger culls especially in light of the fact that the full impact of the spread of the disease from hunting has seemingly not been ascertained.
For more information about this media release, contact Justin Kerswell by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0117 944 1000 or call the press office on the same number.
Letters sent to Jim Paice and John Griffiths available on request. As is correspondence to Wales Chief Vet Christianne Glossop.
TB can exist in soil for a very long time and in cattle faeces for 1-8 weeks (http://www.thecattlesite.com/diseaseinfo/185/tb-bovine-tuberculosis). It seems very likely that the infection could be spread via animals used for hunting and vehicles criss-crossing large areas of land and often areas where normal vehicles would not have access. Even if the hunt does not cross an area of land that currently holds cattle, it may still go through areas of land that have done so recently (and still may contain actively infected soil or faeces). It is also a possibility that cattle may be brought onto land that the hunt has recently crossed. From what we understand, some of those partaking in hunting will be farmers and therefore a further risk could be identified by those returning to their farms with the infection.
The Government in England has authorised two trial culls of badgers in the Autumn, which could be followed by more widespread culling of badgers from 2013. The Government admits that only a 12-16 per cent reduction in TB incidences over 9 years is achievable by killing badgers, which shows the majority vector for infection must lie elsewhere. In Wales, the Government is considering a recent scientific review before making it decision on badger culling there. The decision in Wales is expected next month.
* Locations of hunts have been ascertained from the Masters of Foxhounds Association (http://mfha.org.uk/pack_directory/). The map showing hunts across England and Wales and the spread of TB (using the latest map from Defra from 2009) pinpoints hunts with foxhounds in each county. As many foxhunts operate over several counties, some hunts are represented multiple times on the map. The location of the points on the map are approximate (to the county). More research would be needed to look at the size and exact coverage of each hunt. This is what Viva! are asking each Government to do. See map here: http://www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/badgers/hunting.php
Only hunts utilising foxhunts are represented currently. However other hunts (hunts with staghounds for example) should also be considered say Viva!.