Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle

Abstract

Human and livestock diseases can be difficult to control where infection persists in wildlife populations. For three decades, European badgers (Meles meles) have been culled by the British government in a series of attempts to limit the spread of Mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB), to cattle1. Despite these efforts, the incidence of TB in cattle has risen consistently, re-emerging as a primary concern for Britain's cattle industry. Recently, badger culling has attracted controversy because experimental studies have reached contrasting conclusions (albeit using different protocols), with culled areas showing either markedly reduced2,3 or increased4,5 incidence of TB in cattle. This has confused attempts to develop a science-based management policy. Here we use data from a large-scale, randomized field experiment to help resolve these apparent differences. We show that, as carried out in this experiment, culling reduces cattle TB incidence in the areas that are culled, but increases incidence in adjoining areas. These findings are biologically consistent with previous studies2,3,4,5 but will present challenges for policy development.

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Figure 1: Effects of badger culling on cattle TB incidence.
Figure 2: Simplified map of proactive and survey-only areas of triplet A.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded and implemented by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). We gratefully acknowledge the contribution made by the staff of Defra and its associated agencies. We also wish to thank the many farmers and land occupiers in the trial areas who allowed the experimental treatments to operate on their land. Finally, we thank D. Mollison for comments. Author Contributions F.J.B., C.A.D., D.R.C., G.G., J.P.M., W.I.M. and R.W. constitute the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, which designed and oversees the RBCT. Data analyses were designed and performed by C.A.D., D.R.C., G.W., P.G., H.J., W.T.J and A.M.L.F. The manuscript was drafted by R.W. and C.A.D. with input from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Christl A. Donnelly.

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Supplementary Notes

This file contains the details of the design of the trial, how analyses were performed, results from extra analyses that were undertaken to support the findings reported in the main text and details of other studies which looked at the effects of badger culling. (DOC 1349 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains all raw data that was used to produce the main results. (XLS 101 kb)

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Donnelly, C., Woodroffe, R., Cox, D. et al. Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle. Nature 439, 843–846 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04454

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