Policy–Based Evidence Making in Wales
I’ve had a few comments and emails since my previous entry on the Welsh Assembly Government’s proposal to cull badgers. Yesterday, Elin Jones, the Rural Affairs Minister made another announcement about her proposal, so it seems a good time to look again at what is going to happen.
There is still precious little detail in the proposal, and my request for more details on exactly what was going to be done was ignored by the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer, who did little more than send me the URL of their website by way of reply.
There are two big problems with the planned cull that I didn’t address before. The first is that trapping and shooting is not an effective way to cull out a badger sett. We know from previous research that the harmful effects of badger culling – increased spread of TB in the surrounding area – are at least partly due to partial culls, and would probably be reduced by complete culls. Sadly, there is a shortage of humane ways to completely cull setts.
Secondly, and more significantly, they are rigging the result of their pilot study in North Pembrokeshire. As well as culling badgers (over a period of 4 years), they are going to implement “additional cattle measures” (presumably sensible things like increasing farm biosecurity, buying animals from non-endemic areas, and so on) to try and reduce the spread of TB between cattle. What this means is that the results from the pilot area will be of no value at all in assessing whether or not badger culling has been effective. If TB levels decline in the pilot area, there will be no way of telling whether that was due to the badger culling, or the cattle-based control measures.
You can be sure, though, that if TB levels do decline, it will be trumpeted by the Welsh Assembly Government as evidence that badger culling works – a classic example of policy-based evidence making!