Tuesday was a sad day for our wild animals. The BBC reported that the badger cull will be extended into five new areas, although the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would not confirm that the selections had been made.
News that the already failed cull would be expanded is particularly disappointing to those who hoped that a new government would bring new wisdom.
This tragic development is born of a distortion of the real facts, supported by false promises and propaganda heaped on to the farming community.
There is mounting evidence that badgers have little to do with the spread of bovine tuberculosis. And there are no grounds whatsoever for believing that badger killing has made the slightest impact on the disease, but the government is seemingly pressing ahead, cheered on by the National Farmers Union.
People close to this machinery will tell you that it’s hard to see a clear line between the government and the NFU; and this in itself has a bad smell. No thought whatsoever is given to the suffering of the badgers, even though the government’s own independent expert panel delivered a verdict that the cull was neither humane nor effective. In fact, the shameful response from David Cameron’s government was to ensure there was no independent panel for the next rounds of culls.
Even Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Ian Boyd, has admitted the contribution of badgers to bovine TB may only be 6%. That means that at least 94% of the problem lies with the cattle herd itself. The overwhelming evidence is that the policy of skin testing and removal of individual reactive cows leaves infected and infectious animals in the herd, and so of course the problem recurs time after time.
Blaming reinfection on wildlife is a glib piece of manoeuvring by the NFU, but it’s not supported by any evidence. Quite the reverse. It’s worth mentioning also that even within the so-called hotspot areas for bovine TB, many farms have never harboured the disease. If the badgers were to blame for spreading the disease, would they be so choosy? The closer you get to the whole bovine TB scenario the more you realise that what the farmers are being put through is nonsense.
Culling badgers is a pill that is being offered as a consolation prize to farmers who are desperate for “something” to be done. It’s a placebo. What the farmers need is a proper testing regime that actually does clean up their herds.
I hope some of the farmers who are considering signing up for this continued culling farce will read this. I don’t say it lightly. I’ve been immersed in this stuff through Team Badger and the Save Me Trust for seven years now.
I have no ulterior motive; I just want a solution to the problem. I believe we have now seen the beginnings of new evidence that recurrence of bovine TB on farms can be eradicated by more refined testing and, crucially, without interference with wildlife. Surprised? We’re not.
But continued culling will wreck it all. With the badger cull, nobody benefits – except possibly a couple of government officials who are frightened of losing face.
It’s a sad tale. History will tell that, in clinging to this ridiculous cull, the government has:
1) wasted millions of pounds of the public’s money
2) disastrously let down cattle farmers
3) inflicted massive unnecessary suffering on thousands of mostly healthy native badger families
4) lied to the public about the effectiveness of what it is doing
5) delayed the resolution of the bTB problem by possibly 20 years
6) in the process, allowed tens of thousands of cattle to be avoidably infected, and prematurely slaughtered
In short, the casualties resulting from the decision to extend the cull are not just the badgers. The other casualties are cattle, farmers and the truth. It’s a disgrace.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 26 Aug 2016.
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