Sunday, 4 March 2012
Stop the Badger Cull
by Scott Ullah
(European Socialist Action No 38 Jan/Feb 2012)
Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman wants badger culling trials to begin this year. She claims the evidence shows that the eradication of bovine TB depends on tackling the disease in badgers. “We can’t escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for the controlled reduction of the badger population in the areas affected by bovine TB”, she said.
Plans for a legal challenge have since been announced with the Mammal Society saying the government has based its culling on flawed science. Another animal welfare organisation, the Humane Society International UK, had its representative, Mark Jones, attacking the proposed culling trials by saying the scientific evidence demonstrates it will be ineffective and damaging to the local populations ... and cruel.
The Humane Society International UK also challenges the government proposals by claiming they breach an international convention on wildlife conservation.
So let us look at the scientific evidence.
The badgers are the victims in all this and not the cause of bovine TB spreading among the cattle population in Britain, scientists have confirmed.
After the savage losses of cattle to foot and mouth, farms were restocked with cattle with the old regulations relaxed; the cattle being moved around the country causing outbreaks of bovine TB where it previously did not exist.
Infection resulted from these movements and not from the badgers. It has been pointed out that cattle are free of the disease in Scotland with a healthy badger population thriving there, whereas on the Isle of Man bovine TB exists without a badger population.
In his book Badger Behaviour, Conservation and Rehabilitation: 70 Years of Getting to Know Badgers, George Pearce informs us that his family farm was bovine TB-free from 1950 to 2008 ... while enjoying the existence of badger setts on his land. He believes the current problem has more to do with cattle alone and nothing to do with the persecuted badgers.
This is what the experienced farmer, George Pearce, proposes:
Study the bloodlines of cattle and through blood tests test for susceptibility to bovine TB. The gene pool could be a contributory factor.
In the 1960s and 1970s, we were largely free of the disease but non-British breeds have been introduced that could be less resistant. Let the scientists get more involved and the politicians take a back seat.
Intensive breeding could be inducing stress, leading to increased stress-related susceptibility.
On one farm in Gloucestershire, hit by bovine TB, cattle were fed on maize, which lacks selenium, essential for maintaining a healthy immune system in cattle. Farmer, Dick Roper, then introduced selenium mineral licks for both cattle and badgers. The result? A complete cure. This successful treatment strongly suggests that outbreaks of bovine TB have a compromised immune system at the root of the problem.
There have been massive reductions in bovine TB cases in many parts of Wales due to cattle testing and movement controls without a single badger cull. But many rogue farmers are keeping infected cattle and sending healthy cattle to slaughter in their place.
David Williams of the Badger Trust says the guilty farmers are harbouring and spreading the disease, while the measures in place require effective movement control and accurate recordings. These measures have proved successful without killing a single badger.
The Independent Scientific Group monitored a pilot cull of badgers between 1997 and 2007. Inside the culling area bovine TB reduced only slightly while outside the area it increased dramatically. The conclusions of this trial were that culling can make “no meaningful contribution to the reduction of bovine TB”. The Independent Scientific Group has become involved once more in the latest government proposals. The members of the group have written a letter to The Times opposing them, including Lord Krebs, chairman of the House of Lords science and technology select committee, Professor John Bourne and Dr Chris Cheeseman, former chief scientist at DEFRA’s Gloucestershire study area. The Times letter stated there is “no empirical data on the cost or effectiveness (or indeed humaneness or safety) of controlling badgers by shooting, which has been illegal for decades”.
The government ignores scientific evidence. Why? Could it be they are after the farmers’ vote on this one, sacrificing our valuable wildlife in the process? If so, this is not only cruel but immoral and dishonest. To Caroline Spelman we can only echo the words of René Artois in BBC television’s ‘Allo ‘Allo! ... “You stupid woman!” copyright © Scott Ullah 2012