Phil Pickin: Don’t blame badgers
Before I start I’d like to point out that I live in the heart of the countryside surrounded by farms and within a farming community. I also count amongst my friends a dairy farmer so I don’t see things from the prospective of a urban dweller who never comes into contact with the farming community. Having made my position clear it will be of little surprise for you to learn that I’m not in favor of the badger cull, and the more that arguments persist the more I’m convinced that this is not the way forward. I totally agree that bTB is a disease that needs to be controlled if not eradicated. I also agree that badgers are able to transmit the disease. What I can’t see the logic in is the governments decision to control the problem by killing off a species when scientific study has been unable to prove that this is the best, and only, way of controlling the spread of bTB.
To begin with there are many, including farmers, who openly question the validity of the current TB tests in cattle, as there would seem to be far too many questions as to just how accurate the test regime is. There is a considerable amount of information on this issue on the Rethink Bovine TB website. This not only outlines the current policy but also provides information on the potential risks to the human population of catching TB from a cow carrying the bacterium. In short it’s felt that the risks are low and that the current or proposed policy of managing the problem is not, and will not work.
The joke is (apart from not being very funny) that the government asked Sir David Cox, the statistician, to design and analyse a large scientific survey to look into the question of whether a cull would control the spread of TB. After nine years of research and field tests comparing areas in which culls took place and areas in which they didn’t, it found that culling badgers was ineffective unless you almost wiped out badgers altogether. Details of this study can be found on the Defra website. It would seem that the government have ignored the findings of a study that they commissioned because it clashed with a policy they didn’t want to change.
On the other side of the argument, it must be noted that TB is a disease that needs to be controlled or wiped out – the problem is how? Sick cattle have as much right to treatment and the management of their pain and suffering as any other animal, but is killing badgers the way to do it? Is it not possible to vaccinate badgers or cattle – after all humans have been vaccinated for years. How do other countries manage their bTB problem? Can we not learn from their example and implement what worked best for them? Maybe the Rethink campaign are onto something when they ask for a fundamental review and overhaul of the current legislation and methods of controlling such problems in cattle.
It would seem that the government have handled the whole issue badly and as a result they have spread confusion and conflicting arguments amongst the population. Mix that with the fact that the self-same government have already carried out a number of U-turns on other issues (and no doubt don’t want to do anymore), could result in the cull starting next year. We will have to wait and see but the argument goes on and until we get clear and unequivocal evidence that this is the only way to control bTB. I, for one, am not in favor of this method of control.
The House of Commons Bovine TB report can be read in full by clicking here [PDF].
Image by Wikimedia user Peter Trimming.