From tonight badgers, protected mammals, become targets in so-called ‘pilot cull zones’ in Somerset and Gloucestershire. 5000 of them will be killed in what Defra are claiming is a test to see whether shooting low-slung animals running around in the dark can be ‘humane’: only if it is ‘humane’ will a ‘cull’ (ie an organised killing of a protected animal) be rolled out across the country.
A fair and reasonable definition of humane is “Characterized by kindness, mercy, or compassion”. Not “A measure of how loud an animal squeals as it dies” (one measure Defra says they’re using). These ‘humane’ killings will be carried out by gunmen – misleadingly called marksmen in the propaganda war – with minimal training, by people who (as badgers are a protected species) should never have shot at a running badger before. An (FoI) request revealed that as few as 120 shootings will be independently observed for ‘humaneness’. As far as many of us are concerned the government has failed its first test immediately.
The government and the NFU claim that the reasons badgers must die is that they are responsible for bTb in cattle. Badgers carry the bTb bacterium, but where they pick up bTb or what the bTb transmission routes are is not properly understood. Incredibly there will be no testing for the presence of bTB in the badgers killed. Why? It’s hard not to conclude that as only 6% of badgers in the country are affected by bTb that the government/NFU simply want to destroy badger populations and eradicate the species from the countryside. It’s ‘easier’ (and perhaps more ‘fun’ for the gunmen?) than increasing biosecurity and stopping cattle and badgers mixing.
As a side issue, George Osborne has stated many times that he wants to speed up the planning process. It’s perhaps worth noting that though this badger slaughter is undoubtedly a political issue, on a local level with badgers gone field margins that once contained setts could be more easily (and less expensively) destroyed (http://adlib.everysite.co.uk/adlib/defra/content.aspx?id=000HK277ZX.0B4O7PHP9CGCB0).
The government’s stated aim is to reduce bTB in cattle by 16% over the next nine years. In nine year’s time, by the government’s own figures, tens of thousands of badgers will have been killed, but there will have been barely a dent made in a problem that is only a problem because farmers ‘can’t sell infected meat to the EU‘. Farmers though are compensated by the UK taxpayer for any cattle that die of bTb (and perhaps hugely over-compensated by us), and it was recently admitted that infected meat is still sold into the food chain.
There is no reliable evidence that a cull will reduce bTb. Some evidence clearly says that it will increase the spread of it as badgers scatter away from shooting zones into new areas (known as ‘peturbation’), or badgers recolonise areas where existing populations have been killed once the shooting stops.
According to Defra for a ‘cull’ of badgers to be effective at least 70% of a local population must be killed. And the culls must be repeated for years. No-one has exact badger population figures. Defra has admitted in a tweet they are working off population figures from the 1990s. No-one can know accurately what percentage of a population has been killed therefore. Or what percentage of a population of protected animals survive.
Defra appears to be quite keen on culling animals. Including cows. Looking for data on mastitis, an increasingly common infection of dairy cows as they become more and more over-worked, I found this piece of advice – the last few words are particularly chilling: “Generally, cows selected for culling should be removed from the milking herd immediately, irrespective of length of time calved or stage of pregnancy” (my underlining). Which shows a huge concern for an animal’s welfare…
Farmers make much of the number of infected cattle they ‘have to kill’, using headlines that are designed to tug at the heartstrings. According to the pro-cull website TBFreeEngland some 198749 cattle have been culled in Great Britain because of TB since January 1st 2008, at a cost to the taxpayer of £91 million. According to Defra’s monthly stats the meat industry slaughtered 178000 cattle in July 2013 ALONE. To quote the Vegetarian Society: “A cow’s natural lifespan is 20 to 25 years. By the time the dairy cow is just five years old she is worn out by the strain of constant milk and calf production and is slaughtered as she is of no further use to the industry.”
I’m not ashamed to care about animals. In fact I’m proud of it. It’s one reason I’m vegetarian. You can disagree with me on many grounds, including when it comes to what I choose to eat, but this proposed ‘cull’ is wrong. The science says that it’s wrong, and even some government supporters and many farmers recognise that what’s about to take place in the countryside is clearly not humane. Over 267,000 of us (as of August 26th) have signed an online petition demanding it be dropped. So why is the cull going ahead? It seems because the NFU (which represents just 18% of farmers) wants it to. A good enough reason to marginalise farmers from sections of the public, destroy our reputation as a country that uses best conservation /welfare practices to solve conservation/welfare problems, and drive a wedge between farmers and conservation/welfare organisations which disagree fundamentally with the ‘cull’?
The government apparently thinks so.
If you disagree please say so and sign the petition here: