Environment Opinion

Badgered to death

badger cull
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When MPs return to their offices next week, many will find their constituents have sent them a copy of my new book, Badgered to Death.

The book paints a very stark picture of the incompetence, negligence and deceit in government the farming and veterinary industry over the last 40 years, when it comes to tackling the issue of bovine TB in cattle.

The forward, written by Chris Packham, says:

“For many reasons we had come to love the badger, to cherish and admire it, to protect and celebrate it and of course many still do.

“But the reputation of this essential member of the UK’s ecology has been targeted by a smear campaign which has been swallowed by the gullible and fuelled by those with vested interests.”

It leaves readers in no doubt that the badger has become an innocent victim of the industrialisation of the of the livestock industry and is now being used as a political pawn in a game of power and influence in the countryside.

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Costly and Ineffective

Since 2013, the government has licenced the killing of 3,916 badgers at a cost to the tax payer of at least £25 million, or £6,384 per badger.

None of the badgers killed have been tested for tuberculosis (TB) and the vast majority (over 85%) are likely to be TB-free. Many of the badgers have been killed by a cruel, free shooting method which results in them taking over five minutes of suffering to die of multiple gun shots, blood loss and organ failure. Despite the fact that this killing method has been condemned by the government’s own Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association, it continues to be used to keep costs down.

DEFRA statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers, the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the cull zones.

After four years of culling, no one can seriously doubt that the badger cull policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humane grounds. We now have conclusive evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farm yards and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate.

This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves.

By extending the badger cull to seven new areas of the country the taxpayer is now facing a bill in the region of £100 million by 2020 on a policy which will fail to deliver any significant reduction in bovine TB for livestock farmers. 14,000 badgers will now be targeted for killing.

We could kill every badger in England and remove them parts of the country where they have lived for over half a million years and we would still have TB in the national cattle herd.

The government has demonised badgers for political purposes and is now killing them at huge cost to the tax payer as a political fig leaf to the farming lobby, to mask failures going back over 40 years in the management of bovine TB in cattle.

The Welsh Approach Works

The only effective way to reduce bovine TB is to follow the approach of the Welsh Government, which is to introduce annual TB testing for all cattle, making use of both the TB skin test and the gamma interferon blood test to better detect TB in cattle. This needs to be combined with tighter cattle movement controls and bio-security at the farm gate level, including tighter controls over the use of slurry, which can spread TB bacteria.

New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% over the last 12 months and 94% of the Welsh herd is now TB-free, without any killing any badgers.

The badger cull was one of the worst legacies of David Cameron’s time as Prime Minister. Theresa May will find a copy of Badgered to Death in her in tray on her return from Switzerland. I trust she will take time to read it and realise it’s time to stop playing the ‘badger blame game’ and introduce a bovine TB control policy, which is good for farmers, tax payers and the future of our precious badgers.

Badger cull

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Dominic Dyer is a wildlife protection campaigner, writer and broadcaster. He left school at 16 and joined the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food as a civil servant. Over the next 13 years in Whitehall and Brussels he worked on issues ranging from marine environment protection to organic agriculture. In 2000 he left the public sector for the Food and Drink Federation, where he became an expert on the environment and healthy eating trends. In 2008 he was appointed chief executive of the Crop Protection Association, the trade body for the UK plant science industry. In 2012 he abandoned his career as an industry lobbyist and became a full-time wildlife protection campaigner with Care for the Wild. Today he is policy advisor for the Born Free Foundation and chief executive of the Badger Trust.

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