29 Aug 2013

Killing badgers won’t save cows

Bovine TB has a dreadful impact on the livelihoods and emotional well-being of the farming community in South West England. The physical suffering of infected cows, the destruction of herds and the damage to farmers’ livelihoods are issues we care about. Killing badgers is not the answer. In fact much of the available scientific evidence suggests badger culls could contribute to worsening the problem as distressed surviving animals move on, potentially carrying disease into previously uninfected areas. Killing badgers doesn’t solve the problem of cows catching TB from other cows, either.

Supporting farmers and the rural economy means finding a rational and practical solution to TB that will work for the long term. Shooting badgers may be an easy response, and it may satisfy a human, emotional need to ‘do something’ but that does not turn it into a wise and productive choice.  The Green Party in the South West does not believe that culling badgers is the answer. We are responding to the available scientific research, and have supported a number of methods that, used together would create a more humane and functional alternative that could make a genuine difference for farmers, cows and badgers alike. The spread of TB can be tackled by improving ‘biosecurity’, reducing contact between badgers and cattle, by making cattle yards and feed sheds badger-proof and using electric fencing and road barriers to keep badgers and cattle apart out in the fields. Transmission between cows can be reduced by using the interferon blood test on cattle, as this is more sensitive than the skin test, giving more accurate results in the first place. Controls on movements of cattle between holdings under the same occupancy would help, along with strict controls on movements of cattle out of high risk areas. Vaccination of the badger population can reduce bovine TB in cattle, and ultimately it should be possible to effectively vaccinate cattle.

Dairy farming and beef cattle are important for the economy and landscape of South West England. Bovine TB is a serious threat to the industry. However, more should also be done to recognise other threats including the economic pressure on our farmers caused by the buying power of big supermarkets.

Emily McIvor, the Green Party’s national speaker on rural affairs and a candidate in next year's European Parliamentary elections said:

 “We need a long-term solution that avoids culling; our wild animals are precious, and when conflicts arise between farming interests and animal welfare, the Green Party will always look for a balance that is both humane and rational. The scientific evidence is weighted heavily against the cull and even the author of the main government paper, Professor John Krebs, architect of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007, has called the cull ‘mindless’. The Green Party is clear that culling is not the answer to what we consider a very serious rural problem.”

Molly Scott Cato, the lead South-West Green Party candidate in the 2014 European elections and leader of the Green group on Stroud District Council is facing culling in her local area of Gloucestershire. She said:

 “In view of the likely local opposition to the badger cull in my local area I find it deeply regrettable that the National Farmers Union (NFU) decided to try to limit peaceful protest on this issue and welcome the judge's ruling on the injunction that the right to peaceful protest must be protected. The attempt to suppress peaceful opposition is a sign of weakness and it shows that the NFU knows the public, like the Green Party, is against the cull.”

Stroud has been at the forefront of badger vaccination work, with the Stroud based Badger Vaccination Deployment Project http://www.defra.gov.uk/ahvla-en/science/bovine-tb/bvdp/ “During the 2012 field season, we vaccinated 998 badgers. This follows a very successful field season in 2011, when 628 badgers were vaccinated across 86 premises covering 8400 ha. In 2010, we vaccinated 541 badgers across 93 premises, covering approximately 9000 ha of land.” Vaccination is a carefully organised intervention that harms no other wildlife, does not run any risk of injured badgers roaming the countryside, does not leave us with badger bodies to find and deal with, and causes very little distress all round.

To catch up on science issues and local thinking about badgers, Stroud community TV interview with Dr Chris Cheeseman http://stroudcommunity.tv/badgers-everything-about-them-plus-to-cull-or-not/ and visit www.southwestgreenparty.org.uk for more information about The Green Party in the southwest.

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