Lorraine Platt is Founder of Blue Badger, IFAW Campaigner Winner 2012 and Inspiration Awards For Women 2013 Shortlist Nominee.
The Government’s disappointing plans to proceed with the badger cull from June this year demonstrate how out of step with scientific evidence and public opinion it is on the issue. Culling badgers will not eradicate bovine TB in cattle. The case for culling badgers is weak. Scientific evidence shows that a cull will only reduce TB in cattle by 16 per cent at best, and may actually spread the disease further. It may be counterproductive, and does not provide a credible long term solution to the problem of bovine tuberculosis.
The British Veterinary Zoological Society has added its voice to the massive weight of scientific and public opposition to the Coalition's proposed badger cull. Its website states: "BVZS does not believe there is currently scientific evidence to suggest that a targeted cull of badgers can contribute positively to the overall control of bTB in cattle, can be employed in a way that protects animal welfare or is economically viable".
Last October, more than 30 leading scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, announced publicly in a letter to the Observer: "We believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it". They concluded: "...culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its strategy".
The letter was signed by eminent scientists including Lord Krebs, Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. More recently, the opinion of former government Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington that culling would have ‘little effect’ was widely publicised in the media.
The Blue Badger website provides Conservative MP's quotes against the cull and also includes the Bow Groups briefing on why the government should abandon badger culling trials in favour of vaccination. The Conservative Animal Welfare website further features a statement on its disappointment at the Government decision to push ahead with selected badger culls. The Co- Chair of Conservative Animal Welfare and I recently sent a joint statement to all Conservative MPs and Ministers with links to the scientific evidence against the badger cull.
Badgers are a protected species and a valued intrinsic part of our countryside, loved by the British public. An e-petition recently attracted more than 263,000 public signatures against the planned cull. Recently, a letter was sent to David Cameron signed by 100 celebrities, conservation organisations, scientists and vets. Sir Roger Moore, Joanna Lumley, Judi Dench and Brian Blessed were amongst the signatories against the badger cull. Organisations included the RSPB, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and many more.Blue Badger is very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community, but we believe that a badger cull will not solve the problem. It is a false hope for farmers who need strong support and an effective solution which will work to eradicate TB in cattle. Biosecurity and vaccination is the way forwards to tackle the disease.
All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on farms by reducing cattle movements between farms and tightening biosecurity. Stricter controls will help to reduce the disease. It is paramount that cattle controls are strengthened. Farmers are increasingly speaking out against the planned culls. This is what Steve Jones, a dairy specialist recently wrote about them:
"I have 35 years' livestock management experience, and I live in the heart of the Forest of Dean – the cull area – and I disagree. Killing badgers isn't the long-term or sustainable solution to bovine TB control that farmers so desperately need. Shooting badgers is politically motivated, not scientifically driven, and farmers need to realise they're being sold a lame duck.
Over the years, I have managed some of the highest-yielding dairy herds in the world with consistently high levels of hygiene and disease resistance. Meticulous bio security and sympathetic animal husbandry are the key to stamping out TB in cattle, not shooting British wildlife. Farmers vilify badgers but TB is mainly transmitted cow to cow. So the solution to eradicating TB lies with farmers themselves who must accept responsibility for a disease that is all too easily spread back and forth within and between herds due to poor management, lax bio security and substandard animal care. A slow response in tackling the disease compounds the problem, which can therefore soon reach epidemic proportions. I have seen it many times with mad cow disease, foot and mouth and now bovine TB. Alas, the farming industry prefers to scapegoat badgers rather than tackling these fundamental problems."
There is a viable alternative to the cull - vaccination. The Welsh Assembly recently decided against badger culling and operates a vaccination programme for badgers instead to tackle the TB problem. Opponents of the cull claim that it will lose votes for Cameron in Middle England. Yet he said recently that it takes "political courage" to pursue the policy of culling of badgers in the face of widespread opposition.
Many may question if it is a courageous or responsible commitment to pursue a policy of badger culling despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against it. It would demonstrate extraordinary courage and leadership to step back from a misguided cull and follow Wales' example of badger vaccination instead of a cull.
Recent Freedom of Information Act requests provide some insight into just how inhumane the badger culls can be. Out of 5,500 badgers to be shot during the pilot culls, only 120 will be independently monitored for "humaneness." There will only be four shoot monitors to cover the whole of West Gloucestershire and West Somerset during the pilot culls. The government has said that they won't be testing any culled badgers to check whether they are infected with TB. It is still not too late for the government to listen to the scientific evidence and focus on vaccination for both badgers and cattle as the effective solution forwards.