Spelman badger cull decision ‘vicious and counter-productive’

Posted on the 14th December 2011

The decision by Caroline Spelman to approve the culling of badgers in two English pilot areas represents a miserable capitulation to a cattle farming industry that is intent on pursuing abusive practices that lead inexorably to high levels of disease.

Spelman has given the go-ahead for the six-week slaughter programmes in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that the mass destruction of badgers will not reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. A decade-long study, costing £35 million, by the Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB, concluded that badger culling could not ‘meaningfully contribute’ to the control of the disease because it displaces badgers, spreading infection over a wider area. The disease was almost conquered in the 1960s, without killing any badgers – the incidence stabilising at about 1,000 cases per year for around 20 years. Numbers soared when annual cattle testing ceased in the mid 1980s, followed by uncontrolled cattle movements.

Recent figures from Wales confirm that stringent testing for the disease, coupled with movement controls, can lead to a dramatic decline in the number of cows killed due to bovine TB. The reduction in Dyfed during the first seven months of 2011 was 37 per cent, compared with the equivalent period in 2009. In England, by contrast, where testing and movement controls are more lax, there was a six per cent increase in new TB cases from January to July 2011, compared with the same period in 2010.

The underlying causes of bovine TB, and numerous other diseases that kill even greater numbers of cows every year, are the intensive and stressful conditions to which the animals are subjected. Modern commercial dairy cows are selectively bred to produce unnaturally large quantities of milk, and they are increasingly reared within ‘zero grazing’ regimes. These allow them virtually no access to the outside or the freedom to display any natural behaviours. It is inevitable that bovine TB and other respiratory diseases should flourish in conditions where animals are kept in such close proximity.

Given such farming methods, it is little wonder that there are epidemic levels of mastitis, lameness and premature infertility, all of which result in the deaths each year of many more cows than those caused by bovine TB.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:

‘Caroline Spelman, as expected, has taken the cowardly decision to order the slaughter of badgers. She has done this instead of demanding that farmers deal with the problems of their own making. This wanton slaughter is both vicious and counter-productive. The high level of bovine TB is not caused by badgers. It is the consequence of farming practices that mercilessly exploit cattle for profit – depriving them of everything that makes life meaningful.’

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