Why are we here?

We’re told that, regrettably, badgers infect cows with TB, and those cows suffer, and the poor badgers suffer, and we have to do something to stop all that suffering, and the best thing we can do is to shoot the badgers for their own good, and the cows can go back to dancing in the meadows.

But of course, dairy cows can’t dance in the meadows as, according to the industry, a quarter of them are lame at any one time. And, even if their feet weren’t so sore they struggled to walk, they couldn’t dance in meadows, as they’re feeling pretty crummy due to the excruciating udder infection mastitis that is endemic in British herds. And, even if they could walk comfortably, and their teats weren’t oozing pus, they wouldn’t be able to dance in the meadows because an increasing number spend their entire lives inside filthy, stinking factory farm sheds. And even if they did get out, they probably wouldn’t feel like dancing, as these highly sensitive creatures are almost certainly feeling physically exhausted from the repeated forced pregnancies and constant milking, and they may well be feeling emotionally subdued due to their calves being repeatedly taken from them and shot in the head. (Well, we can’t have those calves drinking the milk that we want, can we?)

Strangely, farmers don’t talk about these issues. They don’t want people to know that cows suffer in this way, just so we can pour milk onto our breakfast cereal. Farmers don’t want to talk about lameness otherwise they would have to do something about the foot health of those animals; they don’t want to talk about mastitis otherwise they’d have to take action; and they don’t want to talk about the high number of dairy cows who are ‘culled’ prematurely because they are so broken down by the high toll exacted of them that they can no longer produce enough milk for farmers to want to keep them alive.

And so they direct our attention to TB, shifting our focus away from the cows who suffer appalling cruelties in the milk industry and instead whipping up a frenzy in the papers and in parliament, where the merits of killing wildlife are hotly debated. (A badger is not just a badger – he is a scapegoat and also something of a red herring.)

And we know this government is partial to killing wildlife. It wants to defy the will of the people and bring back hunting. It has recently spent tens of thousands of pounds killing and trapping a handful of parakeets who lived in Borehamwood. It has sanctioned the killing of tens of thousand of endangered gulls to ‘protect’ pheasants on the Duke of Westminster’s shooting estate (and by ‘protect pheasants’ I obviously mean keep them alive long enough to be beaten into the air so that guns can shoot them down for fun.) It has allowed the destruction of buzzard nests and eggs for the same reason. And it is currently updating wildlife laws and proposes that government agents be allowed to enter private property and kill any species it deems to be non-native – without the landowners’ permission. This is the government we have. If they can’t be hunted, shot or exploited for commercial gain, wild animals do not matter to them.

But they do matter. They matter in their own right. They matter to me and I know they matter to you. And that’s why we’re here. I am proud to be part of this compassionate movement, a movement that stands up in defence of the voiceless. But none of us should have to be here. If we lived in a democracy, there would be no badger cull, as the public has spoken out powerfully against it. If we had a government who gave a damn about doing the right thing, it would not have brushed under the rug the independent scientific opinion and instead paid heed to a handful of scientists in its payroll and who – surprise surprise – support its view.

Of course badgers could be vaccinated – as they are in Wales – but that costs more money, and we can’t be throwing away all that precious free money given to farmers in subsidies. And so the cull will go ahead this year, and next year and, if the government has its way, every year until the badger population is decimated.

This government is out of touch and out of control. It plans to test ‘humaneness’ of the cull by the screams of dying badgers. There is no doubt that badgers will suffer. But we should not forget for a moment the hidden suffering of dairy cows, in whose name this cull is being conducted.

Groups like Animal Aid and Viva do our best to shine a spotlight onto the murky world of dairy farming – and our investigations are online for all to see – the squalor, the disease, the lameness, the dead animals shot in the yards, the dairy cows sent to slaughter when they don’t make the farmer enough money.

If the price of milk is the mass killing of badgers and terrible cruelty to cows, I want none of it. For the sake of badgers, we must stop the cull. For the sake of cows and badgers, we must also boycott milk.

This speech was delivered by Kate Fowler, Animal Aid’s Head of Campaigns, at the National March Against the Badger Cull organised by London Against the Badger Cull on 1st June 2013.