Thursday, 8 August 2013

A bit about the Badger Cull.

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

Bodger and Badger - nothing weird happening here at all...
You know what, as a vegetarian, I don't like killing live things. There are exceptions - I do believe that if it's in my house, the only good spider is a dead one, but there aren't many living things I dislike enough to kill them. That includes badgers. I am one of the Bodger and Badger generation - in a tiny part of my mind, badgers are cute things, making mashed potato and living in a house with a middle aged man called Simon. The reality is sadly different, and I'd like to try and put a few things straight, lest we all start reading the Guardian and thinking Labour are actually right about something.

 I live in Frome, part of the Somerton and Frome Constituency and we're lucky enough to have David Heath represent us in Parliament. You might have heard of him, because he's the Minister of State at DEFRA, or, more likely, because he's reluctantly assumed the title of Chief Badger Murderer. It's odd really, that he's taken up with such a brutal sport because actually, he's quite a mild mannered man really. Yes, he can probably get a bit bombastic if he's watching rugby, but he doesn't strike me as a natural born killer - for instance, he wrote in last week's paper about going to a folk festival. I might be wrong, but I don't think he took a machete with him in case a badger crossed his path. Anyway, I'm digressing. 

As Minister of State, one of the things that David has had to deal with is the shocking rise in Bovine TB. That's not the fact that badgers have TB, it's the fact that they give it to cattle and the cattle end up being killed. Last year, around 30,000 cattle were bumped off because they had contracted TB. Not only was this a bad deal for the cows, it was also a bad deal for the farmers, whose livelihood was jeopardised. The plan that David and his department have put forward isn't just to wholesale murder badgers. He hasn't turned into some kind of guerilla minister waving a gun at anything that moves out of the back of a Land Rover. The plan that has been put forward is actually a lot more reasonable than that, so hear me out.

Rather than just killing badgers, the plan also involves vaccination schemes. This is what the whole argument has been about. Why not just vaccinate them? The answer is simple, because the vaccine for badgers isn't effective enough to stop the blight. The vaccine that we need is an oral vaccine, which is easier to administer to badgers and is far more effective at stopping the spread of the disease.

Did you know, that on the odd occasion that David hasn't been rootling through the countryside looking for black and white creatures, he's actually fast tracked the funding for that oral vaccine?

Labour, and Mary Creagh in particular, would like you to believe that David Heath has his head hidden in the sand. He hasn't. He's openly said that the current plan is a cocktail of things - yes, culling, but also vaccination and better bio-security - and he's openly said that he intends for vaccination to play a larger and larger role in tackling the problem.

However, please don't be fooled. We aren't there yet. The vaccination that will make the difference is still in development, and is still being funded. None of that is going to stop the rate of Bovine TB going up, none of that is going to stop tens of thousands of cattle being culled.

So, accept Labour's line on this if you like. But, please be aware, the truth is a lot greyer and more complex than simply cull or no cull. I for one, am proud that a Minister of ours is standing up for the health of badgers as well as the health of farmers' herds.

So, I'm not a blood thirsty killer, but on the balance of the argument, I support the plan, and still, I love Bodger and Badger as much as the next man.

If you're going to be totes pro any animal, you'd be better off choosing hedgehogs
- they're much nicer altogether.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sam, there are several errors in your article that need to be pointed out;
    1. "the shocking rise in Bovine TB" - There was a dramatic rise following the relaxation of cattle movement controls after the F&M outbreak. However Bovine TB is actually decreasing year on year - more cases were recorded in 2008 than 2012 even though the number of animals tested has increased.
    2. "That's not the fact that badgers have TB, it's the fact that they give it to cattle and the cattle end up being killed" - There is no scientific evidence to prove that badgers pass TB back to cattle although it is assumed anecdotally. Badgers along with nearly all other mammal species can carry TB - this was given to them by cattle, hence the name Bovine TB.
    3. A picture of a hedgehog with the caption 'they are much nicer altogether' - Hedgehogs also carry TB and can contract it from cattle - as can cats, rats, dogs, stoats, weasels, deer etc, etc - a cull of badgers will not have any impact unless all of these other transitory species are also eliminated from contact with cattle.
    4. "I for one, am proud that a Minister of ours is standing up for the health of badgers as well as the health of farmers' herds" There is no logic in stating that free shooting will contribute to the health of badgers - the majority of badgers shot will be healthy.
    5. "because the vaccine for badgers isn't effective enough to stop the blight" - A vaccination program is being used successfully in Wales and by several wildlife trusts in England. Long term studies have shown that vaccinating some (not all) badgers in a population reduces the level of infection in non vaccinated offspring. To say that a vaccination is not effective enough is crazy considering that nine years of culling is forecast to reduce TB levels by only 16%.

    Leaving politics aside, concentrating on the scientific evidence and what we know of badger ecology, a cull is not an effective method of reducing TB in cattle. This has been proven by long term independent and government funded research. This cull is solely to test whether free shooting is a humane method of reducing badger populations. Plans are to assess less than 5% of the badgers shot - this does not in any guise constitute a well thought through scientific project.

    Thank you for your article and I am glad that you have an MP that you are happy with.