Agriculture is by its shear nature in constant flux, one farming practice after another being brought in to make for even more efficiency. Farmers are under ever more pressure to deliver cheaper food and that, in my humble opinion, is where we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, time and time again. The Independent ran a story the other day, saying less than 1% of the population is now employed on the land, the lowest number in agricultural history. It’s not just the man power changes that have been so striking, it’s all the other imbalances that have gone along with it. Every small town had its own slaughter house, butcher’s shop and cattle market, making miles travelled between rearing on the farms to house wife’s shopping baskets much less dramatic. Nowadays, with much larger super abattoirs and far fewer cattle markets, animals are travelling greater distances than ever before in the history of world agriculture. A dairy animal, for example, can be purchased in Carlisle one day and be in Devon the next; I believe that the distances being travelled month in and month out is probably the greatest cause of the spread of Bovine TB in our herds. A parallel can be here made with TB in the human population, which is making a comeback in the UK not only because of the withdrawal of our vaccination programme, but because of the ever-increasing numbers moving in and out of the country, poverty, poor diet and down-right wretchedness – perhaps another parallel with the bovine community is to be drawn from the latter.
The proposed national badger cull is an ill-founded, all-guns-blazing approach with little hard evidence to back it up. There are plenty of examples of grave mistakes made by the government with regard to agriculture, which have had profound effects. Who can forget the Mad Cow Disease, caused by the smashing down of Scrapie diseased sheep carcasses into animal feed, all done under the banner of better efficiency? And who is to say that the badger cull won’t be seen as another huge mistake on the books in a few years’ time?
Culling badgers to stop Bovine TB in cattle is not the answer; the disease will still be just as profound but with fewer badgers, leaving a gaping hole in our delicate ecosystems. We even have previous culls to look back to as predictors of the outcome: an experimental cull of 11,000 badgers in 1971 in this country, commented on by Sir David Attenborough, did not make any difference to the incidence of this disease. Actually, no, that’s not quite right. This did make a difference to the incidence of the disease: it increased its spread! This conclusion has been reached after the spending of over £49m of tax-payers’ money and over 150 scientific papers. We’ve got to look at this from another stand point: as has been shown in the human population, vaccination is key – of both badgers and cattle - possibly through some kind of feed source. This has been shown to be both efficacious and cost-effective. Until that day arrives: badgers, keep dodging the lead.
If you’d like more information as to why the badger cull is not the answer to the problem of Bovine TB, please take a look at this short video, from Sir David and a great many other experts in this field: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhojkHMyaJg.
Lastly, one of the greatest writers of the 20th-Century - if not the best - George Orwell, eventually succumbed to the disease and retired to his cottage in Scotland. It’s a real shame that we can’t turn back the clocks and have his opinion on the subject.