I spoke today at the meeting of the Wildlife and Conservation APPG in a committee room in the House of Commons. The subject of the meeting was
Bovine TB and Badgers
3-4pm, Wednesday 17 April C
ommittee Room 17, Upper Committee Corridor
The meeting was chaired by Angela Smith, MP, and I was one of a panel of four.
The format was one of debate.
The other principal speakers were:
Adam Quinney (Vice President of the NFU)
Simon King (The current head of the Wildlife Trusts)
Jim Paice (ex-Minister of Environment)
The text of my speech was roughly this.
I speak on behalf of Team Badger.
I have just a few minutes to put on record how appallingly sad and misguided we feel this cull is, and try to find the words to say, that will avert this impending tragedy. The proponents of the scheme are, in their supreme arrogance, ignoring science, morality, public opinion, and the will of Parliament.
Lord Krebs has called the cull a crazy scheme. From where I’m standing it looks like a battered juggernaut hurtling towards a precipice. Over the precipice is a bloody mess, borne of a logical absurdity, an appalling misrepresentation of science, a crime against wild animals, and the perpetuation of misery for farmers for years to come, but WORSE – add to that the further alienation of farming industry from the public, and the hastening of the ultimate demise of dairy farming in the UK.
I – we – don’t want to see that happen. If we, at Team Badger were ‘anti-farming’, you might expect us to want it to happen. But we don’t. We want a solution which allows farmers to make an honest living.
Let’s start at the beginning. In the 6-hour debate in the House which we brought about through public petition on the Government’s own website, (100,000 signatures got us the debate – we are now close to 200,000) I had the depressing experience of watching MP after Coalition MP rise and tell us, “This is a terrible problem for farmers”. Yes, we know. There has never been a time when we, attempting to give a voice to wild animals, have lost sight of this fact. It would actually have been easy for any of us, at any time, to campaign against farmers and promote the boycotting of products. We have not done that. What the extremist pro-cullers who spend their time attacking me don’t realise is that I spent two years in private discussions with Jan Rowe, and with a smallholding farmer who does not want to be named, trying to find solutions agreeable to all. I believe we came close, but in failing we maintained a dialogue and I think maintained mutual respect for each other’s point of view.
We’re NOT extremists. In fact the moderate campaigning of Team Badger is all that stands between the NFU and the Government (who we can assume are in bed together) on the one hand, and the public on the other. Temperatures are rising. In the days of free information on the Net, the public cannot be so easily fooled – they’re increasingly becoming as angry as the angry farmers – and they will not remain moderate or inactive if this cull should go ahead. When that first shot is fired by the Government to kill a badger, it will be a declaration of war, and things will change – much more radically than you realise.
We at Team Badger DO NOT WANT THIS WAR.
LET’S LOOK AT PRACTICALITIES
Every day, in the street, people come up to me in the and say, “Well done Bri … you got the cull postponed”. We in this room all know that I didn’t. Team Badger put the spotlight on you – but the cull failed to go ahead because the estimates of badger population were found to be faulty at the last minute. So you didn’t have enough men with guns. But also the uncertainty in numbers made it impossible to guarantee the achievement of your aims of 70 per cent cull.
I believe that the cull will fail to go ahead this time too, and indeed cannot go ahead, because of similar considerations, or if it does, it will fail miserably and conspicuously. There is absolutely no way the current estimates of populations are accurate enough to ensure that a 70 per cent cull is achieved.
DEFRA’s three different quoted estimates for population densities of badgers are wildly disparate, with error bars much greater than 50 per cent. And that’s just gross averages; to suggest that DEFRA has accurate enough estimates to ensure a 70 per cent kill in the area of any given sett – when setts are very variable anyway – is simply not believable.
Rosie Woodruff and Christl Donnelly have published a Nature Note warning that it will be impossible to control numbers killed. If I were in your shoes I would sense impending unavoidable failure. And really, if you really believed that badgers were the source of the problem – even though they’re not – the only hope of eradicating the disease would be to eliminate them completely.
I will never forget the look of incredulity and amusement on the face of one of the European Commissioners we spoke to in Brussels last year. “They think they can eradicate the disease by killing 70 per cant of the supposed carriers? It’s insane. They’d have to kill them all, which is ridiculous.” I’d actually love to know what stops you guys trying to kill them all? The Bern Convention? Or is there some shred of decent concern for wild animals in you chaps after all?
But this is conversation which should have been had early on … because it’s a dead end. It’s like saying, “We theorise that in order to wipe out measles we have to kill every Englishman with Scottish blood.” The next sentence is …”‘Oh – that’s ridiculous … to go out killing when we don’t even know for sure who has Scottish blood in them?” Somebody then says, “Oh that’s OK – we’ll just just kill 70 per cent of ALL Englishmen, whether or not they have the disease”. That’s what you’re proposing with badgers … you’re indiscriminately – incredibly – killing mostly healthy animals. Then someone says, “This is INSANE – we have to find another way”. Of course it’s insane. That’s how long that conversation about badgers should have lasted. It’s morally unacceptable, ridiculous, so another way has to be found. We all know what that way is … it begins with a V. Vaccination.
This cull cannot work.
Add to this the now well-established fact that punitive culling of badgers is going on in the hotspot areas already. I am appalled at the Government’s silence on this breakdown of law and order in the countryside. It’s not just illegal activity, it’s not just cruel and despicable, which ought to be enough reason for it to be condemned. It also underlines the fact that bTB flourishes in situations of badger culling. It’s common sense too, because if you believe that badgers carry the disease, this is the perfect way to spread bTB to your neighbours, due to the well known phenomenon of perturbation. Finally it also makes nonsense of the counting methods you’re employing – they are instantaneously out of date. You have not a clue how many badgers have been killed already, and how many more will be killed tonight when it gets dark.
LET’S LOOK AT ECONOMICS
This Government has done so–called ‘evaluations’ of the effect of Badger culling – in which the cost of culling is measured against the cost of not culling. In the recounting of this evaluation, the cost to farmers, the cost of slaughtered cows, and the emotional cost to farming families is all added up – and then the rhetoric would have you believe that killing badgers would STOP the disease – and suddenly all this cost would not have to be paid. It’s portrayed as a conflict between cows and badgers. Hundreds of farmers seem to have been cajoled into thinking this is true. But nothing could be further from the truth. There is not a scientist in the field, or informed farmer in the UK, who believes that after ten years of attempted culling in the UK Bovine TB would be wiped out. Not a chance in Hell. The best this ridiculous scheme can offer is, even according to the most sexed-up estimates, an improvement in breakdowns of a tiny 16 per cent after ten years. The worst, predicted by most scientists in the field, is that after ten abortive years, the situation will actually be WORSE. What a legacy to farmers. What a legacy to Britain.
And to the man in the street, this is all nonsense anyway and – worse – it is clearly a crime against Nature. Bovine TB was introduced into British wildlife by cattle farming. This is a crime of carelessness. But to then accuse the innocent wildlife, who are then called a ‘reservoir’ of being the cause of the problem and condemning them to death is a premeditated crime, borne of a warped sense of values, and is being pursued for political and short sighted economic reasons.
Warped set of values? What am I talking about? I look at you two chaps and I know you are decent family men, but you are doing an indecent thing – you’re doing an appallingly indecent thing. You can’t see it because you farming economist warriors live in a different world from us normal humans. You talk of birthing and rearing and ‘finishing’ and culling all in the same sentence, in euphemistic words which conceal the fact that you deal daily in the life and death of sentient creatures, treating them as a commodity, almost oblivious of the fact that they are creatures in their own right. And you tell us stories of farmers weeping because they have to kill their animals prematurely, when all the time they are rearing them purely in order to exploit them and send them off to slaughter. We ‘normal’ people find that hard to swallow.
And in all this reckoning – this ‘evaluation’ – the value of a Badger has not once appeared. It doesn’t appear anywhere, because in the view of the NFU and this Government, the value of a living, breathing, thinking, feeling, highly intelligent family-oriented badger is … is ZERO. The continued existence of these ancient animal families is … nothing. So to you it all makes perfect sense – calculating by your rules, if it took the death of a hundred thousand badgers to supposedly save the life of one cow, it would be justified. The sad fact is that if every badger in Britain were killed, cows would still be dying of TB for the next ten years – and beyond. I don’t believe that any one of you could put your hand on the Bible and tell me that isn’t true. Killing badgers will not save cows – and it’s dishonest say so.
It’s incredible that this appallingly flawed scheme has been successfully peddled to farmers. They are being made to pay for a scheme which is already making them hugely unpopular with the British Public, for a supposed benefit which they will almost certainly never see.
This is a moral travesty, and a remarkable piece of deception.
We challenge the NFU to
1) Poll their members to see if the majority really DO want to pursue this useless cull. We suspect that in a confidential ballot, free from coercion, they do not. Union officials are supposed to FOLLOW the wishes of their members, not force their hands.
2) Clearly confirm their condemnation of the practice of Badger Baiting. I know you have, personally, Adam, and we thank you. But one line from you on a website hardly constitutes a wholehearted public caution to the public from the NFU. If there is such a thing, I’m sorry, I have missed it.
3) Condemn the practice of small-scale DIY punitive killings of badgers – which is cruel, illegal, and if badgers are infected in that area by local cattle, at this minute spreading bovine TB by Perturbation.
We call on the Government to
4) As an absolute priority, prepare for a cattle vaccination pilot scheme. Only recently has Paterson even acknowledged a need for this to be pursued. It is clear that successive governments have dragged their feet on this issue (for reasons we can discuss).
5) Vaccinate badgers, as is being done in Wales.
6) Abort this disastrous cull scheme and have the courage to clear the way for us all to start pulling in the same direction (including me) … towards healthy cows and healthy wildlife.
Look … daily there is more evidence emerging that killing badgers will not help solve this problem (from Durham, from Oxford, etc) You’re pursuing a course which will put you in the history books for your grandchildren to read, as Luddites who simply could not admit that a farming problem has to be solved within farming methods. This cull is a pretence – a sop offered to farmers who in the end will blame you for getting seduced away from the real solutions to the problem. Don’t do it.
Comments on subsequent discussions …
“No country has ever conquered TB that didn’t tackle it in the wildlife reservoir”? NOT True. The truth is that no country attacking the problem in this way has eradicated the disease. We have the proof … but we can talk about this later. No country in Europe has successfully adopted the methods we are employing to successfully rid itself of TB.
There was a lot misunderstanding in the room about the cull being a kind of scientific experiment to see if culling badgers works to eradicate bTB. This is not the case, and in the meeting this was confirmed by Jim Paice. No data on culling and bTB will be able to be collected from this cull. All the ‘pilot cull’ is testing is if badgers can be culled cheaply and ‘humanely’.
Claims were made once again in this meeting that culling badgers reduces the population, which in turn reduces the rate of infection in the badger population. In the RBCT trial this was found NOT to be true. The first result of culling in the RBCT trial was an increase in the percentage of infected animals. Can you imagine trying to cure an outbreak of a infectious disease in humans by randomly killing 70 per cent of them – with no test to ascertain which were infected? The true folly of this scheme becomes more and more apparent.
There is an irony in the fact that the NFU is considering (but not offering to pay for) vaccinating badgers in the borders areas of the cull zones. The irony is that they are saying on the one hand that vaccination is not a viable option, yet they are proposing to use it to limit the potential damage done by a cull.
I have included some comments on the subsequent discussion which was thrown open to the floor.
PLEASE OBSERVE COPYRIGHT