The Government has announced an extension of the badger cull in its efforts to eradicate bovine TB. In the midlands culling will be introduced in Herefordshire and continued in Gloucestershire. This flies in the face of scientific evidence that culling badgers does not reduce the incidence or spread of the disease, and in some areas may exacerbate it.
The poor old badger might better be described now as the scapegoat. The term ‘badgering’ may have arisen in relation to badger baiting with dogs, which is now illegal. Ironically badgering’s modern definition ‘tormenting, persistently attacking and harassment’ applies equally well to the animal’s role in the bovine TB disaster. Unfairly blamed for spreading the disease, castigated by farmers and persecuted by the Government, badgers are trapped in a net of half-truths, prejudice and bloodlust.
Last December, preparing the way for an extension to the cull, the then Environment Secretary Liz Truss said that the trial culls had ‘met their targets’. By this she seemed to mean that the requisite number of badgers had been killed. This despite Defra’s own Independent Expert Panel calling the culls ‘ineffective’, and ‘inhumane’. Dominic Dyer, Chief Executive of the Badger Trust said: ‘The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand - incompetence, negligence and deceit - and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle-to-cattle infection’.
This whole saga is a triple tragedy: for the farmers and their cattle, for the badgers, and for the public, as millions upon millions of pounds are spent in compensation for affected herds and the cull itself. (Defra says that each badger killed is costing just over £1,000). If that money had gone into investment in vaccines, better control of cattle movements and enhanced biosecurity on farms how much better the situation might be.
At least such activities would have been based on sound science. It is said that the recent EU referendum ushered in the ‘post truth’ age, where well researched and evidence-based opinions were rejected in favour of those based on gut feelings. The badger cull, which started in 2013 pioneered this approach and continues to confound common sense. Should not Government rise above such things and develop policies and actions based on hard facts, rather than political pandering?