Sunday, 27 October 2013


From a timely review in last week's Independent about events in the West Country:

Book review: Badgerlands, By Patrick Barkham

Digging deep into nature and culture, this study reclaims an abused animal from its persecutors


Barkham is not only the author of the informative, lyrical and very personal The Butterfly Isles, but the grandson of Jane Ratcliffe, who played a key part in the Badgers Act of 1973, "the first time in British history that a land mammal had been given specific protection from persecution". These mammals have, over the centuries, been regular recipients of deliberate cruelty (for amusement) from diggers and baiters, still present in the 21st century. Barkham devotes a chapter to a Yorkshire bait photographed with perpetrators "laughing as badgers were having their insides torn out by [their] dogs".
Why does the badger invite both blood-lust and empathic veneration? Why are so many English farmers, spearheaded by the NFU, so resolute in opposition to the vaccination course taken by the Welsh Assembly? Barkham has respectfully interviewed farmers, sincerely feeling for them in their losses of livestock and income. But he confesses to the troublesome thought that, even with no bovine TB, some farmers would urge a badger cull.
Badgers, their labyrinthine setts with latrines, their successful, largely harmonious social structures, present a comprehensive alternative world-system to ours, and it baffles us. We should take ourselves in hand. In his superb last chapter Barkham quotes six professionals who insist that intensive dairy-farming has produced "mutant cows" unable to resist TB, "a disease of poverty… many of our dairy cattle live in poverty equivalent to that of a workhouse in the industrial revolution". Yet instead of insisting on more merciful conditions for cattle the government goes for the 75 per cent slaughter of an independent-living wild species.

Book review: Badgerlands, By Patrick Barkham - Reviews - Books - The Independent

Prof John Bourne, who conducted the infamous ten year, government-funded study which showed that badger killing is a waste of time and money, recalled what he was told by a senior politician: 
"Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers."

Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?

Simultaneous vaccination ‘best way’ to tackle bTB.
Vet Times [UK]
2012; 42(38): 35.

Dear Editor,

We are all veterinary surgeons - either clinicians or scientists - and are dismayed that there is a very real prospect that this government will pursue a cull of badgers.

The report of DEFRA’s own Independent Scientific Group (ISG) which was set up to look at the issue, states in the conclusions of its £50 million research project: "Careful evaluation of our own and others' data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain."

Despite this weighty opinion to the contrary, the Coalition has chosen to cherry pick data that supports the need to cull badgers - a policy that, in our opinion, is flawed on many levels.

In particular the genetics of resistance to TB in the dairy herd needs to be further elucidated. Breeding preferentially for milk yield via artificial insemination (AI) has undoubtedly had some adverse impacts on the genotype of the cow in other respects, as natural selection is no longer operant. The susceptibility of most of the dairy herd to BSE, for example, was largely due to the paucity of genetic variation in the PrP gene, which controls susceptibility to BSE. Indeed, evidence suggests that the BSE agent actually arose de novo from mutated PrP genes in the dairy herd. When this BSE agent was delivered into the food supply by the recycling of cattle offal back into cattle food, the catastrophic results were all too predictable - for cows, for farmers, for consumers, and for the UK. Have we learned nothing from that debacle?

Infectious agents and their hosts tend to adapt or co-evolve together such that a balance is formed between infection, immunity and survival, and this is demonstrably true for TB. In badgers, this balance with TB has happened across millennia. Dairy cows stopped co-evolving with TB more than 50 years ago, due to AI. The only thing dairy cows have co-evolved with is human will, industrial economic policy - and money.

We need to start implementing the outbreeding of dairy cows to introduce some heterozygosity, or hybrid vigour, back into these unfortunate creatures, before they become the ticking bio time bomb that intensification, and a breeding programme based on AI, could result in.

For the long term, putting a sticking plaster over one running sore, when there are metaphorical sores breaking out all over the dairy industry, will not, in our view, resolve the problem. The problems need to be tackled at their fundamental root - and that is the way that the dairy industry has evolved during the past 60 years. Since the 1950s, AI has been used to selectively breed mutant cows which produce large quantities of milk, but which evidently have little resistance to diseases such as TB and BSE. The fact that any herds with cattle showing detectable immunity to TB (TB reactors) are summarily slaughtered, further increases the immunological naivety of the herd.

The economic pressures brought to bear have recently brought the value of milk down below the cost of production, further pressuring farmers and cows, and compounding the problem. Intervention by the Government to protect small-scale milk producers financially, would alleviate many welfare issues in cattle brought on by sheer poverty - of both small farmers and cattle.

TB is often a disease of poverty, in humans as well as animals, and many of our dairy cattle live in poverty equivalent to that of a workhouse during the industrial revolution.

Most importantly, there is poverty in the lack of any normal relationships around breeding and calf rearing. The only long-term solution is a paradigm shift in favour of cattle welfare, small farmers and wildlife - not mega-dairies and money. We need to start looking, right now, at the economic and genetic background to the dairy industry, and fix it, before it's too late.

We support the long term restructuring and de-intensification of the dairy industry to better support the health and welfare of cattle, as well as that of small farmers and consumers. This would go some way to help to ensure a more natural, less pressured life for the dairy cow.

We wish to register a view that we believe represents the majority of our profession. We the undersigned do not support a badger cull. The widespread shooting of a protected indigenous species like the badger would be brutal, misguided, foolish, disgraceful, expensive and potentially counter-productive.

We believe that a simultaneous vaccination programme, for both cattle and badgers, would be the best solution to protect animal and human health.

Yours faithfully,

Iain McGill BSc(Hons), BVetMed, MRCVS
Andre Menache BSc(Hons), BVSc, MRCVS
Andrew Knight BSc(Vet Biol), BVMS, CertAW, DipECAWBM(WSEL), PhD,
Caroline Allen MA, VetMB, CertSAM, MRCVS
Sophie Hill BA(Open), MA (Cantab), VetMB, PGCE, MRCVS
Bronwen Eastwood BSc(Hons), BVetMed, MRCVS

Simultaneous vaccination \'best way\' to tackle bTB : VT42.38 | Forums | Vetsonline
News | TB Free England
Let's discuss the BCG vaccine

Badgershambles: Just how has the badger cull gone so wrong? - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

The Protection of Badgers Act 1992

Welsh Government | Badger Vaccination
Welsh Government | Bovine TB

Badger control update: Peter Kendall letter to members - NFU Online
Valuable lessons learned from badger cull - NFU - 18/10/2013 - Farmers Weekly

Learn all about bovine TB in cattle and badgers | TB Free England - TB Free England


No comments: