VEGA News Item

Badgers, Battery Cows, and Remedies - 19/12/2005
A debate in the Independent, 19th December (letters and article) need deeper deliberation on the issues of modern milk production. VEGA's letter to the Independent as well as the Times.
VEGA's letter to the Independent and to the Times after a debate in the newspaper on the 19th December 2005.

The subsidized dairy/beef/veal industry has to contend with the badger problem as only one of the difficulties arising from CAP policies, the lifting of the Over Thirty Month Scheme, and the unwillingness of retailers and human consumers to pay the full price for better husbandry. Family farms are being sold up or being merged into fewer herds of very high-yielding cows with the familiar toll of production diseases and much curtailed liveability, except that, being zero-grazed, they are spared cross-contamination from the undomesticated feral and wildlife, for which they are ill adapted. Badgers are commensals among the many vermin that transmit, exchange, and maintain zoonotic bacterial and viral diseases in dense populations of all animals, humans among them. The zero-grazed Battery Cow resembles in her predicament the threat overhanging the free-range hen – an obviously hostile environment for an animal descended from jungle conditions – and now under augmented danger from environmental challenges such as avian flu. Losses from depredations by foxes can be dealt with by farmers, e.g. by shooting, because the fox, unlike the badger, does not belong to a protected species.

Zero-grazing, like battery-cages and intensive pig-rearing, can be advanced as a means of breaking harmful interactions between cows and badgers and other wildlife. Persistent problems of zoonotic diseases remain, however: 1 in 3 of the British herd are mastitic, 1 in 5 lame, metabolic diseases (such as milk fever, fatty liver, and downer cow), and unskilled, and more mechanized and even robotic milking, are prominent among the stresses inflicted on the cow and her calf in this remorseless industry, in which BSE originated and was maintained. About 10% if British herds, yielding about 30% of the national milk supply, have converted to zero-grazing (hardly an attractive marketing term). Up to 1 in 4 of the cows in all the herds now break down under the various pressures; vicious culling, apart from incidences of tuberculosis and brucellosis, is practised and the foot troubles (some of which may be attributed to badger activity) are dealt with in feckless treatments with antibiotics in foot baths. Pastures are being converted into hectares of forage maize for whole-crop silaging.

Animal welfarists can now extricate themselves from complicity in these abuses – as they manifested in the campaigns for cruelty-free cosmetics and clothing – by effectual boycotts in the pursuit of alternative cruelty-free foods. The dairy-free market bids fair soon to achieve 5% of the market, as it has done already in Australia. In the British context this would relieve 100,000 cows and their calves every year. Feeding beans into gleaming stainless steel vats to yield the milk to human kindness is a far nobler endeavor than persecuting badgers and stuffing imported concentrates into miserable, mucky, mastitic, and limping cows forced into ridiculous secretion from their mammary glands.

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