VEGA News Item

TB or not TB? Bewildered, Bothered, and Badgered - 13/03/2006
We enter into a consultation with DEFRA on the singular difficulties in Great Britain with diseased badgers mingling with herds of cattle. A foxed DEFRA is toying with another culling solution. And then there’s bird flu looking. There are kinder ways of coexistence in the countryside (and towns).

We enter into a consultation with DEFRA on the singular difficulties in Great Britain with diseased badgers mingling with herds of cattle. A foxed DEFRA is toying with another culling solution. And then there’s bird flu looking. There are kinder ways of coexistence in the countryside (and towns).

re: Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling

1. We regret that organizations such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) appear to be silent over “the badger problem”. Some years ago we suggested that the FAWC should tackle the means of controlling the commensal species of farming, many which would be regarded as wild, feral, or escaped and exotic animals, whose populations includes “pests”, some carrying zoonotic diseases, and whose numbers are controlled by means of widespread culling or individual action governed by some very uneven significance in what might be regarded as “decent” welfare. Badgers were included in our purview, which ranged from rodents to species such as rabbits, foxes, badgers, deer, moles, and a number of birds, some indigenous, others migrants.

2. The badger problem is one of many, with its own peculiarities, not only in popular appeal, but also in the animals’ own social structure and physiology. Legal and human attitudes, however, bear significant differences in terms of their treatment and respect. Such inconsistencies were manifest in the conflict associated with the restrictions on hunting with dogs and the subsequent confusion and flagrant violations of laws – at least in their spirit – for the protection of certain mammals.

3. We have also taken account of the scares and widespread culling and restriction on farming associated with the prolonged outbreak of BSE, ensued by another eruption of foot-and-mouth even before the BSE epidemic was spent; and now the threat of avian flu overhangs the farming industry. These events reveal the ills of improvident husbandry and ill-judged official actions measured by profligate awards of subsidies and draconian culling. The farming industry has fallen into increasing disrepute. Its blunders require remedies more profound than still more spatchcocked distributions of public moneys and onslaughts on livestock forced into excessive production in unsuitable conditions. Most objectors to such practices are compromised by their complicity in these abuses as customers in the demand for apparently cheap food from unworthy exploitation of animals and the environment. The time is now ripe for fundamental reforms.

4. As far as we can tell, neither the Food Standards Agency (FSA) nor the FAWC has tackled challenges in the recent events in the efforts at reducing the risks to health and welfare and the environmental consequences. Standards and safety are implicated in the arguments, with producers and consumers at one in confusion and in the factional interests in cheap meat and milk; however, many inconsistencies arise, for example over culls of some pests that are connived at with none of the outrage that attracts others, inspections searching for suspect lesions in meat that may actually spread diseases on the inspectors’ knives, and consumers’ attitudes to foods derived from infected or vaccinated animals. As with concurrent concerns over zoonoses in poultry consumers’ alarms over the vaccines may be valid, but they come after many years of indifference over routine applications of vaccines by injection and in water and feedstuffs in normal practice (including organic) in the live/deadstock industry. However, these concerns mount as British farmers emerge from the restrictions associated with the ending of the Over Thirty Month Scheme and the prospects of lucrative movements and transhipments, e.g. of veal calves and cast cows, beckon. Bought-in replacements, inadequately quarantined, have probably contributed to the spread of bTB after epidemics entailing much stress on the animals and culling as a result of foot-and-mouth disease.

5. Within the last month we have had opportunities to read recently published surveys of research on policies dealing with bTB in herds, mainly of dairy cattle, in the UK, as well as to attend an international conference in the last few days at the Royal Society of Medicine (RSM) involving medical and veterinary specialists and representation from DEFRA, reviewing the prevalence, spread, and translocation (in animals of many species) in movements of populations. The meeting at the RSM was useful too in describing the numbers of mycobacterial diseases, most of which could be regarded as zoonotic. Further, the lack of a satisfactory vaccine seemed likely to persist for at least another decade but drugs could be used to treat human victims of bTB. Veterinarians were left with one resource unavailable to doctors: culling. There is no established reason for the problems of bTB that are serious only in England, Wales, and Ireland out of the EU. Countries in Africa, such as Nigeria, have severe problems with bTB in cattle and humans, and most of the TB reported in human immigrants arriving in the UK is of the bTB variety (these observations emphasize reservations over gift schemes to increase cattle populations in impoverished areas of Africa).

6. Hasty interpretations and actions in a countryside already affected by the CAP modulations and single farm payments, inflamed attitudes over the restriction on hunting, and the spirit of the Animal Health and Welfare Bill and the aftermaths of the culls consequent upon the BSE and FMD epidemics are likely to arouse serious unrest and policing embarrassments. The police are already accused of inadequacy in dealing with badger baiting, cock fighting, and alleged violations of the hunting regulations. TB has brought extensive culling of cattle already, the cost of which to farmers has been softened by compensations; they and landowners resort to remorseless methods of culling wild birds, rabbits, moles, and rodents that entail cruelties as vicious as the proposed procedures for culling badgers. The town v rural argument, manifest in the strife over hunting, should indict farmers and consumers equally as accomplices in the dairy/beef/veal job and as partners in the evils of intensified production of cheap food. Farmers must feel aggrieved when they are upbraided for their impatience at objections to culls of badgers coming from a populace evincing no will to forgo the products of the industry that is now in such a mess, with the government left to do the dirty work in botched attempts at reform.

7. Overstocking, stress on the livestock and environment, as well as lowering of standards of stockmanship, and husbandry, have contributed to widespread outbreaks of disease. Profligate use and distributions of high-protein rations attract carnivorous species to farms and their environs. As BSE proved, such feeds, although authoritatively promoted to farmers, had dire results on archetypal herbivores and the human consumers of the meat. The verdant pastures and meadows of old in low input and output systems have been replaced by heavily-fertilized grazings of monotonous acres of perennial Italian ryegrass. The cattle, whose immune systems are heavily compromised by the threats of lameness, mastitis, reproductive stress and disorders and by zoonotic diseases, are denied – in the form of fully enclosed barriers – protection against threats transmitted by wildlife, such as those imposed on poultry. Livestock farmers must practise the elements of biosecurity represented in arable systems and diversification: potato growers know the risks in uninterrupted series of cultivation and in land not kept clear of solanaceous weeds and volunteers.

8. We believe that culling of badgers at this stage should be banned on well-informed grounds adequate to avert illicit killing and the need to pursue culling programmes into other species, be they wild or feral populations or animals regarded as pets.

9. Doubts over the efficacy and means of culling badger populations have been well rehearsed. No “humane” and practicable procedure has been devised and the resilience of the badger populations to the disturbances has not been accounted for. These considerations remain firm support for a ban.

10. In areas (such as Scotland), where the badger problem is not yet so severe, dairy cattle farms must be enclosed with adequate fencing and all feedstuffs, especially hay and other preserved grasses and cereals, as well as bedding materials, e.g. straw, must be kept free from badger excreta or from animals dangerous likewise. Some farmers are now going to the extreme of the zero-grazed “battery cow”, with robotic milking. In such enterprises, protection of feedstuffs and beddings from contamination is especially important. Likewise, the exclusion of birds, dogs, cats and rodents. Dairy products must be much more informatively and objectively labelled on sources and methods of production.

11. Prompt responses to present challenges must take these forms:

11.1. Restrictions of movement of livestock and disposal of slurries, fallen stock, slaughterhouse effluents and dairy wastes must be applied regionally with the rigour expected during outbreaks of FMD. In some areas the stipulations would affect leisure pursuits, such as rambling, shooting, and hunting and exercising of animals such as horses and dogs (these restrictions would also curtail the spread of zoonoses such as hydatidosis). The decline of the dairy industry should continue with diversification into healthier use of the land. Zoos, circuses, and other collections of animals must be included with food-producing farms in the scope of the controls. Livestock farms should be surrounded by areas set aside with particular attractions that tempt them away from collections of domesticated animals.

11.2. Consumption of unpasteurized milk must be banned (as in Scotland).

11.3. Testing of herds for reactors should be carried out at intervals of no longer than annually.

11.4. DEFRA’s (and the EU’s) reluctance to finance the compensations and other costs of rampant diseases in the live/deadstock industry, arising mainly from bad husbandry and unduly cheap supplies of milk, meat, poultry and eggs, must be replaced by levies mulcted from farmers by the Meat and Livestock Commission and National Dairy Council, the cost being passed on to the consumer. Livestock farmers now are unlikely to find any commercial insurer willing to underwrite such risky business – which says a lot for the poor standards prevailing throughout the industry.

12. Most of the EU is unaffected by the problems of the British cattle industry with badgers. Continental dairies have already shown more enterprise than the British in innovation in the milk market. Consumers in the UK and Irish Republic will be put to the test in their purchases as the demise of the home industry increases. However, we have advocated for some years a Grow Food, not Feed policy that would serve the interests of farming, food, health and the land, with due recognition of animal welfare: the developments in “dairy products” made directly from leaf protein or cereal grains and pulses, reaching back to products on sale before WW2 and to research at Rothamsted Agricultural Station, bid fair to replace animal-derived products substantially. At the moment, the dairy-frees are served mainly from soya beans put through machinery rather than through enslaved and abused cows, but research – which DEFRA and the FSA should be rigorously promoting – on similar conversions with home-grown crops are entering into competition. Such developments would avail the agronomy and animal welfare and relieve society of the waste and horror of which culling is a deplorable part.

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