Vega responds to a consultation on the Government’s approach to tackling bTB and badger control policy
1. The timing of this consultation is unfortunate, because the 2-day Oxford Farming Conference is imminent (in the first week of 2011) and an “alternative” event is being run, also in Oxford, and simultaneously with significant overlap. This is not surprising, because the Coalition Government’s intentions are confusing over the status and functions of what it dismisses as otiose quangos and apparent replacements with “committees of experts,” shuffled around with new titles and responsibilities; or are they to be new experts with scanty experience of the political, social, and scientific matters, in which the public’s views, demands, and consumer power are volatile over corollaries in the Recession of the price of food and concerns of the environment and animal welfare (of all species) with a strong expression of well-informed altruistic motivations and proof of appropriate action in invigorating the “farm-to-fork” connexion.
2. The problems and fate of the dairy/beef/veal industry provide examples of the crude accommodation of food and feed production with the needs (including territories) of wildlife (in the UK much of it “managed”) and feral, introduced, or escaped livestock; transmission of zoonotic diseases and the traffic of populations in rapid transit overcoming precautionary procedures such as quarantining, heighten risks and stress: they conduce to spread of disease, especially of viral and other microbiological origins. Keepers and owners of animals need much-improved training and supervision, whether or not their “units” are small or big, or in the form of farms, (“petting”) zoos, circuses, or sanctuaries, confined (on free range or organically in fields but necessarily close-by to factories (for production and breeding purposes – and therefore traded as semen) and milking “parlors”.
3. The contrast in the BSE epidemic of a zoonosis strongly associated with the dairy/beef/veal job with the less intensive examples of suckler beef farming can be augmented with examples in avian and fishing contexts, where contamination has revealed the evil effects and cost of “cheap food” and the ignorance of medical consequences of bad husbandry and veterinary practice. Misunderstandings recited over “free range” and “welfare-friendly” (veal, for instance) are at last being recognized – how pleasant a sight would a cow or chicken present on free-range in this year’s beginnings of a bleak mid-winter; even a sparsely “improved” (with Astraturfed material for a nest) would be less objectionable for the wretched bird bred unclimatized, unprotected, and unable to take flight to a cosy porch in a tree. Likewise, the plight of the dairy cow yielding inadequate colostrum for her calf presents welfarists and all consumers with the challenges common to nearly all methods of production of the white stuff and its derivatives, on whatever commercial scale.
4. To bring you uptodate on our Grow Food, not Feed campaign and our Portfolio of Eating Plans, to observe means of expressing the Stern Message – which was endorsed by a DEFRA Minister, Ben Bradshaw, MP – we have run this year with the Royal British Legion and Imperial War Museum to commemorate the end and victory of the Battle of Britain 70 years ago, when Britain alone, weakened by the retreat from an overrum Europe, and facing an imminent threat of invasion by the Germans, brought in the harvest and kept it uncontaminated as the UK sustained itself on an increasingly meat-free diet. In our Campaign this year in Harvest Festivals we taught the messages of farmers and horticulturists, among which were the beginnings of the revival of balancing protein and calorie requirements with thrifty management of plant resources and avoidance of bTB which was then a serious threat and cause of waste. It’s still relevant, except that in 1940 the Nazi threat increased as the Blitzkrieg on London began at the beginning of October and that danger and Recession spread across many British areas and devastated cities.
5. We also drew attention in the autumn to the orgy of religiosity associated with the hajj pilgrimage and sacrifice, which is being built up year-by-year to become a lucrative tourist attraction. We were able to warn Minister Jim Paice personally to prevent despatch of at least British sheep into this ritual carnage; New Zealand was taking a similar stand. By chance, it seemed, international medical authorities held meetings, appropriately at Jedddah, to emphasize the dangers of large-scale movements and risks of disease in movements of people and livestock. Such threats might attend culls of animals and their aftermaths.
6. We are at the moment reviewing, with a journalist and writer, the proposals for rescuing the ailing British dairy/beef/veal systems with units of over 8000 milch cows (now halved in numbers). Early knee-jerk reactions to the daunting size of the enterprises has revealed advantages, forethought and anticipation of familiar zoonotic diseases and others attributable to poor husbandry. We shall add our review and comments in current comments on our website, on which is posted for a cogent reminder the conditions in which the “natural” Chillingham herd of cattle live. Our review owes much help and encouragement from the Trustees of the Chillingham herd and the care and space devoted to them, especially during the epidemics and movements as culls due to encroaching foot-and-mouth disease were narrowly averted.
7. We shall be redoubling our leafletting and petitioning at the offices and events of DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), as well as at other relevant occasions. We shall also be assessing the strength of public and political feeling on the farming industry and its activities. Its ability to silence increasing public concerns over culls, slaughtering in general and by religious methods, intensified interest in scores-on-doors and on traceability, welfare and reasons for rejections for public appraisal of meat and offals owing to signs of filth ill-treatment and handling, and inspections for signs of bTB requiring more use of the inspector’s knife to the butcher’s annoyance and financial loss are all bringing discredit to the food industry. Except for overcoming some of the disgrace of veal and bobby-calves and the rising costs of improvements the meat and dairy industry has little to offer in redress in the immediate future. Meanwhile the alternatives continue their success and encroachment for various reasons. Land is in increasing demand in the UK for use for biofuels, as well as for leisure and housing. Definitions of locally-grown will have to be reassessed. Scientific “advances” such as cloning and stem-cell culture seem problematic and distant.
8. Acceptance, possible revision or repeal of the Hunting Act may catch the public in no mood to reverse a measure to, close to culling for the farmers and politicians, the press, and thus the public, to accept easily, and a response to a spatcocked move to repeal the anti-Hunting Acts unaltered is likely to falter and increase distrust and inflame passions, even though farmers will be left free to exercise, unlicensed or with little control, their onslaught on rabbits, pigeons, and rodents; on the other hand, the RSPB and gamekeepers are falling out over practices associated with shooting for “sporting” and killing for food and for export (eg of venison). Some of these common practices, when farmers, gamekeepers, and landowners take the law in their own hands and resort to snaring and poisoning cause more distress in the countryside and the changing human populations of hobby farmers and the “young retired”.
9. Therefore we would accept culling only in extreme circumstances, with control vested in officially accredited and licensed agents using methods acceptable to the RSPCA; as with the rules of the FSA and Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) the cost should be borne by the industry – and thus partly to the consumer/customer. Selective and monitored culling, as practised on the deer on the herd on the Scottish island of Rhum and general practice as described in the Animals Welfare Act 2006 should be followed in such procedures.
10. Meanwhile all the precautions and remedies should be vigorously applied. Dubious practices must be altered or banned and all the measures and research must be described openly to the public and accounted for. Meat inspections must be extended on carcases, meat, and offals when bTB is suspected, even when this precaution spoils the appearance of the cuts. Due regard and respect must be accorded to the human populations closely involved in the procedures and risks of what are truly called “offensive trades” and call for dignified and merciful treatment and handling on farms and in markets, lairages, and slaughterhouses and disposals.