VEGA News Item

The politics of bovine tuberculosis - 07/06/2004
We rise to the call from DEFRA to answer questions on bovine TB, badgers and culling
Our interests in this matter emphasise animal welfare and environmental issues within the plough-to-plate purviews of DEFRA and the FSA and the consequences on the well-being of people, animals (including wildlife), and the environment.

Questions 3 and 4

The wider implications of bovine TB are exemplified in the lessons learnt and chronicled at great expense in analysis of epidemics of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease and threatening in other scourges (some insidious and recognized and acted on far too late): such are mycobacterium avian paratuberculosis (MAP), West Nile virus, swine fevers, various influenza-like diseases, and botulism.

They are likely to hold under the pressure of intensification and imperatives of cheap food policies, with the consequent harm to the well-being of animals, wildlife and the environment and consequently to the training and probity of the callings of the farming and veterinary professions. Short-term fire brigade activity must entertain the aim of constructing non-flammable edifices. The dairy/beef/veal job has degenerated into a monument to bad farming practice and vicious exploitation. We have the wit and intelligence to recognise this and seek long-term solutions, bearing in mind the FSA’s present concern over the over-production, over-promotion and over-consumption of the output of the industry. Submissions to the Curry Commission (such as ours) emphasize these points. Alternatives are at hand: set-aside, rotations, and even extensive suckler-reared beef herds can be considered as practicable solutions to budget for, with vigorous education and information to retailers and consumers to prevent circumvention of these measures by importation from objectionable systems outside Great Britain. The public needs warnings of the shortcomings of pasteurisation.

Government intervention is essential and must be accompanied by vigorous explanations to the public, mostly expressed through the FSA. Traceability controls on purchases and re-stocking of livestock and herds and movements of human communities, especially from areas of high risk, must require urgent coordination between DEFRA, the DoH, and the FSA, as well as wildlife observers. Surveillance of primarily non-food producing livestock enterprises, such as zoos, wildlife parks, sanctuaries, and land areas managed for hunting and shooting must be implemented by Government, and visits of veterinarians to farms must be assured by various means to enhance surveillance of farming practices, pastures, feeding areas, housing and biosecurity in general. Reduction of surveillance and authority by recourse to operatives with limited training and powers of inspection is curtailing assessments of good farming practice.

The Government also has the duty, if necessary delegated to one of its agencies, to remind the public of the toll taken not only of badgers, possums, and cattle injured and killed in efforts at containing TB and other zoonoses, but also of rodents and higher primates in the testing and experimentation that these challenges set; rigorous application of precautionary principles would at least reduce these tolls and harms.

Questions 5 and 6

Farmers and customers, via merchants, are responsible for the feckless appetite for cheap and tainted food. It is tempting to unload the costs for reform on the taxpayer. As the BSE and FMD disasters, as well as the kill-outs in the pig and poultry-industries indicate, concealing the enormous penalties they incur in fiscal compensations is unfair and – as the Cabinet Office’s calling of what became the Curry Commission- the Government is seeking ways of forcing the industry to resort to direct means of insurance and indemnity, e.g. by levies or taxes. In our evidence to the Curry Commission we explored these possibilities and made comparisons with procedures in other countries. A levy of VAT in animal-derived foods (and commodities such as clothing and footwear) would be practicable and apt; it would also befit the FSA’s initiatives on curtailing excessive consumption of junk foods.

Questions 8 to 11

The objectionable and dubious resort to badger culling must be resisted, while all other means of breaking the zoonotic cycles are implemented, as suggested herein. As a species we have to be humble enough to recognise that our errors have damaged domestic animals and wildlife in a way that we have the wit and means to replace decently. Redoubled efforts must be made to prevent resort to illicit means of control, such as snaring.

Questions 18 to 20

Our responses to these questions are anticipated in our answers to questions 3 and 4.

Alan Long
Hon Research Advisor
VEGA (Vegetarian Economy and Green Agriculture)

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