Like most teuchters (Scots for rednecks) I am strongly in favour of ethical treatment of farm animals whilst being almost impervious to sentimentalising wild animals. This in contradistinction to many townies who have little concept of the care farmers lavish on their stock whilst they go weak at the knees at a photo of a baby deer.
When I see cute fox cubs rollicking in the long grass I do not go, “Ah, how lovely.” Rather I think of future hen runs with every chicken slaughtered for no other reason than that is what foxes do. Foxes who needlessly kill chickens are not being bad or wicked, they are just being foxes.
Because of the spread of bovine TB by badgers there is a government approved cull of badgers going on in a few small areas of the West of England.
Cattle are regularly inspected by vets for signs of TB, any infected cattle are immediately slaughtered and the farm isolated, unable to move any animals, for six months before being tested again. In 2011 23.6% of herds in South West England were under cattle movement restrictions at some point.
In 1998 6,000 cattle were destroyed, in 2011 it was 26,000. In 2009/10 bovine TB cost the UK taxpayer £87,000,000. Compensation only covers the market cost of animals slaughtered and not the loss of income. Of the average cost of £30,ooo for a herd infection £10,000 falls directly on the farmer. There have been farmers driven out of agriculture by bovine TB. The government estimate that if no action is taken bovine TB will cost the taxpayer £1 billion over the next decade.
That the disease comes from infected badgers is beyond doubt. James Small, a beef farmer from Somerset, who breeds all his own animals, buys none in and keeps his herds away from boundaries laments, “It all seems so futile when the cattle that have passed all the tests go out into the fields to face a reservoir of infection.” Thirty years ago the infection was confined to the counties of Cornwall and Devon in the far West of England, now it has spread as far east as Southampton and north to Chester.
Animal rights activists argue for a programme of vaccination of badgers instead of a cull. However, no oral vaccine is yet effective and injected vaccines are only partially effective. Culling, although not completely effective is the only practical solution to stopping the spread of the disease.
The limited cull is expected to kill between 1,200 and 1,500 badgers by shooting. This is condemned as “barbaric” by the very same animal lovers who in order to get fox hunting banned claimed that shooting foxes was the ‘humane’ alternative to hunting from horseback. But then one doesn’t expect reason from progressives intent on a witch hunt.
They also argue, with some justification, that the cull is so limited it is unlikely to be effective. This, however, is not an argument for stopping the cull, rather it is an argument for extending the cull so that it is effective.
Animal rights activists have an unfortunate tendency, like most progressive utopians, of confusing reality with what they would like to be; as with many of the childlike they haven’t yet learned that the world wasn’t scripted by Disney. If they merely desired to promote animal rights over human needs it would be unbalanced enough, unfortunately animal rights activists can also blithely harm animals. Their soft-headed objections to a cull is liable to leave the badger population at the mercy of a lingering death from TB.
The most sensible reaction to the badger cull in England was from a farmer I spoke to in Devon a couple of weeks ago. On being asked what he thought of the cull he paused for a bit then looked up at me and simply said, “Not much meat on a badger.”
Of course the French have to go one better than the English. Last week a plea by animal rights activists before a French court to have bullfighting in the South of France banned was sensibly thrown out. Undaunted the French activists proclaimed they would continue the struggle, they would appeal to the European Human Rights Court. The sad thing is that animal rights sentimentalists really do believe that animals have ‘human’ rights.