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OPINION: Politics trumps good sense as the future of the badger culls is called into question again

By WMNPBowern  |  Posted: May 01, 2014

OPINION: Politics trumps good sense as the future of the badger culls is called into question again

A badger in the crosshairs

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What next for the badger cull? Philip Bowern assesses new developments on a vexed issue.

The badger cull has taken another lurch sideways with the news that when – or should that be if – the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire continue, there will be no independent monitoring of the operation.

To cynics who believe that politics has firmly taken over from science as the driving force behind the battle against bovine TB, that will look like another measure that can only make the continuation of the culls unlikely, at least before the General Election in May 2015.

To those still clinging to the hope that it won’t change the general principle, regularly espoused by Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, that culling must remain a major weapon in the armoury, it might look like a positive move.

After all, the Independent Experts Panel (IEP), which collated evidence from on-the-ground observers, was hardly helpful to the cause of those backing the cull. You only have to look at how often one little phrase “ineffective and inhumane” is repeated by opponents to understand how useful they found the IEP report. The National Farmers’ Union was so incensed by the findings it was seriously considering a challenge.

There was, in principle, no reason for the furious indignation we heard from the Badger Trust and Labour’s shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle at the announcement from Farming Minister George Eustice on Tuesday that the IEP won’t be carrying out any monitoring of future culls. Natural England, certainly no pushover when it comes to animal welfare, will retain overall responsibility for keeping the cull companies and their contractors in order.

But since when has common sense or reasoned logic had any bearing on this debate? Mrs Eagle talks about “badger vaccination and enhanced cattle measures” as the way to tackle bovine TB. Yet both are already being used, extensively, as two of the measures to create a TB-free Britain.

She has nothing to say, however, about diseased badgers. Vaccination won’t help them. Does she want them to die slowly and painfully, infecting other wildlife and domestic stock as they do so? Dominic Dyer, chairman of the Badger Trust, meanwhile used Mr Eustice’s announcement to suggest the Government “needed these culls to be carried out with as little publicity, as little scrutiny and as little expertise as possible.”

What would the cull companies set up to carry out the culls, whose leaders have been subject to appalling intimidation from the most militant of the cull protesters, say to that?

One key factor now must be the way influential bodies like the British Veterinary Association react to the announcement on monitors. The BVA will almost certainly withdraw its support for the cull if there is no independent monitoring. Although a majority of vets, certainly in bovine TB hotspot areas like the South West, understand and support the need for culling, the lack of backing from the BVA would be a blow.

Would this, as some have suggested, be just the kind of excuse ministers need to announce, almost certainly “with regret” that they cannot go ahead with a continuation of the cull this autumn and winter? Listening to Mr Paterson, who recently reiterated his pledge to re-start the culls as soon as possible in an interview with the farming press, you would have to say no. He appears as committed as ever to the policy. But politics is a tricky business and badger culling a very hard sell to a majority of electors.

With every hiccup in the cull programme it becomes clearer that a targeted cull is needed. If some badgers have to be killed in order to clear the scourge of bovine TB from the countryside, it would be far better that they were diseased badgers.

The sooner an effective way of identifying diseased setts can be found, the closer we can get to that situation. Some people, including the joint founder of the Badger Welfare Association Bryan Hill, claim to already be able to do just that. He has long been shunned by the mainstream involved in this grisly and divisive business. Maybe he deserves to be given another hearing.

In the end, however, it won’t be advice from either Bryan Hill or Brian May, anti-badger cull campaigner-in-chief, that will be the deciding factor. It will be wrangling in the Coalition, political pressure and what is least likely to cost those in power votes. What’s best for farmers, cattle and badgers will be well down the list.

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7 comments

  • Jake_Blake  |  May 03 2014, 9:05PM

    "he lay awake at night worrying if the cull would work" - Interesting comment. Jim Paice is a hunter before he is a farmer and his free shooting plan did come as a shock to many of us that would rather use gassing. So the question remains in what respect did he worry about culling? I second that idea, Jim Paice's views would be quite interesting now.

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  • Pink_Diesel  |  May 01 2014, 10:53PM

    Phillip Bowern, (Should you read this) Was the cull as carried out _ever_ going to work? The cull was set up by Jim Paice when he was agriculture minister and not by Paterson. I personally heard Peter Kendall say that Jim Paice told him "he lay awake at night worrying if the cull would work". So why was Paice sacked - at the same time as being given a knighthood? Did Paice speak the truth, so had to be eased out of the way? After all, if he was gven a knighthood, he must have many things going for him. Mr Bowern. Go an phone Jim Paice and ask Paice what he thinks of the cull - and its present clear failure. You might get an exclusive that way. Theo Hopkins, aka Pink_Diesel

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  • Pink_Diesel  |  May 01 2014, 11:21AM

    The Labour government asserted that a cull would not work. Note I use the word "asserted" as as a cull ha not actually taken place, there was no actual proof that a cull would not work. However, the Conservatives have had a cull and the evidence in th field backs Labour's assertion.

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  • mmjames  |  May 01 2014, 11:10AM

    M.bovis bacteria can remain viable underground for several years - in fact in any area where the sun don't shine... which suggests that some of you ARA's are spreading a lot of it around.

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  • dandypeople  |  May 01 2014, 10:19AM

    There is no such thing as a diseased sett. There may be diseased badgers but not every badger in a sett will be diseased. I think most of the public would back a cull of diseased badgers as and when they can be accurately identified, that time is not yet. The problem with this though is that there will still be perturbation as clan members are removed. Better to vaccinate badgers, something the government seems reluctant to get on with, keeping the clan together. Over the 4 or 5 year vaccination project diseased badgers will die out, they only live about 5 years anyway so more will die of other causes than tb. Sorting out the ineffective skin test in cattle would cut the risk of passing the disease to the wildlife in the first place.

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  • Clued-Up  |  April 30 2014, 11:37PM

    Have you noticed how isolated Paterson now is? George Eustice is only the junior DEFRA minister - yet he's often the government's mouthpiece, not Paterson. By the way, it would have been "good sense" never to have STARTED the badger cull - it was always going to fail. Cameron should have had more sense than to back it - he's an ex PR man and for years the British public have consistently opposed badger killing every time they're asked their opinion.

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  • groundnut  |  April 30 2014, 10:50PM

    There is NO science or humane base to Owen Paterson and the NFU. Both have completely disregarded the IEP report, with respect to any public Confidence, by rejecting any Independent monitoring of the Cull. Their intent is clear they will pay Political lip service to its findings. And will suggest that Natural England will for their purposes carry out that monitoring role. But Natural England has already taken the Paterson shilling. In spite of its terms of reference being conservation and the environment on behalf of the UK electorate. And to ensure the maintenance of that environment and its wildlife for Future generations. It has applied itself fully to supporting this inhumane Cull. To the extent of again bypassing Science as an approach to BOVINE TB, while in addition bypassing the advice of its own scientific adviser and nodding through approval for a licence. It must already have been aware that the numbers of Badgers claimed to be present, was developing into another political farce. When Paterson declared" the Badgers have moved the goalposts". It is difficult also, that during this Cull, if they had adequate Monitoring and regular reports, that they were not aware of the already evident inhumaneness taking place. They had the opportunity to revoke the Licences. But you need to be competent and not politically involved to tell that to Owen Paterson. They were again incompetent pawns in the plot. A much fuller, scientifically competent, and above all Independent monitoring programme is as a result an absolute minimum requirement. So much went wrong and much unnecessary suffering was caused by the Bypass of humane science. As it was replaced by Politics and expensive controversy. This IEP report and its findings put the blame and responsibility in my view very squarely on a few individuals. Democracy and the electorate must now ensure that it is not repeated.

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