Monday, March 07, 2005

"Animal Lobby condemns Badgers to slow Death"

Christopher Booker writes in the Sunday Telegraph, of "the road to hell being paved with good intentions", and in this instance describes the fate of Britains' badgers in those terms.

"The implication of Government's dismissal last week of an urgent plea by 350 vets and scientists that it should act now to halt the epidemic of bovine Tb that is sweeping through Britain's badger population", as Booker points out, is that "Every taxpayer in the land could eventually face an £80 bill to fund a policy which condemns hundreds of thousands of animals to a lingering and painful death".

""Furthermore it risks inflicting a devastating blow on an efficient industry , which could cost the UK economy billions of pounds"

Booker describes the policy as causing " great suffering to the badgers themselves. Thousands die each week, from the long drawn out effects of the disease, unless as any West Country roadside bears witness, they are so weakened they fall prey to a passing vehicle. The tragedy of Britains' badgers is an instance of a road to hell, being paved with good intentions."

Booker explains that it is now more than 70 years since Tb spread from cattle into the badger population, but that until the mid 1980's (after 1950's accreditation schemes to clear the cattle herds) sick badgers were also taken to break the reinfection cycle.

"In 1997, when Labour returned to power having received £1 million from the 'pro-badger' Political Animal Lobby, vets and farmers were refused licenses to tackle the disease by targeted culling (of infected badgers). Since then the incidence of cattle Tb has risen to the point where taxpayers last year paid out £88 million. Defra's figures show that unless this disaster is halted, the bill in 2014 could total £2 billion."

"Last Ben Bradshaw, brushed aside the vets' proposals as 'publicly unacceptable' and Mrs. Beckett unveiled her "Strategic Framework for the Sustainable control of Tb", which reads like a bureaucratic parody of a policy for doing nothing. Peppered with buzz words such as 'sustainable', stakeholders' and 'robust' the nearest it gets to the distasteful idea that sick badgers might be culled, is an offer of a 'transparent process for making policy decisions'.

Booker concludes "The Government will thus continue to pay for the slaughter of 25,000 cattle each year (a figure predicted by Defra to rise annually by 20 percent) while we edge periously close to the point where Britain must lose its Tb-free trading status and millions of pounds of exports. Meanwhile vast numbers of badgers are condemnded to a very nasty death, as the price of New Labour's sentimentality".

The bigger picture of what is happening to Britain's badgers, and indeed their position in its ecological balance is called into question by observations in these last few posts. Farmers and wildlife experts have noted the disappearance of many smaller, less 'visisble' occupants - and their return if badger numbers are reduced. There is absolutely no doubt that tuberculosis eventually condemns badgers and any of their spill over victims, to a long drawn out lingering and painful death. But Bradshaw dismisses vets' concerns as 'publicly unacceptable ."

Why should it be 'unacceptable' to control a highly infectious zoonosis and an exponential rise in population in one species, to benefit ecology as a whole? Are commentators, and the vets wrong to point out the onwards transmission of Tb in badgers to domestic animals?
We would question again the 'industry' that has blossomed around 'Wildlife' and single species focus groups. Is their concern really for Britains' ecolological balance, or is fundraising and any vestige of 'protection' now afforded to their own structural organisation?

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