It has not escaped our notice that today, June 18th is National Badger Day. Radio 4, BBC and the mainstream media are making fluffy, bunny noises - "ooohs and aaahs" in response to library pictures of shiny healthy badgers enjoying life. Oh that life were that simple.
In our post "Cattle slaughtered up 30 percent " (May 10th), we also reported a letter written by Cornish farmer Margaret Miles in which she described the devastation caused to her 'closed' herd of cattle on the Roseland Peninsula by bovine Tb. To refresh your memories, Mrs. Miles' dairy herd is self contained, the last breeding female being purchased in the mid 60's. Four times in 40 years, Mr. & Mrs. Miles have purchased a bull, the last one had been on the farm for almost his allotted time. Ten years. During 2004, several badgers were found dead or dying on the farm. In fact one was found recently, horribly scarred, skeletalised, decomposed and extremely dead in a barn on the farm. Not a good picture with which to celebrate National Badger Day, but of course the general public would not see these badgers. Yet.
In her original letter, Mrs. Miles invited Mr. Bradshaw to discuss the problems with bovine Tb on the Cornish farm, given that no cattle had been purchased in the recent past. But with his usual political dexterity, our Ben answered questions which had not been asked, with answers we already knew and then scuttled away - behind John Bourne's skirts and the Krebs trials. Now there's a surprise.
Mrs. Miles has now lost almost 50 percent of the herd's milking cows, many heavily in calf. Some in fact only a couple of weeks from calving. Heavily pregnant, they were shot, and their bellies bellies split - to disgorge guts and also live calf on the abattoir floor. Why?. Because the skin test had revealed they'd had contact with a bacteria which in a closed herd, should not be there at all. Tuberculosis -mycobacterium bovis. The public don't see that either.
Unimpressed with the Minister of Fisheries and Conservation's reply, this week Mrs. Miles again put pen to paper in a second letter to the Telegraph.
" I have asked for an interview with Mr. Bradshaw in the hope of finding out the real reason for Defra's refusal to test the badgers on our farm for bTb. We are forbidden to do this ourselves, and without a clear indication of the source of infection in our 'closed' herd, it is pointless and somewhat immoral to introduce clean cattle onto our farm. For our cows, time is running out..."
The following day, bright eyed and bushy tailed, the Minister replied:
"We do not test badgers on farms like the Miles as there is no reliable test".
Now on that we would agree with Ben. But this is the old ELISA Brock test to which the Minister refers. The test which badger 'sanctuaries ' use to test their mended and rescued badgers - before releasing them - anywhere at all. How smart is that?
Mr. Bradshaw continued to tell Telegraph readers (and the Miles family)
"The only way of reliably telling if a badger has Tb is by postmortem"
He really did slither there didn't he? Spot the deliberate mistake. Mrs. Mile's badgers were already dead - but in the wrong place. On the farm. In the fields. In the buildings. Anywhere but NOT ROAD KILLS, so forget it. Defra will NOT pick up badgers reported dead in fields. No they won't Ben, don't argue. Farmers have a contact number to ring to report such carcasses, but even in the Krebs areas, we can say with absolute certainty - been there, done that - and the badger was not collected. Constructive ignorance then? And even if the carcass (actually 'your' carcass) is translocated to the roadside, then reported and post mortemed, results are guarded with a tenacity reminiscent of the Cold War. John Bourne's job depends on it.
Ben then goes into 'lecture mode' and sternly continues with the the threat:
"Those advocating badger culling need to acknowledge that, if carried out now, it would inevitably mean killing healthy as well as infected badgers"
Would it? PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology is available and used in the States. What did the minister mean by 'now'? He can't still be waiting for the UK version - can he? And what is the difference between killing a few (if there are any left) 'healthy' badgers and the 30,000 cattle slaughtered annually because the 'Minister' of Fisheries and Conservation can't get a handle on the reservoir of bTb which his answers to PQ's tell us is "Endemic in the badgers".
He concludes his letter:
"The key questions are whether a badger culling policy could be cost effective, sustainable, and viable as part of our overall efforts to control Tb".
This from a Minister who has presided over a 20 percent rise (in cattle Reactors) annually of one of the biggest scouges of human beings on earth - tuberculosis, and is preparing to commit the treasury to a budget of £2 billion over 10 years NOT sorting it out. But on a day when viewers are being encouraged to join the NFBG, and 'enjoy' badgers we must spare a thought for them as well. The total protection which they are privileged to 'enjoy' has bought them endemic, disabling, chronic disease which they recycle through contact in their sets, and then spill out into other animals, both wild and domestic. Ultimately human beings are at risk.
Mrs. Miles has told the Minister in a second letter, that badger numbers on the farm had increased dramatically and that since the summer of 2004, several dead or dying badgers had been found and reported to Defra. But as we have pointed out, wrong carcasses, wrong place.
"Slaughtering our cattle is pointless without efforts to eradicate reservoirs of infection in the wildlife". concluded Mrs. Miles.
With that, we would agree - even or especially, on National Badger Day.