Bovine tuberculosis is affecting both livestock and wildlife across the UK. Badger culling was proposed as a solution but, has it helped? What is going on in farms and woods? Is culling the right way to deal with tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease that generally affects the lungs and is spread through the air. Although it can affect humans, it becomes more problematic when cattle is infected. Farms need to sacrifice the cows that carry the disease and can’t sell any products until they are sure that their animals are healthy. Cows have to be tested in order to prevent the TB spreading in specific farming areas. However, outbreaks do happen and farmers have to sacrifice a lot of cows, meaning a big money loss and even having to close the farm.
During the last few decades, TB has spread from small territories to large areas in England and Wales, which was thought to be related to the lack of badger control. Badgers can be affected by TB too, as many other wildlife animals and livestock, so back in 1998 the government decided to start culling badgers in order to regulate the spreading of TB.
Last Friday (the 13th), Kevin Newell, a member of the Grampian Hunt Sabs Association, gave a talk on the truth about the badger culling at the vegan Bonobo Cafe. The audience was informed on how the culling is done and all the controversial fractions that have urged the necessity to create associations and groups standing against it.
To begin with, badgers are either shot (“free shooting” them has been allowed since 2012) or trapped in cages placed in the woods where they wait to be killed later. Apparently, some badgers aren’t tested on TB before or after they are killed, making the culling pointless.
Research has been done on whether the culling has been successful so far and has shown that it hasn’t. It has only brought badger slaughter, while the areas affected with TB keep growing. Surviving badgers are moving around more than they usually do because they are being hunted; if infected, these fleeing badgers could be contributing to spread the TB.
Some other concerns are money centered. Between 2012 and 2014 £16.8 million were spent on the badger culling; money that was taken from taxpayers. That amount was bigger than the one directed to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. During those two years 2476 badgers were killed, meaning that £6800 were spent on each. This raised questions on how people’s money is being used and whether such an enormous amount should be directed towards trying to find a system through which decrease the virus instead of to using an unsuccessful method involving the killing.
TB is found in farming areas where no badgers live, so the reason why it’s been transmitted has to be related to something else. Scotland has been in a TB-free status for six consecutive years thanks to all the hard work regulating farms with outbreaks and routinely testing livestock. But the disease has spread out in Wales and England.
Some DEFRA initiatives include plans on vaccinating the badgers or even developing oral vaccines to be added in chum left in the woods so that badgers can eat the cure, making the process faster and cheaper.
In any case, badger culling is still ongoing in the UK. There are many ways to help stop it. Team Badger Coalition was created to raise awareness about badger culling by campaigning and letting people know what’s happening with badgers, cattle and TB. Hunt Saboteurs Association go out to fields trying to find badgers to protect them.
They always accept anyone eager to volunteer, but help is accepted in many other forms: writing to MPs about the issue, donating money (when not possible, donating food or equipment is great), getting involved in charity fundraising, getting informed on the topic and sharing information. Even the smallest bit of help is really appreciated.