Upcountry in Somerset and Gloucestershire there has been a six-week attempted cull of the badger population. An extraordinary political saga which has rumbled on for at least a decade with implacable differences of opinion about ways to address TB in cattle. The ultimate Tory-led, Defra-backed cowards’ way out compromise was a ‘limited cull’ to ‘test whether it was possible to kill badgers humanely’. No real discussion about inoculation, all very secretive and now utterly under the radar. The decision to allow farmers and ‘volunteers’ to carry out the cull seemed a solution typical of a government that doesn’t believe in government or expertise. The government’s own scientific service had said before the cull began that unless it eliminated at minimum of 75% of a local badger population it risked not just not improving the TB situation in cattle, but actually making it worse. Inoculation was ruled out not on scientific grounds but on cost grounds. No one even mentions the idea of inoculating the cattle, which would be easy and cheap, because the farming industry seems convinced that this would lower the value of the herd at market. So, it’s all about economics, not about welfare or good farming practice. Astonishingly, Defra are not testing the badgers they have killed (and there is great argument about just how effective the cull has actually been) to see whether they actually carry TB because ‘the cull has been a test of whether this can be done humanely rather than actually discovering just how infected the badger population is.’ Astonishing and disingenuous to a fault. I hate this government and everything they stand for.
The problem with badgers is that a) they are cute and the UK does go a little potty about cute animals; and b) they are mean and quite vicious and they have no predators any more. This is a lethal combination because it will always mean that someone is going to be protesting. The science is largely although not entirely incontrovertible that badgers are implicated in helping to spread TB amongst the cattle population. The science is less clear on whether cattle are more prone to developing TB because of poor farming practices and that inoculating cattle would automatically reduce the market value of the beef they produce, but both are certainly a possibility.
Much of the protest is knee-jerk and ill-informed, and yet I support it in that these voices are the only ones brave and loud enough to make an actual difference to the debate, and when debate fails, to make an actual difference to the politically-motivated and equally ill-informed actions. When governments ignore their own scientists either for political gain or grossly populist red-top appeasement, then we should all start to worry. This is malfeasance with the natural economy, something in which this government excels.