For some time now, the badger cull debate has been ongoing, and finally, despite continuing setbacks from the RSPCA and other supporters of “Team Badger”, such as iconic Brian May, things seem to be moving.
With a well-loved famous figure heading the “against” argument for the cull, the public are easily led to believe that this argument must be the right one. Unfortunately, however, the naivety of these “townies” obscures their view of the bigger picture.
Since the proposal of the cull, badgers have become something of a national mascot, with the public claiming that they are an irreplaceable element of the British countryside; part of the wildlife we simply cannot afford to lose. This is all very well, but before the proposal of the cull, were they seen as anything more than roadkill that could easily write off your car? And I wonder that if it were found that rats or pigeons were carrying a disease such as TB, would there be equal public outcry?
The RSPCA claims that culling is not the solution to the problem of TB in cattle. Again, it’s difficult for the sheltered public to consider the possibility that the most well known animal charity in the country could have gotten it wrong. The truth is, the cull would never have been suggested if there were no need for it. We are not a nation of bloodthirsty, mindless killers, but we are a nation that believes in doing what’s right for our animals.
Defra claims there is scientific evidence for an increased incidence of bovine TB in areas where the badger population is high. In areas where, 10 years ago, TB was unheard of, since an increase in badger numbers, the disease is now rife among cattle. This effects both the beef and the dairy industry considerably, and cannot be allowed to continue to do so. It essential that we halt the increasing incidence of bovine TB, and currently, our key method of control would be to, indeed, pursue the badger cull.
For many farmers, badgers are seen as pests in a similar way to foxes. In addition to carrying TB, they destroy land and have been known to steal stock, such as chickens. I doubt there are many farmers that are opposed to the cull.
One of the most significant arguments against the cull is that vaccination could be used as an alternative. However, vaccination would be considerably more expensive and time consuming, not mention less effective than the cull. While possible, this alternative is simply not plausible.
There is a proposed public march in London on June 1 to protest the badger cull. It would be interesting to see what proportion of people turn out to wave their banners. Will there be many people that see the TB problem on a day-to-day basis, such as vets and farmers, or will the protesters predominantly comprise those who like to think of badgers as cute and cuddly, but have an involvement in the dairy industry that extends only as far as buying milk from the local supermarket?
As a vet student, I believe it is important to have an opinion and take a moral standing on issues such as this. On more than one occasion, I have found myself quizzed about my view on the cull, based on my course of study. We need to be prepared and be able to respond to public interrogation with calmly reasoned arguments. After all, we will be the face of the veterinary profession before we know it.