Thursday, 14 April 2011

Badgers? We don't need no stinking badgers!

The face of agricultural evil

At least, that's the government's position. There's a problem with bovine tuberculosis: our unhealthy cows, bred for maximum milk production rather than their own health, and kept in over-stocked sheds and fields, keep getting TB. 

The farming industry therefore blames badgers, even though they're so rare that they're a protected species: the idea is that these pestilence-ridden beasts sneak up and sneeze in cows' faces at night. 

In reality, it's a recurrence of the industrial farmers' traditional position: any animal on my land which doesn't have a subsidy cheque strung round its neck deserves to die (I'm from a rural area, I've seen it). Badgers, rabbits, birds of prey, hares, foxes - they're all resented for their theft of grass/air. The 'cull' is just an excuse to add variety to the list of animals shot by farmers. 

Is it fair of me to describe this as a plan to have some sport? Yes: this is what James Paice, Tory agriculture minister says:

 "As a countryman my view is that free shooting would, in most cases, be by far the most effective option."
He added: "There may be security issues but I am not talking about people just ranging around the countryside with a rifle. If you put a high seat over a sett you could kill most of them fairly quickly.

So the government's decided to allow anyone with a shotgun licence to go traipsing round the countryside blasting any freeloading badger they can find. Will it work? Well, it'll wipe out an awful lot of these fascinating and scarce creatures. Unfortunately, clearing one area of badgers will just provide room for the survivors to expand their territories. Either we kill all the badgers (something the farming lobby - mostly Tory landowners and corporations - would be happy with), or we kill none. According to the Krebs trial, culling badgers actually helped spread bovine TB, because the surviving badgers wandered even further, contaminating wider areas with TB. 

Under Labour a 10-year trial by independent scientists which saw the experimental culling of 10,000 badgers concluded that the culling "can make no meaningful contribution" to the control of bTB in cattle. It recommended controlling the disease with smarter controls on cattle movements.
A key finding was "perturbation" – that culling breaks up clannish badger communities, sending diseased survivors into neighbouring areas and actually increasing bTB in the neighbouring countryside.

Reduce the bovine population to healthy levels and treat them better, you say? Don't be ridiculous. That's not how modern farming works at all!

(it's a parody of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, in which the line is 'we don't need no stinking badges').

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