- Soil Association
- Bovine, TB and Badgers
Bovine, TB and Badgers
Bovine TB causes suffering to cattle, has already caused more cattle deaths than foot and mouth disease, and leads to suffering to the farmers involved. TB has cost over £500 million of taxpayer’s money (mainly for farmer compensation and testing) in the last decade.
The Soil Association's position on TB and cattle is, first, that the priority must be to develop a widely available vaccine that will protect cattle and wildlife from this disease. We have argued for priority to be given to developing a vaccine for more than 20 years, and we made exactly the same argument over foot and mouth disease, opposing the killing of cattle, and supporting vaccination.
We also believe more attention must be paid to increasing the positive health of cattle, through more humane management, so they are better able to resist TB and other diseases. We supported the Government’s (2014) plans to work with the farming and veterinary industries to continue to promote ‘good biosecurity and provide advice and support to farmers’ along with the fact that it planned to invest £20 million over the following five years to ‘develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible’. We have also consistently argued for successive governments to take stronger measures to control the movement of cattle, and to increase the frequency of testing for the disease, as we are clear that it has been the failure to implement stricter controls that has been largely responsible for the spread of TB in cattle.
In terms of culling badgers to reduce the incidence of bovine TB, the science surrounding is contested. For example, in July 2011 a key government adviser said culling would be a mistake. Lord Krebs, who conducted a major review into badgers and bovine TB in the 1990s and recommended a trial cull which took place over the following 10 years, said he did not think it was an effective policy. Sir David Attenborough has also warned that a cull of badgers could worsen TB in cattle and vaccination is the only long-term solution to the problem. Conversely, a group of scientific experts led by Professor Robert Watson, Defra’s Chief Scientist and Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens believe a cull would reduce bovine TB in cattle. They concluded that “co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous culling” could lead to a 16% reduction in the number of herds affected by bovine TB.
Farmers licensed by the Soil Association, the experts we work with, and our supporters, all have different views on whether, as part of the measures taken to control TB in cattle, it is right or wrong to kill badgers in limited areas of the country. The Soil Association does not own any land directly, although our Land Trust does own a limited number of organic farms. As far as farmers licensed by the Soil Association are concerned, our standards cover all aspects of production, but not other things that happen on farms, like public access, hunting, and shooting game species. So it will be up to individual farmers to decide whether they will join groups of farmers who wish to apply for licences to vaccinate and/or cull badgers on their land, as part of any government approved programme. On land owned by the Soil Association's Land Trust, the Soil Association will respect the wishes of the tenant farmers.
We believe that Bovine TB and the badger cull issue are part of a wider moral debate that needs to take place about the role of people in managing wildlife and how we interact with nature, and how we make decisions that affect one species or another, whether intentionally or not. The controversy about badgers, cows and Bovine TB highlights the challenges of taking a single species approach to conservation and animal welfare as it is all interconnected. We need to ensure as a society that we care for the welfare of all animals – domestic, farmed and in the wild.
 Farmers Weekly, 5th July 2011, http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2011/07/05/127660/Spelman-to-unveil-badger-cull-decision.htm