Comment: The badger cull is an act of deceit and neglect

By Dominic Dyer

Science has been of critical importance throughout my career, from my time in the Ministry of Agriculture to working in the food manufacturing and crop protection industries and my role today in the wildlife protection field.

I recall chairing a debate at the Tory party conference in 2011, on the importance of science to the future of farming and food production, with agriculture minister Jim Paice, National Farmers' union (NFU) president Peter Kendall and director of the Soil Association Helen Browning.

We all agreed at the time on the importance of underpinning farm and environment policy with sound scientific research, which commands public confidence.
I have since found it very disappointing that each of these individuals have forgotten the importance of this issue and have thrown their support behind a badger cull policy which has no credible scientific justification, and is simply a political decision to appease farming interests despite huge opposition from most leading scientists, conservationists and the general public.

If I was chairing this debate again, I would point out that the badger cull policy is fatally flawed as it is built on three pillars of sand: negligence, incompetence and deceit.

Negligence because in 2001 during the foot and mouth outbreak, NFU president Ben Gill pressured prime minister Tony Blair to give up on his plans to vaccinate cattle to stop the spread of the disease in favour of a national cull policy.

Once this cull had been completed, NFU pushed for a speedy restocking of cattle from TB hot spot areas, with no TB testing systems in place. This resulted in a trebling of the spread of bovine TB within 18 months and remains a key factor in the high level of TB in cattle and badgers today.

Negligence because Defra and the NFU have failed to get on top of the spread of bovine TB by taking the necessary steps to improve farm bio-security, tighten cattle control movements and improve TB testing systems.

Most farmers are unwilling to spend money on putting in new fencing and securing cattle pens and food stores to prevent interaction between badgers and cattle, despite contact with badgers being cited regularly by the government and the NFU as a key driver for the spread of bovine TB.

To make matters worse, over 13 million cattle movements take place every year in the UK, a higher figure than any other country in Europe, which also inevitably leads to an increase in the spread of the disease.

Incompetence because the free shooting of badgers at night will undoubtedly result in huge animal suffering and large numbers of animals being wounded and moving between setts, increasing the risk of spreading bovine TB to wider areas, which is the exact opposite of the what the cull is seeking to achieve.

Deceit because although we are told bovine TB is a crisis for the farming industry, the public were not aware not until the recent Sunday Time front page story that over 30,000 cattle slaughtered for TB infection every year go directly into the food chain with no labelling or traceability, a trade which generates over £10 million per annum for Defra to offset against its TB cattle slaughter scheme.

Deceit because since January new tighter cattle control and TB testing systems forced on the UK government by the European Commission have resulted in a steady decline in the rate of bovine TB compared to 2012, yet Defra and the NFU make no mention of these reductions in their press statements and continue to paint a very bleak picture of the spread of the disease to justify the cull policy.

Deceit because the government has no plans to test any of the 5,500 badgers to be shot over the next few weeks for TB. This is despite the fact that the NFU and wildlife conservation groups are calling for tests to be undertaken, including the use of new DNA technology to provide a clearer picture of the various strains of TB in badgers and how this impacts on the transmission of TB to cattle.

Farmers have worked hard to earn the respect of the public as stewards and protectors of the countryside and its wildlife. Over the next few weeks this reputation will be torn apart in the public glare of a hugely unpopular policy, which will result in the needless slaughter of thousands of a protected species. 

Despite David Cameron telling farmers he believes his support for the badger cull policy is a courageous move, he would have been wiser to have listened to the advice of leading scientists such as Lord Krebbs, Sir John Beddington and Sir Bob Watson, about the dangers of pursuing a policy for political rather than scientific reasons.

Dominic Dyer is policy advisor at Care for the Wild International

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

Helen Browning and the Soil Association have asked it to be made clear that they strongly support vaccination regarding Bovine TB. The official statement of the Soil Association can be found here.