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Why industrial farming wants to blame the badger for Bovine TB

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Published on Aug 3, 2011

Peter Smith, Wildwood Trust's Chief Executive talks about badgers and the British Farming Industry:

"Wildwood Trust is coming to the defense of badgers as they are used as a scapegoat by an industrial farming lobby determined to hide, poor farming practices, cruelty, massive taxpayer hand-outs, fraud and illegal practices that could end up in horrifying consequences for the British public.

Wildwood Trust opposes the government’s badger culling programme because our charity is committed to protecting wildlife and makes decisions on conservation using the best available scientific information – the evidence is clear that culling badgers will make the problem worse.

Intensive meat rearing systems have created large epidemiological problems in the UK. The bovine TB epidemic, the second major cattle disease after the first ‘Mad Cow Disease’ caused again by intensive farming practices. In 2015 the UK Government began to shoot badgers in a futile effort to control TB. The reality is a story full of intrigue and vested interests competing for economic advantage. A whole generation of farmers and ‘country people’ have forgotten the basic epidemiological science of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The farming lobby finds it much easier to blame badgers than address the fundamental problems of poor cattle farming.
The introduction of pasteurisation effectively stopped the disease being transferred to humans through drinking milk. Strict controls on cattle movements and herd quarantine ensured a reduction in bTB across the UK, effectively controlling the disease. The restrictions were relaxed in the late 1970s, and bTB began to reappear.
Changes in farming practices have contributed to the epidemic. Cattle live in larger and denser groups and spend more time in large sheds and stockades, thereby exposing herds to bTB. But rather than attribute the spread of the disease to their own practices, the farming lobby is trying to blame badgers, despite the absence of credible scientific evidence. The solution is economic: stop the perverse incentives that reward farming for poor husbandry techniques.

1. Private insurance: The farming industry should pay for bad and illegal practices. The best way to achieve this is by withdrawing government subsidy and compensation payments. Farmers could privately insure themselves against TB. This free market solution would reward good farming practices (lower premiums). High-risk farms would be charged high premiums, and farmers who commit fraud by changing ear tags and other illegal practices would invalidate their insurance.
2. Stricter quarantine: Detailed statistical analysis has shown that it is the movement of cattle from one farm to another that is by far the most important factor in the spread of TB (Gilbert et al 2005). The reintroduction of the quarantine measures that were abandoned in the past is key to the control of bTB in the UK.
3. Credible science: Spending large sums of taxpayers’ money on trials of shooting and gassing badgers should stop. Devote the funds used to kill badgers to microbiological research of the disease and its control by vaccination in cattle and badgers.
4. Fiscal policy: Taxation should be shaped to promote less intensive agriculture. Current tax policies favour tax-dodgers, land speculators, large landowners and investment in huge capital infrastructure. Fuel, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals enjoy huge subsidies that do not reflect their true cost to society or the environment. Landowners benefit by expanding their buildings and gaining planning permission for huge new cattle sheds. Capital gains from land are tax-free. The cumulative effect is ever more intensive agricultural systems, increased disease and the suffering of animals.
We would rebalance the economy and encourage less intensive farming by removing taxes on wages and trade, and removing the tax perks on large machinery. Government should raise its revenue with an annual charge on ground rent and charges on the rents of natural resources such as oil and minerals. Small farmers would be able to compete on equal terms with industrial farming methods. One outcome would be the reduction in the use of poor quality animal husbandry and the spread of disease.

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