Veganism is the solution
This World Vegan Day (1 November), isn't it time we ask different questions about bovine tuberculosis (bTB)? Do we simply accept that it will always exist, although we may eventually reach a stage in which bTB is somewhat contained? It doesn't need to be. Other solutions to combating bTB that don't harm animals must be explored. It requires a paradigm shift in the way we view other animals and our diet.
Control programmes fall short
Ten members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) have recently challenged the Chief Veterinary Officer's advice of extending the badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire. They said it results in increased suffering of badgers, and places both badgers and cattle in and around the cull zones at greater risk of contracting bTB. In addition, the effectiveness of the cull on reducing bTB is questionable.
Bovine TB is usually spread by infected animals who are moved into TB-free herds at the source of purchase before testing has been completed.
Politicians move on, different governments interpret evidence in ways that reinforce their existing policies and worldview, but the 2007 report by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence - A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle; An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis still stands.
Following a decade of research taking the lives of over 11,000 badgers and costing taxpayers £34 million, the study found that reactive culling did not reduce bTB. It resulted in significant increases (27%), an effect also seen in an Irish four-area badger-killing project. While proactive culling controlled bTB in the cull area, it temporarily increased bTB in surrounding areas due to the perturbation effect (badgers moving out of their home range).
The ISG concluded "Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone."
In 2009, Paul and David Torgerson argued that bTB is very rarely spread from cattle to humans, that the current UK control programme is a misallocation of resources and that it provides no benefit to society, making it irrelevant as a public health policy.
Healthy animals with meaningful lives
Badgers are symbolic of British wildlife. However, the protected status of badgers (Badger Act, 1973; Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981; Protection of Badgers Act, 1992) is highly violated by sanctioned culls, illegal baiting and digging, which, combined, leads to around 10,000 animals being killed per year. The estimated 50,000 badgers becoming victims of road accidents every year compounds this situation and causes population fragmentation.
Badgers are carnivorous and live in complex social groups, although they generally do not defend their territory together or collaborate when feeding, which most social carnivores do. Their group dynamics depend on food distribution, particularly earthworms, making badgers an important indicator species for healthy soil and habitats. The joy badgers provide to people spotting them also contributes positively to eco-tourism.
Most badgers currently killed are healthy, as the vast majority (around 80%) of badgers are TB-free. These badgers still had meaningful lives to live when it was cut short by marksmen.
Couldn't we shift our consumption from an unnecessary food group (dairy) involving disease, misery and collateral damage (the badger culls), to plant-based alternatives that benefit everyone? Bovine TB could be a thing of the past if cows were not used and killed for their products in the first place.
On World Vegan Day, why not try plant-based alternatives to dairy? They satisfy our nutritional needs, are better for the environment (the greenhouse gas 'footprint' of dairy is substantial), and are the most humane option for all animals involved.
Try dairy-free foods today or sign up to the Vegan Pledge alongside comedians Dave Spikey and Lucy Porter and actress Julie Peasgood and try the vegan diet this November during World Vegan Month.
Long live the badger, and Happy World Vegan Day!