In January of this year, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) launched its long-anticipated Animal Welfare Strategy.
The strategy places animal welfare advocacy at the centre of veterinary responsibility, recognises that veterinary surgeons should be advocates for the welfare of all animals (not just those committed to their care), and emphasises the need for the profession to pursue ultimate, rather than just proximate, welfare solutions.
While these principles might seem intuitive - after all, most people probably assume that a concern for the welfare of animals has always been at the heart of anyone's decision to pursue a veterinary career - it seems to have taken the BVA a long time to finally recognise that animal welfare should be the profession's bread and butter.
No matter. The principles of the strategy are very welcome, and the BVA and its current President are to be congratulated on its development and publication.
What is now urgently needed is a re-evaluation of the BVA's positions and policies through the lens of the Animal Welfare Strategy, in order to put these fine principles into practice.
The BVA's longstanding support for the unscientific, ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary culling of badgers as part of the government's strategy for dealing with bovine tuberculosis would seem a good place to start.
Almost 4,000 badgers have been killed under license over the past three years across three culling zones in parts of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset. Hardly any of these animals have been tested for bovine TB, so we have no idea whether they actually posed any risk to cattle.
The culls have been haphazard and protracted, rendering any use of data from previous scientific trials to determine the impacts of badger culls on TB in cattle useless in terms of predicting likely outcomes.
So-called 'controlled shooing' (shooting free-roaming badgers attracted to bait points at night) failed to meet even the most 'generous' of humaneness criteria set by a government-appointed panel of experts.
In spite of all this, 29 additional applications for culling licenses are currently being considered by Natural England, which could see tens of thousands more badgers killed in the coming years.
Before vets or their professional bodies consider supporting wildlife interventions, particularly those that will clearly cause individual animal suffering and serious disruption to social cohesion, they should, as a minimum:
-Be absolutely certain of substantive and guaranteed benefits from the intervention;
-Be sure there are no less harmful alternatives;
-Ensure that the intervention is conducted using only the most humane methods available; and
-Be certain that there will be no other consequences resulting from the intervention, such as increased persecution, that would cause additional suffering.
The government-licensed badger culls fail to meet any of the above criteria. As such, vets and their professional bodies such as the BVA have absolutely no business supporting them.
The BVA's Animal Welfare Strategy takes away the excuse that vets only need to be concerned about animals 'committed to their care' (ie those that they are being paid to look after). The success of the strategy, and public trust in the profession's claimed animal welfare credentials, will be determined by how effectively and robustly it is implemented.