Fresh from the horse meat scandal, DEFRA has found itself in a new controversy, having again failed the British consumer in food traceability and labelling. Thanks to the work of Care for the Wild, who worked closely with the Sunday Times to expose a story that affects all of us, the public now knows that over 20,000 cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis (TB) enter the food chain in the UK each year, and the government doesn't know where they go, where they are sold, and who is eating them.
This means you could be tucking into some TB infected meat right now, as could your family, your friends, your children - at home, at school, at hospital, from the local take away. Like I said... who knows.
You may wonder why a wildlife charity is involved in breaking a public health issue like this. Well, the reason is simple - it all comes down to badgers. We wanted to expose the absolute inability of Defra to manage the bovine TB (bTB) issue, and to highlight to the public that Defra is failing us on this issue from farm to fork.
Badgers are about to be slaughtered in their thousands as a scapegoat resolution to stop the spread of bTB in our herds. The real paradox is that the government has been harking on about the dangers of bTB to farmers, slaughter house workers and consumers as one of many false excuses to justify a badger cull, yet today they are exposed as selling infected meat straight into the food chain, not following the advice of the Food Standards Agency re labelling or treating, not tracking the final destinations of the infected meat and seemingly seeing no issue with then having the nerve to say badgers should be killed for the health of the nation.
You would imagine there'd be extensive testing before deeming it fit for human consumption though, right? No... alas not - it seems just a visual check suffices based on lesions seen, and even if the carcass has one visible lesion it is still approved for sale as food. Yum.
In truth the risk to humans is low, but you can catch TB from eating raw or undercooked meat from TB infected cattle. We feel that, especially following the horse meat scandal, consumers should be able to make an informed choice - just like in the US, or in Germany, where clear labelling rules apply for infected meat and cooking instructions state it should not be consumed in a raw undercooked state.
After all, as taxpayers and consumers we would reasonably expect that if the Food Standards Agency's Microbiological Food Safety Committee recommend to the government that they reduce the risk to the public of consuming TB meat by placing it in cold storage, taking culture tests to trace TB lesions not visible to human eye, plus heat treating the meat to kill off all traces of TB before it enters the food chain, then they should take note, and most of all - they should tell us.
We at Care for the Wild are fundamentally against the badger cull as we know it will not solve the issue - we are instead advocating a combination of enhanced bio-security, stronger management of cattle movements and a badger vaccination programme. Our voice is not a lone one though - all leading scientists (including the government's own scientists that conducted a 10 year trial on badger culling), many farmers, the majority of MPs, the vast majority of the public, and even leading vets all say that the culling of badgers is pointless.
If you're thinking now there's even more reason to kill the badgers to eradicate the world of bTB, you couldn't be further from the truth - it's called bovine TB for a reason. You could kill every single badger in the country and you will still have bTB - killing an estimated 70% of them (as the cull plans to do) for an at best 16% reduction is ludicrous.
Kill the cull - it will give more time and more money for Defra to do some of their own internal culling, and get their house in order.