To cull or not to cull: Itis not all black and white

By Alyson Parkes, SRA Operations Team

Baited, persecuted, and now culled: the history of the badger is not a particularly happy one, especially when the spread of bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is bought into the equation.

Bovine Tuberculosis; an infectious disease mainly found in cattle but spread amongst other mammals by one very unfortunate creature: the badger.

The disease is particularly complex and very difficult to eradicate, it poses a huge economic threat to beef and dairy farmers and to the taxpayer. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial attempted to prevent the bTB spread between species. However, the results found only a 16% reduction of bTB cases, and an increase in the effect of “perturbation“.

The government announced that it would continue the controlled culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2015 despite serious ongoing concerns about the effectiveness and humanity of free shooting parties.

Each farmer in the cull zones is licensed to carry out free shooting of badgers; nevertheless, not all farmers are supporters of the cull and they have the freedom to choose whether to participate. Many would rather vaccinate cattle than shoot badgers, however farmers’ businesses and lives are being devastated by the disease and they say that they cannot wait for effective cattle vaccines to be developed.

Several leading experts claim that the gains from the cull will be minimal; that the costs will outweigh the benefits, but the financial implications of bTB mean that farmers in these cull areas have tough decisions to make.

Now animal rights campaigners have taken the bTB issue to the nation’s coffee shops and supermarkets, demanding that they stop using milk from farms that fall within the badger cull areas. The campaigners argue that shunning farmers who are culling badgers will force them to review their approach to cattle welfare, which is also a significant contributor to the spread of bTB.

Caffe Nero has implemented a ban on serving milk from farms within the culling areas after serious pressure from animal-rights activists. Following what the ‘Stop the Cull‘ spokesman “Jay” called “the campaign’s first major victory against retailers who sell badger cull milk“, the activists are now planning to target Sainsbury’s, claiming that they will be storming the company’s headquarters in the coming weeks.

Caffe Nero’s decision has sparked outrage amongst the farming community, which believes that the coffee chain has bowed to pressure from the activists. The timing is particularly poor as the dairy sector is currently facing pricing problems, and many farmers are now calling for the boycott of Caffe Nero itself.

The dispute has dragged other supermarkets and coffee chains into the crossfire, but all have so far refused to discriminate against their milk suppliers, claiming that the badger cull is a Government issue and that it “isn’t right to penalise farmers whose farms are in these areas“.

At the SRA, we understand the complexity of sustainability issues, and how no single issue is black and white (unlike badgers!). Our advice to members who are concerned about this issue would be that traceability is paramount. Speak with your milk supplier to understand where your milk comes from and, if it is in an infected area, try to find out more about the local issues on the ground. Only then can you make an informed decision about whether to continue purchasing this product or whether to look for alternative suppliers. And remember you can always contact your Account Manager for further information and advice.

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