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Last year's badger cull was successfully brought to a halt before a single shot had been fired. A combination of public pressure and the threat of direct action carried the day. Now the bell has rung for round two as Tory environment minister (and bloodsports enthusiast) Owen Paterson has announced that another attempt at a cull will go ahead this June.

Opposition will no doubt be as determined as before and the opening shots will be fired on the 27th of February as protests will be held outside the National Farmers Union (NFU) Conference. The NFU have consistently been the strongest advocates for a cull.

The National Farmers Union is a lobbyist group for large agricultural corporations with aims that benefit them, rather than that of animal welfare and independent farmers - they have strong political ties and lobbying power.

The first talk on the opening day of the conference is called 'Farming and Politics' and will in most part be a discussion about the badger cull.

Of course the publicly announced purpose of the cull is to try and eradicate bovine TB. So far the war of words has revolved around the extent to which badgers even contribute to Bovine TB. All seem to agree on the need to control the disease. Unfortunately the nature of the industry the cull is supposed to protect, the production of the UK's milk supply hasn't really been scrutinised.

Bovine TB is mostly considered to be a problem in the country's dairy rather than its beef herd. To answer why, it's necessary to take a step back and consider how our food ends up on the table in the first place.

Sixty years ago the techniques of industrial production began to be applied in a co-ordinated manner to agriculture. At the time this was referred to as the 'Green Revolution' and was part and parcel of the idea that the application of science was about to deliver an eternity of plenty.


One of the strangest products of this process was the modern dairy cow. Up until the 19th Century there was little difference between the dairy and the beef cow; both were fearsome beasts - horned and wild. In order to get cattle into city dairies, intensive breeding for the polled mutation or hornlessness gradually led to a narrowing of the gene pool. But it wasn't until the 1950s that scientists at the ministry of Agriculture, fisheries and food (MAFF) developed a national strategy of breeding for specific traits in dairy cows and the milk they produced.

At that time around a dozen bulls were selected for the tendency to throw calves that were good milkers. In a real mark of the industrialisation of the process they didn't mate with any actual cows. They were kept in concrete sheds, sprayed with cow oestrogen and masturbated to produce sperm. The semen was (and is) taken, frozen and split into thousands of straws – each containing enough ejaculate to sire a cow through artificial insemination.

These carefully monitored lines of descent have been repeatedly cross bred into each other to produce herds of near genetically identical animals – real hothouse flowers. This process is set to advance with the introduction of embryo transfer where less 'genetically desirable' female cows are used as surrogate mothers for the artificially induced offspring of their more productive siblings. UK dairy cows now produce an average of 22 litres of milk a day – double the amount of forty years ago. A host of vetinary problems are associated with the distorted shape these animals have been bred into such as mastitis, lameness and infertility.

Male dairy cattle arguably have it worse – of course the vast majority of them are simply surplus to requirements – they form the basis of the trade in veal calves. Those that survive to breed are rightly regarded as extremely dangerous and are kept isolated inside concrete enclosures until their useful lifespan is over.

In the normal course of evolution parasite and host co-evolve, but the evolution of the dairy cow in the last 50 years has been anything but normal. It has been driven solely by the need to increase milk yields - a process intensified by dairy farmers need to drive down costs to make a living from the prices offered by the big supermarket chains – the largest purchasers and redistributers of milk.

The result has been a dairy herd with virtually no natural immunity.


So - to TB itself. Originally most human cases of tuberculosis came from drinking infected cows milk. This came to an end with the introduction of pasteurisation and TB from milk consumption is no longer a threat to public health.

Despite this the state still runs a £100m per year campaign to compulsorily slaughter any herd which contains 'TB Reactors'. A TB reactor could be a cow with bovine TB or due to the nature of the tests it could be an animal with some vestige of natural immunity. The compulsory slaughter programme means a further genetic bottleneck and the result is the total suppression of any natural defences against Bovine TB.

But why slaughter at all? Why not vaccinate against the disease? The answer is seemingly the need to preserve the export market for cattle as the EU currently maintains a ban on TB vaccination in cattle– although this is valued at far less than even the cost of the cattle slaughter policy let alone the potential financial costs of the national badger cull.

With the farming industry refusing to set its own house in order they badly need a scapegoat - Badgers are set to be sacrificed yet again when it is the UK dairy industry that needs to set its house in order. Last year public disgust and the threat of direct action was enough to cancel the cull.


Back to the fields!!

For more on how to stop the cull http://badger-killers.co.uk/

There are 2 comments on this story...
Added By: Briar - 2nd February 2013 @ 10:36 AM
Thanks. This is very informative. Just to add - the EU ban derives from the fact that it is impossible at present to tell between a cow which has been innoculated and a cow carrying the virus. But with a possible way in development, this ban could be lifted it, and with it a large part of the "industry's" argument in favour of the cull.
Added By: J Naish - 4th February 2013 @ 1:55 PM
What a brilliant article. Thanks for this it explains so clearly the problem with dairy. Dairyman Steve Jones is also very good on the subject.
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