Dr Paul Monaghan MP: End the regressive and medieval practice of badger culling

Posted On: 
21st September 2016

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee member Dr Paul Monaghan MP writes following his Westminster Hall debate on Badger culling and bovine TB.

A herd of Angus beef cattle at a farm in Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire

Perhaps the most significant threats facing the UK’s farming industry today is bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), a disease affecting beef and dairy cattle herds in England and Wales.

The issues surrounding this dreadful disease were debated in Parliament on 7 September with a focus on how the disease can be brought under control to end the misery experienced by farmers as a consequence of their herds being destroyed.

A particular motivation for the debate was the UK Government’s failed policy of culling badgers to address the continuing spread of the disease across England. While Scotland is officially free of the disease and Wales has begun to successfully bring the disease under control by stopping badger culls, the UK Government has spent over £500 million killing badgers and compensating farmers for their slaughtered cattle. Latest estimates suggest expenditure will pass £2 Billion in the next few years, with some of this money coming from the European Union, which has passed over 50% of its entire budget to the UK to fight bTB. Despite the massive expenditure, around £20 million per month, the disease continues to spread across England unchecked.

Bovine tuberculosis is caused by the organism ‘Mycobacterium Bovis’, a bacterium that is excreted by infected cattle on to the land they graze. Science shows us that the bacterium survives in the soil from where it is passed to other cattle, and other species including badgers, cats, rats, deer, foxes, moles, hedgehogs, worms and even flies. The predominant mode of transmission among cattle however is nose to nose, but recent evidence suggests that spreading slurry on fields is a major contagion.

In Parliament I highlighted the fact that current UK Government policy is failing England’s farmers and inexplicably persecuting one species of animal – badgers. Science, again, has shown that badgers are not responsible for the spread of the disease and that killing them in large numbers actually increases incidence through perturbation.   

Indeed new herd breakdowns appear to be doubling approximately every nine years. In the last decade alone the UK Government has slaughtered 314,000 otherwise healthy cattle across England in an attempt to control the disease. Such is the ineffectiveness of the UK Government’s approach that 20% of all new herd breakdowns detected in England today are identified only in the slaughter house.

There is a significant human cost also. Bovine TB causes misery for England’s farmers. Farms are being closed, farmers are being made bankrupt and, sadly, some farmers have even taken their own lives such is the impact of the failure to effectively address this disease.

The crisis facing English cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated. If the disease continues to increase unchecked in England it will also begin to threaten herds in other nations that are currently free of the disease, like Scotland.

Scotland has been officially TB free since 2009. I want it to stay that way and I want the torment and misery being visited upon England’s farmers to end. If that is to happen the UK Government must reflect on the fact that its current focus on the unscientific, ineffective, expensive and inhumane nature of culling policy, and the related inappropriate use of public funds, will not work.

I urged the Minister to look to governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Recognise the importance of cattle welfare and husbandry. Combine that recognition with rigorous blood testing regimes and effective movement controls to reduce the risks of cattle to cattle transmission and introduce a centrally coordinated comprehensive badger vaccination policy in high risk areas for bTB in England and to start reducing the incidence of this dreadful disease by stopping the regressive and medieval practice of badger culling that diminishes our collective humanity.

Dr Paul Monaghan is the SNP MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross