Animal rights, badgers, cows and culls
This week has seen an announcement by H.M. Government that, in a part reversal of national policy, badgers (but not deer) may in some circumstances now be culled if farmers believe this will reduce the risk of their dairy herds developing TB.
The debate about bovine tuberculosis (TB in cows) has raged for years. It has cost UK taxpayers vast sums of money, as key stakeholders in the consultative process (many of them farmers), top scientists and government advisers have striven to resolve the matter. Likewise, many farmers see bTB as a real threat to the continuation of their way of life. But hundreds upon hundreds of hours of vexed high-level debate over the past 10 or 15 years still it seems leave the central questions unresolved.
The issues are often presented this way: are badgers the reason that cows get TB? and if so should the badgers be culled (i.e. shot or gassed)? and by whom, at whose expense? (Or, conversely,do badgers in fact get TB from cows, not the other way around?)
This is of course, as with many other complex situations, a simplification of the inter-related underlying tensions.
Nonetheless, in some observers’ views this contest at base is about the ‘rights’ of farmers to do as they wish on their land, the ‘rights’ of badgers (and their human admirers – rarely farmers) to live unmolested wherever they reside, and the relevance and rights or wrongs of the hotly challenged scientific evidence: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for instance, has said it is opposed to culls ‘based on solid science, not sentiment.’
And underlying all this, but less frequently acknowledged in popular debate, are matters of business, profit, loss, politics and science.
Business or bucolic?
Whilst even attempting to summarise the various positions is to invite challenge, questions and considerations could be said to include: why the development of an effective bovine (and/or badger) TB vaccine has been so slow (humans regularly undergo TB vaccination); issues concerning the possible efficacy or additional damage risks which culling might have; the requirements in European farming policy in respect of vaccinated cows; the costs to taxpayers of compensation by the UK Government for farmers whose TB-positive cattle are destroyed; the business case for milk from certified uninfected herds; and the view of some people that indigenous UK wildlife should be left in peace.
To many urbanites the plight of cows, badgers and farmers (not to mention the credibility of veterinary scientists and government officials) seems trivial, but this is a very serious matter to most of those involved.
Entrenched and conflicting positions
The major stakeholders have conflicting and entrenched views. They will find it difficult for a long time yet to achieve any consensus, perhaps in part because they perceive this at some level to be a battle for rural life (the farmers) or hearts and minds (the badger lovers), with the politicians hovering nervously between the two.
* Can debates in which protagonists have such different fundamental bases actually be resolved?
* What role does or can science have in a matter which is in some minds more about business cases ans / or ways of living?
Posted on September 18, 2010, in Real-Life Examples and tagged Consultation, Emotions~feelings, Engagement~stakeholding, Evidence~research, Knowledge, Science~technology, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.