Badgers, Bovine TB and the UK General Election

25 April 2015 | Chris Cheeseman, letter to Stroud News & Journal (SNJ)

Note from Badgergate Team:

As campaigning for the General Election steps up a gear, people across the country are being urged to contact their MP and potential candidates in order to assess their position on bovine TB and the badger cull.  In Stroud, Dr Chris Cheeseman contacted the editor of the Stroud News and Journal to see if the paper would publish his letter below. Unfortunately, it seems the editor may have felt that the letter was too ‘political’ to publish in full before the election. Instead an abridged version was published by SNJ on 23rd April 2015.

This is real a pity since Stroud is one of the marginal seats in Gloucestershire, one of the two counties where the pilot badger culls have been taking place annually since 2013. The Stroud constituency has been leafleted by members of Stop the Cull, urging people to vote out Mr Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP, in favour of David Drew of the Labour party. A Guardian article states that Labour activists in Gloucestershire have said privately that they believe this campaign could help their cause.

Badgergate urges people to read Dr Chris Cheeseman’s full letter below and to consider the plight of Britain’s badgers and other wildlife when they cast their vote on 7th May 2015.

Dear Sir or Madam:

The science underlying the topic of badgers and bovine TB is highly complex.  This has led to information being deviously manipulated by those who want to cull badgers, whereupon they seize on scraps of data to misrepresent in support of culling while ignoring the overwhelming evidence against it.  As such it has descended into a propaganda exercise by the National Farmers Union to win support for culling and distract attention from the real problem.

The truth is that the persistence of TB in cattle is largely due to the continuing spread of the disease among the cattle themselves.  Scientists at Imperial College London estimate that less than 6% of cattle TB outbreaks are due directly to badgers.

Wales has reduced cattle TB incidence by almost a half in just five years by more rigorous testing of cattle.  While England lags behind, the Westminster Government continues with its badger culling policy, despite two successive years of failure on both efficacy and welfare grounds.  And the cost?  The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have cost the tax payer a staggering £15million in just two years.

This Government has consistently shown a wilful disregard for the science in its pursuit of badger culling.  The Government estimates that badger culling will, at best, lead to a 12 to 16% drop in cattle TB over 9 years, while many experts predict that due to significant changes in protocol it may actually make TB in cattle and badgers worse.  As a result, we have to ask why our politicians are pursuing such an ill-conceived strategy. Political analysts conclude that it is to appease farmers and influential landowners in order to win their votes and financial support.  If re-elected, the Tories will roll out more badger culls across the South West of England that will result in the needless slaughter of thousands more badgers.

Fortunately there are people who are not prepared to tolerate this contemptuous attitude towards our native wildlife for political ends.  I recently joined a number of other scientists and veterinarians in writing to David Cameron to express our deep concerns about the Government’s TB policy

The reply was disappointing and gave no indication of the changes that are so desperately needed.

MPs are there to engage with their constituents on nationally important issues – badger culling ranks as the fifth most common subject of complaint to MP’s in 2014.  I wrote to our Stroud MP, Mr Neil Carmichael, many weeks ago asking for his views on our correspondence with David Cameron.  Apart from the usual acknowledgement, he has yet to reply.  Indeed, he has failed to respond to all my written challenges and offers to discuss this subject since being elected.  Instead of pursuing an objective position based on the facts in his stance on bovine TB, Mr Carmichael simply follows the Conservative whip in Government debates and votes in favour of badger culling.

Dr Chris Cheeseman
Badger Ecologist and former government adviser

Note:

You can read the abridged version of Dr Cheeseman’s letter published by Stroud News and Journal here:

http://www.stroudnewsandjournal.co.uk/news/lettersextra/12909788.Badgers_and_bovine_TB_/?dm_i=1NFN,3CIRQ,97TLTF,BZ42D,1

You can also read his guest article for Badgergate on why a badger cull won’t work here:
https://www.badgergate.org/guest-articles/why-a-badger-cull-wont-work/