The current issue (November 2010) of Southasia magazine includes my article, Animals Have Rights Too! The article is the last in an extensive series published throughout this year. Veteran animal rights advocate Syed Rizvi worked closely with the magazine on their production. I donated my fee for writing the article to the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society.
Animal Rights or Animal Liberation should not be viewed as a foreign moral code being imported into Pakistan. As a matter of fact, its seed was sowed in the land of Harappa and Taxila where Buddhism once flourished, and which now form part of Pakistan. Buddhism emphasizes doing no harm to animals. Islam, the religion followed by most Pakistanis, also supports the ethical treatment of animals [...]
Here is the text of the letter I sent to my Member of Parliament, Amber Rudd, about the government’s proposed badger cull. I will post her response here.
As you know as a resident of the Old Town and as the MP representing the Hastings and Rye constituency, many constituents consider themselves to be very lucky to live in an area where badgers also reside. I am writing to you as my MP and as a member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Select Committee about badgers and the Government’s proposed policy to kill badgers as part of an attempt to reduce Bovine TB in cattle.
I totally oppose killing badgers and find it difficult to understand how DEFRA can state that the policy of badger control is science led because if this was the case simple recognition of the results from extensive scientific investigation that saw many thousands of badgers killed, would not support further killing of badgers.
It is well known that the current tuberculin test applied to cattle results with many inconclusive, false positive and false negative results. This unacceptable regime leaves infected cattle to re-infect other cattle, it removes animals for slaughter that are not infected and causes misery to many farmers. This is the most significant area where major improvement can be gained and where significant improvement must be targeted, until we have the long awaited cattle vaccine. Such improvements have already been realised in Northern Ireland and Wales without badgers being killed. Cattle contract TB from other sources, principally other cattle. This is why TB in cattle is spreading across south-west England and Wales to the rest of the country. Badgers generally do not roam far from their dens. They live within a relatively small area. They certainly do not make long journeys across the countryside. So, it is more likely that the spread of TB-infected cattle is due to the movement of these animals, from farm to farm, from farms to auctions, and from farms to slaughterhouses.
If action against badgers must be included in the policy to reduce Bovine TB in cattle then it should be well recognised that the cost of trapping, killing and disposing of a badger is significantly greater than trapping, vaccinating and releasing the same animal. The advantage of vaccinating is that over a similar time period to killing badgers you would in fact end up with a badger population that was not a risk to cattle. It makes sound economic, political and indeed common sense to vaccinate not exterminate.
I attended a recent public seminar at the Zoological Society of London on this issue which included presentations from Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser, DEFRA, and Dr Rosie Woodroffe, Institute of Zoology, ZSL, who was a member of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB that advised DEFRA. I conclude from their presentations, additional panelists and others who also spoke that if the objective is to have TB-free cattle, well, culling badgers is not the solution.
As I am already familiar with statements made by DEFRA there is no necessity to forward my correspondence onto them. I ask respectfully that you reply by stating clearly your position on this issue, including whether you are for or against the government’s proposed badger cull and why.
So why commission £49m of research then shred it? Because the National Farmers’ Union wants to see blood, and it is neither prepared to wait nor to accept measures as tough as Bourne proposes. Up and down the country it is whipping up farmers to demand that badgers are killed. Yesterday I spoke to a tenant farmer who had just attended an NFU meeting that unanimously supported the cull. A question revealed that not one of the farmers in the room had read the consultation document: they simply accepted the NFU’s word that the killing had to happen. Under this government, the NFU rules. According to the small farmers I know, it tends to be dominated by the biggest and most arrogant landowners – rather like the Tory party. Last week the government quietly abandoned its commitment to stop the de-beaking of chickens and to stop game birds from being kept in cages. The badgers are just another lump of meat to be thrown to the beast. The cull might help to destroy the industry these bloody-minded dolts claim to defend. But they don’t seem to care, just as long as something is done other than imposing rigorous controls on their business. Killing wildlife will do just fine.
Roy Hattersley, a Labour Party elder and prolific author including books about dogs, wrote yesterday in The Guardian about public policy on dogs.
Of course, the call for regulation will be greeted by cries of anguish from the vested interests. There will be particular opposition from the pedigree lobby, which makes its money out of pure-breed dogs – many of which have been inbred to the point of physical deformity in order to emphasise their exclusive features. They are right to worry about how a law requiring the proper care of dogs will affect them. Breeding dogs with genetic defects is another form of cruelty – made worse by the suffering being a callously premeditated way to charge exclusive prices. In this country we talk of dogs with a sentimentality that is not always matched by the sense and sympathy with which we treat them. Some are abused. Some are neglected. Some are damaged by misplaced indulgence. The best way to avoid all those tragedies is the regulation of dog ownership through a contract that sets out a duty of care. Real dog-lovers will not object.
There’s animal cruelty and exploitation and then there’s animal cruelty and exploitation which I find particularly egregious and unacceptable. One example is using animals in war. A lot of patriotic nonsense is written about dogs in war. But here’s the reality, as reported recently in The Guardian. I added emphasis in order to make the point that my position is I prefer neither soldiers nor dogs to be killed. The dogs in this combat situation are blatantly expendable.
UK special forces in Afghanistan are parachuting German shepherd dogs with video cameras into Taliban strongholds to search buildings for insurgents, with at least eight animals killed during operations. The dogs are strapped to the chest of their handlers for the drops, and cameras are attached to their heads to feed back images of buildings and surrounding areas. The tactics have been adapted from US special forces, but the Ministry of Defence said it would not comment on a report on operations by SAS troops. The dogs are reportedly trained to attack armed people, and eight of them have died in action so far. “But that would be eight SAS men,” a source told the Times.
Go here for more and a photo of soldier and dog parachuting to earth.
Very interesting feature article in today’s Guardian, “A tale of two herds,” which juxtaposes the proposed mega-dairy for Nocton, Lincolnshire and the treatment of a small herd of cows cared for by the Hare Krishnas at their Hertfordshire estate.
I like how the feature contrasts the attitude towards dairy cows by Peter Willes, one of two directors backing the mega-dairy, who says, “Cows do not belong in fields,” with Hare Krishna Shyamasundara, who says their cows are
part of our community. They give us their lifeblood in the form of milk and we care for them all their life. Of all the animals in the world the cow is the most important to humans. The cow replaces the role of the mother. You wouldn’t bump your mum off if she stopped giving milk.
The Independent publishes today, The Great Animal Rights Betrayal, a front page lead story continued onto pages 4 and 5, which includes several side bars under the banner, “The Betrayals,” on Game birds, Slaughterhouse cruelty, Circus animals, Beak trimming and Badger cull. There’s also a Comment by Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor, Compassion In World Farming.
Millions of hens will have their beaks mutilated; game birds will remain in cages; pigs, sheep and cows in abattoirs will lose crucial protection from abuse; badgers will be culled and lions, tigers and other wild animals will continue to perform in the big top. In a series of little-noticed moves, the Coalition has scrapped or stalled Labour initiatives to improve animal welfare some weeks before they were due to come into force. The Agriculture minister James Paice, who part-owns a farm in Cambridgeshire, has been behind most of the moves – which have infuriated welfare groups. In the latest of a series of controversial decisions, Mr Paice this week delayed by five years a ban on beak mutilations of laying hens due to come into force in January.
Hats off to The Independent for giving such prominent attention to the British government’s indifference to animal welfare and support for the commercial exploitation of animals. Difficult to imagine The Guardian publishing such an article, given its track record of indifference and, at times, hostility to animal rights and vegetarian living. Today’s Guardian, however, has below the front page fold the story this story, McDonald’s and PepsiCo to help write UK health policy.
The Department of Health is putting the fast food companies McDonald’s and KFC and processed food and drink manufacturers such as PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Unilever, Mars and Diageo at the heart of writing government policy on obesity, alcohol and diet-related disease, the Guardian has learned. In an overhaul of public health, said by campaign groups to be the equivalent of handing smoking policy over to the tobacco industry, health secretary Andrew Lansley has set up five “responsibility deal” networks with business, co-chaired by ministers, to come up with policies. Some of these are expected to be used in the public health white paper due in the next month. The groups are dominated by food and alcohol industry members, who have been invited to suggest measures to tackle public health crises. Working alongside them are public interest health and consumer groups including Which?, Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health. The alcohol responsibility deal network is chaired by the head of the lobby group the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network to tackle diet and health problems includes processed food manufacturers, fast food companies, and Compass, the catering company famously pilloried by Jamie Oliver for its school menus of turkey twizzlers. The food deal’s sub-group on calories is chaired by PepsiCo, owner of Walkers crisps.
The common link between the two articles is the ConDem’s cosy relationship with industry. Their governance is based on the premise that business must have a dominant say in determining public policy. In order for the economy to flourish, industry must be free from such irritating restrictions as concerns about human health and animal welfare.
Science does not operate alone in its own universe. Regardless of how much scientists assert their work is objective, their research, as, indeed, is everything, is viewed subjectively in the ever present, including the world of politics and morality.
Take, for example, the coalition government’s commitment to culling badgers in response to the spread of TB among dairy cattle. This motion was put at a debate at the Zoological Society of London on Tuesday evening:
Is the coalition government’s proposal for a ‘science-led programme of badger control’ an effective way to reduce tuberculosis in cattle?
Before the presentations and again afterwards two separate votes of those present were held. The results? Majority voting to reject the motion on both occasions. A result, perhaps, not that surprising.
I attended this debate. I wanted to hear and consider the scientific arguments in favour of a cull. I did not expect to change my mind against the cull; however, I did expect to hear convincing evidence in support of it. This did not happen. Quite the reverse, in fact. I’m even more convinced the cull is political expediency hiding behind the fetish of scientific objectivity. Badgers are presented as the villains. Whereas they’re really the victims. The proposed badger cull is an excuse posing as a reason.
If the objective is to have TB-free cattle, then culling badgers is not the solution. Dairy cows contract TB from other sources, principally other cattle. This is why TB in cattle is spreading across south-west England and Wales to the rest of the country. Badgers generally don’t roam far from their dens. They live within a relatively small area. They certainly don’t make long journeys across the countryside. So, it’s more likely that the spread of TB-infected cattle is due to the movement of these animals, from farm to farm, from farms to auctions, and from farms to slaughterhouses.
Then, why cull badgers?
This is where the scientific rubber hits the political road. When the “objectivity” of scientific research collides with the “subjectivity” of political expediency.
I concede there may be a scientific case for showing dairy cows are susceptible to TB from badgers. This research may also show killing badgers will have some impact on TB in dairy cows. But I also conclude the scientific case for a cull is so weak and the proposed cull, with all its necessary and stringent measures to ensure its effectiveness, is so challenging to implement that it is fundamentally flawed public policy.
We must remember DEFRA and its previous incarnation, MAFF, and UK agribusiness does not have an outstanding track record in preventing farming practices from occurring that are injurious to human health. In recent times we’ve had such significant food scandals as salmonella in eggs as well as farming practices exposing human health unnecessarily to risk. How can we ever forget that the threat of BSE (“mad cow disease”) was caused by farmers who fed vegetarian animals with feed that includes the ground up remains of other animals?
Why, then, is TB in cattle such a problem?
EU law prohibits the sale of meat and dairy products from TB-infected dairy cows and beef cattle. This is why farmers are compensated at tax payers expense for the slaughter of TB-infected animals even though the animals’ ultimate fate is the killing floor. This is where the issue of vaccines, both for farmed animals and badgers, is key. Vaccines, we were told at the conference, are in development but they will not be ready for some time. Further, there are complications with their application.
So, again, why the cull?
The previous Labour government opposed the cull. The Welsh Assembly is moving forward with its own trial for a cull. Welcome to the politics of a badger cull. The current coalition government supports a cull. I suspect its rationale balances, on the one hand, recognition of a cull as being unpopular among the public while, on the other hand, wanting to placate its rural constituents. But the weak science and the cull’s unpopularity are making the government anxious. This is why, I believe, the coalition government wants to make farmers and landowners pay for the cull and responsible for its implementation. As the speakers made clear, any cull which is inefficiently implemented or only delivers moderate levels of success will most likely exacerbate the problem by facilitating the spread of TB among cattle and badgers. Any benefits to culling are modest. Therefore, the culls’ costs must be as little as possible, particularly given the economic climate. Accordingly, methods of culling need to be cheap. And the method of killing? Shooting trapped badgers in cages. Shooting free-range badgers is also under consideration; however, shooting free-range is not significantly less expensive than shooting trapped badgers. Both methods are expensive and time consuming to implement. Of course, they cause stress, suffering and pain to badgers.
In short, the government requires those who want a cull to pay for it and assume responsibility for its organisation. It will be an expensive, complex and challenging endeavour, including a four to five year time commitment. But if the transportation of cattle across the countryside is helping to spread TB among dairy cows, would it not make more sense to impose stringent conditions on their movement, including the quarantining of farms? Such measures would, no doubt, be very unpopular with farmers and landowners. Perhaps that’s why they’re not part of the debate.
Further, a small but vocal minority of rural residents are in apoplexy over the prospect of repealing the Hunting Act. Despite the ConDems pledge chances of the repeal taking place appear to be diminishing. But we cannot assume this is a forgone conclusion. The government, which appears to be unafraid of upsetting significant parts of the electorate, does not want to antagonise unnecessarily its loyal rural supporters. This, I believe, has a lot to do with why the government favours a culling policy; however, its unpopularity and weak scientific justification requires it to pass on the responsibility, cost and implementation to the farmers and landowners who want it. The ConDems want the appearance of supporting the cull but make it difficult, if not impossible, for it to occur. They have already upset those who want to protect badgers. They now run the risk of also antagonising the farmers and landowners who want a cull.
Of course, I have the view that the consumption of meat and dairy products are injurious to human health. I’m a vegan principally because I oppose violence toward animals. I see the health benefits of a non-animal diet as a bonus. Nonetheless, the vast majority of people eat meat, eggs and dairy food. The prospect of a badger cull is ever present.
But science is being used as a cover for the politics of a lose-lose situation. With the badgers and dairy cows with the most to lose. Their lives. What’s needed is a long term solution to address substantially the problem. Killing anything invariably means solves nothing. However much politicians want the science to prove otherwise.