TO cull or not to cull...
Given the modern day enthusiasm for animal and environmental rights, it's difficult to decide where to draw the line between cruelty and necessity.
The current issue in Gloucestershire regarding the culling of badgers has polarised opinions, arguments for wildlife conservation and cost effectiveness taking up stubborn positions within the debate, but how can either of these voices be dismissed?
The cull may have been put off until the summer but the debate over it happening at all still rages.
A fact that cannot be disputed is that the bovine tuberculosis spread by badgers is an issue for everyone, being that it costs the average taxpayer millions to control every year.
Bovine tuberculosis is the biggest threat to the UK livestock industry, proved by the randomised badger culling trial, which demonstrated conclusively that badgers contribute significantly to the disease infecting cattle. However, the matter which can be debated is whether the density of badger population directly affects the rate of transmission, leading to doubt whether the selective slaughter of badgers would improve the situation.
In fact, some have argued the culling of badgers could actually increase the problem of tuberculosis in cattle. This theory, among other reasons, led to protests about the approval of two pilots to be carried out in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire, although they have been put off for now.
In 1992, the Protection of Badgers Act was established, making any killing or injuring of badgers illegal. Given this act, many animal rights activists in Gloucestershire are taking a stand against the cull. Protesters warned as soon as 'the first shot is fired', supermarkets that continued to source milk from farms where the cull was being carried out would be targeted. One campaign known as "you kill the badgers, we kill the machines" has been encouraging the covering of cards in superglue and inserting them into cashpoints at supermarkets. Less extreme measures have also been carried out, with more than 150,000 people signing an anti-culling petition. Lorraine Morgan, owner of a camping site in the Forest of Dean has spoken out against the cull, claiming: "If it goes ahead, it can only do us harm." This is a reference to the damage expected to be done to the tourist industry in Gloucestershire.
An equally crucial factor to consider is the severe impact tuberculosis has on cattle. Whenever a cow is known to have become infected with tuberculosis, they are culled immediately to prevent the spread of the disease. This brings into question why it is acceptable for cows to be killed, but not badgers. In 1998, less than 6,000 cows were killed as a result of TB. That number rose to more than 26,000 in 2011, in correlation with the population of badgers, costing taxpayers £90m in measures taken against TB. There is currently no vaccine available for cattle against tuberculosis, making their protection an increasing challenge for farmers.
The issue has sparked much controversy, with little being agreed upon by both sides. The culls were originally set to begin any day now in Gloucestershire before the decision to suspend them.
Gloucestershire is well known for its significant population of badgers, a much celebrated fact in the past. The question is if the cull is then carried out next summer should we consider it an asset or a grievance?