Vets say their professional body was wrong to support Government badger cull

Veterinary Association accused of being too close to farmers in letter to The Independent


The professional body for vets has cast a “dark shadow” over the profession by supporting the Government’s badger cull, according to a group of veterinarians who claim its senior officials are too close to the farming industry.

Members of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have launched a fierce attack on their representative body for failing to consult its full membership before endorsing the cull.

The trial badger cull officially began in Somerset and Gloucestershire on Saturday, although the first animals are not expected to be killed for at least another week. The cull aims to reduce tuberculosis in cattle by killing infected badgers that help spread the disease. But in comments exposing a rift within the ranks of the BVA, a group of academics and practising vets accused the body of acting out of “expedience”.

In a letter published in today’s Independent, they claim the BVA has supported the cull “in spite of the overwhelming scientific opinion that culling badgers will not help reduce TB in cattle”. They also argue that the body should withhold its support at least until much more is known about the humaneness of the cull and how it will be measured.

“The public needs to understand that the BVA’s position is not necessarily representative of majority veterinary opinion and that many vets oppose or have serious reservations about the policy,” said the letter, which has 11 signatories, including Alasdair MacMillan, former chief scientific officer at the RSPCA. Four of the signatories are BVA members.

“It represents the position of an organisation that, in our view, has lost touch with its key purpose of providing leadership on animal welfare on this issue and whose judgement is being influenced by a close historic alignment with the farming industry.

“That some vets in positions of influence appear to have abandoned precaution for the sake of what appears to be political and perceived economic expedience casts a dark shadow over our profession,” says the letter, which is also signed by Caroline Allen, a practising vet and spokesperson for the Green Party and Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International, the animal protection group.

Responding, the BVA president Peter Jones said: “We know that culling badgers reduces the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. We want to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers and we have been insistent that measures to control bovine TB in wildlife must be humane.

“We do accept that not every member will agree or have an opinion on every BVA policy, but through our committee system and Council, which includes elected representatives from every region of the UK, we are able to give every member a voice. The majority of your correspondents are not BVA members and would therefore not have had the opportunity to take part in the policy-making process,” he added.

Some opponents of the badger cull argue that it is an ineffective way of reducing TB in cattle and could even exacerbate the problem because fleeing badgers could spread the disease more widely. They put the main reason for the spread of the disease down to the movement of infected cattle across the country.

The trial culls aim to kill about 5,000 badgers, or 70 per cent of the estimate population in the two culling zones. If these culls are deemed to be humane, efficient and safe, the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson plans to extend them to a further 40 zones over the next four years.

The vets’ opposition to the cull comes as a new government select committee report today warns that vaccinations – seen by many opponents as a key alternative to culling – were “no magic bullet”.

“While progress to develop vaccines is clearly being made, debate on this subject has been characterised by lack of clarity leading to poor public understanding. The Government must share a great deal of blame for this,” said Anne McIntosh MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

“We should use every tool to combat this disease, but vaccination alone will not provide a complete solution. Vaccines have no impact on already infected animals, and will be expensive to deploy,” she added.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions