Letters: Badger cull has no basis in science

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 5 June, 2013


The badger cull is proving to be a highly contentious issue, not least within the veterinary profession in Britain, of which we are members.

Last month, in the lead-up to “open season” for the “pilot culls” in which more than 5,000 badgers could be shot in Gloucestershire and Somerset, both the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer came out in support of the Government’s plans. Their support comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific opinion that culling badgers will not help to reduce TB in cattle, and amidst grave concerns over the impact that culling will have on the welfare of badgers and the future of many populations.

In The Independent on 30 May the Chief Veterinary Officer made a startling assertion: that culling badgers will somehow protect human health, in spite of his department’s description of the risk to human health in the UK as being “negligible” in an article in the Financial Times on March 31. Such irresponsible scaremongering smacks of a CVO desperately clutching at straws to justify a policy that has no basis in science.

The British Veterinary Association reached its position of support for the Government’s pilot culls without consulting its full membership, and has ignored subsequent calls from veterinarians and one of its own member societies for it to reconsider. 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.

Rather, it represents the position of an organisation that, in our view, has lost touch with its key purpose of providing leadership and guidance on animal welfare on this issue and whose judgment is being influenced by a close historic alignment with the farming industry. Their failure to respond to very serious concerns raised over the humaneness assessment is damning.

We are saddened that this episode brings shame upon the profession we studied so hard to join. 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. In our opinion these actions damage the credibility of the profession and bring it into disrepute.

We can only hope that its future leaders will adopt a more precautionary, independent, science-led and, most importantly, empathetic and welfare-led approach to the issues facing all of the animals with whom we share our world. Young vets have much to learn from this sorry episode and much to gain by aiming to do better than some of their predecessors.

Caroline Allen; Heather Bacon; Fiona Dalzell; Bronwen Eastwood; Richard Edwards; Mark Jones; Andrew Knight; J Lewis; Alastair MacMillan; Iain McGill; Andre Menache; Paul Torgerson

Humane Society International/UK, London N1

To prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, the government in England is planning to cull badgers, based on science; while the government in Wales is planning to vaccinate badgers, based on science. Could someone explain why the science is so very different in two adjacent countries?

Rose Davies, Swansea

Lobby sleaze on Planet Westminster

Yet again, ordinary citizens can see that there is one range of rules for us and quite another for our elected “representatives” and senior bureaucrats. Westminster is no longer its own “village”; it is on another planet.

In spite of the Coalition’s commitment in 2010 (and again earlier this year) to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists and recall regulations, nothing has been done. So we now know that we still have MPs and peers who know they can continue raking in personal loot with little if any chance of being found out or accountable ... until someone on our planet takes action.

Such people should immediately lose their seat or peerage and any publicly funded benefit they would otherwise be entitled to, just as any member of staff acting against their employer’s interests in a commercial company or not-for-profit organisation would face immediate dismissal.

Until our political system rejoins our planet, why should we comply with the set of rules imposed on us by those who can’t even stick to their own set?

Malcolm MacIntyre-Read, Much Wenlock, Shropshire

Well, the PM and his Cabinet have the answer to peers and MPs getting caught for cash for lobbying. Have a meeting, pass out the champagne, party hats, streamers and crackers and use the jokes from inside to play policy games.

What trade unions have to do with stings by reputable journalists on MPs and peers beggars belief.

Paul Raybould, Torquay

Another scandal, and the political classes distract the public with a proposed “lobbyists’ register”. If such a register is set up, politicians will be easily able to differentiate between lobbyists and investigators, so this is about protecting themselves, rather than the public.

Gavin Lewis, Manchester

Welby nonsense on gay marriage

I was appalled but not surprised by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on equal marriage in the Lords on Monday.

The arrogance of the church in attempting to restrict a civil ceremony is extraordinary, and for us gays to be blamed for “weakening” and “abolish[ing]” marriage and the family is just puerile nonsense. I am a member of the Bishop’s Council in this diocese and it makes me ashamed to call myself an Anglican.

The bill isn’t perfect; if the church really cares, it would constructively engage. It hasn’t. The Church of England deserves its irrelevant status and will lose more and more members the less it grapples with reality.

Telling me a civil partnership is “good enough” is tripe; it isn’t good enough. And the majority of the population of the UK agree with me.

Charlie Bell, Queens’ College, Cambridge

If anyone doesn’t agree with gay marriage then surely it should simply be a matter of them not getting married to a gay person?

Alan Gregory, Stockport

Give the Russians a chance in Syria

We all share Peter Popham’s despair at the disaster that has engulfed Syria (World View, 31 May). As he recognises, Western interventions in the Muslim World have not gone to plan. Why does he assume the Russians would do worse?

Britain has a diplomatic service and many experts in Middle East affairs. One of my worries is that local ambassadors seem to have not much influence on Foreign Secretaries. The urge of the Government each time is to listen to the US and to note the perception of the public. In the absence of a lead from President Obama “something must be done” takes over as the driver .

Popham recognises, I hope, that the opposition in Syria has been taken over by jihadists. He might also agree that the present government has ruled over a secular state. Might not the Russians want to return to that model?

Hugh Mackay, Edinburgh

Who are these ‘rich’ pensioners?

As a pensioner who has seen his small investment income decimated since 1997, and whose private pension has not received a discretionary increase in 13 years, can somebody please tell me who these “rich” pensioners are whom Labour say they are going to strip of their heating allowance, although they will have already paid for it in their taxes?

Despite my experience of the past 16 years, and I suspect that of many thousands of others in the same boat, we will be targeted once again. “Rich” is such a politically nasty, emotive, word these days, in the mouths of Labour politicians, who use it to describe, in the main, those people who all their lives have done the right thing.

Is flirting with Ukip worth it, if we get such destructive people back in government again?

Alan Carcas, Liversedge, West Yorkshire

Thank Ken for the Boris bike

I realise that it was only an aside from Simon Calder (“Changing trains à grande vitesse”. 1 June), but I feel a correction is important. The London bike scheme was not taken from Paris by Boris Johnson, it was taken by Ken Livingstone.

In 2004, when I was Deputy Mayor of London, Ken sent me over to see the Paris Vélib scheme, and subsequently put it into Transport for London planning. I urged Ken to install the scheme before the 2008 election, but the planning took too long a time, with the result that Boris got the (unearned) credit. Another example of the winners writing history as they want it seen.

Jenny Jones, Green Party Group, London Assembly

Magazines on the wrong shelf

You report on possible legal proceedings against shops that sell “lads’ mags” (27 May). I would like to point out that in most shops the men’s interest section contains the music and film magazines.

Why are they in there? Surely film and music transcend gender. When I would like to buy a copy of any of these magazines I am forced to stand next to a bloke looking at Nuts whilst the staff look on with bemused glances. How is it fair that women interested in film and music are forced to look at “lads’ mags” while searching for the magazines they want?

Paige Coates, Hull,  East Yorkshire

Following orders

Guy Keleny asks in his “Errors and Omissions” column (25 May) whether anything can be “most excellent”. In our honours system, the answer is yes: the OBE is, in full, the “Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”. Mr Keleny may wish to join those who campaign to have the honour renamed the “Order of British Excellence” on the pedantic grounds that the sun has set on the aforesaid empire.

Charlie Robertson, Royal Leamington Spa

Rape as theft

Perhaps Vaughan Thomas (letter, 4 June), trotting out the tired old “unlocked car” analogy for rape yet again, would care to supply a map of which areas of everyday life do not constitute “some dubious area of one of our inner cities” for women?

Stephie Coane, Harrow, Middlesex

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