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

Tom Bawden
Wednesday 05 June 2013 10:45
Comments
Brian May joins a march against the badger cull plans last week
Brian May joins a march against the badger cull plans last week

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in