Stop the Cull now!

(This is an assignment for my English course, module LAN3 – 6.7. It’s not one of the reports I need to put online, but since it’s a good summary on the horrible situation of the British badgers, I wanted to share it. It’s already graded by my tutor with an 8,0 and by Brian with a ‘very good’. I hope the British government will end this ridiculous cull soon and here’s why…)

Last summer, the British government decided to go through with the culling of badgers in two pilot areas in England, in order to try and prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. Farmers’ organisations and the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) feel this cull is necessary to control the disease quickly and cost-effectively. Many others, including animal welfare organisations, oppose to the cull because they think it is inhumane and it won’t work.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease which typically attacks the lungs. Both badgers and cattle can be carriers. Whilst it can be passed on to humans too, because of strict public health control measures it is not considered a significant risk. (source: Wikipedia). It is a huge problem for farmers though, who face the loss of cattle and income. Which is probably why most of them are happy with the government’s decision to get rid of 70% of the badger population, as they argue that badgers are to blame for the spread of the disease (source:

Animal welfare organisations, including the Badger Trust and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) say it is cruel and pointless to shoot these badgers. In order to make sure badgers can’t be blamed for the spread of TB, one would have to kill them all, even though it is proven that only a very small percentage of the badgers carry the disease (approximately 5%, according to the RSPCA). Of course, killing all of the badgers would also go against European laws – which protect the conservation of biodiversity.

Personally I am convinced that the animal welfare organisations make the strongest case. I learned about this tragic situation through a friend; Queen’s guitarist and astrophysicist Dr Brian May. Who in this case just happened to be the guy who started the petition to persuade the government not to go through with the cull. The petition was signed by 303,929 British citizens, which makes it the most signed petition ever.

I understand why the government wants to do something and I can even see why some might say I’m just following a rock star. However, those who oppose the cull have something more significant on their side: science. Lord John Krebs, a renowned English zoologist, says scientific reviews show that this cull would lead to a 12-16 % reduction of TB in cattle. Lord Krebs: “So you leave 85% of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge number of badgers. It doesn’t seem to be an effective way of controlling the disease.”

Isn’t there another solution? Yes: we can vaccinate our wildlife. Note that vaccinating cattle is more difficult, as a vaccinated animal would fail the TB test, which is required by European law. Better tests are also on the way though. Meanwhile, if you catch a badger to shoot it, you might as well give it an injection instead. This is how the situation is currently handled in Wales. We can only speculate why it isn’t carried out elsewhere, which I suspect has to do with the costs of it. However, I think it is irresponsible and unwise to ignore the fact that culling won’t work, which effectively means that it will cost more in the long run too.

Hanny van Arkel
(556 words)


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