Introduction – Farmers have been blaming badgers for years for spreading bTB, yet they will not allow their own farming practices to be called into question. Dairy cows are kept for large parts of the year in crowded, dark, damp, filthy sheds with little or no ventilation, an ideal breeding ground for diseases such as TB. Increasingly, dairy farms are becoming ‘zero grazing’, often with only a small outside yard area that is shared by hundreds of cows. In human beings, the disease flourishes amongst physically and psychologically compromised individuals on poor diets and with inadequate housing. This is a fair description of life in cattle sheds and milking parlours, the conditions of which have allowed the disease to become rife.
The modern dairy cow is so overworked she is prone to physical breakdown. Kept pregnant for 10 months of the year and subjected to artificial insemination and huge doses of hormones and antibiotics to maximise her milk production and keep her alive. She has her offspring taken away from her, often within 24 hours of birth, causing a greta deal of stress. By the age of 4 or 5 years she will often be exhausted and beyond economic use, at which time she will be sent off for slaughter. A healthy cow would naturally live to around 20 – 25 years of age.
Director of Animal Aid, Andrew Tyler, says: ‘Once again, a reckless and greedy farming industry is holding the government hostage. It blames everyone except itself for a range of devastating disease outbreaks now afflicting farmed animals. They include bird flu, salmonella, campylobacter, BSE, Foot & Mouth, swine fever and bovine TB itself. The government should force farmers to recognise that, when animals are treated as reproducible and disposable objects, large-scale disease will follow. Instead, the government succumbs to the industry’s demands for publicly-financed compensation packages.’
The most likely source of infection is cattle-to-cattle, yet most beef and dairy farmers continue to resist this notion, with the exception of one or two who have spoken out against the conditions on large-scale indoor dairy farms. Cattle movements have been shown to vastly increase the number of TB incidences in an area, this is particularly clear in areas heavily affected by Foot and Mouth (FMD). When farmers restocked after the Foot and Mouth crisis, large numbers of cattle were brought in from further afield, often introducing bTB to areas that had not previously been affected, despite badgers having been living in these areas for years. Additionally, both the Foot and Mouth and BSE outbreaks had the additional effect of suspending much of the ongoing bTB testing for many months due to access restrictions onto farmland.
TB or not TB, that is the question? – The TB test most commonly used throughout the UK is also known not to be 100% accurate. Around 20% of infected cattle are not detected and are left to infect other individuals among the herd. Often, cows reacting positively during testing are later, on post-mortem, found not to be carrying the disease at all.
The beef and dairy trade has always resisted the idea that cattle transfer TB to other cattle, via nose to nose and faecal contact. UK government scientists are now examining the whole question of cattle-to-cattle transfer. The true level of TB in cattle is not known, given the unreliability of DEFRA’s blood test. If a better diagnostic method were developed, more disease would probably be discovered. This would inevitably make the test unpopular with farmers, given that more of their ‘stock’ would be condemned, and the prospect of a Euro ban of their products made more likely.
Farmers and pro-farming organisations have their heads in the sand…
A £35 million pound, 10-year, independent investigation by top scientists (ISG) concluded that:
“Badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB.”
Yet still farmers are calling for their pound of badger flesh. Thousands of animals will be hunted and shot, if these culls go ahead. It will be a wildlife massacre and to no purpose – other than mollifying farmers who refuse to change their ways.
Permanent stress – A dairy cow’s babies are taken away after birth so humans can have her milk. Too skinny for beef and the wrong sex to produce milk many male calves are shot shortly after birth! Made pregnant again after two months, she has to feed herself, her growing foetus and produce up to 120 pints of milk a day. Is it any wonder her immune system is in shreds and she is susceptible to many diseases – including TB?
Save badgers… and cows! – First, we have to save badgers from cynical politicking. Then we have to secure their future and the surest way to do this is to stop buying meat and dairy. The bonus is that dairy cows will no longer be subjected to a life of pain, you’re likely to improve your health and you will be doing the single most important thing to protect the environment.