Targeted badger culling – the significance of new Tory assaults on Labour’s animal welfare legislation
By Gabe Trodd
Following last month’s revelations about the Conservatives’ secret new blueprint to turn back the clocks on Labour’s 2004 Hunting Act, with the launch of a significant new quango (the Hunt Regulatory Authority) details of more behind-the-scenes Tory policies have slowly come to light without fanfare, which will alarm and distress animal welfare organisations and campaigners alike.
Although the League Against Cruel Sports is set to launch a campaign against the Tories’ plans to reintroduce hunting stags, foxes and other animals as a countryside ‘sport’ (polling routinely suggests that 75% of the British public do not wish to see a return to the cruelty of the pastime), Conservative policy-makers are also, bewilderingly, currently fine-tuning plans to implement a ‘targeted badger cull’ in England, which would be aimed at controlling the spread of bovine TB (bTB).
The illicit new policies have been recently sanctioned by David Cameron although are being developed and driven forward by a number of other senior Tories, (most notably Nick Herbert, the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – a founding member of the Countryside Alliance, a Master and Huntsman of the Newmarket Beagles for 14 seasons, and a former Master and Huntsman of the Trinity Foot Beagles as well as the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). In terms of the specifics of the Conservatives’ plans, it is expected badgers would be widely culled in England by cage trapping and then shooting.
Although policy discussions in this area receive precious little media coverage, a number of senior Conservatives and private organisations, were incensed by Hilary Benn’s decision to block a proposed ‘badger cull’ in England. Benn instead chose a policy of developing and using an innovative vaccination against bovine TB.
Alternative options to the Tories’ plans would be injection and also oral vaccines, which can simply be left outside the setts and would be much cheaper to deploy than mass culling. The RSPCA has previously spoken out against proposed badger culling policies saying that “a badger cull could cause enormous suffering and actually increase the spread of disease”.
But what’s the real significance of these Conservative policies, in the scheme of things? Well, the policies are both painfully insightful and alarming on three counts:
* Firstly, these Conservative policies, plainly and simply, would represent state-sponsored animal cruelty, and the Conservatives’ striking, embittered fixation with turning back the clocks on Labour’s animal welfare legislation, at a time when there are numerous, weighty and pressing issues facing the British public, politicians and policy-makers.
* Secondly, the way in which these new policies are being developed and sanctioned behind closed doors, in liaison with private organisations with vested interest, shrouded in secrecy and duplicity without the support of the wider public, makes a mockery of British democracy.
* But thirdly, these policies, when put in the context of Chris Grayling‘s ongoing, ludicrously wild attacks on British people living in urban communities, are increasingly creating an unhealthy urban/rural dividing line, which nobody in the UK wants. VIVA, which has opposed the cull, has previously described badger culling policies as “a political decision designed to appease farmers and protect the seats of rural politicians”.
The truth is that, behind the surface gloss of Cameron’s ‘compassionate Conservative’ facade, Tory-run Britain looks more and more like a place where precious time and resources are squandered on pandering to a sense of old-fashioned rurality, guided by the interests of a few individuals and carefully selected private organisations.