A Farmer speaks out; Bovine TB is a cattle problem 

A Farmer speaks out; Bovine TB is a cattle problem with the main transmission between cattle. An open letter to George Eustace Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment from Graham Cooper

Dear Mr Eustace,

I was not impressed by your response of 27 October to my email of 22nd October.

We are both of farming stock (in my case several generations) the big difference is that on this particular matter that I am well aware that Bovine Tb is a cattle problem with the main transmission taking place between cattle which you seem to be avoiding by placing the emphasis on badgers. 

Badgers are one of the unfortunate victims of Bovine Tb, not the primary cause. 

Unlike myself, you appear to be ignoring the extensive research carried out into the transmission causes of Bovine Tb which points clearly enough to cattle to cattle transmission being the primary cause.

As landowners let me explain the philosophy of my wife and myself: Our native wild animals did not choose for humans to commandeer the land, it is, therefore, the moral responsibility of humans to accommodate and appreciate those creatures without persecution or unnecessary interference. They do not understand the human mentality, why should we expect them to comply with our requirements and punish or exterminate them if they do not? 

Our farm is Organic registered in appreciation of our environment and operated without the use of chemicals which have been so instrumental in destroying our wildlife and soils. I was once involved in intensive stock rearing activities, which I deeply regret. I realise that such is the domain of those indifferent people who place £notes before the welfare of other animals and treat them as and breed them purely as engineered production* units.  

Currently, most humans eat meat so it should be the industries responsibility not only to treat animals humanely but also to minimise the use of other undesirable inputs such as antibiotics. 

On our holding, we have 1,000s (minimum 10,000) of free range chicken, sheep (lambs also), and a few cattle. We are happy to accommodate native wildlife including foxes* (and harmless non native species such as pheasants). *Foxes are not a problem in a properly managed efficient farming system, and they assist in the control of alien species such as rabbits and rats. There is no need/justification to control foxes. We have tenants; tenants past and present have never considered the accommodation of native wildlife to be a problem.  

In my email of 22nd October, I referred to the export of cattle to other countries causing the transmission of Tb to the native wild creatures of those nations, those nations being colonial countries of the British Empire. As a consequence, untold numbers of native creatures in those countries have suffered or been culled. The obvious ones including possums in Australasia but also many wild creatures on the African continent are affected, particularly buffalo but also other species including antelopes, even lions.

Bovine Tb has occurred in other parts of the globe and it definitely did not originate in native non bovine wild animals, the USA is one example where it is thought that bovine Tb was introduced by wild cattle crossing the land bridge from Russia to Alaska. Whatever the case it is the cattle which caused the Tb problems, not all those other species. 

You are correct in stating that the compensation paid to farmers has to take into account the cost to the taxpayer.  In some other countries, the cattle industries had/have little or no compensation so the industry itself had/has largely to deal with the costs of eradication. 

In the UK, the farmers do not make enough profit to deal with the problem because the mentality is to sell the produce too cheaply at the retail end over which farmers have little control. It is the farmers in particular who are affected, both financially and emotionally, which is why I suggest they receive more appropriate compensation.

Why indeed should the taxpayer foot the bill? particularly those increasing numbers who eat little or no meat or dairy products? The industry should pay to resolve the problem it has caused. So; why not raise a levy on cattle products (particularly dairy) at the consumer point of sale to pay for farmers compensation and costs of Tb eradication?

Because of the way the whole issue has been conducted (I will say mishandled) by government a situation has arisen wherein there are 2 opposing factions; the pro cull (mainly cattle and dairy farmers or those others with vested interest) and the anti cull, who see no reason why the innocent badger should be made a scapegoat for the problems caused by the cattle industry. Some aggrieved farmers have developed a loathing for badgers because of the misplaced emphasis on the badger being the root cause of Tb because it affects their pockets some have become irrational over the problem. From the farming grapevine in this area, I know that some farmers are indiscriminately killing badgers. 

It is not the case that anti cull people have no respect for the farmers situation, those that I have spoken to do sympathise with the farmers predicament, but (rightly) they do not see the wanton culling of healthy badgers as either an excuse or a solution - their view is the view of the public majority over which the government is riding roughshod.

You made the point that vaccination cannot cure sick badgers which is obviously the case. That does not justify the killing of healthy badgers in areas where Tb is rife, healthy badgers should be vaccinated and only those already with Tb should be culled to save them from suffering the debilitating effects of Tb. So far as I can see the evidence from Northern Ireland is more than sufficient to justify getting on with the vaccination of all healthy badgers in Tb risk areas.          

So why is the cattle industry heavily supported from public funds?

1. The global cattle and cattle feed industry is the most eco destructive, inefficient, and wasteful   industry on the planet.

2. Intensive farming (much of it to feed cattle) has decimated the wildlife and degraded our soils in the UK and elsewhere. The industry has no small part to play in the causes of eco degradation, including vast areas of jungle destroyed and the overuse of antibiotics. 

3. The feed conversion rates of cattle (particularly beef with an FCR of 6+ to 1) are highly inefficient and in doing so produce a considerable amount of methane compared with other farm stock.

4. The water consumption of lactating cattle, in particular, is also wasteful, a minimum of 3 litres of water (at currently more than £2 per cubic metre including metre charges = 20pence per litre to the domestic consumer). That equates to 60pence per litre of milk produced.

5. Farm effluent (particularly cattle) have a considerable bearing on the huge costs of cleaning up our water supplies - paid for by the consumer.

6. Heavy nitrate applications to monocultural grass leys, mostly associated with intensive rearing, are not good for the environment. There should be a return to species/mineral rich pastures. 

7. Modern research indicates that dairy products are not so healthy as promoted and may actually be costing the NHS huge sums of money through the effects of consuming them.

8. Whether healthy or not cattle and dairy products are not essential for the nation's health, there are plenty of other products to consume.

9. The UK is overpopulated, it is not succeeding it feeding the population (now importing c.50% of our food - forecast 53% by 2017), sucking in imports is not a sound basis for a healthy economy. Cattle farming is a particularly inefficient waste of our resources.

10. Most other industries are either expected to pay to resolve their own problems or they cease trading - the cattle industry is of no more value to the nation's economy than many industries which have been allowed to pass into history.

Rational thinking people would wonder why the cattle industry either exists or is heavily supported from the public purse when so much more efficient use could be made of the products it consumes and the land it occupies. 

So why are healthy badgers being killed to support the cattle industry?

Lab grown meat cultures are in development at least partly in the belief that something needs to be done to counteract the damage caused by breeding farm stock, also because such production will be more efficient and less expensive than raising stock. It is highly probable that such cultures will replace traditional meat production to a considerable extent, such being the case in due course there may be fewer dairy or leather products from cattle. 

A progressive government gets ahead of the game - Maybe now is the time to consider gradually reducing the beef and dairy industry and encourage entrepreneurs to develop new products, farmers can move to producing more cost efficient and less environmentally damaging meat or vegetable based products.

I can go into any of the above points in greater detail but independent and detailed evidence for all of my points can easily be found from a wide range of sources on the internet.

Many other disturbing factors can be extrapolated/concatenated from the facts above.

Governments have no small part to play in the protection of our environment and our native wild animals. Our native animals are just as important as those species on other continents. While we in Britain have no control over other nations we (as a questionably advanced society) can act more responsibly toward our own native creatures.

At least, 80% of the public are against badger killing the remaining 20%  might be considered moronic, callously indifferent, mentality immature, peer pressured or misinformed - it would appear that some of our government ministers  are amongst the minority. Yes, I am forthright, not being bound by protocol I tell it as I see it!!

To sum up:

a). The cattle industry is the root cause of the Tb problem, cattle to cattle by various routes, badgers only have a small part to play in the transmission.

b). The cattle farmers do not have the resources to deal with the problem, and they are suffering whilst the remainder of those upstream in the industry (including processed dairy products) subscribe nothing to the problem.

c). The public (including those non meat and dairy consumers) are paying the cost.

d). The badger is an innocent party being blamed (healthy ones being eliminated) as a convenience by the government in an attempt to mask the actual truth from the public, even to the extent of attempting to mislead the public about the badgers role in the matter.

e). Indiscriminately killing healthy badgers and deliberately not vaccinating them in Tb hotspots is a logistical nonsense, as any remaining badgers in those areas will continue to be infected by cattle.  

f). There is unnecessary friction between the farmers and those defending the badger - Friction caused by government policy and misinformation.

g). The frequency of cattle testing is insufficient, all cattle should be subjected to testing at 60 day periods until Tb is under control. There is no cheap solution or shortcut.

h). Vaccination of cattle (particularly when young) appears to be helping in other countries.

i).  Badger culls have failed, vets are beginning to admit so, and the practice is not cost efficient. So why is the government sticking to its guns?   

As yourself and Liz Truss are the principle Ministers responsible most of our citizens will expect you to come up with a satisfactory solution - so what are you going to do about it?

I suggest: Part of the solution lies in b). above, part by more comprehensive cattle testing, culling, and movement control.The introduction of cattle vaccination should begin without delay even if in contravention of EC regulations and even if it precludes the export of UK cattle.  Also - begin the phasing out of intensive animal rearing systems.

Yours sincerely

Graham Cooper

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