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Archive for November, 2018

Science? Who needs it?

On 6th November, the recently ousted League Against Cruel Sports committee member and somewhat fanatical Corbyn supporter, Chris Williamson MP, secured a Parliamentary debate on the badger cull, possibly timed to coincide with the publication of the Government commissioned Bovine TB Strategy Review chaired by Sir Charles Godfray.

Mr Williamson hit the headlines recently when he revealed that there had been moves by the LACS to illegally hack into the e-mails of Tim Bonner, the Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance. The revelation came after he had been removed from that organisation following an internal dispute and prompted the Charity Commission to investigate the allegation.

During the debate, Mr Williamson, well-known for his support for animal rights as opposed to animal welfare, repeated his view that the culling of badgers to curb the spread of bovine TB was totally unjustified, was unscientific and was not working. On this occasion, he stopped short of giving his bizarre explanation that the cull was simply a consequence of the Hunting Act preventing Tories from killing foxes, so having to turn to killing badgers instead – a laughable statement he made in front of students at a mock debate in the House of Commons some years ago.

Nevertheless, this debate was peppered with the usual self-assured comments about the efficacy of vaccination of badgers, how the badger population was now threatened and why the Government was on the wrong path – all delivered with the absolute confidence of someone who can never see the worth of any argument that doesn’t fit his animal rights philosophy. Mr Williamson stated in response to George Eustice, the DEFRA minister, “My conclusion from what he says is that it is pretty clear that the only way in which the badger cull will be brought to an end is with the election of a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Government.”

Testing for bTB: arduous, time-consuming and expensive

Fellow MP Luke Pollard joined in by claiming “Labour is the party of animal welfare”, as ever citing the “landmark Hunting Act” while conveniently ignoring the detrimental effects this law has had on wildlife. The Conservative Government’s announcements to increase sentences for animal cruelty convictions to up to five years and making CCTV compulsory in all slaughterhouses appear not to have registered with Mr Pollard, who continued, saying, “We need animal welfare policies that are based on science, not ideology.” Very honourable, but it’s a pity he and his party don’t follow that advice.

Williamson and his erstwhile LACS colleagues were no doubt delighted during the Labour Government’s Portcullis House Hearings on hunting in 2002 when openly anti-hunting Professor Stephen Harris cited the research of American scientist Dr Terry Kreeger, which ‘proved’ that hunted foxes suffer as much, if not more, than being held in a leg-hold trap. The only problem was that this was not what Dr Kreeger had discovered and indeed he wrote to British politicians, and the UK media stating that Harris’ conclusion was incorrect as he had combined two separate studies to give the results he desired. Indeed, Harris had been informed of his misuse of this information years previously, but still repeated it in the Parliamentary hearings. Nevertheless, the falsified science had done its job as far as the Government ministers were concerned, giving them their ‘scientific’ basis for a hunting ban.

During the subsequent parliamentary debate once the Hunting Bill had been introduced, Alun Michael, then the minister in charge of handling this legislation, had a sharp response from the late Professor Sir Patrick Bateson who had undertaken research into the physical effects of hunting deer with hounds. Mr Michael had argued that the evidence to ban deer hunting outright was incontrovertible, yet in an e-mail Professor Bateson said, “Only somebody who is scientifically illiterate could argue that evidence from a new area of research was incontrovertible.”

Even with recently published scientific research into aspects of the Hunting Act showing that the two dog exemption does not work as efficiently as when a full pack is used, the Labour Party announced that they will tighten up this law if they ever take power.

So much for policies based on science, not ideology.

That attitude hasn’t changed, as MPs in this debate who disagreed with the badger cull were happy to praise organisations such as the Badger Trust. It’s worth remembering that this body’s chief executive is not beyond ‘bending’ the truth about the success of vaccination and its cost, while misinforming the public rather than relying on science. Simon Hart MP, rightly pointed out that claiming vaccination of badgers is cheaper than culling is misleading, as having to repeat such actions year after year will inevitably increase the costs.

An extract from The Facts of Rural Life by Charlie Pye-Smith

During the debate there were calls for the Godfray Report to be published, well it is now available (see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/review-of-governments-bovine-tb-strategy-published ) and while it argues for better bio-security on farms and more accurate testing, it confirms that badgers do transmit the disease to cattle and “contribute to the persistence of the disease.” The report accepts that culling badgers has a role in the range of methods currently being used to combat bovine TB, while having concerns about perturbation (the disturbance of badger family groups, thereby spreading the disease to other areas). One suggestion contained in the report is that if culling is to continue, “then carrying it out over sufficiently large geographic areas to reduce the relative effects of perturbation and utilising natural barriers to badger movement, as is done at the moment, is in our view correct.” Importantly, the Godfray Report confirms what many have thought, which is that the effectiveness of the whole badger vaccination process is not proven and further research is required. Comparison of areas that only vaccinate with areas in which badgers are culled should be made and whichever is found to be the most effective, then adopted. It would be hard to see, therefore, how these views equate with many of the claims made by those opposing the badger cull.

The trouble with Williamson and his kind is that they see things in purely ‘black and white’ terms (no pun intended). His views, like those of so many animal rightists, are always accurate and any opposing argument, by the very nature that it is different, must therefore be wrong. Strange that his deep concern about badgers doesn’t extend to those animals that suffer, often for months, with bovine TB. He concluded by saying, “I repeat that there is no scientific evidence to support the Government’s position.”

But these views are simply not borne out by the Godfray Report, which correctly addresses the economical, ecological, farming, trading and animal welfare aspects of this awful disease. Williamson’s simplistic views on this difficult situation may supply ammunition for his political point-scoring friends, please animal rightists and confuse the public into believing that his is the only answer, but it will do nothing to help resolve this complex and costly problem.

 

 

 

 

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