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British badger - will the BVA's Animal Welfare Strategy provide any protection? Photo: Ian Usher via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
British badger - will the BVA's Animal Welfare Strategy provide any protection? Photo: Ian Usher via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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Vets - rethink your support for English badger culls!

Mark Jones

4th March 2016

The British Veterinary Association has just launched its long-anticipated Animal Welfare Strategy, writes Mark Jones - and very welcome it is too. But it's also completely incompatible with the BVA's support for England's cruel and utterly unscientific badger culls. It's time for an urgent rethink.

The BVA's support for the unscientific, ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary culling of badgers as part of the government's bovine TB strategy would be a good place to start an urgently needed policy re-evaluation.

In January of this year, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) launched its long-anticipated Animal Welfare Strategy.

The strategy places animal welfare advocacy at the centre of veterinary responsibility, recognises that veterinary surgeons should be advocates for the welfare of all animals (not just those committed to their care).

It also emphasises the need for the profession to pursue ultimate, rather than just proximate, welfare solutions.

At its core are six priority areas including animal welfare assessment; ethics; legislation; advocacy; education. And five animal welfare needs: suitable environment; suitable diet; to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns; to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

These principles might seem intuitive. Most people would probably assume that a concern for the welfare of animals has always been at the heart of anyone's decision to pursue a veterinary career. Yet it seems to have taken the BVA a long time to finally recognise that animal welfare should be the profession's bread and butter.

No matter. The principles of the strategy are very welcome, and the BVA and its current President are to be congratulated on its development and publication.

Now: time to re-evaluate polices - including the badger cull!

What is now urgently needed is a re-evaluation of the BVA's positions and policies through the lens of the Animal Welfare Strategy, in order to put these fine principles into practice.

The BVA's longstanding support for the unscientific, ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary culling of badgers as part of the government's strategy for dealing with bovine tuberculosis would seem a good place to start.

Almost 4,000 badgers have been killed under license over the past three years across three culling zones in parts of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset. Hardly any of these animals have been tested for bovine TB, so we have no idea whether they actually posed any risk to cattle.

The culls have been haphazard and protracted, rendering any use of data from previous scientific trials to determine the impacts of badger culls on TB in cattle useless in terms of predicting likely outcomes.

So-called 'controlled shooting' (shooting free-roaming badgers attracted to bait points at night) failed to meet even the most 'generous' of humaneness criteria set by a government-appointed panel of experts.

In spite of all this, 29 additional applications for culling licenses are currently being considered by Natural England. If approved, they could cause tens of thousands more badgers to be killed in the coming years.

So, BVA, how does that fit with 'protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease'

Before vets or their professional bodies consider supporting wildlife interventions, particularly those that will clearly cause individual animal suffering and serious disruption to social cohesion, they should, as a minimum:

  • Be absolutely certain of substantive and guaranteed benefits from the intervention;
  • Be sure there are no less harmful alternatives;
  • Ensure that the intervention is conducted using only the most humane methods available; and
  • Be certain that there will be no other consequences resulting from the intervention, such as increased persecution, that would cause additional suffering.

The government-licensed badger culls fail to meet any of the above criteria. As such, vets and their professional bodies such as the BVA have absolutely no business supporting them.

The BVA's Animal Welfare Strategy takes away the excuse that vets only need to be concerned about animals 'committed to their care' (ie those that they are being paid to look after).

The success of the strategy, and public trust in the profession's claimed animal welfare credentials, will be determined by how effectively and robustly it is implemented.



Mark Jones is Programmes Manager at the Born Free Foundation in the UK. He tweets @fishvetmj

This article is based on one originally published on Huffington Post and is republished here by kind permission of the author.


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