This week we have been lambasted by the Countryside Alliance (CA) for having someone dress up in a badger costume. According to the apparent purveyors of sanity, the activity of using a badger costume to make more ‘human’ the task of handing over 1000 pages of signatures to a government department is in fact “taunting Britain’s farmers over the issue of a proposed badger cull”.
The CA went on to say that the costume reduced the debate over the cull to an argument over the rights of badgers and therefore both trivialises and ignores the plight of farmers up and down the country. Even if I brush past the uncertainty of how one can at the same time both trivialise and ignore the plight of farmers, these statements are nothing more than vindictive attacks on a charity rather than having a grownup debate on the substantive issue at hand. At no point in their pernicious attack does the CA actually discuss the options available to government over bovine TB, essentially to cull, vaccinate or a combination of the two.
The Chief Executive of the CA, Alice Barnard, further declared “it simply beggars belief that the League Against Cruel Sports would stoop so low as to taunt Britain’s farmers with silly pranks, when they are struggling to come to terms with this terrible disease”.
Let us put this into perspective: we dressed somebody up in a badger costume simply to draw attention to the rather dull image that is handing in large piles of paper to a government building. This in no way ‘taunts’, trivialises’ or ‘ignores’ the very real and serious problem of bovine TB that farmers up and down the country are struggling to cope with. We have been very clear that the League doesn’t oppose farmers, but is actually very supportive of farmers in that we do not believe that the government’s policy will help. In fact, the evidence suggests the government’s policy will make things worse for farmers
The science is clear that culling badgers does not remove the TB problem, at its very best it can slightly reduce the incidence, but there is a risk that culling can make the problem worse. The only way to completely eradicate the problem is eventually through vaccination of badgers and cattle, which is why our recommendation, along with the RSPCA, Badger Trust, Humane Society International and others, is to significantly invest in these areas, as opposed to offering farmers false hope through culling.
I think what I perhaps find most disrespectful about this response from the CA is that they are organisation who claims to speak for the countryside but they have been virtually silent on the issue of bovine TB. We are talking about a disease that has a disastrous impact on the countryside and farmers in particular, but the silence from the CA on this has been deafening. It is quite telling that the only time Alice Barnard seems to talk about this issue is in reaction to us using a legitimate campaigning technique top aid the handing in of a 70,000 signature petition opposing a cull of badgers.
Perhaps Alice and her organisation should spend less time polarising the debate by talking about the campaign being against farmers, or of hunting being about town vs the countryside and actually have a mature conversation about the effectiveness, purpose and morality of these activities.