Defra can’t turn deaf ear to calls for bTB hunt shutdown
After bovine TB was found in a pack of hunting hounds in the middle of an area where there have been several bTB outbreaks, you’d have thought the government would have swung into action.
Hunting hounds with bTB? Alert! Potentially contracted through contaminated meat donated by a local farm? Alert!
According to a post on the Master of Foxhounds Association website, the outbreak was ‘suspected in hounds at the Kimblewick Hunt, Aylesbury, in December (and subsequently confirmed at the end of January)’ The article also claims that the hunt suspended hunting, and that Defra did not impose any movement or other restrictions as ‘it does not consider that there is any increased risk to wildlife and farm stock’.
Sounds reasonable. Or does it? We’ve got a couple of problems here.
Firstly, was the farm which supplied the infected cow notified? Are they under bTB restrictions? Were neighbouring farms informed? One would assume so…hopefully.
We know that bTB can be restricted through movement controls of cattle. Luckily, cattle aren’t the most mobile of animals so they are generally confined to one or two fields, and only get to venture further if they are taken, eg to other farms or to farm shows. Tightening up movement controls on cattle has already made a big difference in combatting the disease, and is seen by some scientists as the key to the problem.
Back to Kimblewick. While it is possible that the dogs contracted the disease from infected meat, it is also possible they contracted it through other means. A potential route of infection is through cowpats, and dogs being dogs, they often like that particular taste. Is it possible that the dogs picked up bTB in this way?
So now we’ve got a big problem.
The Kimblewick Hunt covers an area pretty much a triangle between Luton, Oxford and Basingstoke. That’s a lot of area, and a lot of farmland. It’s also a lot of cowpats. Exactly where did the hounds pick up bTB? We don’t know – it could have been anywhere. Have all those farms been told about the outbreak? Are they all clear of bTB?
As well as picking up the disease anywhere in this area, the dogs could be potentially spreading it too (again, dogs being dogs…). Suddenly, the response to the Kimblewick outbreak seems somewhat impotent. ‘It does not consider that there is any increased risk to wildlife and farm stock’. With dozens of potentially infected dogs running around huge areas of the countryside before they were stopped? That sounds like a risk to me.
And while the Kimblewick suspended their own hunting, they have kindly invited other hunts onto their territory, meaning that since the outbreak was discovered last year, who knows how many other packs of hounds have been coming into the area, running across potentially infected areas – and then returning to their home kennels. If there was a film being made about bTB, the tagline would be ‘This is how it started…’
There’s another important question here: how many others? The Kimblewick outbreak was only discovered by our friends at Hounds Off, because they noticed that other hunts were using the Kimblewick land. Defra didn’t announce it, and the Master of Fox Hounds Association website appeared to only post up a notice about it once a journalist started enquiring, following the tip off. So how many other hunts around the country are covering up a similar outbreak?
The League estimates that there are more than 3,000 hunting hounds in the England Btb epidemic zone alone, which may be out in the countryside an average of two days a week during the six-month season. Are we looking at the real reason why the disease can’t be controlled?
If Defra were really determined to lock down this disease and protect farmers, cattle and public health, then maybe we shouldn’t worry. But are other interests at play?
Why wasn’t a stop to all hunt hound movements immediately enacted and enforced? There are a number of Defra Ministers with strong links to the hunt lobby. Did they intervene to influence Defra’s response? A full inquiry into Defra’s actions, including whether or not these have potentially compromised public health interests, needs to take place immediately in order to clarify these issues.
The public also needs to know that the current Minister for Animal Welfare at DEFRA, Lord Gardiner, is the former Director of Political Affairs at the Countryside Alliance – and is an Honorary Member of the Kimblewick Hunt. Serious questions must now be asked about whether Lord Gardiner is more interested in protecting hunting than protecting farmers and public health.
We need an independent inquiry into what has happened. But more urgently, we need to take action.
The League Against Cruel Sports is calling on Defra to suspend all hunting until bTB is under control. If you’ve got any interest in the countryside, farming, or dogs, I’d suggest you drop them a line too. Before it’s too late.