When shopping for dairy products, checking whether or not they are “badger friendly” does not tend to be the top on the list of priorities for most people. However, now that the Government has given the go-ahead to a pilot cull of 5,000 badgers, Waitrose, Asda and Marks & Spencer have announced they will be offering shoppers the choice of buying milk guaranteed to come from outside cull zones.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson first called for serious discussion regarding regular badger culls when 37,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 after contracting bovine tuberculosis – a move which cost the taxpayer upwards of £100 million. As badgers carry tuberculosis, Mr Paterson believes that only culling, along with further research on vaccinations and cattle movement restrictions can halt the spread of the disease.
However, a YouGov opinion poll has shown that 34 per cent of the English and Welsh population are actually opposed to the cull, compared with only 29 per cent who believe it is necessary. Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh believes this shows a need for a more scientific approach to the problem.
She says; “A cull would be bad for badgers, bad for farmers and bad for taxpayers.
“We need a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better and prioritise badger and cattle vaccination to tackle bovine TB instead of a cull.”
While chains such as Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s were unable to make the claim that all own-brand milk sold would be badger friendly, campaign group Care for the Wild – which commissioned the YouGov survey – has asked that milk purchased from outside the cull zones be identified. However, a Morrisons spokesman claimed that identifying meat and dairy products from within cull zones would be impossible due to “the complexity of the dairy and beef supply chains.”
Care for the Wild representative Philip Mansbridge believes that consumers should have the option to boycott produce from within badger cull zones.
He says; “Customers should be given choice – a choice to buy cage free eggs, a choice to buy free range pork and a choice to buy badger friendly milk.
“I think when they are given that choice, many will take it.”
With the proposed start date for the badger cull fast approaching, campaigners must surely be hoping that the threat of consumer action will dramatically alter the opinion of the National Farmers Union (NFU), which remains one of the strongest advocates for the cull.
However, when the issue of bovine TB does not, at present, have any obvious solution, the question of what would replace a cull at such short notice must be asked.
Would you choose to buy badger friendly produce if given the option, or do you, like Staffordshire young farmer Alex Brown, believe population control is the only way to prevent the further spread of bovine TB?
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