If you’ve been connected with animal agriculture during the last decade or so, you’ve seen and no doubt reacted emotionally to the horrific images of gigantic flaming pyres as British farmers were forced to cull thousands of pigs and cattle during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that wracked the UK back in 2001.
The outbreak resulted in a worldwide ban on exports of British meat, a total halt to the movement of livestock within the country and worst of all, a massive slaughter of affected herds—some 80,000 to 90,000 animals a week were being killed—that required the government to bring in British Army commandos to assist in the task of gunning down thousands of cattle and pigs.
Simply brutal, but a policy that was deemed necessary to control a disease so virulent it can be spread by contact with contaminated dirt on the soles of somebody’s shoes.
Most veterinarians and animal science experts agreed that Britain had no choice but to practically destroy its livestock industry in order to save it.
Now, that same horror movie is back as a sequel, albeit this time rated PG-13 rather than M for Mature Audiences Only. This time, however, the threat to England’s beef industry comes not from a tainted batch of black market monkey meat, as was alleged in 2001, but from a far less exotic source: Your friendly neighborhood badger.
In a tear-jerking article in the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper, Gloucestershire farmer Jim Hunt described his feelings as he watched more than 60 cows being taken away to be shot and then incinerated—especially since those furry little badgers were taking the blame.
“I don’t want to see badgers shot, but there are two sides to every argument, and I did not want to see my animals shot, either,” Hunt told the paper. “Believe me, it wasn’t a pretty sight. The really distressing thing is seeing calves, some just a month old, being incinerated. It’s such a waste of their lives.”
Indeed. The problem that led to the culling of Hunt’s herd is bovine tuberculosis, a nasty disease that is spread by English badgers, overgrown rodents as numerous in most rural areas of the country as raccoons are in many an American suburb. Only as carriers, badgers are a lot more dangerous to beef and dairyfarmers, which is why a badger cull has been ordered to slow the spread of the bovine TB.
Badgers in the crosshairs
Now, here’s where the story gets crazy. Animal activists, who typically use animal disease outbreaks to flog producers for being in the business in the first place, are being accused of using vuvuzelas—those annoying plastic horns that punctuated last year’s World Cup matches in South Africa with what most fans deemed the most grating noise this side of the late Billy Mays—to scare badgers away from the cull zones where professional hunters have been hired to “thin out the badger community.”