According to British animal activists, all you need are cute, furry animals and a venti-sized serving of outrage, and you can convince consumers to willingly cut off their own food supply.
Animal activists in England today are claiming victory after a boycott threat pressured British coffee chain Caffè Nero to change milk suppliers. Why? Because its previous vendor was sourcing milk from dairy farmers within badger cull zones.
What does that have to do with American livestock production?
As the Brits like to say, wait a tick, and we’ll get to the connection.
The background to the story, as reported by The Guardian, is that the British government two years ago instituted a program to reduce the wild badger population in dairy farming regions as a way to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
Badgers, for those unfamiliar, are an iconic species in England. We really don’t have a comparable animal in North America. Raccoons occupy a similar eco-niche, but nobody campaigns on their behalf, probably because they’re not endangered. British badgers, on the other hand, are like mini-pandas: Cute, furry and symbolic of some imagined struggle between Mother Nature and Big Bad Agriculture.
Now, let’s stipulate that “reducing the population” means hiring amateur hunters and other volunteers to roam around the cull areas shooting badgers on sight. As you might imagine, that activity is virtually impossible to characterize as humane, which is why activists have been quick to target the program.
They’re keenly aware of imagery and positioning, and photos of white guys in orange vests gunning down helpless little forest critters makes for awfully powerful marketing.
According to British news reports, Caffè Nero bowed to pressure from activists organized as Stop the Cull after the group threatened on Facebook to protest at Caffè Nero stores in London later this month.
By the way? When the badger culls were first proposed two years ago, those same activists tried to target the British grocery chain Sainsbury’s and UK Starbucks stores for buying milk from farmers in cull areas.
That went nowhere.
Caffè Nero, however, instructed its suppliers in cull zone areas to start sourcing milk from farmers outside the zones, issuing a mealy mouth statement that the company “appreciates that this is an issue of concern for some members of the public.”
But the anti-culling campaign quickly got messy when the conservation group Badger Trust distanced itself from the activists. Trust officials issued a statement saying that they are “not involved in any campaigns aimed at boycotting food retailers, restaurants or cafe chains over their milk sourcing policy,” adding that, “The Badger Trust is firmly opposed to any threats or intimidation against these businesses or their staff.”
No clear-cut consensus
And they’re not the only eco-group to throw ice water on the anti-culling campaign.
The National Trust (which is akin to our Nature Conservancy) was founded in 1895 and is Great Britain’s largest landowner. Over the years, the trust acquired and now manages nature preserves, coastline areas, forests, farmland, castles, historic homes and, this being Britain, numerous “historic” pubs. The trust leases its farmland to dairy farmers, and a devastating outbreak of bovine TB over the past two decades has forced the group to deal with the badger issue, since wild badgers serve as carriers for the disease. They first attempted a vaccination program stating a news release that, “If we can make it effective, vaccination of badgers could be a powerful tool in reducing badger-cattle transmission.”
That’s a big “if,” and to date, the vaccination of hundreds of wild badgers has failed to slow the spread of bTB.
Whereas the “Randomized Badger Culling Trial,” a UK government initiative begun in the late 1990s, confirmed that culling can control bTB. Even National Trust officials acknowledged in a statement that, “We do not yet rule out culling,” although arguing that it’s “premature” to say it works or it doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers’ Union, “The Voice of British Farming,” contended that badger vaccinations alone cannot eliminate bovine TB.
“Vaccination has to be part of the mix in the fight against bTB,” NFU deputy president Minette Batters said in a statement. “But vaccination will not cure a sick badger, and in areas where bTB is endemic, [vaccination] is unlikely to have any impact on controlling disease.”
In other words, if bTB is to be halted, wildlife — unfortunately — must be sacrificed.
I grant you, “culling” any species of wildlife is an unpleasant business. But do you think the people who are so quick to offer knee-jerk support for Stop the Cull ever pause to consider life without dairy products? I doubt that one in a hundred ever contemplate such a possibility as they stand in line at their neighborhood Starbucks to order a Carmel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino Blended Beverage to go.
No question: It’s an uphill struggle to educate modern consumers about the realities of food production and the impact of animal disease.
But it’s an effort that must be made, and made successfully.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator
› P.S. Did you hear about the wager two Roman Catholic archbishops made with each other? According to the Associated Press, Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich bet St. Petersburg (Florida) Archbishop Robert Lynch that if the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup, he will send enough Chicago-style deep-dish pizza to feed 300 people to a homeless shelter in Pinellas, Fla. But if the Blackhawks win, Lynch will ship “several cases” of grapefruit to Chicago.
What the heck kind of bet is that? Pizza — deep-dish pizza! — in exchange for . . . a box of grapefruit?? Who eats grapefruit? My grandmother used to eat half a grapefruit and a slice of dry toast for breakfast, but that was 60 years ago and she was senile!
Bless her soul.
First of all, deep-dish pizza trumps the entire Florida citrus harvest. You couldn’t ship enough grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, limes or whatever else grows on trees down there to the Windy City to make that deal a fair exchange.
Second, the Blackhawks are down 2-1 in the series. C’mon, Archbishop Cupich. Your colleague made you an offer you can refuse. That’s the worst sporting bet since David Letterman’s suggestion during a Mets-Phillies playoff series a few years ago that if New York won, its mayor would receive a case of Philly cheesesteaks, whereas if Philadelphia won, the Big Apple’s mayor would send his counterpart a litter of rats.
Pretty much the same deal here.