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What have I done to deserve this?

Guardian - Monday 12 April 1999

by Anne Perkins

It is a soft spring morning. The sun is slowly burning off the mist from the river Severn, revealing sleek, shiny cows just out of the milking parlour. Birds sing. It is like a scene from The Wind In The Willows. Somewhere, not far away, Mole is doing his housework.

Any minute now, he'll get fed up being underground and go for a stroll. At lunchtime he'll meet Ratty and be introduced to the joys of messing about in boats. And soon he'll meet Mr Badger. Very soon. In the book, Badger is a solitary creature. Round here, he'll be shacked up with a dozen friends and family. And quite likely, he'll have tuberculosis.

This is the scene not of some time-warped rural idyll, but of a political nightmare of the kind that threatens ministerial careers and Labour's new dominance in the shires. It is a lethal combination of animal rights and human health, of political penny-pinching and astonishing scientific ignorance.....

What most frustrates the badger lobby is MAFF's determined focus on the badger as the source of the disease, and its refusal to examine carefully other possible causes, even though it is clear the link, if it's there at all, is not straightforward: there are many examples of farms surviving unscathed in the middle of TB 'hotspots'. 'I think there are a whole lot of causes. It's as if there are 10 light bulbs, and all of them have to be lit up before a cow catches TB,' says Elaine King. 'Badgers may be one of them, but so might intensive farming practices, and lack of trace elements and all sorts of other things. Yet over 80 per cent of research effort is into the badgers' role.' ......

If the trials do finally come to a conclusion, no one sees an acceptable next step. Elaine King warns, 'What if the trials show the badger link is only 10 per cent of the problem? They won't even have begun to find out what other contributory factors there are. What we really need to do is to understand the disease in cattle, that's where it's a problem, not in badgers.' But a majority assume that the trials will prove that without badgers there will be little if any TB in cattle. Then what? The logic (which MAFF ministers are anxious to deny) is that mass culling is the only solution. Yet no one thinks that will be acceptable.......

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