It could be worse: Badgers with TB haunt UK dairies

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In England, a major public relations storm is brewing over the planned cull of thousands of badgers in an effort to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis. In Gloucestershire, where the disease has been prevalent, a “pilot cull” is moving forward after numerous court hearings. Dairy farmers themselves are in charge of ridding their land of the animals. If successful, they will have nine years to get rid of as many as 100,000 badgers.

Try doing that in Wisconsin.

Despite the fact that more than 26,000 cows were slaughtered last year in England due to TB infection, animal protection activists and other organizations have mounted a ferocious defense, both legally and in the court of public opinion, to save the badgers. One of the more contentious points is that the plan to cull 70 percent of the badger population is expected only to reduce bovine TB rates by 16 percent.

“I come at this from a practical countryman’s point of view,” says Owen Paterson, the environment secretary. "Nobody likes killing any animals, but we want healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers. The quicker we can get on top of this disease, the better for dairy farmers, the rural economy and wildlife. I am convinced it is the right thing to do until we get a vaccine.”

But the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is encouraging consumers to boycott milk from badger cull areas, saying the products would be “soaked in badgers’ blood.” And the Humane Society International and Care for the Wild groups claim consumers do not want to pay a premium for organic products from farms that are shooting badgers.

Care for the Wild’s Dominic Dyer says the urban middle class who pay a premium for organic food are likely to be against the cull.

“Most consumers would associate organic with higher animal welfare and protecting the environment and would feel very uncomfortable paying extra to buy milk from farms killing badgers on their land in this way,” he said. “Many people will want to know their milk is not from farms killing badgers… this could be a big issue for retailers.”

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