Where Caffè Nero leads on badger-free milk, others will follow

Milked fresh from real badgers every day! (Only kidding) Photo: ken fager via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Milked fresh from real badgers every day! (Only kidding) Photo: ken fager via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Milk farmers in the badger cull zones hardly depend on Caffè Nero's custom, writes Dominic Dyer. So why are the pro-cull lobby so hot under the collar with the coffee chain's refusal to buy their produce? Because it could force the entire food chain to take responsibility for how milk is produced - and a very good thing too!
I hope this will be seen as a key moment when the whole food chain from farm to fork woke up to the need to work together to tackle bovine TB, without the further needless slaughter of badgers.

The Caffè Nero badger cull milk sourcing story is a storm in a coffee cup, but it has created more froth in the media than an extra large cappuccino.

Just in case you don't know, the international coffee shop chain has stopped sourcing milk from the badger cull zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset, after badger-lovers threatened to protest at its outlets.

But the move has given the pro badger cull lobby a golden opportunity to pull out all the stops in a frenzy of fear and anger, aimed at demonising not only the badger but also the caring & compassionate people who are willing to stand up and protect the species.

This is a desperate tactic, which is only being used because those who support the culling of badgers know they have completely failed to justify the policy on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.

Time to introduce a few facts into the debate?

The facts speak for themselves. To date two years of badger culling in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire has resulted in the death of 2,476 badgers at a cost in the region of £15 million pounds. Which when divided between the number of badgers killed is over £6,600 per badger, the most expensive wildlife cull of its kind on record.

Despite assurances from the government that this would be a farmer led policy, the vast majority of this £15 million bill has been paid for by the tax payer. The huge costs of the cull are not only down to policing, but also the purchase and use of cages and heat seeking equipment and the employment of large numbers of civil servants both in Whitehall and the cull zones.

The government has also run up significant legal costs defending the disastrous badger cull policy in Court against the Badger Trust, Information Commissioner and private individuals.

The pilot culls were set up to test the efficiency and humaneness of free shooting of badgers at night by trained marksmen, nothing more. On this basis they have been a disastrous failure, as free shooting has proved highly ineffective as a killing method and has been found to be inhumane by both the government's own Independent Expert Panel and more recently the British Veterinary Association.

The only way the culls can now continue is if a majority of badgers to be killed are trapped in cages and then shot. However based on the government's own cost estimates this will come in at £3,500 per square km compared to £3,250 for trapping and vaccinating badgers.

To go forward with such a costly deeply flawed and unpopular culling policy, when vaccination projects are cheaper, is a political nightmare for the government. This is why despite huge pressure from the National Farmers Union, the badger cull will not be extended to new areas of England in 2015.

The political tide is turning - where it counts most

It's also noticeable that many of the new intake of Tory MPs are increasingly nervous of being associated with the disastrous badger cull policy. The new Tory MP for Bath Ben Howlett, took the wind out of the sales of the interviewer on BBC Sunday Politics this week, when in response to a question on the Caffè  Nero story, he said he was opposed to badger culling and supported badger vaccination as an alternative.

I hope this will be seen as a key moment when the whole food chain from farm to fork woke up to the need to work together to tackle bovine TB, without the further needless slaughter of badgers.

The former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson might be doing his best to stir up things up from the side lines, but it's clear he has little influence over the new generation of Tory MPs who came into Parliament on the coat tails of David Cameron's surprise election victory.

Also the new DEFRA Edge Badger Vaccination scheme rolls out across 10 counties of England this summer, with over £1.3 million in public funding. This is David Cameron's 'Big Society' in action as public money is being used to provide training and equipment for large numbers of volunteers from Badger Trust and Wildlife Trust Groups to work with farmers to trap & vaccinate badgers on their land across wide areas of the country.

Andrew Bingham, MP for High Peak in Derbyshire, is just one of a growing number of Tory MPs who have changed their minds on badger culling and are now actively working to support badger vaccination in their constituencies, as part of this new DEFRA scheme.

Badger vaccination cannot cure a badger with TB, but with disease levels in badgers at around 15% (based on data from Randomised Badger Culling Trial) vaccinating the 85% without the disease is most definitely worthwhile. Despite what some farmers might want to believe, badger vaccination has been scientifically proven to significantly lower the spread of TB in disease free badgers and reduce the spread of the disease of in new born cubs.

However, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of playing the badger blame game, when it's comes to bovine TB. As the DEFRA Chief Scientist Ian Boyd told an NFU hosted TB policy conference last year, only 6% of TB infections in cattle are due to badgers, the other 94% is due to cattle to cattle disease transmission and this is where urgent action needs to be taken to get control of bovine TB.

Now other milk users are getting forced off the sidelines

A positive development from the Caffè Nero story is that food retailers and restaurant chains who are key users of fresh milk in the food chain, are now being dragged back into the centre of the debate on the bovine TB issue.

For too long they have sat on the side lines and allowed the government and the farming industry to play the badger blame game, which has resulted in the disastrous position we are currently in.

I will be meeting with Sainsbury's next week on behalf of the Badger Trust and I will tell them it's time the food retailers started to show some leadership on the bovine TB issue.

If they truly wish to do what is right for their farm suppliers, customers and the future of our wildlife, they should put funding into the DEFRA Edge badger vaccination scheme, work with their milk suppliers to improve bio security at the farm gate level and work with the government and farming industry to bring forward a cattle TB vaccination field trial in the UK in the next 12 to 18 months.

I hope we can look back at the Caffè Nero milk sourcing debate as a key moment when the whole food chain from farm to fork woke up to the need to work together to tackle bovine TB, without the further needless slaughter of badgers, which is so angering the wider public.



Dominic Dyer is CEO of the Badger Trust.

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