Jeremy Corbyn was rapturously received on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury last week. He “came out to cheers and crowds normally reserved for headline acts” with the Michael Eavis at his side and was introduced to the adoring crowd.
When Eavis isn’t busy running the world’s biggest music festival, he’s a dairy farmer and in recent years has been an outspoken advocate of badger culling in an effort to eradicate bovine TB. No doubt he would have heartened by the news from Wales, just as Glastonbury was starting, that the Labour government there would soon begin killing badgers
A page on the gov.wales website entitled Strengthened approach to tacking bovine TB in Wales announced explained that Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Environmental & Rural Affairs, had published details of a “strengthened TB Eradication Programme”. From 1 October low, intermediate and high TB areas will be introduced. In areas judged high “a range of options to reduce the risk of disease spread, including cage-trapping, testing and where necessary humanely killing infected badgers” will be implemented.
Groups such as VIVA! were quick to condemn the decision:
We believe that this move is purely political and is designed to placate the farming industry. Although the scale is much smaller than in England (although there are fears that the true scale has yet to be revealed), it is important to understand that this is a total misdirection because the vast majority of TB breakdowns are due to poor farming practices not badgers. This move gives a false legitimacy to the idea that badgers are central to controlling TB in cattle.
What activists find perplexing is Wales had been leading the way in reducing TB in cattle without harming badgers. Since 2009 “new herd incidents” have fallen 40% and 95% of dairy herds are now TB-free. Contrast this to England where 15,000 badgers have been killed at a cost of £40 million since 2013 yet “new herd incidents have only reduced by 7.5 per cent, and this has been negligible in the ‘cull’ areas.”
Another broken promise?
The Welsh government’s plan came just two weeks after the general election. On page 94 of Labour’s manifesto, For the many, not the few, there is a photo of a badger along with the pledge: “We will cease the badger cull, which spreads bovine TB.”
Although the manifesto would’ve been written before the cull was formally announced, the idea had already been proposed by the the Welsh Government’s chief vet, Professor Christianne Glossop, was far back as March at a symposium on bovine TB. The BBC reported Prof Glossop as saying she “could not be certain that culling badgers at a farm-scale level would not increase TB infection but said she wanted to try out culling in situations where all other measures had failed.”
Taken literally the manifesto did not promise not to start culling badgers, only to cease the cull already in place in England. Any reasonable person, however, would have assumed it meant there would be no culls at all under Labour, especially as the Welsh government had stated on numerous occasions that it had no plans to kill badgers because it was ineffective and inhumane.
Therefore, we have to infer that the manifesto pledge was intended to deceive to gain the trust of people who are against culling. During the election campaign it was common for people to say they were voting Labour to prevent the Hunting Act being repealed and to save badgers. Now we know that in the only part of the country where Labour is in power, badgers will again be used as a scapegoat for the filthy, barbaric dairy industry.
Labour’s dirty record
Perhaps, it could be argued, this was just an unfortunate mistake. No – Labour has form. Twenty years ago in the notorious New Labour, new Britain, new life for animals pamphlet, dozens of commitments were made over every area of animal protection, from circuses and zoos to vivisection, farmed animals and beyond.
New life for animals promised to stop badger culls. It said; “Labour is against the killing of badgers and destruction of their setts…We will, furthermore, conduct a full review of the question of badgers and bovine TB, and put an immediate stop to badger culling pending the outcome of that review.”
The review never happened, Labour took the dairy industry’s side and within 18 months of gaining office went ahead with a disastrous cull based on MAFF’s “strong, circumstantial evidence that badger’s transmit TB to cattle”. This lasted seven years and was described by the National Federation of Badger Groups as a “futile attempt to control an expensive and complex farming issue.” As a result 11,000 badgers died.
Ironically this “Randomised Badger Control Trial” showed that killing small numbers of trapped badgers made the Bovine TB infection rate worse because it increased badger movement. One of the scientists who carried out the RBCT said: “The Welsh government has made great strides in reducing cattle TB through improved cattle testing. It seems a great shame to risk undoing all that progress by farm-scale badger culling, which all the evidence shows is likely to increase cattle TB rather than reducing it.”
Can Labour be trusted again?
With the party moving leftward under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong vegetarian and onetime supporter of campaigns against vivisection – like that against Biorex Laboratories in Islington in the eighties – more people voted Labour for animal protection reasons than for a very long time.
In truth, the manifesto promised little, amounting to half a page out of 124 and about 130 words. Unlike new life for animals which made 62 pledges, it made only seven: 1) increase the maximum sentence for those convicted of committing animal cruelty; 2) promote cruelty-free animal husbandry and consult on ways to ensure better enforcement of agreed standards; 3) prohibit the third-party sale of puppies; 4) introduce and enforce a total ban on ivory trading; 5) support the ban on wild animals in circuses; 6) cease the badger cull; 7) maintain the bans on hunting with hounds.
No mention at all of animals in laboratories (the Lib Dems said they would “minimise the use of animals and fund research into alternatives’) and only a vague commitment to improve conditions for farmed animals. By contrast even the Tories made two commitments – cctv in all slaughterhouses and “take steps to control live exports”.
While Labour didn’t offer a lot, those who voted for it no doubt believed its promises would be kept. Not for the first time we have seen that what parties say in opposition is very different to what they do once in power. There is, of course, nothing the leadership can do to stop the Welsh government going ahead with the cull – those powers are devolved – but no condemnation will be heard from senior figures within the party. These are, after all, just badgers.
When we hear “For the many, not the few”, don’t be fooled into thinking that includes non-human animals. I remember Jeremy Corbyn speaking passionately at an anti-vivisection rally in 1983. While I disagreed when he said Labour would abolish vivisection, his concern for abused animals appeared genuine. But when I saw him on the stage at Glastonbury with a dairy farmer who supports culling – while at the same time his party declared it would begin killing badgers in Wales – I was not convinced anymore.