Skim, Two Percent, or Badger-Friendly?

Bovine Tuberculosis outbreak in the UK ignites animal treatment controversy
Staff Writer

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Along with “cage-free” and “free-range,” add “Badger-Friendly” to the ever-growing list of food product adjectives. A recent outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in the UK is spurring controversy among animal activists and consumers alike. Bovine tuberculosis has become increasing prevalent amongst cattle in Great Britain in recent decades and in 2011, 26,000 were slaughtered in order to control the spread of the disease. Today, however, the solutions to the problem have becoming growing sources of debate.

According to the Guardian, there are three ways to deal with the current increase of bTB: “culling badgers, vaccination, and controlling cattle movements.” The first answer is becoming more and more questioned, though. While reducing the badger population is meant to reduce the number of infected cattle — as the bacterium known to cause bTB has been found in badgers — there are a number of problems with this supposed solution.

First, studies question whether culling the badgers does in fact debilitate the spread of bTB.  According to a 2011 Imperial College London study, localized badger culling actually “increases the risk of infection in nearby herds.” Moreover, many point to the excessive costs of culling, noting that vaccinating the animals would be more budget effective and more humane.

While a common consensus has yet to be reached on how to best deal with the bTB, some UK supermarkets are starting to take the badgers’ side. Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, and Asda are now only selling milk from dairy farms where no badger culling takes place. While products used to simply advertise the treatment of the animal from whom the product derives, now they’re paying attention to the animals these animals affect, too.

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