Dead cows could cause bovine TB

Dear Sir, — One of the saddest local stories in the Chronicle recently was last week’s report about Ian McGrath’s lifetime ban on keeping farmed animals (“Farmer banned for life from keeping livestock”, 27th February).
Firstly, desperately sad for the 35 deceased cows whose rotting carcasses were found on his land, sad for the five cows who inspectors found in such a shocking state that they had to be euthanised on the spot, and for the other individuals in the herd that were found without access to basics, including water. Cows and their calves are the primary victims in this story.
Secondly, it’s very sad also if, as the defence suggested in court, mental health problems were a contributing factor. 
This begs wider questions as to whether the right mental and emotional support is available to people in rural communities, and at Animal Welfare Party we’ve since written to the borough council for more information about these services and how widely promoted they are in the farming community. 
In this case, a farmer’s poor mental health perhaps contributed to causing untold suffering to the animals in his care, which is completely unacceptable. If this is a widespread issue, then urgent action is needed.
Thirdly, it should be pointed out that Mr McGrath was, until 2018, a director of Cheshire badger culling company Environment Clear Ltd. 
The Government’s badger cull is based on a premise of badgers spreading bovine TB to farmed cattle. 
But good on-farm hygiene is essential in the fight against bovine TB, and in this case, a recent director of a badger culling company has been found to have extremely serious hygiene breaches, including rotting carcasses on his farm almost to the point of liquification, calves being fed in pens next to decaying cows’ bodies, and slurry so thick that one cow had to be put to sleep by inspectors because she was stuck in it (and yet “it has long been recognized that slurry can play an important part in the transmission of bovine TB” —Farmer’s Weekly, 2019). 
This very sorry tale of severest animal neglect and on-farm hygiene breaches are tragic in and of themselves, but the wider tragedy is that the person responsible for it chose, instead, to be one of the leading voices in blaming badgers for spreading bovine TB in Cheshire.
If the Government was serious about tackling bovine TB, it would be helping farmers to improve on-farm hygiene and biosecurity, and making sure that processes were in place to monitor cows’ welfare and general herd health. These should be the very first steps – the basics. But instead, the Government and the NFU tell us that badgers need to be culled in their many thousands across Cheshire and beyond, in a supposed attempt to halt the spread of disease in farmed animals. 
Successive governments of various political persuasions have allowed retailers to engage in a “race to the bottom” around milk prices for decades now, letting supermarkets use milk as a loss leader to the acute detriment of British farming and to farmed animals.
Badgers are Ice Age survivors that pre-date farmed animals by many millennia in this region. I would suggest that this Government and the NFU start with cleaning up farming instead of persecuting wild animals, and to start thinking about the obvious long-term answer: to tend to the environment, animal welfare, human health and the future of British farming all in one go by looking at a properly supported transition to plant-based agriculture — which is possible without leaving anyone behind, if only the political will were there from Government or even from opposition (I guess it isn’t).
Meanwhile, farmed animals and badgers — and yes, farming communities too — deserve much better.
Any farmers wishing to learn more about transitioning to plant-based agriculture may be interested in refarmd.com which has UK case studies as well as resources to help farmers transition. — Yours faithfully,
JANE SMITH
Deputy leader, 
Animal Welfare Party.