The Amaizing Case for Badgers

The badger is a protected species. The cow is not. We eat cows. Badgers taste hideous. But because we eat cows and not badgers and because badgers are believed to transmit TB to cattle, we are embarking on a nationwide cull. Defra, as ever behind the curve, oblivious to public opinion and ignorant of science, supports the cull, and is making plans for it. Supported, unsurprisingly, by the NFU. Their President, Peter Kendall, has said ‘…for a badger control policy to work effectively it must be part of a range of measures to eradicate bovine TB. This includes a combination of existing cattle tests, movement restrictions, the slaughter of test positive animals, good on-farm bio-security, and, longer term, vaccination’.

This all sounds very complicated, and very expensive. We already spend £91m compensating farmers for losing infected cattle.

81% of the population oppose a badger cull. This may be why the Welsh Assembly has abandoned plans to carry it out in Wales. Good for them. But if this is the reason, it’s the wrong one. It won’t surprise you to learn that the answer is very simple, very cheap, involves no violence to badgers, saves cows, and would be enormously popular (especially with badgers).

Here’s some history. In 1960 the UK was entirely free of bovine TB. We had a lot of badgers then too, so what were they up to? And here’s an interesting fact. There are no badgers on the Isle of Man but they have bovine TB there.

The cause is twofold, and I’m afraid it is down to farmers and their parasites, the agrochemical and feed companies. First, since the advent of industrialised farming with its accompanying rain of chemicals, our soil has become a sterile growing medium periodically injected with growth stimulants, insecticides, and herbicides. Any naturally occurring chemical soup has long since been eradicated. Second, since the 1980s, farmers have been increasingly feeding their cattle with maize (what the Americans call corn). It is important to note here that badgers love maize.

The hero of this story, is, happily, a farmer. He is called Dick Roper and he farms in Eastington. He decided to do some digging of his own (literally) and discovered that the soil on one of his farms, which consistently showed signs of bovine TB, was deficient in selenium and Vitamin E. Both are vital to an effective immune system.

You can see where this is going. Maize, unsurprisingly, is deficient in selenium and Vitamin E. The soil is now deficient in both thanks to the haze of chemicals it has to absorb. Badgers, therefore, are suffering from lowered immune systems when they graze naturally, and especially when they gorge on maize. Mr Roper took an unusual and imaginative step – he started feeding his badgers with mineral supplements. Lo and behold, bovine TB disappeared from his farm! Since the cows also licked his mineral cakes, they too acquired better immune systems.

What would it cost to provide farmers with mineral cakes to feed their badgers and cattle? Not £91m that’s for sure. And no cost for killing badgers, controlling cattle movements, slaughtering infected cattle, and so on. Wake up Caroline Spelman, and Peter Kendall, and listen to Dick Roper. And while you’re at it consider this – why do we eat cows anyway? The ratio of energy input to protein output is 54:1. (Princeton University research). That is completely unsustainable and if we carry on like this we’ll be covered in nothing but selenium and Vitamin E deficient maize just to feed our beef burgers.

Christopher Broadbent - The Robertsbridge Group - May 2012

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Footnotes:

(i)  I contacted Christopher Broadbent today (07 March 2013) to ask if there were any recent changes. He replied, "Regrettably I know of no change in relation to the story we put up last year. I have a feeling that the farmer who did this work has disappeared below the radar. My own view is that any attempt to start a nationwide cull would result in a nationwide disruptive protest, such as was seen when the trial cull was implemented. It simply makes the thing impossible and costly to carry out."

(ii)  Just over three years later (20 May 2016), I contacted Christopher Broadbent again. He replied, "I'm afraid I don't have any further information other than what I've read, all of which I'm sure you already know - ridiculous cost per badger killed, the unholy alliance between the NFU and Defra, illegal/unrecorded cattle movement being as great a contributor to bovine TB as badgers, and so on."

Is this the Missing Link?



‘I give my badgers vitamins to stop TB’

Maize Kernels

Badgers are due to be shot in a cull ordered by the Government in an attempt to halt bovine tuberculosis but Mr Roper says his idea of feeding badgers vitamins and essential minerals keeps the disease at bay.

For almost a decade, Mr Roper has been leaving cakes made from sugary molasses laced with supplements, including high doses of selenium, near the badgers’ setts on his land as a way of keeping their immune systems in prime condition.

Since then, the farm he managed on the Wills Estate, near Northleach, Gloucestershire, has been TB-free, apart from two cases and they were in pastures near a neighbour’s maize crop.

His idea has won the support of the organic food licensing body, the Soil Association and the Badger Trust and has even featured in BBC Radio 4’s the Archers.

Mr Roper, 57, came up with his idea while researching why pedigree cattle on the estate had been stricken with bovine TB. He found a possible link to maize, which was the cows’ main winter fodder.

I can’t understand why Defra has not done more research...I don’t believe badgers have to be shot. “Maize is highly nutritious,” he said, “It’s full of sugar and fats but low in supplements. Cows love it and so do badgers. If you feed cows maize you have to give them supplements to boost their immune system. I just give my badgers supplements too.

“Everything I read pointed to the trace element selenium being the solution so I decided to make cakes of molasses with the highest dose of selenium permitted. I got Ministry permission and started leaving my cakes outside the setts in the woods. This has worked for nearly a decade in a TB hot spot but I can’t understand why Defra [Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has not done more research into my theory...I don’t believe badgers have to be shot.”


Earlier this month, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman announced she was “strongly minded” to allow controlled culls of badgers in areas where TB was prevalent. Last year, 25,000 cattle were killed because of the illness, costing taxpayers £90million in compensation to farmers. The West Country was badly hit with 23 per cent of cattle farms unable to move their stock.

She said: “I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this but the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in areas worst affected by bovine TB.”

The National Farmers Union says it wants a “science-led policy” to obtain “a healthy countryside for badgers and cattle”. The Badger Trust and Soil Association also called for research. The Soil Association said: “We back Dick Roper’s call for more research into the effects he has discovered. It is a health strategy which would be far preferable to culling.”

Defra declined to comment.

Stuart Winter - Express Environment Editor - 31 July 2011

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