The thoughts behind the Renegade Ecologist

From my 20 years as a nature conservationist I have learned the utter futility of trying to protect nature under our current economic system. But by making some small changes to our taxation system we could make a world fit for our children to inherit full of wildlife & prosperity for all.

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root....
Henry David Thoreau
"In many ways, nature conservation has become just another method of rent extraction by landowners who are trying to hide the fact that modern farmers’ fields are essentially deserts, devoid of wildlife, and the taxpayer must pay ‘rent’ if we want wild animals to occupy ‘their land’."
Peter Smith

Land Value Tax, which is in my opinion the Holy Grail of legislative changes to protect wildlife, is the simplest expression of the Economic theories of Henry George. This theory goes that if we abolish all harmful taxes on our hard work and trade and instead charge a rent for the use of natural resources such as Land we will not waste them or allow private interests to exploit the rest of humanities access to them.

Such a tax would not only stimulate jobs and enterprise but put a value on all of our natural resources and force us to look after them. If it was implemented for agricultural land, where the lower value of perpetually designated wilderness or natural grazing land is reflected in its land value taxation, it would be the surest way to save the wildlife of the UK and for the least cost to the taxpayer”

This would mean hard to farm areas, steep banks, riverbanks, rocky outcrops and areas landowners want to designate a nature reserves, which must be legally binding, could be set aside for wildlife and as such attract no taxation. The result of this would be that unproductive and marginal land would become wildlife havens and receive long term protection for future generation to enjoy. But it would also take away land and monopolies from our plutocrats who own wealth with no obligation to the rest of society, these plutocrats fund both the red and blue (and Yellow) faction of the vested interest or ‘line my friends pocket’ parties that control the legislature in Britain.

This blog is dedicated to teaching those who love nature that there is a simple ‘magic bullet’ that can save the rare wildlife of this country at no cost to the taxpayer. This magic bullet will actually grow our economy and create jobs and help create a better society based on rewarding those who work hard while penalising idol people who make monopolies such as bankers and landowners.

The solution if adopted worldwide would alleviate poverty and starvation and make a significant contribution to preventing war and terrorism.

Follow me on twitter: @peetasmith

Views are my own and don’t reflect the views of Wildwood Trust

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Great Badger Swindle - Why industrial farming wants to blame the badger for Bovine TB



The badger debate has been around for a very long time, over 40 years, but behind the simplistic headlines that badger lovers and farmers are at loggerheads is a much more complex and subtle story, a story full of intrigue and vested interests competing for economic advantage.

A whole generation of farmers and ‘country people’ have grown up being told badgers are the main problem, but have forgotten the basic epidemiological science of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The farming lobby have found it much easier to blame badgers than address the fundamental problems of cattle farming and the poor practices that have led to the epidemic of bTB in the British cattle herd.”

A History of Cattle TB.

bTB was a dangerous disease and could infect people, mostly  through drinking milk. The introduction of pasteurisation effectively stopped the disease being transferred to humans. Over this time strict controls on cattle movements and herd quarantine ensured a reduction in bTB across the UK .  Since the 1970s these restrictions have been relaxed and the bTB has increased due to this lack of controls.

Changes in intensive farming practices have also contributed to the epidemic, as cattle live in larger and more dense groups and spend more time in large sheds and stockades increasing the spread of bTB. The larger groups ensure that bTB that is carried by few animals sub-clinically acting as a reservoir for the bTB going unobserved and be allowed to flare up again. This is the process that the farming lobby are trying to blame badgers, without credible scientific evidence.


Badger, Cattle and bTB

Cattle to badger bTB infection has been well demonstrated, but there is no evidence that can prove badger to cattle transference on the farm and the extent of the problem, except by guesswork or inference.

  
A simple  4 point plan to eradicate TB from cows in the UK:


1.       Private insurance – reward the good and punish the bad
The present system of subsides rewards poor practice, the solution is to make the farming industry pay for their bad and illegal farming practices. The best way to achieve this is by the withdrawal of all government subsidy and compensation payments. Farmers could then privately insure themselves against the risk of herd breakdown due to TB. This free market solution would reward good farming practices by them having lower premiums. Farms with poor risk would be charged high premiums and those farmers who commit fraud by changing ear tags and other illegal practices would invalidate their insurance. 

2.       Reintroduction of stricter quarantine regulations on cattle movement
Detailed statistical analysis has shown that it is the movement of cattle from one farm to another that is by far the most important factor in the spread of TB*. The reintroduction of the strict quarantine measure abandoned in our past is key to control of bTB in the UK.

(*M. Gilbert, A. Mitchell, D. Bourn, J. Mawdsley, R. Clifton-Hadley & W. Wint Nature Vol 435|26 May 2005|doi:10.1038/nature0354)

3.       Good credible science – put the funds used for badger killing into proper scientific study of disease propagation and vaccines
The current system of spending large amount of taxpayers’ money on trials of shooting and gassing badgers at the expense of proper scientific study should stop. These funds should be redirected into proper microbiological research of the disease and its control by vaccination in cattle and badgers

4.       Introduce economic changes to taxation and land tenure to promote less intensive agriculture.

Our present system of taxation vastly favours tax-dodgers, land speculators,  large landowners and investment in huge capital infrastructure. This promotes the use of ever more intensive agricultural systems, increasing disease and animal suffering.

Huge tax breaks exist on the purchase of large machines and capital infrastructural. Fuel, fertilisers and agricultural chemicals all have huge subsidies and do not reflect their true cost to society or the environment.

One of the greatest shifts in modern agriculture is the use of foodstuffs such as soya and palm oil husks as artificial feed for animals like cattle and pigs, this has allowed them to be concentrated in smaller areas and the result of this is greater incidences of density dependant diseases such as bTB.

Britain's grazing pasture is being slowly, but surely, converted to arable land, creating an 'agri desert' devoid of  wild animal life and causing the loss of many of our favourite wildlife species.  Not only are our cows and pigs suffering in horrendous conditions, the huge arable conversion of our countryside destroying native wildlife, but the true cost of this policy is the colossal destruction of the planet's most valuable tropical rainforests. The commercial growing of palm oil plantations and soya fields is wiping out tropical rainforests at a truly frightening pace. The economic driver to grow these crops is not human growth in population but the drive to produce cheap meat for western consumption,  as a lifestyle choice at the expense of our environment.

The landowner can benefit in many ways such as when they expand the buildings and gaining planning permission for huge new cattle sheds, the capital gains on their land value is tax free, while the costs of the building can be offset against income taxes.

By removing taxation on all wages and trade, from which we currently derive our income and removing the tax perks of buying large machinery and replacing that government revenue with a rent on the value of all land and a taxation of natural resources such as oil and minerals at source, we would create many more rural and farming jobs and reduce intensive inputs of artificial cattle feeds. This rebalancing of our economic climate would allow less intensive farming to compete on fair terms with the modern industrial farming methods and reduce the spread of disease and poor quality animal husbandry.

If a rent was levied in all the counties of the world those seeking to destroy tropical rainforests for soya and palm oil production would have to pay for the privilege, as the farmland they create would attract a yearly rental charge. The cost of this destruction would flow through into animal feeds and natural pasture would once again become economically viable for the grazing of cattle. Pristine wildlife habitat would have no rental charge and as such would be valued as as soon as someone destroyed the forest they would have to pay a yearly rent for doing so.

This policy would mean meat would become more expensive, but it would reflect its true cost and such a policy would actually increase human health and allow more food to become available for human consumption , increasing our food security and helping save the poor from starvation.



Key facts of bTB

  1. 1.       bTB is passed from animal to animal by aerosol in the form of close, mouth to mouth, transmission
  2. 2.       bTB is a ‘progressive’ disease not a black and white issue – the idea of ‘skin reactors’, the current method of detection is very flawed
  3. 3.       Cattle infect badgers but probably not the other way round (not one shred of real evidence exists for badger to cattle transmission, only inference conjecture)
  4. 4.       bTB is dormant for many years (if not decades in some animals) and this is the real ‘reservoir’ of infection –there is no real evidence of wild animal to cattle transmission. The best data available, from the studies done in Belgium, show that wild animal transmission has no statistical influence on the epidemiology
  5. 5.       The most probable culprit of the rise in bTB is when strict quarantine laws where relaxed 40 years ago, the bTB we see today is just the epidemiological statistical results of that relaxation, magnified by larger herd sizes (increases the chance a ‘dormant carrier’ infecting a herd) and greater densities in cattle sheds.
  6. 6.       Many cattle diseases, not just bTB, have increased over that time, pointing the finger to industry practices and animal husbandry issues
  7. 7.       Stress and ‘unnatural’ diet may (and I stress may as no real evidence) play a role in increasing the progression and expression of bTB in cattle



WHAT CAN YOU DO!

If you agree with my view point you can explain, in your own words, why killing badgers is not an acceptable solution to the TB problem. Ask the Government to base its policies solely on cattle controls and credible scientific research. 

COntact your MP: (letter is much more effective than e-mail)

On-line petition: