9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN22 Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Open Session II Building I, 2E4

Vermin, victims and disease: public controversy over badgers and bovine TB in the UK

In the wake of a series of high profile, acute controversies concerning livestock diseases in the UK in recent years, risks associated with animal disease have come under increasing levels of media, public and policy scrutiny. While these episodes have largely been high profile, acute crises, it can be productive to examine how animal disease risks are debated and managed in ongoing, chronic risk situations. Such a case is provided by controversy over the transmission risks of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) between domestic cattle and badgers. Since the early 1970s, when links between the disease in the two animals were first drawn, the extent of these transmission risks, and consequent policies of culling wild badger populations, have been contested by a variety of actors including farmers, veterinarians, politicians, animal activists and environmentalists.

In the UK, badgers have been a protected species since 1981, and are a highly cherished wild animal with an important place in British popular culture. As such, any suggestion of state-aided culling of these animals is highly controversial, and so actors in the debate have increasingly turned to science to provide them with evidence to support their positions. Despite extensive and long range government research designed to resolve the issue of badger-bovine disease transmission risks, the findings have proved to be ambiguous and subject to interpretation by all sides of the controversy. This paper presents some early findings of content analysis of coverage of the badger/bTB situation in the UK national press from 1995 to the present. We have found that risk is framed in terms of human and animal health, economics, rural culture, animal welfare and the natural environment. These risks framings vary according to the orientation of both actors and media publications towards wild animals, farming, animal welfare, government and UK party politics.