The dilemma in the June issue concerned considering things from the badger's perspective during a public debate on bovine TB and the badger cull (In Practice, May 2012, volume 34, pages 350-351). Glen Cousquer argued that to be a badger's representative one would need to ensure its position was taken into account and suggested that a way of doing so was to recognise the badger as an individual, rather this than taking an anthropocentric view and considering the badger as just one of a population or species. He proposed that this shift in perspective would highlight exactly whose fate was being debated and could challenge the ‘distancing’ language that was often used when discussing such issues.
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Siobhan Mullan is a research fellow at the University of Bristol with interests in practical welfare assessment and animal ethics. She holds the RCVS diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law.
HOW many times have you been asked your opinion on the badger culls? Dozens, I'm sure. I find it one of the great aspects of being a vet that, regardless of your field of work, you are expected to have an opinion on all animal matters and, it seems, not just any old opinion, but an ‘expert’ opinion.
Of course, this modicum of power comes with some degree of responsibility to try to be well informed on a whole range of issues; not at all an easy task! My stock response usually involves a brief picture of the ethical landscape of the problem, reference to the importance of using evidence, a potted version of my understanding of the evidence and finally my opinion.
During all of my answers I have never referred to the badger as ‘Mr Brock’, as ‘my cousin’ or sought to bring him into the conversation too. Glen Cousequer's provocative response has served to remind me to consider whether an approach to a problem that thinks of the animals affected as individuals can offer us important insights. After all, any conversation I would have about euthanasing my dog would focus on the rights and wrongs by my dog, not dogs in general or a certain population of dogs, but my individual, personality-rich, dog. Is our ignorance of the personalities of individual badgers a sufficient reason not to also bring them as individuals to the debate?
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