Bovine TB, Badger Culling and Applied Ethics: Utilitarianism, Animal Welfare and Rights
journal contributionposted on 29.08.2019, 15:26 by R Garner
Applying competing ethical theories to the issue of bovine TB and badger culling can throw light on the validity of the policy options. Utilitarianism is, superficially at least, an attractive option. However, the aggregative principle is problematic and this is well illustrated in the case of bovine TB and badger culling. Such is the variety and strength of interests to be considered that it is not at all clear which course of action will maximise utility. In addition, it may be that the full range of consequences can never be known with any degree of accuracy. An alternative option is to revert to an animal welfare ethic. This has the effect of cutting down the moral complexities involved in a discussion of bovine TB and badger culling, since, providing it is done humanely, killing badgers is not an ethical issue, and even the infliction of suffering on them is permissible providing it serves a significant human benefit. The animal welfare ethic, however, is normatively inadequate because it exaggerates the ethical importance of personhood. Because of this, it allows us to justify killing badgers, and might even justify the infliction of considerable suffering if by so doing there is a good chance that economic benefits will accrue. As a result, a deontological position, where animals are accorded the protection of rights, seems a much more promising alternative to utilitarianism. The adoption of any variety of animal rights would render badger culling morally illegitimate.