Labour 'minded' to halt Gloucestershire badger cull
AN INCOMING Labour Government would be “minded to” halt a badger cull according to Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh.
Speaking at a NFU fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Manchester, Ms Creagh said her position had changed from a year ago when she thought they may have to continue with the controversial control measure.
It came as farmers insisted they stood firm behind the government’s efforts to tackle TB in cattle, including the cull of badgers, amid claims of intimidation.
The NFU has confirmed that no-one has pulled out of the trial area in Gloucestershire, where the first licence has been granted to shoot the protected wild animal.
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Campaigners are angry over the Government's decision to push ahead with a cull of badgers, which they claim will not have a significant effect in reducing the disease in livestock, and want the focus to be shifted on to vaccination.
But supporters of the cull say the move is necessary to tackle TB in cattle because the wild animal spreads the disease to livestock, costing farmers and the taxpayer millions of pounds a year.
A long-term study found that culling over a number of years on a large scale could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle herds by 16 per cent.
Farmers will be licensed to shoot up to 70 per cent of the badgers in a 300 sq km area in Gloucestershire lying mainly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury. A second licence for a cull in Somerset is set to follow.
Ms Creagh told the fringe meeting: “I have certainly moved on this from last year when I was in frame of considering that we would have to continue with the cull.
“The more I have looked at the science, the less effective I think this cull is going to be. I am really worried about it.”
“I am worried about the risk to the farmer of making the problem worse. And the taxpayer is going to be picking up the bill – testing, compensation and police costs, armed police costs, over-time, overnight in the dark in the winter. This is not going to be achievable by anybody.
“It hasn’t started yet but at the moment I would be minded to stop it. I would have to see some pretty convincing results to get me to change my opinion but there will not be any data collected on it and there is no measurement to see whether it works. That science will not be there and I am pretty certain I will be proven right on this.”
But NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond defended the policy and pointed to the 34,000 cattle culled in England and Wales because of bovine TB last year.
He said: “The figure has doubled in the last 10 years. The disease is out of control. I have seen farm businesses absolutely destroyed because of bovine TB. We have got to give farming families in these areas some hope for the future.”
It came as NFU President Peter Kendall hit out at what he branded “the tactics of harassment and intimidation” by anti-cull activisits.
He said: “Farmers remain committed to helping government deliver on its TB eradication programme that will reduce TB in both cattle and badgers.
“No-one wants to cull badgers but we simply can’t go on while TB increases its vice-like grip on our family farms.”
The NFU has today confirmed that no-one has pulled out of the trial area in Gloucestershire and is writing to all newspapers that have carried the story to set the record straight.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: “I want to get one thing clear for those who think the tactics of harassment and intimidation from animal rights activists are winning the day on the serious issue of how we deal with TB in this country.
“Farmers remain committed to helping government deliver on its TB eradication programme that will reduce TB in both cattle and badgers.
“No-one wants to cull badgers but we simply can’t go on while TB increases its vice-like grip on our family farms. In 1998 less than 6,000 cows were culled because they had TB, in 2011 it was more than 34,000. And every single one of those cows was culled to prevent them passing the disease on. It’s a fact that TB exists in wildlife and no amount of culling of cattle will ever control this disease while there are still badgers spreading it further.”
The proposed cull pilots due to take place this autumn are targeting two specific hotspot areas where the incidence of TB in wildlife is persistent and high in the South West, with the possibility of further culls in other hotspot areas in the coming years. Most of England is TB free and there are no plans to carry out culls of badgers in areas where there is no TB.
The Government’s TB eradication programme also includes vaccination which is being used as part of the package of measures to control the spread of TB. But it is not an option in those hotspot areas because vaccine alone cannot cure an infected animal. And the practicalities mean that it is highly unlikely that enough badgers would be trapped and injected to have any impact on the disease in either cattle or badgers.
“I have two messages”, said Mr Kendall. “To the animal rights protestors who are intent on intimidating and harassing people who are simply trying to run their businesses and look after their families I would say your tactics are not working. Your campaign is based on misinformation, scaremongering and bullying with no scientific basis.
“And to the general public, I say look at the science yourself before making up your mind. Find out for yourself the impact that TB is having on the welfare of British cattle and ask which other countries have managed to get on top of TB without controlling wildlife.
“For those in any doubt, this policy has been through two rigorous public consultations. It has also been upheld after challenges in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The policy is backed by scientists, vets and government who all agree that this is the best way of controlling the spread of this awful disease throughout the country.”