Many constituents have contacted me over recent months about the Government’s pilot badger cull.
On behalf of local residents, I have called upon the Government to reverse its position and to adopt a more scientific and evidence based approach in response to tackling bovine TB. It is a humiliation for the Government, who have turned their backs on evidence-based policy and has been bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers, and bad for wildlife.
When the cull was initially postponed in October 2012, the Environment Secretary repeatedly stated that the delay was necessary as they could not guarantee removing 70% of the badger population. Defra’s recent pilot culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset, both failed to achieve their own success criteria of culling 70% of badgers in six weeks; and against scientific advice the Government extended both culls, only to fail again in achieving their target of removing 70% of the population.
Not only have the pilot culls been incredibly ineffective; according to leading independent scientists, they may have actually increased bovine TB in and around the pilot areas.
The very basis of these pilot culls, that badgers are the major cause of transmitting TB to cattle, is flawed. The Government has repeatedly over-played the extent to which badgers are responsible for spreading TB across England. Recent research showed that herd-to-herd transmission of bovine TB in cattle accounts for 94% of cases, while around 6% of infected cattle catch TB directly from badgers.
We must look to tackle the root of the issue: tighter cattle movement controls and improving bio-security on farms. Recent bovine TB incidents in the North of England where outbreaks are rare also demonstrates the extent to which cattle movements are spreading this disease, rather than transmission from badgers.
Additionally, the Government has not been upfront about the full cost of the pilot culls to the taxpayer, which has never been announced. The Government has been secretive and lacking transparency on the true costs of these extended culls. Some estimates now cite that the cost of the cull has spiralled to become more expensive than a vaccination programme.
By bringing together farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists, we can find a solution to the eradication of bovine TB from the UK, one which is beneficial and acceptable to all parties. This would include tackling TB in badgers focussed on badger vaccination; and enhanced cattle measures, including compulsory post-movement testing, a comprehensive risk-based trading system, and more robust bio-security on farms.