Welsh farm leaders still confident on badger cull

WELSH farming leaders have expressed confidence that the introduction of a new Labour Rural Affairs Minister will not derail plans for a west Wales badger cull.

The Farmers Union of Wales said the new administration would look ‘ridiculous’ if it abandons plans for a cull, given the level of cross-party support shown previously. 

Plaid Cymru’s Elin Jones, who has pushed forward plans for a cull in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire as part a Welsh TB eradication programme during her time as Welsh Rural Affairs Minister, is set to be replaced by a Labour Minister.

Ms Jones retained her Ceredigion constituency seat with a 1,777 majority in last Thursday’s election, despite considerable opposition from some campaigners over her policy on badger culling .

But the elections were a triumph for Labour, which secured secure 30 seats, up four, while Plaid Cymru, its former coalition partner, got only 11, down four.

Even though Labour fell just short of the 31 needed to give it a majority in the Assembly, party leader Carwyn Jones has confirmed will seek to go it alone with a minority Government and is set to appoint a Cabinet containing solely Labour Ministers today.

Among those touted as possible successors to Ms Jones was Alun Davies, AM for Blaenau Gwent, recently chaired the Assembly’s Rural Development sub-Committee. There was also speculation Mr Jones could seek to merge the Environment and Rural Affairs portfolios into one.   

The approach of Ms Jones successor to bTB and the planned west Wales will be closely monitored by farmers and opponents of the cull alike. The Order permitting a cull is already in place, although the Badger Trust has signalled its intention to challenge it in the courts.

In its manifesto, the Welsh Labour Party left its options open, saying it would ‘take a science-led approach to evaluate and review the best way of tackling Bovine TB’, potentially paving the way for a  review before pressing ahead with any cull.

But FUW TB spokesman Brian Walters pointed out that the Order permitting the Welsh badger cull was challenged in the Assembly in March, AMs overwhelmingly supported the proposed cull by 42 votes to eight.

He said the new Welsh Assembly Government would ‘look ridiculous if it did not carry forward the plans agreed previously, and repeatedly supported by the majority of those who have been returned as AMs’.

“Delays and procrastination under the guise of a review would simply add to the crippling impact of the current epidemic,” he said.

He added that ongoing data from the English badger culling trials recently showed culling ‘to be even more effective and long lasting than previously thought’.

NFU Wales deputy president Stephen James said he was confident the new administration would press ahead with the cull, given the cross-party consensus demonstrated in the March vote.

 “I expect the policy to continue,” he said. “They haven’t got a big majority and I would guess there are more important issues for the Welsh Assembly than not culling badgers.”

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