New Farming Minister insists badger cull will go ahead

FARMING Minister David Heath has insisted the Government remains 100 per committed to implementing pilot badger culls in England this autumn, despite growing public opposition to the policy.

On Monday a petition urging the Government to ‘Stop the cull’ reached 100,000 signatures, a milestone that means the issue can now be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Mr Heath mounted a robust defence of the policy when was asked during a Liberal Democrat Conference fringe meeting by a representative of League Against Cruel Sports whether he would now reconsider the policy.

He told a packed NFU/Food and Drink Federation meeting, in Brighton, on Monday evening, that he hoped the petition would pave the way for ‘sober’ Commons debate on this ‘serious issue’ but insisted the cull was justified by the scientific and that there were no viable alternatives.

He said: “This is something that fell into my in-tray and some say I should be revising the policy. I don’t think I should because I am persuaded by the science I have looked that the trials should go ahead.

“The trials are trials. They will tell whether the cull can be done in a safe, effective and humane way.”

He added that no other country has ever dealt with a serious bovine TB outbreak without dealing with the problem in feral populations.

He spoke of ‘heartbreak’ suffered by farmers whose life’s work ‘goes up in smoke’ when they experience a TB breakdown, adding that many have closed herds that can only have been infected via wildlife.

Mr Heath stressed badger culling could only be ‘part of the solution’. He said cattle controls and on-farm biosecurity would also have to be improved but insisted that vaccination was not a viable alternative to culling.

He said injectable badger vaccination, where badgers have to be trapped, injected and released for two years was ‘not realistic’, while an oral badger vaccine, potentially more practical, was not close to being available. There is no cattle vaccine in the pipeline, either, because, among other reasons, it would require the development of a test to distinguish between vaccinated and infected cattle and significant changes to EU legislation.

“Believe you me, if I had a viable vaccination programme I would take it like a shot because no-one wants to kill badgers, nobody wants to go through what will be a difficult period for all of us while this cull goes ahead,” Mr Heath said.

“The fact is we cannot offer vaccination now. I cannot see the current situation being allowed to go on and on and for TB to increase across England and eventually cover the whole of the dairy farming country.

“That is unacceptable in welfare terms, socially, to farmer and to taxpayers and I will defend the policy right the way through because we have got to do something about it.”

NFU president Peter Kendall thanked Mr Heath for his ‘excellent answer and clear steer on that decision’.

He said the 100,000 signatures collected had to be put into context. He said NFU focus groups showed the more the policy is explained to the public, ‘the more they accept we have to do something about this terrible disease’.

Mr Kendall acknowledged that ‘some people will never accept wildlife management’ when representatives from Animal Aid also challenged the Government not to ignore the petition and to ‘find a better way’.

He said: “In some areas, 70 per cent of badgers are diseased. We have got to go out and deal with that,” he said.

Joe Duckworth, chief executive of The League Against Cruel Sports said the petition should make the Government ‘reflect on their cruel and pointless badger cull policy and revealed the ‘Team Badger’ coalition hoped to get ‘at least another 100,000 signatures’.

Readers' comments (74)

  • makes no odds if the government back it or not, Its not happening in gloucestershire because the farmers are too frightened to pay.

    no pay= end of cull

    dead in the water, finished, AR wins, farmers should thank their lucky stars as a PR disaster is narrowly avoided.

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  • Chive.

    "He said injectable badger vaccination, where badgers have to be trapped, injected and released for two years"

    Is this a typo? Why two years?

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  • Gloucestershire wildlife trust have been vaccinating badgers for the last 2 years on their property. What a pity the useless government didn't start vaccinating at the same time - we wouldn't be in this mess! Badgers are scapegoats so the Gov. can say 'Look we are doing something' - The NFU are so tupid they don't realize it is a cheap way out for the Gov, no more compensation!

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  • Where is the evidence that 70% of badgers are infected? This is not true.

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  • Which scientific journal was he reading that "persuaded" him that this was the only way? The previous trial by Lord Kleb concluded that culling has the potential to exacerbate the problem. And an open-shoot policy would be even worse as there would be no way to know whether you are shooting a healthy or infected animal.

    Trapping, testing and vaccinating badgers and perhaps other wildlife (seeing as deer, rodents, and other mammels can also carry bTB), increased biosecurity and control of herds is the only viable solution to eradicate bTB for good.

    Unfortunately it costs more and has therefore been dismissed, even though the overall cost in the long-term would be infinitely less... It's like filling in a pot hole with gravel, it might solve the problem for a week, but the hole will only grow bigger over time!

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  • There is a cattle vaccine in the pipeline - this guy is proof of the intellectual laziness of this Government

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  • This extract:

    "The Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) which form the basis of the ISG’s final report and recommendations showed that even in bTB hotspots less than one in seven badgers were infected and when road-killed badgers from seven hotspot counties were examined the figures were almost the same (15 per cent infected)."

    Concludeds that there is a much less significant incidence of infection, so as above, I too would like to know where he got the 70% from?

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  • Anonymous | 25 September 2012 11:43 am

    There is a cattle vaccine in the pipeline -

    It's been there for very many years and is likely to stay there too.
    Tuberculosis has no similarities with other things we use vaccination for.

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  • The arrogance of these politicians is staggering. It would help if they got their basic facts right. I've never seen the figure of 70% badgers bTB infected written anywhere. This is a massive waste of money - farmers you are being conned!

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  • Vaccination in humans against TB - are you saying this has no effect?

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