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’.