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October 30, 2012 - Bill Esterson's Westminster Diary

Bill Esterson



In an embarrassing u-turn, the government has announced that its proposed cull of badgers will be postponed until next summer. Meanwhile,  in parliament, MPs voted by 147 to 28 to stop the cull altogether. You could be forgiven for thinking that a decision by MPs not to kill any badgers would be the end of the matter but the government has chosen to ignore the vote and still intends to have the cull next year.

The reason badgers are threatened is that they can pass TB on to cattle. It is believed that badgers spread TB to cattle and therefore farmers want badgers killed to protect their cattle.

The government claims that TB in cattle would be reduced if a cull of badgers were to take place. Yet scientific experts predict that any fall in the level of TB cannot be sustained in the long term by killing badgers. The reason farmers want the badger cull is to protect their cattle and their livelihoods yet the government’s own impact assessment shows that a badger cull would cost more than is spent now in compensating farmers.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Labour commissioned a 10-year scientific study (Randomised Badger Cull Trials) into managing bovine TB to establish the most effective way to protect cattle and reduce the transmission of the disease.  That trial showed that a badger cull was not an effective way of stopping the spread of TB in cattle. The Independent Scientific Group concluded, “although badgers contribute significantly to the cattle disease in some parts of the country, no practicable method of badger culling can reduce the incidence of cattle TB to any meaningful extent, and several culling approaches may make matters worse.”
The badger cull is not supported by the science, and may increase the problem by spreading bovine TB in the short term as badgers move to other areas to escape being shot.
Labour continues to support a science-led approach to dealing with bovine TB.
Lord Krebs is the leading scientist in this field and oversaw the Randomised Badger Cull Trial. He said: “I would go down the vaccination and biosecurity route rather than this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none. And it's very hard to see how Defra are going to collect the crucial data to assess whether it's worth going ahead with free shooting at all.”
And then there is the cost to the police. The police are already stretched due to 20% cuts but will now be expected to police protests and night-time shooting.
Labour has warned this government for two years that the badger cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. The evidence suggests this is the case.
It is frustrating for the farming community affected by the devastating impacts of bovine TB. However, a cull will not help resolve the issue. I was one of the 147 MPs who voted against any cull of badgers. It is time the government listened to the scientists, to the public and to parliament and put a stop to the cull once and for all.
Instead they should put their time and money into better protection of cattle and into vaccination.

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