The Labour Party’s pledge to end badger culls as a means of tackling the spread of bovine tuberculosis in the countryside has been met with scorn by farmers.
In a document entitled ‘Labour Protecting Animals’, unveiled this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the fox hunting ban, the party said the Tory-led government had gone against the findings of the previous Labour administration’s field trial which concluded badger culls could make no meaningful contribution to reducing bovine TB.
“Following repeated failures to meet deadlines and targets, they have now effectively become an inexpert unscientific mass cull with no rigorous monitoring or evaluation,” the document states.
Describing the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset as “disastrous”, the party said it would work with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control, including stricter cattle measures and prioritising badger and cattle vaccinations.
The culls took place for a second year last autumn and an official report afterwards revealed 274 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire over six weeks - short of a target of between 615 and 1,091. In Somerset, 341 badgers were culled, against a target of 316-785.
Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer endorsed the pledge, saying: “With a recent Mori poll showing that the badger cull was the fifth most common issue of complaint to MPs in 2014, Ed Miliband is only too aware of the huge, intense public anger over this cruel and ineffective policy.”
But National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond questioned the logic of Labour’s promise: “If this is a pledge to protect animals, as Labour says, it must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bovine tuberculosis.
“We do not consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses, and for which there is no cure, to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery.
“To stop the culls halfway through goes against the evidence from previous research which showed that culling over four years had a positive impact on reducing bovine TB in cattle.
“Stopping the culls early could risk making the bovine TB situation in these areas worse. The culls must be allowed to run for their full four years so the maximum disease control benefits can be achieved.”
Asked whether the Tories would continue culls beyond 2015, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss told The Yorkshire Post this week: “We are very committed to culling as part of our overall strategy, which includes cattle movement controls and vaccination in the edge areas.”
The extensive ‘edge area’ - parts of the country at the frontier of the disease - extends as far north as Derbyshire.
Yorkshire, however, remains a ‘low risk’ area according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.