Labour opens website for opponents of badger cull

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LABOUR today steps up its campaign against the coalition government’s decision to support a badger cull – by launching an online petition.

It does so in the knowledge that most farmers are passionately in favour of a cull, because they see no other way of slowing down the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

However, the party has also noted that polls of the general public suggest that at least two thirds are against a cull.

Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs in the last Labour government, opposed it because he thought the science was unconvincing and he was concerned at the prospect of conflict between angry farmers and animal rights militants with a unifying issue.

He was replaced as Shadow Spokesperson on Defra issues by Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield, but she has maintained the same view.

She announced last night that she had written to 25,000 likely sympathisers, from previous countryside and animal welfare campaigns, asking them to lobby their MPs against a cull. She added that the Labour Party would be launching a website today – at www.NoBadgerCull.com – where people can register their opposition.

Mrs Creagh said: “The Government’s plans have been criticised by leading scientists as an untested solution which may increase the problem, as badgers wander further afield once shooting begins. The Government’s own impact assessment states that ‘costs exceed expected monetised benefits’.

“Bovine TB is a terrible disease but the Government’s plans to cull badgers are bad for farmers, bad for badgers and bad for the taxpayer. We need a science-led policy to manage cattle movements and develop a vaccine to tackle TB in badgers and cattle. Instead, the Tory-led Government has reduced the number of vaccine trials Labour commissioned to just one.”

Caroline Spelman, Conservative successor to Mr Benn at Defra, announced last month that she was “minded” to support a cull in the south west of England, where TB problems are worst.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers, and we’re investing in research,” she said. “But we simply can’t afford to keep waiting. I wish there was some other practical way of dealing with this.”

Because of the certainty of legal challenges and the breeding pattern of the badger, it is now impossible that a cull could take place before next summer.

Meanwhile, Defra is holding another public consultation on the issue. It runs until September 20 and details are also online – at www.defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/07/19/bovine-tb/

Last year, 25,000 cattle were slaughtered for TB control in England, at a cost to the taxpayer of £90m in testing costs and compensation for farmers.