As many of you will know, the Government’s announced culling of badgers has started in an attempt to reduce the amount of tuberculosis in the countryside, particularly in cattle. Judging by the amount of people contacting MPs on this issue, it is one of the most controversial decisions the Government has taken.
I have always opposed badger culling and was one of the many MPs who campaigned hard for the last Government to adopt the development of a Tb vaccine for cattle and badgers as the solution to this problem. Sadly the Coalition has reversed course and I believe the evidence shows this will not only lead to serious harm for badgers but also will fail to tackle the Tb problem.
Parliament had a chance today to debate this issue; MPs had a chance to vote on whether to oppose a cull but it was a non-binding vote that doesn’t force the Government to do anything. This is a reflection of the over-mighty power the Government has in our political system, but that is a debate for another day. Another result of this system was that we lost the vote to oppose the cull. Government has an inbuilt majority known as the payroll vote and even if backbench MPs like myself rebel, all too often the official opposition doesn’t turn up in large enough numbers.
We heard again the flaws in the Government’s argument. Culling badgers is very difficult to do; it invariably causes a considerable amount of suffering to badgers, many of whom will be injured but escape; badgers remain a protected species and we must be looking at how to protect them. Having bands of marksmen roaming the countryside is also not a very positive thing and will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the tourist pull of the countryside. What is more is that the balance of scientific evidence shows that culling badgers does not do much to help the problem of Tb in cattle and all too often makes matters worse.
There are better solutions available. One is better cattle movement controls on farms. Another is persuading the EU to allow us to use the Tb vaccine for cattle and even more immediately we can reinstate the badger vaccine trials that this Government has cancelled. We are actually very close to finding a humane solution to this.
We must not forget the devastating impact tuberculosis has on farms that lose their cattle herds and the agricultural sector in general. Solving this problem must remain an urgent priority but it must be based on scientific evidence. The fight with the Government will continue, not least by doing further research and demonstrating that their solutions are not only ineffective but costly.