Thank you to everyone who has contacted me recently about badger culling.
I recognise the crippling impact of bovine TB on farmers whose cattle herds have been devastated by the disease, many of whom are suffering great economic and emotional hardship as a result. I equally recognise the upset and distress that many feel at what they see as unnecessary culling of badgers.
Many scientists and others consider that the evidence is far from clear-cut that culling badgers is effective as a way of controlling bovine TB. In that context, I believe we should be working on non-lethal interventions to reduce the incidence of this terrible disease in cattle. I have therefore long supported calls for the Government to end the culling of badgers.
In 2018, an independent review of the Government’s long-term bovine TB eradication strategy called for a greater emphasis on controlling the disease in cattle and said that moving from lethal to non-lethal control of the disease in badgers is highly desirable.
In response to the review, the Government said in March 2020 that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance. It said it would accelerate work to develop a deployable cattle bovine TB vaccine within the next five years, as well as working to improve diagnostic testing.
It is therefore very concerning that Natural England has authorised badger culling in 11 new areas and 33 existing areas across England this year, which could result in up to 62,000 badgers being killed.
I am worried that this expansion undermines the new strategy for bovine TB set out in March, and in many areas could result in badgers vaccinated through taxpayer funded schemes being killed by taxpayer funded cull companies. Indeed, the Government could be in breach of its international obligations under the Bern Convention to protect vulnerable wildlife.
My Labour colleagues and I are calling on the Government to end the cull, alongside strong measures to reduce bovine TB such as improved cattle testing, vaccinating badgers and better controls on the movement of herds.