Chris Williamson MP: A Corbyn-led Labour Government will ban the badger cull
Labour MP Chris Williamson writes ahead of his Westminster Hall debate on badger culling.
The badger cull was first authorised five years ago and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight, despite experts saying it does more harm than good. It is yet another issue where the contrast between Labour and the Conservatives couldn’t be starker because a Corbyn-led Labour Government will ban the badger cull.
The costs of this scientifically illiterate endeavour have been estimated to be more than £50 million, but Defra hasn’t released a full break down of all public costs since 2015. What have ministers got to hide?
Ironically there is a humane alternative, which is considerably cheaper than cage trapping and shooting badgers. Wildlife and badger groups are cage trapping, vaccinating and releasing badgers for less than £200 per badger, which compares favourably to the £1,000 per badger killed by the cull.
The recent Zoological Society of London (ZSL) report found that badger vaccination was a viable alternative to culling. For a party that claims to be custodians of the public purse, the Conservatives have been remarkably tardy about undertaking a full cost benefit analysis to compare badger vaccination to culling.
Sir Charles Godfrey was tasked with reviewing the government’s TB policy, but his report has not been published. It remains to be seen whether he considered vaccination as an alternative to the present badger killing spree.
The need to find a replacement to the cruel cull was highlighted last month when horrific video footage from the Cumbria cull zone emerged. It showed a badger being shot in a cage and taking almost a minute to die. It was then removed from the cage without being sealed in a bag, as required under biosecurity guidelines. This incident demonstrates that supervision of the contractors undertaking this grisly cull is non-existent.
But putting the barbarity of the callous cull to one side for a moment, the government’s claim that it is reducing bovine TB in cattle doesn’t stand up to examination. The ZSL says there is no robust evidence that exterminating badgers is reducing bovine TB in or around the cull zones. In fact, there are approximately the same proportion of TB infected cattle herds now as there were when the cull started in 2013.
The truth is the government has been looking in the wrong direction. The reason TB continues to spread in cattle herds is due to poor TB testing, inadequate biosecurity and deficient movement controls.
Experts say that the TB skin test, which is the primary method of identifying TB in cattle, is unreliable and leaves on average one in four cows undetected. There other more accurate methods that are more expensive, but farmers have to meet the extra cost. We can only speculate as to why the government isn’t supporting the roll-out of a more accurate test.
The combination of poor biosecurity controls and the defective testing methodology means that activities such as slurry spreading on farms is a potentially problematic practice because slurry can contain TB bacteria.
Consequently, these factors mean that as millions of cattle continue to be moved across the country, with insufficient movement controls, new outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle are inevitable.
The scientific evidence that was available before Natural England authorised the cull in 2013, and the data that has emerged over the last five years, proves that the government’s policy is completely wrongheaded and counterproductive.
Ministers would do well to ponder on Cicero’s maxim that ‘anyone can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in their error.’
Chris Williamson is the Labour MP for Derby North