By Mary Creagh - 14th October 2012
Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh claims the plan to cull thousands of badgers to combat bovine tuberculosis is an expensive distraction, which will put a “huge strain” on the police and could even see the disease spread further.
Yesterday, an extraordinary coalition of leading scientists wrote to the Observer, calling on the Government to stop the badger cull. They stated: ‘As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.” Lord Krebs, the eminent Oxford scientist who instigated Labour's cull trial (RBCT), described it as “mindless.”
Lord Robert May, a former government chief scientist and president of the Royal Society, said: "They (the Government) are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence." The Government’s current Chief Scientist Prof Sir John Beddington body-swerved the question as to whether the cull would work, with an answer worthy of “Yes Minister” - “I am content that the evidence base, including uncertainties and evidence gaps, has been communicated effectively to ministers." That reply speaks volumes.
Bovine TB is a terrible disease and Labour wants it brought under control. Last year 26 000 cattle were slaughtered, which cost us £90 million in testing and compensation. In Government, we set up the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT). It cost £50m and remains the most extensive scientific study, over a 10-year period, on whether culling badgers reduces bovine TB. It concluded that "the reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results … suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain." Labour's approach in government was led by that science. We continue to be led by science. We spent £11 million developing a badger BCG. The Tory-led government cancelled 5 of the 6 trials and cut the research budget for Bovine TB.
The Government’s “big society badger cull” will start in days. Yet it will be bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. Official advice is that it will cost more than it saves, put a huge strain on police, and will spread bovine TB in the short-term as badgers are disturbed by the shooting.
Bad for farmers, as Defra's impact assessment states: "For farmers in cull areas, monetised costs exceed expected monetised benefits." Bad for taxpayers, who will still pay for TB testing, monitoring, and issuing licences. Providing armed police to manage any public protest at cull sites was not included in the government's 2011 cost-benefit analysis but the government estimates it will cost taxpayers £500,000 per cull area per year to police. Bad for wildlife, as it could wipe out local badger populations, putting us in breach of the Bern Convention on wildlife protection.
There is substantial scientific concern over the lack of rigour in the design, implementation, monitoring and efficacy of these culls. Labour’s RBCT trials took place over 2 weeks, involved cage trapping and shooting, and was done after sett surveys were carried out. This cull takes place over 6 weeks, involves free shooting, and there has been no badger survey before to know what percentage of badgers will be killed (to be effective, farmers need to shoot more than 70% of the badgers). So the RBCT trials are cited as “evidence” but the new culls use completely different methods and are a shot in the dark, in every sense of the word.
The Government should follow the Welsh Assembly Government and go all out on vaccination and biosecurity. We should build alliances in the EU to get restrictions on vaccinating cattle lifted. 150 000 people have already signed the e-petition against the cull.
With a backbench debate possible in the coming weeks, pressure on Ministers will build.
The Government should stop, listen to the scientists, and abandon the cull. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that must be controlled. This cull is not the way to do it.
Mary Creagh is Labour's shadow environment secretary