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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 1:12 pm, 13th March 2014

The reactive culling in the RBCT did fail. That is not the point. I am talking about proactive culling, which is best carried out over eight to 11 days. Reactive culling is when one kills the badgers in a small area—a hot spot—and does not go back again. The proactive culling is done over a bigger area—that is the important point—annually. It is a much more scientific approach to culling. Reactive culling does not work at all; in fact, it makes the problem a lot worse.

The 70% figure, which is an average, is based on proactive culling. It was demonstrated in the RBCT that it did deliver reductions in cattle TB incidence in the culling zone on a gradual basis. There was, however, a rapid but diminishing increase outside the zone. That is where the 16% figure in the RBCT report comes from. It is often not reported, however, that the 16% figure was based on a scenario that was more optimistic about the potential beneficial impact of culling overall. In fact, the average reduction over nine years was 12%. That is why the Independent Study Group on Cattle TB said that culling could not deliver any meaningful reduction in bovine TB. That is the key point.

Reactive culling reduced badger density by 30% and elevated cattle TB; that is the point that I was making earlier. The problem is that it is not known scientifically where between 30% and 70% removal an effect on TB is achieved, hence the importance of the 70% target. Scientifically, it is the only target that one can use to measure effectiveness.

In summary, the requirement to kill at least 70% of local badgers within six weeks was not an arbitrary target. It was a scientifically driven target. As I have said, the six-week target was set because prolonged culling over more than 12 nights further elevates TB in badgers and is expected to undermine any benefits for cattle TB control. In terms of both the length of the culling period and the targets for numbers killed, the pilot culls failed comprehensively. That prompts questions about the future of culling. If we are to go ahead with more culling, Ministers have to answer this key point: killing effectively, over less than six weeks, will require far more marksmen and far greater resources, so that we can do the work simultaneously. One of the key lessons to be learned from the pilot culls is that we would need much greater resources to do the job, and I am not convinced that taxpayers are prepared to pay for that kind of resource.

It was found in the end that the pilot culling had to make use of cage trapping in addition to free-shooting. That points to the need for much greater resources. If we include policing in the costs, we are looking at more than £4,000 per badger shot in the pilot culls. On the alternative, vaccination costs £2,250 per square kilometre covered. When looking at cage trapping, and whether to vaccinate or cull, we have to remember that vaccination is much cheaper, partly because policing costs are removed from the equation, but also because with vaccination there is no need to dispose of the carcases of badgers culled. We all know that there is a massive army of volunteers ready to help the Government conduct the vaccination. In fact, there is already an initiative to deliver vaccination on a wider scale.

I quickly want to refer to the other important part of the alternative.