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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 4:13 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (Wales) 4:13 pm, 13th March 2014

Tuberculosis infection is of major concern to our farming community. The distress that is caused by having to slaughter cattle is immense. Labour Members are fully committed to making progress towards eradicating bovine TB, but we do not believe that culling is the answer.

We know that 94% of TB infection is caused by cattle-to-cattle transmission and only 6% by badger-to-cattle transmission. It therefore makes sense to focus significant efforts on biosecurity, animal husbandry and cattle vaccination. Cattle vaccination puts the farmer firmly in control. I therefore urge the Government, first and foremost, to redouble their efforts to develop an effective vaccine that can be used and tests that can distinguish between vaccinated and sick animals, and to sort out the obstacles to effective trade. In the meantime, as hon. Members have pointed out, a great deal can be done through greater insistence on vigilance, biosecurity and pre-movement testing.

In calling for an end to the Government’s costly and cruel culling programme, I will focus on alternative strategies. I will therefore draw hon. Members’ attention to the measures that my colleague, Alun Davies AM, who is the Minister for Natural Resources and Food in the Welsh Government, is implementing to tackle TB in cattle.

In Wales, a whole range of measures are being used to strengthen biosecurity. It is early days to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures, but there are some encouraging signs. From December 2012 to November 2013, there was a reduction of 23% in the incidence in new herds and a 33% reduction in the number of animals slaughtered. Since 2010, pre-movement testing has applied to all herds. From 30 September this year, sole occupancy authorities will not automatically be exempted from pre-movement testing. The Welsh Government have also intensified enforcement of cross-compliance penalties for late bovine TB tests. The majority of farmers already comply with the requirements, but this will improve consistency.

In April 2013, the Welsh Government set up a specialist study to look at the regional factors affecting the pattern of disease in Wales to ensure the very best use of resources. Last October, they launched the Cymorth TB programme, or the TB support programme. Its purpose is to give farmers extra help in dealing with a bovine TB breakdown, including help from local vets, and to help farmers to remain TB-free in future.

The Welsh Government have also implemented a badger vaccination programme. In the intensive action area in north Pembrokeshire, 1,400 badgers were vaccinated in 2010, the first year, with another 1,350 badgers vaccinated in 2013. Participation is voluntary and there has been very good co-operation from landowners. The Welsh Government are also providing a badger vaccination grant, which will meet 50% of the costs of badger vaccination for five years. In June, Wales will host the world mycobacterium bovis conference. This will be an opportunity to share expertise and the experience of implementing measures to eradicate TB.

One of the most depressing truths about the recent cull by this Government is that it was not based on the strongest scientific evidence available in the first place. It need never have taken place. Under the previous

Labour Government, we commissioned the randomised badger cull trials, the largest scientific project on the effectiveness of culling, which reported in 2007. The report of the independent scientific group on cattle TB stated:

“After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain.”

As other hon. Members have graphically described, we have witnessed the spectacular failure of the cull. That failure, sadly, was predictable. In conclusion, I call on the Government to work closely with the Welsh Government to look at alternatives to the discredited cull programme for the benefit of farmers across England and Wales.