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Bovine Tuberculosis

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 12th March 2015.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 9:30 am, 12th March 2015

What assessment she has made of the lessons that can be learned from the experiences of other countries in dealing with bovine tuberculosis.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The success of the bovine TB eradication policies pursued in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Republic of Ireland demonstrates the need to bear down on the disease effectively in both cattle and wildlife.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that lessons from Ireland, in particular, show that where there is TB in wildlife it must be tackled through culling as part of any comprehensive strategy to tackle TB? If that had happened years ago when TB was known to be moving towards Cheshire at the rate of 1 mile a year, Cheshire’s farmers would not be suffering the difficulties they are today. Does he also agree that this should not be such a political issue? It is about supporting our farmers and eradicating TB.

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend makes an important point: it is not possible to eradicate this disease without tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. She rightly says that the previous Government put their head in the sands and did nothing. This is a slow-moving, difficult disease and it has to be hit hard and early, which the previous Government failed to do. At a recent NFU conference Labour confirmed again that, irrespective of the evidence and the advice of the chief veterinary officer, it would abandon the culls.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Despite the Government’s protestations, the previous Labour Government killed more badgers than any other Government. [Laughter.] Yes. The £50 million trial over 10 years concluded that such action gave no meaningful contribution to the eradication of tuberculosis. The Government’s badger culls have not just been a disaster for wildlife, but come at a huge financial cost. In the first year of the culls, the Government spent £9.8 million. With Ministers proposing to extend the badger culls, possibly to 10 areas and after that to 40 areas, how much more can taxpayers expect to fork out for these ineffective and inhumane badger culls?

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The random badger cull trials that were carried out demonstrated incontrovertibly that, over time, the cull did lead to a significant reduction in the disease, which is why the experts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recommend a cull as part of the strategy. It is absolutely wrong for Labour to say that it will ignore the evidence and the advice of the chief veterinary officer. On the costs in the first year, the cull clearly had elements of analysis, post mortem, research and policing that will not be present when we roll it out more widely. We are committed to having a badger cull as part of our 25-year strategy.