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Licences to cull badgers for control of tuberculosis: repeal

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 5th March 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:30 pm, 5th March 2020

Bovine TB is one of our most difficult animal health challenges. It costs the Government about £100 million a year and industry around £50 million a year. Tackling it is important. It imposes a tremendous pressure on the wellbeing of our cattle farmers and their families. Many Committee members, including me, represent constituencies that are exposed to the misery of bovine TB on a daily basis. Left unchecked, bovine TB also poses a threat to public health although that is, to a large extent, mitigated today by milk pasteurisation. My grandfather died of tuberculosis, so I have always taken a close personal interest in the subject. It is a peculiar and complicated disease that it is important for us to take seriously.

No single measure will achieve eradication by our target date of 2038, which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions, including culling and vaccination, to deal with the risk from wildlife. Of course culling is a controversial policy, but we have scientific evidence to show that, to a certain extent, it is working. The new review is clear that the evidence indicates that the presence of infected badgers poses a threat to local cattle herds. The review considers that moving from lethal to non-lethal control of disease in badgers is desirable. Of course, we would all go along with that. We have reached a point where intensive culling will soon have been enabled in most of the areas where it has served the greatest impact. As announced in the Government response today, we will be able to develop measures to make badger vaccination, combined with biosecurity, the focus of addressing risks from wildlife as an exit strategy from intensive culling. Our aim is to allow future badger culls only where the epidemiological evidence points to a reservoir of disease in badgers.

Nobody wants to cull badgers inappropriately, but nor can we allow our farmers, their families and our wider dairy and beef industries to continue to suffer the misery and costs caused by the disease. That is why it is right that we take strong and decisive action to tackle the problem effectively, while always looking to evolve towards non-lethal options in future. I therefore do not think the new clause is appropriate.