Badger cull dropped in government u-turn

Badgers
Many farmers blame badgers for spreading TB in cattle Photo: ITV News Wales

This is the full statement made by the Environment Minister John Griffiths. Scroll to the bottom for background to the story.

Llywydd, bovine TB has a significant financial and social impact on farmers and the wider community in Wales. I have visited and spoken to a number of cattle farming families across Wales. I know from listening just how difficult it is and how the consequences can be devastating.

At any one time 10% of herds in Wales are under TB restrictions, with areas such as the Intensive Action Area in North Pembrokeshire being particularly badly affected. The costs to industry and government are substantial. Last year alone Welsh Government paid out just over £12 million in compensation for cattle slaughtered. We have a Government commitment to take a science led approach to tackling this serious disease and I am personally committed to the eradication of bovine TB in Wales.

In line with this commitment, last Summer I commissioned a review of the evidence base regarding the eradication of bovine TB in Wales. This was overseen by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Harries. I would like to express my thanks to John together with the Chair of the panel, Professor Chris Gaskell, and the other members for this important work.

The report, together with a considerable amount of work led by my Chief Veterinary Officer, has led to this Strategic Framework for Bovine TB Eradication covering the next 4 years.

The Strategy acknowledges that in building on the cattle control and biosecurity measures; we must deal with all sources of bovine TB, including in wildlife, if we are going to achieve our goal of eradicating this debilitating disease within the Intensive Action Area and from Wales.

For this reason, I have considered a range of options including whether culling or vaccination of badgers is appropriate.

After careful consideration I have decided to pursue a badger vaccination project.

I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to design the project to begin in the Intensive Action Area this summer and continue for five years. I have also asked her to consider other geographical areas where vaccination could also contribute to TB eradication. My intention is that the projects are developed to ensure that the potential effect can be monitored with a view to assessing impact.

Llywydd, this has been a difficult decision to take and, in making it, I have considered the likely benefits that culling or vaccination could have. Any decision to cull would need to be justified on the basis that it would be necessary to eliminate or substantially reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. In determining this matter I have considered the evidence provided to me, including scientific and legal advice. I have noted the advice on the potential benefits that might be obtained from vaccination or culling. My conclusion is that I am not at present satisfied that a cull of badgers would be necessary to bring about a substantial reduction in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle in which case I cannot authorise a cull under the Animal Health Act 1981.

The fact that I intend to authorise vaccination at present does not, and will not, preclude me from considering whatever further or new options may be appropriate and available at any time.

In taking the programme forward we will continue to work with the agriculture industry, wider rural communities, veterinary profession, eradication boards, and the Industry Advisory Group in the Intensive Action Area. These all have an important role in the eradication of bovine TB in Wales.

Our new Strategic Framework describes the comprehensive approach, which has been approved by the EU as part of the UK TB Eradication Plan, necessary to achieve eradication. Proposed policy changes include improvement in the management of long running and persistent TB herd breakdowns; the piloting of an audit of TB testing carried out by Official Veterinarians in Wales; a voluntary scheme to see how bovine TB breakdown data may be made available to neighbouring farms; and the establishment of an advisory service which will provide a full range of business and personal support to farmers affected by TB. All of these measures are aimed at ensuring that we continue to take a robust and consistent approach in dealing with this epidemic.

TB eradication is a long-term commitment that will require the application of new technologies and scientific developments as they become available. For example, there are technical and legal reasons why cattle vaccination is not a viable option at the moment but in order to put Wales at the forefront if it does become available, I have asked my Chief Veterinary Officer to convene a working group of experts to prepare for a cattle vaccination strategy.

Llywydd, all involved in these matters are united in wanting to see this terrible disease eradicated as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, as the Science Review states, there are no easy or quick solutions.

In order to take further steps to work towards eradication it is crucial that Government and the farming industry continue to work together towards our shared aim. The steps we are taking now are designed to make progress towards the ultimate goal of a TB free Wales.That is the purpose of our renewed comprehensive strategy and vaccination programme.

BACKGROUND by Nick Powell

A trial cull, killing all badgers in a specified area, was first promised by the Plaid Cymru Rural Affairs Minister, Elin Jones, when her party was in coalition government with Labour.

Many farmers blame badgers for spreading TB in cattle and the Welsh Government has faced a growing compensation bill for slaughtering infected herds. The Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition decided on a trial cull, even though the Labour government at Westminster said that there was not enough scientific evidence to support the idea.

The Badger Trust went to court to stop the cull going ahead and won on the grounds that the Assembly Government had not followed the correct legal procedures. Elin Jones pressed on with a fresh order for a badger cull, but lost office before it could go ahead.

Many Labour AMs were unhappy with the idea of killing badgers but the proposal gained a majority in the Senedd with Conservative support. One of the few Labour backbenchers in favour of a cull was Alun Davies, who took over from Elin Jones after the election although he was only made a deputy minister.

It was his boss, John Griffiths, who ordered a scientific review, although the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition at Westminster had already announced that the science now supported a cull and that there would be a trial in England. If Elin Jones’ plan goes ahead, Welsh Government contractors would be brought in to kill the badgers. In England farmers will be licensed to shoot them.

**The minister needs to step up and demonstrate that he has the political courage to take the tough but necessary decisions over TB. This is an issue that has been languishing in the long grass since last summer, while farmers’ livelihoods have remained at stake. The minister has dragged his heels long enough and decisive action must now be taken to eradicate this disease.

– Shadow Minister for Rural Affairs Antoinette Sandbach AM

It is one of the most politically difficult decisions that a Welsh minister has had to take. If the scientific advice is clear and unambiguous then John Griffiths will at least have some evidence to use against his critics. If the advice includes points that both the farming unions and the Badger Trust can seize on, the minister will probably find that a bumpy ride in the Senedd this afternoon is the least of his problems.