Angry councillors made a dramatic late bid to derail plans for a pilot badger cull to tackle bovine tuberculosis, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

Liberal Democrat councillors from Gloucestershire County Council called on ruling Conservative Party councillors to stop plans for a cull in the county.

Councillor Simon Wheeler (Lib Dem) tabled a motion at a county council meeting on Wednesday (18 January), saying the scientific case for a cull had not been proven.

In the motion, Cllr Wheeler said he understood the hardship that bovine TB was causing the farming community. But he said that the trial, which had been proposed by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman, would not provide a scientific evaluation of the impact on bovine TB, and therefore “could not be supported”.

Instead, Cllr Wheeler urged the council to write to the government to prioritise research into a badger bovine TB vaccine and support landowners in improving on-farm biosecurity over any badger cull.

The motion was debated and a vote was taken, but it was voted down by ruling Conservative Party councillors, who tabled more than 50% of the vote arguing in favour of a cull.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly after the meeting, Cllr Wheeler said he was disappointed the motion had been rejected.

He pointed out that the scientific evidence in the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) report suggested a proactive cull, which would achieve a cull of at least 70% of a large area, would achieve a 16% reduction in bovine TB at best.

Cllr Wheeler said the large amounts of money spent carrying out and policing a cull would be better spent on research into a vaccine – either for badgers or cows.

Research showed that an oral vaccination for badgers and a vaccination for cattle against TB could be ready by 2015, he added.

“We’ve got to find a way around this,” he said. “It’s ridiculous to think that we could immunise people against TB in the 1950s, but we cannot vaccinate cows now.”

Bill Harper, TB committee chairman, said the work on finding a badger or a cattle vaccine was continuing but “not moving at any great pace”.

“An oral BCG vaccine for badgers has been around for many years, but the logistical exercise of trying to get it to vaccinate badgers would be so expensive,” he said.

“If you are throwing it around the floor in the hope that badgers will eat it, you could be wasting hundreds of thousands of pounds. Then you would have to deal with all the other implications of other species that eat it.”

And the government was still “many years away” from convincing the EU that it had a cattle vaccine that worked, he added.

“If there was a better solution available (than culling) we would be doing it,” said Mr Harper.

“But unfortunately, there’s no other way. The disease has gone too far and we have to take this option.”

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