Farm minister George Eustice has rejected claims from opposition MPs that the badger cull is unscientific.
MPs debated the cull in Westminster on Wednesday (7 September) following the government’s recent announcement that the policy has been extended to seven additional areas across the South West.
Natural England has agreed licences for trained marksmen to shoot badgers in Herefordshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset as part of its 25-year plan to eradicate bovine TB in England.
See also: Bovine TB – who is worst affected?
Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth, clashed with opposition MPs who questioned the science behind Defra’s decision to extend the cull.
But the minister insisted Defra “would not kill animals for fun” and the policy was based on scientific evidence from previous culls, which have shown that removing badger can reduce levels of TB in beef and dairy herds.
Previous culling trials
Mr Eustice listed a number of previous badger culling trials performed in the UK – and their resulting effects on TB in cattle.
“The Krebs review observed that between 1975 and 1979, TB incidence in the South West fell from 1.6% to 0.4%. – a 75% reduction after the cull,” said the minister.
The Thornbury badger culling trial in the early 1980s led to a drop in TB incidence in cattle herds from 5.6% in the 10 years before culling to 0.4-5% in the 15 years after – a reduction of 90%, the minister added.
Mr Eustice said 18 months after culling ended in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which ran from1998 – 2006, there was a 54% reduction in the disease.
“MPs who say we have not followed the science, I’m afraid, have not read the science,” said Mr Eustice.
“The science is clear and veterinary advice is clear. This is an evidence-based policy and you cannot remove and eradicate TB without tackling the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population.”
However, shadow Defra secretary Rachael Maskell said the cull “simply hasn’t delivered” and had failed on effectiveness and humaneness.
Ms Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, described the badger cull as a “sticking plaster” and said farmers were being given false hope. She called for more research to develop an “evidence-based approach” to tackling TB, which includes vaccination and increased biosecurity.
“Farmers continue to pay the price for a lack of evidence-based policy-making, using a one-pronged approach in this.
“We need to see scientific evidence and proper biosecurity strategy at the heart of tackling bovine TB.”