A full session of the Welsh Assembly has approved a bovine TB eradication plan that includes a limited badger cull in a disease hotspot.

After an often heated debate, members voted 38 to 12 in favour of rural affairs minister Elin Jones’s programme, which also involves testing all cattle on Welsh farms, faster removal of reactors, tougher cattle movement rules and compensation scheme changes (News, 11 April).

Opening the debate, Ms Jones emphasised that there was all-party agreement that current TB policy, which involved the slaughter of almost 8000 cattle at the cost of £15.2m in 2007, was not working and unsustainable.

Knee-jerk reaction?

She rejected claims that her plan was a knee-jerk reaction in response to lobbying by farmers. It was a holistic approach and not one that focused on wildlife alone.

“Action to eradicate this disease has to be comprehensive, taking all factors into account. There is no point tackling one source of infection and ignoring another.”

She promised to work with animal welfare groups to agree the best method of killing badgers, which would still be illegal outside the pilot area. Preparatory work to implement the eradication plan was unlikely to be finished before the autumn.

Better or worse?

Shadow rural affairs minister Brynle Williams AM applauded the decision to attempt eradication of bovine TB and insisted that ignoring wildlife reservoirs of infection would be negligent. He urged welfare groups to admit that many badgers were dying slowly and very painfully.

But Cardiff AM Lorraine Barrett claimed several investigations had indicated that, at best, killing badgers would have a modest impact on bovine TB, and could make things worse.

“The proposal is ill-thought-out and there is a risk of people boycotting Wales and its products,” Ms Barrett warned.

Labour AM Irene James agreed that nothing could do more to damage the image of Wales and Welsh farming than a badger cull based on such “flimsy” evidence.

NFU Cymru

But Vale of Glamorgan AM Andrew Davies said there had been “too much prevarication” about including wildlife in control programmes, though he questioned whether there were enough large animal vets to test all Welsh cattle in one year.

The assembly’s resounding support for the eradication proposals was welcomed by NFU Cymru.

“Today is the first day in Wales’s strategy to rid itself of this dreadful disease in cattle and badgers,” said union president Dai Davies. “No-one should be under any illusion that this will be anything other than a long and arduous journey with painful and unpalatable decisions to be taken by all parties on the way.”