The Labour Party has pledged to scrap the badger cull if it wins this year’s general election.
In its pre-election document on animal welfare, called Labour: Protecting Animals, the party also commits to tackling abuse on shooting estates and keeping the ban on hunting foxes with dogs.
Shadow Defra secretary Maria Eagle told a press briefing at a London wildlife centre on Wednesday (18 February) that an incoming Labour government was committed to stopping both the badger cull pilots and a national roll out of the cull policy.
Ms Eagle, MP for Garston and Halewood, said Labour was committed to ending the “ineffective and inhumane” programme of badger culls, part of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government’s 25-year plan to eradicate bovine TB in this country.
The second year of the pilot culls ended last summer in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Defra said the pilot results in Somerset showed the policy could be carried out safely, humanely and effectively.
In Gloucestershire, marksmen missed their targets to remove at least 70% of the estimated badger population. Defra secretary Liz Truss said the results of the cull in the county reflected “the challenges of extensive unlawful protest and intimidation”.
The NFU has called for a national roll out of the culls to include other counties where bovine TB is rife, such as Devon and Cornwall.
However, the coalition government said a decision to roll out the culls would only be made after the election.
Earlier this month, speaking at a Q&A session on Sky News, David Cameron said the badger culls were “probably the most unpopular policy I’m responsible for”.
But the prime minister explained why he believed culling badgers was the “right thing to do”.
“We have lost £500m by paying compensation to farmers whose cattle have caught TB,” said Mr Cameron.
“And, if we don’t do anything about this scourge of TB, which is terrible for badgers and cattle, it’s going to cost us £1bn over the next 10 years.
“Sometimes in politics you have got to do the thing which you believe is right, even though you know it is unpopular… but I profoundly believe that part of the way to create TB-free areas is to do this [cull badgers].”
NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “We have repeatedly said that the fight against bovine TB is too important to be allowed to become a political football.
“Eradicating this disease has to be put beyond party political point scoring and populist policies designed to win votes. It is simply too serious an issue.
“Whoever is in government will be required to deal with bTB and will need to have a robust, credible eradication strategy to do so.
“We urge Labour to support the TB eradication strategy published by the government last April, which is the first comprehensive plan to control and eradicate this disease in England.
“It aims to tackle TB using every option we have – cattle controls, vaccination of badgers around the endemic areas to stop it spreading further, and culling badgers in areas where the disease is rife.”