15 November 1996

NFU dismisses labours plan to halt badger cull

By Shelley Wright

A LABOUR government would halt badger culling until a full scientific review of the current control policy was completed.

But the NFU has dismissed the proposal, accusing Labour of failing to understand the problems of the countryside.

Elliot Morley, Labours animal welfare spokesman, told a meeting of landowners, conservationists and animal welfare groups, that while his party recognised the problems that bovine TB could cause farmers, it was not convinced that the badger removal programme had been effective.

And he said the money saved on culling badgers could be used to provide extra assistance for farmers who had TB-infected cattle.

But Hugh Oliver-Bellasis, vice-chairman of the NFU parliamentary, land use and environment committee, described Mr Morleys position as foolhardy. It ignored all the evidence that badger populations were increasing, as was the incidence of bovine TB, and showed that Mr Morley did not under-stand how the countryside worked.

Claims that MAFFs badger control policy was ineffective were based on misunderstanding. The only reason the policy was not fully effective in controlling TB was that MAFF was not prepared to kill enough badgers, he said.

MAFF has already ordered an independent review of its badger control policy, and the evidence linking badgers with bovine TB. John Krebs was appointed in July, and other members of the committee should be appointed within the next month.

Mr Morley also stressed his support for further research into non-lethal methods of predator and pest control. But Mr Oliver-Bellasis said talk of non-lethal control was premature. Such technology was at least five years away from commercial application and would then have to be shown to be effective before farmers could make any judgements. That view was endorsed by the Game Conservancy Trust, which is researching some non-lethal methods of predator control.

And on the question of licensing the use of snares and traps, Mr Oliver-Bellasis said farmers and gamekeepers used them responsibly, and Mr Morley had not specified what problems he thought there were. It was worrying for farmers to think they might face more bureau-cracy through licensing where such measures had no justification.

Claims that there were too many birds of prey "are based on ignorance and not on scientific fact", insisted Mr Morley. And, in a move that delighted the RSPB, he pledged to clamp down on illegal poisoning and persecution of raptors.

Labour would also consider tightening the law on illegal poisoning of wildlife. &#42