Coalition split over badger cull plan

Cracks have emerged in the coalition government over plans for a badger cull to curb bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman, Andrew George, has warned that the government’s proposed cull risks making the disease worse.

Mr George, MP for St Ives in west Cornwall, issued a statement within hours of an announcement by DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman on Tuesday (19 July).

Subject to a nine-week consultation, Mrs Spelman unveiled plans to commence culling badgers in two pilot areas next summer. Marksmen would be employed to shoot at least 70% of the badger population in two undisclosed TB hotspot areas, she said.

But Mr George said: “This is an untried and untested method.” Controlling the bovine TB epidemic was crucial for farmers who had seen their herds devastated by this disease, acknowledged Mr George. But he warned: “This proposal seriously risks making the situation worse.” Despite the coalition government between the Tories and Liberal Democrats, DEFRA is one of few departments with no Liberal Democrat ministers.

Although the decision to cull badgers was approved by the Cabinet, the Lib Dems have no Cabinet representation when it comes to agriculture.

Mr George said the government’s coalition agreement promised a “carefully-managed and science-led policy” of badger control.

“If the government goes ahead with the pilots then they will have to make sure that they’re thoroughly and rigorously evaluated before rolling the project out.

“A decade ago it was failure to adopt effective cattle movement control measures when restocking after the foot and mouth outbreak that worsened the problem.”

Destabilising the settled badger population by shooting threatened to make the problem even worse, Mr George added.

“The government correctly promises a ‘package of measures’, but I don’t believe that this particular measure will help. Badger control may be necessary in some areas, but I don’t think this is the way of going about it.”

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