Conservative MPs warn against an early end to badger culling

Conservative MPs have warned against ending the badger cull early before other viable options are available to tackle bovine tuberculosis.

Fields trials for a cattle vaccine and a new skin test, which can detect infected cattle among vaccinated cattle, got under way in England last summer.

But it could take at least another two to three years before the results are known and market authorisation for both tests is approved.

See also: Defra dismisses study claims on TB badger cull effectiveness

In the meantime, Bill Wiggin, Conservative MP for North Herefordshire, warned that stopping the cull now, before the necessary protections are in place, would be “counterproductive, irresponsible and impossible to justify”.

Speaking during a debate on badger culling in Westminster Hall on Monday (21 March), Mr Wiggin said official data from Herefordshire – where badger culling has been taking place in parts of the county since 2016 – shows that confirmed TB breakdowns are at their lowest levels since 2006.

Cattle slaughterings down

Fewer cattle are being slaughtered in the county – down from a high in 2005 to 1,341 last year. “This shows that the cull is working – it is not necessarily helpful to people who love badgers, but it does work,” he added.

Mr Wiggin, who also farms and has been breeding Hereford cattle for 15 years, told how his best bull succumbed to TB last week after he leant it to a neighbour, who was serving abroad in the Army and could not have artificially inseminated his cattle as he was not there.

He insisted the bull should be tested for TB before it was taken back to his own farm, but it failed.

“I think he is still alive, but he won’t be for much longer,” said Mr Wiggin. “It was really upsetting. That is the first time it has happened to me.”

Chris Loder, Conservative MP for West Dorset and a farmer’s son, said data from the Animal and Plant Health Agency shows that 64% of new TB cases in cattle in high-risk areas, such as the South West, are transmitted from badgers.

“That statistic leads to 28,000 cattle being slaughtered [in England] every year,” he added.

“I am not saying badgers are completely responsible for bovine TB in cattle in this country, but they have a significant role to play.

“The cows culled may be cows that are in-calf, which we see all too often.”

Labour ‘would end culls’

Robert Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, said: “If we had a vaccine that allowed us to differentiate between a vaccinated and unvaccinated animal, that policy would stand up.

“However, until we have that vaccine, the only alternative is to continue culling.”

But shadow Defra secretary Daniel Zeichner insisted that the science around the benefits of culling was unclear. Therefore, a Labour government would stop culling badgers and base its bovine TB control strategy around vaccination, testing and better biosecurity measures.

Defra confirmed last May that no new intensive licences for badger culls would be issued after this year as part of plans to transition towards vaccination.