Defra secretary Therese Coffey has given her clearest indication yet that her department will continue to cull badgers to tackle bovine TB in England, if the science shows it is working.
Speaking at a media briefing organised by CLA Cymru at the Royal Welsh Show on Monday (24 July), Ms Coffey was asked by Welsh hill farmer Gareth Wyn Jones if she felt the UK government’s bovine TB eradication programme was working in England.
Mr Wyn Jones acknowledged that TB policy was a devolved matter – for example, the Welsh government’s eradication does not include badger culling.
But he told of the recent heartbreaking story of Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Steve Evans, who suffered a major TB herd breakdown.
“We need answers in this country. People are on their knees and nothing is being done,” said Mr Jones, addressing the minister.
“My friend [Steve Evans] has now lost 100 cows. He’s got 28 cows on farm that are heavily pregnant and are going to be killed on farm. It’s heartbreaking for a young farmer. We have to do something.
“I’d like your opinion on how we’re doing it in England.”
Ms Coffey said she was very conscious of the strong connections cattle farmers have with their livestock and how heartbreaking it can be to suffer a TB outbreak on farm.
“I’m pleased to say that last year we had a reduction in the number of cattle being slaughtered due to this particular issue,” said Ms Coffey.
“But I’ve been very clear in England. I’m not going to be held by some artificial deadline that has already been put in place. We will keep culling for as long as it is the best way to do that.”
Ms Coffey said other activities, such as trials for a TB cattle vaccine and associated diagnostic tool, were “successfully getting on as well”.
But she stressed: “I’m not just stopping culling because a predecessor gave an artificial deadline. So, I’ll be driven by the evidence and the science.
Speaking to Farmers Weekly afterwards, Mr Wyn Jones said he was impressed by Ms Coffey’s stance on TB. “I’m not a fan. But from what I’ve seen today, I was impressed.
“She didn’t shy away from the questions. She absolutely nailed it.”
Mark Tufnell, Country Land and Business Association chairman, said: “I’m very pleased to hear the secretary of state is keen to go with the scientific evidence and to continue with all the policies and tools that are available to control bovine TB.
“One of those will be culling. If culling is shown to work then it should be continued. But I fully acknowledge that vaccination has a place, as does the controlled movement and proper testing of cattle.”
“Continuing work on the quest towards finding a cattle TB and Diva test is absolutely vital.”