The Welsh Assembly is pressing ahead with plans to cull badgers despite opposition from the public.
On Wednesday 30 September, the TB Eradication (Wales) Order 2009 was laid before the assembly, bringing the cull a step closer. But as the political process continued an assembly official revealed that half of the 741 responses to a 14-week consultation on the TB eradication strategy opposed a cull.
Surprisingly, 11% of responses came from other parts of the UK and 21% from overseas, including from the USA.
Only 54% of the responses received from people and organisations in Wales came from within Wales, an official said. Of the Welsh responses there was far greater acceptance of the need for a cull, with 88% agreeing it was a necessary part of the eradication plan.
As Elin Jones, assembly rural affairs minister, laid the order she stressed that the legislation did not, in itself, mean the start of a badger cull. It meant that an important part of the preparatory work was complete.
However, assembly members had 21 days to “call in the order” for debate and a vote by the whole assembly within 40 days.
“TB in cattle is one of the biggest threats facing the dairy and beef industry in Wales,” Ms Jones said. “Last year over 12,000 cattle were culled because of the disease and nearly £25m spent in compensation.
“We have already slaughtered over 8000 cattle this year; this time last year it was just over 7000. By 2014 the cost to the tax payer could be £80m if action to eradicate TB is not taken.”
The order provided the necessary legal powers for a Welsh Assembly Government managed cull.
But a possible cull of badgers was just part of a comprehensive eradication plan.
Her TB Health Check Wales initiative, which involved stepping up testing, had identified nearly 100 new herd breakdowns that might not have been discovered for another four years.
The number of overdue tests had been cut by 97% to 18, and every herd in Wales would be tested in 2010.
“I am still of the view that a badger cull in an Intensive Action Pilot Area is necessary as part of our eradication programme.
“Work is well underway on environmental considerations, and to identify the exact boundaries of the IAPA, which I have already indicated is likely to be in the north Pembrokeshire area.”
The final decision on a badger cull would depend on the outcome of that work. Elsewhere in Wales the assembly would adopt control strategies suitable to locality and incidence of the disease.