The possible introduction of a badger cull in Wales to tackle bovine TB has been dealt a fresh blow after Labour retained power in the Assembly elections.
For the last five years, the ruling Labour Party has rejected calls from farm leaders to introduce a badger culling policy in Wales, opting instead to vaccinate badgers.
A spokesman for Welsh Labour told Farmers Weekly: “We have voiced our opposition to badger culling in the past and that remains our stated position. We certainly don’t have any update on this.”
Labour fell short of an overall majority in the Welsh Assembly elections after UKIP gained ground, winning seven seats. However, Labour remains the largest party after winning 29 of 60 seats.
Labour could form a minority government, but it could form a coalition government with the most likely partner being the Lib Dems or Plaid.
Four of the five main political parties in Wales – the Welsh Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and UKIP – have all stated they would be willing to roll out culling in Wales, provided the policy could be proven by science to be effective.
Of the main parties, only Welsh Labour remains opposed to culling badgers as part of its TB eradication policy.
Bovine TB cases up 29% in Wales
According to Welsh government figures, bovine TB led to the slaughter of 8,246 cattle in 2015 – a 29% increase on the previous year. Farm leaders say politicians must act now to reverse this disturbing increase.
Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts said: “TB is just one of a host of major short- and long-term issues facing agriculture in Wales.
“While there are concerns that the status quo might continue in terms of failure to address the disease in badgers, a new government by definition has the opportunity to review the evidence and implement a new policy.
“The scientific evidence coupled with the failure of the Pembrokeshire vaccination trial to reduce incidents points clearly to badger culling, which we will continue to push for.”
FUW has also called for the appointment of a dedicated minister with responsibilities for farming and rural affairs.
“Agriculture and rural affairs are key to our economy, and central to addressing and dealing with the major challenges of our generation,” said Mr Roberts.
“With issues such as climate change and water management dominating agendas such as those listed in the Well-being of Future Generations Act, we need a dedicated minister to fight for the interests of our rural communities – communities for which agriculture is a cornerstone.”
NFU Cymru seeks badger cull
In the run-up to the elections, NFU Cymru outlined 11 key asks for food and farming, which it has urged the new government to implement. One of the “asks” included a call for the eradication of TB in badgers.
NFU Cymru president Stephen James said: “The Labour government has acknowledged that there is a problem in wildlife because they have been vaccinating badgers in Pembrokeshire.
“Now that that vaccine is no longer available, having acknowledged the problem, they have got to do something about wildlife.
“Personally, I think a reactive cull, similar to the one in Ireland, would be the answer in Wales, especially in the long term.”
He agreed that the next government should appoint a minister at cabinet level with responsibility for agriculture.
“In recent years the Welsh government’s portfolio holder for agriculture has not always had a seat around the cabinet table,” said Mr James.
“NFU Cymru believes that agriculture does need a voice around the cabinet table, and with so much going on, particularly in relation to the CAP, this need has now become more acute than ever.”