Welsh farmers have accused the government of failing to get to grips with bovine TB and insisted a selective cull of badgers is necessary to eradicate the disease.
Alex Thomas, Welsh Labour candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire, came under fire from farmers at a joint NFU and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) hustings event ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections on 5 May.
Montgomeryshire-based cattle farmer Edward Charlton accused the Labour administration of “doing nothing” to tackle TB eradication for farmers in Wales.
Mr Charlton weighed in to representatives of other political parties at the event, held in Llanindrod Wells on Friday 8 April, saying they had not held Labour to account. He also questioned whether any parties had “the backbone to do anything on TB”.
Addressing Mr Thomas, Mr Charlton said: “Isn’t is time to stop pursuing the non-policy which you have got? Who is wagging the tail in the Welsh Assembly?
“Is it Dr Glossop [Wales’ chief vet] wagging the tail of introducing these rules? Or is she introducing the rules which you Assembly members have concocted together to avoid the big question, which is: ‘what are we going to do about wildlife?’
“It has just been parked in a cul-de-sac. You are all culpable in this.”
Labour defends record on bovine TB
Mr Thomas hit back, saying Labour had introduced a “raft of measures, some large and some small” to tackle TB.
He added: “They have had an effect… But we have run out of vaccine. There is a global shortage of BCG vaccine. It’s being prioritised towards human vaccinations. I’d dare anyone to disagree with that particular decision.”
Mr Thomas said Labour was against the culling of badgers as part of measures aimed at reducing TB primarily because of the “perturbation” effect in which culling leads to badgers fleeing and spreading disease to other areas.
Representatives of the five main political parties were asked if they would support a selective cull of badgers in Wales, if science proved the measure to be effective.
Four out of five Welsh Assembly candidates indicated they would support a science-led policy on badger culling. But Labour’s Mr Thomas said radically new scientific evidence would be needed to reverse his party’s view on culling.
Kirsty Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who is fighting to keep her seat for Brecon and Radnorshire, said she was in favour of culling, despite a difference of views in her party.
“We have gone as far as we can with regards the measures that farmers can take themselves,” she said.
“I believe the science is emerging from the cull in England that backs up the argument. But until we do something about TB in wildlife, we will never see the reductions in disease that we need.”
Culling must be ‘science-led’ policy
Gethin James, a Ukip councillor and Assembly election candidate for Ceredigion, said: “If it means having to cull some smaller black-and-white animals, over the larger black-and-white animals, then that is the route that we need to take.
“It does need to be science-based and if there are measures to test badgers and just cull the ones that are infected, I am all in favour of that.
“We have to deal with the issue of bovine TB. That hasn’t been dealt with up until now.”
Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru candidate for the North Wales region, said the badger vaccination policy had been a “shambles”, adding: “I would not be afraid of introducing a badger cull if the science led in that direction.”
Aled Davies, a farmer and Welsh Conservative candidate in Mid and West Wales, said: “Personally, I believe that if your farm goes down with TB, you should be able to get a licence from the local authority to give you permission to deal with that problem on your farm.
“That would be a targeted approach to the problem and it would clear out TB overnight.”
Union vows to ‘up the ante’
NFU Cymru president Stephen James, who chaired the hustings event, pointed out that TB breakdowns had risen in 2015, which appeared to suggest that the benefit of farmers testing cattle annually for TB in Wales was “now wearing off”.
He said: “It [badger culling] is vital for us. There are various ways of asking for licences. That’s what they are doing in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset at the moment.
“We will be asking the next government in Wales, whatever shape or colour it may be, to up the ante on it.”