Thank you for contacting me about the culling of badgers. A number of constituents have raised concerns about this, and at the House of Commons recently I was pleasantly surprised to meet a constituent with detailed knowledge of both epidemiology and dairy farming – he was quite clear that culling badgers was not a good idea.
I do not support the shooting of badgers – whilst of course we should not underestimate the importance of tackling TB infection in cattle, we should only adopt disease control methods which have a good chance of working.
The initial results of the UK Randomised Badger Culling Trial in 2003 actually showed an increase of over 25% in bovine TB outbreaks – an outcome so disastrous that the reactive cull had to be suspended. Further stages of the trial confirmed that badger culling was unlikely to be of any use in controlling bovine TB, and it was on the basis of this scientific evidence that the Labour government decided in 2008 not to introduce a badger cull.
The Tory/LibDem government’s decision to go ahead with a cull was not based on the science – it appears that “a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control” somehow made its way into the Coalition Agreement, and this was subsequently replaced by a policy neither carefully managed nor science-led. It is my view that shooting badgers is very unlikely to have any positive effect on the incidence of bovine TB – it would be a waste of money, bad for farmers, bad for the public purse, bad for the community as a whole, and very bad for our wildlife.
It will be interesting to see what happens in Wales, where the Labour administration has cancelled the badger cull and replaced it with a badger vaccination programme. It seems to me that there is additional work which could be done on badger vaccination, and it is profoundly disappointing that one of the first acts of the new government in June 2010 was to reduce the six badger vaccination projects to only one area.
The other key issue is the vaccination of cattle against TB – the problem here is that we need to be able to distinguish between cows which carry TB and those which have been vaccinated. The Differentiation of Infected and Vaccinated Animals (DIVA) test is currently under development, and I am hopeful that in the longer term it will prove possible to have an effective vaccination regime for calves which will keep cattle healthy whilst allowing for their meat and milk to be cleared for human consumption.
The good news, of course, is that the government has backed down on badger culling for the time being – because of the rain and the Olympics, there will be no shooting of badgers this year. However, there is no guarantee that the cull will not go ahead next year, so we need to continue to monitor this important issue.
Thank you again for your comments, and please feel free to get back to me on this or any other issue – I am always interested to hear my constituents’ views, and happy to help where I can.
Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury