The most beguiling of recent parliamentary metaphors was spawned by the badger culling debate. Farm Minister Owen Patterson sought to shift the blame for an irrational with of policy by claiming. 'the claiming that 'The Government has not moved the goalposts, the badgers have'.
This delightful preposterous image was symptomatic of a parliamentary debate that has been prejudice rich and evidence free. More than 100,000 petitioners are calling for an end to the badger cull and cancellation of plans to expand the slaughter to new areas, The petition says that, Since 2013, thousands of badgers have been killed in a Government cull attempting to control bovine TB. Against scientific advice & before a 4 year trial has completed, the government is now expanding the cull to new counties - tens of thousands of healthy badgers could be killed.
Experts in disease control and animal welfare agree that pilot badger culls have proven both ineffective and inhumane. Shooting badgers is also expensive, costing tax-payers some £5,000 per animal. Bovine TB is a serious problem but killing badgers is not the solution, and could actually make the situation worse. It is a costly distraction from an effective solution incorporating vaccination, increased cattle movement control measures and improved testing.
The issue divides Great Britain. In Scotland cattle herds are TB-free and no culling takes place. In Northern Ireland a 5 year research project is being conducted to test the effects of culling infected badgers and vaccinating non-infected badgers. The Welsh Government has rejected culling in favour of vaccination. The Republic of Ireland has been culling badgers for 32 years. In 2014 the Government started a four-year vaccination pilot trial programme to try and phase out culling in favour of vaccination. They have already purchased TB vaccines from Canada to ensure they have enough to continue.
The Government's long-term Strategy for achieving TB free status for England was published in April 2014. It set out the range of measures, including increased biosecurity on farms and culling, intended to eradicate Bovine TB by 2038. There are problems. The Strategy relies on culling. The Krebs trial in England produced a net reduction of 16% of new incidents of bovine TB over nine years. In contrast, the number of new incidents in Wales has fallen by 47% in eight years through tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity, more testing, and no culling. The testing measures are not robust. the International Fund for Animal Welfare state inaccurate testing is costing farmers with hundreds of cattle potentially being killed unnecessarily. The tuberculin skin test is reportedly 80% accurate, meaning one in five tests are wrong. This means infected animals could be accidentally left in the herd to infect other cattle, and false positives mean some cattle will wrongly be slaughtered.
IFAW state that Government may apply early for TB free status for the low risk areas of England. These areas were historically bTB free. The cull has not been a factor in that. Monthly TB incidence statistics from DEFRA show that alongside a reduction overall in new herd outbreaks in the high risk areas, there has been an increase in incidents in the surrounding areas. Between November 2015-16 there were 36 new herd incidents where official TB Free status was withdrawn. The number of cattle destroyed was up 8%.
The massive Krebs experiment reach the conclusion that Proactive culling reduced the incidence of bovine TB by 19% within the cull area, although increased it by 29% up to 2 km outside the cull area. Reactive culling increased bovine TB by 25%/ Further trails prove that they were no permanent benefit from culling.
It costs £6,700 to cull each badger.In Ireland farmers have been contributing towards the cost of the TB eradication scheme since 1979 through the payment of disease levies. In addition farmers pay for annual testing. In the UK all costs are paid by the taxpayers. If farmers were to pay for their own solution in England and were not compensated for their losses chances are they would choose vaccination and better biosecurity over the proven failure of badger culling. In contrast the number of new incidents in Wales has fallen by 47% in eight years tighter cattle control, improved bio-security , more testing and no cull.
There is new element in the debate. The Kimblewick hunts over land in six counties, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire The Hunt's hounds are infected with bovine TB. Campaigners against the badger cull have long complained about poor farm hygiene and the feeding by hunts of disease-ridden 'fallen cattle' carcasses to foxhounds. But the fact that 25 of its foxhounds had to be put down because they were infected with bovine TB, with a further 120 undergoing testing, has been a cause for worry.
Hound excrement may even be infecting badgers with bTB. Defra's online map that plots where the current outbreaks are shows several occurring within the hunt's territory. The Kimblewick Hunt had been sitting on the news since December. The problem could be widespread.There are reports that some farmers, belatedly trying to protect their cattle, have banned hunts from their land. Those local to the hunt kennels are refusing to let the hunt exercise the hounds on their land. It has been suggested that the hounds have been fed raw, TB-infected meat. Although this would be a contravention of meat hygiene rules and bTB. controls. If the Government deny this then what are they doing to establish the cause?
Hounds travel to hound shows across the country. They move freely without testing or controls. Hunts often receive invites to be guests of other hunts.
The Government have been permissive and unscientific and always are eager to bow to farmers’ interests. He knew the threat from hunting hounds may change that. Perhaps for once, evidence will rule in parliament.