UK Politics

Bovine TB: Parliament backs plans for trial badger culls

Badger
Image caption Opponents of the badger cull say there needs to be more investment in vaccines

MPs have rejected Labour calls for trial badger culls to be abandoned.

The government says the spread of tuberculosis, known to be carried by badgers, in cattle has cost farmers and the wider economy more than £500m.

In a Commons debate, supporters of a cull said farmers were at "their wits' end" but critics questioned its effectiveness and urged alternatives.

Calls to drop pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the summer were rejected by 299 votes to 250.

Cattle infected by TB have to be slaughtered and 28,000 were destroyed last year.

The government says scientific tests have demonstrated the link between infection in badgers and in cattle and that culling significantly reduces incidences of TB.

Ministers say they will examine the results of the six-week pilots before deciding what further action to take.

Under its plans, badgers will be shot in the open without first being trapped in cages, which is current practice.

Animal rights activists say they will take direct action to stop more than 5,000 animals being shot. They argue that vaccinating badgers would be more humane and a more effective way to stop bovine TB spreading.

Speaking in the debate, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Conservative MP for The Cotswolds, said badgers could become "vicious" when caged and seeking to vaccinate a large number of animals in TB hotspots was "simply a non-starter".

And his Conservative colleague Neil Parish, who represents Tiverton and Honiton, said farmers in his Devon constituency were "at their wits' end" over the issue and the government had a duty to act.

'Dying in agony'

But Labour's Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North, said there was no scientific evidence to suggest a cull would have the desired effects. In contrast, it would result in animals "dying in agony" and "enraging" public opinion.

"It is absolutely bonkers. It is criminal and it should stop," he told MPs.

Lib Dem MP Andrew George has suggested ministers are willing to back a vaccination trial in west Cornwall, which could cost about £2m. The St Ives MP said this would be cheaper than having to police demonstrations against badger culls and that animal welfare organisations could contribute to the cost of the experiment.

The RSPCA, which has co-ordinated opposition to the cull, has indicated it would be prepared to do so.

"We care equally about badgers and cattle but this cull simply will not work," the campaign group said.

And Philip Mansbridge, head of charity Care for the Wild, accused the government of "offering farmers false hope": "Common sense shows that culling is simply a no-win solution - killing will go on and on, and barely a dent will be made in this devastating disease."

But in a report published on Wednesday, the cross-party Commons committee said the government should use "every tool" to combat the disease. It said vaccination alone would not provide a solution.

The committee's chairman, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, said vaccines "have no impact on already infected animals" and "would be expensive to deploy"

The committee said the government would have spent £14m on vaccine research alone between 2010 and 2014.

It said an "oral, baited vaccine" for badgers would be "cheaper and potentially more practical" than trying to inject the animals but such a vaccine was some way off.

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