Badger culling proposals condemned by Hilary Benn

By John Whitney

Former Secretary of State for DEFRA Hilary Benn condemned government plans to combat bovine tuberculosis through badger culling.

The proposals, which would see farmers issued with licences to cull badgers at their own expense, are open for public consultation and could come into effect by May 2011.

Speaking at a National Farmers Union event at the Labour Party Conference at the Palace Hotel, Mr Benn said he was disappointed the coalition had decided to go down the culling route when years of scientific research suggested it may even have an adverse effect.

Mr Benn said: “The decision against culling was made with the help of years of scientific study, and it’s a decision I stand by today.”

An independent government study on badger culling that ran from 1998-2007, suggested licensing farmers to cull would not only fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but may help spread the disease through increased incidence of TB in cattle.

He added: ‘’Shooting badgers may make ministers feel like they are doing something, but it is not the way to beat this disease.’’

He believed a vaccination programme to tackle the disease in badgers was the better option and expressed his disappointment that five of the six demonstration projects, designed to show farmers how to vaccinate badgers directly, had been scrapped.

The proposals are initially meant for areas with a high infection rate, meaning the Greater Manchester area won’t be affected early on.

But with many North West farmers present at the event, the subject of badger culling still proved to be both emotive and divisive, in the audience as well as on the panel.

Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers Union, argued that scientific research wasn’t the only consideration, and that public acceptability on the matter was also vital because of the effect the disease has had on farmers.

But Mr Benn argued it would be neither practical nor publicly acceptable, and getting it wrong could actually make matters worse.

The man behind the new proposals, Farming Minister Jim Paice, said scientific study indicated vaccination alone would not reduce the disease as quickly as it would in conjunction with culling.

Mr Paice added: ‘’By using vaccination in combination with culling, it is possible to maximise the effectiveness of badger control in reducing bovine TB in cattle.’’

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