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Motion to Annul the Badger (Control Area) (Wales) Order 2011

March 23, 2011 3:30 PM
By Peter Black

Peter Black: In closing this debate I will emphasise two reasons as to why I believe that this planned cull of badgers in north Pembrokeshire is misguided. The first reason is that the Minister has failed to take the public with her. Even in the intensive action area, where the incidence of bovine TB is high, there is strong resistance to the proposal. Looking at the detail of the consultation responses, we can see that, of the 13,431 responses, 9,762 stated their clear objections to the culling of any wildlife for the purposes of controlling disease in farm animals. That is 4:1 against. Furthermore, over 5,000 of the 7,122 people who answered the question as to whether access to land for culling badgers should be enforced, said 'no'. That is part of the problem. We have already seen, from the first abortive attempt to introduce this cull, exactly what that means: Government officials wearing masks and, in the company of a police escort, forcing themselves onto land in order to carry out surveys; residents who insist on the correct procedures being followed have been arrested and released later without charge; and those organising resistance have had their vehicles stopped and searched by police without good reason. In one instance, the police even entered a shop premises and removed a poster objecting to the cull. That is not the sort of society that I want to be part of, and it does the Assembly no good to be associated with tactics that will become more commonplace if this Order is confirmed.

The implications of this Order amount to a restriction on civil liberties. It puts pressure on people who previously lived harmoniously in our communities to take sides despite the science. Worryingly, it sets a precedent for how we should treat our wildlife and those who aim to protect it-with brutality. Secondly, there is the question of why the Minister has embarked on this course of action in the face of all of the science, and when the other Measures that she has already introduced are starting to have an impact. In the Dyfed area in 2008, 8,361 cattle were slaughtered in connection with the TB programme. By 2010, that figure had fallen to 4,634 cattle.

Rhodri Glyn Thomasrose-

Peter Black:I will not take an intervention. That is a 44.58 per cent reduction over two years without a single badger having been culled.

3.45 p.m.

Rhodri Glyn Thomasrose-

Peter Black: Rhodri, you have had more than a chance to have your say; let me have my say. [ASSEMBLY MEMBERS: 'Oh.']

The Presiding Officer: Order. It is quite clear that Peter Black is taking no interventions. This has been a civilised and humane debate, as it should be in this National Assembly.

Peter Black: All of us on both sides of this argument recognise that there is a need to take action to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, but the crucial difference is in how we approach that problem. I believe that cattle-based control measures are already starting to have an effect, and if combined with a vaccination programme for cattle and badgers, we could make substantial progress to eradicating TB altogether. The evidence shows that such an approach would be more effective than that currently proposed by the Minister. The final paper prepared by the Independent Scientific Group on the results of the randomised badger culling trial was released in July 2010, and has been peer reviewed. The paper concludes that there is no long-term benefit of badger culling on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. The authors of this work, all members of the ISG, conclude that,

'Our findings show that the reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results, combined with evaluation of alternative culling methods, suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.'

The Krebs report of 1997 stated that the best prospect for the control of TB in the British herd is to develop a cattle vaccine. Such a vaccine has been developed and could be used. However, I accept that EU law prohibits the live export of tested cattle, but the vast majority of cattle in this country are not exported. Consideration should be given to the number of live cattle exported each year, and the benefits and costs of this compared with the cost of culling badgers and herds with bovine TB.

A bank of evidence is available that proves that vaccination is a viable alternative, and that culling does not work to prevent disease transmission. Most recently, research by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency and the Food and Environment Research Agency showed a clear effect of vaccination on badger disease. Injectable badger vaccine is now available, and this has been shown in laboratory and field trials to reduce badger infectivity by 74 per cent. The Food and Environment Research Agency modelling studies shows that if this were applied, the bovine TB reduction would be similar to that of badger culling. Culling benefits show a downward trend shortly after culling ends, and are predicted to return to zero. Vaccination benefits are likely to progressively build, as an increasingly smaller proportion of the badger population is infectious.

Claims by the Government and others that infected badgers will remain are spurious and disingenuous. That is how all vaccines work, by reducing the number of susceptible individuals in the population that might transfer infection. We must also remember that even with the cull, the Government does not anticipate eliminating the badger population in the action area altogether. We hear that this cull will eradicate the disease, but that is by no means the objective or the reality of what will happen as a result of it. Indeed, most of the badgers that will be killed will be disease-free.

Badgers are a protected species and have a role to play in our environment and food chains. No-one can deny that the stress of having bovine TB in the herd can cause to farmers. However, the stress caused to landowners opposed to the cull who may be forced to allow access must also be considered. The Minister's approach fails to consider the impact on the tourism industry of the cull and the associated financial costs to it. Although we do not have specific data for badger tourism in Wales, the Wales visitor surveys of day and staying visitors for the period April to October 2009 revealed that 52 per cent of day visitors felt it was very important for a destination to conserve its wildlife and plants, and that 37 per cent felt it was quite important. Similarly, 58 per cent of staying visitors thought that it was very important for a destination to conserve its wildlife and plants, and 36 per cent thought that it was quite important. The contribution of wildlife to the Welsh economy is valuable, and should also be considered in any decision relating to the harms and benefits of this cull.

The ruling of the Court of Appeal in July that the earlier Order that applied to the whole of Wales was unlawful is still relevant. The new Order is specific to an intensive action area that covers north Pembrokeshire and includes areas of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.However, whether the Minister has accounted for the two other counts on which the court ruled is, in my opinion, open to question. They were that culling would not yield a substantial benefit as required by the Animal Health Act 2002 and that there was not the necessary balance between the disbenefits to wildlife and any benefits of eradication.

The Minister's statement, when she launched the consultation Order on this, stated that through culling alone she expects

'to have reduced bovine TB in cattle in the area by approximately 22%, preventing an estimated 83 confirmed herd breakdowns that would otherwise have occurred in the absence of culling badgers in the area.'

As the Badger Trust points out, the statement fails to explain that an extrapolation of the last two years' figures, for 2008 and 2009, for Dyfed means that there will be 6,255 breakdowns over 10 years. Therefore, 83 over that period would be 13 in a 1,000, which is hardly substantial and, in my view, a reckless gamble.

In proposing this motion, we hope that we have demonstrated that this cull is unnecessary, unwanted and contrary to good practice. We believe that it will exacerbate the problem, not solve it, and it will divide the local community and prove to be a foolish and reckless folly. This should not be a matter to be decided in the last weeks of the Assembly, but revisited afresh by the new cohort of Assembly Members after the elections. I ask therefore that you support the motion and throw out this Order.

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