With the public fully backing it, the Welsh Labour Government is continuing to pursue its successful programme to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
For the second year running, Labour has invited grant applications from privately delivered vaccination projects for badgers, which have been blamed for cattle contracting the disease.
The badger vaccination grant covers half the costs incurred by any farmer, landowner and others. Wales began vaccinating badgers in 2012 and within 12 months over 1,400 badgers were trapped and vaccinated. In 2013 there was a 23% drop in new bovine Tuberculosis herd incidents and the numbers of cattle slaughtered fell by a third. This success has encouraged other organisations to adopt a similar approach with the Sharpham Trust educational charity adopting a 3-year programme last summer.
No wonder the Welsh Government has appealed to the UK Government to look across the border but the Tories appear determined to push on with their highly contentious culling programme. This is despite a 10-year scientific study between 1997 and 2007 that found culling made no difference and might even spread the disease by forcing badgers to flee.
A trial cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013 proved to be disastrous with just over a third of the intended 5,000 badgers shot at an estimated cost of £4,121 each, far more than it costs to trap and vaccinate the animals. The standard set to declare the culls humane were exceeded.
A humiliated environment secretary Owen Paterson was forced to announce that the planned national roll out was being abandoned but also chose to dig a bigger hole by agreeing to continue the cull trials in the two counties in 2014.
The Badger Trust and Humane Society International then sought to prevent the futile exercise but in November 2014 the Court of Appeal rejected their appeal that no independent expert panel had been appointed to oversee the killings.
The results of the cull were announced by Defra in December. They showed that 341 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire, well short of the 615 minimum. In Somerset the minimum target was 316 and 341 were shot. Taken together the minimum target in both counties was missed by 249.
Despite this further failure, Paterson’s successor, Liz Truss, who was appointed in July 2004, has announced that the government “is determined to continue with a strategy that includes culling.”
In comparison, Labour’s shadow agricultural minister, Maria Eagle, has confirmed, “Labour will put a stop to these inhumane, ineffective badger culls.” Labour is backed by the vast majority of electors as when the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild commissioned a poll they found 70% opposed culling and 89% of those who expressed an opinion wanted the UK government to adopt the Welsh vaccination programme.