The Liberal Democrat’s Agriculture spokesman - Andrew George MP - has warned that the Government’s proposed badger culling ’pilots’ risk making animal disease worse.
The Government announces its plans to press ahead with its badger control measures today. They intend to commence with two pilot areas of at least 150 sq km in which at least 70% of the badger population would be killed by farmers and landowners licensed to use a method of ’controlled shooting’ - probably involving the employment of contractors.
Mr George said, "This is an untried and untested method. Controlling the Bovine TB epidemic is crucial for our farmers many of whom have had their herds devastated by this disease.
"However, this proposal seriously risks making the situation worse.
"In 2009 nearly 15% of herds in the south west were under Bovine TB restrictions. Across the UK over 25,000 cattle had to be slaughtered at a cost to the taxpayer of ’63 million. Each confirmed TB incident in cattle costs on average around ’30,000. ’20,000 falling on the Government. The rest on the farmer. Not only does it destroy the lives of cattle, but it devastates the lives and livelihoods of the farmers and their families.
"Let me make it clear, I am not squeamish about culling badgers, if that is what needs to be done. I supported the badger culling trials in my own constituency in the late 1990s. I faced strong opposition at the time, but believed then, as I do now, that the proper and effective control of this terrible disease had to be based on evidence based science.
"The Coalition Agreement promised a ’carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control’. But the scientists behind the extensive Government trials of the last decade and a half have criticised the policy saying that it ’can hardly claim to be based on scientific evidence’ (Lord Krebs).
"If the Government goes ahead with the pilots then they will have to make sure that they’re thoroughly and rigorously evaluated before rolling the project out. A decade ago it was failure to adopt effective cattle movement control measures when restocking after the foot & mouth outbreak that worsened the problem. Destabilising the settled badger population threatens to make the problem even worse.
"The Government correctly promises a ’package of measures’, but I don’t believe that this particular measure will help. Badger control may be necessary in some areas, but I don’t think this is the way of going about it."