Parliamentary sketch – When in a badger hole, stop digging
So here we go again. A Government which made making up policy on the hoof has ended up with a generous helping of manure on its face.
This week’s publication of the Independent Expert Panel report on the Government’s badger cull pilots show that its farmer-led ‘free shooting’ of badgers has been ineffective and, in some cases, inhumane.
I had warned Government Ministers that launching a pilot, born more from hysteria and wanting to look macho, would merely run the very high risk of making the problem of bovine TB (bTB) in cattle significantly worse.
I fear that the Tory side of the Coalition Government wants to place political dogma and gesture politics above evidence-based policy making.
Coming from and having worked in farming I know only too well how the extremely serious problem of bTB can affect the herds, farmers, their families and livelihoods. Understandably emotions run high.
That is why, 15 years ago, when the Government proceeded with a badger cull in my West Cornwall constituency I supported it as part of the then Government’s extensive Randomised Badger Control Trials (RBCT). I back evidence-based policy making. We needed evidence before settling on a policy to support a livestock sector on its knees. Needless to say, I ran the gauntlet of extremely vociferous and sometimes offensive criticisms from those who disagreed.
However, I have never believed that the current Government Ministers responsible fully acknowledged nor understood the evidence from those trails when proposing their own policy of farmer-led ‘free shooting’.
None of this is helped by the way in which each of the ‘badger’ and ‘farmer’ camps characterise each other. Badger protestors see the farming lobby as callous, gun totting, bloodthirsty cowboys who simply want to scapegoat the badger rather than admit their own responsibilities. And farmers see badger protestors as out of touch ‘townies’ who don’t understand country life and whose anthropomorphic attitude means that they would protect the badger but wouldn’t be so worried if it was the rat that was targeted!
The original stated purpose of the two pilot culls (in Somerset and Gloucestershire) was to evaluate the safety, efficacy and humaneness of ‘free shooting’ badgers. The original target was set to provide 80% confidence of having culled at least 70% of the badgers present. After six weeks the expert panel were 95% confident that less than 50% of local badgers had been culled in both areas. The extended period did not take the total much above 50%.
The Government’s policy has been, as I had warned, an abject failure. They run the very high risk of making the problem of bTB in livestock much worse. I therefore urge Ministers to stop these culls and get back to evidence-based policy making; in the meantime deploying vaccination and other more effective tools.
As many people already know, I am working with the Zoological Society of London – Professor Rosie Woodroffe (one of the original advisors on the Government’s RBCT) – to develop a badger vaccination project across the whole of Penwith and other parts of West Cornwall over the next five years. This will be significantly cheaper than culling, requires no policing and stands a greater chance of effectiveness in controlling bTB. I would urge Government Ministers to halt their policy of culling badgers and to get behind projects like mine to advance alternatives.
You can contact Andrew George by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG. Telephone: 01736 360020.
Andrew George MP
Kernow a’n West ha Syllan
West Cornwall and the Scillies
Constituency of St Ives
Tel: 01736 360020
Fax: 01736 332866
25th March 2014