I understand your concerns for the badger population, it is a concern I share given my degree in microbiology and my love of animals.
Bovine TB is one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. It not only has a devastating impact on our UK beef and dairy farms, but costs taxpayers £100 million each year.
In England, the UK Government’s bovine TB eradication strategy is founded in science. It applies the lessons of previous attempts to control the disease, as well as evidence from other countries around the world. This strategy includes a policy of regular testing and removal of infected cattle from herds, as well as tougher restrictions on cattle movements from herds at risk of infection and measures to encourage greater risk management in areas where the disease is rife.The badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease. No one wants to continue the cull of this protected species indefinitely.
The current BCG vaccine will never provide full protection, so I am encouraged that world-leading bovine TB cattle vaccination trials are set to get underway in England and Wales as a result of a major breakthrough by Government scientists. These trials enable work to accelerate towards planned deployment of a cattle vaccine by 2025, and it is the latest milestone to eradicate this highly damaging animal disease.
In Wales, this is a devolved issue and the Welsh Government has adopted a different approach, which includes a selective badger cull that involves removing badgers that test positive for TB near cattle herds with persistent TB breakdowns. However, I am aware that this approach, which has received criticism from the National Farmers Union Cymru, appears to be failing to tackle the disease and is having an enormous impact on farmers. The last available dataset shows that in the 12 months to May 2020 10,974 cattle were slaughtered as part of Wales’ TB control policy, with 615 cattle farmers in Wales affected by bovine TB restrictions. If we are to stand any chance of eradicating this disease then a two-pronged approach which includes dealing with the disease in wildlife is vital to successful eradication, as has been shown by experience across the globe, in the Republic of Ireland and over the border in England. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
In conclusion, too many farming families in Wales are continuing to suffer the impact, both emotionally and financially, of bovine TB. My Conservative colleagues in the Welsh Parliament have called on the Welsh Government to follow the lessons from England and move forward with a strategy that achieves the shared goal of a healthy wildlife and cattle population.