By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Friday, October 26, 2012
A parliamentary debate on the proposed cull of wild badgers has polarised the conflicting opinions of farming advocates and wildlife groups in Norfolk.
The cull, aimed at stopping the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) among cattle, was postponed earlier this week by environment secretary Owen Paterson after it emerged that more animals would be shot than first anticipated.
But last night, MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion which called on the government to abandon the controversial plans completely.
Following the debate, supporters of the cull including Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman stepped up their claims that allowing too many badgers to roam the countryside will jeopardise the country’s dairy industry.
But animal campaigners, including the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, have urged ministers to acknowledge public and parliamentary opinions by permanently scrapping the cull in favour of a vaccination programme, improved testing and better biosecurity.
Mr Freeman, who is also chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on science and technology in agriculture said: “No-one wants to cull badgers. I entirely understand and sympathise with people’s concerns, but this horrific disease is spreading fast and has to be tackled to prevent further suffering.
“Many farmers have been driven to despair after approximately 26,000 cattle were slaughtered for TB control in England last year and the total cost of the disease set to rise to over £1bn. To prevent this disease decimating our farming industry and causing further suffering, we must act.”
“Sadly, as of yet there is no workable, oral badger vaccine and there may not be for several years. A test to differentiate between infected and vaccinated cattle, currently underway, will also take some years until release.”
Bovine TB is most prevalent in southwest England and Wales, and the pilot culling schemes were planned for Gloucestershire and Somerset.
In Norfolk, the county’s wildlife trust has joined its national parent organisation in opposing the cull.
Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Scientists oppose the cull, the public opposes the cull and now MPs have voted against a cull.
“It is time for the government to listen and use the available alternatives to tackle bTB. A badger vaccine is available now and improved biosecurity measures can help to reduce the spread of the disease. In the longer term a cattle vaccine can play a very real part in helping deal with the problem and the government should now be putting the effort into ensuring this vaccine can be deployed as soon as possible.”