NFU president criticises Labour’s pledge to end badger culls

Labour has pledged to end pilot badger culls. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Labour has pledged to end pilot badger culls. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Farmers' leaders have called on ministers to stop using the badger cull as a 'political football' in their pre-election positioning.

The National Farmers' Union was responding to the Labour party's pledge to end the pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire as one of its six key priorities on animal welfare, which were announced yesterday.

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle said the party was committed to ending the 'ineffective and inhumane' programme, which was introduced by the Conservatives in a bid to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in commercial cattle.

But NFU president Meurig Raymond said: 'If this is a pledge to protect animals, as Labour says, it must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bTB.

'We do not consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses, and for which there is no cure, to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery.

'To stop the culls halfway through goes against the evidence from previous research which showed that culling over four years had a positive impact on reducing bTB in cattle. The culls were designed to run for four years and anecdotal evidence from both cull areas suggests they are already helping to reduce bTB incidence in cattle and farms are starting to go clear of the disease. Stopping the culls early could risk making the bTB situation in these areas worse. The culls must be allowed to run for their full four years so the maximum disease control benefits can be achieved.'

'We have repeatedly said that the fight against bTB is too important to be allowed to become a political football. Eradicating this disease has to be put beyond party political point scoring and populist policies designed to win votes. It is simply too serious an issue. Whoever is in government will be required to deal with bTB and will need to have a robust, credible eradication strategy to do so.'

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Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said: 'With a recent Mori poll showing that the badger cull was the fifth most common issue of complaint to MPs in 2014, Ed Milliband is only too aware of the huge, intense public anger over this cruel and ineffective policy.

'I am pleased to see that the Labour Party recognise that the badger cull has been a massive failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds and that playing the badger blame game must be stopped when it comes to reducing the spread of bovine TB.'

Queen guitarist and anti-cull campaigner Brian May voiced his support through a statement issued by his Save Me animal rights organisation: 'We're confident these issues are high in the priorities of many voters.

'Under the present regime, British wildlife is severely persecuted and declining in all areas due to many factors, all of which are man-made. Until we begin to respect nature and our planet's needs, we will continue to see the decline of populations precious in their own right, and vital to our own health and existence.'