Cull: new calls for badger vaccination

First published in News

NEW calls for badgers to be vaccinated against bovine TB are now being made following Tuesday’s Appeal Court ruling, which quashed the Welsh Assembly Government’s planned cull of the animals in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion.

Farmers’ unions say the ruling in favour of the Badger Trust’s appeal is “a disaster for farming” and Minister for rural affairs Elin Jones said she was “disappointed”.

“We will now need to consider the judges' decision in detail before deciding our next steps,” she said. “It is however clear that if we don’t tackle all sources of bTB infection we will not eradicate it.

“Farmers, their families and our rural communities are suffering from the devastating consequences of this disease and I remain committed to its eradication."

Dairy farmer Brian Walters, vice president of the Farmers' Union of Wales, said the decision would have a “huge impact” on farming.

"The fact it's not happening now in north Pembrokeshire I think is a major disaster for the industry in the whole of Wales," he said.

Stephen James, NFU Cymru's deputy president, claimed that increasing cattle controls while doing nothing to prevent TB in badgers would cause the disease to spread and "wreck the lives of a growing number of farming families".

But David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, which brought the successful court action, said: “Although some farmers may see this judgement as a setback, the massive body of rigorously peer-reviewed literature shows that killing badgers can play no meaningful part in the eradication of bovine TB and that robust cattle measures are sufficient, as demonstrated by the fact that the rate of increase in new TB outbreaks is already starting to slow.

He added: “We also hope that the Minister will now adopt a strategy of vaccination as a cost-effective, viable alternative.”

And Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black, who was a leading campaigner against the proposed cull in the Welsh Assembly, said he believed Minister Elin Jones had "mishandled" the matter "from the start".

"Not only did she get the order itself wrong, leading to this decision but she also embarked on a course of action in defiance of all the scientific evidence," he said.

But he added: “This court decision does not mean that the threat of bovine TB should be ignored.

“Trials of a new badger vaccine are already underway in England and the Minister should look at this method of control as a matter of urgency. I will be urging her to initiate her own vaccination trial in the former-cull area alongside the cattle control measures she has already announced. Such a move would be welcome and from what I have been told would receive the co-operation of the whole community in North Pembrokeshire.”

Campaign group Pembrokeshire Against the Cull (PAC) welcomed the Court of Appeal ruling.

A spokesman said: “The cull was hugely unpopular in north Pembrokeshire, with many farmers, landowners and residents now hoping that Elin Jones will take this opportunity to review other options for dealing with the disease in cattle.

“The science does not support culling as TB actually increases in badgers as their social structure is disrupted. The costs of a badger cull far outweigh any small benefits.”

He added: “With TB levels in cattle already reducing in Wales with increased testing and quicker removal of infected cattle it is hoped that cattle control measures including improved biosecurity already introduced in the pilot area will bring levels down further. “With injectable badger vaccine available and licensed this is now a very attractive and more acceptable alternative for reducing bTB in Badgers. We know vaccination works and as infected badgers die out the Welsh Assembly Government’s own models suggest vaccination can deliver similar results to culling, without the disadvantages and at lower cost. Culling divides communities and is proving disastrous for Pembrokeshire’s Tourist industry as visitors turn elsewhere for their wildlife holidays.” The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales welcomed the Appeal Court decision.

Sarah Kessell, chief executive, said: “We have opposed the badger cull from its inception, because research has repeatedly shown that the costs far outweigh the benefits and that culling badgers could make the situation worse.

“An alternative strategy is already available and licensed for use, in the form of an injectable vaccine, which presents a better long-term solution for less overall cost. We hope that this appeal decision will provide an opportunity for the Welsh Assembly Government to re-examine the research available and consider revising their strategy for dealing with this disease.”

After the judges’ ruling was delivered lawyer Gwendolen Morgan of Bindmans LLP, who represents the Badger Trust, explained some of the legal matters raised during the appeal hearing.

She said the case was the first in relation to section 21 of the Animal Health Act 1981.

“The ruling will give important guidance to Ministers considering future culls, potentially in relation to different species and different diseases. The court emphasised the fact that Parliament deliberately drafted the Act so that wildlife could not be killed without robust scientific evidence proving that this would result in a ‘substantial reduction’ or elimination in the incidence of a disease,” she said.

The most optimistic estimate of cull results was a 9 per cent reduction in bTB.

“In future scenarios, the relevant Minister will now have to conscientiously carry out a balancing exercise weighing up the detriment in terms of the extent of wild animals to be killed, and the impact on the species, against the potential benefits in terms of disease reduction,” she added.

“Finally, the Minister may only make an order to cull following lawful consultation in relation to a specific area for which there is scientific evidence to justify a cull.”

The judges ruled that it was unlawful to bring in an order to cull badgers in the whole of Wales after a consultation only in the proposed cull area of north Pembrokeshire.

Mr Morgan added that in giving the lead judgment, Lord Justice Pill sounded a warning to the Welsh Ministers when he said: “It is not open to the Welsh Assembly Government immediately to make a fresh Order in the same terms but covering only the IAPA [Intensive Action Pilot Area] and to proceed forthwith with a badger cull there.”

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