Bovine TB and Badger Control

Speaking during a debate calling for an end to the proposed badger cull, Geoffrey Cox outlines the evidence why it must go ahead in order to tackle the devastation that is caused by bovine TB.

Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Devon is the county worst affected by bovine TB in the entire country. Six thousand cattle were slaughtered in 2010, and there were 800 herd breakdowns. My constituency is arguably the most densely infected. The toll is taken not only on thousands of animals representing generations of toil and long family traditions of rearing and breading, which are destroyed by the fatal hand and the stroke of the pen of the inspector who finds a reactor in the herd. There is also the human toll on the families, which has been well described and I will not dwell on it.

I sat on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament and participated in the production of its report. It was authored not only by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, some of whom are in the Chamber, but by some very distinguished Labour Members, for whom I came to have considerable respect for the neutral, impartial and thoroughly disinterested way in which they grappled with the problem. It was not necessarily in their interests to subscribe to the political solution that we subsequently recommended, but the report was clear in its recommendation that culling needed to play a role in a package of measures, no one of which would be successful in either dramatically reducing or eliminating the disease.

We had to grapple with the science in making our recommendations. The summary of the report draws attention to the problem that we found as we interviewed the various witnesses who appeared before us. It was apparent that the independent scientific group, which had overseen the random trials, concluded that, in principle

“modest reductions in the overall incidence of cattle TB would result from simultaneous, coordinated and repeated culls of badgers over extremely large areas of the countryside”,

which it defined as around 300 sq km,

“using skilled staff and ideally within geographical barriers to badger movement”.

However, the ISG concluded that

“trying and failing to achieve this”

would

“make matters worse”.

Thus, it was not practically or economically feasible to carry out culling on that scale. It was for that reason, and not for any principled reason that culling might not have a reductive effect, that the ISG rejected culling as contributing meaningfully to the elimination or reduction of the disease.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), in his tenure as Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, have looked at the conclusions of the Krebs trials and the ISG and drawn the inevitable logical inferences. Professor Bourne, Professor Krebs and the ISG concluded that modest reductions were possible provided the culling was carried out in a sustained way, efficiently and over a significant terrain.

All that those who currently have stewardship of policy are doing is taking that in-principle conclusion, which nobody can doubt is contained in the ISG’s report, and applying it and saying, “Let us try. Let us have this controlled experiment in these two areas.” They are adding one more dimension that was not included in the Krebs trials, and that is hard boundaries. The sea, large rivers and motorways all have an inhibiting effect on the movement of badgers, and if we place that dimension into the mix, we can help to reduce the effects of perturbation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire said, it was not that there was no reduction inside the core area. There was in fact a 23% reduction. That figure, however, was obtained by counting done in the first 12 months, but many scientists believe that the first 12 months of the Krebs trials should be disregarded because of the time lag before the measures took effect. Many scientists believe that the correct figure is 27%.

The problem was not that the trials did not have a dramatic reductive effect within the culling area but that it spread disease on the outer boundaries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) said, two things have happened. First, continuing analysis has demonstrated that those perturbation effects diminish with time, and, secondly, we are able to put in place hard boundaries that should reduce that effect. I contend, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is drawing the logical inference and conclusion from the scientific evidence. That is why he said that he was applying the science and that that was a common-sense and logical thing to do, and it is why his decision deserves the support of every Member and why it commanded the support of the Labour-dominated Select Committee in 2008, when precisely that recommendation and prescription was suggested.

I urge the House to understand that we do this not out of some bloodthirsty desire to kill, as was shamefully and disgracefully suggested by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), but because it is a serious reaction to a pressing problem. It is sincerely intended to tackle a disease that badly needs tackling for the sake of the country.

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2017

Saturday 2nd December
Bideford, Torrington
 
Saturday 16th December
Holsworthy, Tavistock