Controversial plans for a badger cull to tackle bovine TB will be a “contribution towards bearing down on the disease”, minister David Heath said today.
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Food said “nothing would please me more than to move to a vaccination programme to eradicate this disease”, but acknowledged that it was “still a few years away yet”.
He maintained the cull was “nothing to do with any political considerations” and was about dealing “effectively” with a devastating disease.
Mr Heath told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If I wanted to be popular I would not be talking about killing little black and white creatures that everybody loves.
“This is simply a response to a devastating disease, doing so in the most effective way in terms of the science and the evidence that we have.”
The pilot culls in the chosen areas of West Somerset and Gloucestershire would, he said, potentially see 500 to 800 badgers killed each year in each of those areas.
Mr Heath’s comments came after Lord Krebs, who ran the last badger cull trial, questioned the scientific support for it.
He told the radio programme: “People certainly have cherry picked certain results to try and get the argument that they want. I’m not very impressed by the current policy.”
Wildlife campaigners and opponents believe culls do not have a significant effect on tackling the disease in livestock.
Responding, Mr Heath said it was a “little disrespectful” of those scientists who followed up previous trials to “simply say that their work is not effective”.
He said: “The evidence that we have, the scientific support we have suggests that a cull of the sort that we are proposing would be a contribution towards bearing down on the disease.”
He added: “It’s not the answer in itself, there are lots of other things that we have to do.
We have to continually improve bio-security, we have to continually make sure that we reduce cattle-to-cattle infection, but as part of a tool box of things that we can do, this is certainly an effective part.”