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'Badger cull is the right move' says Clegg

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 26, 2012

  • A party supporter wears badges created at the Liberal Democrat annual conference in Brighton. Picture: Gareth Fuller

  • Nick Clegg

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Nick Clegg has defended the Government's decision to press ahead with badger culling and urged animal welfare lobbyists and celebrities against inciting anger against farmers.

Speaking to the Western Morning News, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister said critics would need "a heart of stone" not to attempt to combat TB in cattle, which is spread by badgers and is causing "huge distress and pain" to animals and farmers.

His remarks in support of two pilot culls came ahead of his keynote address at the Lib Dem conference in Brighton today and were made despite disquiet at the policy from some within his own party.

Queen guitarist Brian May has led opposition to thousands of badgers being killed in bovine TB hotspots, predominantly in the South West, while the RSPCA has called for consumers to boycott milk produced in the region and even holidaying in the peninsula.

Mr Clegg told the WMN: "The idea of culling a single badger is of course distressing, but I really do think it needs to be balanced against the huge distress and pain which cattle experience themselves, and the massive psychological, emotional and financial distress caused to farmers and their family.

"So it's not as simple as only focusing on the suffering on one side of the equation because there is suffering on both sides of the equation. It's one of those very delicate moral dilemmas you face in life."

He went on to urge opponents to avoid becoming abusive: "I think almost any choice you make in this area is going to inflame anger and objections one way or another.

"I would ask people who feel strongly about this just to respect there is a totally legitimate other side of the story in this debate.

"And it is not sensible for people to start staking out ever more vituperative positions."

Last week, Natural England licensed a badger cull in west Gloucestershire, with a start date expected within four weeks, with a second in west Somerset likely to be sanctioned shortly.

After six weeks, officials will assess whether trained marksmen shooting free-running badgers is safe and humane, and the pilots could be extended to last four years. If deemed safe, 10 cull zones could be given the go-ahead each year for four years, with some likely to be further down the Westcountry peninsula. A 16% reduction in the disease if hoped for, but opponents say this is insignificant and there is a risk of the virus spreading further.

Last week, the RSPCA called on consumers to boycott milk from cull areas saying the products would be "soaked in badgers' blood". Queen's Mr May said he would not drink milk from "the moment that the first badger is shot". Some farmers in the region fear they will be subject to intimidation and even violence for even supporting a cull, much less being involved in a cull.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has condemned anyone calling for boycotts as "playing fast and loose with an extremely serious animal welfare issue". Some Lib Dem MPs are against the plan while others – particularly in the rural South West – say it is the right thing to do as 25,000 sick cattle are being slaughtered a year.

Mr Clegg said badger culling was an "incredibly difficult issue" and the Government was "proceeding on a step by step basis".

He said: "It divides opinion. It provokes a great deal of emotion and passion. I can understand that. I'm a great animal lover myself.

"You don't want to cull badgers but if you don't cull badgers at least on a pilot basis, which is what we are doing, there's very little evidence anywhere around the world that you can really bear down on bovine TB without bearing down on the animal population that carries the disease in the first place. So what we are doing I think is sensible, which is being guided by science, guided by evidence."

He added: "I would ask people – I totally respect and admire their commitment to avoid animal suffering – just to reflect on the fact that, yes, we do not want to see badgers culled, but nor do we want to see cattle suffer a terrible disease.

"I visited farms in the South West myself, and it made quite an impression on me to see the animal and human effects of bovine TB. You would have to have a heart of stone not to try and find some way of trying to deal with this."

Of calls for boycotts, NFU director of corporate affairs Tom Hind said: "Anyone calling for people to boycott milk and avoid holidaying in areas where the trial badger controls are taking place is playing fast and loose with an extremely serious animal welfare issue. This simply deflects attentions from where they should be focused; eradicating this terrible disease of TB from both our beef and dairy herds – and from badgers."

A Department for Environment spokesman said: "The public showed this summer how much they value dairy farmers – people want them to remain in business and for their milk, cheese and yoghurt to come from Britain.

"Farmers play an important role in the rural economies and communities who also feel the impact of this devastating disease. They need to be allowed to get on top of it instead of their businesses being threatened."

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  • 2ladybugs  |  September 30 2012, 12:35PM

    That's right Chunder .......rows and rows of cereals. Great with water......!!!!????

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  • Chunder123  |  September 30 2012, 11:46AM

    THere are various ways you could look at this. IF it is true then you could argue that we don't have to eat meat or drink cows milk which would then mean you don't need to destroy any animals as tb is not life threatening and won't kill them. I think the dairy industry is mainly about profit and it might not be essential to eat meat or milk to live. Ever wondered why supermarkets always have an entire aisle devoted to breakfast cereals. ITs cheap and can be over packaged and take up lots of room and awesome profits.

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  • pollybrock  |  September 30 2012, 11:15AM

    nothing to do with the liberal democrat vote in the south west - a rural farming community then....

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  • ineedtherapy  |  September 28 2012, 12:07PM

    'Badger cull is the right move' says Clegg Clegg cull is the right move - says Badger I know who I support....

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  • Jake_Blake  |  September 28 2012, 11:31AM

    Bleach, that's actualy a letter from G E Purser, Clapton-on-the-Hill, Gloucestershire - A farmer. Nice try though but it does make your other comment look hypocritical.

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  • Bleach  |  September 28 2012, 8:11AM

    - Jake_Blake and the rest of the letter published at that link: "We've allowed the facts about bovine TB to be buried by the furore surrounding the proposed badger cull and negative reporting on the part of farming bodies has painted a picture of an entire cattle industry brought to its knees by the effects of the disease. But this is misleading. Defra reports on its website that "11.5 per cent of herds were restricted in 2011". They could equally report the positive side, which is that 88.5 per cent of herds were not restricted in 2011. Only a small proportion of the national herd is affected by bovine TB. The impact on an infected herd is not caused by the disease itself. The heartache is caused by the "test and cull" policy deployed by our government in response to an EU directive which demands eradication of bTB and simultaneously bans the use of cattle vaccine, thereby making it impossible to achieve the goal they set. But rather than tackle the EU to allow cattle vaccination, ministers have sanctioned a mass badger-shoot to placate a minority of vociferous farmers who seem hellbent on decimating the badger population. The fact that a badger cull spells disaster in PR terms for the entire farming industry must have eluded them all."

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  • Bod66  |  September 27 2012, 10:35PM

    Lets just kill everything an cover it in concrete.... ( Yes Children, Concrete its an old Roman word for `mugged off Grecian` ;]...)..... Badgers.... Umm they were an... er... inconvenience.........Now eat your solent green....

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  • Jake_Blake  |  September 27 2012, 9:49PM

    Leading independent scientists reviewed the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) and agreed that culling badgers under specific conditions can lead to a reduction of TB in cattle. The RBCT and subsequent studies have demonstrated that even if badgers range more widely during culling, potentially spreading the disease (the "perturbation effect"), the negative effects disappear quickly, while the benefits remain for at least six years after culling is stopped. The pilot areas have been designed to ensure the benefits of culling outweigh any negative effects due to perturbation, including boundaries such as rivers and motorways, to stop badgers spreading TB. The injectable vaccine is ineffective if badgers already have the disease; vaccination is required every year to ensure newborns are protected; and is extremely expensive because badgers must be trapped to be vaccinated. Defra is investing £15.5m in vaccines over the next four years. An oral badger vaccine (which could be cheaper and easier to administer) remains some years away, while there remain significant licensing and regulatory barriers before cattle vaccines can be used. Culling alone won't solve the problem but alongside measures such as testing and removing infected cattle and minimising contact with badgers it will make a meaningful contribution. Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser and Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London SW1 http://tinyurl.com/8vsmwxc

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  • Bleach  |  September 27 2012, 5:54PM

    The issue isn't whether badgers transmit the disease to cattle (they do), it's whether or not the proposed cull will actually achieve anything. It won't, it will most likely make things worse. A series of systematic, randomised controlled trials over a sustained period to see whether culling could provide an answer has already been undertaken and the answer was published in 2003: shooting and gassing did not eliminate, and could possibly spread, the disease. That may be because badgers disturbed in one area could migrate, taking the infection with them. The answer, delivered by Lord Krebs and the distinguished statisticians and zoologists who examined the results, could hardly be clearer: killing will not solve the problem. Lord Krebs's scientific credentials are not in doubt. He was trusted by successive British governments to head the Natural Environment Research Council, and to chair the Food Standards Agency. And he has just described the latest plan as a "crazy scheme". Once again, a British government has chosen to seek the best possible scientific advice and then ignore it, and to embark on a plan that almost everybody knows will not work; and in the course of doing so to slaughter not just a protected species, but one of the most charismatic mammals of the ancient British countryside. At the end of the exercise, England's dairy farmers will still be no better off, and the wild landscape will be a great deal poorer. Crazy seems too mild an epithet.

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  • StuReynolds  |  September 27 2012, 2:57PM

    Keith you miss the point - this isn't just about the badger cull. Its also about the way Governments give into narrow sectional vested interests - in this case the farmers. Charlespk's last post - one of the few where he does not repeat himself - gives the clue when he supports the EU encouraging the Government not "to fear ... what voters might think." Governments should always fear what what voters think. Let's be clear there is no scientific consensus in favour of badger culling (despite what anyone will try to tell you) this is purely about the Coalition Govt getting votes in farming areas. This isn't about cuddly animals it is about cold hard cynical politicians out for themselves.

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