David Cameron has promised to stick with the “tough decision” of culling badgers to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cows in the South West, amid fears the controversial plan is failing.
Ahead of the Conservative Party conference this weekend, the Prime Minister made a passionate defence of the policy – arguing culling would also ultimately lead to a healthier badger population.
The Conservative leader brushed off concern a “pilot” cull in Somerset is failing to kill enough animals, which is vital to the plan working, telling the Western Morning News: “We’ll see those decisions through.”
Bovine TB, which many argue is spread by badgers, has crippled dairy and beef farming in the Westcountry, where thousands of sick cattle are slaughtered each year.
Labour, which has promised to halt the expansion of badger culling if it sweeps to power in 2015, suggested last week that ministers would pull the plug on the programme.
It followed the Western Morning News revealing that one of the two “pilot” culls in the South West risked failing as only a handful of badgers are being shot daily.
The level of killing is significant as at least 70% of badgers in a culling zone have to be shot to bring about a requisite reduction in infections. Sources have suggested marksmen are falling well short.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has promised that as many as 40 cull areas could eventually be up-and-running, with shooting likely to take place in Cornwall and Devon at some stage.
In a briefing with regional newspaper reporters based at Westminster, Mr Cameron indicated the Government was not preparing to roll-back from the plan – and hit out at Labour’s position.
He told the Western Morning News: “For 13 years Labour did nothing about this. They kept putting off difficult decisions. This Government has taken the difficult decision, which is to go ahead with the pilot culls on the basis that every country in the world that has had a TB problem has had to look at quite drastic measures to deal with the problem in wildlife as well as in livestock. So we’ve taken the tough decisions, we’ll see those decisions through.”
Despite protesters warning of whole local badger populations being wiped out, the Prime Minister went on to argue the policy was “right for badgers” also suffering from the “miserable disease”.
He said: “What we want is not just healthy cattle but healthy badgers.
“We have to remember that TB is a miserable disease for badgers to have as well as cattle to have. If we don’t act, we are on track to spend a billion pounds on TB and cattle – we have already spent £500 million. This is an enormous budget item. So what we are doing is right for taxpayers, but also right for farmers, and also right for badgers.
“The countryside has my full support in this issue, and I keep in close contact with Owen Paterson. Of course it’s difficult, of course there are many who oppose this, but in politics it’s about doing the right thing.”