Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was as frank as one can expect a minister to be on the issue of the badger cull and bovine TB yesterday. "We would love to have a vaccine," he said. "But we haven't got one, so for the time being we should use the measures used in other countries very effectively to bear down on the disease in wildlife and in cattle." It was a practical, pragmatic response. He is not promising an overnight end to TB with the issuing yesterday of the first licences for the pilot badger cull but he is, as the coalition Government in which he serves has done all along, taking steps that should, according the best science, reduce the incidence of this appalling rural plague.
Yet what is his opposite number on the Labour benches saying? The same old woolly-headed and frankly irresponsible nonsense full of warnings about the alleged impact of a cull without any credible alternative aside from "developing other options, including vaccines." Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary – like others before her in the Labour Government – is very good at listing the potential impact of a cull on public sensibilities and warning that it will "put a strain on police." Yet on the real issue of what Labour would actually do to bring bovine TB under control, she – like her predecessors – had precious little to say.
The Western Morning News cannot, frankly, be 100 per cent certain the cull will achieve the desired effect of wiping out bovine TB. But a long-term study – the most reliable so far carried out – found that culling over a number of years on a large scale could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle herds by 16%. That's far from perfect – but it is a darn sight better than anything Labour is offering.
And of course, in the meantime, research into vaccines must continue, as must the tough movement restrictions imposed on cattle that test positive for bovine TB and all the other bio-security measures that are vital on the farm. What farmers and the whole rural community have been looking for on this issue is a proper, positive lead that, using the best science available, offers at least the beginning of a solution. Given the complexity of the problem and the prevarication that went before, that is the best anyone can hope for. What's important now is that the pilot culls, in Gloucestershire and Somerset, get started, without hindrance, so we can all start to measure their impact.
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Britain is a nation of regions and cities. And if the country as a whole is to prosper those cities and regions, including the South West, must drive growth. That's why the boss of the Exeter-based airline Flybe is right to press the Transport Secretary to develop an aviation hub that will give all the regions of the nation access to more airport capacity. Transportation is the lifeblood of business. At the moment it is inadequate. That must change.