Following the National Farmers Union’s (NFU’s) statement of 27 August, I would like to confirm to the House that culling is now under way. The cull will be carried out in two areas (Somerset and Gloucestershire) over a period of six weeks. I understand the pilot cull is proceeding to plan and those involved are pleased with progress to date.
The aim of the pilot cull is to test how an industry-led badger control programme can be delivered effectively, humanely and safely. Monitoring will be carried out to test that controlled shooting meets these assumptions. The outcome of the pilot cull and an analysis of the monitoring will be published. The evidence will considered by Ministers in deciding whether or not the policy should be rolled out more widely.
The decision to pilot a badger cull is not one that has been taken lightly, but it is based on the best available scientific evidence and the experience of other countries. No country has successfully dealt with TB without tackling the disease in both wildlife and cattle. It is vital that we learn from the experience of the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand. We will be evaluating the outcome of this pilot cull carefully in deciding whether or not to roll this policy out more widely.
Culling is only one part of a broader, comprehensive TB eradication strategy for achieving TB-free status in England over the course of the next 25 years. Since July, I have been consulting all interested parties on the strategy. It sets out a full range of measures, including disease surveillance, pre and post-movement cattle testing, removal of cattle exposed to bovine tuberculosis (bTB), culling and vaccination trials. It also focuses on the development of new techniques such as badger and cattle vaccines and new diagnostic tests that could one day offer new ways of tackling the disease.
BTB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK. The disease is getting worse and is spreading across the country. In the last 10 years, bTB has cost the taxpayer £500 million. It is estimated that this will rise to £1 billion over the next 10 years if the disease is left unchecked. This pilot cull is a necessary part of a wide range of actions that we need to take if we are to free the cattle industry from the burden of this devastating disease. We wish to see healthy cattle living alongside healthy wildlife.