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Badger Vaccination: Cheshire

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 29 January 2015

4. What assessment she has made of the benefits and costs of extending the Cheshire badger vaccination programme to include the borough of Stockport. (907288)

The deadline for applications for the badger edge vaccination scheme, which supports privately-led vaccination in the edge areas of England, which includes much of Cheshire, is 27 February. Decisions will be based on published criteria such as the size of the area, the location, value for money and operational readiness.

Sadly, I must report an outbreak of bovine TB in Stockport in my constituency that is just north of the Cheshire area for which bids can be accepted. May I press the Minister to extend the area from which valid bids will be accepted, to take account of the northern spread of this pernicious disease?

We are aware that there is a particular problem in Cheshire, and that is why we have introduced six-monthly surveillance testing. The boundaries of the so-called edge area are reviewed regularly on epidemiological grounds. The TB advisory group last considered this issue at the end of last year and decided that there was not a case for increasing testing at that stage. The matter will be considered again later this year.

The Government keep on saying that there is no alternative to badger culling, yet the trials in Wales based on stringent cattle measures combined with vaccination show that there is a viable alternative to the Government’s mass slaughter of badgers. However, Ministers are obviously allergic to science-based policy and deaf to alternative approaches. Will there be an announcement on the further roll-out of the mass culling of badgers before the Dissolution of Parliament? The country needs to know.

I think the hon. Lady is reading too much into what has happened in Wales. The vaccinated area is a little more than 1.5% of the total area. There has been a reduction in the incidence of TB, as there has been in the UK, predominantly through the introduction of cattle movement controls. We have always been very clear that there is no example anywhere in the world of a country that has tackled TB without also dealing with the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. We will stick to our 25-year strategy.

The Minister will be aware that there is hearsay about the number of herd breakdowns within the pilot cull areas. When are we going to have some facts and figures?

It is too early to give those figures. My hon. Friend is right, though, that anecdotally there are examples of farms that have gone clear since the badger cull commenced. The farm of James Griffiths, which I visited last year, had been under restriction for 12 years, and I understand that he went clear earlier this year. However, these are currently anecdotal reports and it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions.