Firstly, I believe that we, as a party and as members of the wider society, have a moral duty to treat animals we share our planet with in a compassionate way, and as a vegetarian for over 20 years and a long-standing animal rights campaigner, I am proud that the last Labour Government had a strong record on international animal welfare.
It is extremely disappointing that the current Government seems intent on ignoring an evidence-based, scientific approach and has fallen back upon the tried, tested and failed policy of badger culling. The Government has widened the scope of the badger cull to a further eleven areas, against advice from its own independent experts and the British Veterinary Association. It is also without consultation or sufficient rationale.
It is important to recognise the crippling impact of Bovine TB and the hardship experienced by farmers whose cattle herds have been devastated by the disease. It is vital Bovine TB is brought under control and that farmers are fairly compensated for any cattle that must be culled to control the spread of Bovine TB.
However, killing badgers will not solve the problem. A 2007 report concluded that badger culls could make no meaningful contribution to reducing Bovine TB. In fact, evidence suggests that disturbed remaining badger populations can spread Bovine TB further. It is also the case that the primary route of infection is cattle-to-cattle contact. At the 2017 General Election I stood on a manifesto which committed to cease the badger cull.
After five years of culls in some areas, there is still no evidence to show culling is effective in reducing Bovine TB and helping farmers in these areas. There are also unanswered questions about whether these culls are being conducted in a humane way or whether badgers being culled are even infected with the disease. The culls are no longer overseen by an Independent Expert Panel and so there is little to no oversight or safeguards in place.
I believe the Government must reverse its decision to widen the badger cull. We need a new approach and I have long supported an alternative, science-led strategy which prioritises development of a vaccine together with improved cattle testing and cattle management, tighter biosecurity measures, and improved animal husbandry.
If you would like to know more about Labour’s Animal Welfare Manifesto you can view it here.