I do understand the concerns and MPs have now had the chance to scrutinise thoroughly this comprehensive and science led approach. While the decision to cull badgers has not been taken lightly, it is vital that the Government is able to use all the tools at its disposal to tackle the spread of a disease that has now reached epidemic proportions.
More importantly, while this is a difficult decision, culling as part of a wider package of measures that includes vaccination and stringent cattle movement controls is a policy that is proven to work. The situation in other EU member states that have a known TB problem in wildlife has led to badger culling being practiced both in Switzerland and France. In addition, deer and wild boar are culled in Spain, Poland and the Baltic countries. Culling has played a key role in helping countries such as Australia and New Zealand either achieve or be near to achieving official TB free status.
There is now very clear evidence from Ireland that badger culling has worked, and that earlier huge investment in non-wildlife interventions in the late 80s and early 90s in Ireland led to no improvement in the disease situation. The cattle control measures implemented in the Republic of Ireland in the past 10 years are virtually the same as those that have been introduced in the high TB areas in England. In fact, in some ways the English testing is more severe. However, in Ireland as a result of culling, the number of infected cattle has now fallen from more than 28,000 to a little over 18,000, and the trend is clearly downwards.
As part of a broader package of measures the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is committed to investing a further £15.5m in vaccine development over the next four years to develop an oral vaccine for badgers. This may well be cheaper and more effective than an injectable vaccine, in addition to a vaccine for cattle. As the EU Commissioner Tonio Borg has recently made clear, no country has done more in this area than the UK.
However, it will be many years before these methods are available and unfortunately, the vaccination of our national herd is prohibited by EU legislation. Our cattle industry cannot wait that long and it is therefore vital that the Government uses every tool at its disposal to check the progress of this devastating disease.