John Twyford: Unlike MP Neil, I agree with the RSPCA over cull
WHY on earth does Tiverton MP Neil Parish think the RSPCA only opposes badger culling because it wants to raise money?
Mr Parish said as much at the annual open meeting of the Devon branch of the National Farmers' Union.
He argued that the animal welfare organisation was opposing the government's plans to allow farmers to shoot thousands of badgers in a trial cull to limit the spread of TB to cattle, simply because it wanted to lift its profile and thus raise money.
Clearly, Mr Parish doesn't label himself cynical and self-interested for supporting the cull. After all, as a farmer, he most probably thinks he understands the issue very well and has well-founded reasons for supporting it.
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So why does he think so little of an organisation dedicated to protecting animals, which, after all, is simply fulfilling its remit by opposing the cull?
I happen to agree with the RSPCA and the many other opponents of the trial culls in West Somerset and Gloucestershire, which have now been postponed until next year.
If they go ahead from 2013 onwards, the trial culls will involve the killing of at least 70 per cent of the estimated 8,000 or so badgers in the two areas.
Research on which the cull plans are based showed that if at least 70 per cent of badgers in an area were killed, incidences of TB in cattle could fall, whereas if fewer than 70 per cent were killed, incidences could increase.
This was why the culls were postponed this year, after it emerged there were almost twice as many badgers in the cull areas than had first been thought.
This meant the expected cost of the culls had escalated and fears were expressed that it would result in fewer than 70 per cent of the badger population being killed.
Nobody doubts the financial difficulties and heartache of farmers whose cattle test positive for TB. Given the nightmare they then find themselves in – being unable to sell young stock and having to have their cattle re-tested every 60 days – it is no wonder all dairy and beef farmers are keen to pursue any measures to limit the spread of TB.
But even those behind the latest culling plan, and Mr Parish himself on his website, acknowledge that even if it is successful in killing 70 per cent of badgers, it is not likely to reduce incidences of TB by much more than 16 per cent at best.
Opinion polls about culling have shown a majority of the public, in both town and country, are opposed to it. A BBC poll surprisingly found that the majority against culling was slightly higher in the countryside than in urban areas.
Another poll for The Guardian found that 60 per cent of the public supported vaccinating badgers against TB. Yet as Guardian environment writer Damian Carrington pointed out, the coalition government cancelled five of the six vaccination trials, which had been expected to result in an oral vaccine able to be left in bait for badgers by 2015.