WMN opinion: Debate is good, but pilot badger cull must be tried
There is little doubt that as we move towards a pilot cull of badgers as part of efforts to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, the animal welfare lobby will be stepping up its campaign of opposition. Political Animal Lobby (PAL) – the group founded by Brian Davies, who as a leading light in the International Fund for Animal Welfare campaigned against the culling of seal pups in the 1970s – yesterday launched "Badgering Dave". A billboard sized cartoon of the Prime Minister is being driven around London and his Oxford constituency in a clear attempt to personalise the argument and persuade the Prime Minister to reverse his decision on the cull.
It won't work, of course. Mr Cameron may be susceptible to U-turns but on the culling of badgers he had clearly made up his mind before the coalition even took power that a cull, denied to farmers for years by a prevaricating Labour Government, should be tried. Only the Court of Appeal, which will hear the last ditch attempt by the Badger Trust to overturn the cull next month, can stop the two pilots, one in Somerset and one in Gloucestershire, from going ahead. Our belief is it will decide, having weighed all the evidence, that the culls should proceed.
It is, of course, right that we have a debate about the best way to combat the growing menace of bovine TB on farms and in the countryside. Right too that, in a democracy, organisations can protest and direct their views towards politicians who must stand or fall by the decisions they take. PAL believes Mr Cameron will, in its words, "pay the price for his insensitivity" at the polling booths if he presses ahead with a cull.
Our view is that he would have paid an even higher price among farmers and many taxpayers – who are currently bankrolling the £100m cost of bovine TB – if he had done nothing. A cull may be a long way from the perfect solution. No one will take any pleasure in the deaths of such a well-loved wild animal. But the perfect solution doesn't exist. Used alongside other measures it is worthwhile exploring whether cutting the badger population can help reduce the incidence of the disease. That's precisely what is about to happen in a small part of the Westcountry. It deserves to be given a chance.
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The ten-point plan produced by the Dairy Coalition yesterday keeps up the pressure for a long-term solution to the milk crisis which boiled over last month with blockades of processors' plants. That action earned dairy farmers an extra few pence on the farm gate price of milk and a stay of execution from a damaging price cut. Thus far, the deal has held – but it was never going to be the end of the story. Yesterday's plan has the merit of being backed by a broad coalition in the industry. There is still work to be done, for sure. But it is possible now to see a brighter future for dairying. It just has to be realised. That'll be the hard bit.