Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Black and White Lies

Much the biggest story in today's newspapers is the statement by Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientist that a badger cull is necessary to bring Bovine Tb under control - and for two main reasons. Firstly, and at long last, this statement gives the livestock industry some hope that the Government might take some action to deal with a disease that has wrought devastation on livestock farmer's business and personal lives for decades. And secondly, it completely undermines what little confidence the farming industry has in anything that the Government now says.

Throughout my 8 year term as an Assembly Member, I was a member of the committee that had the responsibility of covering issus relating to Bovine Tb, 5 years of this period as Chair of the Committee. Throughout the 8 years, I pressed the Government to take the issue seriously. Throughout the 8 years, successive Ministers prevaricated and used every possible device to avoid taking the admittedly difficult decisions that were needed. We took evidence from all and sundry, and I visited Ireland twice to discuss the control measures adopted there. Along with the farming unions, the vets and almost every other farmer in the land, I did not believe the findings of the report prepared by the Government's Independent Science Group chaired by Sir John Bourne which was published earlier this year. This report claimed that culling badgers would be counter-productive in controlling Bovine Tb. As a result of Professor Bourne, framers have had to foot the bill for a strict regime of testing before movement, while the rampant disease in our wildlife was completely ignored. It sounded like nonsense - and now we know that it was nonsense.

During last April/May's Assembly Election campaign, Bovine Tb was a major issue in rural Wales. Every time I was questioned, I told my audience that I supported the creation of large areas of the country, surrounded as far as possible by a long coastline, where a large scale badger cull would take place - somewhere like Pembrokeshire for example. I said that failure to do so would eventually lead to a far greater cull - probably the whole of Britain. At the time, the responsible Assembly Minister sought to portray my opinion as irresponsible and not based on 'the science'. Well. now the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor has completely rubbished Professor Bourne's Report. And he is backed by the Government's Chief Vet, Debby Reynolds. His comment that the data 'does not support its conclusion' is another way of saying it was total nonsense. It should be rather fun when the Knight and the Professor give evidence to a select committee later this week.

I hope that the current Assembly Minister, Elin Jones ( who I believe shares my opinion of what has been going on) will apologise on behalf of the Assembly Government for the suffering its prevarication has inflicted on the farming industry in Wales, and for the taxpayers money that has been wasted by its refusal to face up to the obvious.


Peter Black said...

A close reading of the newspaper report indicates that there is actually not tha much difference between Sir David King and the ISB report.

The ISB report says that culling would have to be so extensive it would be ueconomical and that although TB infection dropped in the immediate area of the cull, it increased on adjoining farms, in effect shifting rather than solving the problem.

Sir David King says culling could be effective in areas that are contained, for example, by the sea or motorways.

Glyn Davies said...

I do not know why you do not see this as a big difference. Sir David King says that culling could be effective in areas that could be contained, which is what your Assembly spokesman, Mick Bates, current Minister and I have always thought. Sir John Bourne took the views that culling would be so ineffective that it should not be carried out at all. Seems like a fundamental difference to me.

Glyn Davies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


I would like to email you but your link does not work. Do you have an alternative address?


Peter Black said...

I am saying that there does not appear to be a difference other than Sir John Bourne believing that it is not possible to contain the cull.

Roman Jones said...

Reports from Ireland have said that despite the virtual extermination of the badger population, bovine TB is at records levels. The misguided idea that badgers spread this agricultural disease appears just that, misguided. How many more illegally culled badgers must we continue to see ‘dumped’ on our country lanes to appear as road kill?

Bovine TB is most usually spread by the cattle themselves. Farmers should take responsibility for their own short-comings before attacking innocent protected animals.

Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust stated "Badgers are a scapegoat for bad farming practices and an inadequate bovine TB testing regime. Our findings make a mockery of the demands for badger culling made in Britain by the National Farmers' Union and other organisations."

Glyn Davies said...

anon - my email address is glyndavies8@btinternet.com

Peter - Lets wait and see how Sir John gets on when he tries that line with the select committee.

Anonymous said...

culling is not the solution its been proven not to be effective

Glyn Davies said...

anon - we do not know that a culling programme would not work. What we do know is that a smallscale culling programme doesn't work - because of the movements it causes within the badger population outside the culling zone.

Roman - I do not remember the exact figures from Ireland, but there has been a significant decrease in the incidence of Tb. I will try to find out the exact figures tomorrow if I have the chance.

I have absolutely no evidence that badgers are killed and dumped on roads. There may be badgers killed which I do not know about, but why on earth would anyone dump them on the road to pretend they were road kill?

We do not know much about whether it is cattle that spread bovine Tb to badgers, or whether its the other way around. It does not make much difference. All we know is that it spreads to each other. It makes no sense to kill about 25,000 cattle every year and test every cattle movement - and do nothing at all about badgers.

Eventually we may have a vaccination that is effective. A more effective testing system would also be welcome. We have been told for the last 10 years that a vaccine is about 10 years away.

The badger is one of my favorite animals and when I was young they were rarely seen. Today they are very common, and unless we get some control on Bovine Tb, there will eventually be Government policy in Britain which involves a mass cull across the whole country - because Bovine Tb will have spread across the whole country. The scale of this disease is expanding at a frightening rate. Doing nothing is going to lead to a wildlife disaster - and where will you be then.