Farming groups have hit out at a Labour election promise to ban the culling of badgers.
On the 10th anniversary of the ban on hunting with dogs, Labour launched a bid to win animal-lovers’ votes in the general election with promises of action to tackle cruelty in circuses, puppy farms and shooting estates and end the culling of badgers.
That last promise has been welcomed by animal charities but questioned by farming groups, including the NFU.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “Our Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way.
“No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild. This is a legacy that we are proud of - one which we believe shows that Labour is the only party to trust on animal welfare.”
But NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “Labour claims no other political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals on farm. If this is a pledge to protect animals, as Labour says, it must protect all animals, including the tens of thousands of cattle that are compulsorily slaughtered every year in England because of bTB.
“We do not consider it good animal welfare to allow a disease that is devastating farming family businesses, and for which there is no cure, to be left to spread unchecked in wildlife and create more misery.
“To stop the culls halfway through goes against the evidence from previous research which showed that culling over four years had a positive impact on reducing bTB in cattle.
“The culls were designed to run for four years and anecdotal evidence from both cull areas suggests they are already helping to reduce bTB incidence in cattle and farms are starting to go clear of the disease.
“Stopping the culls early could risk making the bTB situation in these areas worse. The culls must be allowed to run for their full four years so the maximum disease control benefits can be achieved.
“We have repeatedly said that the fight against bTB is too important to be allowed to become a political football. Eradicating this disease has to be put beyond party political point scoring and populist policies designed to win votes. It is simply too serious an issue. Whoever is in Government will be required to deal with bTB and will need to have a robust, credible eradication strategy to do so.”
A recent Mori poll showed that the badger cull was the fifth most common issue of complaints to MPs, making it a potential vote winner at May’s general election.
Badger culling is being piloted in Gloucestershire and Somerset, though there has been huge disagreement on how successful the trials have been.