New Environment Secretary Liz Truss has vowed to use “every tool in our toolbox” to eradicate bovine tuberculosis in cattle as Labour pressured for what it called the discredited badger cull to end, following ineffective pilot schemes.
Ms Truss faced calls in the Commons yesterday to use an independent scientific assessment for the second year of the cull.
The Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found that shooting free-running badgers in the first year of two pilot culling schemes in Gloucestershire and Somerset was ineffective, and failed to meet humaneness criteria.
Neither pilot scheme managed to kill the 70% of badgers that scientists say is needed to reduce tuberculosis in cattle in the area and more than 5% of badgers took longer than five minutes to die.
Former environment secretary Owen Paterson previously insisted badgers had “moved the goalposts” and made a cull more difficult.
Defra has also confirmed it has been testing gassing as a potential method for killing badgers while TB vaccines for badgers and cattle plus contraception for badgers have also been mooted.
Speaking in the Commons, shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle told MPs she was appalled to hear Ms Truss would continue with the “discredited, unscientific, inhumane and ineffective” badger cull.
Pushed by Ms Eagle to guarantee the IEP will report on the second year of the cull, Ms Truss replied: “Let’s be absolutely clear, the reality is that bovine TB represents a massive threat to our dairy and beef industries, and we are looking at a potential of a loss of over £1bn of economic growth in our country and we need to look at the best scientific evidence.”
Ms Eagle told the Environment Secretary: “That’s a disappointing reply – I’m afraid you’ve just flunked your first test and missed a golden opportunity to put scientific evidence back where it ought to be in Defra, at the very centre of the decision-making.
“Will you now undertake... to ask the IEP to report, as it did on year one of the culls, on year two of the culls, yes or no?”
Ms Truss replied: “We are asking Natural England, a proper expert body, to assess the way that the culls are going and to look at what we can do in the future.
“But I am absolutely clear that we must use every tool in our toolbox to address this threat to our beef and dairy industries.”