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Ruth George column: Badgers and Brexit

The differing debates surrounding badgers in Derbyshire and Brexit are the topics of discussion in High Peak MP Ruth George's latest Glossop Chronicle column.

Whichever party is in power, both as a campaigner for shopworkers, and now as an MP, I’ve always sought to make governments act according to evidence.

Whether it’s Brexit or benefits, policy needs to be based on facts as far as possible.

The same applies to badgers and I was appalled last month to see the government tripling the number of badgers to be culled.

Even worse, they hadn’t responded to their review of their own strategy on TB in cattle which recommended a whole range of measures other than badger culling and stated clearly that “non-lethal” means of reducing the risk to cattle from badgers was better than culling them.

So whilst Boris Johnson is refusing to bring his Withdrawal Agreement Bill back to the House of Commons, debates are taking place in the second Chamber of Parliament – Westminster Hall.

Badger policy was the second highest issue in my Inbox last month, so last week I submitted a request for a debate on ‘TB in Badgers and Cattle’.

Having met with local farmers and been out vaccinating badgers with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, I have heard both sides of the argument on culling and it is almost as contentious an issue as Brexit.

Farmers are in an incredibly difficult position. TB infections have been increasing, with more recently in High Peak.

Culling badgers is the only substantive policy offered by government. The government claim that it reduces cases of TB, which is true for the period of the cull and shortly afterwards, but infections in Somerset and Gloucester where the culling trials started have increased afterwards.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s brilliant badger vaccination pilot will take time to scale up and assess, especially on the limited resources allocated, but that is what’s needed.

What worries me about the government’s approach is that they have not responded to the evidence their own experts have put before them that their testing regime for TB in cattle isn’t working.

Tests on badgers killed on Derbyshire roads showed that only 4% of them had TB.

The evidence shows that cases of TB in cows in Derbyshire increased last year not because of badgers but because of much more rigorous testing. From January last year, farms had 6-monthly tests with more reliable results than the usual skin tests which are only 50% to 60% accurate.

More cases of TB in cattle are being picked up quicker which will hopefully help farmers to eradicate it from their herds more quickly. More badgers have been vaccinated to help keep infections down.

The government have agreed for now not to extend badger culling to Derbyshire but we have no guarantee and no other actions proposed.

I hope the debate will force some action from government to move at least one argument forward.


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