Speaking in a debate on the badger cull, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown highlights the success of reducing bovine TB incidents in Gloucestershire with the culling having reduced TB in cattle by 66% between 2013 and 2017.
I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr Wilson, and also to the hon. Member for High Peak (Ruth George) for the reasoned way she introduced the debate. I did not agree with all her conclusions, but her demeanour and the tenor of her remarks were very reasonable.
I have experience of the matter because I grew up as a farmer on my mother’s dairy farm in the foot and mouth regime, where farmers around us had their herds slaughtered. It was a pretty devastating time, growing up. I know only too well the effect that TB can have on the agricultural community and indeed on farmers themselves. As the hon. Lady said, rural farmers live in isolated areas, in close-knit communities and families; the loss of even one cow, let alone an entire herd of cattle, can have a devastating effect.
In the past few days, numerous farmers have said to me that they would like the Government’s eradication scheme to continue. Mr Harry Acland, of Notgrove Farm, said
“the badger cull has been immensely successful here, from being shut down with TB on average for 10 months in the year we now only rarely have a break down (once this year) and matters are considerably improved”.
I have supported the cause of the eradication scheme for more than two decades, and worked with my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), when he was the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on the roll-out of the first, second and third cull areas in Gloucestershire, which have been transformational. In the first two years of the first cull, the TB incident rate was down 16%. After four years of the industry-led eradication scheme, between 2013 and 2017, the culling by farmers had reduced TB in cattle by 66% in Gloucestershire. Interestingly, while no change was found after two years in a 2 km buffer area around Gloucestershire, after four years there was a 36% decrease in the area. The so-called perturbation effect was not seen. Badger control licences now cover 57% of high-risk areas in the country. The efficiency of the licences has seen a 19% decline in TB incidence since the culling began in 2013, from 3,283 to 2,655. A comprehensive range of measures alongside the badger culling seems to be the most effective strategy for controlling the disease, with greater biosecurity, cattle testing and movement restrictions for TB-positive herds, and continued research into badger vaccinations, particularly oral ones.
Backing our farmers and ensuring a healthy, prosperous agricultural industry in Britain is a vital way to manage our sustainability. We cannot encourage people to buy local or in season if we do not protect our farms from devastation when TB infects entire herds. Grass-fed beef raised in this country has a far lower carbon footprint than importing foreign meats or plant-based products. Quite simply, we have the grass and climate to produce the best naturally-raised beef in the world. Eradicating this disease would be a quantum leap in increasing the productivity of British agriculture and provide a substitute for imports in a post-Brexit world. Jobs and livelihoods depend on it.