SO here we go again. A Government making up policy on the hoof has ended up with a generous helping of manure on its face.
This week's publication of the independent expert panel's report on the Government's badger cull pilots show that its farmer-led "free shooting" of badgers has been ineffective and, in some cases, inhumane.
I had warned ministers that a pilot born more from hysteria and wanting to look macho would merely run the very high risk of making the problem of bovine TB (bTB) in cattle significantly worse.
I fear the Tory side of the coalition Government wants to place political dogma and gesture politics above evidence-based policymaking.
Coming from and having worked in farming I know only too well how bTB can affect herds, farmers, their families and livelihoods. That is why, 15 years ago, when the Government proceeded with a badger cull in my constituency, I supported it as part of the then-Government's extensive randomised badger control trials (RBCT). I back evidence-based policy making; we needed evidence before settling on a policy to support a livestock sector on its knees. Needless to say, I ran the gauntlet of extremely vociferous and sometimes offensive criticisms from those who disagreed. However, I have never believed that the current ministers responsible fully acknowledged nor understood the evidence from those trials when proposing their own policy of farmer-led "free shooting".
None of this is helped by the way in which the 'badger' and 'farmer' camps characterise each other.
Badger protesters see the farming lobby as callous, gun-toting, bloodthirsty cowboys who simply want to scapegoat the badger rather than admit their own responsibilities, and farmers see badger protesters as out-of-touch 'townies' who don't understand country life and whose anthropomorphic attitude means that they would protect the badger but wouldn't be so worried if it was the rat that was targeted.
The original stated purpose of the two pilot culls (in Somerset and Gloucestershire) was to evaluate the safety, efficacy and humaneness of "free shooting" badgers. The original target was to provide 80 per cent confidence of having culled at least 70 per cent of the badgers present. After six weeks the expert panel were 95 per cent confident that less than 50 per cent of local badgers had been culled in both areas. The extended period did not take the total much above 50 per cent.
The Government's policy has been, as I had warned, an abject failure.
They run the very high risk of making the problem of bTB in livestock much worse. I therefore urge ministers to stop these culls and get back to evidence-based policymaking, in the meantime deploying vaccination and other more effective tools. As many people already know, I am working with the Zoological Society of London and Professor Rosie Woodroffe (one of the original advisers on the Government's RBCT) to develop a badger vaccination project across the whole of Penwith and other parts of West Cornwall over the next five years. This will be significantly cheaper than culling, requires no policing and stands a greater chance of effectiveness in controlling bTB. I would urge ministers to halt their policy of culling badgers and to get behind projects like mine to advance alternatives.
Contact Andrew George by e-mail, andrew.george.mp@ parliament.uk
His constituency office is at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG, telephone 01736 360020.