is a series of posts following Bath MP Foster, who is now Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Details of Don's voting record can be found at http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/mp.php?id=uk.org.publicwhip/member/40062&showall=yes#divisions
Back in August 2013, Don told the Bath Chronicle that he was 'pressured' into voting for the badger cull, having been told by the former Liberal Democrat Chief Whip that he had to 'toe the party line', and that preferred choice would be to abstain (see here for full article). Of course, now Don is the Lib Dem Chief Whip, and it's now his job to make MPs vote against their wishes.
This week the badger cull was debated yet again in parliament, and yet again the pro-culllers lost the debate - 219 to 1, although unfortunately this vote is non-binding and won't by itself stop future culls. However, some pro-cull MPs chose to abstain, because the report on last year's cull has yet to be published. Don chose to abstain, and then sent the following e-mail to his anti-cull constituents:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the vote in the House of Commons on 13 March regarding the possible extension of badger culls nationwide.
As you may be aware, I decided to abstain from voting on this motion and I would like to take this opportunity to explain the reasoning behind my decision. I chose to abstain as I acknowledge and agree that the trials that took place had numerous shortcomings in terms of cost, humaneness and achieving targets.
However, I did not chose to vote for the motion as I believe that we should not side line the issue of bovine TB, but instead endeavor to quickly develop viable alternatives to tackle bovine TB.
Originally, I voted in favour of the trials taking place as bovine TB is a terrible disease that results in the deaths of tens of thousands of cattle every year. Around 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2012 alone as a bovine TB control measure. It is estimated that we could be paying as much as £1 billion over the next decade if we do nothing to stop the spread of this disease.
Badgers and cattle transmit bovine TB between each other – the scientific evidence to support this link is now beyond dispute. It is equally clear that no other country has managed to make significant progress on bovine TB without tackling how the disease is spread by wild animals. It was for this reason I voted in favour of two badger cull pilots going ahead this year.
However, since the trials started it has become clear that they were not being completely successful and because of this I could not agree to a national roll-out of further cull trials unless I was convinced of the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of these initial trials.
The trials have not reached the target of removing 70% of the badger population, with initial estimates suggesting the trials reduced the badger population by over 30% in the Gloucestershire and around 60% in the Somerset.
It is due to these short comings that I support developing a viable alternative to badger culling. However, at the moment this alternative does not exist as the option of vaccinating badgers, requires them to be trapped and vaccinated on a yearly basis, which I sure you will agree is logistically problematic. The current vaccine available is only around 70% effective, this poses further problems when you consider that in disease hotspots it is estimated that a third of badgers will have bovine TB.
For this reason, it is clear that we need to advance and accelerate work in developing a viable alternative and I am grateful for the work being done by the Wildlife Trust to advance this alternative. The Government is also investing £11.7 million in vaccine development over the next three years.
Furthermore, George Eustice, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, delivered a statement at the end of the debate yesterday. You can read this at the following link http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140313/debtext/140313-0004.htm and scroll to 4:45PM.
I hope that this is helpful in explaining my position on the issue of badger culls. Please do not hesitate to contact me further on this matter on any other.
With best wishes,
Don"Well, where do we start with that? Obviously Don has forgotten that he was pressured into voting for it and attempted to make up an excuse for voting in favour of it. TB declined by 3.4% in cattle between 2012 and 2013 without badger culling - Defra's figures are wrong. Vaccination has been shown to work in Wales - TB has declined by 24% as a result far more than than the 16% reduction that even the government admits that a badger cull could deliver (see here for reference). Last year it was calculated by badger expert Professor Rosie Woodroffe (no stranger to badger culling, as she was involved in the last badger cull, but like all good scientists has accepted that her findings showed that it would make 'no meaningful contribution' to tackling the problem) that the cost of badger vaccination would be £2,250 per square kilometre per year, and that the cost of culling, including the cost of policing, would be £2429 per square kilometre per year (reference). Furthermore, the charity Care for the Wild estimated the cost per badger in last year's cull was £4121 (reference) and in January Biocensus reported that the cost per square kilometre was £12857, with just £3913 per square kilometre for vaccinations in Wales (reference). Vaccination could potentially be even cheaper as we know that there's a lot of potential volunteers who would be willing to help with vaccinating badgers for free (several of our friends recently attended badger handling courses, and many more people across the country have attended similar courses), if it meant a complete end to culls.
Don correctly states that "no other country has managed to make significant progress on bovine TB without tackling how the disease is spread by wild animals", however he neglects to mention that so country has ever solved the problem by culling either. Last year's cull failed to meet the target of killing 70% of badgers in the cull zones, and, which could potentially make the TB problem in these areas worse due to the peturbation effect caused by fleeing badgers (reference). Lastly, as no badgers were tested for TB in last year's cull, there's no way of knowing how many badgers were carrying the disease in the first place. The cull was never going to work, and farmers are being conned. The choice between vaccination and culling is a no-brainer - vaccination is cheaper, delivers better results than culling, and will help to build bridges between farmers and badgerists, not create divisions. Don appears to be on the fence with this issue - e-mail him the facts here: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on the badger cull, here's our in-depth look at the issues: http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/the-badger-cull-what-you-need-to-know.html
For more on Don Foster, the Foster Watch home page is here: http://standingstonesblog.blogspot.co.uk/p/blog-page.html