With the Badger Trust determined to obtain a judicial review of the Assembly Government’s decision to implement a limited rural cull of badgers as part of a panoply of measures to hunt the burgeoning bovine TB epidemic ripping though our countryside, Cardiff is entering new and difficult legal waters.
Apparently, badger-lover sites in England have been festooned with threats to take it out on the Welsh – with talk of boycotts of Welsh food, and so on – because of rural affairs minister Elin Jones’s move.
The Badger Trust and their large number of urban pals – who have usually never been nearer to a field than the inside of a car – are convinced that no worthwhile scientific evidence exists to connect Mr Brock with a disease that is at its most rampant in much of southern Wales.
Since 1999, the number of cattle culled in Wales due to infection has grown by a massive 656 per cent – from 660 to almost 8,000 – while the compensation bill has grown more than 1,000 per cent, rocketing from £1.8m to £30m in 2012 if the current trend continues.
In the past, bovine TB has been frequently transmittable to humans, generally through milk. Pasteurisation has seen the end of that transmission change. But the disease’s rampage through southern Wales and western England is now taking its human toll in other ways, through damaged farming livelihoods, and the mental strain of living on farms “locked down” by an infection.
Only a dozen AMs could be found to try and block Ms Jones’s move. Most of these seem utterly convinced that there is utterly no scientific justification for pouncing on badgers. But what about the Royal Society paper proving that only 16pc of herd infections seem due to cattle-to-cattle transmission (the reason for the outbreak favoured by the Badger Trust) ?
Is it any surprise that badger-lovers never refer to this report – particularly as it also finds that 75pc of outbreaks are due to badgers (together with other minor “local” factors).
The Royal Society report was based on a suite of mathematics completely beyond my O-levels. But it fitted neatly with information given by AMs during this week’s debate about the massive TB reservoir hidden within the badger population – 26pc of badgers tested in Gwent, a hot-spot county, have TB. Throughout Wales, according to Lib Dem farmer Mick Bates, 13pc of badgers are infected, compared with far fewer than one per cent of cattle.
Veterinary civil servants in Cardiff pour scorn on some of the Badger Trust’s claims, such as blaming stocking levels, and stock transfers from distances importing the disease. If the latter were true, how come that “closed” farms, which breed their own stock rather than buy in, are affected ?
The issue is clearly beginning to gain an England-versus-Wales angle. If the English want this, perhaps I can apply mathematics to the Assembly’s vote – which saw opposition restricted to only one LibDem; Independent Trish Law; and 10 from Labour.
But it is not mathematically significant that that 10 Labourites include almost the entire group in the Assembly who are trying to apply the brake to the Assembly’s advance towards greater powers – Huw Lewis (Merthyr), Irene James (Islwyn), Lynne Neagle (Torfaen) and Karen Sinclair (Clwyd South).
Minister Elin Jones is unfazed by the legal row as she chatted while being driven north to an engagement. She is quite pleased that so few voted the other way, and got her officers to issue a release stating, “Our commitment is to pursue vigorously a programme of TB eradication in Wales, and we have announced a comprehensive package of measures to meet that commitment. This includes measures to test all cattle herds across Wales in order to measure the extent of the infection, to remove all sources of infection on farms and to review the compensation system.”
It is the comprehensiveness of the measures that Cardiff lawyers will be resting on to beat the challenge from East Grinstead (where the trust is based) into the ground.