Don’t cull the right policy


Llyr Huws Gruffydd AMLlyr Huws Gruffydd. Plaid Cymru's rural affairs spokesperson writes for the WalesHome blog today.



THE ERADICATION of Bovine TB (BTB) in Wales’ national herd should be something to which anyone can easily subscribe. The impact on individual farmers, their families and the farming industry as a whole is clear, and to my knowledge, few objective contributors to the debate would attempt to deny the gravity of that impact. But we also need to remember the far reaching consequences of this disease for the public purse. The vast and on-going costs associated with Bovine TB should be of concern to all of us who pay taxes – whether we have a direct interest in farming or not.

The fact that the situation has been allowed to become as bad as it is today should be of great regret to those who left TB to spread unchallenged for so long.

The question that does however divide opinion is how exactly we achieve eradication of this terrible blight on our countryside. Naturally, the culling of wildlife has become a very emotive element to this debate. And for the record, I agree that any decision to cull should never be taken lightly.

In this regard, I can only say that I am full of admiration of the last Welsh Government – The One Wales Government as it was known. That government’s Rural Affairs minister took an open-minded approach to finding out what would work in terms of reducing and eventually eradicating Bovine TB. In doing so, she put together a comprehensive package of measures to combat the disease – and as we’ve seen, that package included a cull in one area where BTB currently rages out of control.

The debate over that key element to the TB eradication plan has been long and divisive – as it was always likely to be. At the end of that debate, we find ourselves in a position where the case for a cull has been made – backed up by science and meticulously clear in its aims and outcomes. I accept that those opposed to a badger cull would equally claim that science backs up their argument. However these two legitimate arguments colliding cannot be allowed to result in stalemate. To do so would not only risk a return to a spiralling acceleration of the prevalence of BTB, it will also waste the long and principled effort of the two parties that grasped this nettle during the One Wales era.

The minister in charge of TB eradication in this Labour Welsh Government is the Environment Minister, John Griffiths. Mr Griffiths was a member of the previous government – he was the Counsel General at the time, and one would expect that he had a key role in the court cases that emanated from the policy decision. The First Minister has also not changed. As one would expect, Carwyn Jones was fully supportive of his coalition government’s approach. One very vocal supporter of the eradication plan from the Labour backbenches was the now Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Alun Davies. These three key players in the new Welsh government will have to drive forward efforts to eradicate BTB.

The First Minister, Environment Minister and Deputy Minister for Agriculture have all played their parts in the battle that has taken place over this controversial issue. Each contribution has been made in the face of fierce and often personal criticism – but to be fair, they stayed the course and I think the principled path that has been set is one that could benefit farmers for generations.

To spring back to the here and now, I can only imagine that the change of government in Wales has offered an opportunity to the opponents of the TB eradication plan to lobby hard for a change of policy. The nature of the opposition and the emotive nature of the issue at hand will no doubt offer various temptations to sweep the issue under the carpet once again and let go of that nettle.

I guess the First Minister and his colleagues will be unlikely to come to me for advice over the next few hours before an announcement is made of the future of the TB eradication plans tomorrow. But were they to do so, I would tell them to simply maintain their course – stick to the plan that has been carefully laid out by the previous government. AMs from all parties have taken a principled stand on this issue and have worked through some fiery opposition in the process.

A brave stance now will bring significant benefits for farmers, livestock, wildlife and the public finances in the future.