Chair of Natural England Tony Juniper has said it is ‘very hard to draw a firm conclusion’ about the effectiveness of the badger cull, despite new peer-reviewed research showing massive drops in TB incidence in cull areas.
Before his appointment to the position at Natural England, which has responsibility for issuing badger cull licences, Mr Juniper was an outspoken opponent of the cull, describing it as a ‘mad policy’ and an ‘inhumane and expensive waste of time’.
MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee grilled him about these comments when ex-Defra Secretary Michael Gove announced he was his preferred candidate for the job.
At the time, he said he would ‘look very carefully at the science again and hopefully be convinced [the cull] is rational and based upon the best evidence’.
Asked by Farmers Guardian whether a new paper published in Scientific Reports on October 11, which showed there has been a 66 per cent drop in cattle TB incidence in Gloucestershire and a 37 per cent fall in new TB breakdowns in Somerset was enough to persuade him of the merits of culling, Mr Juniper said: “I have not had a chance to delve into the guts of that analysis yet.
“But having been out in the field and spoken to more scientists working in this area, I am struck by the level of complexity there is in understanding the implications of any data.
“We have got a comprehensive strategy which is seeking to control bovine TB and that is to be welcomed in the sense of looking at all possible ways in which we might get a grip on this disease.
“Part of the challenge is [finding] an ability to disentangle the beneficial effects coming from any of the interventions which are going on.
“I remain vigilant in terms of looking at papers like that and I will make sure I do get to read that one when I get time, but I am struck as we go along by the extent to which it is very hard to draw a very firm conclusion from any single bit of analysis.”
Mr Juniper was speaking to FG as part of a visit to NFU dairy board vice chair Paul Tompkins’ farm in York.