Mr Irranca-Davies told opponents of the badger cull in Stroud, in Gloucestershire, on Monday, Labour would ‘defeat TB without mass culling’.
His speech did not go into detail about Labour’s plans for the pilot culls, which are licensed to run for four years in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
But asked on Twitter if this meant cancelling the pilots, which have just commenced their second year, he replied: “Yes.”
Farming Minister George Eustice has told Farmers Guardian the Government cannot force any party to commit to continuing the pilot badger culls after next May’s General Election.
Mr Eustice said the Government remained committed to deploying badger culling as part of a wider strategy to eradicate TB but said he could not give any commitment to rolling the culls out more widely until the second year of culling had been assessed.
During his speech in Stroud, Mr Irranca-Davies said the Gloucestershire and Somerset pilots were a ‘precursor to 40 widespread culls in the years that lie ahead’.
He said: “The next General Election will determine whether widespread mass-culling of badgers takes place across the countryside for many years to come: culls based on two chaotic pilots last year which were a catastrophic, unscientific and costly failure.”
“Labour will do things differently, and more effectively, working with farmers and wildlife groups and others to turn around and eradicate Bovine TB.
“There is a viable alternative way, but we need farmers and their unions and associations to engage fully and sign up to a long-term programme. It will not be easy, nor quick, but we will defeat TB without mass-culling if there is a will to do so in the farming and wider community.”
He said Owen Paterson’s replacement as Defra Secretary Liz T
Even after just over a week of culling, he predicted this year’s culls would be ‘every bit as catastrophic for farmers, taxpayers and wildlife as last year’s pilots’ and described the lack of independent oversight this year as ‘shameful’.
He went into little detail on what Labour would do differently but acknowledged that TB in cattle would need to be tackled by’ both cattle measures and also by addressing the disease where appropriate in wildlife’.
He said the experience in Wales, based on cattle measures, including strict movement controls, bio-security and annual cattle-testing combined with vaccination of badgers, had shown ‘there is another way’.
He said this was ‘does not need widespread and fairly indiscriminate culling, that has broad scientific support, and which is gaining an evidence-base for its effectiveness’.
“Even though it is too early to say that the vaccinations are yet effective, the cattle measures alone already appear to be assisting a reduction in incidence of Bovine Tb. We should be cautious, but it is encouraging,” he said.
“That alternative way is there, should we choose to take it. Labour will continue to advocate this better way forward, and will put it into place if elected.”
In an interview with Farmers Guardian, Mr Eustice said the Government’s commitment to the policy had not wavered, following the sacking of Owen Paterson as Defra Secretary.
“There is no change of policy whatsoever with the new Secretary of State (Elizabeth Truss) coming in. She is as clear as Owen was that, if we want to tackle the disease, we have got to have a cull policy as part of a broader strategy that also includes improving cattle movements and vaccination.”
The Farming Minister acknowledged that that General Election created fresh uncertainty about the future of the policy and expressed hope there could yet be some sort of cross-party consensus on the issue, however unlikely this might seem.
“There is a General Election next year and who knows what could come after that? It is important to recognise there is nothing the current Government could do to bind the hands of a successor Government.
“We disagree with the Labour Party about what the long term solution should be but I hope between now and the election they give this issue more consideration so we can have cross-party consensus and sustain the policy over a sufficient period on time so we can eradicate this terrible disease.”
Mr Eustice said the Government would have liked to have rolled the policy out to new areas this year if the first year of the pilots had ‘gone well’. It will now wait to assess the success of changes made to the pilots this year have been assessed before deciding on the net steps – and whether badger culling will feature as a Conservative Party manifesto commitment.
“We have to take one step at a time,” he said. “We thought the right thing to do, given the concerns raised by the Independent Expert Panel, was to get the two existing culls right and improve the methodology before we rolled it out into new areas.”
“At the end of these culls we will publish the data related to them and at that point we will announce our point of view on what the next steps should be.”