Whatever party or coalition forms the next Welsh Government after the May 5 Assembly elections, tackling bovine TB will be a priority issue.
Representatives of four of the five main parties told a joint NFU Cymru-Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors all-Wales hustings in Llandrindod Wells at the weekend that they would be in favour of selective badger culling.
Only Welsh Labour which has been carrying out the now halted badger vaccination policy for the past five years refused to give a commitment – but said it would “revisit” the issue.
Responding to audience calls for a TB eradication strategy that removed the disease from cattle and wildlife, the party-selected speakers accepted that farmers were playing their part by way of cattle-based controls - but were at odds over the reservoir of infected wildlife not having been confronted.
Labour’s Alex Thomas rejected the claim that the ruling Welsh Government had done nothing to combat bovine TB.
The badger vaccination programme had only been curtailed after four years due to the worldwide shortage of vaccine.
He said that in theory confining the spread of TB might be possible through culling badgers but all that did was to control the disease in one area while increasing it in others and one of the reasons for being against a cull “at the moment”.
Despite claims to the contrary he added that the incidence of bovine TB had been reduced as a result of the current policy.
He would not support a cull unless there was “radically new evidence that a science-based policy would work”.
Plaid Cymru’s Llyr Gruffydd said the vaccination programme ranked as the “clearest example of politically-based policy.
“There needs to be a new science-led policy and there is a window to review the situation very soon after the coming elections,” he added.
“The vaccination programme is in shambles and if the findings point towards wildlife culling I would support that action.”
Kirsty Williams, for the Lib-Dems, said the measures introduced for farmers “have gone as far as they can, but I fear we will never get clear of this disease without involving wildlife”.
Understandably some people were emotive about culling badgers – but there appeared to be little emotion over the huge losses of cattle and the effects the disease was having on farming families.
UKIP’s Gethin James said there was already a policy of culling, with some 80,000 cattle having been slaughtered in the last 10 years.
“The next Welsh Government has to get to grips with bovine TB. There is a disease situation that has to be dealt with and we support culling the smaller black and white animals.”
Accepting that the disease must be actively removed from the badger population, Aled Davies, from the Conservatives, said the scientific evidence was already available.
“Eradicating TB is completely within the hands of the Welsh Government and so far it has failed to deal with it,” he said.
“My opinion would be for farms that are closed down by the disease to be granted a licence giving permission to deal with the wildlife on the farm. That would clear up TB overnight.”
NFU Cymru president, Stephen James, said that whatever the make-up of the next Welsh Government actively removing the badger population in areas where TB was endemic would be one of union’s priority asks.