In a novel sea change from the popular image of farming 'subsidy junkies', National Beef Association (NBA) representatives have this week delivered several hundred letters from farmers addressed not to Defra and its Minister of Conservation, but to Number 11, Downing Street, and Chancellor Gordon Brown. Their message was stark. "We do not want your money - £2 billion over the next decade - we want bovine Tb tackled 'in the round', and that includes infected wildlife."
Farmers from the southwest delivered almost 1500 letters, describing the situation as;
"more of a problem than BSE or FMD, and with more and more herds going under restriction spreading out over Devon and the Southwest, there is a real sense of despair.."
"We have got to have this issue tackled, because farmers are now so desperate that if we do not, they will feel they have to take the law into their own hands and that cannot be right for anyone".
Southwest NBA chairman Bill Harper, himself a beef farmer with experience of managing a suckler beef herd under Tb restriction, said:
"It is pointless to try and control the spread of disease in cattle, without dealing with the reservoir of disease in badgers".
(*That would depend on what one's 'point was, surely? - ed)
NBA Chief Executive Robert Forster said:
"Farmers have written to the Chancellor in the hope that potential cost savings would prompt him to investigate Defra's stance. We do not think that the Chancellor and Parliament are properly aware of the costs arising out of the procrastination by Defra over (lack of) Tb control."
"If the disease is not checked, there could be a £2 billion bill to the taxpayers over the next ten years, much of which is avoidable".
"We want to get the manacles off the industry by persuading Government that they cannot defer action over the badger issue any longer".
After the presentation, NBA representatives met Ben Bradshaw to discuss the implications of his non-policy. Although one Exmoor farmer detected a 'glimmer of hope', a Defra spokesman said that although Mr. Bradshaw had listened to the farmer's concerns, there was;
" nothing to indicate a change of policy..."
Over the last 8 long years, DEFRA have managed to 'miss the point' of most of the industry's representations on this issue, while hiding behind John bourne's increasingly flimsy skirts. Why should this initiative be any different? Bradshaw has already played true to form and 'invited' the NFU to formulate a strategy for him, and while making soothing noises to other industry heavyweights will probably do exactly the same with them.
Isolate, divide, polish a few individual egos - while doing absolutely nothing. Classic politics.
And as a young, upwardly mobile politician, it will be extraordinarily difficult to persuade Bradshaw to 'understand' anything at all, when his future promotions and salary depend upon his not understanding.