"We are disappointed that you have been unable to find time to speak to us. We note that you found time in your busy schedule to visit Cornwall to take part in an episode of the BBC's Any Questions programme. We also note that your participation in a light- weight radio programme appears to take a higher priority than the present epidemic of bovine tuberculosis and its effect on the British cattle industry"
So opens a letter to Ben Bradshaw, from exasperated farmers Stephen and Margaret Miles down on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall, a copy of which has been forwarded to your editors.
We have covered the Miles' problems in earlier posts, but will recap - as did Mrs. Miles - lest our Minister of Fisheries and Conservation forget.
" Last October we suffered the first case of bovine TB in our dairy herd in forty years of farming. We run a closed herd with no cows purchased since 1966. In that time we have bought in 3 bulls, all from clean farms (and all regularly tested in the herd - ed) the most recent of which was purchased ten years ago. Since last October we have seen over half our milking herd slaughtered as TB reactors, some 51 cows and 1 bull over 6 separate sixty day tests. The consequences of this outbreak are as follows:
* From October 2004, we have been unable to sell any stock (except for direct slaughter- ed) Large numbers of beef cattle, normally sold as 'stores' , now fill the fields. We have the prospect of welfare problems this coming winter as we become overstocked.
* Our milking herd is no longer viable. Our milk sales have more than halved yet many of our overheads remain the same. We are now running the business at a loss.
* Defra compensation for slaughtered cows has been less than our losses in milk sales, and is now seeping away on running costs.
In view of our closed herd policy, and our strict adherence to biosecurity measures we have discounted cattle movement as the source of infection. We, the local SVS (State Veterinary Service) and our own vets consider that infection has come from wildlife. Various reports as far back as the 1960's and 70's put the badger at the top of the list of likely reservoirs of the disease in wildlife. "
Mrs. Miles points out to the minister that they have received little or no help from Defra in attempts to identify the source of this devastating outbreak.
(They know, but dare not speak its name Margaret....)
The letter asks many questions of our Ben, including where, how, by whom and why badgers are translocated. And what are the safeguards for this activity?
(We will watch with interest his answer to that one - and compare to PQ's " No knowledge or registration of 'sanctuaries', and using a protocol and test not approved by Defra" ... the man said then.)
Several dead badgers were found on the Miles' farm prior to this breakdown. None were tested, although SVS were asked.
(Now this is classic 'Don't look - won't find' political skew. Road casualties are tested - or at least there is provision for so doing. But if a badger expires off-road so to speak then the cost of the postmortem is born by the finder. And it is £117 per carcass. One might suggest that this is a pretty good incentive for using a shovel - or the Miles' can play the Minister's game, move the carcass - with all care and wearing the appropriate protective masks and disposable overalls accorded to Class B / 1 infectious zoonosis - and phone the Ministry from a layby on the side of the A30)
In the Minister's 1 in 7 RTA survey release, Mrs. Miles has noted dates and locations of the few carcasses that were collected. None were collected in the Roseland area in 2004 when the survey was done, thus no TB in badgers was reported in the area. This means that unless private testing was carried out, at £117 per corpse, there was no testing of the numerous carcasses seen both in fields and on local roads in the area.
(We did say: Don't look - won't find, but we'll say it again)
The Miles have approached Defra for a License to cull badgers on their land, under the Protection of Badgers Act. They were told to 'Wait until after the Election". Which election wasn't made clear. We expected Bourne's RBCT to steer this administration through two, but perhaps the Minister is banking on three or even four.
Mrs. Miles concludes;
"We are now in an impossible situation. We have a business in crisis without the legal means to eradicate the cause of the problem. Our options are very limited. We can continue farming at a loss or we can have the remainder of our herd slaughtered, receiving only a fraction of their value. Either way, we stand to lose a great deal of money and are left with a diseased farm, with reduced agricultural value."