There are times when the predictable is so obvious that, like the ‘elephant in the room’, it is unseen by those closest to the beast. We saw it with the previous Industry Strategy on bTb, when a three pronged attack on the disease, worded to happen simultaneously, together and concurrently was whittled down to two parts acceptance by government - and the appallingly unnecessary, polemic ‘consultation’ which predictably and conveniently kicked any action on infected badgers into the long grass. Pre movement testing, and tabular valuation stay, and as we have said, Defra got its ‘quid’ but failed to deliver the ‘pro quo’.
Last week, industry ‘stakeholders’ – how we hate that word – met in London to thrash out yet another Industry Strategy. The core of the agreement is as follows:
* That a Strategy working group be set up, aligned with DVM areas involving vets, farmers, the SVS and other ‘stakeholders’, to advise on policy for the area and create local Tb management groups.
* Licences would be applied for to cover the area – by individual farmers or for a designated area is by no means clear at this stage – and culling would be carried out by contractors employed by landowners.
* First choice methods would be cage traps and shooting , with CO gassing and occasionally stop snaring , when these methods are approved.
* Initially culling to be focussed in hot spot areas, within a framework of larger control area of up to 300 sq km and using if possible, hard geographical boundaries.
Other points in the Strategy outline deal with vague reference to those words beloved of government;
* Partnerships, provision of resources, industry and Government working together, focus and public information. We are surprised they missed out 'holistic' . Has that one fallen off the radar?
Full story on this link:
So what happened to the last initiative and why should this one be any different ? Well, for a start, Defra have their pre movement testing, paid for by farmers. No sunset clause on it, and at a confirmed reactor rate of about 120 found out of 102,000 cattle tested, not a value for money exercise either – but then it is not Defra’s money.
They also have tabular valuation, the second tranche of the original three pronged attack, but with no action whatsoever on the maintenance reservoir of bTb in wildlife, and despite the alleged ‘drop’ in detection – we don’t buy ‘drop in incidence’ – farmers are still unable to obtain bTb insurance to cover higher value animals – at any price. Insurance cover should have been the pay off for returning to tabular valuation, but ‘exposure to risk is too great’ the man-from-the-Pru still says.
So what can be the lever this time? As our readers will have realised by now, we have a disturbingly cynical view of any weasel words from either Defra or the NFU that mention ‘partnership’. It usually means that Government want something, and need ‘industry’ support to sell what they want, to farmer members. – and the rest of us. The Minister says 'Jump', and the industry 's finest from the other side of their politically revolving door answer "How high?". In Parliamentary questions (archived on this site) our Ben, yup he’s still there bless him, (doesn’t want to be, but let that pass) spoke of ‘rationalisation’ of disease compensation; that was about 18 months before he achieved it via tabular valuations.
And on 31st March 2004, Column 1462W, Mr. Bradshaw, bruised from his FMD carnage and under not inconsiderable pressure from the Treasury with bTb costs spiralling at a 20 per cent growth rate per year, answered a question on disease levies, thus:
"The levy we have in mind would be raised on a per head basis, on all animals susceptible to any disease covered by the levy fund. Different rates of levy would be set for different categories of animals, in line with the categories which are set for the compensation regime".
You see where we’re coming from? The authors of this site have no problem in principle with levies – providing, and it is a big proviso – that government take their part of this much vaunted ‘partnership’ seriously. Prevention and insurance should be first choice, and would be if this disease - bTB - was under control. But we understand that even a proposal of a shared ‘responsibility’ between the Insurance companies and such industry levies, overseen by Defra, was laughed out of court a couple of years ago. That was a ‘No’ then.
So what have we got this time? Another Industry strategy working as a Trojan horse for unpopular measures, while Government have no intention whatsoever in delivering their half of the bargain? And what a bargain! Examined carefully, we see ‘farmer’ licenses and ‘farmer’ employed contractors using cage traps. And over an area of 300 sq km, when the diminutive John Bourne achieved his wonderful exercise in badger dispersal in just 100 ?? And ‘farmers’ will be paying for the privilege, when control of bTb ( a Grade 3 pathogen) is totally and completely Defra’s responsibility. Absolutely brilliant.
And the pay off this time? We think levies. Sold to a gullible and politically lightweight industry as a ‘joint initiative’ against a promise vaguely and certainly no time soon, of badger control by farmers. Been there, done that. Got the pre movement testing, and tabular valuation. But no insurance offers and no sick badgers sorted. And we see no reason to suppose this will be any different. The farming 'industry', aka the NFU, has a history of taking hard talk to the wire. But no further. And government know that, and use it. Unfortunately we now have a complete lack of HM's Opposition, since Owen Paterson's foray into battle with his questions, visits to see other country's solutions and enquiries into PCR technology. In Parliamentary Questions, he asked about the influence of these populous 'stakeholder' focus groups. Ben's enlightening answer should be "engraved on the hearts of all who take part - preferably without anaesthetic", a highly descriptive phrase plagiarised from our partner Richard, on www.eu.referendum.blogspot
27th January 2004: Col 246W
"Ministers consider carefully the advice of these bodies in formulating policy. However, there is no requirement for Ministers or the Department to abide by their advice, nor do these bodies have any formal power to veto departmental proposals".
That would seem pretty clear. You do as you're told, and we do as we like - and we do not like culling badgers. Ever. But we are quite happy to let 'farmers' do it for us. And pay for it. And they'll also pay a levy for the privilege.
Game, set and match to Defra.