.... that before politicians opened their mouths, they would put their respective brain cell into gear. This week, Shadow Minister for the Conservative party, Peter Ainsworth MP joined a sorry crew of misinformed meddlers, by suggesting that Defra had skewed its own Tb stats, by deliberately delaying tests and test results.
The story was reported in Westcountry newspaper, Western Morning News thus:
WERE TB TESTING TIMES DELIBERATELY SLOWED?
"Did the Government deliberately slow down bovine TB testing in the South West to manicure the figures and make it look as though the problem was going away? That was the question posed to farmers by Shadow Defra Secretary of State Peter Ainsworth when he toured Devon and Somerset last week.
With the unexplained dramatic fall in the number of cattle returned as positive reactors to the TB test, he asked farmers how they thought it had happened. Had slowing down the number of tests and increasing the length of time it took for results to be made known simply been a cynical ploy to reduce statistics and thus head off a cull of diseased badgers, he asked.
Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw had ruled out a cull this year on the back of the latest statistics - thus retaining support from the animal rights lobby."Is it a fiddle of the statistics?" asked Mr Ainsworth, whose East Surrey constituency is not affected by diseased badgers.
Farmers agreed that in the Westcountry the testing campaign had certainly been getting slower - and receiving the results back was now very slow indeed, they said."TB had been virtually eradicated from farming, but because of what is happening with wildlife it's back with a vengeance," said Rob Mortimer, who hosted one of Mr Ainsworth's visits. "Something must be done quickly, as it is now accepted that it's being transmitted through wildlife."
Defra's comment on Mr. Ainsworth's inane jibe, with which we agree, was to point out that in fact 16% more cattle were tested in the current year nationally, than in 2005. But the figures are there for anyone with half a brain to look at. The main drop in Tb incidents (or detection of incidents, depending on one's point of view) was for Jan - March, peaking at almost 30% less than 2005, so if the Right Honourable Member for East Surrey is correct, less cattle should have been tested during that period. About 30% less? He's wrong. Lightweight, inane, out of his depth, ill prepared and an embarassment. And wrong.
In 2005 Jan - March in the West region, (from where he was 'campaigning') there were 7,121 herd tests involving 862,020 cattle.
Compare this to Jan - March 2006, when the Shadow Minister impliedthat "deliberate slowing down of tests had manicured the figures", vets carried out 7,230 herd tests involving 913,419 cattle. So in that period, which saw the biggest drop in incidence, SVS actually tested 51,419 more cattle and 119 more herds than in 2005. Hardly a drop in cattle tested then? Or herds?
Nationally in 2005 Jan - March there were 15,390 herd tests and 1,649,543 cattle tested and in 2006, as Defra's spokesman correctly pointed out, 17,385 herd tests and 1,807,805 cattle tested. Not a drop in testing then, 'manicured' or otherwise.
And Her Majesty's Opposition get paid for purveying this sort of rubbish? Playing to the gallery may sound good, but this industry deserves better than cheap soundbites, dreamed up 2 minutes before the press arrive.