Thursday, October 11, 2007

It's 'Crunch time' - Rooker

Speaking at a Countryside Alliance fringe meeting during the Labour Party seaside jolly Conference last week, Food and Farming Minister Jeff Rooker sent out a message to his Government that it cannot delay the decision on badgers and bovine TB any longer.

Farmers Guardian reports Lord Rooker's typically no-nonsense comments.
He said that virtually every farmer he had spoken to on Defra’s plans to introduce 'cost and responsibility sharing' for animal disease, had raised the issue of bTB. “What they say is: ‘You want to share the costs and responsibility but what are you prepared to share about bTb?"
Lord Rooker was also quite clear on the dynamics of the disease:
“I am very clear in my own mind - we have got a disease in wildlife and we have got a disease in food animals and we have got to deal with it. It is as simple as that,” he said.

He is also keen to take action on wildlife reservoirs of the disease, mindful that the breathing down his neck over the Tb incidence in GB was our lord and master, the European Union. Lord Rooker was aware that some member states could latch on the high incidence of bTB in cattle as an excuse for banning UK exports. “We don’t want that to occur. There is a trade issue behind this,” he said. With all due respect, it's a bit late in day for the prospect of yet another trade ban to worry his Lordship. A veterinary certificate was drawn up in 2004 by the EU for just such a contingency. It is lurking in a European drawer, all ready for the Commission to instigate, as we reported here

On the logistics of any badger cull, Lord Rooker stressed that there would be ‘no policy of eradicating badgers’, but he pointed out that now the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial had finished, government now "have the ability to issue licences". 'Government' always did have the ability to issue licenses. But in the wake of £1 million bung, it issued a moratorium on badger culling at the start of the trial, in effect tweaking of an Act of Parliament with no discussion, Statutory Instrument or any other democratic debate - but let that pass. What government took away, government can put back was his message.

Lord Rooker agreed that if the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial showed anything at all, it was how not to cull badgers. (And how to waste £50 million of taxpayer's money??)
"The one phrase that sticks out from the ISG report we received on badgers and bTB was that culling as done during the [Randomised Badger Culling] trials doesn’t work. OK. So we wouldn’t do culling as done during the trials. It’s obvious,” he said.

Lord Rooker openly admitted what many farmers have long suspected – that politics has sometimes got in the way of decision-making on this issue. 'Sometimes'? Sheesh, that's rich. After what ISG chairman, John Bourne told the EFRA committee? That millions had been spent on a 'trial' which had had a political skew from its outset, and its conclusions were thus censured from day one? Lord Rooker now admits that the level of bTb as shown in sentinel tested cattle, - is out of control. But culling cattle is an expensive hiding to nowhere, if they are not the source of the disease. And with those of us who had taken the biosecure decision not to purchase animals, and still suffered prolonged breakdowns, it is especially galling. He concluded;
"All the other issues – including foot-and-mouth and bluetongue - will be easier than bTB. It has every ingredient you could think of in terms of policy-making – politics, animal welfare disease control, food supply. It has got the lot and that is why, of course, decisions have been a bit few and far between. But the crunch time is coming we can’t avoid it much longer.”

So far, so good. The trick is, Lord Rooker, to make sure that any policy you authorise, complies with the Bern Convention. It is no use letting 'farmers' rip into the arena of huge area licenses only to be challenged with a Judicial Review. Comply with the Bern Convention and any such challenge is unlikely to succeed.

So 'crunch time' is coming, as Lord Rooker says.

And to paraphrase Napoleon, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is in the process of making an error". But on any joint package of unworkable, ineffective cattle measures offered to government as a sop to farmer licensed badger clearance, we would say no. Once shafted , twice shy.

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