Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Krebs, the whole Krebs and nothing but Krebs

The Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs The Right Honourable Hilary Benn, MP having studiously avoided announcing his decision on controlling badgers to prevent the spread of bTB at the Royal Show, announced in parliament on monday that he would not.

Having listened to his committee, EFRAcom, (with ears tight shut?) and received most gratefully, the final report from the ISG he is minded that culling badgers may help the situation, but then again it may not. So he will embrace the Krebs trial report until 'new scientific evidence becomes available', bear down on cattle measures, support vaccination programmes and - set up a new advisory group. The full statement is here

Having listened carefully to a wide range of views from scientists, farming, veterinary and wildlife organisations, and many others, and having considered all the evidence, I have decided that while such a cull might work, it might also not work. It could end up making the disease worse if it was not sustained over time or delivered effectively, and public opposition, including the unwillingness of some landowners to take part, would render this more difficult.

I do not think it would be right to take this risk. Therefore – and in line with the advice I have received from the Independent Scientific Group – our policy will be not to issue any licences to farmers to cull badgers for TB control, although we remain open to the possibility of revisiting this policy under exceptional circumstances, or if new scientific evidence were to become available.
'New scientific evidence', refecting the time lag of any measures on a wildlife reservoir - even as dire as the 8 night hit and run visits of the RBCT - to flag up in cattle tests is already published and shows significantly different results from those published and commented on by Bourne. And as was pointed out in a comment when we posted a press coverage of this, its authorship is the most important bit. Not only does it take the RBCT cattle results on a further two years, it was complied by two ex members of the now disbanded ISG.

About this work, both the Minister and the ISG former chairman appear to have selective amnesia.

And we note that the Minister is not intending to lift the moratorium on the issueing of licenses for badger culling, under Section 10 of the Badger Protection Act "to prevent the spread of disease". Zanu-Labour in all its glory.

In his appearance before camera, The minister nodded sagely and announced that he ' could have introduced more cattle measures' but that at the moment he would not.

It would be possible to tighten cattle measures still further - as recommended by the ISG Report - but this would come at a high cost, and whether it would be worthwhile is as much, if not more, a question for the industry as it is for Government. There is a choice to be made.

That is why I have also decided to set up a Bovine TB Partnership Group with the industry to develop a joint plan for tackling bovine TB. We will discuss with the industry who should be on the group and how it should work, and I want to get started as quickly as possible.
Well hallelujah for small mercies. Zoning is still in his armoury, as the previous advisory group - the late unlamented T-Bag tried to sneak in - dressed up 'the industry supports...'. So waddya do? Set up a new group of course. The Bovine TB Partnership. And let them do it for you.

The minister also is intending making 'living with the disease' easier. This too is disguised dressed up as a benefit to farmers when in fact the opposite is the case. The new group's remit wil include looking ...
... at ways of helping farmers to manage the impact of living under disease restrictions, for example by providing incentives for biosecurity, or maximising the opportunities to market their cattle by looking again at the restrictions around red markets and encouraging the establishment of more Exempt and Approved Finishing Units.
We covered those biosecurity 'incentives' in the EU paper below - and it seemed to us more a way of reducing compensation for reactors than its enhancement. Perhaps it's the way one says it. 'Incentives for biosecurity' sounds more comfortable than:

Accordingly, it is extremely important to ensure that the level of compensation is the appropriate and serves to encourage farmers to respond to their situation in an appropriate manner that will prevent or considerably reduce future risk of infection. There is also a case to be made that the compensation is conditional on the herdowner’s compliance with stated conditions relating to the prevention of a further outbreak on the holding within a reasonable period. Otherwise, compensation may not be approved, or if approved, would be at a lower rate. Furthermore, compensation should always be at a level below (to a reasonable or, sometimes, significant extent) that of the current market price of comparable healthy animals.
Particularly when taken in the context of comments of the government's chief badger advisor, Dr. Chris Cheeseman of Badger Heaven, Woodchester Park. He has said (at meetings attended by our contributers in Cheshire and Wilts.) on at least two occasions that keeping infected badgers and cattle apart is 'impossibe'. "You get rid of your cattle", he told stunned cattle farmers. And of course exempt finishing units, while a valuable short term help, drastically reduce the amount of cattle traded on the open market, thus providing cheap supermarket fodder and consequently a lower price for tabular valuations.

Benn described an imminent vaccine availabilty, which is at best misleading and concluded:

Mr Speaker, the House is united in its determination to overcome bovine TB, and much as we would all wish it, there is no quick or easy way of doing so. But our best chance is to work together, and I therefore hope that the industry will respond to the proposals I have made so that we can get on with it.
There is 'no quick and easy way' while ignoring the main reservoir of the disease, and more cattle measures, as we have pointed out, may be sop to the lobbyists and government paymasters, but they do not work.

The NFU have taken full page adverts in many weekend papers with This Poster and the TFA has withdrawn from 'cost sharing' talks with government.

While Hilary Benn was speaking from the House of Commons on monday, Lord Rooker had this to say from the House of Lords:
My right honourable friend in the other place made it clear that he was grateful to the EFRA Select Committee for its report. He also made it abundantly clear that he took the view that, from a practical point of view, a culling operation would not succeed and could make matters even worse.

My noble friend is quite right that badger-to-badger transfer takes place in large setts with more badgers and more food. Living in crowded conditions was how human beings caught TB in the first place. Badger-to-cattle transmission is heavy; I understand that it accounts for about 70 per cent to 80 per cent of cases and that cattle-to-cattle transmission accounts for about 10 per cent of cases. It is difficult to be precise."

That seems extremely 'precise' to us. Cattle-to-cattle transmission 10 percent : badger-to-cattle 70 to 80 per cent. So - the net result of 10 years prevarication is 100 per cent of effort and energy, cost and responsibility directed at 10 per cent of transmission. And zilch into the primary cause. Sounds about right.


Jim said...

It was interesting to watch Benn's body language when he made his non-statement at the Royal. When he got to the fourth point on his list of factors to be taken into account (public acceptance) his voice dropped and he could only look down at the table. It was as if he knew that was the decisive factor but wished he didn't have to mention it.

George said...

Listened to Mr B on Farming today - it seems that badger culling might not work. So, which would you rather have, a policy that certainly won't work (the status quo) or one that 'might not work'?
Actually, with the new evidence from the 2 years since the trial (and previous experience of badger removals) We feel quite sure that it would work. Pity the politics got in the way.

jim said...

Another interesting thing which Benn said on Farming Today: When asked how come the Welsh had made the opposite decision, he said, "We've looked at the evidence and judged it in different ways."

Same evidence, same facts on the ground, different judgment. In strict logic, one judgment must be right and one must be wrong. (Though, being a careful politician, Benn was astute enough to label the Welsh judgment merely "different".)

Even if, in fairness to Benn, one was to suppose that the judgment was very finely balanced, surely a bold politician would have said that the status quo is unsustainable and that something else must be tried.

Radio 4 read out an email from a listener on Friday making the point that Benn actually had no choice because of the parlous state of the Labour Party's finances....