Her Majesty’s opposition lost a valiant and under utilised shadow, when Owen Paterson MP was
The present shadow for the Conservatives is Jim Paice, MP who has given an over view of his party’s policies to subscription magazine, Farm Business this week. (no link ) Agricultural policy for the Conservatives (note the ‘A’ word has returned - one Brownie point for that at least) has 5 core aims, including:
* A review of the current (non) policy on control of bovine TB, and
* A review of cost-sharing agenda. (Currently causing an impasse within industry / government negotiations due to the previous line)
In an effort to put ‘clear blue water’ between his party and government, Mr. Paice accuses Hilary Benn of “abdicating responsibility” over his government’s statutory duty of tackling bTB, a claim echoed by Lord Rooker last year when he accused his own department (Defra) of ‘having no policy, and spending £1 billion to no good effect in the last decade”. Farm Business reports:
“Defra Secretary of State, Hilary Benn recently rejected the use of a selective cull of badgers in infected areas as a means of control, telling the House of Commons that while badgers are part of the problem, a cull “might work, but then again it might not work”.To Mr. Paice this was nothing short of an “abdication of responsibility”. Tackling bovine TB will be top of the agenda, he stated unreservedly. “We will review the government’s decision along the lines of the EFRAcom report, and find a way of working with farmers, to deliver a selective cull in heavily infected areas”.
Meanwhile in Lib-Dem circles, their spokesman Norman Baker, MP is equally committed – while in opposition – and he too proposes targetted culling to ‘square the circle’ of infection.
“It is clear that the incidence of Bovine TB is increasing rapidly in certain parts of the country, most notably the South West and South Wales, but also in Sussex. It is also clear that there is a triangular infection route, namely cattle-cattle, cattle-badger, and badger-cattle. It follows therefore that any sensible policy to deal with Bovine TB has to take account of all three transmission routes.”VLA's painstakingly assimilated Spoligotype maps do not support the two former ‘points’ of Mr. Baker’s triangle but let that pass. The man is at least interested - he supports pre and post movement testing and continues:
“In respect of badger-cattle transmissions, I am afraid that I have concluded on the evidence I have seen that this is a route for infection and action does need to be taken to tackle this arm of the triangle as well. It is unhelpful that no test exists to determine the presence of TB in live badgers and this has undoubtedly made matters worse. The absence of any vaccine for cattle is also a serious drawback and I regularly push Ministers for more work to be done on this front. In the meantime however I am afraid I have reluctantly concluded that there is a case for the removal of badgers from infected areas, providing this is done comprehensively and of course humanely.”In fact there is a test which may help, in the shape of PCR. It is government reluctance to use the damn thing which is the problem, both in identifying environmental sources of TB and many other animal diseases - but we digress. Mr. Baker continues:
“The Krebs trials were not carried out properly and because of that, they have indeed, in my view, made matters worse. I do think there is an argument therefore for identifying particular hotspots and removing the badger population from those hotspots. Part of the reason I have concluded that this is appropriate is that without such action TB will spread more widely, and can easily cross over into other species and ultimately into humans. “
And this is a scenario which we are seeing right now with domestic pets in the front line. They, as vets warn this week in Veterinary Times, have the potential to be up close and personal with their owners in a confined space and thus provide a short hop for the bacteria to spread.
Mr Baker also points out that tuberculosis in badgers “ is not a very pleasant experience ” and “there is now a welfare issue in allowing a disease like this to grow in the wild population.” Nah, it’s ‘natural’ say the RSPCA and Badger Trust. Badgers don’t suffer from tuberculosis.
“It is not sensible to allow farmers to shoot badgers on their land. That will not eradicate the population [whole social group ? - ed] and merely allow other badgers to fill the gap. If badgers do have to be killed, then I think it is probably more humane to gas a sett than to allow random shooting. Nor would I support the use of snares.
This is a very difficult subject, therefore I find it quite distressing to reach the conclusion that some elimination of the badger population maybe necessary, but I have done so because I feel that the animal welfare implications of not doing so are probably worse.”
Well that seems pretty solid. We can’t keep culling thousands of cattle, while leaving their source of infection coughing and spluttering its way to a ‘natural’ death, especially as the level of environmental contamination is feeding upwards beyond tested cattle sentinels and into other species.
So government response to industry talks and a damning EFRAcom report this week is illuminating to say the least. Farmers Guardian reports Benn as side lining a selective and targetted cull of infected badgers because of 'fear of extremists:
.."the likelihood that public order problems” which could ‘ jeopardise the cull and contribute to making disease worse’ he also had concerns that ‘landowners would not permit culling on their land’.
Leaving aside the fact that Defra have statutory right of entry to control zoonotic disease, is it not a an incredible statement that this administration will not take action against the acknowledged reservoir, now the maintenance reservoir of tuberculosis in this country because of the liklihood of ‘public order problems’? That is taking ‘animal rights’ to the level of eco-terrorism, as described by Bill Harper, chairman of the NBA TB committee:
“If the Government gives up on a policy because of the threat of extremists it is setting a very dangerous precedent for society at large,” said Mr Harper, who discussed the VLA 9 project in Devon with Defra Secretary Hilary Benn weeks ago.
“It is weak and it is an abdication of responsibility.”
We agree. Government capitulation to any vociferous, single focus activist group with deep lobby cash pockets and nothing whatsoever to lose from their shrill shrieks, is indeed a dangerous precedent. But if government think farmers culling 40,000 cattle a year, a ban on EU exports and £ billions wasted is a push over, just wait until they have to explain this non-policy to the devastated and angry owners of pets infected with tuberculosis from a ‘non-bovine’ source. That really will see ministers running for cover - if only from litigation lawyers.