The day before yesterday at 4.30p.m, the vegetarian bloke called 'Hilary', allegedly in charge of Animal Health, appeared before the EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) committee to answer their criticism of his stance on badger culling in response to outbreaks of
Auspicious though the date November 5th is for Parliament, this grilling was more like a(very) slow roast of the Minister of State. The gist of his 'eradication' policy on bTB is vaccination, vaccination and vaccination. And of course, he is delighted that the deckchairs of the Titanic have been re-arranged -albeit with slightly different bums - to accommodate his wishes in the shape of T-BAG mark 2, the TB Eradication Group. He is most grateful that the 'industry', without whom no policy can proceed at all, have indulged him.... even if their formation group is a trade off for more cattle measures. Defra will chair the group.
"We will go forward together. Share the problem. Develop a partnership using what tools we have..."The two hour long damp squib, only interrupted by signs of life from Geoffrey Cox MP, was so laid back as to be horizontal. No fire crackers to be seen, let alone Guy Fawkes' dynamite. The Minister was reminded that the incidence of TB in cattle herds had increased phenomenally over the last years, and was forecast (by Defra ) to double every 4.5 years, leading to a predicted £1 billion spend over the next 9 years with 100,000 cattle slaughtered and 16,000 herds snarled up in movement restrictions. So?
His answers to all this was to refer to conversations between himself and John Bourne in 2007, on which he made his decision - "no culling and that such action may make things worse". He was reminded (several times) of further data data from members of the former ISG, in the shape of a 60 per cent reduction in cattle TB, and a 20 something reduction in the immediate 'edges' - the very cause of his objections in 2007 - but would not budge. "John Bourne told me .....".
Now unless the diminutive Professor had access to a time travelling tardis, Rosie Woodroffe's results to 2008, (published under Jenkins et al) a were not available in 2007. But let that pass - the Minister has. He is hell bent on vaccination. Badgers first, but with the permission of
And the time frame for this? At least a decade, which to be fair has been the position for the last, errr 4 decades to our knowledge. So no urgency there then. But would it work? Benn was asked what would be the effect of vaccinating already infected populations of badgers, a question answered by Gabrielle Edwards, Defra's lady-in-charge of TB policy. She indicated, quite correctly, that vaccinating against high levels of disease would take much longer to show an effect, vaccination being ineffective in an already infected candidate. So a decade to wait for a possible vaccine, and a further decade for the tuberculosis endemic in badgers to burn itself out?
The Minister came back time and again to his real log jam, or what he perceives as a log jam. Public acceptability. And it's OK to shoot 100,000 cattle a year prematurely? Sorry, we forgot, cattle get killed anyway.
There was a blast at bio-security, on the back of Gareth Enticott's little job creation exercise in Wales, but no reminder to the Minister that our very own VLA Weybridge have sunk a reinforced concrete wall, some 15 feet (we don't 'do' metres) into the Surrey subsoil, to keep their badgers in.
So if it's to be vaccination for badgers, (about which the Badger Trust are strangely silent)- are the badgers prepared to wait a decade or more for their dose?
We are most grateful to cartoon artist Ken Wignall for permission to use his delectable cartoon, first published in Farmers Guardian, illustrating Defra's addiction to taxis.
Maybe farmers could put them (taxis) to use as well, sending thousands of badgers to Defra's London headquarters, for their annual