She sought to reassure sceptical farmers that Defra is ‘absolutely committed’ to tackling bovine TB ...... but made it clear that Defra has no intention of following the Welsh approach of combining tighter cattle controls with a cull of badgers in the most infected areas.
Speaking to Farmers Guardian during the trip, Ms Kennedy said she wanted to hear about the impact of the disease on farm businesses and communities and ‘get a better understanding of what people on the ground believe would make a difference’.
But she acknowledged that her first task was to rebuild farmers’ confidence in Defra, which she admitted had ‘waned’ as a result of its bTB policy.
“Part of my role here is to seek to reassure farmers that we are absolutely committed to tackling this disease. It is not something we think farmers have to live with,” she said.
and added that
" when farmers see the plan we are working on with the TB Eradication Group it will rebuild their confidence in our commitment to tackling this disease.”
And that plan would be? Farmers undertaking wild animal veterinary practise, by vaccinating badgers endemically infected with tuberculosis, with errr, a vaccine for tuberculosis.
She said Defra was ‘working hard’ to bring forward alternative ways of controlling disease in badgers, primarily through an injectable vaccine that is due to be deployed next year. However, she admitted it would ‘take a number of years before we see any impact of that’.
Now far be it from us to rain on Ms. Kennedy's parade, but veterinary opinion on this idea is from two points of the spectrum. One view is that BCG is an unpredictable product and that combined with the inefficiency of cage traps would indicate that even if used as a firebreak, in areas of relatively healthy bagers, any benefit would take a long time to filter through. As in decades. And in 'firebreaks' the minister is not interested.
But in areas where the badgers are already heavily infected with tuberculosis (and these are precisely the zones in which Ms. Kennedy proposes farmers attempt to collect, cage trap, mark and jab them ) then the stress of this operation may quite quickly blow an 'infected' candidate into full blown 'infectious' status, thus making a bad situation a whole lot worse. And it can get worse than 2008's tally of 40,000 dead cattle and almost 10 percent of farms having restrictions during the year, as we showed here.
But the point is that no one really knows what will happen. Least of all the people at VLA who are steering the whole thing. Pragmatically, they collect their salaries and follow their master's voice. It is not for Defra employees to pass judgement - even on such schemes as superficially daft as this one.
The final word on the minister for Waste and Recycling's visit goes to the NFU's South West spokesman Ian Johnson, who commented that:
"Farmers were grateful the Minister was visiting the region for a second time to discuss bTB. But the reality is we are no closer to a solution and no amount of listening and sympathy can make up for that.”
Another prolonged wringing of ministerial hands then. And no change in non-policy. And inevitably, more 'waste' for which this junior minister, and her boss are entirely responsible, and for which the industry will ultimately pay.