Monday, September 14, 2009

Counting the cost

After a visit to some Bradshaw, Beckett, Benn, bovine badger-TB hotspots in the SW, Shadow minister, Jim Paice MP was up beat about a 'management' plan to target infected populations of badgers, rather than a wipe out over an area. But land owners will have to contribute, he told Farmers Weekly
Tory plans for a cull are in their early stages, but proposals topped the agenda during a three-day visit Mr. Paice to TB hotspot areas in the south-west of England this week. Any cull would be properly co-ordinated, said Mr Paice. "I have always said that any cull of badgers should be targeted at those setts most likely to be infected, rather than simply deciding to cull all the badgers in any particular area."
We understand this would involve not just geographical 'hard boundaries' so beloved by the Bourne group, but the sort of 'badger' boundaries used by the Clean Ring TB eradication strategies of the 1980s. These used a 'virtual barrier' of clean healthy badgers as the end of the cull area. It is our understanding that Mr. Paice was shown some well worked main setts which looked like an advert for JCB diggers which were (although this is without the benefit of PCR to confirm, Defra having thrown this technology into the long grass) described to him as 'actively, well worked and vibrant' - as were their occupants. Confirmation coming from the sentinel, regularly tested cattle, which were - clear.

He was then taken a few hundred yards away and saw satellite setts, often single holes, into which the old and sick of the group were kicked out at the end of their tenure. We understand the partially decomposed remains of a previous occupant were in evidence, outside at least one of these.

Although Mr. Paice declined to put a figure on how much individual farmers would be charged, industry sources suggested £7.50/ha (£3/acre), meaning a £600 bill for a typical 150-cow dairy herd run across 80ha (200 acres).

The bill for successive governmental non-policy is running at around £100m annually. To describe it as 'combating bovine TB' is stretching the imagination somewhat. Apart from ongoing 'research' some of which is vital, much is offered as top up grants to universities, producing a lightweight paper trail which has little to offer the real world of epidemiology and disease control. The main tranche of the budget is spent on continual testing of cattle, hauling reactor cattle to abattoirs, slaughtering cattle, taking samples from said cattle, culturing samples and sending results to local AHOs who then produce their pile of paperwork - to test more cattle. That isn't a 'policy', it is a thoroughly wasteful carnage, going absolutely nowhere.

But having believed the guff churned out by mathematical modellers who convinced the world (and themselves) that selling houses they couldn't afford, to people who then could not pay, but that the value of said house would continue to increase - fuelling an eye watering pyramid of bonuses - the perpetrators of the current credit crunch reality check have mortgaged successive governments for the foreseeable future. Defra has no money and Mr Paice told Farmers Weekly:
"Frankly, I can't see me getting any extra money so either it is going to have to come from elsewhere in DEFRA's budget - which won't be immediately easy - or we are going to have to ask farmers to pick up some of the cost." Although the Tory plan would save money by bringing the disease under control, Mr Paice said any additional measures would involve an additional short-term cost.
This illustrates just how important it is that any TB eradication policy has overall AHO control. Contributers to this site have told us that although they have problems - some ongoing - with the disease, the badgers responsible are off-lyers. They are not located on the land owned by the cattle farmer. And that was the single most important restraint faced by SVS during the ten year 'Interim' startegy 1987 - 97. Not only was the 'clean ring' area reduced from 7 km from a confirmed TB outbreak in cattle , to just 1km, but wildlife teams could only trap on land which 'cattle had grazed'. Thus if the badgers responsible were located in woodland or the farm next door, they couldn't gain access. Even though badger territories extended over several cattle farms in the locality. So a cattle farm in that position today, would be throwing away money unless Defra utilised its 'right of entry' to such areas.

And in further slant, TB costs are put at £50 per head of finished cattle by a Cornish farmer. Weight loss in his regularly tested beef cattle and consequential labour costs are just some of the on-farm extras, which Defra's non-policy already load onto this industry. We told you more of the 'benefits' of TB restriction, in this posting.

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