Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Progress? ...

.. or a very un-holy alliance?
Time will tell, but news last week of a joint initiative between the NFU and the Badger Trust was announced.
NFU chief farm policy adviser John Royle and Badger Trust director Simon Boulter have agreed a joint project in which the badgers will be vaccinated on two farms owned by NFU members. In addition, the Badger Trust has identified five other landowners around the UK wishing to vaccinate badgers and is working independently with them as part of the initial trial project.

Vaccination on all seven farms started in October after surveys were carried out to identify active badger setts and licences have been granted by Natural England. The vaccination project will run until the end of November 2011 and resume in May 2012
And then what?
Badgers have been vaccinated on seven farms, and this helps how?
What is the aim here?

Are we looking at NFU saying it's too expensive, cumbersome and won't work and actually we weren't really planning to do it as part of Option 6 of any badger cull?
And conversely, Badger Trust saying no it's not and yes you must?

In Parliamentary questions last week, Jim Paice seems to sticking to his original £1.4 million price tag on each 350 sq km cull area and much of that cost was ring vaccination - however much his own department knows that the PR surrounding last autumn's mishmash of 'scientific' trials on vaccinating wild badgers was a huge con. And the NFU are said to have told its members vaccination is too costly, impractical and they can ignore it.

But we digress.

We are a cynical lot at blogger HQ and do not believe for one moment that the NFU and Badger Trust, holding hands with Defra / FERA and Natural England actually want to break the polemic log jam or stop the beneficial gravy train of bTB. However the members of both the alliance members do want action - but from different directions.

So, who is paying for this project? NFU members? Badger Trust? Defra? or could it be the first 'cost sharing' exercise via the proposed Cost and Responsibility levy?
FERA already know the cost of vaccinating badgers from several previous forays. And most importantly, they knew the TB status of the farm's cattle (if indeed there were any cattle on the land) at the start of the project. How will success or failure be calculated in this short time scale? Or is this merely the practicalities of vaccination which are being considered - again? Are the badgers in question screened for TB ahead of their annual jab (or peanut fest) as they were in previous 'trials'? If you remember this excluded all but 262 of that headline grabbing 844. The remainder showing TB positive to at least one of three tests.

And finally, what chance of any discussion on a selective cull going ahead while this latest prevarication project is in progress, or being digested?

The press release indicates that:

It is hoped that the two programmes, although small in scale, will help to identify whether the injectable vaccination of badgers is practical and cost effective.
... with, as we have pointed out, one organisation possibly trying to prove the opposite of it's partner?

Over years, the NFU and Badger Trust have repeatedly clashed on the relative merits of badger culling and badger vaccination as approaches to controlling bTB in wildlife and cattle. John Royle said:
“We are pleased that the NFU and the Badger Trust have successfully liaised to facilitate this joint project, sharing equipment and resources as necessary, despite having differing views on the degree to which badgers are implicated in the transmission of bovine Tuberculosis.”
Editor's note: As 99 percent of biosecurity advice involves keeping badgers away from cattle, that 'implication' is somewhat outdated we think.

The Government is expected to make a final announcement before Christmas on whether to give the go ahead to two proposed pilot badger culls next year.

And we confidently predict that the NFU's latest stroll down the corridors of power will have a disproportionate effect on its members ability to deal with the source of bTB in their cattle herds.

Farmers Weekly report today that a decision on any pilot culls is likely before Christmas. In the same report,
police officers warn of increased problems with 'activists' should any cull go ahead which may impact on the policing of the 2012 Olympics.

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