Friday, July 05, 2013

(Another) Consultation

Yesterday, (July 4th) Defra launched yet another TB consultation on the way forward out of a morass of their own making.
For the last at least three decades, they have paid homage to animal rights campaigners and their assorted travelers and offered one animal such protection as to make control of the disease which is endemic within it, untouchable.

We see from this map that 'zoning' is back, with current areas of endemic zoonotic tuberculosis found in tested cattle -  liable for more testing, and cattle moving between zones, post movement tested.
Also mentioned is a link to biosecurity for any top up reactor payments and the SFP (Single Farm Payment) compliance.

Farmers Guardian has the over view.

At a cursory glance these proposals look as if cattle farmers will pick up the tab for TB testing, receive cull value only for reactors and pay a levy to (possibly) increase that compulsory purchase price.

They will also either directly or indirectly, employ overlords to check their bio security, attracting fines if in the opinion of this assessor, they haven't sheeted gates, kept badgers out of buildings or purchased an animal from a 'red' zone farm which has subsequently become a reactor.

And they will also be expected to foot the not inconsiderable bill for Natural England to license and FERA to oversee a possible shooting party of local badgers. Maybe.

From Alistair Driver's report:
 "The other key theme underpinning the strategy is the development of an ‘enhanced partnership’ in TB control where farmers are encouraged to take more responsibility for disease controls and a landed with a greater share of the costs.

The strategy document, published on Thursday and based partly on the work of Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, leans heavily on the experience of New Zealand, where control of bTB has been fully devolved to an industry-led body and the industry has co-financed the budget through levies and grants.

The strategy stresses that the current cost of TB control to taxpayers is ‘not sustainable’, highlighting a likely £20m shortfall in the estimated at £95m cost in 2014/15 and the funds allocated in the budget".

Leaving aside the observation that Defra's budget will now be spent on staff pensions and tuberculin antigen at 3p per jab, rather than any form of control of a Grade 3 pathogen, an international obligation to which this country has signed up, farmer 'co operation' is said to be vital. Particularly within this weaselly worded 'enhanced partnership'. So who's this 'we' Tonto?

After a long correspondence with the Animal Health board in New Zealand, TB Information, a brilliantly factual website explains:
 "In New Zealand, where a non-government agency known as the Animal Health Board manages their TB programme, it was found that when farmers were responsible for possum control the programme was not efficient and tended to leave holes where some farmers didn't undertake good control. In correspondence with New Zealand it is pretty obvious that you cannot leave gaps in control when you have an objective to reduce infected herd numbers or to eradicate TB from possums within a defined area of land."
"Such correspondence went on to say that if New Zealand's programme had been left to their government, then their TB programme would not have progressed to the extent it has, as politics and funding would have meant that the programme would have been conservative and have no accountability."
TB Information's editor continues:
"To me it sounds like the cull programme in England will be funded and deployed through collaboration between industry and government. Obviously circumstances in England are somewhat different to those in New Zealand but what England is planning to do, appears to be quite different from the current setup in New Zealand. In fact England's proposed strategy appears to more closely match the original strategy in New Zealand which was found to be lacking."

So Defra have looked at the New Zealand strategy, cherry picked parts (especially the cattle bits) but retain no overall control,  thrown wildlife management into the long grass and have little financial input other than fines?

 TB Information comments: "... in order to substantially reduce TB within the next 25 years, I think that one of two things needs to happen. Either the government commits and invests into addressing the badger problem. This does not appear to be happening at the moment."

( Other than the two proposed, unproven, highly controversial and high profile pilot culls, there is no back up Plan B in the current 'consultation' plan except a vague reference to PCR. And on past bitter experience of the opposition's last term of office, there does not appear to be any intention for any government to propose one in the foreseeable future - ed.) So what does that leave?

The second option (from TB Info) would be to give control of badgers back to farmers. But in order for this to happen, TB Information points out that UK legislation will need to be brought in line with the rest of the European Union.

This document has some useful snips, but in Great Britain, it would appear that meles meles is currently afforded more protection than is either desirable or healthy, both for the species itself, the slaughtered sentinel cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs and goats or the increasing overspill of its lethal cargo, to domestic pets and humans.

The cynical amongst us will also observe a pattern here. In fact with the benefit of hindsight, one could say, shaft me once, shame on you. Shaft me twice, shame on me.

Alternatively, all cattle farmers could apply for charitable status - as 'Badger Sanctuaries'.

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