Farmers could collect even more coalition cash for TB


Badger Trust logoBADGER TRUST
3 February 2014

Government is likely to bail out farmers originally expected to organise and fund badger killing themselves in their efforts to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB). According to Farmers’ Guardian [1] farmers would voluntarily contribute to a new fund, but it could be match-funded by the taxpayer. The only government expense so far has supposedly been in Natural England’s role in licensing and overseeing the killing, plus massive policing costs of more than £3m.

But the full cost to Defra so far has been grossly understated, according to Dr Tim Hounsome, who spent ten years working on the badgers and TB issue for the then Central Science Laboratory facility (now AHVLA) at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire. He says on his website [2]: “In summary, the current policy has meant that the Government has spent £7,290,000 (£5,800,000 of which was public money) pursuing a [culling] policy that could quite possibly make things worse. And the farmers who were conned into joining in have quite likely lost £1,490,000 of their own money. In its starkest form, using Defra’s own figures and the best case scenario, it has cost £12,857 per sq km to save £714 per sq km”.

The Trust says that this devastating calculation, on top of the present extension of government involvement in the detail, could mean even more muddle. It all comes on top of last year’s bungled estimates of badger populations, the ineffective efforts to kill “enough” badgers and the inexcusable and arbitrary extensions of culling periods. Further expense has been the excursion to New Zealand of Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to copy a similar scheme, although farming conditions are not comparable.

The proposed fund would be controlled by a new body, comprising representatives of cull areas, farming and veterinary bodies and civil servants. This organisation would take over much of the delivery of TB policy, dealing with technical issues like licensing and legal matters. The National Beef Association’s TB spokesman, Bill Harper, is reported as saying key decision-making powers would remain with Ministers.

The measure would potentially remove responsibility for the admin of TB control, including badger culling, to an industry-led body not publicly accountable (in the same way that government departments are, in theory at least), and will probably consist of a government-industry partnership which will not include civil society groups. This in turn will make it much harder for us to engage in any constructive way with the process. Any industry-led body would be more likely to be intensely cost-driven, and would look towards the cheapest method available for aspects of the policy, including (potentially) badger culling.

Coalition policy allows up to ten new areas to be licensed each year, but Peter Kendall President of the National Farmers’ Union, said the NFU was not looking for a roll out on the scale some people previously envisaged. He told Farmers’ Guardian: “We need to be very careful about the speed of the roll out to make sure we get it right.”

David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust, commented: “The roll-out would be wrong in any event. This misconceived policy aims to achieve, at vast expense and much of it from the public, at best a marginal benefit if any from killing badgers. The bTB epidemic is of the industry’s own making in resisting for decades universal annual testing and sensible restrictions on cattle movements, and being careless about on -farm hygiene. Present indications are that the number of cattle being slaughtered because of bTB has been levelling out and could even be declining – without killing badgers”.

[1] Farmers’ Guardian, January 31st, 2014.

Jack Reedy