Anne Brummer and I had an amazing afternoon with Lord Krebs today. Baron Krebs, Principal of Jesus College Oxford, is an awesome intellectual – a scientist of international repute, with a list of achievements to make me blanche. The fact that he made time for us actually blew my mind before we started. Then, invited into his rooms in the impossibly beautiful 500-year-old stone buildings around the Jesus College quadrangle, we felt as if we had walked into the film set of a Gothic romance. Yet it was not dark – everywhere shafts of sunlight danced on the ancient wood panelling and the colourful portraits of 16th century former occupants, the perfume of daffodils filled the air, and the spirit of the innocent quest for knowledge caressed our tired minds. We sat around a polished rosewood table which evidently had comfortably handled assemblies of a dozen of more professors for hundreds of years, just a band of three people taking up little space in a magnificent conference room. Yet the words spoken were not small.
Lord John Krebs is a gentle man, quietly spoken, light of being. He inhabits this wonderful cathedral of knowledge with the air of someone mildly surprised to be treated with such reverence, yet infinitely comfortable in his skin. He speaks in concise sentences, with the minutest pauses for thought, and he has the skill of listening – of balanced conversation, maximising the efficiency of time spent, yet giving the impression that one has all the time in the world. As we spoke and delved into the intricacies of the immensely complex Bovine TB issues, his mind seemed to emit light and space. The conversation was still about saving lives, yet beneath it all was a calm, pure, innocent pursuit of truth.
This man has a grasp of so many big pictures. To even begin to understand the subject of Cattle-TB-Badgers you have to peer closely into many different areas – science, logic, animal husbandry, economics, human nature, personalities, motives and hidden agendas, and … ethics. All these facets have to be taken into account to build a picture of the whole sorry story, which is difficult in itself; and to start to make predictions as to the outcomes of present actions is much harder still. To do so requires taking several steps back and trying to glimpse the overall bigger picture. Somehow this seems much more possible in an atmosphere of pure intellectual discussion, a million miles away from the bluster and blinkered protestations of the likes of Owen Paterson and David Heath – men who seem (forgive me) to be entirely lacking in the art of listening – and of course the puppet master himself, David Cameron.
Only two days ago I spoke at the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Wildlife meeting, debating against architects of the Government’s current scheme for badger culling. And the discussion was constructive to a point, yet two things stick in my mind. Firstly it was a reminder that, with few exceptions, the level of understanding of the subject among MPs is shockingly low. And secondly, the most notable comment of all was made by the conspicuous absence of those two ‘Ministers Against the Environment’, as they have been amusingly christened by some commentators. Yes Paterson and Heath were both ‘too busy’ to attend this discussion. This was the third time that Paterson has refused to debate against me. Whether that refusal is borne of arrogance, or fear of being able to support his case, or some other cause unknown to me, is not clear. At Sky TV at the time of the badgers’ debate he and I were in the same offices in the same building, as guests on the same current affairs programme, and he refused to sit in the same room as me. And recently when Oxford University Union attempted to set up a debate on the subject, he defaulted, reportedly saying he would be on a losing wicket, so ‘why should he risk it?’
This time these absences meant that nobody present was able to speak on behalf of the Government, reinforcing the strong impression we have that, though they are riding against the whole scientific community, the majority of public opinion, and the will of Parliament, and are undoubtedly heading into the most messy situation this Coalition has yet navigated, the men of the Coalition Government ARE NOT LISTENING.
I will have to return to writing about the substance of our discussions with Lord Krebs later, because it’s a big write, but I will just lay one vital fact on the table which is still utterly swept under the carpet by the pro-cull brigade. A net improvement of around 16 per cent (with large uncertainties) was quoted in the RBCT report, as the possible result of culling 70 per cent of badgers for a period of years. But this ‘improvement’ is set against what would have happened if the cull had not taken place. In the present situation where prevalence [of] bTB in cows is steadily increasing, a 16 per cent ‘improvement’ constitutes only a lessening of the rate of increase. Quite wickedly, really, those who have been insisting that the cull can work have been neglecting to relay this fact to the farmers.
So the farmers who have signed up to the present ‘Pilot Culls” are being asked to fork out for night-time shooting to take place on their land, putting them, their families, and their livestock at risk, plus lining them up against the wrath of an entire outraged nation, for a scheme which, after 10 long years, even if the supposed 16 per cent dream comes true (which for various reasons is highly unlikely) they will see only a slowing of the rate of spread of the disease. In other words, they end up no better off than they are now. This is a shocking piece of information, and one the farmers have the right to be told. Will they believe me? Of course not. It’s so easy to dismiss me as a deluded rock star out of his depth in farming matters.
The good news is you don’t have to believe me, guys. But please read what the impartial scientists have to say, because it’s all in there in black and white, in the Krebs report. Lord Krebs has to get up every morning and see his work quoted out of context, his figures ‘filleted’, and his conclusion, that culling CAN MAKE NO MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION TO THE CONTROL OF BOVINE TB IN THE UK dismissed, by a gang of strong-arm boys determined to drive farming off a cliff.
You still want to cling to this juggernaut?
More soon. Please do sign the petition against the cull, folks http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257
This Government just might begin to take notice.
PLEASE OBSERVE COPYRIGHT