Derek Mead: Costs of badger TB vaccination programme in Welsh scheme are excessive
Here's food for thought for all the pro-badger groups who have been complaining that the cost of the forthcoming pilot culls is excessive. Figures from Wales show that the vaccination programme there has so far cost more than £660 an animal.
And this, let's remind ourselves, for an operation which is seriously flawed and comes with no guarantee that it will do anything about making inroads into the huge TB problem Wales is now gripped by. Having been scared off culling by the activities of a few hard-core campaigners and their supporters in the Assembly government, the authorities in Wales have so far managed to vaccinate 1,424 badgers in the North Pembrokeshire intensive action area. But here's the nub of it: no-one can tell what percentage of the region's badger population this represents. And, as farmers' leaders are pointing out, it may well be that many of the animals trapped and vaccinated were already infected with TB, in which case the treatment will have zero effect.
So who is going to stand up and defend a policy which is not only costly, not only hit-and-miss and whose effectiveness no-pone can judge? Only the usual suspects, the Brian Mays and the other hand-wringers who are entirely happy to see farmers put out of business, who are entirely happy that the taxpayer has had to fork out for a likely 40,000 cattle slaughterings last year, who are equally entirely happy for thousands of their cherished badgers to die painfully and slowly from the effects of TB – and who are entirely happy for meat and milk production in this country to be threatened as never before. The same ones, as has been shown recently, who manipulate the statistics to try to fool the public into believing that TB is in retreat when the reality is that it is still rampaging out of control and that we are likely to see a massive resurgence of cases this spring.
The word from the Government is that ministers are not prepared to even think about evaluating alternative methods of tackling the badger menace until the early summer culls have been completed and the results assessed. But let's just not forget one thing: those two pilot culls will not be assessed in terms of their impact on local TB cases. They are merely being staged in order to assess the effectiveness of free shooting of badgers. So by the time the results are in and have been collated it's going to be at least a year before Owen Paterson can press the button for a national cull to go ahead; another year for TB to have tightened its deadly grip on our herds.
And already I hear mutterings from some police forces to the effect that they won't have the manpower to cope with the animal rights activists who plan to do all they can to disrupt the killing.
It hardly fills me with any confidence that the Government and its advisers have really grasped the full extent of the problem or are doing anything apart from obeying their political masters in Brussels when it comes to tackling it.
Derek Mead is an entrepreneur dairy farmer from Weston-super-Mare