Farmers: 'Give us action now on badger culls'
The Government's draft plan to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) looks like "jam tomorrow" with no evidence of action on the ground, a senior national farming official has warned.
Farmers are now sceptical that The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is serious about controlling the disease in wildlife and will only "believe it when they see it", the National Farmers Union said.
In a significant change of tack for the NFU, formerly seen as broadly supportive of the Government's bovine TB eradication programme, the organisation has signalled its dissatisfaction with progress so far.
There is widespread anger that officials have launched a "tick box" consultation, threatening restrictions on livestock movements, before pilot badger culls have even started.
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And in a further action of defiance the NFU has said it will not complete the DEFRA consultation – an electronic questionnaire rating answers by multiple choice – but will instead set out its core principles, which puts building trust among farmers at the top of the list.
Kevin Pearce, NFU director for England and Wales, told the Western Morning News he didn't "doubt the sincerity" of the Secretary of State Owen Paterson but said cattle farmers had been given so many broken promises they "just don't believe it".
"Farmers in the South West – the guys who have lived with this for years, who facing testing every 60 days and the loss of quality animals – just don't believe it's going to happen," he added.
"What we have got looks like more promises of jam tomorrow and nothing tangible to see on the ground."
The Prime Minister and Mr Paterson pledged to see through a 25-year plan to wipe out the disease, starting with the two pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset and progressing to ten further culls next year.
Both men told farmers at the North Devon Show on Wednesday they had the political courage to undertake the potentially unpopular move of overseeing widespread shooting of badgers.
Mr Cameron said: "If we don't do anything we're going to be spending over the next ten years another billion pounds dealing with the consequences of bovine TB, and let's be clear there are appalling consequences not just for the cattle and the farmers, there are also appalling consequences for the badgers."
Defra launched a consultation last month for Britain to become TB-free within 25 years.
But proposals for "risk-based trading" have angered farmers and raised fears that the region, where the disease is rife, could be disadvantaged and isolated.
Devon farmer Richard Haddock, who was appointed National Chairman of the Conservative Rural Advisory Group in March, says the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State Owen Paterson have their "hearts in the right place".
However, he blames Whitehall "mandarins" at DEFRA, who should never have launched the consultation at the moment. "There is no trust whatsoever in Defra officials who have just not done their homework," he said.
The Humane Society said the PM's claimed £1billion cost of not culling was "irresponsible scaremongering" and "simply untrue".
"Even the government's own estimates suggest that shooting badgers will only make a marginal difference to the number of new cases of TB in cattle," it added.
"It is extremely disingenuous of the Prime Minister to use bogus economic arguments to whip up alarm."