Farmers' suffering 'combat fatigue' in the war to wipe out bovine TB
The farming community has been watching the badger cull with a degree of nervousness and anticipation.
Many in the livestock business would admit to severe combat fatigue in the war to wipe out bovine TB.
For those who see the cull as the beginning of the fight to eradicate the awful disease, there was concern the cull might be marred by angry protests and ugly confrontation with protesters, which might deter farmers from signing up for more schemes next year. Would the whole thing prove a total failure, leaving the industry at square one?
Catherine Broomfield, secretary of the Devon Cattle Breeders' Association, thinks the debate on bovine TB has proved "a lot less stressful than we had anticipated."
A Gift Voucher for a 2 hour SUP lesson on any of our programmed dates between April and September 2014. £19.50 for 1 person or £33 for 2 people with this voucher
Terms: Voucher must be present at point of sale. Standard MBC T's & C's apply please see our website for details
Contact: 01752 404567
Valid until: Tuesday, December 24 2013
"Since the start of the pilot badger culls, I've been following events in the media, initially with some trepidation," she says. "How violent would the protests against culling become? How polarised the debate?
"Yet my reaction over the past few weeks has actually been one of relief that the issue is being openly debated in the mainstream media, and that farming's voice in that debate has been consistently measured, balanced and informed, seeking to push the debate towards facts and evidence rather than emotion and politics. Farming may have done itself a lot of good over the past few weeks. Pity we don't see farming leaders on BBC Question Time more often."
Catherine feels one of the reasons why we are now seeing practical action is because the top man at the Department for Environment, Food and Rual Affairs (Defra), Owen Paterson, is there by choice.
Her suggestion that predecessors would have been suited to "leading the Vegetarian Society" reveals a commonly voiced discontent with Labour's Secretary of State Hilary Benn.
But she admits that her enthusiasm after a cull which at least did not descend into all-out war in the countryside, is tempered by a "nagging feeling" that the livestock industry in the South West may be "looking the wrong way". Specifically, she refers to Defra's 113-page Draft Strategy on Achieving Officially bTB status for England, which opened for public consultation about the same time as the pilot badger culls got under way.
She explains: "I do wonder if Defra hasn't played the card favoured by all Governments since time began – relying on the fact that people can't be bothered (or don't have time) to read yet another dry, government babble-logue. And, lo, before you can say 'future of sfarming', it's become policy."
She fears the strategy's policies for the High Risk Area (HRA) from the South West up to Cheshire, in which bTB is rife. Farmers outside of the HRA will, in Defra's words "be penalised for risky practice" – in other words buying cattle from within the HRA.
"I try to stay balanced about these things, but it looks very much like Defra is coming to paint a big cross on the door of Westcountry farming before throwing away the key," she warns. "But don't worry, Whitehall says it's sending someone down in 2025 to open up again, so freshly washed and cleansed, we can resume trading with the outside world. Who exactly do they think will be left standing by then?
"The epidemiological case for stopping the spread of the disease by minimising cattle movements is well rehearsed and understood.
"The real devil lies in the detail of Defra's anodyne words – their new 'risk-based approach" to trade and compensation, and the assertion that Defra's hard-pressed budget will necessarily require them to ensure farmers make a "significant contribution to the cost of controlling bTB'.
"If you're a farmer who has been decimated by TB and been unable to trade freely for the past decade, you may already feel you've contributed more than enough.
"The strategy states its intention to 'support the commercial viability of herds within the HRA', yet also sets out to 'deploy market measures, regulation, incentives and deterrents to reduce the risk of disease spread due to cattle movements' from the HRA to the rest of the country. Defra is basically going to do in an organised way what TB has been doing haphazardly for the past decade – remove free-trading conditions between TB-endemic areas and the rest of the country. By Defra's own admission, farmers in the HRA will have to bear this regime for at least ten years before anything like a normal market is reinstated. It beggars the question of just how farmers in the HRA are supposed to survive abnormally restricted markets, and reduced values for the cattle, unless supported by a comprehensive package of financial support from Government? I don't remember reading anything in the strategy that told me what Defra was going to do to support farmers – except to make sure farmers contributed more themselves. I realise that farming is suffering TB-fatigue. Many farmers have spent their working lives under the shadow of endemic TB and are due to finish their working lives with Defra's TB strategy still a work in progress. Perhaps we are all falling into something akin to Stockholm Syndrome – showing undue gratitude to our captors for whatever small mercies they afford us. Small steps forward are important, but small steps are all they are. Let's not, through fatigue, allow ourselves to sleepwalk into all that Defra has planned for us over the next 12 years."