Protesters should respect that farmers have law on their side
Now that the badger cull has been legally ring-fenced, it’s time to underscore the message that farmers must be left alone to run their businesses as they see fit, says Richard Haddock.
Clearly things have descended to the level of farce if farmers have to go to court to ensure that an entirely legal operation to benefit the health of the national cattle herd – and to save the taxpayer further unnecessary millions of pounds' expense – is allowed to go ahead.
I am delighted, personally speaking, that the High Court has seen fit to rule as it has, granting an injunction that allows the badger cull to proceed. In theory at least.
On a practical level I still expect we shall see some attempt at sabotage by the self-appointed Friends of the Badger who are, in the main, woefully ignorant of the facts, know little about the realities of livestock farming (and care even less) and are therefore not only happy to see thousands of cattle unnecessarily slaughtered but to condemn even greater numbers of their favourite wild animal to painful and very slow death from the effects of TB.
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I am delighted, however, that at last Defra has got behind the cull and is doing everything in its power to push the operation forward, despite the inordinate amount of time the mandarins have taken to get all the elements in place.
It's further proof that at last we have a department which is prepared to work with and for farmers and which recognises the value to the country as a whole of a thriving, dynamic and prosperous rural economy.
Of course there has been a great deal of hand-wringing over the cull and the apparent delay in starting it. But one of the reasons – the need to get the proper legal protection in place – has now emerged.
That said, it seems strange that Antony Gibson still insists on shedding crocodile tears over the cull and bemoaning the fact that it has been 'imposed' on farmers with little or no consultation. After all it was the NFU – for which he worked – that declared the cull as designed was the only option, the only deal on the table, the only show in town, which presented it to farmers as a fait accompli.
My hope, however, is that the cull will not merely signal the end of the beginning for the campaign to eradicate TB, but that it will send a clear message to the nation that farmers must be allowed to farm, to set their own policies, conduct their own business free of intrusion and interference by small but vocal single-interest groups.
As a farmer I respect their right to disagree with what I do. I don't work to gain the approval of the Lesbian Vegan Alliance or the Militant Badger Tendency. Equally I don't seek to meddle in their affairs, tell them how to run their organisations, or threaten to take direct action if they don't stop what they are doing.
The production of food to feed a nation of more than 60 million people is the overriding purpose of those of us in agriculture and a minority of hard-line and extremely misguided animal rights extremists have no right to interfere in that process just because they don't approve of people eating red meat.
Some of the most oppressive and sinister regimes that pop up in the pages of history rose to prominence only because they weren't slapped down when their odious practices first began to impinge on public life.
And while we proudly defend the right of free speech in this country, speech is as far as it should go. There should be no tolerating quasi-criminal behaviour by agitators, whether against wind farms, badger culling or GM crops.
The injunction obtained by the NFU is merely an aid to fire-fighting. But it should be backed up, if necessary, with measures such as covert cameras to capture evidence of any protestors who see fit to ignore it.
Because there's little point in having an injunction if you do not intend to ensure that it is observed. And even less point if those who choose to break it are not brought to book for their actions.
Richard Haddock is a Devon livestock farmer, farm shop owner and chairman of the Conservative Rural Affairs Group.