Friday, 7 June 2013

Controversial Badger cull

By the time you read this article the first shots may already have been fired in west Somerset heralding the start of the controversial Badger cull. As many readers will be aware the cull has been introduced by the government on an experimental basis at two sites here in the West Country as part of an overall strategy to bring Bovine TB in cattle under control.

This is a subject that will continue to divide opinion but what is for certain is that the current strategy to bring is simply not working. Around 28,000 cattle were slaughtered last year and if current trends continue this number will rise further and it is estimated will cost the taxpayer in the order of £1bn over the next 10 years.

That is not to mention the suffering imposed on the cattle and badgers which become infected by the disease and the financial and emotional stress this disease has on farmers themselves. I know of many farmers in this area who have been very badly affected; some have even been prevented from restocking their farms because the incidence of TB is so high, while others just describe the feeling of dread every time they have a TB test.

It is this side of the debate that seems to be almost entirely forgotten; farmers may receive compensation for the cattle which are lost but they suffer the consequential losses such as the ongoing loss of milk or the need to rear calves whose mothers may have been slaughtered for example. This is made even worse if some farmers are then not allowed to restock at all. But there is also the emotional strain on farmers and their families which is quite simply not appreciated.

So the audience which attended the breakfast meeting that opened proceedings at the Royal Bath and West Show last week were pleased to hear Agriculture Minister and Somerton and Frome MP, David Heath categorically state the government’s commitment to the Badger cull. David Heath made no bones about the fact that this is a controversial matter but he also made the point very clearly that no other country in the world has ever been able to bring bovine TB under control without culling the wildlife vectors of the disease.

He gave examples of Ireland, New Zealand and Australia where this is or has happened but he also emphasised the cull will be part of a much wider programme of measures. These will include pre-movement testing in cattle and other on farm bio-security measures which are already in place. He also explained that research in to effective vaccines in badgers and cattle will be ongoing but he emphasised that there is little immediate prospect of these being able to be used widely. This is partly because they have not been perfected in a form that can be administered in an economically viable manner in badgers and partly because of EU regulation which will not allow the use of the current vaccines in cattle.

Finally David Heath explained that it is likely to be a long process to bring TB under control. He thought it may take as long as 25 years and although an effective vaccine for cattle will be one of the long term aims, culling of badgers will form an important part of government policy at least in the short term.

James Stephen MRICS FAAV
Rural Practice Chartered Surveyor, Wells

T: 01749 683381

No comments: