Ryeview – August 2008

Don’t jump on bandwagon going in the wrong direction

John Clark writes…

First published: August 2008 – Gazette & Herald

People in public life are often accused of jumping on a bandwagon. The National Farmers Union (NFU) appears to make a habit of doing it. Unfortunately for the NFU, the bandwagon is often travelling in the wrong direction. A couple of years ago they championed the benefits of biofuels. This has resulted in farmers growing food to fill the fuel tank. Meanwhile, millions go short of food and the price of food rockets. GM is another ‘cause’ that they still back despite the lack of any logic, evidence or public support. The latest bandwagon is to call for a slaughter of badgers.

For years, DEFRA has dithered over the problem of TB in cattle and Badgers. It has finally come up with a non-result. It has decided not to cull badgers but instead create a TB partnership and spend £20 million over the next three years on developing a TB vaccine. Compare this with the problem. 40,000 cattle are estimated to be culled in 2008. This is an unacceptable loss of livestock and it will cost the taxpayer £300 million over the next three years. Just as with Foot and Mouth and BSE, the breeding loss and the farmer’s time and trauma are not costed. Unlike Foot and Mouth this does not happen in the full glare of publicity.

It is therefore easy to understand the NFU’s frustration with the government. It has refused to take part in the TB partnership, threatened legal action and called for a badger cull. It is not as simple as that. Badger culling has a whole range of problems:

Badger slaughter it is unlikely to be acceptable to the public.

Culling will reduce but not eradicate TB from the badger population.

Culling will not stop the incidence of TB in cattle.

Some of us had hoped that after BSE and Foot and Mouth, the message might have got across. ‘Food and Farming are too important to be left to any one group’. The countryside, wildlife, the quality of our food and the income made by each link in the chain matters to all of us. On this basis, TB in cattle and badgers is a concern for all of us. Food security is not a theoretical problem for the future, it is an urgent problem now.

The NFU is hardly likely to persuade the government by ‘non-compliance’. What is needed is a commitment by all parties to work together. Real money and urgency must be injected by the government. Ten years ago we were promised a vaccine in less than ten years. So what is the problem? Where is it? Money and research must be of a size to produce a vaccine for badgers/cattle in use within a few years. Money equivalent to less than three months of the cost of the problem is not acceptable. The NFU not taking part is popular with some frustrated and justifiably angry farmers. It doesn’t help the problem by jumping on this bandwagon going in the wrong direction.

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