The National Beef Association (NBA) has called an urgent meeting with Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers for an explanation on the Derbyshire cull U-turn after being told ‘at every stage’ that the process was on track.
Chairman of the NBA TB Committee Bill Harper said he was confused as to why the decision had been turned down at such late notice, despite it having met all protocols and criteria, including an area of vaccination on its northern boundary adjoining a four-year testing area.
He said the final sign off by the minister ‘was expected to be a formality’.
Mr Harper said: “There has been no explanation of the decision, and the area leaders are devastated that all their hard work has been cast aside for political expediency.
“The NBA fears the broken bond of trust will deter others in investing in the planning process, knowing that politicians could overturn Natural England’s recommendation without reason.”
Mr Harper said the 12-month process of formalising the cull had proven the area met all of the requirements under the 1992 Badger Protection Act as well as a detailed plan of the area and commitment from local farmers, which would see at least 70 per cent of the area covered and supported by appropriate funds.
“We will now need to get the politicians decision at the start of the process, instead of the end,” he added.
“A high-level meeting with all stakeholders is imperative if the benefits of all the work that has been done, is not to be reduced.”
The RSPCA has launched a consultation to gauge the opinions of farmers and vets on its proposals for new management measures to eradicate the disease and ‘put every farmer at the centre of their own tailored management programme’.
Vet and RSPCA ruminant expert Emily Coughlan said: “Up until now, the only option being offered to farming communities is to kill badgers’.
It came as rockstar and animal rights campaigner Brian May called for a public inquiry to challenge the cull rollout on the basis it was ‘not benefiting anyone, least of all the farmers’.
Dr May’s Save Me Trust made the call in response to Defra’s cull extension to 11 new areas – as well as the reauthorisation in 29 existing areas – suggesting the policy was inhumane, ineffective, financially unsustainable and ‘[could not] possibly succeed in its goal to reduce bovine TB in cattle’.
The group said the country must instead commit to a new policy of action on farms, including new strategies on birthing conditions, feed, testing and slurry management.
Dr May said: “It is now apparent to all concerned with fighting the scourge of TB in cattle that the current policy of culling badgers is not benefitting anyone, least of all the farmers.
“The head of the recent Government review panel on bovine TB, Charles Godfrey, has announced that he does not believe the cull is working, and that [it] is demonstrably inhumane as well.”
Dr May, who is based at Gatcombe Farm, South Devon, said he had small-scale proof that a policy of blocking transmission routes in the herd, without interference to wildlife, could change a chronically infected herd to a herd that is officially TB-free within three years.
He said the strategy was set to undergo testing on multiple farms in Wales ‘to confirm the results’.