NFU president Meurig Raymond has called for ’urgency’ from Government in the implementation of its 25-year TB eradication strategy, including the roll out of the badger cull to new areas.
Around half a dozen new areas beyond the current Somerset and Gloucestershire pilots are preparing to apply for badger cull licences from Natural England, but are concerned time might be running out to start this year.
The new Conservative Government was clear in its manifesto that it intended to roll out the TB strategy, including badger culling in high incidence areas, out in full, a point subsequently reinforced by Defra Ministers. But there has been no comment yet on the timings of the next steps in rolling out the policy.
In a statement published on Tuesday, Mr Raymond called on the Government to implement the strategy ‘immediately and in full to ensure farmer support for it remains strong’.
Mr Raymond said: “Farmers throughout the country have supported the strategy but are becoming frustrated at the lack of action surrounding the introduction of its various elements.
“The farming industry needs to see more urgency in the implementation of the whole strategy and better communication of its measures and aims.
“Now is the time to build on the determination of the farming industry to eradicate this disease which is destroying farming businesses and families.”
Mr Raymond said different elements of the strategy were urgently needed in different parts of the country and needed to be introduced as a matter of urgency.
“We need appropriate and proportionate measures to keep the disease out of the low risk area of England.
“We need more targeted measures to stop the spread in the edge area (between the high and low risk areas). In particular we need better information on the local infection rate in wildlife in this area.
“And we need further roll-out of the pilot culls in the high risk area. Farmers are committed to playing their part in this but need to see that commitment reciprocated by the government,” Mr Raymond said.
Mr Raymond told Farmers Guardian farmers in the potential new cull areas wanted clarity from Defra about whether, ‘if they go that extra half mile’ in getting their application in soon, they will be able to start this year.
He said the farmers were in a ‘catch 22’ situation as they needed clarity about the timing of the roll out, and the conditions around it, before they finalised their applications.
“This disease has had a hold on farming for too long. Let’s give these farming families hope for the future and get to a place where we have heathy badgers and healthy cattle. The clock is ticking, let’s get on with it," he said.
Mr Raymond said he thought it was unlikely any significant changes to the rules governing the culls would be made this year.
But he said farmers were seeking changes that would give them increased ‘anonymity’ to protect them against some of the ‘disgraceful behaviour that took place last year from anarchists’ intent on disrupting the policy.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We remain committed to our comprehensive strategy to eradicate this disease from England by using tighter cattle movement controls, badger vaccination and culling badgers where the disease is rife.
“Bovine TB is costing £100m each year and is a significant threat to our beef and dairy industries, which is why the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will continue this year.
“Expressions of interest have been made to Natural England from other areas which will be considered in due course”.