NFU president Meurig Raymond has issued a plea to the Labour Party to re-think its stance on the badger cull if figures due later this year show the pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset are working.
In her main speech at the Labour Party Conference, new Shadow Defra Secretary Kerry McCarthy confirmed Labour would continue its opposition to the badger cull.
"Let’s be clear. Bovine TB is a horrible disease. I have every sympathy with farmers losing their cattle to it," she said.
"But Labour will continue to oppose the cull, as we did under Mary Creagh and Maria Eagle.
"We will oppose it because it is unscientific, ineffective, and inhumane. And because it is not the answer to bovine TB."
Asked about the policy at an NFU/Food and Drink Federation fringe meeting on Monday, new Shadow Farming Nick Smith took a similar line, saying a Labour Government would stop the pilots.
“We don’t think it works. We think there is a different way of addressing this issue,” he said.
Culling is currently underway in Somerset and Gloucestershire for the third year and has started for the first time in Dorset.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency has been collating data on bTB incidence in cattle in and around the pilot areas. Data from the first two years of the pilots is expected to be published in the autumn.
Mr Raymond and his deputy president Minette Batters believe the results should force Labour to re-think its stance.
Mr Raymond highlighted the ‘absolutely distressing’ nature of an ongoing bTB outbreak on his farm, involving 60-day testing and the regular loss of cattle, a situation he said was being repeated across the country.
He added: “I am going to make a plea to Nick tonight. We may well see evidence at the end of this year the two pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will have seen a huge reduction in bTB in cattle herds. And I guess we will see the same in Dorset.
“If the evidence is there this strategy is working, will you come in behind us and challenge the Government to roll this out, so we can beat this disease, not in 25 years, because these families need it done in five years?”
He cited comments by Welsh Chief Veterinary Officer Christianne Glossop who said last week badger vaccination in Wales had so far had no impact on bTB levels in cattle.
Responding, Mr Smith said: “It is important I listen to the points Meurig makes about the distress bTB causes to your family and your members. I will engage in a constructive discussion. I promise to do that.”
Mrs Batters also challenged Labour's stance and urged the Conservative Government to move more quickly on implementing the 25-year TB strategy.
She said: “I know from our farmers on the ground culling is working. I promise you. We will soon have very, very strong evidence.”
“There is no country in the world that has eradicated bovine TB without taking out the wildlife vector and cattle. No country.
“It is really difficult for us as we are dealing with a protected vector.
"Let me be really, really clear. We have a strategy, a 25-year strategy and we have to start addressing it, communicating and implementing it in full."
She also highlighted the number of farming families whose livelihoods are devastated by this disease.
"Vaccination will work in places – we can potentially use it as a firewall in the Edge Area but it will not work in infected badgers. Once you have bovine TB, you have it, you will not recover from it.
"We are killing in excess of 35,000 cattle every year and if you leave the wildlife vector to run riot you will never beat this disease."
Dismantling Defra now would be ‘utterly insane politics of a kamikaze nature’ given it has just been asked to develop a 25-year food and farming strategy, according to FDF director general Ian Wright.
In response to speculation over Defra's future ahead of further budget cuts this autumn, he predicted Defra would, and certainly should, be retained, sentiments shared by the rest of the panel at the NFU/FDF fringe.
"We know there will be a 25 to 40 per cut for non-ring-fenced Departments, which will be pretty eviscerating.
"I think Defra will be retained. It is very difficult to imagine the current Government will remove it.
"The clue is the 25-year plan. It would be utterly insane politics of a kamikaze nature to ask it formulate a plan, then dismantle the Department. It is not going to happen."
But he said the industry does need a 'strong Defra' with a Secretary of State making the case for the industry across Government and beyond.
NFU president Meurig Raymond also predicted Defra would be retained and said the industry needed it to 'champion British food and farming'.
He expressed concern the Department would respond to further budget cuts by passing more costs onto farmers and urged the Labour Shadow team to join him in opposing any such moves.
New Shadow Farming Minister Nick Smith said Defra was 'a good champion for farming and the industry in Whitehall.
"It could be a better champion so I hope it continues," he said.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters called for Defra, not only to be retained but to be rebranded to add 'agriculture' to its title.
Mr Smith and his predecessor Angela Smith voiced their support for genetically modified crops, which they said should be regulated on a ‘case-by-case basis’.
Ms Smith said: "As long as the technology is sound and has been tested and found to be safe, then I see no reason for it not be approved."
“There is nothing as delightful as the wonderful fillet steak I buy from my local butchers. It is always sourced from a local farm. I just needed to say that by way of opening.”
Angela Smith, who resigned as Shadow Farming Minister after Jeremy Corbyn was elected as Labour leader, making a not-too subtle point
“While I don’t know much about policy in this sector, there is a lot of good will from me. I am hugely interested in the countryside, I have been a hiker since I was a boy, I am a big fan of food and I am going to pour all that good will and energy into this job.”
Her successor, Nick Smith, Blaenau Gwent MP