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Gloucestershire badger cull: NFU chief defends plan to clear 'filthy disease'

By RupertJ  |  Posted: October 17, 2012

Charles Mann, chairman of the NFU

Charles Mann, chairman of the NFU

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Given the passionate objections of some sections of society to the proposed badger cull, it’s no surprise that National Farmers Union (NFU) chairman Charles Mann won’t be drawn on when the shooting will begin.

He won’t say where the cull areas will be within west Gloucestershire, nor will he risk the inevitable repercussions of naming any of the farmers affected.

But when he simply says that the cull will begin “shortly” and pauses significantly before denying that the shooting has started, you suspect the cull might be going ahead this week, if it hasn’t already begun.

For Mr Mann – as well as, you suspect, the majority of farmers in Gloucestershire – the proposed badger cull is a matter of practicality.

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It’s the biggest criticism they level at those opposing the ban, that there are actually no viable alternatives to stopping the outbreak of bovine tuberculosis which are actually ready to go.

Cattle vaccinations, for example, would take several more years to be approved by European legislators in Brussels and a badger vaccine would be almost impossible – not to mention time-consuming and expensive – to administer.

So while Mr Mann is passionate about the countryside and works with livestock on a daily basis, it’s unsurprising that he says farmers whose business is primarily the slaughter of animals have little patience left with this devastating outbreak of bovine TB.

And the facts speak for themselves. Bovine TB has now spread through the Midlands and has reached as far north as Shropshire and Cheshire. There were 27,000 cattle slaughtered in the UK in 2011 and in the last 12 months that total has risen to 34,000.

The disease is costing the UK economy £100 million every year. One farmer in the Forest of Dean contacted Mr Mann last week to say he has had 127 cattle slaughtered because of the disease.

So something needs to be done – urgently, and it needs to work. Farmers say that a cull of badgers is the only feasible thing to do.

Mr Mann, whose farm is way out in east Gloucestershire but who represents the NFU across Gloucestershire, said: “We have got to do something to begin to stop it. We have been promised cattle vaccination for 15 years and it’s still five years over the horizon.

“Badger vaccines can only ever be part of the solution because of their cost, time requirements and impracticality.

“All these things are ones that we’re willing to discuss but something needs to be done urgently and it’s getting worse. It’s costing £100 million a year and in 10 years that’s £1 billion thrown down the drain.”

So the cull is going ahead. West Gloucestershire and Somerset are two pilot areas, each having a six week cull this autumn before further ones over the next three years which will aim to reduce the areas’ badger populations by 70 per cent. In West Gloucestershire that’s going to mean the loss of 1,500 animals over four years. It sounds like a lot but pales in comparison to the figure of 50,000 killed on the nation’s roads each year.

And if it’s shown to be a feasible way of reducing the population, the model will be spread to 10 more areas of the UK each year in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Mr Mann said: “It’s not going to destroy the national population. It’s going to reduce it enormously in the affected areas but they are still going to breed and be there. We’re not trying to impact its iconic status but we are trying to make both populations – badgers and cattle – healthy again.”

This summer’s extreme rainfall has made life difficult for farmers in general and the spend required to protect themselves from bovine TB has made things even harder.

Mr Mann said: “Protecting the herd, your feed store and farmyards from badgers carrying the disease is fine if you’ve got a modern dairy building set up with a ring fence around it. But if you’re like a lot of the old Cotswold farmers with the odd building here and there it gets incredibly difficult, and expensive.

“Dairy farmers have had a difficult summer and if they see their businesses being pulverised by disease, they start to wonder what the point is.

“The financial side is always a huge concern but the recurrence of the disease when you have managed to clear it before is the mental issue to overcome.

“Having the test is like being told you have to go for a scan because you may have cancer – you may have 200 animals you are putting through the test and every one that goes clear is a sigh of relief.

“There’s no point in having a farming business unless you are running it as a business. Farmers, like shop keepers and car manufacturers, are aiming to make a profit – that’s the whole point.

“But sentimentality is important. One of the best things about being a farmer is working in the countryside and we all take part in conservation schemes. We all enjoy the animals we have but ultimately we sell them for slaughter and we need to balance that sentimentality with realism.”

Opponents of the cull fall into two camps – mainly they are the reasonable ones, with whom Mr Mann and his colleagues have the battle to convince them that there are no practical alternatives.

The other section of the protagonists are the more extreme factions, those who have threatened violent action against farmers who implement the cull on their land.

Mr Mann said: “People think that badgers should survive in the wild without any understanding of the impact that it might have on other things living in the countryside.

“We’ve got a jigsaw of interests and pressures in the countryside. There are people who are very against the cull for completely genuine, principled reasons who we are happy to have discussions and arguments with.

“But there are other activists for whom discussion isn’t really on their agenda – they need to realise that this isn’t sport or a pleasure activity, it’s a vital part of trying to clear up a filthy, dirty disease.”

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  • Hareymary  |  October 21 2012, 10:38PM

    @Clued-Up : I wouldn't worry. The licences are not all in place yet.

    |   2
  • Clued-Up  |  October 21 2012, 10:29PM

    Griffins Farm near Newent is reported as pre-baiting - see Badger Killers site.

    |   3
  • Hareymary  |  October 21 2012, 1:24PM

    Does anyone else think that the British people have been misled? http://tinyurl.com/8goqppp

    |   3
  • justjude  |  October 21 2012, 1:18AM

    once this cull starts british beef and dairy products will be tainted with the eradication of british wildlife. Some supermarkets claim they only stock british meat, demand they provide an alternative or boycott. I will no longer shop at a supermarket that only supplies british meat.

    |   4
  • Jude177  |  October 20 2012, 11:23PM

    And what about the potential conflict of interest for Mr Rowe? Dairy farmer/co-architect of the cull/big friend of pro-cull Ministers+MPs/"impartial" Adviser to DEFRA and guess what-Director of GLOSCON who will make a lot of money from the cull contracts footed by the taxpayer...am I missing something here??

    |   5
  • Jennypenny  |  October 19 2012, 11:32AM

    I'm boycotting already, Ive seen the mindset most farmers towards our wildlife and I dont like it! I now only buy Yeo Valley dairy products, not only because they wont allow badger culling on any of their farms and they embrace their wildlife, but because they keep their cows beautifully aswell. Support Yeo Valley organics or cut out dairy altogether.

    |   -2
  • griffin6  |  October 18 2012, 8:49PM

    AGREE jANDODIN, MR MANN AND HIS ILK WANT TO KILL FOXES, THEY WANTED TO KILL BUZZARDS FOR KILLING PHEASANT CHICKS NOW THEY WANT TO SHOOT BADGERS. WE HAVE SEEN THEM ALMOST ERADICATE SONGBIRDS BY DRENCHING THE COUNTRYSIDE WITH PESTICIDES, WILL FARMERS NOT BE HAPPY TILL THEY HAVE ERADICATED ALL WILDLIFE, ONCE THE BADGER CULL STARTS I WILL BE BOYCOTTING BRITISH FARMERS AND THEIR PRODUCE

    |   1
  • Clued-Up  |  October 18 2012, 4:34PM

    GlosCon's still chasing farmers' contributions according to what I've read recently (I think in the Guardian and on the badger-killers.co.uk site).

    |   1
  • grannyonline1  |  October 18 2012, 4:31PM

    freeradical1.....thats right, Defras own figures. And if they do achive that reduction in incidents of TB it will only save around 5,000 cattle. There are around 10 million cattle.

    |   2
  • eyeopener  |  October 18 2012, 4:22PM

    Prof McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy, University of Exeter, says that the badger cull in England will cost the taxpayer much more than it saves. Based on culling in a 150 sq km zone (smaller than the pilot areas) over four years, he said the total costs amount to £1.55m. Of this, £215,000 is the cost to farmers of paying for shooting the badgers, while the cost to the public purse for the likes of licensing and policing amounts to £1.335m. Assuming bovine TB falls by 16% over nine years, as estimates from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) suggest, the economic benefits will reach £972,000, he said. This adds up to a net saving for the farmer (£215,000 cost vs £324,000 benefit) but a net cost to the public purse (£1.335m cost vs £648,000 saving). Andrew Praill, of the British Veterinary Association and president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, described the figures as "simplistic". He said it was evident that farmers were committed to the policy as they were prepared to deposit funds to cover the costs of shooting badgers. "There is fair evidence that the farmers are confident that they are going to end up with a positive result," he said. So Andrew Praill does not provide scientific evidence as a rebuttal but suggests we should carry one because "farmers are confident." Just like the Gloucestershire farmer who sits as an NFU representative on DEFRAS Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG) advising the Government while a director of Gloscon (the badger cull contractor), so we have the president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association supporting the NFU demanded badger cull. What vet wishing to retain farmers as his client is going so say otherwise? Andrew Praill's rebuttal rather brings to mind Mandy Rice Davies famous 1963 quote when Lord Astor denied an affair or having even met her, she replied, "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?"

    |   2

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