DEFRA has decided not to implement a badger cull as a measure to control TB in cattle.
The decision, which has not been formally announced and was expected on Monday, goes against the recomendations of the government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King.
The NFU has said it will organise a protest next week against the decision.
Its president Peter Kendall told Farmers Weekly this morning: “If the news is correct it is devastating for farming families, their lives and their businesses and disastrous for the industry.
“It is telling that the former chief scientist David King said he is dismayed by the news.
Mr Kendall confirmed the union will be taking immediate legal advice on challenging the decision and have instructed leading QC Richard Lissack.
“With 28,000 animals culled last year this is a very serious threat to the livestock industry in this country.”
The union estimates the disease could cost the government £1bn in control and compensation measures.
And he said, the NFU would take its case to Westminster next week.
“Alongside any legal challenge, we will also be holding an industry demonstration and lobby of MPs next Tuesday, to drive home the message that any strategy to tackle TB has to take into account the wildlife reservoirs of that disease.
“Such important decisions, which affect thousands of farming families around the country, cannot be left to the whim of opinion polls but need clear, objective thinking based on scientific fact.”
Questioned by Farmers Weekly this morning about the leak, DEFRA secretary Hillary Benn (who is visiting the Royal Show) stated: “Bovine TB is a terrible problem, particularly for the farms affected.
“We need an effective way of controlling it and that is why we have had a ten-year study.
“I will be making a statement in the House of Commons next week and will announce our plan for bovine TB then.”
Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Jim Paice MP, said: “The evidence of the past decade – a seven-fold increase in the number of cattle slaughtered at a cost to the taxpayer of over £500 million – points to the failure of current Government policy.
“There is no cause for optimism that a strategy which ignores the reservoir of infection in wildlife has any chance of succeeding.
“After years of dithering, tens of thousands of animals lost and countless farm businesses driven to the wall, there is still no prospect of the Government bringing this terrible disease under control.
“We want to see healthy cattle alongside healthy badgers but there is nothing to suggest that ‘business as usual’ will deliver this outcome.”
And the government’s own farming adviser Sir Don Curry added: “Farmers and farming families whose herds have been devastated by TB will be very disappointed today. The scientific evidence is not challenging the fact that there is a connection between TB and cattle and TB and wildlife, particularly badgers.
“The disease is obviously being transmitted back and forwards between the two.
“The decision has been made on the basis of science and is about the effectiveness of slaughtering badgers and to what extent that will control the disease. This is a marginal decision.
“In order to effectively address the problem, large numbers of badgers would have to be slaughtered over a large geographical area and the minister has shied away from taking that decision in view of the public reaction it would cause.
“It will leave many livestock farmers feeling very angry.”
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