Shadow Defra secretary Maria Eagle (pictured with David Barton and his partner Churriana Genillard) heard about the devastating effect of bovine TB first hand when she visited David Barton’s farm in Gloucestershire.
Ms Eagle toured Manor Farm in Middle Duntisbourne on Thursday (31 July) to fulfil a pledge she made at the Three Counties Show to find out more about how bovine TB affects farmers.
Mr Barton has lost more than 100 cattle to TB, including about 50 during the past 18 months.
The latest on-farm TB test carried out last month resulted in one reactor, a four-year-old second calver. A minimum of two further 60-day tests will now be required.
The farm, which is situated near Cirencester on the outskirts of the Cotswolds, has four main active badger setts and half a dozen satellite setts that criss-cross his land.
Read also: Video: TB-infected cattle shot dead on farm
Mr Barton showed Ms Eagle the badger setts which pepper his holding and explained the impossibility of keeping badgers and cattle apart and the effect the disease has had on his business.
“I explained to Ms Eagle that we recently had an independent survey done by the South West TB Farm Advisory Service, which came and looked at the farm and mapped out the badger setts, the runs and the latrines,” said Mr Barton.
“There is a high density of badgers in the South West and this survey showed us that we have badgers running all across the farm.
“It is easy for someone to sit in an office and say: ‘We need tougher farm biosecurity’. Farmers need to do more, but there is very little I can do here in terms of biosecurity that I haven’t already done.
“I showed her [Ms Eagle] the purpose-built facilities and how fencing some areas of from cattle is a non-entity. It was really important for me to show her the difficulties.”
Mr Barton said the main objective of the visit was to show Ms Eagle the interaction between him, his family and the cattle and the devastation that a TB outbreak causes them.
“We have single suckler cows. These are my breeding stock and my business. It’s devastating when we lose them,” he added.
“Some of these cows have been here many, many years. We had 17 on the farm that were more than 10 years old.”
But the visit wasn’t all about cattle and badgers. Mr Barton said he explained the biodiversity on his farm, in supporting the surrounding flora and fauna and how farming was a vital industry to promote a “living, working, healthy countryside”.
Speaking after the visit, Ms Eagle, who is MP for Liverpool Garston & Halewood, told Farmers Weekly that her view on the government’s badger cull had not changed.
“I am grateful to David Barton for inviting me to his farm in Gloucestershire last week to discuss the effect of bovine TB on his cattle business and his efforts to halt this awful disease,” she said.
“However, I am clear that this government’s botched badger culls are not the answer.
“The government must work with Labour, leading scientists, and farmers to develop alternative approaches to tackle bovine TB, based on stricter cattle movements and vaccination.”
If the Labour Party wins the general election in 2015, it plans to scrap the government’s badger cull and focus instead on stricter management of cattle movements and prioritise badger and cattle vaccination.
Read more news on the badger cull