The secretary of state Hilary Benn has spent the whole day at the Royal Show 2008 avoiding answering critical questions on the subject.

He has promised that an announcement would be made to the House of Commons on Monday and that his decision will be based on four criteria.

They are:

  • what does the science tell us
  • practicalities
  • the effectiveness of culling
  • consideration of public acceptability 

Furious farmers are already threatening to take matters into their own hands if a badger cull is not forthcoming.

Ben Pullen from Gloucestershire, who has 500 cattle and 600 acres,  is due to have his herd tested for TB on Monday and he warned Benn that he would not co-operate.

“I have decided if they won’t do anything about culling, what’s the point of going on with testing. This is my way of showing the minister that farmers are struggling.

“Desperation calls for desperate actions.  It’s not too bad for my business but I know lots of farmers where it could be the end, he said.   

Farmers Weekly’s Farmer of the Year John Geldard urged Benn to licence livestock producers to control TB on their own farms. It would deliver the right solution for farming families and cost government very little, he argued.

More funding and vaccination trials

Hilary Benn repeatedly said: “Bovine TB is a very serious problem.  We all share the same goal here but it’s about what’s the best way of dealing with it. What is going to work in tackling it.”


Watch Hilary Benn’s statement at the Royal Show

It seems untenable that the government will decide not to cull and not offer any alternative olive branches to farmers.

One suggestion has been that Hilary Benn will offer more funding for further vaccination trials. There is also speculation that other measures will be announced.

Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientist whose recommendations appear to have been ignored, told Farmers Weekly that he was not the person who leaked the story to the media.

“If the government is not going to go with a substantial cull in the hotspots as I advised them, then I presume they have some other cards up their sleeve,” he said. Sir David claiming the incidence of infection in cattle had fallen in hotspot areas.

“It could be as much as half of cattle with TB are picking it up from badgers,” he said.  “It is extremely difficult to give advice to the diary farmer who has just lost his herd to TB. What’s the government going to say to him, put fresh cattle on the farm or don’t do it?  It’s a very worrying situation for the future.”

 

Questions Hilary Benn must answer for farmers:

  • How would the government defend a decision that could cause the wastage of 280 million litres of milk worth £72.5m?
  • What specific action will government take to control TB if a cull is not allowed?
  • What’s the justification for saying a cull would not be effective in controlling the disease?
  • When will the industry have a vaccine for this?
  • Will the government consider a licensing strategy to allow farmers to take action on their own farms?
  • Is it likely that stricter management and bio-security measures will be on the way?
  • What investment is the government making in improving TB testing methods?
  • What advice would government give a farmer whose herd has had to be destroyed and whose livelihood has been lost?
  • Is government confident that its scientific trials were robust enough to deliver a sound conclusion?