27 October 1995

MAFFpolicy wrong and industry picks up £4m/year bill

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

MAFFS policy on tuberculosis and badgers is fundamentally flawed says the NFU.

While TB is costing the industry nearly £4m a year MAFFs objective appears to try and minimise TB in cattle with the absolute minimum effect on the badger population it adds.

The accusations are contained in a detailed report, drawn up after interviewing nearly 350 farmers.

Based on the experiences of farmers in the worst TB areas in Wales, the west and south-west it warns against underestimating the consequences of TB outbreaks.

"The impact, both human and financial, can be considerable. It can, and often does, cause stress, severe unhappiness and clinical depression in farming families. Normal family life is sometimes put in jeopardy.

TB breakdowns increased alarmingly in 1994 and there is genuine fear in farming communities. A solution is clearly long overdue," says the report.

A single outbreak can cost a farmer an average of nearly £9000. Apart from the gap between the partial compensation paid for slaughtered animals and their full value, producers listed many consequential losses. They included extra costs for housing, bedding and feeding stock not allowed off the farm often for months; blighted business; extra veterinary costs; and cash flow problems in addition to worry and post disease trauma.

To overcome the failings in MAFFs policy the NFU is calling for compensation to be increased from 75% to 125% with valuable breeding stock compensated at valuation. This would help meet consequential losses.

It wants MAFF to stop releasing infected lactating badger sows; to trap and test badgers on neighbouring farms; and to fill-in setts to prevent sett reinfection.

Development of a badger vaccine should be a priority, says the NFU, but it recognises this could take up to 15 years. In the meantime it firmly rejects any suggestion of a moratorium on badger control. Both infected cattle and badgers must be contained and prevented from continuously repeating the cycle of reinfection.

Despite evidence from experiments in Britain and Ireland that complete elimination of badger populations in restricted areas can overcome the TB problem, the NFU says farmers are not calling for this kind of action.

Most farmers have no objection to having reasonable numbers of healthy badgers on their land.

Government departments had spent over 20 years trying to prevent TB in cattle getting out of control but the policies had never been aimed at eradicating nor even containing TB in badgers.

"It is essential that this situation is remedied," says the NFU.