Farm leaders and veterinary bodies are set to call for a new independent organisation responsible for animal health and welfare issues for grazed livestock – including bovine tuberculosis.
The NFU is in talks with the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the British Cattle Veterinary Association to devise a joint statement that can be handed to the next government following the general election on 7 May.
The new body would be based along similar lines to Animal Health England, with responsibility for health and welfare issues for all grazed livestock, NFU deputy president Minette Batters told an NFU council meeting on Tuesday (21 April).
“A joint position by the veterinary community and the farming community going into this election will be extremely powerful – and to my mind we have to achieve that,” Ms Batters told council members at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire.
It comes after the BVA called for an end to the shooting of free-running badgers in two pilot cull areas of south-west England. Vets were no longer convinced that the controlled shooting of badgers with high-powered rifles was humane, said the association.
The BVA said it remained “supportive of the use of badger culling as a necessary part of the comprehensive strategy for control and eradication of bovine TB”. But it said culling should be carried out using only the “tried and tested” method of cage trapping first and then shooting.
Ms Batters said she was disappointed the BVA could no longer support the controlled shooting of badgers. But it was important to note the association still supported the rollout of culling by cage trapping and shooting.
“At the moment there is unity between the farming and veterinary communities,” said Ms Batters. “We want to have a document ready that we can hand to the new government. It will be a very strong position for farmers and vets to be aligned.”
Both sides have already voiced concern over a government decision to take TB testing away from local vets and put it out to tender. The testing changes – already operating in Wales – come into force in England on 1 May.
The main political parties remain bitterly divided over the best way to tackle bovine TB should they form the next government. Defra secretary Liz Truss said a Conservative government would do “whatever it takes” to eradicate the disease.
The Tories would push to rid Britain of TB within 25 years, said Ms Truss. “We are the only party committed to continuing with the bovine TB strategy – including vaccination in the edge zones, cattle movement controls and culling where the disease is rife.”
But Labour has pledged to abandon badger culling completely. Labour farm spokesman Huw Irranca-Davies, who is seeking re-election as MP for Ogmore, in south Wales, described the Somerset and Gloucestershire culls as “catastrophic failures.”