Doubt grows over badger cull as Benn delays decision

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn is expected to reject calls for a badger cull in a bid to control bovine tuberculosis and stop the disease spreading across Great Britain.

Mr Benn has privately told government colleagues he “is not persuaded by the science” behind a badger cull, and is likely to hold off making a decision over the issue until mid-June at the earliest.

DEFRA was due to respond to recommendations on improving methods of controlling bovine tuberculosis made by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee at the end of last month.

But in a letter to committee chairman Michael Jack, Mr Benn asked for more time to consider to the “complex problem”.

“There is much in the report which merits careful consideration, and to produce a response that deals thoroughly with the committee’s recommendations will take time,” he added.

Despite rumours the report would now be published in mid-June, junior DEFRA minister Jonathan Shaw said there was no timetable for a decision on the issue.

“There is a great deal of complex evidence to consider and the matter is receiving our attention,” he told ministers.

Jilly Greed, from the National Beef Association South West, said the delay was “immensely disappointing” and left farmers feeling “abandoned”.

“It’s political prevarication again and there’s a real sense of frustration in the region,” she said.

With rumours of a cabinet reshuffle over the coming weeks, Mrs Greed said she feared further delays if a new DEFRA secretary wanted time to examine the evidence and make their own decision.

“I’m increasingly feeling negative about the possibility of a badger cull,” she added.

“Where’s plan B? If the government can’t make a decision on badger management we need another plan if we are going to contain the disease.”

Meanwhile, Farmers Weekly has been contacted by sources who suggest threats have been made to the safety of rural affairs minister Elin Jones and members of the Wales TB Action Group following the decision to include a pilot badger cull in the Welsh TB strategy. It is not known what form the threats have taken and Welsh Assembly officials are refusing to confirm or deny the allegations or whether individuals are under police protection.