Beef farmers hand in TB petition to Downing Street

GROWING FARMER frustration at the government’s policies on bovine tuberculosis reached a new peak on Wednesday (June 29) when members of the National Beef Association handed in a 1450-signature petition to Downing Street.

The petition was addressed to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and urged him to “bite the political bullet and solve the TB disaster threatening to swamp thousands more farms”.

The letter highlighted the desperate situation faced by those whose farms are affected by the disease.

“We think DEFRA ministers do not appreciate the urgency of the escalating TB situation and appear ready to ignore the urgent plea from 350 working West Country veterinary surgeons to begin targeted badger culling in known TB hot spot areas,” the letter stated.

Across the UK, bovine TB currently affects almost 6000 farms. The anti-TB action bill, which is forecast to escalate at a compound rate of 18% a year, stood at £132m over 2004-2005 and is expected to be £155m over 2005-2006, it added.

The NBA also highlighted the cost burden placed on the taxpayer, calling on Mr Brown to save the UK taxpayer from wasting even more money protecting the UK’s already thriving badger population.

“We’re trying to highlight the financial implications to the taxpayer,” said NBA chief executive Robert Forster. “That the taxpayer is spending £2bn not tackling the disease should be of great interest to the Chancellor,” he added.

The letter listed four reasons which the authors feel justify a cull on badger numbers:

  • Cost to the taxpayer could be avoided.
  • Badgers are noticeably having an impact on ground-nesting birds in the south-west.
  • Suitably trained staff currently working on the Krebs trials could be used to carry out a targeted cull of badgers in hot-spot areas.
  • The Polymerase Chain Reaction test could be used to identify infected areas in which a targeted cull should take place.

The letter then continued with a list of measures that the Chancellor would need to pursue before action could be taken. They were:

  • Lift the moratorium placed on culling badgers under the 1975 Badger Protection Act, in place since 1992.
  • Introduction of legislation that would allow the courts to punish those found guilty of tampering with badger traps or other related culling work.
  • Grant DEFRA the resources to tackle the spread of the disease.

After handing in the petition, the NBA delegation held talks with junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw. “The meeting was positive,” Mr Forster reported.

“It appeared to us that DEFRA is taking seriously the possibility of developing a wildlife control strategy. Indeed it asked the NBA about how this could be piloted,” Mr Forster added.