Farming leaders deny bovine TB U-turn

Farm leaders have dismissed suggestions of a U-turn agreeing to join a DEFRA discussion group on bovine tuberculosis – four months after refusing to join a similar group aimed at combating the disease.

The Bovine TB Eradication Group will review the government’s TB strategy and control measures with a view to developing a plan for reducing and eventually eradicating the disease from cattle in England.

Seven farming organisations are backing the group, unveiled on Monday (3 November), despite refusing to join a similar Bovine TB Partnership Group when it was originally proposed by the government in July.

The National Beef Association (NBA) said it agreed to sign up only after DEFRA widened the group’s remit to include ways of eradicating the disease, rather than merely controlling it.

NBA director Kim-Marie Haywood said: “There has been considerable movement on this because an eradication programme wasn’t in the original group proposal.”

NFU president Peter Kendall was similarly unrepentant when asked why the union had now decided to join the new group. The word “eradication” was all-important, he said.

“It’s the first time eradication has been mentioned and it made the difference to us being involved,” Mr Kendall told Farmers Weekly.

But Duff Burrell, who resigned as NBA chairman earlier this year when the association refused to join the original group, said: “The NBA and NFU will never agree this is the same group that was proposed before. They’ve just changed the name and tweaked the remit.”

Establishment of the group marks an uneasy truce in the ongoing disagreement between DEFRA and the industry over the best way to combat TB.

Mr Kendall said the NFU would continue to refuse to engage in any discussions with DEFRA on cost and responsibility sharing.

Meanwhile, DEFRA officials are unlikely to want to discuss badger culling, particularly while the government’s refusal to licence a widespread cull is the subject of an NFU legal challenge which could take more than a year to resolve.

DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn said: “The group will have difficult issues to consider on what further steps we can together take to improve disease control and deliver benefits for both the industry and the taxpayer.”