In a briefing to journalists at the NFU’s annual conference, Lord Rooker suggested that the government might make an announcement as soon as May, once the Independent Scientific Group on TB has submitted its final report.
The minister claimed that the government had not made a final decision and discussions were still ongoing.
But he stressed: “There is existing legislation on the statute book that does allow for action to be taken – we’ve just got to make sure that the rules, parameters and structure are in place to help the farming industry and hopefully not end up in court.”
Lord Rooker explained that while there was a moratorium on the issuing of culling licences since the Krebs trial commenced, it was possible this would change in future.
“It is a possibility that that may come into play in some parts of the country,” he said. “Although, in some parts of the country you might say no because the incidence [of disease] is not enough to justify it on animal health grounds or other issues.”
Anthony Gibson, head of communications for the NFU, said it was the clearest explanation yet of what the government has in mind, although there were a lot of questions still unanswered.
“It is quite clear they do have it in mind, effectively giving the green light to farmers to apply for licences as from whenever the ISG report is published.”
But he added: “Politically, this could also be a trap – we are not going to let them wash their hands of the whole situation and let farmers do their dirty work.
“There has got to be partnership – we’re not accepting DEFRA washing its hands of the whole thing. Its approach must be consistent with their whole approach to animal health and welfare which is all about sharing costs and responsibilities.
“If a group of farmers applied for a licence we would expect that group to be given every assistance from DEFRA State Veterinary Service officers. The whole strategy about going about a badger cull has to be agreed jointly between the DEFRA vets and the farmers doing the job. We simply do not have the expertise to design a badger cull.”
For more on the NFU Conference see our NFU AGM Special Report