The NFU is lobbying government for the creation of a new independent body to eradicate bovine TB and depoliticise the debate over the disease.
At present, the TB Eradication Advisory Group (TBEAG), is a sub-group of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE) which has overall responsibility for TB strategy.
The expert panel, which includes vets, farmers, scientists and civil servants, makes recommendations to Defra minsters on the development and implementation of the strategy for eradicating bovine TB.
But the NFU is proposing a rewriting of the terms of reference for TBEAG to become the TB Eradication Board for England – an “independent body equipped with the teeth that will be needed to get on top of the disease”.
Under the proposals, the advisory group would see its status enhanced and be given powers to influence TB policy.
Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said farmers up and down the country wanted to depoliticise the debate on how best to tackle TB.
“If politicians were tasked with eradicating the disease, they would have to look at ways to eradicate it,” said Ms Batters. “We would like a rollout of the badger culls on the back of the pilots.”
Ms Batters has suggested using farmers’ modulated money raised through the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) and matched by Defra to fund the board.
She explained that the NFU was a trade body and it was not the responsibility of the union to come up with a national levy to pay for the board.
“We are challenging England’s Animal Health and Welfare Board (AHWB). We are saying we need a fresh start,” she added. “This is about farmers having it how farmers want it – not about being dictated to by government.”
The NFU is rewriting the terms of reference for the board to present to Ms Truss in December.
“We are working with stakeholders to rewrite the terms of reference for TBEAG and take it to other stakeholders to ask if they support this,” Ms Batters explained.
“Before Christmas, we will meet secretary of state Liz Truss and tell her that this is what industry wants.”
Ms Batters said it was imperative that the new board is put in place ahead of the general election.
Therefore, if there is a change of government or coalition government in May, the new secretary of state would have to “publically justify any decision to scrap the board”.
“We want to get it up and running before purdah (the pre-election period),” said Ms Batters.
The NFU brought together leading experts from across the country for a conference at its headquarters in Stoneleigh on Monday (17 November) to discuss the scientific basis for eradicating bovine TB with farmers battling against the disease.
Ms Batters told an audience of about 80 farmers that beating bovine TB was going to hurt, but science and investment was crucial to tackle the disease.
She said: “There is a real understanding that we can’t beat this disease with cattle movement measures alone and farmers realise that taking out endemic disease in badgers is essential. It is about using every tool in the box.”
The NFU is also working with DairyCo and Eblex to roll out the South West TB Farm Advisory Service across the country.
The service will be funded by the RDPE and provide a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to help regions fighting this “terrible disease”.
Speaking at the conference, Defra chief scientific adviser Ian Boyd warned farmers we might never be able to eradicate bovine TB in this country.
But Prof Boyd said he was confident a TB-free status remains an “achievable goal” in England by 2038.