DEFRA proposals to cull badgers in areas endemic with bovine tuberculosis prompted one of the largest responses ever to a government consultation.
A DEFRA spokesman confirmed this week that the government department has received about 35,000 responses, but was unable to give details on the number of replies for or against the proposals.
However, it should be remembered that not all submissions were unique.
Many responses were simply pre-printed answers submitted on the back of high-profile campaigns from parties on both sides of the debate.
Groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Badger Trust – which are heavily opposed to a cull – and the National Beef Association all advocated the use of pre-scripted answers.
Other groups with vested interests also submitted responses. Both the National Trust and Natural England (the new body representing English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service) submitted detailed responses against the proposals.
Other consultations with potentially significant consequences for agriculture vary greatly in their level of response.
The consultation on the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on Rights of Way, which closed on Sunday (19 March), prompted 15,000 responses, while Rosemary Radcliffe’s review of the Levy Bodies received a mere 228 responses.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said he was astonished by the number of responses, but hoped it would not come down to a simple numbers game.
“Of course there will be many responses from the general public against the proposals but, while we shouldn’t dismiss their opinion, they don’t have to live with the daily suffering that the disease inflicts on affected farmers and therefore their understanding of the disease will be limited.
“We hope DEFRA has the conviction to go forward with the necessary measures and are prepared to work in partnership with the industry to tackle TB.”