Livestock producers hit by bovine tuberculosis will be expected to contribute to the cost of a badger cull if the Tories win the next General Election.
A typical dairy farm is likely to face a £600 bill under proposals for a targeted cull aimed at stopping bovine TB spreading from badgers to cattle. But the Conservatives believe the sum is a small price to pay for getting on top of the disease.
Tory plans for a cull are in their early stages, but proposals topped the agenda during a three-day visit by shadow farm minister Jim Paice to TB hotspot areas across south-west England this week.
Any cull would be properly co-ordinated, said Mr Paice. “I have always said that any cull of badgers should be targeted at those setts most likely to be infected, rather than simply deciding to cull all the badgers in any particular area.”
Mr Paice declined to put a figure on how much individual farmers would be charged. But industry sources suggested £7.50/ha (£3/acre), meaning a £600 bill for a typical 150-cow dairy herd run across 80ha (200 acres).
The government is expected to spend £100m combating bovine TB this year alone. Although the Tory plan would save money by bringing the disease under control, Mr Paice said any additional measures would involve an additional short-term cost.
“Frankly, I can’t see me getting any extra money so either it is going to have to come from elsewhere in DEFRA’s budget – which won’t be immediately easy – or we are going to have to ask farmers to pick up some of the cost.”
National Beef Association chairman Christopher Thomas-Everard said he believed most farmers would be prepared to contribute to the cost of a cull. Public opposition to a cull could also be overcome, he added.
“If we treat TB like rabies and properly explain that infected badgers have to be culled to stop infection spreading, then I believe that the public will accept diseased badgers being dealt with.”