Mr Benn’s “spineless abdication of responsibility”

As reported by the BBC Hilary Benn has in what has been described as a “spineless abdication of responsibility” by Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and Devon West, decided against a badger cull.

“Having listened to all the views and considered all the evidence, I have come to the decision that while a badger cull might work, it might also not work,” he said. He also added that “It could end up making the disease worse”.

Mr Benn indicated his belief that vaccination – either of badgers or cattle or both – should be an effective strategy as soon as vaccines can be developed. With that in mind, he pledged £20m over the next three years to make developing TB vaccine a “priority”.

But he warned

“It could be some time before a vaccine becomes available, so we must stop the spread of the disease. We have controls in place to tackle it.  It would be possible to tighten these further, but those would come at a high cost and whether these would be worthwhile is a question for the industry rather than government.”

He then announced the formation of a TB partnership group of farmers and industry specialists to discuss these issues, hoping that industry representatives will join.  This group would look at methods of tackling the disease and rolling out the vaccine when it became available. Of this partnership National Farmers Union president Mr Kendall said

 “The NFU can only see value in participating in this group if it is visibly independent and has full jurisdiction over all TB policy matters. Otherwise, we see little value in being part of yet another industry group on TB,”

and called for the establishment of an independent body on animal health, able to take tough decisions on animal disease free of political concerns over public acceptability. Mr Kendall also announced an immediate withdrawal from current DEFRA policy discussions on responsibility and cost sharing, and pledged to fight any attempt by government to transfer existing costs to the industry, or establish a disease levy.

Shadow environment secretary Jim Paice said Mr Benn had “failed to deliver”, while EFRA chairman Michael Jack warned the decision would be met with “fear and anger” by farmers. “Without a cull there can be no effective biosecurity measures,” he said.

Meanwhile Roger Williams. MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, said Mr Benn had favoured “populist appeal over sound science”. “How many farmers will join the partnership group when they feel so demoralised?”

Country Land & Business Association President Henry Aubrey-Fletcher said on Friday when the BBC leaked a report stating that Mr. Benn would decide against a badger cull

“Mr Benn’s decision would fly in the face of recommendations made by the Efra Select Committee and the Government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King. It represents a major blow to farmers and landowners with cattle.”

“The CLA would like to know what the Government believes is a viable alternative to a cull of badgers. The current strategy of relying on cattle control is clearly not working.”

“We believe the Government should be backing the farming industry’s commitment to eradication of the disease with a multi-faceted strategy including at least a trial cull of badgers to make a pragmatic attempt at solving this terrible problem.”

NFU President Peter Kendall on the same day stated that

“Last year saw 28,000 cattle culled with TB, and already in the first quarter of 2008 another 13,500 cattle have been lost. This sort of needless waste of productive animals is unacceptable and calls into question the Government’s attitude not only to food security but also to animal welfare.”

“A negative decision on badger culling would condemn not only tens of thousands more cattle to death, but also thousands of badgers in areas currently free of TB. It would be nothing short of a disaster.”

“To admit that a cull might work, and then push the already crippling burden of TB controls further onto the farming industry is just plain wrong. It is ridiculous to expect farmers to continue fighting TB with one hand tied behind their back.”

“At a time when we have the Prime Minister telling the public not to waste food, it is astonishing the government is prepared to continue to preside over the needless waste of tens of thousands of productive cattle,”

National Beef Association south-west regional coordinator Bill Harper who visited EU officials last week, said that the EU directive on TB stated that countries must carry out a TB eradication programme. “But this country continues to stand alone and defies the spirit of that directive. We base our failing policy on a control strategy and not that crucial word eradication.”

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