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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.”

Double Standards at DEFRA

The lead news story in the 20th June 2008 edition of the Farmers Weekly, reports that DEFRA advice to veterinary officials & their clients is at odds with their official line, showing that the government is well aware that badgers play a major role in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

While animal activists have disputed the badgers’ role in the transmission of TB & DEFRA has always insisted that the main way to tackle the disease is through the testing and culling of cattle, with the bean-eating Mr Benn who is in charge of livestock – as part of his brief as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, (and who in their right mind put a man that has not eaten meat or fish for 36 years & whose constituency Leeds Central, is an inner-city constituency, in charge of the country’s livestock farming?) going as far as to say he is “not convinced by the science” for a cull. Yet of the 26 points made in the DEFRA produced Bovine TB Husbandry Best Practice Guide 23 focus directly on the risk of infection spread presented by badgers, just 2 points, at the end, are devoted to cattle to cattle transmission and there is only a single point on pre-movement testing. This completely undermines Hilary Benn’s dithering on the thorny issue of badger culling!

Jonathan Riley – News Editor of Farmers Weekly commented:

“… this government seems frozen into inaction by the strident claims of the wildlife lobby, a lobby that would rather see infected badgers struggle to live, while thousands dairy animals are slaughtered , under a policy that is so clearly failing to work.”

The content leaves no doubt that DEFRA knows how big a problem badger to cattle transmission is. West Country farmer Jilly Greed whose herd has suffered a recent TB breakdown, said:

“Behind the scenes DEFRA obviously knows how big a problem badgers represent. Why don’t they come out and say it?
The science says cattle-to-cattle transmission accounts for just 1-2% of herd breakdowns. The remaining 98-99% of bovine TB is brought in from other sources. In other words it is brought in by badgers and this advice shows DEFRA knows that.”

Three of the warnings from DEFRA are:

  • Keep Badgers away from feed – badgers infected with TB can contaminate feed.
  • Make your farmyard less attractive to badgers – badgers are likely to be attracted to accessible feed and may spread disease to cattle.
  • Where possible keep cattle away from high risk areas such as badger latrines and active setts.

No Prosecutions for Pirbright Leak!

There will be no prosecutions for the Pirbright laboratories responsible for the Foot and Mouth outbreak last year. Surrey County Council has concluded that the virus spread from a drain shared by the Institute of Animal Health and private company Merial, and it is impossible to tell which of the bodies using the site was responsible for the leak. The Council is, however, calling for “tougher regulations to make every shared site have one organisation to take overall responsibility for such matters.”

Country Land & Business Association deputy president William Worsley said:

“This is extremely worrying when you are talking about something as potentially devastating as animal disease. This decision will set a dangerous precedent for similar situations caused by the negligence of public bodies.
“It suggests public bodies are not subject to the same level of accountability as everyone else. This is despite a seemingly endless stream of regulations affecting rural businesses that makes managers ever more accountable for their actions.”

The official report concluded that live FMD virus leaked from faulty pipes and spread from the Pirbright site. Livestock on eight farms was infected, and the farming industry lost an estimated £100million through loss of sales, movement restrictions and extra feed costs.
The CLA deputy president added: “The most recent inquiry into the outbreak, by Iain Anderson who led the review into the 2001 foot and mouth crisis, called for clarity of responsibility and ownership at Pirbright.
“He attacked the ‘creeping degradation of standards’ at the site which he described as ‘shabby and dilapidated’ and criticised a number of bodies, including Defra, the official regulator at that time, and the Institute of Animal Health. Nonetheless there are to be no prosecutions – this is deplorable.”

Read the full story on the BBC website

BBC Four’s Medieval Season (part 5)

This week sees the last programme in BBC Four’s Medieval Series on Thursday 15 May, 19:30-20:00  in which Dr Alixe Bovey reaches the West Country, investigating some of the myths and legends depicted on the Gough Map and discovers how these were used to legitimise wars and empires.

BBC Four’s Medieval Season (part 4)

The medieval season is drawing to an end as we enter May, the bulk of the viewing this week is made up of repeat viewings of earlier programmes. However it looks as though there is still going to be some interesting viewing this week if you are interested in food and history then Wednesday should be the highlight of your week with both Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook & A Tudor Feast at Christmas, some ideas for the Christmas dinner already then.

Christina: A Medieval Life 9.00pm tonight looks as though it could be a very interesting programme just so long as they give some depth to the information given and not just skim across the surface as has happened with some of the programmes.

Anyway here is this week’s viewing:-

Monday 5 May,

Christina: A Medieval Life 21:00-22:00
Michael Wood traces the life of a real-life peasant of 14th century Hertfordshire, looking at what life was like for a poor villager during the time of war, famine, floods, climate change and the Black Death, and reveals the connections with modern-day Britons.

Wednesday 7 May,

Clarissa and the King’s Cookbook 21:00-21:30
Clarissa Dickson Wright tracks down and cooks some of the recipes from Britain’s oldest known cookbook,The Forme of Cury, a 700 year old scroll written during the reign of King Richard II from recipes created by the King’s master chefs. She wonders if this manuscript may have influenced the way we eat today.

A Tudor Feast at Christmas 23:00-00:00
Historians and archaeologists cook a Tudor feast as it would have been prepared 400 years ago, sourcing food from the land and using recipes from the era. Without the use of modern conveniences, a group of historians and archaeologists cook a Tudor feast as it would have been prepared over 400 years ago.

Turning the clock back to rediscover a way of life from an age gone by, they wear clothes from the period, source food from the land, and use recipes from the era.

Thursday 8 May,

In Search of Medieval Britain 5/6 19:30-20:00  30mins
Dr Alixe Bovey uses the oldest surviving route map of Britain to make a series of journeys through Britain in the Middle Ages. In this episode she explores the most mysterious region on the whole map: medieval Scotland. A nation so young it still had no capital, where wolves reigned over its highland wilderness, and gangsters terrorised its border lands.

Inside the Medieval Mind 4/4 21:00-22:00
Professor Robert Bartlett lays bare the brutal framework of the medieval class system. Inequality was part of the natural order, the life of serfs little better than those of animals, the knight’s code of chivalry more one of caste solidarity than morality. Yet a social revolution would transform relations between those with absolute power and those with none.

Crusades 4/4 22:00-22:50
Terry Jones looks at Richard the Lionheart’s battle with the legendary Saladin, following in his footsteps to see whether it would have been physically possible for Richard to jump overboard and wade ashore to Tel Aviv without drowning.