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Stackyard News Jan 07

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    Farmers Challenge Government Minister About Bovine TB

Shrewsbury & Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski, who is also the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Dairy Farming, arranged for three farmers and a veterinary expert to speak in person with Government Minister Ben Bradshaw MP about their worries about bovine tuberculosis.

Andrew Bebb, Adrian Joynt and Chris Williamson, as well as vet Tim O’Sullivan

The delegation of farmers travelled from the West Midlands region to Westminster and included Andrew Bebb, Adrian Joynt and Chris Williamson, as well as vet Tim O’Sullivan.

The meeting opened with the controversial topic of badger culling, with the farmers asking the Minister how likely it is that a cull of badgers to curb the spread of bovine TB will be carried out. Mr Bradshaw replied that the trialling of a practical and effective method of culling was being investigated and that a cull had not been ruled out. However, he emphasised that a cull would need to be efficient and very wide spread to ensure its effectiveness. The farmers highlighted the different treatment of Foot & Mouth disease in 2001, where culling of infected animals was rapidly introduced, and bovine TB, where the Government has yet to introduce culling of badgers.

The farmers asked the Minister about the right of a farmer to dispatch a sick badger. He confirmed that although it is illegal to kill badgers in the normal course of events, it was permissible for a farmer to shoot a badger that was clearly diseased, if he was confident he could prove at a later date that it was indeed sick and suffering. Mr Bradshaw went on to say that no farmer has ever been prosecuted for killing a badger in these circumstances.

Continuing on the subject of badgers and bovine TB, the farmers asked the Minister to look at the possibilities of increased testing of badgers killed on roads and railway lines, to monitor and control the spread of TB in the badger population.

The veterinary aspects of bovine TB were discussed, with the delegates asking why the Government was not considering vaccinating the cattle population in the UK, although they were looking at the vaccination of badgers. They further enquired whether the Government was actively seeking a vaccine that would ensure that milk and meat would be safe for subsequent consumption.

The discussion moved on to the subject of the testing of cattle for TB. Current regulations require testing of herds every four years and the testing of cattle prior to movement. Testing is about to be extended to include younger animals, doubling the number of tests required and hence doubling the cost to farmers. The farmers called instead for a change to annual testing of all herds, believing this to be both more reliable and effective in detecting the disease and significantly cheaper and more convenient for the farmer.

The farmers stated that it has been proven that movement of cattle is not the main cause of the spread of bovine TB. With the cost of pre-movement testing typically being £2,000 per year, they asked the Minister to remove this unnecessary burden on cattle farmers. The Minister argued that as 300 cattle had been positively tested for TB in this way, that it must continue, but the farmers continued to challenge the need for the financial burden of this particular form of testing to fall on them.

“What is painfully clear is that the situation cannot remain as it is at present,” pointed out Shropshire farmer Andrew Bebb, “but the Government is not recognising the costs that the new testing is going to force onto farmers, nor the fact that the new testing will not change the current crisis”.

The next topic addressed was that of compensation for diseased cattle test positive for TB. The farmers argued that the compensation tables do not allow for the differences in value of cattle according to pedigree, age, milk yield or organic status. They called on the Government to compensate farmers for the full value of each animal, dismissing the Minister’s assurance that the matter was being investigated, on the grounds that the last two consultations on compensation had completely ignored the views of farmers.

On a separate subject, the farmers asked Mr Bradshaw about the testing of imports of Brazilian beef, because they believe the tests are not sufficiently widespread or effective to detect the presence of hormones.

Mr Kawczynski commented after the meeting, “it has been interesting to hear what the farmers had to say to the Minister and to gauge his reactions. I am particular pleased to hear that he has not ruled out any of the viable solutions that may stop the spread of this disease.”

The meeting concluded with the Minister assuring the farmers that these matters were all being looked into, while the farmers expressed a strong wish for this to be done with all due urgency.

The delegation comprised:

Andrew Bebb, NFU Group Chairman - Shrewsbury, Shropshire coordinator of Farmers For Action, farmer in Shropshire

Chris Williamson, past NFU Group Chairman - Shrewsbury, farmer in Shropshire

Adrian Joynt, new NFU County, Shropshire, Farm Manager, Walford College of Agriculture

Tim O’Sullivan, vet in Shropshire

Ben Bradshaw MP is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

link Government offer on joint disease control worth considering
link Guard Against Lice and Tick Threat at Lambing Time
link Farmers to question DEFRA minister over bovine TB fears

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