Tories ‘would widen badger cull’

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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A Tory-led government would roll out badger culling to more areas where tuberculosis (TB) is rife in cattle, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has said.

Ms Truss refused to be drawn on whether wider culling of badgers to tackle the disease in livestock could take place this year if the Conservatives win the general election, but she insisted the Tories would continue with their 25-year TB eradication strategy, which includes a roll-out of the badger cull.

Her comments came as National Farmers’ Union president Meurig Raymond said the incidence of TB had decreased on farms in two pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire where culling of badgers has taken place over the last two years.

Speaking at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham, he urged politicians not to make the controversial cull “a party political issue” in the run-up to the general election, and criticised Labour for pledging to give up on culling.

Ms Truss pledged that any future Conservative government would “take the difficult decisions to deal with this disease”.

She told the conference: “It is shameful that under the previous government bovine TB increased nine-fold and we ended up with the highest levels of the disease in Europe. It is incredible that they would like to make the same mistake again.”

She said the Government’s strategy included cattle movement controls, vaccination in “edge” areas around disease hotspots, and culling where the disease is rife.

“We will not let up, whatever complaints we get from protest groups. We’re in it for the long haul. We will not walk away,” she said to the conference, to applause from farmers.

Speaking to journalists after her speech, she said: “I’ve been very clear we will continue with the 25-year strategy, and that does envisage a wider roll out of the culls.”

While she would not say when the roll-out could take place, Mr Raymond said there was “no reason” why – if the Conservatives get back into power and the strategy was still on the table – other areas would not be ready to start culling this year.

Mr Raymond told delegates at the NFU conference that in the two pilot areas TB incidence had already declined, adding that the reductions were “n ot just by a small amount either – in the Somerset pilot area TB incidence on farms has decreased from 34% to 11% compared to two years ago”.

And he said: “In Gloucestershire, vets are also reporting a reduction in TB in cattle too. And just two days ago, one of our Gloucestershire members was given the fantastic news that his farm is now clear of TB, for the first time in 11 years.

“He is very clear that the only thing that’s changed on his farm is that we are now doing something to control the disease in wildlife.”

Mr Raymond also called the next government to make food and farming a priority, in the face of a report which showed declining self sufficiency of UK food production.

Research from the NFU released ahead of the conference suggested the UK’s self sufficiency is in a 30-year downward spiral, with 60% of food needs met with produce from farms here.

At current rates, and with the UK population expected to grow to 70 million in 20 years, the figure could fall to 53% by the 2040s, the NFU claimed, warning it would have serious implications for the British economy, food security and employment.

In his speech to the conference, Mr Raymond said that in 1984 the UK produced more than 80% of what the country consumed.

“If you like to look at it this way, our national cupboard lasted us well into autumn. By 2013, the cupboard was bare by August 7. If we go on like this we will run out by mid-summer.

“Who would want to lead the country down a path where we produce less than half the food we eat? This will be totally unacceptable to the British public and in no way in the national interest.”

Mr Raymond said polling for the NFU showed that 85% of British people wanted to see supermarkets sell more British food, and nearly eight out of 10 believed the Government should do more to ensure a secure and affordable supply of British food.

He called for measures to protect farmers from market volatility, including by making sure the food chain worked fairly, better regulation on labelling, preventing “Nimbys” using the planning system to stop poultry sheds being built or alternative energy projects going ahead, and to “sort out the mess” of reform to the European Union subsidy system that attempted to make it “greener”.

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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