The cost of the badger cull will far exceed the benefits to farmers, it emerged yesterday – but it will still go ahead.
The coalition Government and farmers’ leaders insist there will be no U-turn on the planned pilot schemes in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Figures released yesterday by Defra show the benefits to farmers are £3.68 million, while the costs are £4.56 million – not including the bill for policing, estimated at £4 million over four years.
Agriculture Minister David Heath, the Somerton & Frome MP, said yesterday that 55 Government officials have been assigned to visit badger cull areas to take DNA samples and conduct sett surveys. The total cost of the effectiveness monitoring, for which the bulk of the surveys work was conducted, is estimated at £850,000, he said.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was in Tewkesbury on Thursday evening, for a question and answer session with local farmers, and he told them there were no plans to scrap the cull. He was invited by his friend Laurence Robertson, the Tewkesbury MP, who said he did not know when the Gloucestershire cull would start.
“Defra wants to make sure the licences have been issued properly,” Mr Robertson said.
“The problem of TB has been going on for at least the 15 years I have been an MP and nothing has been done to eradicate the disease. The Government is now determined to do that.”
Dairy farmer Jan Rowe, director of GlosCon, the company set up to organise the cull, warned it must start in the next two weeks or there is a risk it will be delayed until next June.
“It needs to be done by the start of December when the shooting season closes.
“If it is not started in the next couple of weeks, then it will be June next year before we can do anything.”
Farmers insist the cull is necessary to tackle rising rates of TB in cattle, costing the industry and taxpayers millions of pounds a year.
Charles Mann, who represents the National Farmers’ Union in Gloucestershire, says something must be done to stop the spread of bovine TB. He said: “It’s not going to destroy the national population. It’s going to reduce it enormously in the affected areas, but they are still going to breed and be there.
“We’re not trying to impact its iconic status, but we are trying to make both populations – badgers and cattle – healthy again.”