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MP David Heath 'promise' on controversial badger cull in Somerset

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 10, 2012

David Heath

Farming Minister David Heath says the pilot cull on badgers is necessary and will go ahead

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Controversial pilot culls of badgers in two South West locations will go ahead next year, according to Farming Minister David Heath.

The Frome and Somerton Lib Dem MP restated the Government’s commitment to controlling the reservoir of bovine TB in the badger population by introducing the pilot culls in early summer.

He told the annual open meeting of the Somerset county branch of the National Farmers’ Union: “I promise you it is our very clear intention to do these trials next summer.”

With the flood of disease challenges he was facing in his new Ministerial job, he sometimes felt like “all four horsemen of the apocalypse rolled into one”, he said. He explained he had not been expecting to be given his ministerial job but was “absolutely delighted” that he had been.

Mr Heath stressed that vaccination for either badgers or cattle was not a viable option for controlling bovine TB, in fact it was illegal in the case of the latter, and that if there was an alternative to culling badgers to curtail the spread of the disease the Government would use it, but there was nothing currently available.

“Frankly this should have been sorted out years ago,” he said.

The pilot culls in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury were called off at short notice this autumn because of a lack of time before the start of the badger breeding season and because of the number of badgers involved, far greater than had at first been estimated. Seventy per cent of all badgers in the cull areas were to have been shot by licensed marksmen paid for by farmer groups – a highly controversial programme opposed by animal-welfare organisations and condemned in a backbencher debate in the House of Commons, when the Government’s plans were defeated.

Bovine TB has been causing widespread havoc in cattle herds in the Westcountry and last year was responsible for the deaths of 26,000 cattle nationally, costing tens of millions of pounds in compensation and anguish to farmers who have seen their herds decimated.

Speaking more generally about the challenges to agriculture, Mr Heath admitted he “did not have all the answers” and had to listen to those who were doing the farming.

He said that although there were a lot of threats and difficulties facing farmers, overall he was optimistic for their future.

But he said the country needed a food strategy, and that if people could not be fed, the Government was failing.

“I haven’t got a magic wand,” he said. “All I can do is my best as your Minister.”

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  • stevenmichael  |  December 11 2012, 2:51PM

    THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY OUT HERE! Our farming communities have to abandon any idea of a cull. There is a reliable alternative that can alleviate any need for a badger cull. There is time to sort out bovine tb and a host of other problems within our cattle industry before next summer. The NFU are heading for a very intimidating and damaging home goal and it will be our farmers that lose the match. Visit: WWW.NOT-IN-THIS-FARMERS-NAME.COM

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  • stevenmichael  |  December 11 2012, 2:42PM

    We farm much differently than we did in 1960. We have changed the breeds of cow, beef and dairy; we have different grazing patterns; we treat our soils differently; we have had two major notifiable disease outbreaks; bovine tb testing was suspended at a critical time; we moved animals around in an unregulated way without knowing their bovine tb status; production costs have risen dramatically; slurry and water effluent management has altered radically (and not for the better) and we have moved into the era of technology, which is wonderful now but in the early days it diverted the young farmers eye from animal husbandry.

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  • stevenmichael  |  December 11 2012, 2:33PM

    I am afraid that Mr Heath has been listening to the wrong farmers. The real epidemic within the industry is lameness, mastitis, infertility and calf mortality. Lameness alone would blast bovine tb clear out of the water and there is no compensation for this, or any tears shed. He must be getting his information from the farmers who say: IT'S NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW YOU FARM IT'S WHERE YOU FARM!!!

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  • 2ladybugs  |  December 10 2012, 9:50PM

    Until the 1980s, badger culling in the United Kingdom was undertaken in the form of gassing, to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB)

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  • 2ladybugs  |  December 10 2012, 6:11PM

    Yes, sorry about that, they are a bit lengthy. Make sure you read them both and don't start cherry picking statements that fit into your personal view as they are actually quite fair overviews otherwise. In other words, they are unbiased.

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  • eyeopener  |  December 10 2012, 6:02PM

    @2ladybugs I am still reading the two documents you posted on TIG. http://tinyurl.com/coj5ykc http://tinyurl.com/8j7gcpe The first document from the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Bovine Tuberculosis (TB): A Review Of Cattle-To-Cattle Transmission, Risk Factors And Susceptibility Is quite interesting in it's own right and also because it restates what Clued-Up when he said "It's the cattle bTB control method that nearly eradicated the UK disease around the end of the 1960s - ie tighter, enforced controls on cattle movement. "

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  • eyeopener  |  December 10 2012, 5:50PM

    Why a report about David Heath at the annual open meeting of the Somerset county branch of the National Farmers' Union on Wednesday December 5 and another about about David Heath at the annual open meeting of the Somerset county branch of the National Farmers' Union today? Two reports about the same meeting?

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  • 2ladybugs  |  December 10 2012, 4:22PM

    Oh dear, the person with the incorrect pseudonym is at it again. So many incorrect statements in that one comment that maybe their name should include the prefix "Un-" I can't be bothered to argue with them as we know that TB will be reduced quicker by other methods. I believe the EU are pushing even harder now for this problem to be sorted ASAP.

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  • Clued-Up  |  December 10 2012, 4:00PM

    "Mr Heath stressed that vaccination for either badgers or cattle was not a viable option for controlling bovine TB, in fact it was illegal in the case of the latter, and that if there was an alternative to culling badgers to curtail the spread of the disease the Government would use it, but there was nothing currently available." Either the Minister or the journalist writing this article 's misreporting the facts. Both of them should know they won't get away with telling porkies. The far better cattle bTB disease control method Heath's department introduced around 14 months ago is ALREADY producing results twice as good as the badger slaughter project aimed at over 9 years. It's the cattle bTB control method that nearly eradicated the UK disease around the end of the 1960s - ie tighter, enforced controls on cattle movement. Taking into account policing and legal costs, vaccinating badgers through controlled cage trapping is likely to be MUCH less expensive than mounting a badger slaughter programme in the teeth of near universal opposition.

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  • 2ladybugs  |  December 10 2012, 3:39PM

    Ah! so the last report was worded slightly differently than this. This report:- Speaking more generally about the challenges to agriculture, Mr Heath admitted he "did not have all the answers" and had to listen to those who were doing the farming The last report:- Wednesday, December 05, 2012 The minister said that vaccination for either badgers or cattle was not a viable option for controlling bovine TB, and is illegal in the case of the latter. Mr Heath, who said he did not have all the answers and had to listen to those who were doing the farming, added that although there were a lot of threats and difficulties facing farmers, overall he was optimistic for their future. Two entirely different meanings.

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