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Science has no absolute right when faced with politics, says Owen Paterson

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: October 29, 2013

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson tastes food as he, and Prime Minister David Cameron, chat with stall holders during a visit to the North Devon Agricultural Show, at Barton Farm in Umberleigh, Devon

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Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has argued there is "no absolute right" when being given scientific advice, and that it is the politician's job to "make the call".

The minister, who has sanctioned badger culling in the South West amid criticism it is "anti-science", said he drew on his experience from living in the countryside and being "bombarded" by advice.

This week, Sir David Attenborough entered the debate surrounding the cull, accusing the Government of "ignoring science" by extending the badger cull in Gloucestershire by eight weeks. It is one of two pilots that will determine whether culling to eradicate bovine TB destroying farming in the region is extended.

But speaking to The House magazine, Parliament's in-house publication, the Shropshire MP said: "Ultimately you have to make the call, but I see myself as someone who has lived in the countryside all his life and you are constantly in the countryside bombarded with scientific advice.

"So if you ever had anything to do with animals, you had conflicting veterinary advice and ultimately you have to make the decision: is that vet right or is the other vet right?

"So I'm used to, completely accustomed to, dealing with scientific advice but ultimately you have to make a political decision. There is no absolute right in a scientific decision. We have some good advisers here who I respect enormously, but obviously I have got my own sources outside, my own experience which I have to draw on."

Labour rejected culling on the basis of a ten-year study that concluded it was "unlikely to contribute effectively" to tackling the disease. But the coalition used the same study to justify culling on the basis it could lead to a reduction in the rates of TB in cattle of 16 per cent.

Mr Paterson also underlined how the rural economy is his top priority – with the environment second. His comments come amid criticism for downgrading the role of the farming minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He said: "Exports are a key part of our first priority here, which is to grow the rural economy. Our second priority is to improve the environment, and the other two are to protect the country from animal disease and protect the country from plant disease."

The minister added that consumers no longer care about the issue of genetically modified crops, and that they would cut costs for hard-pressed shoppers.

"If an animal, a chicken or a pig has eaten GM material, you can't tell. The fact that the public didn't react to that was very interesting," he said.

GM foods is one of the central lines of inquiry of a study by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee into food security within the UK and abroad.

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  • Charlespk  |  October 30 2013, 10:15AM

    What EXPERTS!!?? These are the INDISPUTABLE FACTS. . That's why there is going to be an on-going cull.

    |   -5
  • Charlespk  |  October 30 2013, 10:13AM

    What EXPERTS!!?? These are the INDISPUTABLE FACTS. . That's why there is going to be an on-going cull.

    |   -9
  • advanced1  |  October 30 2013, 9:51AM

    So you've said 1000 times. Doesn't make it any more true according to the experts.

    |   4
  • Charlespk  |  October 30 2013, 8:20AM

    He's just joined with all you cattle and mammal killers. He should be ashamed, as should all of you. First post is the science and this is the evidence. Badgers and bovine TB. The indisputable, historic, scientific facts. http://tinyurl.com/bw7jpxy (open in a new window)

    |   -6
  • advanced1  |  October 30 2013, 7:03AM

    No he's not abusing anything. He's standing up for what is right using his knowledge. Well done David A.

    |   4
  • twigcat  |  October 30 2013, 12:19AM

    You lost us with your 1st eight words, Charles. How very dare you!!!!!

    |   3
  • Charlespk  |  October 29 2013, 9:15PM

    I think Sir David Attenborough is a disgrace, and is displaying unprecedented abuse of his knowledge and ability as a naturalist, that was bequeathed him by his access to BBC Broadcasting. Spoligotype and VNTR profiling If bTB were mostly spread by cow to cow contact, you'd expect the geographical pattern of spoligotypes to be an ever-changing mosaic, and with the extremely aggressive culling of infected cows that is now done, you'd expect one or two spoligotypes of bTB to have gone extinct from chance alone. If on the other hand bTB in cows was mostly caused by spread from a fairly static reservoir host to cows, then you'd expect the geographical pattern of spoligotypes to stay constant. The latter pattern is what is seen; badgers are the major reservoir host of bTB, and it is only by aggressively culling badgers everywhere to limit their spread, and by culling to local extinction in bTB hotspot areas that this disease is going to be brought under control. Subsequent to bTB being brought under control, there needs to be an ongoing low-level cull of badgers to keep their numbers down, since a high badger population is always going to pose a threat of bTB epidemic. That's the science this is the evidence. Badgers and bovine TB. The indisputable, historic, scientific facts. http://tinyurl.com/bw7jpxy (open in a new window)

    |   -7