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The press and the media

The following shows an extract taken from Reference 1.

The controversies associated with the problem of bovine tuberculosis and badgers have been a fertile area for media attention. We feel bound to say, after reading a great many press cuttings on this subject going back over ten years, that the media have concentrated largely on the emotive aspects of the policy and have done little to further any balanced discussion. This has led in turn to the public gaining a biased view of the problem and the ways of trying to solve it.

The political problem

Ministers rely on Member of Parliament (MP) support and it is the job of an MP to represent the interest's of the general public. Indeed if MPs support minister motions which are at odds with the interests of the people they are supposed to be representing, they would lose their seat. As such TB policy is largely controlled by public perception and a small number of vocal, media-savy and influential elite whose interests are NOT strongly aligned to controlling TB. I believe that this is the reason why ministerial control of TB policy over the last 40 years in the UK has been such a disaster.

In essence, a minister can only govern if the minister proposes motions to which MP's can offer their support. In practice this means supporting approaches with poorer prospects for controlling TB to avoid infuriating the voting public. Thus bovine TB control is weakened by what ministers are able to do. Although this is very understandable I find this very frustrating. Unfortunately there is currently (Feb 2016) no obvious sign that this situation will change in the foreseeable future.

Unless something happens which causes TB to have obvious and tangible impact on the voting public, I see prospects for achieving TB control to be very poor. Indeed I see achieving TB eradication in England by 2038 to be very unrealistic under a minister-controlled policy in view of prospects for controlling TB in South West England and parts of Wales. In July 2016 (now Mar 2016) it will be five years since the first draft of the 25-year eradication policy was published in July 2011. (This date is shown in the footnote at the bottom of Page 25 in Reference 10.) South West England in 2015 saw the worst year ever for the percentage of cattle herds which were confirmed new incidents of TB breakdowns.



Why the current framework for achieving TB control in England is not fit for purpose

Current government commitment to control TB is appropriate for an issue which will not have significant impact on future national prosperity. In view of other impacts of TB, if there is significant impact, at the very least consideration should be given to changing the current setup. It is likely that a new balance needs to be struck between pleasing the voting public and controlling TB to please those who actually need TB controlled. In order for farmers to have more of a say in what is done to control TB, it is absolutely essential that funds come from farmers, such as in the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) levy. The extent to which farmers support efforts to control TB, develop current capability and improve methods should be proportionate and reflect how TB is affecting the industry. This web site highlights how this is not happening. In particular it highlights the superficial and ineffective way in which the National Farmers Union (NFU) campaigns for change.

Managing, applying and monitoring badger removal operations is demanding and needs dedicated salaried staff to co-ordinate efforts. This will ensure badger removal is sufficiently thorough and consistently applied across all cull zones where access is given. Relying on veterinaries and farmers to manage the removal operations in view of their other commitments, diverse interests and responsibilities is in my view prone to failure. Current operations fall far short of the scale of badger removal operations needed to achieve TB reduction on a national scale. Doing so effectively will involve substantial investment in terms of developing know-how, effort on the ground, and management. In view of timescales involved before badger removal translates to cattle TB reduction, that effort needs to start now. The current framework, reporting structure and lack of accountability are all issues which urgently need to be addressed in order to achieve a turnaround. Unless badger control legislation is relaxed in order to bring it into line with that in the rest of Europe, DEFRA ministers need to step in and make changes to achieve a framework which is fit for purpose. Bovine TB is a slowly developing disease so motivation for DEFRA ministers to move towards this goal has always been lacking. Unfortunately there is nothing in the pipeline [current 24 April 2016] which suggests that this situation may change.

References

  1. BADGERS AND BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS - REVIEW OF POLICY. MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD. G M Dunnet, D M Jones, J P Mclnerney. March 1986.
  2. Badgers, Cattle and Tuberculosis. Zuckerman O.M. MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISIIERIES AND FOOD. August 1980.
  3. REPORT OF THE BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS SUB-GROUP, EUROPEAN COMMISSION HEALTH & CONSUMERS DIRECTORATE-GENERAL, Veterinary and international affaires, Meeting held in The UK 27-28 March 2012.
  4. House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Badgers and cattle TB: the final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Fourth Report of Session 2007-08 Volume I
  5. Controlling Bovine TB - a political disease. BVA Webinars. Carl Padgett. Webinar recorded on Mon 25th March, 2013.
  6. Why is New Zealand known as a world leader in the control and management of bovine TB? Interview with Paul Livingstone. www.tbfree.org.nz. Downloaded August 2013.
  7. Statistics - national statistics. Incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle in Great Britain. DEFRA.
  8. EU DIRECTIVE STATING EXPLICIT REQUIREMENT FOR A BADGERCULL. FOI 5618. DEFRA. 15 July 2013.
  9. Future prospects, the need to act now, and lack of support from DEFRA
  10. The Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status for England. April 2014. www.defra.gov.uk
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