Originally posted 28/02/05
FOR FARMERS GUARDIAN
The Government’s bovine TB strategy fails to understand the sense of urgency felt by British livestock farmers. That having been said, if there were a politically easy, inexpensive and scientifically robust solution to the inexorable spread of bovine TB then I am sure that all politicians, let alone political parties, would grab it with both hands.
The problem for politicians is that we are being asked to snatch at a solution in a very uncertain environment in which emotions are running high and scientifically robust evidence still remains weak.
Let me set out where I think we are. All sides can agree: that any future TB control and eradication strategy should be based on sound science; and that we desperately need the development of an effective cattle and/or badger vaccine.
However, there are two elements which a future strategy cannot be based on: the widespread extermination of the badger – which is neither politically, financially nor practically achievable; the eradication of livestock farming from perpetual TB hotspots.
In contrast there are two further elements on which we will not achieve agreement but which will have to form part of a control and eradication strategy: badgers will have to be culled; and pre- and post-cattle movement tests are necessary for movements from TB hotspots.
Further desirable elements in the development of a strategy might include: a more sensitive cattle test – i.e. one that does not throw up so many false negatives (or positives) and which can detect at an earlier stage in the development of symptoms; a live test for badgers; and sufficient resources in the state veterinary service to ensure that tests are carried out and reactors are removed quickly and efficiently.
Identifying a robust solution to the very serious problem of bovine TB is not one, as some seem to believe, which can be judged on the basis of the number of Parliamentary Questions asked. It would be better to spend the hundreds of thousands of pounds which Mr Paterson’s questions have cost the taxpayer, in the pursuit of a better test, candidate vaccine, etc., rather than attempting to make synthetic political points.
I believe that there is already enough evidence to set up Regional Action Groups. Without compromising the remaining work of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials, regional control strategies can be set up and acted upon now. For example, Cornwall could set one up tomorrow. Stakeholders could be brought together and action started to create biosecure barriers and rings around affected areas. Indeed, Cornwall’s geography lends itself to an effective ‘barrier’ policy along the border with England (Devon)!
Andrew George MP 28th February 2005