Farmer “ownership” is key to TB control, according to the man who is heading the drive to eliminate the disease in the South West.
Bill Harper, chairman of the National Beef Association’s TB committee, implored farmers to take responsibility for TB control implementation.
As the pilot badger culls were extended having failed to produce sufficient numbers after six weeks, he insisted that farmer control had made a critical difference between the two trial badger cull areas, in West Somerset and around the Tewkesbury area of Gloucestershire.
Mr Harper said that farmers in Somerset had shouldered the responsibility for appointing and co-ordinating the marksmen employed. In contrast, the Gloucestershire area had not seen such a hands-on approach from those directly affected by bovine TB.
Mr Harper believed this made a significant difference in results achieved between the two areas.
Speaking at an NBA meeting in West Cornwall, Mr Harper went on to say that the farmers of West Penwith might face a set of difficult decisions around their localised-control programme.
He was sceptical about the short-term prospects for a badger-gassing programme. “Foam gas, as used to slaughter diseased chickens, offers the most practical option,” he said. “Gassing is preferable to trapping and shooting, but to date there is no gas licensed for use with badgers. That is five years away.”
To build on the trial cull results,
Mr Harper encouraged farmers to support a professional roll-out programme. But that would require an experienced and professional full-time manager. Funding such a move could cost as little as £2.50 per animal per year.
The farmers of North Cornwall were gearing-up to make their contribution to such a scheme, said Mr Harper – who stressed he was looking for a similar commitment from West Penwith.
Turning to vaccination, Mr Harper was clear that the best place to deploy stocks was in an area between the Manchester Ship Canal and the Humber, a distance of only 37 miles. Creating a fire wall across this short distance could maintain the free status of the North, while farmers tackle the issue from the south upwards.
West Penwith was the natural starting point for such a project, and farmers would have the support of Defra Secretary Owen Patterson.
Jointly working with the Government and Natural England, farmers could get on top of the scourge of bovine TB, Mr Harper insisted.
Meanwhile the highly controversial pilot badger culls continue, amid rumours, claims and counter claims about them.
But one aspect seems certain . . . the “benefits” of carrying out the culls by shooting free-running badgers would appear to be a lot less attractive an option now than they were before the pilots began.