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Farmers must take solace that not everyone is against them

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 09, 2013

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Outgoing National Farmers Union president Peter Kendall has had his fair share of criticism, much of it over the badger cull. Dorset beef farmer Andy Foot says it is undeserved.

Apparently when Steve Peacock, a journalist of long-standing, former BBC Farming Today editor and currently agricultural adviser for the longest running soap of all time, Radio 4's The Archers, spoke at Devon NFU's recent annual open meeting he admitted wryly that he was relieved that the culling of badgers had not (yet) been rolled out in Borsetshire.

But he also made the serious supplementary point that, whilst you will never, ever get everyone to agree with you, never assume that everyone is against you either. Make sure people have all the facts, he suggested, because pressure groups 'tend to push lines' and there are other points of view.

From the tone of recent newspaper 'punditry' and the oft-repeated and inaccurate accusations from 'the usual suspects' in the correspondence columns, some farming readers should take solace from his sage observations.

I am by no means a connoisseur of fine wine, but, like most, I am not overly keen on the bouquet of sour grapes or their lingering bitterness on the palate. And my goodness, hasn't there been a lot of that particularly obnoxious vintage poured out by the pundits lately!

I suppose it is to be expected that any leader worthy of the name will be beset by lesser mortals carping, criticising and castigating every aspect of their personalities and policies, promulgating very little of a positive nature in the process. Sadly, not all losers are "good" and there are some "dead" men who never quite know when to lie down.

Such is life, and I am sure that outgoing NFU president Peter Kendall will rise above it all. He will certainly be sorely missed by the majority of us here in the South West as the fond farewell and thanks he received from well over 100 Dorset NFU members at our recent annual meeting will testify.

He has achieved a huge amount in re-establishing the notion that farming is a great industry, producing vital food supplies and supporting tens of thousands of jobs as well as stewarding a clean, green countryside rather than being some sort of home-spun, Hardy-esque lifestyle choice.

But towering head and shoulders above even this welcome and overdue 're-balancing' of public perception has been the fact that he has been, and remains, at the forefront of an achievement of Olympian significance for us – establishing the principle that culling badgers as part of the push-back against bovine TB is the right and only option.

A few home truths need to be told on this score.

First and foremost is that these pundits who purport to speak regularly on behalf of and, they would claim, knowledgeably, about the farming community, sometimes from within it and occasionally from the fringes and shadows of the past, do the silent majority a huge disservice.

They keep stoking the embers of dissent, which from my own observations and conversations is vastly over-egged and which will come like manna from heaven to the activists whose sole objective is to get as much sustained and negative publicity for culling, in any form and from any quarter, as possible.

The vast majority of livestock farmers of my acquaintance are extremely relieved and grateful that at last something tangible is being done about the sizeable reservoir of disease amongst badgers, the ignored elephant in the room for far too long purely for the sake of political popularity.

What these pundits are saying is actually not only divisive and undermining but also patronisingly dismissive of the huge efforts that have been put into the pilot culls, by the brave farmers, cull companies, local communities and NFU staff involved in the face of a degree of intimidation and propaganda.

Let's make no bones about it, even in the face of all the disruptive activity, the culls were carried out safely and humanely and will assist in damping down the disease in those areas.

Characterising that as a "failure" is like calling me a vegetarian!

As for the activists, some maybe of genuine but misguided intent and none of us relishes having to cull badgers, but the hard core coalition which so greedily pounces on every morsel of media attention it can get, emanates predominantly from people and organisations of a vegan/animal rights disposition who do not wish livestock farming or farmers to exist at all. As a leader of livestock farmers myself, I would suggest that there is no truth like an old truth – united we stand, divided we fall.

Maybe if we build on the achievement Peter has led us to rather than denigrating it and mount a positive, rather than a negative campaign we could see the South West, after so many years absence, represented on the NFU's top table where, as England's foremost livestock farming region, it should undoubtedly be.

Andy Foot is the NFU South West livestock board chairman

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5 comments

  • Clued-Up  |  December 10 2013, 12:49PM

    The next big battle will be about getting the independent experts panel's judgement on the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of the badger cull out into the public domain and DIRECTING (not just "informing") future policy on badger culling. Please look at yesterday's Hansard report on the badger cull debate in the House of Lords to see where the battle lines will be. Lord Krebs and others asked very pertinent questions pointing out the logical inconsistencies of what different DEFRA ministers had said at different times about the purpose of the pilot badger culls. They also pointed out the logical inconsistencies between the alleged purposes of the badger cull and the actions on the ground - you cannot test whether free shooting badgers is effective by cage-trapping them! They said bluntly cage-trapping badgers is so much more expensive than free-shooting them it completely destroys any economic argument for killing badgers. Lord De Mauley(??), the government spokesman, didn't answer any of the points put to him and implied the government would itself choose whether to take any notice of what the independent panel of experts said. My impression was that he was stalling. A lot will depend on the tone and voting in tomorrow's Commons debate.

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  • Harymary  |  December 10 2013, 10:49AM

    Oh, yes, conundrum and Clued-Up. Is this article REALLY suggesting that the badger culls were a success? Such hogwash! The cull was illegally extended, and changed the rules (or goalposts, if you prefer), in Somerset for a further six weeks; eight in Gloucestershire. In the latter, Defra pulled the plug three weeks into the extension period and only because the Badger Trust and Brian May were separately sueing the government because it changed the method agreed by Parliament, from free-shooting badgers to baiting, trapping them in cages and then shooting them - and this had not been agreed by Parliament.

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  • conundrum  |  December 09 2013, 9:16PM

    As I was logging on to the WMN site, I thought: now that the cull has been a failure even in the terms of the people who supported it and descended into an expensive farce, I wonder what sort of amusing re-writing of history I'll find, will anyone really be arrogant enough to try and obscure the fact that the WMN has uncritically backed the cull against scientific and public opinion (just because it's basically a subsiduary of the Daily Mail and must support Conservative/ NFU policy ) and this in over a thousand articles, often at a rate of almost one a day...and so very obviously got it very wrong indeed? And here it is....... Penned by someone who supposedly speaks on behalf of an organisation that represents a mere 18% of farmers, (and even in the NFU there is dissent,) this is one of the most tortuous, petty, whinging, intellectually feeble pieces of sophistry and convoluted refusal to accept failure that I've ever read. Graceless and undignified. And as the writer says: Congratulations to all those individuals who were prepared to take money in return for shooting a small nervous nocturnal mammal armed with only a high-powered rifle. Yes, very brave of them indeed. The cull was a depressing example of ideology over rationality and this article is its fitting epitaph. Please, let's just leave it to rest in peace now, shall we?

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  • Clued-Up  |  December 09 2013, 4:06PM

    The backers of the badger cull expected they could manipulate and batter their way through the protests of the public, the scientists and everyone who cares about British wildlife. They were too arrogant to see the weaknesses of their position. One in ten of us belongs to an environmental group. By contrast, the badger cull project was stitched up by a tiny minority (Countryside Alliance supporters, owners of shooting estates, etc) - people whom mainstream society regards as cruel and odd. The weight of public opinion would always be against the badger cull and those advocating it. They pro-cullers tried to sell killing Britain's second favourite animal as a policy to reduce cattle bTB. All the UK's leading scientists have told them, government and the public that killing badgers won't reduce cattle bTB, reducing cattle bTB can only be achieved through tight, enforced cattle controls or the use of vaccine and DIVA testing. The public sensibly prefer to believe the scientists.

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  • Clued-Up  |  December 09 2013, 4:04PM

    The backers of the badger cull expected they could manipulate and batter their way through the protests of the public, the scientists and everyone who cares about British wildlife. They were too arrogant to see the weaknesses of their position. One in ten of us belongs to an environmental group. By contrast, the badger cull project was stitched up by a tiny minority (Countryside Alliance supporters, owners of shooting estates, etc) - people whom mainstream society regards as cruel and odd. The weight of public opinion would always be against the badger cull and those advocating it. They pro-cullers tried to sell killing Britain's second favourite animal as a policy to reduce cattle bTB. All the UK's leading scientists have told them, government and the public that killing badgers won't reduce cattle bTB, reducing cattle bTB can only be achieved through tight, enforced cattle controls or the use of vaccine and DIVA testing. The public sensibly prefer to believe the scientists.

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