Many people who quite rightly oppose badger culling assume that farmers are the enemy. After all, the National Farmers Union (NFU) shouts very loudly about badgers being the cause of the Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) crisis in cattle, and Liz Truss and her team at DEFRA are often seen to appease them. In fact, this very moment, the NFU is lobbying DEFRA in a bid to create what they say will be a new, "independent" bTB Advisory Board. What many people don't realise is that the NFU don't speak for all farmers. The ones they certainly do speak for are rich, landowning farmers.
As NFA pointed out in October, the plight of many farmers in the midst of the bTB crisis is being ignored by DEFRA, and indeed the NFU. Many of these farmers are highly opposed to the badger cull. Not only because it is inhumane but because it is distracting everyone from the real issue, which is destroying their lives: solving the bTB crisis in cattle.
NFA spoke to Myra Welsh, an organic farmer from Cornwall, about her opinions about the badger cull, the bTB crisis in cattle, and her experiences with DEFRA.
Myra was forced to have one of her home bred bulls destroyed after he tested positive for bTB. After this incident, a DEFRA official came to Myra's farm. Myra decided to question him to get a better understanding of some of the issues which were concerning her. Especially as to why badgers in particular were being targeted. Badgers are not the enemy as far as this farmer is concerned. In fact, Myra has been part of a badger vaccination programme for four years, and is an avid nature lover. "We have CCTV cameras on a badger sett, so we are able to enjoy watching them in their natural habitats", she explained.
Myra asked the official why DEFRA is going after badgers in particular.
"The man from DEFRA told me that badgers have been connected to bTB for a long time but only because they are seen in the dairy sheds, cattle barns and feed stores. But he said there was no conclusive evidence".
After her bull tested positive for bTB and was slaughtered, DEFRA ordered Myra to quarantine the field for 60 days. Myra found it strange that during this quarantine period, sheep were allowed into that field to graze. "This has to be insane", said Myra. " There is no reason why sheep would not be able to contract bTB". Myra asked the official why sheep aren't being tested too, given that they often shared fields with cattle. His reply,said Myra was that "it would be too difficult".
Myra is understandably upset and frustrated by the way DEFRA is handling things. Like Network for Animals, she believes that to really tackle the bTB crisis, the focus needs to shift away from badgers, and onto the solutions which will really help. She explained:
"The whole testing system is archaic. We need to spend more money on a vaccine that we can choose to have and we need it now rather than later. If we can find a vaccine for measles, mumps etc it has to be achievable. What we need is the will and the funding to make it happen."
Let's hope Liz Truss, George Eustice, and the rest of DEFRA are listening to farmers like Myra. DEFRA needs to focus on its 25 year bTB strategy. Instead of placating the NFU at every turn. Do they want to solve the bTB crisis, or not?