TB questioning dominates visit by farming boss
FARMERS from North Devon led calls at a packed meeting for tougher action in the bovine TB crisis when farming minister Owen Paterson came to Devon on Friday.
And the minister offered a clue to handling the spread of the disease by badgers when he referred to an exemption clause in the Badger Protection Act. But he rejected calls for the legal protection to be withdrawn.
Mr Paterson was in the county to address farmers and others from rural constituencies across the South West.
Quick out of the blocks to question the minister was South Molton's Eric Ley, who tackled Mr Paterson about the TB issue as well as supermarket dominance and the single farm payment system.
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Mr Ley said that removing the protection for badgers would get rid of the TB problem.
But Mr Paterson replied that his government is doing all it can and that it has "enough trouble with pushing through a cull of badgers without getting into the Badger Act".
He said: "If we can prove that the cull works then we'll have a system that's manageable."
Farmer John Stanbury of Knowstone pressed Mr Paterson on the need for government to change it's attitude in selling the TB issue to the public.
He said it should be on the wildlife side, making people aware of the damage that overpopulation of badgers do to other species, like hedgehogs, bumble bees and birds.
Mr Paterson took flak from several others about the damage to cattle herds.
But he could only repeat his first comments when he opened the meeting: "I come from an area with a big dairy industry and I'm one of the few ministers who have ever had a pet badger.
"But I have to say that in every other part of the world I've read about or been to where there's a significant cattle industry you bear down on TB in wildlife.
"I know it's hard. It would be lovely to have a button to press called vaccination but we don't have it.
"We can't have the position where 26,000 cattle are being slaughtered every year and the bill of nearly £1 billion.
"We've got to use whatever tool there is in the box.
"It's very disappointing that we couldn't do the culls in the autumn. But there will be two pilot culls starting in June and we've got to roll them out next year because we can't have the disease running rampant throughout the country."
Amid the tough questioning about badgers, Mr Paterson joked that he had received more death threats since taking over at Defra than he'd had during his time as Northern Ireland minister.