Scapegoat in the making for next year's badger culling trials
It's always nice to hear a minister delivering a positive message to farmers, but sometimes you have to examine what they are saying in detail.
For example, Farming Minister David Heath told Somerset NFU's annual meeting this week: "I promise you it is our very clear intention to do these trials next summer."
Hold it up to the light and all he is doing in reality is promising his listeners the Government intends to do something – not that it will actually be done. There is, you will notice, a world of difference.
And as far as I am concerned it would be better if those trials didn't go ahead because, as currently planned, they risk alienating the public even more and diminishing what little respect farmers currently command.
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Peter Kendall may have blustered and coerced his membership into accepting the trials with his claim that they represented the only deal on the table. But the only deal isn't necessarily the best deal – and this once certainly isn't.
Farmers are going to be painted as the people who shoot healthy badgers. They are going to be sitting duck targets for every lunatic who has ever described himself as an animal rights activist. Public opinion will be easily whipped up.
The ground is already being prepared. Was it mere coincidence that a picture of a badger was selected as the front cover for the BBC Countryfile calendar? I am inclined to think not – and so are the dozens of farmers angered by the use of this image.
It lacks a caption, which should read: "A diseased badger strolls along a quiet country lane on his way to infect another cattle herd with TB and drive another hard-working farmer to the brink of suicide." But no. All the public gets is another pretty picture of an innocent badger with the tacit message that the animal is trotting to an appointment with the marksman's bullet.
The NFU's culling trials represent a very blunt weapon indeed and can only have been championed by an arable farmer with fourth-hand knowledge of the true situation, since arable fields are not exactly wildlife havens themselves.
There are other, more finely-tuned methods of tackling the badger menace. There are techniques available which would result in a targeted cull to remove only those badgers most likely to be diseased – with which the public could hardly argue.
Such an operation will never satisfy the badger-huggers, of course, because they do not accept that any badger, diseased or otherwise, needs to be killed.
But I trust we shall hear no more from their high priest, Brian May, on the subject now that his own bit of previous with culling deer on his estate has been revealed.
Unless, of course, he is able to stand up in public and explain the difference between shooting deer and shooting badgers, particularly when one is a perfectly healthy animal while the other faces a painful, lingering death from the effects of TB.