Letters sent to David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Caroline Spelman and James Paice
Defra’s sudden, massive and expensive response to the scandal of farmers switching ear tags to foil bovine TB (bTB) controls suggests these crimes are widespread rather than local.
Following the disclosure of these frauds the Badger Trust has called for all plans to kill badgers in England and Wales to be abandoned. An investigation instigated by Gloucestershire Trading Standards exposed the deceptions when reviewing TB cattle sent to two slaughterhouses. As a result of the switching of ear tags, infected animals were being retained in herds. Claims by agriculture industry organisations that only “some” farmers were involved are clearly optimistic with the Midlands and the South West already implicated.
The Trust has written to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister, Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and James Paice, Minister of State (Agriculture and Food) to demand answers to seven searching questions.
The text of the letters is:
To David Cameron and Nick Clegg
“You may be aware that last year your Government, through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), carried out a consultation on a proposal to licence farmers to cull badgers in order to help control bovine TB. In its response to the consultation, Badger Trust objected strongly to the proposals in the light of the available scientific evidence and urged Defra to reconsider its policy because the proposals would not deliver the estimated benefits in reduction of bovine TB. Moreover, they would risk increasing bovine Tb outside the cull area because of the perturbation effect. Defra has delayed its decision on the proposals because the consultation responses have raised some difficult issues.
Since the consultation, Badger Trust has been most concerned to learn that some farmers have been deliberately flouting cattle TB regulations and fraudulently claiming more compensation than they were entitled to at the taxpayers’ expense. These fraudulent activities have risked increasing the incidence of bovine TB on both affected and other farms. Details of these activities are described in the attached copy of a letter Badger Trust has sent to Caroline Spelman at Defra. As you will see we have posed a number of serious questions to Defra and we have asked Defra to abandon plans for a badger cull.
How can your Government possibly trust farmers to carry out a badger cull, when a significant number of farmers clearly have no regard for the existing rules on TB prevention? The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) that oversaw the Government’s £50 million Random Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) concluded that culling badgers could make no meaningful contribution to the control of bovine TB and recommended instead a raft of cattle based measures which they said would bring bovine TB under control.
In the light of the ISG’s recommendations and the appalling revelations of fraudulent practices by some farmers, we urge you to advise Defra to abandon its ill-conceived plans to cull badgers and to concentrate its limited resources on the full implementation and enforcement of each of the many cattle based measures recommended by the ISG, which are already starting to have a positive effect in Wales.”
To Caroline Spelman and Jim Paice
“Badger Trust was most concerned to learn through an article in The Times that your Department has admitted, following an investigation by trading standards officers in Gloucestershire, that some farmers have been keeping dairy cows that have tested positive for TB on the farm and by swapping ear tags have sent less productive cows for slaughter. This fraudulent, criminal activity means that some farmers receive full compensation, paid for by the taxpayer, for animals that are worth a lot less and furthermore are keeping diseased animals on the farm risking spreading the disease within the farm and to neighbouring farms. But this is not the only fraud that has been occurring.
In February the owners of the largest dairy herd of 900 cows in the west country were heavily fined for moving cattle under TB restrictions and for entering a cow in a major pedigree show in Warwickshire. In the same month a Cheshire farmer was also heavily fined for moving cattle in breach of TB regulations after admitting to 87 offences and he also asked for a further 102 offences to be taken into account. His son also admitted eight separate offences and asked for 29 others to be taken into consideration.
In The Times your department is reported as saying that the fraud could be widespread and would undermine the case for a badger cull. Surely, in the light of these fraudulent activities which must help spread the disease and your overriding duty to combat disease in section 1 of the Animal Health Act 1981, your department should strictly enforce measures to outlaw such harmful practices. In the meantime, it must be appropriate to abandon all consideration of a badger cull. The cattle based measures now in place depend absolutely on effective testing, effective movement controls and honest and accurate record keeping. Despite the fraudulent activities of some farmers, these cattle based measures have been reducing the incidence of TB without killing a single badger.
The Trust would be grateful for answers to the following questions and points:
1) When did the fraud involving swapping of ear tags first come to light – do you believe this is the first time – if so, what evidence do you have to support that view; if not, how long do you suspect it has been going on?
2) How many cases of this fraud have been discovered so far – how many cows and herds have been affected and at what locations?
3) What investigations is your Department conducting to determine the extent of this fraud – what extra measures have been put in place to trace other cows and herds that may have been affected?
4) How much do you estimate this fraud and the other frauds mentioned above may have contributed to the incidence and spread of bovine TB?
5) The new measures you have announced to try to stop this fraud – tagging diseased animals and taking a DNA sample – are expensive and cover the whole country – that suggests that you see this as a major issue not restricted to a few farmers. Who is going to pay for these measures in the long term? It appears that some vets have offered to pay for these measures in the short term – what has prompted them to do this – are some vets implicated in the fraud?
6) If farmers are prepared to put their own stock and that of other farmers at direct risk by fraudulently changing identity of cows and moving them whilst under TB restriction, please confirm what measures you would propose to put in place so as to ensure that farmers treat wildlife – in this case badgers – with respect should your Department pursue its proposals to license farmers to cull badgers? We do not consider that Natural England has the resources to effectively monitor farmers’ conduct of a badger cull.
Public confidence in the integrity of the farming industry, already shaken by other well publicised farming incidents, has taken a further massive blow by these deliberate infringements and flouting of the TB regulations. Surely it is time to abandon plans to cull badgers and to concentrate wholly on the full implementation and enforcement of each of the many cattle based measures recommended by the Independent Scientific Group and which the ISG said would bring bovine TB under control.
Badger Trust looks forward to your response to the above questions and points and for confirmation that you have abandoned plans to licence farmers to cull badgers.”
For more information contact: Badger Trust