Prince Charles during the Big Jubilee Lunch on Piccadilly, 4th june 2012. Photo: chego-chego via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
Get on with badger cull, Prince Charles told Blair
13th May 2015
In a private letter to Tony Blair released today Prince Charles strongly urged Tony Blair to expedite a badger cull in 2005, raising the spectre of a third 'food scare' that would strike down British farming on the scale of BSE and Foot & Mouth disease.
I, for one, cannot understand how the 'badger lobby' seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousand sof expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers.
Correspondence between Prince Charles and ministers released today under a Freedom of Information order secured by The Guardian after a 10-year legal battle contains a shocking surprise.
Many see Charles as the 'Green Prince', always ready to stand up for environmental causes - such as his opposition to genetically modified food and crops, and his concerns over climate change.
But these concerns did not extend to badgers. In a letter to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, dated 24th February 2005, he firmly set out the case for introducing a badger cull in short order.
Dear Prime Minister ...
"We discussed at some length the agricultural situation. The most pressing and urgent problem is, without doubt, the rising number of TB cases in cattle. As I think I mentioned, TB is affecting some 5,000 farms each year, 20,000 head of cattle are being slaughtered and the cost to the taxpayer is £100 million annually.
"As you know, all the evidence is that TB is caused and spread by badgers. You said you were aware of the recent study in the Republic of Ireland which proved that badger culling is effective in ridding cattle of TB - in Donegal, for instance, by the fifth year of the trial there was a 96 per cent reduction of cattle infection in the 'badger removal' areas.
"I know the Government is planning shortly to announce a ten-year strategic framework for the control of the disease but, as far as I can tell, there is no evidence that this will include a commitment to deal with the badger problem in the immediate future, although there is a strong rumour that the Government may be intending to reduce the levels of compensation to farmers, something which, I happen to think, would be less than fair and provoke real anger among farmers.
Cull opponents 'intellectually dishonest'
"Apart from the appalling waste of valuable cattle, I explained to you my real fear that unless something is done urgently we could end up with another food scare and I know you remember only too well the consequences of BSE and FMD ...
"Certainly the raw milk cheese-producers, many of whom have established their businesses in an effort to diversify their farms, which is what the Government wants, are deeply fearful of what what may happen to them and I know John Krebs, the outgoing Chairman of the Food Standards Agency, shares their fears.
"So all I can say is that I do urge you again to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary. I, for one, cannot understand how the 'badger lobby' seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousand sof expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers. To me, this is intellectually dishonest."
A gentle let down from Tony Blair
The Prime Minister responded with his usual masterly support, sympathy and non-commitment on 30th March 2005, writing:
"Dear Prince Charles ... As you know, I always value and look forward to your views - but perhaps particularly on agricultural topics. You first raised the issue of bovine TB, and the link to badgers. The Irish trials have indeed changed everything here, as I know Ben Bradshaw acknowledges.
"The crucial thing now is rapidly to work up the case for action, so as to enable an early decision. (If we do not work through the case properly we will be challenged in the courts.) While I can personally see the case for culling badgers, I would not want to pre-judge the decision. But I am not prepared to tolerate unnecessary delay, and I know, again, that Ben agrees."
In short, he kicked the badgers into the long grass, where they remained until the Coalition government elected in 2010 took up the issue under strong pressure from the National Farmers Union, with Environment Secretary Owen Paterson championing the cause. The Labour Party today is directly opposed to the cull.
Where Prince Charles's viewed the evidence as conclusive that badgers are responsible for bovine TB, scientific opinion today is divided on the issue, with an emerging concensus that badger culling is a best a component of a much wider strategy in which frequent TB testing, cattle movement control and farm biosecurity are the main planks, and badger culling is unimportant or absent altogether.
The evidence he cited about the Republic of Ireland is also contested - and the BBC was recently forced into an embarrassing retraction of a news story in which it claimed that culling was effective there at controlling TB.
Indeed, if culling is mis-handled, it can do more harm than good by disrupting badger families and causing them to migrate to new areas, potentially spreading the disease.
The letters: 'Prince of Wales correspondence with government departments' published by the Cabinet Office.
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