Farmers told 'get organised' for ten more badger culls
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has insisted the Government has the "courage" to see through the controversial badger cull.
Owen Paterson, who joined the Prime Minister in a tour of the North Devon Show yesterday, refused to say when two pilot schemes in west Somerset and Gloucestershire would begin, claiming it was a matter for locals to decide.
He said he would not be able to "look the British taxpayer in the eye" if he ignored evidence from around the world supporting a cull among wildlife as part of plans to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.
He used the visit to call on farmers in Devon and Cornwall to "get organised" ahead of the planned roll-out of ten fresh culls which will be launched next year provided the pilots are successful.
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"If the people in Devon want to get organised then good on them," Mr Patterson told the Western Morning News. "There was also great enthusiasm down in Cornwall when I was down there recently.
"I am looking for people to organise on the ground for a further ten areas next year – up to now they have been asked to handle this disease with one hand tied behind their backs but we are going to stop that."
Asked about the growing frustration among farmers that the pilots had yet to begin, despite being licensed in June, he added: "We have got a very clear timetable, they are on course and it is down to local people to organise them and when they start.
"I have been to numerous agricultural shows in recent weeks and I would stress the tremendous support and thanks I have from farmers.
"They are glad that, at last, a government has been brave enough to take on the difficult problem of addressing the disease in wildlife.
"If we don't do this we will crash our cattle industry and face a bill of £1billion – how can I look the British taxpayer in the eye and say we are ignoring evidence from America, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland?"
Mr Paterson toured the showground, at Umberleigh, before chatting with farmers and officials from the National Farmers Union.
In a relatively lengthy chat with journalists in the members' pavilion, he portrayed the Prime Minister and himself as big supporters of the countryside, based on their experience in rural seats, in Oxfordshire and Shropshire.
"I am really aware just how very difficult last year was," he continued. "It is my job to rural-proof all the ministries but it takes time to turn the ship around."
He outlined a series of objectives he had set, chief among them the roll-out of superfast broadband, a project which is on target in Cornwall but falling behind in Devon and Somerset, with the target date recently slipping a year.
"Broadband is absolutely monster and I cannot think of any other thing that we can do that can help people more," he added.
"We are hard at it but it is a hugely difficult project."
Show secretary Pat Sennett said the prime ministerial visit had provided show-goers with an unexpected treat.
She could not recall a political visit in all the years she had been organising the event.
"They enjoyed the show and seemed to really like the setting," she added. "They were made to feel very welcome."