Government to extend badger cull, farmers are told
The Government will extend the controversial badger cull, the environment secretary told farmers.
Andrea Leadsom told the 1,500 delegates at the NFU conference in Birmingham that plans were in place to once again extend the cull in the fight against TB.
"One of the biggest risks facing the industry is the continuing threat of bovine TB," she said.
"A disease that last summer led to the slaughter of 28,000 cattle in England, it can devastate a rural economy.
"Last year we rolled out the cull to seven additional areas, all of which were successful, and this year I want to extend that even further," she said.
The final decision on where the cull will be extended will be taken in the summer by Natural England.
Ms Leadsom, who last year stood against Theresa May in a bid to become the new Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, also attempted to allay farmers' fears over Brexit, but warned that she did not have hard and fast answers to all their questions.
She began her speech under fire from NFU president Meurig Raymond who opened the conference by demanding that the Government provides clarity on what will happen to trade, workers and food standards after Brexit.
"This is a fairly simple recipe with three main ingredients. Firstly, unrestricted access to the European market, secondly, continued access to a competent and reliable workforce, both pre and post-farm gate, and thirdly, a new agricultural policy which assists in the development of an increasingly productive, progressive and profitable farming sector. It is time for clarity."
Mr Raymond also wants to know how new deals with non-European partners will prevent the import of lower standards into the food chain, citing hormone-reared beef cattle and chlorine-dipped chicken as particularly unappetising examples.
"We commend the ambition to open up trade with new partners, but how in reality do you keep food produced to a lower standard than our own from being imported?" he asked.
Ms Leadsom insisted that American food imported under any post-Brexit free trade deal with the USA would have to meet British standards. She insisted the Government will stick to a Conservative manifesto commitment to maintain animal welfare standards in international trade deals.
Ms Leadsom also indicated that the Government is looking at ways to encourage technological innovation to reduce the reliance of Britain's farming and food processing industries on seasonal workers from the EU.
The environment secretary said she recognised the importance of seasonal agricultural workers, but stressed that a desire for tighter immigration control was a driving force behind the Brexit vote.
"As for seasonal workers, I have heard loud and clear the vital role they play in many farm businesses, not least in the horticultural sector.
"But at the same time we mustn't forget that a key factor behind the vote to leave was to control immigration."