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DEFRA has accused the RSPCA of ‘threatening farmers’ by actively urging consumers to boycott milk from farms involved in the planned autumn badger culls.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant and rock star Brian May called for the boycott this week as they launched the latest instalment of the ‘Team Badger’ campaign against the cull, backed by a growing number of animal welfare organisations and celebrities.
Unveiling new billboard posters in London, Mr Grant said farmers and landowners allowing culling on their land ‘have to realise there will be commercial consequences’.
He said consumers ‘who care will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badgers’ blood’.
Brian May, who is fronting the media campaign to turn the public against the cull, insisted he would not drink milk from ‘the moment that the first badger is shot’.
The new Defra Ministerial team is understood to have been taken aback at the vehemence of the campaign against the cull that has escalated since Natural England announced on Monday that it had issued provisional licences for badger control in West Gloucestershire. Defra Secretary Owen Paterson is said to be ‘furious’ at the RSPCA’s tactics.
A Defra spokesman suggested the RSPCA, one of the UK’s biggest and best known charities, was threatening dairy farmers.
“The public showed this summer how much they value dairy farmers - people want them to remain in business and for their milk, cheese and yoghurt to come from Britain. Farmers play an important role in the rural economies and communities who also feel the impact of this devastating disease. They need to be allowed to get on top of it instead of their businesses being threatened,” he said.
“People need to understand that tens of thousands of cattle have to be slaughtered each year because of bovine TB. Nobody - including the Government and farmers - wants to cull badgers but it is one of the measures that has been shown to halt this devastating disease that is taking a terrible toll.”
The NFU accused the RSPCA of becoming part of the problem. The union’s NFU director of corporate affairs Tom Hind said: “Anyone calling for people to boycott milk and avoid holidaying in areas where the trial badger controls are taking place is playing fast and loose with an extremely serious animal welfare issue. This simply deflects attentions from where they should be focused; eradicating this terrible disease of TB from both our beef and dairy herds – and from badgers.
“By potentially threatening the livelihoods of dairy and beef farmers, and the jobs of people in the tourism industry, you have to ask; are you serious about finding a solution to TB or have you just become part of the problem?”
The various campaigns against the cull, including those threatening direct action from animal rights activists, have received a huge amount of media coverage this week, following the issue of the provisional cull licences.
Defra recently took out an injunction on a website that published the names and addresses of senior Defra, Natural England and NFU figures, as well as Gloucestershire farmers.
Animal rights activists have been quoted threatening to subject farmers in the cull areas to a campaign of sleep deprivation in an effort to persuade them to withdraw support for the policy.
NFU Gloucestershire chairman Charles Mann said the ‘threats and intimidation’ were a ‘concern’ to those being targeted but said farmers would remain ‘steadfast’ and stand by what they believed in.
“This is Government policy, we are licensed to do it and we are being closely monitored by Defra and Natural England in everything we do,” he said.
An e-petition launched by Brian May urging Defra to ‘Stop the Badger Cull’ has now been signed by more than 78,000 people.
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