Sainsbury's Justin King backs farmers involved in badger cull

SAINSBURY’S chief executive Justin King has given his backing to farmers involved in the pilot badger culls.

Mr King said it would be ‘misleading’ to attempt to label milk from outside the cull areas as ‘badger friendly’, as some campaigners, including the RSPCA have demanded.

Responding to a question from Farmers Guardian at an NFU fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference, he said surveys suggest around a third of consumers support the cull, a third are opposed and a third are undecided.

He said Sainsbury’s, along with other retailers, had come under pressure to take steps like labelling ‘badger friendly’ milk and boycotting milk from the cull areas.  

“No we will not be doing it for two reasons,” Mr King said. “First, it would be fundamentally dishonest. Unless you had a highly segregated milk pool, not just for your milk but for your milk products then that is a dishonest claim. I don’t think any of the big retailers could make that claim in a way consumers truly understand.

“Secondly we think it’s a misleading claim because badgers suffer disease themselves and the idea that the cull is ‘unfriendly for badgers’ is not one that seems to us self-evident.

“We think the elected Government of our country has the right, using the scientific evidence, to take these decisions.

“Those farmers are in the cull areas because of an accident of geography. We will continue to support every farmer in our dairy supply group regardless of whether they are in the cull area or not.”

Defra Secretary Owen Paterson, NFU president Peter Kendall and NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond, sitting alongside Mr King in Manchester Town Hall’s main chamber, all thanked him for his support.   

Mr Paterson said it was a ‘complete nonsense’ that consumers could be given the chance of buying milk from areas where culling of wildlife is not taking place.  

He said culling of one form or another was taking place in, for example, Ireland, France and Germany. “You cannot buy dairy products from any nation in Western Europe where there is not a cull going on,” he said.

He gave his strongest indication yet of his determination to roll the policy out to up to 10 new areas a year from 2014, following assessment of the ongoing pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

“The purpose of these culls is to test the efficiency, safety and humaneness of this particular method of removing disease in wildlife.

“All I will say is we will analyse the results of these two pilots and then we will decide the next step. Currently we are planning to extend it to up to 10 more areas next year.

“But I am absolutely categorical on the record again and again. We will not remove bovine tuberculosis from our cattle unless we remove bovine tuberculosis from our wildlife.

“One of the things I can promise you is, as long as I am around, we will pursue methods to remove TB from our diseased badgers.”

He reiterated Mr King’s comments about badgers suffering from bTB. “The other area where we have begun to win the argument is that this is a horrible disease of badgers. The badger dies a horrible, disgusting, long, lingering death. It is a real animal welfare issue and we want to have healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle,” he said.

Mr Raymond said his family’s livestock farm in Wales is under TB restriction and has lost around 40 cattle in the last nine months. He said veterinary experts have ‘pinpointed exactly where the problem is’ and suspect the cause was wildlife.

Thanking Mr Paterson for his ‘bravery and determination’ in pushing ahead with the English badger cull policy, he said: “I honestly believe the pilots are working well. They are pilots. Let’s roll them out to give our members, our farming people, hope for the future. Otherwise I fear TB could easily wipe out the livestock sector in parts of the UK.”

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