Badger cull: Can Defra get enough farmers to pay?

Badger Image copyright BBC elvis
Image caption Defra say there will be an announcement on badger culls before Parliament's summer recess

Could the government be about to perform another U-turn, this time over controversial plans to cull badgers?

An intriguing insight into the difficulties facing a minister who's long called for culling was provided in this revealing interview by my Politics Show colleague Martyn Oates.

Many farmers think this would help bring down rates of TB in cattle, which have risen for most of the last 20 years.

Nowhere is worse-affected by the disease than the West country, so I've been investigating - and it's proved fascinating, especially when you look at the small print of the government's proposal.

Challenging conditions

On page 12 of Annex F attached to the large consultation document is this line: "For farmers in cull area, monetised costs exceed expected monetised benefits."

Put simply, farmers will end up out of pocket - while the government department, Defra, will be quids in. For it presently compensates them for most of their losses due to TB, but won't be paying for any cull.

And the proposed culls come with some challenging conditions: they must continue for four years, and cover at least 150 km² (in the West country that would likely mean well over 100 farms).

Even if Defra can get enough farmers on board who will stay the course (and the cost), there is the science.

It was a Conservative government that initiated the biggest ever study: the Independent Scientific Group spent over £50 million and nearly a decade to decide that culling wasn't worth it.

The last Labour government accepted this advice.

Judicial review

Now a Conservative Agriculture minister, James Paice, must decide whether to go against it - and be confident it'll stand up in court.

Be in no doubt, that is where it will end up, cautions Neil Parish MP, member of the Defra Select Committee, and himself a one-time Somerset farmer.

"All decisions can be judicially reviewed. This one will be," he says. "If we don't make the decision in the right way, then the judicial review would probably go against us and we will not have a cull."

Defra are saying very little, except that there'll be an announcement before Parliament's summer recess.

Ministers may want to find a remote holiday home to see out the ensuing row...