Select Committee on Agriculture Second Special Report

APPENDIX (continued)


Public health implications of the rise in incidence of bovine TB

Recommendation d: The public health risks of the situation are extremely low ... we wish to emphasise that there is no call for the public panic on [BSE] to be re-ignited over bovine TB.

Recommendation e: ... the risk ... "is not great" and we believe it should not be overplayed. We are concerned that the rise in bovine TB in cattle may be misunderstood and misrepresented in the media as being linked to the disturbing rise in the number of human TB cases ...

23. The joint MAFF/ DOH quarterly meetings have continued throughout 2000. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer reviewed progress on the public health aspects of Mycobacterium bovis TB in January 2000. They confirmed that the levels of infection in humans remain low (about 40 cases per year) and that the management of risk to human health through pasteurisation of milk, meat inspection at abattoirs and advice on occupational exposure remains appropriate. Advice has been issued by the Food Standards Agency to Local Authorities on heat treatment of milk from restricted herds and by the Department of Health to Consultants in Communicable Disease Control on screening of people in contact with infected cattle. Advice is also being issued to owners of abattoirs which receive cattle.

Recommendation h: We believe that MAFF should pay more attention to identifying the principal cause of [the increased rate of herd breakdowns] ...

24. More than 1200 TB 99 epidemiological reports have been entered on the database. Data from 688 reports of incidents which occurred during 1999 has been summarised for the Independent Scientific Group; we are awaiting their advice as to whether the data summary should be published at this stage.

Recommendation k: We conclude that, seen in context, the number of badgers likely to be culled in the trial will not substantially affect the overall UK badger population and is justified in pursuit of a soundly-based policy which should save unnecessary slaughter of both badgers and cattle in the future.

25. The Government agreed with this conclusion. Professor Sir John Krebs estimated that around 12,500 badgers would be culled in the trial lasting five years. As a comparison the badger population of Great Britain is estimated to exceed 300,000 and over 50,000 badgers are believed to be killed on the roads each year. By 17 November 2000, in the trial triplets where culling had been carried out so far, 2454 badgers had been culled. This would suggest the Krebs figure is unlikely to be exceeded:

Implementation of the Krebs report

Recommendation n: We regret the delay between the publication of the Krebs report in December 1997 and the Government's announcement of 17 August 1998, two years after the start of the Krebs inquiry, especially given that no policy to control bovine TB was in place at all during that period.

28. The Government accepted that an earlier announcement would have been desirable. However, the regular testing of cattle herds and examination of animals at slaughter for TB, which is the principal means of controlling TB in cattle, continued uninterrupted throughout the period in question along with controls to protect public health.

Vaccine research

Recommendation o: ... It is essential therefore that a test is developed in line with a vaccine for cattle which allows the distinction to be made [between infected and vaccinated animals] and which is accepted throughout the EU and by the European Commission. The Government should keep the EC informed of developments in this field.

Recommendation p: We assume that the Bourne Group's responsibility for advising Ministers on vaccines and vaccinations includes the monitoring of progress on vaccine development recommended by Krebs but would welcome clarification of this point.

Recommendation q: ... we recommend that the Government review its entire TB vaccination strategy to ensure that sufficient funding is given as a priority to human vaccine development, that research is conducted into the difference between TB in cattle and humans, and that UK scientists have access to the latest developments in this field.

Recommendation r: The difficulties with delivering a badger vaccine persuade us that a cattle vaccine offers more potential in the control of bovine TB, although we advocate the continuation of research into a vaccine for badgers.

29. The major focus of the TB vaccine research programme involves the development of a cattle vaccine, although the option of a vaccine for badgers is being retained. The initial approach of developing vaccine candidates is similar irrespective of the target species. A report on the progress made in the TB vaccine research programme in the period July 1999 to June 2000 was published on 9 August 2000 and is available on the MAFF TB website (

30. A project on M. bovis genome sequencing and analysis is expected to provide inputs into the vaccine development programme, for example potential subunit vaccine candidates, identification of novel virulence factors and diagnostic reagents.

31. UK researchers working on TB vaccines are in regular contact with leading international experts and groups on cattle TB, notably in New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland. There is also specific co-ordination with the WHO/NIH vaccine screening programme for human tuberculosis. Promising candidates generated in that programme will be forwarded for testing in the M. bovis programme.

32. At present the programme is focusing mainly on developing new candidate vaccines, and assessing these in laboratory small animal models and in cattle. Their performance is to be compared with BCG vaccination. An advantage of working on cattle vaccines is that candidates which show promise in laboratory small animals can then be tested in the natural host species before progressing to clinical trials. Differential diagnostic tests for cattle using peptide antigens which can distinguish vaccinated animals are also being developed to address the problem of induced tuberculin test sensitivity.

33. Closely allied to the research into promising vaccine candidates is that on developing improved diagnostic reagents and tests for use in live badgers. Various methods of delivering potential oral vaccines to badgers are also being investigated, including aerosol generating capsules and baits.

Recommendation t and u - see response for recommendation c.

Road traffic accident survey

Recommendation w: We recommend that the road traffic accident survey be implemented in the counties identified by the Bourne Group as soon as possible in order that information may be gathered to substantiate that from the culling trial. For counties outside the culling trial, we recommend that the Bourne Group determine how many badgers are necessary to identify prevalence within acceptable limits and the cost-effectiveness of such an exercise.

34. Re-introduction of a limited RTA survey in the seven counties recommended by the Independent Scientific Group has been delayed, initially due to upgrading of badger post mortem facilities at the Veterinary Laboratories Agencies laboratories and more recently by the diversion of MAFF resources to deal with the outbreak of Classical Swine Fever in East Anglia. The survey started on 7 November 2000. The information from the survey may be helpful in understanding the underlying prevalence of TB in badgers. It will be compared with data from the badger culling trial.

Trace elements

Recommendation x: The Government should investigate the potential role of trace elements in the incidence of TB in cattle ... we recommend that in determining future research projects the role of trace elements in susceptibility to bovine TB in cattle and badgers should be specifically included ...

35. A conclusion of the Independent Husbandry Panel report was that it is unlikely that the trace elements most commonly believed to be deficient in cattle are related to M. bovis infection. Information regarding the use of mineral supplements and any known trace element deficiency forms part of the TB99 epidemiological investigation. Information so far from the TB99 database indicates that 99% of the herds give compound mineral supplement either as free access or as a balanced feed supplement, this suggests that primary trace element deficiency is unlikely to be a major factor in the incidence of TB in cattle. However, the government remains aware that trace element imbalance can make cattle more susceptible to a range of diseases and will take account of any epidemiological evidence in relation to TB.

Funding for research

Recommendation y: We recommend that MAFF ensure that funding for research into bovine TB remain a priority and that the level of funding is sufficient to ensure that the programme of research recommended by Krebs be completed.

36. The Government remains committed to putting the necessary research in place as part of the strategy to control TB in cattle. In financial year 2000/1, in addition to the badger culling trial and related epidemiological questionnaire, about £5 million will be spent on research, including vaccine development and research on pathogenesis and transmission of TB cattle.

Implementation of the research programme

Recommendation z: ... we believe that the lack of information on the research programme at a time when the culling trial was underway contributed to the impression of MAFF bias against the badger in the eyes of many witnesses ... it has done much to undermine the goodwill of the animal welfare lobby and to break the perception of the Krebs report as a package of measures, rather than as the culling trial alone.

37. The research programme is an integral element of the Government's TB strategy. An overview of the research in progress is contained in the annual reports of the Independent Scientific Group, on the MAFF TB website, to which summaries of completed research projects will be added. The Government accept there is a continuing need to publicise the existence of the research and also the results as they become available and will take every opportunity within its communication effort to emphasise the importance of the research work. Several MAFF contractors presented interim reports of their findings at the M.. bovis 2000 international conference in Cambridge (August 2000). The proceedings will be published in the scientific publication Tubercle and Lung Disease in 2001.

Length of culling trial

Recommendation aa: The delays in implementation carry the danger that the trial will have to continue for seven years, two years longer than the period which was already causing such concern to farmers.

38. The badger culling trial remains on course and the ninth and tenth triplets were enrolled into the trial in October 2000. The Government's target is to complete initial proactive culling in seven triplets by the end of 2000 and in all ten by the end of 2001, in accordance with the requirements of the Independent Scientific Group. The ISG believes results from the trial will be available by the end of 2004, possibly earlier depending on the strength of the association between badgers and TB in cattle.

Closed season

Recommendation cc: We recommend that the number and age of cubs and lactating sows caught in culling operations after the closed season be monitored to assess the efficiency of the closed season policy.

39. This aspect continues to be monitored as part of the trial. In proactive culling operations in the first five triplets lactating badgers were only trapped in one triplet, Wiltshire where 51 were culled (8.5% of the number of badgers culled in the initial cull in this triplet).

Co-operation with the trial

Recommendation dd: ... the wider interests of the farming community must be to co-operate fully with the trial ... we urge [the Wildlife Trusts] to consider what message their non-compliance sends to others for whom non-compliance with the trial would take different forms such as illegal culling of badgers.

40. The Government condemns interference with badger culling trial operations and any illegal culling of badgers. Participation and cooperation from landowners and farmers is good generally, around 80%. There has been some interference with trial operations by protesters opposed to badger culling, mainly in the form of damage to cage traps and other equipment. However, action by the police and by MAFF field staff has limited the extent of this disruption and the trial is designed to allow for such factors.

Recommendation ee: We recognise the concerns expressed by one badger group that "unscrupulous individuals could well take advantage of conveniently caged badgers" for use in badger-baiting ... we ask the Bourne Group through MAFF for reassurance that all traps are checked sufficiently regularly to prevent this occurring.

41. As explained in the progress report of February 2000 traps are checked as early as possible the next day. Although some badgers appear to have been released from traps by trial protesters, there is no evidence to suggest their use in badger baiting.

Recommendation ff: We agree with the recommendation of English Nature that the Bourne Group gather what information it can about the scale of illegal culling.

42. Regular unannounced spot checks of setts are carried out in 'Survey Only' triplet areas to monitor for signs of illegal culling. We have no evidence to suggest this is occurring.

Recommendation gg: ... it is essential that the Bourne Group can satisfy itself and hence interested observers that the trial can be completed within a reasonable timescale and that the results will be statistically sound.

43. The Independent Scientific Group has confirmed to the Government that the trial remains on course to produce valid results. The Group believes results may be available by 2004, possibly earlier depending on the strength of the association between badgers and TB in cattle. See also the response to recommendation nn, on the statistical robustness of the badger culling trial.

MAFF resources

Recommendation hh: We recommend that MAFF publish its forward projections of the number of staff it will need to complete the trial within the five year period and how it proposes to meet this requirement.

44. The projected complement of staff required in the MAFF Wildlife Unit is 202. This ceiling will be achieved through regular internal and external recruitment exercises to fill vacancies. There are currently 171 staff in the WLU.

Recommendation ii: We recommend that MAFF address the ability of its laboratories to cope with the workload caused by the trial as a matter of urgency and publish an analysis of the impact of the culling trial upon the existing laboratory resources.

45. There are now five laboratories with suitable facilities for carrying out badger post mortems and these should provide sufficient capacity for the culling trial to be completed. Work was carried out to forecast MAFF requirements for badger post-mortems and VLA capacity to meet this is kept under review.


Recommendation jj: We recommend that MAFF publish an account of how and when it met the requirements of each of the three monitoring processes recommended by the Bourne Group for the first triplet and how these processes will be applied in the second, third and subsequent triplets.

46. The Government published the independent audit report on humane despatch procedures together with its response on 16 October 2000. Following the decision of the auditor to stand down a contract has been agreed with his replacement. The Government expects to publish the audit report of the procedures for surveying for badger activity together with its response in the New Year once it has received advice from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. A new contract is currently being negotiated with the auditor for surveying.

Recommendation kk: Although existing evidence suggests that badger removal is unlikely to have adverse ecological consequences, we support the environmental impact study that is now underway and we recommend that it be made public as soon as it is completed.

47. A Central Science Laboratory project to assess the ecological consequences of badger removal is now in its second year. Areas subject to proactive, reactive and survey-only treatments in four triplets will be monitored for one year before and at least three years after treatment. Surveys will assess the abundance and performance of selected bird and mammal species in each triplet. Results are not yet available for this research project.

Badger densities

Recommendation ll: ... we accept that it is not essential to know exact densities of badgers, only that numbers have been greatly reduced in the proactive areas.

48. Proactive culling has been carried out in six triplets. It is estimated that about 20% of the badgers, which are available to be trapped in the "proactive" culling areas, will be left after the initial trapping. This 80% capture efficiency takes account of the use of cage traps. Surveys carried out after culling in four of the six areas proactively culled so far are consistent with this estimate of 80%. In one area, Gloucester/Hereford, the number of badgers trapped was lower, possibly due to the fact that the field operations took place in January, when badgers are less active. There may also have been a lower population there due to previous official culling operations in the area concerned.

The statistical power of the trial

Recommendation mm: ... [The illegal culling of badgers] could result in the trial failing to show that culling is a practical way of reducing the incidence of TB ... It is therefore extremely important to encourage the co-operation of farmers in the control areas and also to monitor the control areas periodically to assess the incidence of killing, as we have recommended above. The use of mortality tags to estimate the level of illegal culling should be further investigated ...

49. Regular unannounced visits to survey only areas have not revealed evidence of illegal culling of badgers. Cooperation from farmers and landowners in these areas is very good. The importance of not interfering with badgers in survey only areas and elsewhere is a message the Government continue to emphasise at every suitable opportunity.

Recommendation nn: ... it is necessary for the Bourne Group to undertake [quarterly] power analyses, which should be verified independently by an expert, and to keep the Minister informed of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the trial ... We also recommend that the original data behind the power analysis conducted by Dr Donnelly from the Bourne Group ... be verified by an external expert and the results of this check be made publicly available ...

50. Following the Committee's recommendation the Government has agreed a contract with an independent statistical expert. Professor Denis Mollison of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh was appointed on 22 August 2000 to independently verify the original data behind the power analysis conducted by the ISG. On 21 November 2000 the Government placed his first report on the MAFF TB Website (

Conclusions on trial

Recommendation oo: We do not accept that the answers to the questions posed by the trial are already known ... We recommend that the culling trial be implemented in full and strongly encourage all interested parties to co-operate with it in order that reliable results be attained in the minimum possible time and with the minimum loss of life to badgers.

51. The Government agreed with this recommendation. Answers are needed about the contribution badgers make to TB in cattle and whether culling badgers reduces TB in cattle. The Government believes that the badger culling trial and the associated research programme are the best ways of finding the answers which will help the development of a science based policy for the long term control of TB in cattle.

Speed of implementation

Recommendation qq: We recommend that MAFF together with the Bourne Group examine ways in which the trial could be implemented more speedily without impugning its scientific rigour. At very least a target should be established for the full implementation of all ten triplets by the start of the closed season in February 2000...

Recommendation ss: The Bourne Group will need to have the strength and authority to ensure that the schedule for implementation is met. At the moment, it is not evident that this is the case or that the Group have any sanctions should the timetable slip. This problem must be addressed by the Minister as a matter of urgency.

52. The timetable for the trial, set down by the Independent Scientific Group, envisages seven triplets being subject to initial proactive culling by the end of 2000 and all ten by the end of 2001. The Government expects to meet these targets.

Communication of data and information

Recommendation tt: We recommend that the Bourne Group prepare and release progress reports on a quarterly basis summarising the progress of the trial and giving qualitative indications of the preliminary results, with a strong warning as to the reliability of conclusions based on the data.

53. Progress on the Government's TB Strategy, including the badger culling trial, is summarised in quarterly reports which are made available to Members of Parliament and the TB Forum and placed on MAFF's TB website. The annual reports to the Independent Scientific Group contain more detailed information on the trial and the related scientific research. MAFF also issues news releases to cover particular events; for example, the announcement of triplets and publication of reports such as the external auditors, husbandry and vaccine advisor reports.

Recommendation uu: We recommend that, in consultation with an independent expert statistician, the Bourne Group carefully consider what information can be made available, when and in what form and that their decision be made known to the public well in advance.

54. This forms part of the contract of the independent statistician whose reports will be published, see response to recommendation nn.

Recommendation ww: We recommend that MAFF reassess its PR strategy in relation to the implementation of the Krebs report, with particular attention to improving public awareness of the purpose of the culling trial.

Recommendation xx: We recommend that the communication strategy followed by MAFF in relation to informing vets and farmers about TB incidents be reviewed.

55. The Government recognise the importance of communications and is constantly looking for new and better ways to explain the progress it is making in tackling TB in cattle. At this year's Royal Agriculture Show in July there was a dedicated TB in cattle stand where MAFF experts and Professor John Bourne, Chairman of the Independent Scientific Group, were available to answer questions. This initiative is to be repeated in 2001. TB in cattle information was also available at other agriculture shows. The MAFF TB website has been completely overhauled and provides an informative source of information on the disease and on the research and control work in place. MAFF has also produced a set of factsheets that are freely available and there are regular progress reports provided by MAFF to the Committee, MPs and the TB Forum. However, the Government will continue to look at new communication opportunities to explain its position and to listen to feedback. In particular more information will be provided in individual badger culling trial areas to explain the need for the trial and progress on the wider research strategy. This effort will be aimed at the general public as well as farmers, vets, conservation and welfare groups.

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