Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (J15)


This report outlines the Government's progress in implementing the recommendations in the Agriculture Committee's Fifth Report (1998-99)[1] since the Adjournment Debate on 10 February 2000. The Government is continuing to carry forward its five point research and control strategy announced in August 1998 to tackle TB in cattle.

Improved liaison with the Department of Health to monitor the incidence of M. bovis infection in humans and animals

  The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer met in January 2000 to review progress on the public health aspects of Mycobacterium bovis. Last year 41 cases of M bovis were found in humans in the UK, confirming the position of no change in the trend of recent years.

  Guidance has been issued to all Chief Environmental Health Officers/food authorities on issuing of heat treatment notices for milk from TB Outbreak farms.

  Guidance is being issued to operators of red meat slaughterhouses about the health and safety implications of handling TB reactor cattle.

Continued regular testing of cattle herds for TB and slaughter of suspect animals, and where possible strengthening these controls

  A comprehensive review of the frequency with which cattle are tested for TB has been completed to ensure compliance with the relevant EU legislation.

  Following consultation with the TB Forum cattle movement restrictions and reporting requirements are being strengthened. Further measures are under discussion.

  MAFF has started a pilot trial into the effectiveness of the gamma interferon blood test as an additional way of detecting TB in cattle.

Research to improve knowledge of the disease and its transmission to and between cattle and other species

  A further £1.2 million per annum has been added to MAFF's research programme to fund laboratory and field studies on cattle to cattle transmission and pathogenesis of TB.

  Research projects are in place looking at TB in wildlife other than badgers, notably deer, mink, rats and foxes and to examine clinical samples for M. bovis from live trapped wild mammals in order to determine the risk to cattle.

  The report of the Independent Husbandry Panel, established in response to one of the Committee's recommendations to identify how cattle husbandry practices might help control cattle TB, was published on 16 May 2000. The Government, ISG and the TB Forum are considering how to take forward the report recommendations.

Research to develop an M bovis vaccine

  A progress report on MAFF's tuberculosis vaccines for animals research programme was published on 14 August 2000. Copies of the report, by Dr Jo Colston, Head of Mycobacterial Research at the National Institute for Medical Research, have been passed to the Committee.

  The main focus of the vaccine programme involves the development of a TB vaccine for cattle, although the option of a vaccine for badgers is being retained.

  Some possible vaccine candidates have been identified. Work is continuing on the possibility of developing a test to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated cattle.

  A vaccine steering group, chaired by the Chief Veterinary Officer, has been set up to co-ordinate the activity of those Government Departments with an interest in the development and regulatory clearance of an M bovis vaccine.

A badger culling trial to be carried out to test the effectiveness of different badger culling policies

  Ten triplets have been enrolled in the badger culling trial in line with the advice from the ISG and in accordance with its timetable.

  Initial proactive culling has been carried out in five triplets, with two more operations planned this year and three in 2001.

  The Independent Scientific Group has advised the Government that the trial remains on course to produce robust results by the end of 2004, possibly earlier.

  An independent auditor's report into the despatch procedures used in the badger culling trial was published on 16 October. It concluded that the procedures followed by MAFF staff met high welfare standards.

  A detailed account of the Government's progress on each of the Agriculture Select Committee's recommendations is set out below.


Lessons from the previous policies on the control of bovine TB

Recommendation a:

    ". . .it is essential that future policy in this area is based on sound science and conclusive evidence and commands the full commitment of all parties involved".

  1.  The Government accepted this recommendation.

Other wildlife species

  Recommendation b:

    "We recommend that MAFF ensure that a thorough and well designed sampling procedure of wildlife species other than the badger be put in place in the badger removal areas to determine if M. bovis can persist in other species when badgers are removed . . ."

  2.  The two research projects in place, one run by Oxford University and one by the Central Science Laboratory, are continuing and will last 'till 2002-03 respectively. Results will be published in full when they become available. The CSL project looking at the contribution of other wildlife involves collecting wildlife carcases. By 31 August 570 carcases from 25 species of wild mammals other than badgers had been collected and are being analysed in the laboratory. Results are not yet available. The Oxford University project is examining clinical samples for M bovis from live trapped wild mammals in order to determine the risk to cattle. Nearly 1,000 samples have been examined so far and several mycobacterium isolates are undergoing final confirmatory tests to establish if they are M bovis.

Research into transmission

  Recommendation c:

    "We recommend that further research be undertaken into the relative importance of cattle to cattle transmission of bovine TB and means of controlling it".

  Recommendation t:

    "We disagree with the suggestion that it is unnecessary to prove how a disease is spread in order to deal with it successfully, as it would answer much of the debate if the transmission routes were to be identified".

  Recommendation u:

    "We recommend that MAFF provide more funding for research modelling spatial distribution of transmission patterns and routes commissioned from the best scientists in the field".

  3.  During 2000, on the advice of the Independent Scientific Group, the Government initiated a research programme to investigate the pathogenesis and transmission of tuberculosis in cattle. This programme includes laboratory experiments and field studies. The aim is to obtain a clearer understanding of how and at what stage of infection transmission of M. bovis occurs between cattle, and to improve knowledge of the immune responses detected by diagnostic tests so that testing procedures can be improved. In addition to the modelling studies already in place, part of the new cattle pathogenesis work includes development of a mathematical model for TB in cattle. This work is of fundamental importance in advancing control of the disease. Results from this research, which started in July 2000 and finishes in December 2003, will be published when available. MAFF has also advertised for new approaches on molecular epidemiology to address this area, research proposals submitted in response to the open competition launched in May 2000 are currently undergoing appraisal by independent expert referees.

  4.  The recently started projects investigating pathogenesis and transmission of TB in cattle will help to answer some questions on the importance of cattle to cattle spread. Molecular epidemiology studies on the different strain types of M. bovis will help to link sources to outbreaks of infection. A study at the University of Bristol is investigating potential routes of infection to cattle from grass contaminated by infected badgers.

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 . . ."

  5.  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.

Conclusions on the rise in incidence of bovine TB

  Recommendation f:

    "The rising incidence of bovine TB is a serious problem, with implications for public finances, the farming industry and animal welfare".

  Recommendation g:

    "The consequences to the farming industry if current levels of TB incidence are maintained, or worse continue to increase, clearly warrant the attention now being paid to the issue".

  6.  The Government accepted these recommendations.

  Recommendation h:

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

  7.  More than 1,200 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.

The Krebs review

  Recommendation i:

    "We agree with Professor Krebs that the terms of reference for his review were appropriate and not restrictive, but we understand the concern of the conservationists about the fact that the title of the review was "Bovine tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers".

  8.  The Government noted this conclusion.

  Recommendation j:

    "We accept Professor Krebs's conclusion that the evidence of a link between badgers and cattle TB is compelling but not conclusive and that a field trial is required to test and quantify the link between badgers and cattle".

  9.  The Government welcomed this conclusion and sees the field trial and related research as a vital element of its strategy to control TB in cattle in the future. Answers are needed on the contribution badgers make to TB in cattle and whether culling badgers helps to control the disease in cattle.

  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".

  10.  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 1 September 2000, in the trial triplets where culling had been carried out so far, 1,953 badgers had been culled. This would suggest the Krebs figure is unlikely to be exceeded:


Proactive Area
Reactive Area
East Cornwall
North Wiltshire
West Cornwall

11.  In no trial area will eradication of badgers occur. Due to the limitations of cage trapping a residual population of around 20 per cent will be left. This will be supplemented by immigration and breeding.

  Recommendation l:

    "We conclude that Krebs' approach of combining a culling trial with other research is the correct one and we see no reason why any of the Krebs proposals should be abandoned. We agree broadly with Krebs' conclusions and recommendations".

  12.  The Government agreed with this conclusion.

  Recommendation m:

    "We are convinced that more attention should have been paid by Krebs to the role played by husbandry in preventing TB breakdowns . . ."

  Recommendation ccc:

    "We recommend that MAFF appoint a small panel of experts to undertake a fast track review of the available scientific evidence on husbandry, taking evidence from the industry and the veterinary profession as appropriate . . ."

  Recommendation eee:

    "We recommend that the Government finance the cost of accelerated research investigating the most promising husbandry practices likely to assist in the control of bovine tuberculosis".

  13.  An Independent Husbandry Panel was established on 17 January 2000 chaired by Dr Clive Phillips of the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine, with the other members being a dairy farmer, a zoologist and a veterinarian. The Panel took evidence from a large number of interested parties and reviewed the available literature on the subject. Its report was published on 16 May 2000 and is available in the Library of the House. The Panel's recommendations identified a number of husbandry measures farmers might take to reduce the risk of infection to their cattle, while making clear that the transmission routes for bovine TB are not fully understood. The Government is examining these recommendations in consultation with the Independent Scientific Group and the TB Forum so as to assess which are likely to be effective against TB and practical for farmers. Many of the findings confirm the advice already contained in the Government's advisory leaflets, issued in 1999, but the Government will consider what more can be done to encourage farmers to adopt better husbandry measures in respect of cattle TB. The Government expects to publish its response to the report before the end of 2000.

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".

  14.  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 persuades 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".

  15.  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 has recently been published and is available on the MAFF TB website (

  16.  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.

  17.  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.

  18.  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.

  19.  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 s:

    "We agree with the Minister that because of uncertainties over vaccine development it is necessary to proceed with the Krebs programme on all fronts".

  20.  The Government welcomed this conclusion and is proceeding with all the elements in its five point strategy to control TB in cattle.

Recommendations t and u—see response for recommendation c

Leg cuffs

  Recommendation v:

    "Although we have not been persuaded that leg cuffs would injure badgers, for the sake of public perception, we urge MAFF not to pursue this route".

  21.  The Government does not intend to use leg cuffs in the badger culling trial.

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".

  22.  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 Government expects to start the survey shortly. 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 . . ."

  23.  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 per cent 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".

  24.  The Government remains committed to putting the necessary research in place as part of the strategy to control TB in cattle. In financial year 2000-01, 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 in 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."

  25.  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 recent M. bovis 2000 International conference in Cambridge. 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".

  26.  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 10 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.

1   Related papers: Reply by the Government to the Fifth Report by the Agriculture Committee, session 1998-99, HC 612, published 30 June 1999; Government update, February 2000, published in the Agriculture Committee's Fourth Special Report "The Committee's Work, Session 1998-99", Session 1999-2000, HC 480. Back

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