Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Let us move on to the MAFF Wildlife Unit. You say in paragraph 33 the project complement is 202 but currently they are 171 staff only. Are you experiencing difficulty in recruiting staff?
  (Baroness Hayman) We have just had a recruitment exercise. It is ongoing. At the moment we have a complement of 202. We have got 127 field staff in place. There are currently vacancies for two supervisors and 15 field workers. In recent interviews we had 45 applicants who were successful and they are undergoing medical and security checks. I think from that exercise we are now confident all the vacancies will be filled. Certainly the staff that I have met, who are engaged in the trials, are very committed and professional.

  101. What is your estimate of the likely final cost of the whole Krebs programme, particularly the field trials?
  (Baroness Hayman) I do not know. Have we got estimates of final costs? I know what we have spent so far.
  (Mr Hathaway) One has to be careful whether one is talking about all five strands of the Government's strategy on TB or whether one is picking out individual elements of that, such as badger culling.

  102. You can provide projected figures for all of them?
  (Mr Hathaway) We could project figures for all five strands, yes.

  103. The Krebs field trial, what would the figures be there?
  (Mr Hathaway) We have a budget allocation for the current year of £6.9 million. That was under spent a little last year because there was not a full complement of staff. Once we have reached the full complement of staff that is what that budget allocation figure relates to. One could extrapolate that for three or more years ahead to the projected end point of the trial.

  104. Does that include the cost of policing?
  (Mr Hathaway) We are not meeting the cost of policing. Police forces locally are meeting those costs.

Mr Drew

  105. Can I take you back to the issue of the RTAs. Surely it cannot be right that one part of Government holds another part of Government to ransom because basically the Health and Safety Executive have been saying they are not prepared to do anything about this until they have—what effectively they have always done in the past—collected road traffic accident figures and all is in place. It is not a very satisfactory state of affairs surely?
  (Baroness Hayman) I would not characterise it as being held to ransom. I think if you have advice from the Health and Safety Executive about the appropriate circumstances in which Government work should be carried out, you have to take that advice very seriously and abide by it.

  106. There is a problem. I have farmers who have now got dead badgers on their land being told nobody is going to come and collect them. That must be unsatisfactory. If we are worried about bovine TB and the possible link with badgers, to have dead badgers on a farm and being told there is no-one willing to come and collect them, this is not very good.
  (Baroness Hayman) It is not very satisfactory. I think in some areas there are badger groups who are willing. Is that the case or is it sick badgers that they are concerned with?
  (Mr Hathaway) I think mainly sick badgers can be reported to RSPCA or other animal welfare groups. I accept that is not a complete answer to the question which has been raised. There are instances where badgers are found dead on the farm. It is worth adding, perhaps, for completeness, that as far as what we have been referring to as the road traffic accident survey is concerned, that will also have a facility for collecting badgers that are found dead on farms in trial areas but not across the whole countryside obviously.

  107. Finally, it is inter-related, what contingencies have you got to cover for the loss of Aston Down which you will be losing as a centre in April?
  (Baroness Hayman) Debby, do you want to answer that?
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes. The question of the accommodation for the Wildlife Unit at Aston Down is one where we have a number of options from which we can choose. We could consider relocating or buying part of the site and we have a number of areas of flexibility for next year's accommodation.

Dr Turner

  108. How do you weigh the relative hazards of handling possibly infected badgers in laboratory conditions in a regulated environment with a consumer storing uncooked meat from a definitely infected TB cattle in an unregulated fridge? How do you weigh those two possible hazards?
  (Baroness Hayman) I am tempted to say that I take advice from the Health and Safety Executive on one and the FSA on the other. I do not interpose my own judgment between the two.

  109. I am asking you to express your opinion on this?
  (Baroness Hayman) My opinion certainly on the meat in the fridge is that all the advice has been that no meat that ends up in the fridge presents a danger to human health and that since meat is habitually cooked, which gives it added protection—

  110. Even if it is not cooked, that is fine. Prior to that most people do not have an inspector available to check on their fridge and its layout and whether it is appropriate to keep different kinds of meat separate and so on.
  (Baroness Hayman) Indeed. You can take that with a great number of other organisms.

  111. Unlike scientists, presumably, who have a good deal of help in ensuring safe procedures in the laboratories. This did not appear to have been thought through in an entirely coherent way. The link is the risk to human risk.
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes.

  112. Clearly scientists were anxious about that risk to themselves but perhaps there may be less anxiety about the ordinary punter or for that matter, in David's case, the ordinary farmer who may have to handle by the nature of his activities a dead badger?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think my responsibility is to ensure that the appropriate advice is sought, taken and transmitted to those—

  113. It just does not appear to be joined up, does it? We are hearing one Government agency which is giving a very precautionary view of the possible implications to scientists' health of handling badger corpses which may be infected, a lot of RTAs will not be but may be infected, with M bovis, a rather different view of other aspects of the transmission of M bovis to human beings.
  (Baroness Hayman) We could have a long debate about the way in which risk is evaluated, managed and communicated.

  114. Is there one standard for scientists and another for others?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think, with respect, the HSE are not scientists defending other scientists.

  115. No.
  (Baroness Hayman) They are about the occupational health of workers in an environment, about assessing a risk and laying down what they consider to be the appropriate circumstances in which people should be working. They are absolutely fair and do comment on the health and safety of farmers as well.

  116. Perhaps we should get the HSE to look at the health and safety of workers in a kitchen. I will leave it there.
  (Baroness Hayman) When I had responsibility for food safety there was a great deal of work done about trying to educate people about risk and many criticisms about the nannying nature of the advice which came from that. That is something onto which I should not stray.

Mr Mitchell

  117. I was going to point out that Grimsby has got the biggest cold stock capacity in Europe but I do not think yours is a business we would like to encourage, so I will not. I want to put three specific points put to us by Dr Fiona Mathews, who is a Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow at the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. She suggests you should answer three specific points. One, will MAFF now allow historical data on the incidents of TB in the trial areas prior to the commencement of the trial to be made publicly available?
  (Baroness Hayman) Historical data, is there any historical data that is not available?
  (Mr Hathaway) The report of the Independent Scientific Group which was published in February of this year for each of the trial areas which had been proactively culled up to the time of publication did contain summarised historical data about previous incidence of TB in those areas. Is Dr Mathews saying there is further information?

  118. She is asking it be made publicly available because it would be useful for the analysis of repeat and contiguous breakdowns.
  (Baroness Hayman) Can I answer it in a more general term, Austin, which is that as far as any robust information that is available that the Independent Scientific Group believe would be helpful, there is no desire whatsoever to keep that back and I have no problem with making it available.

  119. Yes. I think she means farm by farm data rather than the total data.
  (Baroness Hayman) I think it is very difficult to respond to an individual's request when it is particularly, and it sounds as if it might be, labour intensive to find that. If that is an individual request, I would like to take it away, look at it and answer it, if that is all right.

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