Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Farmers' Union of Wales (J14)


  1.  The Farmers' Union of Wales welcomes the invitation to submit a brief memorandum to the Agriculture Committee on the subject of bovine tuberculosis in cattle and badgers.


  2.  The FUW provided the Agriculture Committee with written evidence as part of the Fifth Report of Session 1998-99 on Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis (HC 233).

  3.  The FUW is profoundly concerned at the increasing number of cattle herds in Wales which are testing positive for TB, a situation which continues to progressively deteriorate with the passage of time and threatens the viability of very many cattle holdings.

  4.  The latest unofficial statistics for Wales showing total herds experiencing one or more reactors taken in each confirmed new incident in 1999 show 133 herds affected, with 38.4 per cent of those herds recording between two and five animals reacting positively to the skin test (Annex 1). According to MAFF, provisional figures for January to June 2000 show that there have been 569 new confirmed incidents of Bovine TB in 95 cattle herds, compared to 508 in January to June 1999. 4,525 cattle were slaughtered as reactors to the tuberculin test or as direct contacts in the first six months of 2000 compared to 3,313 in the same period in 1999.

  5.  Surveys have shown a substantial increase in the badger population over the past 20 years. The experience of our members has been that of a steady increase in badger numbers, with badger setts having been reported in areas where previously there were none. The apparent increase in the number of dead badgers on roadsides following accidents with motorists' vehicles provides circumstantial evidence which also lends credence to the fact that the badger population continues to increase unabated. The results of the badger population survey undertaken by Professor Harries of Bristol University comparing badger numbers in the period November 1985 and early 1988 with those recorded in a period between October 1994 and January 1997, pointed to an increase in the total number of all types of set by some 43 per cent. The badger is thus far from being an endangered species and has, in some areas, increased to pest proportions with adverse disease, agricultural and environmental implications. Past strategies have clearly failed to contain the disease situation, as exemplified by the increased number of TB-affected herds in Wales. In this context, the FUW maintains that one of the fundamental weaknesses of past strategies was the reluctance to trap and test badgers beyond the boundaries of farms affected by a herd breakdown.

  6.  The FUW welcomed the instigation of a further independent scientific review into TB and cattle under the chairmanship of Professor John Krebs in the belief that this would provide a clear strategy for dealing with TB in cattle and badgers. Despite the Krebs review conclusion "that the sum of evidence strongly supports the view that, in Britain, badgers are a significant source of TB infection in cattle", Government proposals stemming from the report do very little to tackle the immediate economic and welfare consequences which result from the increasing incidence of Bovine Tuberculosis. The dramatic increase in TB cattle breakdowns, together with a spiralling badger population, demand, in the FUW's view, much more urgent action in the interests of cattle welfare, family farm businesses and human health. The Government's proposed strategy offers nothing to those farmers who are outside the culling trial areas. The majority of producers therefore face the prospect of a rapidly expanding badger population and a deteriorating TB situation, with little prospect of any effective control measures for at least a further four years. The FUW is therefore disappointed that the deep concern and anxiety that exists amongst the farming community at the increasing incidence of TB has not been fully recognised in the Government's TB control framework which has stemmed from the Krebs Review. The human misery and grief attendant upon the destruction of individual animals, not to mention entire herds—often representing generations of breeding and a lifetime's work—should, in the Union's view, be a major consideration in developing future control strategies.


  7.  The Krebs Review recommended that a minimum of 30 10 kilometre by 10 kilometre experimental squares be selected in areas which were Bovine TB hot-spots, with 10 of these areas randomly assigned to a "pro-active" strategy of culling of all badgers. A further 10 areas where to be randomly assigned to a "reactive" strategy of badger culling if there had been TB cases which appeared to be associated with badgers. The final 10 areas would be randomly assigned to a no culling strategy—a policy which would also apply to those areas which are not part of the experimental programme.

  8.  The FUW is disappointed a the lack of progress as regards these trials. Although surveying has taken place in eight out of the 10 triplets, pro-active culling has only taken place in five out of the 10 triplets and reactive culling has only taken place in three out of the 10 triplets. In its submission responding to the Government's proposals stemming from the Krebs Report, the Union highlighted the fact that the proposed culling trial would, by definition, take at least five years to provide conclusive results, during which time farmers outside the trial areas would have no means of controlling an escalating badger population. Concerns over this time delay have been further exacerbated by the speed at which the culling trial is being put in place. The Union therefore questions whether the level of resources being allocated to the culling strategy meets the time-scale and objectives detailed in the Krebs Report.

  9.  Evidence suggests that the incidence of TB is increasing rapidly in areas which were not previously defined as "hot spots" (eg Shropshire, Derbyshire and Gwent). The FUW maintains, therefore, that a number of random squares should be selected on the fringes of areas which have witnessed a recent explosion in the number of TB incidents in order to ascertain the impact of the various culling strategies on the spread of the disease. The Krebs Report concedes that in order for the trials to be effective, no management factor should be allowed to distort the trial results. Farmers and other landowners must therefore be adequately compensated in order to ensure full participation within the experimental areas.

  10.  The Union is extremely concerned at disturbing evidence that wildlife groups and private landowners may be reluctant to allow the culling trials on their land, thereby calling into question the integrity of the entire culling trial.

  11.  The Union continues to question the effectiveness of cage trapping, given the problems of trap shyness and seasonal and local variations in trapping efficiency. Estimates have suggested that snaring combined with caged trapping could achieve a 90 per cent to 100 per cent capture rate compared with up to 80 per cent for caged trapping alone. In the light of this evidence, the FUW would recommend that the capture methods should include snaring, since caged trapping alone is unlikely to ensure a capture rate which maintains the integrity of the culling trial. The FUW also questions whether the merits of gassing have been fully explored, including analysis of the various available gassing techniques and of the time taken for the animal to reach a comatose state.


  12.  The Union is aware that research is being carried out by the Central Science Laboratory looking at TB in wildlife other than badgers, notably deer, mink, rats and foxes, and by Oxford University examining clinical samples for M. bovis from live trapped wild animals in order to determine the risk to cattle. The Union understands that the Countryside Council for Wales has expressed concern regarding the increasing incidence of M. bovis and its implications for wild mammals.


  13.  The Union understands that a Vaccine Steering Group chaired by the Chief Veterinary Officer has been set up to co-ordinate the activities of those Government Departments with an interest in the development and regulatory clearance of a TB vaccine.

  14.  The Union cannot accept that the use of a cattle vaccine will be in the long-term interests of the UK livestock industry. Any vaccination programme should therefore continue to focus on the development of a vaccine to protect badgers against TB. Vaccination strategies have been phased out for diseases such as Foot and Mouth, and trade experience shows that such a control programme based on vaccination would be likely to undermine future exports of breeding cattle from the UK. A cattle vaccination programme cannot therefore be countenanced unless an effective diagnostic test capable of differentiating between infected and vaccinated animals is developed. Furthermore, there must be clear evidence which shows that UK exports would not be jeopardised through the use of such control techniques. The UK cattle industry cannot be sacrificed in a bid to sustain an ever-expanding badger population.

  15.  Until such time as there is an effective strategy to control the spread of Bovine TB, there must be adequate provision to ensure the management of a sustainable healthy badger population. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 must provide a basis for licensing removal operations in circumstances where badgers are shown to be causing significant problems in the agricultural industry. Given that the badger population is increasing on an annual basis, many farmers are questioning the extent to which the badger population will be allowed to grow before any control measures are sanctioned. Questions also arise over the impact on the badger population and the long term consequences for the species from TB infection.


  16.  The FUW fully supports the aims and objectives of this Forum and considered its continued existence as the only credible and constructive way forward to ensure a meaningful dialogue between all concerned with this vitally important issue.


  17.  The Farmers' Union of Wales views the current situation as extremely severe, and is greatly concerned that current Government proposals do not take into sufficient account the impact of Bovine TB on the livestock industry. The unfortunate reality of inaction is an increasing temptation to act unilaterally to safeguard cattle herds and livelihoods. It is therefore imperative that a sufficiently funded control programme is put into place which seeks the early eradication of Bovine TB from the British cattle herd.

25 October 2000

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