Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Mr Martin Hancox (J18)

  A great deal of confusion exists re The Great Badgers And Bovine TB Debate, but sadly any resolution to the rapidly worsening cattle TB situation is being held back by political obfuscation: the same Sir Humphrey syndrome as in the BSE Phillips Enquiry, tendentious selective "scientific" half truths. This brief overview hence attempts to show via maps/graphs/table how to put things right. The detailed background is given in papers such as . . . Hancox, 2000: Cattle TB schemes, Letts. Applied Microbiol. 31: 87-93; also similar in Resp. Medicine 94: 1007-8 plus human risk 94: 919-20. TB transmission in cattle, Let.App.Mic. 28: 242-4, in badgers J.Agric.Sci. 125:441. See 2000, also, J.Agric.Sci. 135:333; Biologist 47: 3 . . . some 50+ articles amusingly ignored by the Krebs/Bourne/Phillips Husbandry Committees as politically incorrect!!


  The tragedy of the present bovine TB situation is that it has been spiralling out of control for a decade; neither current cattle or badger policy are working; and yet attention has focussed to such an extent on badgers for 29 years, that many still cannot "See" Politically, that the only reasonable explanation and cure is "bovine".

  Britain and Ireland had textbook TB schemes into the 1960s, but variously relaxing cattle measures allowed TB to escape from containment. This is most easily seen from the maps, graphs and table [not printed]. In essence, bovine TB spreads like a cancer in the individual, then through the cattle population. Control and then eradication can be achieved by removing TB cases before they can pass on the disease. The problem has always been the slow progression of TB: a single microscopic or Non-Visible Lesion (NVL) grows and spawn secondary gross Visible Lesions (VL), taking a year or more to do so. Early NVL cases are only mildly infectious, VL ones become highly infectious. And so, a century's experience of TB schemes shows that three elements are needed:

  1.  Annual Testing of all cattle is the gold standard worldwide and under EC Directives because tuberculous cattle are removed before they can pass on the parasite;

  2.  Movement Ban. Neither the TB test nor traceability are 100 per cent accurate so the only way to guarantee preventing spread is to ban movement into TB-free areas;

  3.  Centralised Scheme rigorous systematic measures are most effective if government co-ordinated, eg in test frequency and synchrony to stop lateral spread.

  Post-war in GB, these measures entailed bringing areas into testing, working from low to high TB areas, roughly from north to south: Map 4 [not printed], and building on the removal of the worst clinical cases from a peak of 24,000 in 1936 to only four in 1970-78: Graph 4 [not printed]. This hence brought TB down from 1940s high TB levels to tiny southwest pockets: Maps 1 & 2 [not printed]. NB. Midlands blackspots in 1940s due to Irish imports, and also source of 39.8 per cent of cases 1972-84; the high density badger population areas of the southwest and SW Wales were not TB areas then. But as TB levels are highest in older cattle, dairy rather than beef stock, the intense dairying southwest became the new hotspot with a 50 per cent increase in stocking 1964-74. BSE also has a long incubation, so in 1989 49 per cent of cases were in the southwest and "merely a reflection of the number of dairy herds at risk". Increased stock movement and longer test intervals at the peak of BSE in 1993 has simply allowed TB to escape back into former Midlands strongholds: Map 3 [not printed]. TB in badgers probably died out in these former hotspots, but the spread now into areas TB-free in either badgers or cattle for up to 40 years shows the cattle source. In 1999 over 50 per cent of new TB herds were in areas TB-free for 10 years: Avon 15 out of 25 herds, Cornwall 103 in 139, Devon 54 in 99; and frontier counties even more, Derby six in six, Shrops four in five, Staffs 29 in 30. Clearly seen in the current Okehampton cluster, and on Exmoor after 20 years TB-free "suddenly" 14 TB herds in 1993. Since 1972 there had only been 11 TB badgers out of 1,204 sampled in Somerset, but then finding 65-85 per cent with TB after the herd breakdowns shows spillover to badger (Wheddon Cross/Exford). High levels of badger TB on the epicentre farm with VL cattle, fewer on adjacent farms with only new NVL cattle, and a clean ring outside that with no TB badgers or cattle: Easy to prove from MAFF data given the political will!: Map 5 [not printed]. Similarly, in Wales 1972-96, over 700 TB herds, but 46 TB badgers out of 2,363 sampled. And re-starting annual tests Dyfed 1991, Gwent 1995 began to bring cattle TB back under control. Incidentally, the Offaly "proof case" that badger culls works is a fantasy: 1988-94 there were only 148 TB cases out of 1,339 culled, but 10 times that number of TB cattle or 1,428 among 55,000 cattle in the cull area; compared to 5,216 TB cattle out of 150,000 in the control area, ie similar proportions of infected cattle removed. And in Ulster, up to 70 per cent of TB herds are via contiguous spread, 30 per cent bought-in, ie 100 per cent cattle source, and badgers irrelevant, and not culled . . . climate oscillations in TB over 20 years: Graph 5 [not printed].

  The USA had a textbook TB scheme from 1917, removing 4 million reactors by 1967, and nine states having 75 per cent of the cases. Michigan, 151,000 km2 showed a rapid decline on annual tests from 1930, to 0.1 per cent reactor rate. But post-war the reduced effort in number of cattle tested let TB creep up by 1959 to higher than the 1930 level. A resumption of the previous regime brought a rapid decrease in TB "but at a cost of far greater effort and funds than would have been necessary if the original program had not been relaxed": Graphs 1 & 2 [not printed] . . . hence c. 6,000 reactors drop to 136 by 1966. The GB Graph 3 [not printed] is merely a repeat U-shape. Turning to the Table: Ulster achieved a low by 1971 by annual tests, of 174 reactors but premature relaxing tests let TB creep up again. The 1975-76 vet strike in Eire let TB double. GB never got below the 1979 low of 89 herds and c. 600 cases . . . testing only 1/6th of the GB herd now has allowed TB to regain 1960s levels. There will be nil progress until measures 1-3 above are re-launched . . . badger culls are a waste of money because they don't work.

8 November 2000

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