Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


  1.  This report gives an update on progress on the Government's five-point plan for dealing with bovine tuberculosis since EFRAC's 7th Report of Session 2002-03 on Badgers and Bovine TB, published on 9 April 2003. The Government's reply to the Committee's report was published on 24 June 2003.

  2.  Ben Bradshaw provided oral evidence to the main EFRA Committee on 10 December 2003, focussing on the suspension of the reactive cull element of the badger culling trial.

  3.  This submission has been agreed with the Devolved Administrations.


  4.  In February 2003 the Secretary of State announced a review of GB policy on TB. This is an opportunity to ensure Government's approach on bovine TB is consistent with the Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food and the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy. Government spent £75 million on bovine TB controls across GB, including research, in 2002-03 and remains committed to finding a sustainable way forward on bovine TB, based on best available evidence. Provisional outturn for 2003-04 is £88 million. A breakdown of expenditure is at Annex A.

  5.  Defra published on 9 February 2004 a consultation document that represented the outcome of the first stage of the review of the TB strategy. Separate but parallel consultations have been issued in Scotland and Wales.

  6.  The consultation closes on 4 June, having been extended by 1 month to allow stakeholders to take into account the recommendations of the Independent Scientific Review of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and associated epidemiological research that was published on 6 April.

  7.  A robust, fair and cost-effective settlement on bovine TB is required, one that sets out where Government and stakeholders hope to be in 10 years time and reconciles the contending perspectives of stakeholder groups. Achieving everybody's aspirations is unlikely. Challenging but realistic targets and indicators of success need to be developed which recognise the regional distribution of the disease and scientific uncertainty around the effectiveness of TB control tools including wildlife interventions. The consultation document asks questions covering all of these issues.

  8.  Defra is also committed to action in the short term to address some of the immediate problems of bovine TB. A number of policy options were set out in Defra's submission to EFRAC on 24 February 2003 (see Annex B) and progress is reported below. The remainder are set out in the consultation document as proposals for action to:

    —  Reduce the risk of spreading TB from high to low incidence areas through cattle movements;

    —  Ensure early detection and prevention of developing TB hotspots;

    —  Increase efficiency and transparency of TB surveillance and alignment with EU Directive 64/432/EC.

  9.  A key proposal is the introduction of a legal requirement for the pre-movement testing of cattle moving from one and two year tested herds to other herds, for which farmers will pay. Government for some time has advised this as best practice.

  10.  The written consultation has been complemented with regional meetings to discuss the issues raised with a wide range of stakeholders. After closure of the consultation Government will work to implement the short-term measures as soon as is practicable, and develop draft proposals for the longer term.


Protecting human health

  11.  Public health protection measures (ie pasteurisation of milk and post-mortem inspection of carcases) continue. The threat to public health remains low and the disease is treatable. The Government is not complacent however and continues to work in liaison with the Department of Health to monitor the situation.

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

  12.  There have been a number of developments since Defra's last written submission to EFRAC in early 2003:

    —  With the co-operation of Local Veterinary Inspectors and farmers, the number of overdue TB herd tests built up during the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001 has been reduced to pre-FMD levels. There were nearly 27,000 overdue tests at the end of 2001. This had been reduced to 7,000 at the beginning of 2003 and now stands at under 4,000.

    —  Automatic restrictions were imposed on herds with TB tests overdue by more than three months from the start of October 2003, to reduce the risk of spreading bovine TB. This has acted as a powerful incentive for farmers to get tests done promptly. At the end of March 2004 84% of overdue herd tests were less than three months overdue.

    —  Mycobacterial culture capacity at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency has been trebled. By the end of 2003 the additional culture facilities had resulted in the elimination of the backlog of bovine tissue samples awaiting culture.

    —  A field pilot of the gamma-interferon blood test, begun in autumn 2002, has continued. The pilot was set up to determine whether the gamma-interferon test, used in tandem with the skin test, significantly improves the detection of infected cattle and shortens the duration of confirmed TB incidents. Up to the end of April, 108 herds had been recruited into the pilot. Consideration is being given to ways to improve recruitment. In addition, since November 2003 the State Veterinary Service has allowed ad-hoc gamma-interferon testing in specific situations. Details are at Annex C.

    —  General movement licences were introduced in October 2003 for clear testing cattle destined for slaughter from herds under TB restrictions, significantly streamlining procedures and reducing paperwork.

    —  In spring 2004, research carried out by Reading University into the economic impacts of bovine TB and alternative control policies, showed whilst most farmers suffered a loss due to TB some farms (20% of dairy, 35% of beef herds surveyed) made a net gain from the breakdown. Net losses ranged from £37 to £17,021.

    —  A survey of badgers (killed in road traffic accidents) and deer (culled or found dead) in South West Cumbria was announced in December 2003. The objective of the survey is to determine whether or not there are badgers and deer infected with TB in this part of Cumbria. The results of the survey will be used along with the results of two cycles of cattle testing at six- to 12-month intervals, to determine the future herd testing frequency in the area.

  13.  The following developments describe progress on a number of the short-term policy options flagged to EFRAC in February 2003. The remainder are being taken forward as part of the current TB consultation (see para 10):

    —  Increasing the pool of people trained to test for TB has been taken forward in the consultation on a proposal to introduce an Exemption Order, under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, to permit suitably trained and competent non-veterinarians to administer the tuberculin skin test, read and record the results. Consideration is now being given to how best to proceed.

    —  A National Audit Office report on TB compensation in Wales was published in 2003 which noted that compensation payments in 2002 were on average 50% higher, and in some cases over 100% above the underlying market price. An internal Defra audit in summer 2003 similarly found that TB valuations appeared to be significantly higher than market prices. A number of changes have been introduced to help ensure valuations are a fair reflection of market price, including improved data handling procedures, provision of market price information to valuers to act as a benchmark for valuations, and a letter to valuers reminding them of the conditions under which valuations should be carried out. In October 2003 Defra consulted on proposals to rationalise compensation for animals slaughtered for all notifiable disease including TB. The aim is to strike a balance between practical disease control and responsiveness to individual circumstances. It is hoped that reviewing the compensation procedures will help speed up removal of reactor cattle from farms. This was flagged to EFRAC as one of the short-term policy options in February 2003. Next steps are being considered.

    —  On-farm management to reduce TB risk to cattle was another of the options identified. Under the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy, Defra is working closely with Devolved Administrations and interested parties, particularly vets and the different livestock sectors, to take forward a number of initiatives to promote farm health planning and improve training and advice.

    —  The State Veterinary Service (SVS) is developing improved guidance, training and contractual arrangements for Local Veterinary Inspectors, including TB testers, and enhancing its quality assurance procedures. The timing of implementation is dependent on negotiation with the British Veterinary Association.

    —  The SVS has also developed an IT system for Veterinary e-Business (VeBus). This allows Local Veterinary Inspectors and SVS staff to receive worklists and submit completed forms electronically. Full rollout is scheduled to be completed by October 2003.

    —  The SVS Business Reform Programme is re-engineering business processes and improving the delivery of field services between 2004 and 2008. TB is the primary focus and initial efficiency gains will be implemented in 2004 through improved data handling.

Research to develop an M.bovis vaccine

  14.  The timetable for producing an effective vaccine against bovine tuberculosis remains broadly in line with that set out in the Krebs Report.

  15.  In January 2002, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB established a Vaccine Scoping Study Sub-Committee (VSSSC) to advise Defra Ministers on whether a TB vaccination strategy for either cattle or wildlife would be feasible. The VSSSC reported to Ministers in July 2003 (published December 2003). This advised on research requirements, but cautioned that a vaccine (for cattle or badgers) remains a long-term policy option. Many obstacles still have to be overcome.

  16.  An Inter-Departmental Vaccine Steering Group, chaired by the Chief Veterinary Officer, is working to identify administrative and legal procedures to allow a potential vaccine to be authorised for use in both badgers and cattle. A new Vaccine Programme Advisory Group (following on from the VSSSC) provides advice on the science needed to progress towards a vaccine for use in the field.

  17.  The Vaccine Advisory Group has recommended developing options for a field experiment using BCG in badgers and a series of transmission and vaccination studies (BCG and heterologous prime boost) in cattle. The Vaccine Steering Group has agreed in principle that these proposals should be investigated further.

  18.  In 2002-03, Defra spent £1.5 million on vaccine research. Exploiting the sequencing of the M.bovis genome has led to the development of a test that distinguishes between vaccinated and infected cattle for experimental use. However, more work is needed before the test can be used for wide scale application in the event that a vaccine based on BCG is introduced. 48 possible vaccine candidates have been tested in small animal models. These include two live attenuated M. bovis vaccines, subunit recombinant protein and DNA vaccines. Concurrent work to determine the best adjuvant/vaccine combination for use in cattle is in place. Diagnostic reagents and vaccines are being tested in collaboration with New Zealand as well as in the UK.

  19.  Researchers at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency are collaborating with the Republic of Ireland in conducting challenge studies using BCG in badgers.

  20.  A review of the ecological implications of a vaccination strategy for badgers covering the various aspects of badger ecology that must be considered has been published.

  21.  At the end of April 2004 a workshop was held with the animal pharmaceutical industry to discuss how Defra, working in partnership with industry, might take BCG vaccine forward for use in badgers. The aim of the workshop was to identify the most suitable plan for complying with the many regulatory obstacles for use of a vaccine in the field.

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

  22.  The Committee will consider the possible role of trace elements. There is anecdotal evidence that trace element deficiencies in soils are related to susceptibility to tuberculosis in cattle. At present this link is scientifically unproven. The ISG have not dismissed the possibility of a nutritional link. However, they have advised that given the available resources, and the difficulty in devising informative experimental protocols, this area of research should be given low priority. Preliminary data from the TB99 survey may help to shed some light on nutritional issues.

  23.  There have been a number of recent developments in the wide-ranging research programme supported by Defra (full details of which are on Defra's website):

    —  Studies on the virulence and pathogenesis of M.bovis have found that certain strains are found in specific geographic locations. Different molecular typing methods are currently being evaluated to better understand the development of different M.bovis strains in the UK. Additionally a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) detection system for M.bovis has been developed that could be used as part of the routine strain identification process.

    —  Recently published work highlights that the use of farm buildings and cattle troughs by badgers can constitute a TB risk to cattle. A study of possible badger/cattle interactions and how cattle husbandry methods may limit these is underway.

    —  Other work looks at the effects of removing badgers from an ecosystem, both in terms of the possible perturbation effects on the local badger population and the effect of removing badgers on the wider ecosystem and associated species. Nearing completion are two research projects investigating the risk to cattle from wildlife species other than cattle in areas of high herd breakdown risk.

    —  A cattle pathogenesis programme is providing information on how TB develops in cattle and is looking at cattle-cattle transmission. Results have shown that, in laboratory conditions, the route of M.bovis challenge has implications for the shedding pattern of bacteria subsequently seen and that some infected but skin test negative animals could be identified that would not be detected by current tests. Work has shown that the effect of repeated skin testing prior to infection with M.bovis does not invalidate the use of the skin test.


Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT)

  24.  All 10 triplets were enrolled into the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) by the end of 2002. All 10 proactive areas have been culled at least twice and culling had taken place in all but one of the reactive areas before the suspension of operations in November last year.

  25.  Ministers suspended culling operations in reactive areas on 4 November 2003 following advice from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) that their latest interim analysis, of data collected up to the end of August 2003, indicated that, after appropriate statistical adjustments, the incidence of herd breakdowns in reactively culled areas was consistently greater than expected. This increase, compared with the survey only areas, was estimated by the ISG to be 27%, with 95% confidence that the increase lay between 4.8% and 53%. A more conservative analysis would give confidence limits of between a 2.4% decrease and a 65% increase. The ISG's most recent analysis of data collected to mid-February 2004 indicated an increase of 28% with confidence limits of between 1.1% and 62% using the wider confidence limits recommended by the Independent Review panel.

  26.  Following the suspension of culling in reactive areas, the ISG considered whether to convert some of the reactive areas to proactive areas. They advised that data on cattle breakdowns in at least six reactive areas should continue to be collected and analysed, along with data from the proactive and survey only areas, at six monthly intervals. Proactive data from the remaining areas would add little value to the dataset, as there would be insufficient time to see an effect in these areas before the end of the trial; the resource could be better used to carry out culling operations in the existing proactive areas at the most advantageous times of the year.

TB99 Epidemiological Survey

  27.  The first analysis, of data collected from the survey before the FMD outbreak, has been completed. A report on this is expected very shortly. An analysis of more recent data collected is ongoing.

  28.  The structure of the TB99 questionnaire is being revised for 2005, to focus on those aspects which, from the analyses undertaken so far, seem to be the most significant. The revised form will also be shorter and easier to complete in the field. Additional data sources, such as the Cattle Tracing System, will be used to remove time consuming parts of the questionnaire and standardise the data collected across the study area. In the meantime, collection of TB99 data during 2004 is focussed on the completion of 100 datasets, each comprising a case and three controls (if available), across three of the 10 triplets.

Road Traffic Accident (RTA) Survey

  29.  At 31 March 2004, 1,744 carcases had been collected from the seven counties covered by the survey (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire). An analysis of the results from the post-mortems of these is underway and will be finalised shortly.

Independent Scientific Review of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and associated epidemiological research

  30.  As part of a wider review of Defra Science, Elliot Morley announced in April the 2003 establishment of an independent scientific panel to review the randomised badger culling trial and related research. This work is being overseen by the ISG, which has been providing guidance and monitoring the RBCT since its establishment in 1998.

  31.  The Review was chaired by Professor Charles Godfray FRS, director of the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Population Biology at Imperial College London. The panel comprised experts from the fields of veterinary and wildlife population epidemiology, applied statistics and population biology. Their report, the ISG's response and comments from Professor Mollison, the statistical auditor of the RBCT, were published on 6 April 2004.

  32.  The review's conclusions will inform Defra's wider review of TB strategy. The recommendations are complex and have potentially far reaching consequences for TB policy. There are also areas of disagreement between the Review Group and the ISG. This often occurs when challenging science is being undertaken and Defra will be considering carefully how to move forward.

The "four area" badger culling trial in the Republic of Ireland

  33.  The results of the "four area trial" in the Republic of Ireland have not yet been published. We will look closely at the methods and results once published to establish what we can learn and apply in GB.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May 2004

Annex A


(£ million)


Cattle Testing
17.6 13.35.424.7 33.0
Compensation5.36.6 9.231.933.3
Culling Trial4.66.6
Other Research3.85.3
Veterinary Laboratory Agency2.4 5.3
Headquarters/Overheads4.5 1.0

38.2 36.230.574.7 88.2

Annex B


  The 10 options were:

    —  clearer implementation of EU legislative requirements;

    —  a review of test frequencies to ensure compliance with the EU;

    —  tailoring TB controls according to TB risk by area and/or herd health history;

    —  the introduction of pre-movement testing;

    —  requiring on-farm management action to reduce TB risk to cattle;

    —  review to identify possible need for test frequencies above the EU requirements in certain areas;

    —  improvements in delivery of TB controls which might be made through the development of a new relationship between the State Veterinary Service and Local Veterinary Inspectors;

    —  increasing the pool of people trained to test for TB and available to deliver testing;

    —  streamlining service delivery processes within the SVS in order to improve efficiency and reduce administrative delays; and

    —  speeding up removal off farms of cattle that react to the tuberculin test.

Annex C


  In addition to the gamma-interferon field pilot, since November 2003 the State Veterinary Service (SVS) has conducted ad hoc gamma-interferon testing in specific situations, namely:

    —  as an aid to decision making in relation to whole or partial herd slaughter in severe TB breakdowns;

    —  as a "parallel" (ie adjunct) test for non-reactor cattle in ongoing, confirmed TB incidents that do not qualify for the field trial, but have a chronic TB problem; and

    —  as a "serial" (ie confirmatory) test, to resolve skin test reactors or inconclusive reactors in prolonged unconfirmed TB incidents within low TB prevalence areas, where there is a suspicion of non-specific reactivity to the skin test.

  In the first two instances, the blood test is used to enhance the overall sensitivity of TB testing. In the third, the blood test complements the skin test results to achieve better specificity. In 2003, almost 1,000 cattle in 12 non-trial herds in England (6), Wales (5) and Scotland (1) were gamma-interferon tested by the SVS under one of the three scenarios described above.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

May 2004

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