Memorandum submitted by the Family Farmers'
1. I am glad that you are studying this
subject again. With due respect, I did not feel that the conclusions
and recommendation in your previous report reflected the urgency
of the situation. Since that time facts and statistics have confirmed
the gut feeling of farmers that the disease is almost completely
out of hand. It is increasing at 20% annually and it is quite
clear that the more time that elapses before there is effective
action to get rid of it, the more difficult and expensive the
task will be.
2. In that report you expressed surprise
that more is not done to test and practice better husbandry methods.
The simple reason is that farmers believe that it is totally impossible
to keep cattle away from badgers and their excreta. Studies and
parliamentary questions have shown that determined badgers, and
particularly those emaciated by TB, can gain access to the most
well designed buildings and that their urine can remain infectious
in pasture for a very long time.
3. We all agree that the road traffic accident
survey is potentially a most useful tool in discovering just how
widespread the infection is in badgers. Unfortunately it has been
impossible for me to discover its extent. I have been told of
people who have asked to have dead badgers tested and had the
4. Recently, the Godfray report, which you
are no doubt studying, has come to many of the conclusions farmers
had reached, as to the seriousness of the situation and the probable
lack of usefulness of the Krebs trials. Then Defra instituted
local consultation gatherings, and I sincerely trust you will
have details of the results of these.
5. I went to the one in West Devon. A lot
of farmers who had had TB outbreaks, in some cases very serious
ones, were there. (Personally I have never had a reactor, but
I live in fear as it is all around me.) The participants were
unanimous that the government must take action before the situation
gets even worse. The conclusion of the meeting was that Defra
must realise the urgency of the crisis. Some farmers say openly
that they have a limited number of badgers on their farm and that
therefore they remain free of TB. All are convinced that sad experience,
local unofficial action and official experiments in Ireland and
other places has proved the connection between badgers and TB,
and that removing badgers is the only effective way of stopping
serious TB outbreaks.
6. I was impressed by the amount of knowledge
some of the farmers had of badger habits, and by their desire
not to eliminate badgers but only to restore the badger stock
to health, along with the cattle. Many of them had been struggling
with TB for years.
7. Figure 2 in Defra's consultation document
really says it all. The growth of breakdowns was illustrated graphically
at the meeting and is truly horrifying. TB was very nearly eliminated
about 1979. If only the then policy had continued, we would not
now be in this disastrous predicament. It seems that there was
then an effective way of culling badgers where they were found
to be infected in the neighbourhood of a breakdown among cattle.
We have not yet got to the point of studying the best method of
removing badgers, but there seemed to be a general opinion among
farmers, as well as badger groups, that the present method employed
in the Krebs trials is neither efficient nor humane. This ineptitude
has greatly increased the opposition to badger culling.
8. I believe that infected, unhealthy badgers
must be eliminated, and that the subject to study seriously is
how to do this both efficiently and humanely. Being too concerned
about immediate cruelty, such as in killing cubs, can only lead
to much greater slaughter being necessary in the long run.
9. The alternative to culling badgers is
to admit defeat and make cattle farming uneconomic in most of
Britain. No doubt stricter controls on movement will delay the
spread, but they are only in the nature of holding operations,
they are not going to remove any infection that already exists
and is maintained by the badger population. No doubt if left unchecked
TB may become endemic in many other species, which is another
reason for urgent action.
10. There was no mention, among a large
and well informed gathering, of any connection between TB and
trace elements. (Or at least I heard none.) When attributing the
present incidence to various aspects of modern farming, it must
be remembered that TB was endemic until something like 60 years
ago, so it is no use advocating old fashioned customs in this
11. As for vaccination, I have been reading
the ISG's report on this and found it very discouraging, although
I admit I have not yet got to the end of the long paper. Whether
a sufficient allocation of funds could produce an entirely new
method I don't know. But the main problems seem unlikely to be
solved: how to find a test that will distinguish between a vaccinated
and an infected animal, and even how to produce an effective vaccine.
(I well remember having a vaccinated heifer react to a brucellosis
test and having to be killed, although she lived through enough
inconclusive tests to produce a healthy calf. It was a relief
when brucellosis vaccination ended.) My choice would be to forget
trying to develop a bovine TB vaccine and concentrate the scientific
activity on improving the human one, which I gather is far from
perfect. Meanwhile the urgent necessity is to do with badgers
as is done with cows in the hope of eliminating the infection.
12. It cannot be stated too often that it
is essential to take effective action immediately to remove Mycobacterium
bovis from Britain. Obviously it will be difficult, and testing
of cattle will need to continue so long as any remains in wildlife.
But there is at least hope if this course can be followed determinedly.
The present policy, or even the suggested ones, if one can call
them policies, give no hope whatever for a long term solution.
13. One practical suggestion, which is not
greatly canvassed, is that Defra should give more information
as to the whereabouts of TB infected herds. On the few occasions
when I have bought cattle, I have asked Defra if there is TB in
the relevant parish, and they have told me the answer. But I gathered
at the large meeting that this is by no means the universal response.
I believe that in the past the address of infected farms was made
public. No doubt the farmers concerned would object, but such
action would hasten elimination of the disease. It may be impractical
now TB is so widespread. But once the government starts effective
action and there is a decline, public knowledge of its whereabouts
would hasten the decline in incidence.
Chairman, Family Farmers' Association