Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Family Farmers' Association


  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 request refused.

  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 case.

  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.

Pippa Woods,

Chairman, Family Farmers' Association

May 2004

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