Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence


BOVINE TB: BADGER CULLING

Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) (BTB 20)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales (NFU) represents the interests of some 55,000 members involved in commercial agriculture, horticulture and farmer controlled businesses. We are grateful for the opportunity to submit evidence to this inquiry into bovine tuberculosis (bTB)on behalf of our membership.

  2.   We understand this inquiry will consider "the key questions that Ministers must address in reaching conclusions on the issues set out in the [Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling] consultation paper" which was launched on the 15 December 2005. Clearly this consultation and its implications are of great importance to our members; however we feel there are a number of other, broader issues which need to be raised in advance of our detailed comments on the consultation document itself.

  3.   Of primary concern is the issue of timing of the implementation of Defra's new policies. Pre-movement testing and tabular valuations are to be introduced within the next few weeks. These will result in an increased financial and bureaucratic burden being placed on farmers; an inequitable method of valuation and an unfair reduction in compensation payments being paid to farmers.

  4.   These increased cattle controls will be imposed on livestock producers in the absence of effective wildlife controls, at least in the short term. Farmers will face increased costs and difficulties as outlined above, whilst at the same time they will remain unable to do anything to address the bTB reservoir in badgers.

  5.   Throughout our negotiations with Defra over a number of years, the combined policies of pre-movement testing, tabular valuations and badger control have always been seen by the NFU to go hand in hand. Despite our objections to aspects of this trio—in particular table valuations—we have always seen the measures as a package, and understood that this is how they would be implemented. We believed that while pre-movement testing has the potential to reduce the spread of TB to clean areas, in the absence of badger control its impact within 12 and 24 month testing areas would be negligible.

  6.   Following consideration and discussion of Defra's announcement made on 15 December 2005, the NFU has adopted a more robust stance. This is based on our continued objection to the introduction of tabular valuations; a lack of firm government commitment towards addressing the bovine TB reservoir in wildlife; and the introduction of pre-movement testing. It is our belief that as these policies stand there will be no reduction in TB incidence, but there will be an increase in hardship for farmers.

  7.   The NFU recently wrote to the Secretary of State to highlighting our concerns and calling for a delay in the introduction of pre-movement testing. The letter, to which a response has so far not been received, made the following points:

  7.1.  The two disease control measures proposed in the Defra's recent announcement are pre-movement testing of cattle and the control of the wildlife reservoir of bTB. Suitable disease control must tackle bTB in all affected species. The NFU is concerned that pre-movement testing will be imposed on the industry in advance of badger control. Our primary objection to this is the imposition of extra costs and bureaucracy on farmers in return for negligible benefits, as the disease will still be present in badger populations.

  7.2.  The NFU has urged the Secretary of State to reconsider her decision and delay the implementation of pre-movement testing until the consultation on badger control is over and a policy of effective culling can begin.

  8.   We highlighted the likelihood of a lack of co-operation amongst our members as a result of these new policies:

  8.1.  "I cannot overemphasise the strength of feeling in the beef and dairy sectors. Indeed at the NFU Council meeting yesterday, the view was unanimous, in a very heated debate, that in a partnership approach, all parts of the strategy must start together. This is true not only in the worst-hit areas, but also in all other areas which feel threatened by the continual spread of this disease. As the situation currently stands, producers see December's announcement as imposing an extra burden on their businesses, accompanied by nothing more than a further delay in tackling the major disease reservoir. Indications are already appearing that this view is leading to a decline in co-operation between farmers and Defra and its associated agencies. The NFU does of course not condone this, but we may have difficulty in preventing such activity."

9.  TABULAR VALUATIONS

  The NFU continues to object to the introduction of tabular valuations, particularly for high genetic value stock, and the absence of an appeals mechanism. This new system could be grossly unfair to many farmers, and is exacerbated by the fact that farmers are unable to address the main cause of bTB and thus effectively reduce the chance of their herds being infected with bTB and animals being slaughtered.

  10.  The figures recently released by Defra applying to animals taken in February 2006 seem to show a complete disregard for the intrinsic value of the UK breeding herd. The NFU highlighted to Defra the problem that only a very small percentage of the breeding and productive herd is actually traded. Therefore the largest part of the UK herd is not considered when market data is collected. We believe the values in the table have substantially undervalued a significant part of the UK herd.

11.  PRE-MOVEMENT TESTING

  The forthcoming imposition of pre-movement testing, in the absence of the promised and appropriate public consultation, could present serious problems to beef and dairy farmers. We have serious concerns over the impact that this will have on our members ability to trade; this is at odds with Defra's assertion, in their document "TB in Cattle—Reducing the Risk: Pre- and Post- movement testing in Great Britain," that "the new controls will have no direct impact on market procedures." As already explained we see pre-movement testing as nothing more than an increased regulatory cost burden imposed on beef and dairy farmers, which will have no real impact in the absence of effective badger control.

  12.   The policy of pre-movement testing is experimental and the NFU have always said that, as such, Defra should pay the costs rather than imposing further financial burdens on farms already unfairly under great economic stress from bTB, when the policy may not even work.

  13.   We also have very real concerns that pre-movement testing will reduce the through-put of cattle in markets and auctions, thus reducing the available market data used to establish cattle valuations under the forthcoming tabular valuations scheme. This could further increase the likelihood of erroneous and inaccurate valuations being made with regard to the value of reactor cattle. As it stands the system is already inherently unfair and will lead to gross inequality amongst compensation received by livestock producers.

  14.   The combined effect of the above two policies will greatly and unfairly endanger the economic survival of many cattle farms in bTB "hotspot" areas.

15.  BADGER CULLING—PRINCIPLES

  The requirement for badger control is both undeniable and unavoidable. Only by tackling the disease in all main reservoirs (cattle and badgers) will effective control of bTB be achieved. A number of culling trials carried out in the UK and Republic of Ireland over the past three decades has demonstrated that culling, if carried out effectively, can reduce TB breakdowns in cattle herds. Without culling, the combined weight of increased cattle controls and an uncontrolled wildlife reservoir of bTB could destroy the very industries which Government policies are trying to protect.

16.  INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC GROUP

  The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) has been at the forefront of research into badger culling in recent years. While the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials have contributed to the debate and provided further evidence of the benefits of badger control, we are concerned that the one method used in the trials, cage trapping over a maximum period of 12 days at any one time, is both ineffective and inefficient. The NFU hopes that further evidence will be considered by the Government alongside the RBCT results.

17.  "EDGE EFFECT"

  One of the main problems associated with the RBCT's "proactive"' cull was perturbation, or the "edge effect." This method of control will have a significant impact on behaviour of these very territorial animals, and unless the majority , if not all, of the family or social group is despatched at the same time, then behaviour is likely to be disturbed and increased ranging may occur, thus increasing disease spread. We feel that the use of gas (see below) is the best option to minimise such behavioural changes and hence avoid perturbation.

18.  CO -OPERATION AND PARTNERSHIP

  Effective control of badgers to curb bTB in cattle is not just the responsibility of farmers and landowners, and Defra must understand this. Disease control is the responsibility of all stakeholders and the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy emphasises this. Therefore we would reject any suggestion that badger control, following the consultation, should be left to the industry alone to undertake. Defra must be involved to assist with planning, organisation and administration of culling; they must also be seen to be involved publicly to reduce the negative publicity which such a move may incur. Furthermore, Defra must remain fully involved because only by working in partnership and fully co-operating with the industry—and the industry co-operating with Defra—will the problems caused by this economically crippling disease be addressed.

  19.   Defra and SVS have access to specific GIS and farm breakdown data which would be required for an effective cull, and this is another area where effective partnerships must be encouraged to develop between Government and the industry.

  20.   In our response to the consultation, we will therefore make it clear that we would consider it grossly unfair to offer no other alternatives than for farmers to undertake culling themselves. We will also push for as many culling methods as possible to be made available for use to allow for flexibility to suit local conditions.

21.  CULLING METHODS

22.   Gassing

  Gassing with CO/CO2 from exhaust gas is a method which the NFU wishes to see considered as a means of badger control. This method of control is believed to be less stressful to the wildlife involved than others currently being investigated. Using gas would enable the occupants of whole setts to be culled in one operation, thus minimising the perturbation which has been linked to the RBCT proactive trials. The training needs for this method of control are also lower, resulting in a speedier skills delivery. With this in mind, however, we have made clear to Defra our strong objection to the loss of the personnel involved in the RBCT. We see these people as a valuable and knowledgeable resource and consider it short-sighted to end their contracts in advance of any badger cull.

23.   Organisation

  Our suggested method for badger culling is the use of gas (exhaust) within areas defined and contained by physical boundaries (such as rivers and motorways). Licences would be issued under the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act for the area as a whole, not for individual farmers and landowners, or their representatives. This would reduce the organisational difficulties of issuing licences to large numbers of operatives and alleviate the worries of many of our members about having their personal details recorded in a database.

  24.   Defra officials, alongside farmers and landowners, would carry out control operations on previously identified setts within the area. Follow-up operations would be carried out in the following weeks and months, and setts would be rendered uninhabitable.

  25.   No agreed control method would be ruled out. The use of stop-snares and shooting, which are both less attractive in terms of efficiency and time required to operate successfully, must still be available for circumstances where gassing is inappropriate or difficult.

  26.   It is the opinion of the NFU that such methods would achieve the greatest landowner co-operation. The NFU is currently involved in surveying members in affected areas of the South West and West Midlands to ascertain likely farmer co-operation with culling, depending on the control method chosen. It is our belief that this would be greater under the circumstances described above than with any other method.

27.   Research into use of Gas

  We are disappointed that Defra is only now evaluating the use of gas as a possible culling method. bTB has been on the increase for a number of years now, and we consider that such work should have begun when this first became clear. This lack of foresight may result in a delay in policy implementation when this decision is made.

  28.   The Krebs report (Bovine Tuberculosis an Cattle and Badgers, 1997) reports that gassing, used between 1975 and 1981, had the following effects:

  28.1.  "Cattle breakdown rate fell. Recurrence of breakdowns on controlled farms fell. In large areas of effective removal, such as Thornbury, breakdowns were fewer for ten years after removal."

  29.   Disappointingly, the ISG appears uninterested in the use of gassing as an effective control method for bTB, on the basis that results took seven years to achieve. However, control operations did not seem to have been carried out with any degree of urgency. The Krebs report describes the durations of operations as thus:

  29.1.  "Removal period relatively short (about 1 week), but post removal operations were long (usually 12 but up to 24 months following initial gassing)."

  30.   The NFU would argue that with organisation and commitment this timescale could be radically improved. Effective and continued clearance could be achieved more quickly.

31.   Shooting and snaring

  In the absence of gassing as a method of badger control, it would be more difficult to convince farmers to involve themselves in shooting and snaring. The skills, training, time, and expense required are significantly greater. We also believe that these methods of culling will lead to piecemeal badger control in small areas, causing maximum disturbance to badger social groups.

  32.   We know from ecological studies undertaken by the ISG that social disruption of badger groups can lead to increased territorial ranging and an increase in bTB spread through perturbation. Consequently, there is a danger that snaring and shooting, when used as the primary or only culling methods, could increase the incidence of bTB in cattle herds, at least in the short term.

  33.   When employed on their own we see these methods as being too slow and cumbersome to be effective in the high badger populations which can be found across the TB hotspot areas.

34.  CONCLUSION

  NFU policy has always called for healthy cattle and healthy badger populations. While incidence of disease continues to escalate and spread, we are in real danger of infecting more and more cattle and badger populations, and over a larger area. We firmly believe that it makes sense to curtail this spread before it becomes irretrievable.

February 2006





 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 15 March 2006