1. Cattle TB is an infectious disease that is
one of the most serious animal health problems in Great Britain
today. The number of infected cattle has been doubling every four
and a half years. The consequential growing cost of the disease
to the taxpayer and to the farming industry is unsustainable.
In "hot spot" areas where the prevalence of the disease
is highest, the farming industry has reached a breaking point
as the disruption to business in both human and economic terms
has become unacceptable. The final straw for many farmers has
proved to be the introduction of a new system of valuations for
their slaughtered cattle which has proved inequitable in many
2. The increase in incidence of cattle TB suggests
that the Government's current method of controlling the disease,
that of surveillance, testing and slaughter, is not working effectively.
Our visit to Devon, one of the hot spot areas, illustrated the
growing frustration felt by farmers in that region who are sceptical
that testing and biosecurity, measures recommended by central
government, are not able in the short-term to break the cycle
of infectivity between cattle and badgers.
3. Our Report does not intend to be the definitive
account of the disease. Our inquiry initially focussed on the
conclusions of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG),
which was set up by the Government in 1998 to conduct the Randomised
Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) in order to establish the effects
of badger culling on the incidence in herds of cattle TB. The
ISG published its final report in June 2007. The ISG concluded:
"After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data
presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we
conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to
the future control of cattle TB in Britain."
However, a subsequent review of the ISG's Final Report, produced
by the then Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King
at the Government's request, produced a different interpretation
of the same basic data. Both reports said that badger culling
would have an overall beneficial effect. However, whilst the
ISG concluded that culling would make a "modest difference"
in the incidence of cattle TB, the King report concluded that
at 300km², culling "would have a significant effect
on reducing TB in cattle".
It appears that the main conclusions of the two reports differ
mainly because the ISG concluded that it was not practically or
economically feasible to carry out culling on the scale necessary
to gain beneficial effects. Sir David King's group of experts
did not include the practicalities or costs of culling in its
4. Our conclusion is that there is no simple solution
that will control cattle TB. The Government must adopt a multi-faceted
approach to tackling the disease, using all methods available.
The Government's strategy for cattle TB should include: more frequent
cattle testing, with more frequent and targeted combined use of
the tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon test; the evaluation
of post-movement cattle testing; greater communication with farmers
on the benefits of biosecurity measures; the deployment of badger
and cattle vaccines when they become available in the future;
and continued work on the epidemiology of the disease.
5. The Committee recognises that under certain
well-defined circumstances it is possible that culling could make
a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of cattle TB
in hot spot areas. However, as there is a significant risk that
any patchy, disorganised or short-term culling could make matters
worse, the Committee could only recommend the licensed culling
of badgers under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992
if the applicants can demonstrate that culling would be carried
out in accordance with the conditions agreed between the ISG and
Sir David King, which indicated that there might be an overall
beneficial effect. These were that culling should: be done competently
and efficiently; be coordinated; cover as large an area as possible
(265km² or more is the minimum needed to be 95% confident
of an overall beneficial effect); be sustained for at least four
years; and be in areas which have "hard" or "soft"
boundaries where possible. We recommend that no application for
a licence should be approved by Natural England, which already
has statutory responsibility for the granting of culling licences,
without scrutiny to ensure that it complies with the conditions
set by the ISG and Sir David King. It is important that were such
a cull approved, other control measures should also be applied.
Any cull must also be properly monitored by Defra. It is unlikely
that such culling would be sanctionable in more than a limited
number of areas. We recognise that culling alone will never provide
a universal solution to the problem.
6. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has put forward
a proposal for an organised licensed cull by farmers, or their
contractors. They believe it would fulfil the conditions agreed
by the ISG and Sir David King. If the NFU is able to meet the
licensing requirements laid down by Defra, can satisfy Natural
England both that it would conduct any cull in accordance with
its animal welfare requirements and would satisfy the conditions
agreed by the ISG and Sir David King, we accept that a licence
for such a cull could be granted.
7. Crucial gaps in the knowledge about cattle
TB and the way it spreads remain. If Defra is to save expenditure
in the long run it must continue to fund work to fill the gaps.
Central to this work must be an answer to the question of what
is the precise mechanism of the infection between badger and cattle.
Defra's approach to future research into aspects of cattle TB
must not be determined simply by its wish to reduce its overall
level of spending on combating the disease.
8. Defra currently faces budgetary pressures.
However, simply saying that more money cannot be found for spending
on measures to control cattle TB is not a solution. The measures
we have recommended will require an increase in financial support
from Defra. However, this is necessary if the Government wants
to avoid ever-increasing expenditure forecast in future years,
which could total as much as £1billion between now and 2013.
Ministerial assertions, driven by Defra's budgetary control problems,
that the budget for cattle TB will be reduced are unrealistic.
Defra has a continuing responsibility to seek to end the incidence
of this disease just as it does with BSE. Defra is now justified
in making a case to HM Treasury for a "spend to save"
policy. But in so doing it will once and for all have to commit
itself to a strategy with clear goals against which progress can
1 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,
Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence: Final Report of the Independent
Scientific Group on Cattle TB, June 2007, p 14 Back
Sir David King, Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers: A Report by
the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, October 2007 Back