Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Report


History of the inquiry

9. Cattle TB, or Bovine tuberculosis, is an infectious disease of cattle caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). Cattle TB can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, llamas, dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals, including human beings. Defra describes the disease as "one of the most difficult animal health problems currently facing the farming industry in Great Britain."[3]

10. The nature of the relationship between the level of infection of cattle TB in badgers and the spread of cattle TB in the national herd is a subject which the EFRA Committee and its predecessors have considered on several occasions over the past nine years.[4] This reflects the serious impact of cattle TB on animal health and the farming industry and the implications for human health. The Agriculture Committee Report on the subject in 1999 recommended that the government create "a well-defined policy on the control of bovine TB in cattle which will reduce the incidence of the disease".[5] A well-defined policy does not yet exist. The Government has not yet determined a policy on dealing with the wildlife reservoir of cattle TB (TB-infected animals which remain undiagnosed and untreated in the wild) and has only just set up the new national advisory group on TB as promised in its 2005 strategic framework for the sustainable control of cattle TB in Great Britain.[6] The disease has spread, the cost to the taxpayer has increased to £90m a year and the farming industry has suffered. In 1999, there were 1,660 TB herd breakdowns[7] and 5,929 reactor animals[8] slaughtered in Great Britain. By 2006, this had increased to 3,512 herd breakdowns and 19,963 animals slaughtered. The rate of infection is doubling every four and a half years.[9]

11. Since 1998, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG), a group of seven scientists set up by the Government and chaired by Professor John Bourne, has conducted the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) in order to establish the effects of badger culling on the incidence in herds of cattle TB. The initial scope of this inquiry was to take evidence from the Group, farmers, wildlife groups and Defra on the final conclusions of the ISG when its Final Report was published in June 2007.[10] However, since then it emerged that Professor Sir David King, the then Government Chief Scientific Adviser, had been asked by the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to review the conclusions of the ISG Report—he reported in July 2007—and the current Secretary of State has announced that he would wait to hear the conclusions of the Committee before making a decision on whether or not badger culling would form part of the Government strategy for dealing with cattle TB. In the light of these developments, we decided to take further evidence.

12. When it announced its initial two evidence sessions, the Committee chose on that occasion not to invite written evidence but, instead, interested parties were invited to suggest questions for us to put to witnesses. The Committee took evidence on six occasions. A list of witnesses can be found on page 63. We are most grateful to all those who gave evidence to our inquiry.

13. We also made two visits during the course of our inquiry. We met farmers, vets and NFU officials in a cattle TB "hotspot" area in Devon who provided us with an insight into the commercial and human dimension of the effect on farming of the disease. We also visited the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) in Weybridge to hear how work towards cattle TB vaccines is progressing. We also received a private briefing on the practicalities of the RBCT from Defra officials. Both visits and the briefing were extremely useful to our inquiry and we are grateful to those who met us.

3 Back

4   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of 2005-06, Bovine TB: badger culling, HC 905; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Thirteenth Report of 2003-04, Bovine TB, HC 638; Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of 2002-03, Badgers and Bovine TB, HC 432; Agriculture Committee, First Report of 2001-02, Badgers and Bovine TB: Follow up, HC 92; Agriculture Committee, Fifth Report of 1998-99, Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis, HC 233. Back

5   Agriculture Committee, Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis, para 130  Back

6   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Bovine TB: Strategic Framework for sustainable control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in Great Britain, a sub-strategy of the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy for Great Britain, 2005  Back

7   A "breakdown" means when one or more cattle in a herd shows evidence of exposure to M. bovis, the infectious agent of cattle TB. Back

8   "Reactor" cattle means animals reacting positively to the tuberculin skin test. Back

9   Q 9 Back

10   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence: Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, June 2007 Back

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