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."
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.
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".
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.
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
and 5,929 reactor animals
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.
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.
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 Reporthe reported
in July 2007and 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.