Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Report


4  WHAT THE GOVERNMENT'S CATTLE TB STRATEGY MUST INCLUDE

136. Much of the debate over how to control cattle TB has concentrated on whether or not culling badgers would make a beneficial contribution to a TB strategy. However, culling is just one of several strands of disease control that have been investigated over the years. We believe that the best chance of significantly reducing the incidence of cattle TB is with a multi-faceted approach, targeting the disease in both wildlife and cattle, using all available methods that are backed by the findings of well-founded scientific research. Budgeting for such a policy should reflect a spend to save approach.

Cattle-based control measures

137. Scientific evidence shows that cattle-to-cattle transmission is a serious cause of disease spread. A study published in 2005 concluded that cattle movement substantially and consistently outweighed all other variables in predictive power.[172] Studies have shown that a number of undiagnosed TB-infected cattle remain following tuberculin testing, leading to the re-infection within herds and the spread of disease to neighbouring herds and outwards to the rest of the country.[173] The ISG believes that the presence of undiagnosed infected cattle in the national herd is the major factor influencing the spread of the disease.[174] The Badger Trust, among others, has argued strongly in favour of this hypothesis: "killing badgers is not yet known to be of any value whereas the vastly greater problem of infected cattle travelling throughout the country is well recognised".[175]

138. The ISG recommended that the Government persevere with cattle-based controls and concentrate its resources in that area as the only viable way of tackling cattle TB and reversing the trend of increased incidence of the disease. The ISG believed that the Government's primary objective had to be to prevent the spread of the disease into low risk areas by means of cattle-based measures, including the following:

  • High and low risk zones could be created and the movement of cattle from high to low risk areas should be prohibited. The ISG acknowledged that this would protect low risk areas but could exacerbate the incidence of the disease in high risk areas.
  • As a variation on the above, individual farms could be categorised as high or low risk (e.g. disease-free for three or four years and at low risk of a cattle breakdown) and movement controlled between the two categories. Thus, disease-free farms within high risk areas (i.e. TB hotspots) would not be prevented from trading with farms in low risk areas.
  • Pre-movement testing in high risk areas, or areas with a recent history of cattle TB, should involve the combined use of tuberculin skin testing and the gamma interferon test.
  • Post-movement testing should be introduced in some situations, using both the tuberculin test and the gamma interferon test.
  • Additional measures such as the introduction of whole herd slaughter should be considered for multiple reactor herds in low risk areas.
  • Surveillance testing in low risk areas should be more frequent than it is now, with testing intervals at a maximum of three years, or even annually should no additional movement controls be introduced.
  • Annual testing could be applied to all cattle herds in high risk areas.
  • In high risk areas, gamma interferon testing should be used in herds with one or two reactors and no previous history of breakdowns, in order to identify all infected cattle.

139. Professor Christl Donnelly of the ISG told the Committee that in order to ensure that the reproduction rate of the disease was reduced to the extent that it would bring about a downward trend in the incidence of the disease, the Government must either improve the sensitivity of the test or test animals more frequently, or even better, both.[176] The ISG based their recommendations on cattle pathogenesis findings from work being carried out by the VLA and the Institute of Animal Health, and also from extrapolation from a mathematical model created by Sir David Cox, one of the members of the ISG. The model suggested that improving the test's diagnostic sensitivity would speed up the reduction in incidence of the disease.[177] Therefore, the ISG recommended that Defra review the time intervals between repeat testing and also explore methods of achieving more rapid confirmation of infection in reactor cattle. The ISG also recommended that research continued into the development and field testing of improved versions of the gamma interferon test, together with the collection of reliable data on the use of the gamma interferon test. Research has shown that there are different strains of the disease in different parts of the country. The ISG recommends that Defra use this research in conjunction with the tracing of cattle movements in order to gain valuable information about how disease is spread.[178]

140. The Badger Trust agreed with the ISG that annual testing should be introduced across England. Given that this was likely to have huge resource implications for Defra, the Trust suggested that lay personnel should be trained to implement testing as well as vets as a more efficient use of resources.[179] The trained lay personnel, it is suggested, could also take over tasks currently arranged by vets such as organising the removal of reactor cattle from farms, arranging the valuation of cattle to be slaughtered, and undertaking work on the tracing of cattle movements. The Trust also recommended that whole herds be slaughtered where the herd suffered from persistent breakdowns. The Trust believed that the Government should review the use of gamma interferon testing: it considered that the current laboratory infrastructure was unable to cope with the number of gamma interferon tests currently taken and needed upgrading.[180]

141. As mentioned in the previous section, the King Report did not consider the efficacy of cattle-based measures. The ISG did not assess the likely cost of its cattle-based recommendations and we understand that Defra has only prepared a rough estimate of the costs which is likely to be "tens of millions".[181] However, Professor John McInerney, the agricultural economist member of the ISG, told the Committee that:

    The evidence that came out of all the ISG's work is that you get more bang for your buck by pursuing the prospects of better control via cattle measures.[182]

142. A more rigorous testing regime is likely to find greater incidence of cattle TB and therefore increase the number of slaughtered cattle and claims for compensation. The NFU warned that the increase in the use of gamma interferon testing was likely to place a huge strain on the farming industry, particularly in high risk areas already suffering under the current testing regime: "the big worry is that it may destroy the industry before it destroys the disease."[183] In addition, as we have already noted, Lord Rooker told the Committee that the computerised National Cattle Tracing System, which identifies the animals that need testing, was out of date and overburdened.[184]

143. It is important that current cattle-based measures are strengthened if we are to stop the spread of cattle TB into current low-risk areas. We recommend that Defra discuss with the farming industry, veterinary experts and Animal Health the introduction of post-movement testing in respect of cattle moved from high risk areas to low risk areas. These discussions must include an assessment of the performance and functionality of the current National Cattle Tracing System. We support the recommendations of the ISG on the more strategically directed use of the gamma interferon test in both routine and pre-movement testing. Defra must continue to support the majority of the funding of the surveillance, testing, slaughter and compensation of the national herd. The wider use of gamma interferon testing is likely to increase the number of cattle slaughtered as previously undetected infected cattle are identified. We acknowledge that this will be challenging for the farming industry and for Defra.

Tackling risks from the wildlife reservoir

144. Scientific research has confirmed that the badger is a high secretor of cattle TB and a source of infection for cattle. What is not known is how the badger spreads the disease to cattle. However, it seems clear that, if money is to be spent on more intensive testing of cattle across England, other measures must be taken to break the cycle of re-infection between cattle and badgers.

ANIMAL HUSBANDRY AND BIOSECURITY

145. We have already examined the lack of scientific knowledge on the exact method of transmission of disease from badgers to cattle. A consequence of this uncertainty is the debate on the effectiveness of biosecurity (i.e. measures taken to control the exposure of susceptible animals to sources of infection) that farmers can employ on their farms to prevent infection of their cattle by badgers, including whether the investment in biosecurity measures is cost-effective. Defra has stated that "any policy on badger culling requires a clear commitment that the cattle farming industry will adhere to good biosecurity practice and will take reasonable steps to reduce the risks of introducing bovine TB into their herd".[185]

Farmers' attitudes towards biosecurity

146. In a recent online poll run by Farmers' Weekly, 800 farmers rated the biosecurity on their own farms. 18% said that their biosecurity was "squeaky clean", 48% "could be better", but 34% said it was "non-existent".[186] The President of the British Veterinary Association has commented that: "[c]ulturally, there hasn't been a need to pay strict attention to biosecurity in the cattle and sheep sectors—strict measures interfere with, and add cost to, the business."[187]

147. A draft paper prepared by one of our witnesses to this inquiry, Dr Gareth Enticott, entitled Biosecurity, 'Sound Science', and the prevention paradox: Farmers' understandings of animal health draws together information gained from interviews with 60 farmers in England and Wales during 2006 and 2007 to investigate the range of reasons why farmers do and do not implement biosecurity. It looked at "lay epidemiology" and farmers' "fatalism" towards outbreaks. The study investigated whether, when attempting to promote biosecurity measures, Defra had considered the cultural understanding by farmers and vets of the disease.

148. Dr Enticott's study found that anecdotes of likely "candidates" for breakdowns of TB circulate farming communities, creating and perpetuating beliefs about cattle TB, leading farmers to assess their own risk of having a disease breakdown and to attribute many breakdowns to "luck". Many farmers had little motivation for implementing biosecurity measures and felt there was no escape from infection. Dr Enticott told us that "[farmers] are very fatalistic about going down with TB. They do not think there is much they can do about it."[188] There were also different cultural understandings of biosecurity terms—e.g., what constituted a "closed herd". Some farmers might take this to be a herd which had never bought in animals; others would include herds which had bought in the odd calf.[189] This difference in interpretation had important implications for the communication of biosecurity advice to farmers.

149. Dr Enticott's research found that previously "biosecurity" had consisted of farmers relying upon the skin test, the slaughtering of reactor cattle and pre-movement testing. Government sponsored biosecurity advice has been communicated to farmers through various media, including a series of leaflets produced by Defra's Bovine TB Husbandry Working Group (HWG) aimed at farmers. The HWG was set up to identify appropriate and practical advice from evidence and experience. HWG's members include the NFU, Animal health, CSL, the Welsh Assembly Government, Defra, Wildlife Trusts, the Soil Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association.[190] The Group has drawn up a list of measures, based on their usefulness, practicality and cost effectiveness, which are aimed at reducing the risk of transmission of TB in tandem with surveillance of herds and pre-movement testing. The list of measures was published on the website in February 2007.[191]

150. Dr Enticott considered that some of the HWG's advice, including the adoption of new styles of farming, might prove difficult for some farmers to take on board. It was also difficult for the Government to prove that biosecurity worked. The study noted that it was vets, trading standards officers, social networks and the farming press and even the CSL that were the preferred sources of information for farmers.[192] The challenge was to work with the cultural understandings of the disease to help biosecurity achieve cultural currency in the farming community. Dr Enticott told us why he considered Defra's communication strategy did not appear to be working:

    You talk to farmers and firstly you ask them what they do with any communication from Defra and they say, "Well, I throw it in the bin." The approach is leaflets and websites; that is not the way to develop trust in terms of encouraging people to change their behaviour, which is one the most important things we have to do.[193]

151. Dr Enticott questioned whether the lack of an effective Defra communication strategy on biosecurity arose from Defra's lack of belief in biosecurity measures as effective protection against the spread of infection:

    Eight years after the start of Krebs all that has happened is that there is something on the web, two leaflets that might be developed in some ways but that is not very much […] it might be that Defra do not actually want to do this or they do not actually see much value in doing it in terms of its contribution to disease control.[194]

152. Dr Chris Cheeseman, a badger ecologist of some 35 years' experience and a former employee of the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), told us:

    […] we cannot give farmers specific advice that if you follow this particular regime you will reduce the risks of transmission on your farm by 50% or whatever […] we cannot give them a prescription for reducing risk because we do not fully understand at the moment just what the risk factors are and how they rank.[195]

153. Dr Cheeseman told the Committee that the CSL had attempted to identify the risk factors on farms.[196] The CSL had produced an "Investigation of potential badger/cattle interactions and how cattle husbandry methods may limit these". The study aimed to investigate the extent of badger visits to farm buildings in TB hotspots in SW England and identify why badgers visited farms. It surveyed 36 farms between July 2003 and June 2005; and found low standards of biosecurity with the majority of cattle housing and feed stores accessible to badgers and other wildlife. Signs of badger activity were detected on 39% of farms surveyed, 29% of which was infected with M. Bovis.[197]

154. A more detailed study of badger activity was carried out at 6 farms. Video and camera surveillance showed that:

  • Badgers visited more frequently during the late spring/summer and during warmer weather
  • Badger visits were associated with feeding activities. They fed on all stored feeds available and at all times of year, but foraged on cattle cake in particular.
  • Although feed stores were the most frequently visited buildings on the farmyard, badgers entered every building they could.
  • Physical contact between badger and cattle was observed in buildings, but on pasture a minimum distance of 4m was observed at all times between cattle and badgers.
  • Electric fencing was successful at keeping badgers out of facilities and buildings. Badgers then tended to forage more widely on fields. If fencing was removed, badgers returned to the buildings.
  • At the time of the study, few farmers appeared to invest in measures to prevent badgers from accessing stored feeds.

155. Dr Robbie McDonald, Head of Wildlife Disease Ecology at CSL, told the Committee that it was "entirely reasonable" for farmers not to suspect the level of badger activity that could be taking place on their farms until they were shown documentary evidence.[198] Video and camera surveillance of 40 farms had shown that badgers visited 50% of those farms, and in 10% of farms the badger activity recorded was high.[199] CSL is now assessing the cost-effectiveness of different farm husbandry measures to reduce risks associated with contact between badgers and cattle. The project, to be completed in 2009, aims to answer three questions:

  • What husbandry measures are effective at reducing or preventing badger visits to farm buildings?
  • What would those measures cost?
  • Are the measures cost-effective?[200]

156. It was important for farmers to secure buildings, as CSL had found that infected badgers in particular made more use of feed stores and indoor housing to forage for food than healthy badgers, and also infected badgers tended to range more widely than healthy badgers in their night-time wanderings. Farmers the Committee met in Devon believed that it was often sick badgers that visited farm buildings and some had been seen asleep during the daytime in food stores. CSL hoped to be able to demonstrate that certain measures would reduce the number of badger visitations to farms and also that those measures would be practical for farmers to work with on a daily basis.[201]

157. Dr Cheeseman noted that some farmers were very diligent and were prepared to take considerable measures to protect their farms. He gave one example of the difficulties farmers faced in securing their farms where the farmer had raised mineral licks off the ground and installed roller shutter doors on his feed stores but his farm complex could not be completely secured as he had eight points of access for milk tankers and other vehicles that could not be closed off.[202] The farmer considered it futile to invest in the possible solution of electrified grids (at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds) as he was unable to protect his cattle from contact with badgers when they were in his fields anyway. Although there were farmers who wanted to try to maintain good standards of biosecurity, Dr Cheeseman thought that the majority of farmers did not give it a lot of thought.[203]

158. Dr Enticott suggested that a more personal approach was needed to communicate the importance of biosecurity to farmers, similar to the system adopted in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government has established three "Intensive Treatment Areas" (ITA) within hotspot areas in Wales in order to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of increased use of the gamma interferon test, improved biosecurity and wildlife measures. The Biosecurity Intensive Treatment Area in South Wales runs a voluntary scheme which pays for local veterinary surgeons to visit participating cattle keepers to provide specific advice on realistic and achievable actions for them to help reduce the risks of TB transmission. Farmers within the boundary of the ITA have been invited to participate in this voluntary scheme and the response to the scheme, and the first visit by local vets, has been very positive. Arrangements are in place to evaluate fully the Biosecurity ITA with a view, if appropriate, to extending it across Wales.

159. Dr Enticott's study found that following the handling of issues such as the Single Farm Payment, BSE and FMD, farmers appeared to have lower levels of trust in Defra. In particular, farmers held a widespread belief that the countryside was under attack from those people sitting in distant offices who knew little about the reality of country living. There was mistrust over the way the culling in the RBCT was handled and farmers often referred to how many badgers they thought were left behind by the cull as evidence of the trial's flaws. The study also found that biosecurity was associated with the idea of highly-intensive factory farming, and farmers were reluctant to "Colditz" their land as they were keen to preserve the traditional styles of farming. One farmer said "it's a farm, it's open —that's what farming is".[204] Dr Enticott told the Committee that it was advice to fence off areas of land that farmers objected to most, particularly if farmers felt it was an unwarranted cost.[205]

Recommendations of the ISG on biosecurity

160. As already noted in the previous section, in its final report the ISG had acknowledged that the circumstances that predisposed herds to breakdowns had never been clearly understood. Therefore, as part of its work, the ISG developed, with Defra, several case studies to identify risk factors associated with TB herd breakdowns. The ISG found that risk factors were different in each region and it was not possible to identify overarching risk factors present in all regions. Amongst the factors identified as increasing the risk of a breakdown were the following:

  • The use of covered yard housing
  • Having cattle brought on from farm and market sales
  • The use of two or more premises
  • Feeding silage and growing hay
  • Having sandy soils or mixed deciduous woodland
  • Farmer being unaware of badger setts on the farm
  • Not moving-on yearling stock
  • Not using manure or fertilisers
  • Not having pasture[206]

161. In addition, the ISG noted that case studies on cattle herds in different countries had led to widely different recommendations on the practices expected to reduce TB.[207] In another case study of UK farms, transient breakdowns appeared to be more influenced by purchase of cattle, whereas persistent breakdowns were mostly affected by management factors relating to herd enterprise, silage storage and density of badgers.[208]

162. The ISG, like others, noted that lack of information about the methods of transmission of TB between cattle and badger made it difficult to recommend effective approaches towards the management of cattle and badger contact:

    Separating cattle and badgers by badger-proof fencing might occasionally be appropriate for some farms. More generally, common sense measures could be applied in some circumstances to keep badgers out of buildings and feed stored. We recommend that research effort into ways of keeping badgers and cattle apart be continued.[209]

163. The ISG concluded, and we agree, that there is sufficient evidence from the findings that by applying the broad principles of biosecurity (taking into account cattle movements, minimising cattle to badger contact, taking greater care with feeding and housing practices) it could be possible to reduce the risk of cattle becoming infected by other animals.[210]

164. However, in its conclusions in chapter ten of the Final Report, the ISG noted that there is a lack of information about the "precise mechanism of transmission of infection between badgers and cattle (and vice versa) which makes it difficult to make confident predictions about effective approaches to biosecurity".[211] The ISG thought that it should be possible to design badger-proof containers for feed and feeding troughs, despite the fact that badgers are strong and agile and able to gain access to a large variety of containers and troughs. The ISG also noted that fencing capable of keeping badgers out of buildings or pasture was necessarily substantial in scale and therefore costly to install and maintain. It was not always possible to fence off setts or latrines as badgers were able to dig and climb. The ISG concluded that it was not currently possible to make informed recommendations on the best measures to minimise contact between cattle and badgers. It recommended that research continue into this area to develop more specific advice.[212]

165. The previous Agriculture Committee acknowledged the importance of husbandry in the search for practical solutions to the spread of cattle TB,[213] as did the our predecessor EFRA Committee which recommended in 2004 that that:

    Farmers should be aware that the Minister takes the view that good animal husbandry has a significant role to play in controlling bovine TB, and that he is considering using a number of powerful levers to ensure that best practice is followed. Notwithstanding their reservations about focussing on husbandry, rather than badger culling, we recommend that farmers demonstrate that they take their own responsibilities seriously by following best practice guidelines in relation to husbandry. Given that badger culling is unlikely to begin imminently, and that in any event it is likely to form only part of the response to the disease, it is vital that no stone is left unturned in dealing with bovine TB.[214]

166. Whilst hard evidence does not exist as to which animal husbandry measures are most effective in reducing the risk of infection from badgers, it would seem common sense that all farmers should employ a high degree of biosecurity on their farms and in cattle TB hot spot regions biosecurity should start in the areas on their farm which they have control over—the farm buildings. Whilst Defra must continue to support research into evaluating the effects of employing different animal husbandry measures on farms, it is right that Defra should expect a commitment from farmers to improve standards of animal husbandry and biosecurity on farms by securing farm buildings such as feed stores to which badgers are known to seek access. However, it also seems that husbandry advice delivered through leaflets and the Defra website is not getting the message across effectively. Defra must recognise that there is evidence that farmers have little confidence in centralised biosecurity advice that fails to provide evidence of the effectiveness of biosecurity methods. A more pro-active approach using vets based in the local communities, creating biosecurity "partnerships" between farmers and vets, may be more effective. Defra should examine the Welsh Intensive Treatment Area measures with a view to introducing such farm visits by vets in high risk areas in England.

Culling

167. The ISG found that there were "modest" benefits from the proactive culling carried out in the RBCT, but concluded that the benefit was outweighed by the economic cost of implementing the cull:

168. The ISG was clear that it advised Government against the inclusion of badger culling in its TB control strategy. Furthermore, Professor Bourne told the Committee that he did not believe that farmers, independent of Government, would be able to organise a licensed cull on the scale necessary to achieve even modest benefits.[216] The Final Report had listed the practical and economic issues surrounding the organising of a cull which it concluded would be insurmountable for those attempting a licensed cull:

  • The benefits achieved by culling would be modest in comparison to the cost of conducting culls;[217]
  • A large number of expert, skilled staff would be necessary to conduct the cull, and
  • Simultaneous culls over 300km², repeated over at least four years, would require co-ordination and a significant level of organisational and administrative management.[218]

169. The King Report recommended that badger removal should take place alongside applications of controls on cattle, but only in areas with a high and persistent incidence of TB in cattle. It concluded that the minimum overall area within which badger removal should take place was 100km2—and stated that increasing the overall area would increase the overall benefit. The Report recommended that removal should be carried out humanely by competent operators and removal should be sustained beyond four years.[219]

170. Dr Chris Cheeseman, who had worked on the RBCT, raised the issue of landowner compliance and direct action against trapping. The trial had experienced interference with the traps (although the ISG concluded that it had not been on a scale that had affected the results). Dr Cheeseman thought that it was likely that a licensed cull would receive more opposition than a scientific experimental cull.[220]

171. Dr Cheeseman was also certain that the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust would not allow culling on their land.[221] The National Trust have since told the Committee that they accepted the findings of the ISG: "We firmly believe that any significant decrease in BtB in cattle could only be achieved through such large scale and draconian measures to reduce badger numbers as to make the option impractical, unaffordable and publicly unacceptable […] It seems that the greater part of the problem relates to cattle to cattle transmission of the disease and there are signs that good control of cattle movements and pre-movement testing can make a much greater difference than culling of badgers." However, the Trust made clear that it is "not against the culling of badgers per se, but the purpose needs to be clear and the measure effective […] Our response towards any officially-licensed badger cull would therefore be consistent with the above position."[222]

172. Farmers we spoke to in Devon had raised the issue of animal rights activism, and the fear of reprisals from animal rights groups and the local community, as a disincentive to participate in a cull. Farmers wished for the licensing process to provide some anonymity for applicants. It was important to farmers that Defra should provide guidance to farmers and firm leadership in the face of opposition.

173. The NFU believed that the findings of the ISG supported an application for a licence to cull badgers, provided the application for a cull was of the size and duration of the cull extrapolated by the ISG to have a beneficial effect. The NFU told us that they believed that it would be possible to organise a cull in partnership with Defra (who would need to assist with facilitation, mapping, monitoring, carcase disposal and support) via the creation of "TB Control Strategy Groups". These groups would include farmers, vets, Animal Health and other stakeholders. Culling would involve shooting and cage traps in the short-term with gassing and snaring if those methods were allowed in the longer term. The NFU suggested that culling should take place in disease hotspot areas, within a framework of larger control areas of at least 300km2, ideally bounded by hard boundaries.[223] Phil Allen, Holsworthy NFU Chairman, told the Committee in Devon that in the Devon hotspot area, designated by the NFU as "VLA 9", there had been 1,200 signatories to the proposed scheme which represented 75-80% of ownership of the possible land mass.

174. However, it is unlikely that an alternative method of culling to trapping or shooting would be permitted under licence as Lord Rooker told the Committee that of the culling methods considered by the ISG, only "lamping" (the shooting of free-running badgers) and the trapping and shooting of badgers were acceptable and thought to be humane for the purposes of the RBCT and the possibility of licensed culling. Both snaring and gassing had been ruled out.[224] However, Lord Rooker did not rule out the possibility that licensed culling would be allowed, and confirmed that Natural England would be the agency responsible for issuing licences and Defra would be responsible for setting the framework conditions for licensing.[225] But on no account would Defra allow the licensing of culling to be a "free for all" for farmers.[226]

175. During the RBCT a moratorium was placed on the issuing of licences for the culling of badgers. That moratorium is now at an end and Lord Rooker told the Committee that there were already applications in the system pending the Government's decision on culling.[227] Defra recognised that legal challenges were likely whether the Government decided that licences should be withheld or whether they were granted. However, Lord Rooker said that he wanted the Government to decide on this issue, not a judge.[228] He wanted a Government policy on this matter which had parliamentary, industry and wildlife-group backing.

176. Professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of Sir David King's group of experts, told the Committee that if a cull were to be implemented, monitoring of the badger population would be necessary: "you need to be very clear about what you have actually achieved on the ground for two reasons. One is to understand why you have succeeded, but the second, if things do go wrong, is to understand why you failed, and that is a very important part of trying to assess the performance of any kind of large-scale intervention."[229]

177. The former members of the ISG told the Committee that they felt that the King Report severely underplayed the effects of perturbation and warned that the Government had to recognise that if it allowed culling: "there will be winners, there will be losers and there will be disease spread."[230]

178. The Badger Trust and RSPCA had both welcomed the ISG's Final Report and conclusions that culling had no meaningful part to play in cattle TB control. However, the Badger Trust were concerned that licensed culling might be offered to farmers as a quid pro quo by the Government for the implementation of stronger cattle-based measures.[231] The RSPCA also voiced a concern that, if licensed culling were allowed, the operators were not likely to be the skilled, trained people who had worked on the RBCT.[232] Whilst Lord Rooker thought it possible that individual licence holders could buy in trained field staff to conduct humane culling, he made it very clear to the Committee that Defra would not be providing logistical support to a licensed cull if it were agreed to.[233] It is unfortunate that the Government has stood down and then dispensed with those field operatives based at Aston Down and Polwhele, which obviously limits the opportunity to get a cull organised.

179. The Defra Science Advisory Council (SAC) wrote to Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser on 19 December and said that it considered that the scientific evidence was clear that any policy aimed at reducing the incidence of cattle TB must address cattle movements, biosecurity, farm management and cattle husbandry, and improved testing regimes. However, based on the areas of agreement between the ISG and King reports, "some carefully planned and executed culling of badgers may contributed to an effective control strategy in some heavily infected and geographically distinct and isolated areas of sufficient size, but only when coupled with other control measures."[234]

180. As discussed in paragraph 104, the ISG and King reports agree that culling might have a beneficial effect on the incidence of cattle TB, but only if it were carried out in a sufficiently large area with suitable boundaries, in a competent and co-ordinated manner and sustained for at least four years. The culling of badgers could only ever be considered in areas of the country where there is a high risk of cattle TB and which have "hard" enough boundaries to reduce the edge effect, and therefore culling could not be applied nationwide.

181. The ISG's work is the only robust evidential basis on which a badger cull could take place. The Committee recognises that the South West Region of the NFU had responded positively and practically to that position by putting forward a proposal for a cull which would replicate the terms of the RBCT but which would be carried out by farmers or their representatives. The Committee recognises the attractiveness that the NFU's proposals would have to farmers in hot spot areas who have seen no reduction in the incidence of the disease through use of policy instruments other than culling. 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 will 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.

182. Across the ten areas of the RBCT, 70% of land inside the proactive treatment areas was directly accessible for culling. As part of the licensing process, Natural England should also give consideration to the likely percentage of land area that will be accessible to each applicant for a culling licence.

183. As several applications for licences are already pending, it is likely that there will be a significant number of applications for Natural England to process as part of its existing statutory duty. Therefore, the Government must make sure that Natural England has the necessary resources properly to evaluate applications for licences despite any likely substantial Natural England budget cuts in coming years.

184. The farming industry must accept that it is unlikely to receive any logistical support from the Government and that if it wishes to press ahead with its application for a badger culling licence, it must be able to prove that it is logistically able to co-ordinate a cull and sustain it.

185. For people to be confident that a cull would be carried out in a humane way, any licensed cull must be supervised, regulated and monitored by Defra, or by Defra-approved regulators. Public opinion and the concerns of badger welfare groups should be considered by Defra when drawing up a framework for the licensing of badger culling. However, it is also important that holders of badger licences who are fully compliant with the licence conditions should not be subject to harassment or intimidation from those who oppose badger culling. Advice on security matters must form part of Defra's responsibility to supervise and monitor licensed culls.

186. Were such a cull to take place, efforts should be made to ensure maximum capture of data for further research into the disease and to monitor whether the overall effects are beneficial. We recommend that the effects of any cull on both cattle and badger populations are properly monitored by Defra for this purpose and that in due course the results should be published.

Vaccines

187. Historically there has been some scepticism, voiced to us by the NFU, the ISG and Lord Rooker, over the likelihood that TB vaccines represented a viable policy option: the message had always been that a licensed cattle vaccine was "ten years away".[235] However, as we have already said (see paragraphs 47 to 57), there has been recent progress in developing a diagnostic test which is able to distinguish between a vaccinated cow and an infected cow, and scientists are reasonably confident that a licensed injectable vaccine for badgers could be available from 2009 and a licensed oral vaccine for badgers from 2012. It is still uncertain whether the timescale of 2015 for a licensed cattle vaccine will be achievable, and it also remains unclear whether Defra had a strategy for how a vaccine might be used for badger or cattle. Professor Bourne told the Committee: "I am not persuaded that Defra have given this any thought at all."[236] In their paper to the Committee, Professors Young and Hewinson said that: "[t]he availability of vaccines does not necessarily equate to use: the balance of the costs and benefits will remain a question for the policy makers."[237]

188. The professors told us that additional funding would not bring the current vaccine timetable forward, but it might make the estimates of the timescales involved more robust. They identified areas that would benefit from an increase in funding as: the shortage of testing facilities (as it would allow several strands of work to be carried out in parallel); and research into gaining a better understanding of what constitutes protective immunity to TB.[238] Lord Rooker confirmed that despite his concern over the current budget for cattle TB, funding would not be cut from vaccine research.[239]

189. We are still of the opinion that research into viable vaccines for use on badgers and on cattle remains an important weapon in the battle to control the disease, and the best hope for a widely applicable, long-term solution to the problem of cattle TB. We have been provided with a timeline that shows us that an injectable BCG vaccine for badgers could be available by 2009, but there is no evidence that the Government has a plan for how it is going to use either badger or cattle vaccines once they are available. The Government must make the development of its vaccine strategy a priority in order to guide the scientists involved in the development of both vaccines. We note the Minister's confirmation that research into vaccines for cattle TB will continue to be funded for the foreseeable future, but we believe that there is a case for further funding for vaccine research on an invest to save basis.

Compensation paid for slaughtered animals

190. Previously systems of compensation had allowed farmers to arrange on-farm valuations of their cattle. As already noted, Defra had concluded that there was "robust evidence" that under the previous system animals were being overvalued. However we have heard from the NFU, and from individual farmers in Devon, that the current system using "table valuations" introduced in 2006 seriously undervalues pedigree cattle. In one example we heard that a twenty year breeding programme had produced pedigree cows worth £84,000 for which the farmer had received only £20,000 when slaughtered. Neighbouring farmers added that in the past year they had seen losses of £40,000 as a result of the compensation system which did not recognise the true value of their pedigree cattle. For many farmers, the acute distress of slaughtering apparently outwardly healthy animals which have reacted to the skin test is exacerbated by the unrealistic value placed on the cattle by the table valuation system. The fear for the NFU was that many farms would simply disappear as farmers decided they could not cope with the year on year loss caused by the undervaluing of their stock by the compensation system on top of the increasing testing costs.[240]

191. Defra must review the current table valuation system for compensation of cattle, and other farmed animals, slaughtered owing to cattle TB. It is unfair to farmers of pedigree animals. Compulsory slaughter is a measure to protect the wider industry and society as a whole and it is inequitable for those unfortunate enough to be hit by the disease effectively to subsidise others by receiving artificially low values for their animals. If Defra wishes to explore sharing the costs of animal disease with the farming industry it should be prepared to pay a fair price for cattle which are compulsorily slaughtered. The likely increase in the costs of compensation following this necessary adjustment, together with the rise in costs that are likely to occur if a more rigorous testing regime is adopted, must be factored into Defra's future funding for cattle TB.


172   Gilbert et al., "Cattle movements and bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain", Nature, vol 435, 491-496; 2005. 26 May 2005 Back

173   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 14 Back

174   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 175 Back

175   Letter to Ben Bradshaw MP from the Badger Trust, October 2005 Back

176   Q 105 Back

177   Q 105 Back

178   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, pp 175-179 Back

179   Ev 49 Back

180   Ev 57 Back

181   Q 565 Back

182   Q 531 Back

183   Q 227 Back

184   See paragraph 24. Back

185   Defra, Consultation document on controlling the spread of bovine Tuberculosis in cattle in high incidence areas in England: Badger culling, December 2005, para 30 Back

186   "Biosecurity short of the mark on 82% of farms", Farmers' Weekly, 24 August 2007, p 8 Back

187   Ibid. Back

188   Q 464 Back

189   Q 479 Back

190   http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/abouttb/protect.htm Back

191   Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Bovine TB: Do you know how to reduce your risk? Husbandry best practice advice to help reduce the risk of bovine TB transmission, May 2007 Back

192   Dr Gareth Enticott, Biosecurity, 'Sound Science', and the prevention paradox: Farmers' understandings of animal health, Cardiff University, p 11 Back

193   Q 473 Back

194   Q 482 Back

195   Q 485 Back

196   Q 485 Back

197   http://www.defra.gov.uk/science/project_data/DocumentLibrary/SE3029/SE3029_4086_FRP.doc Back

198   Q 491 Back

199   Qq 491, 494, 495 Back

200   http://www2.defra.gov.uk/research/project_data/More.asp?I=SE3119 Back

201   Q 496 Back

202   Q 486 Back

203   Q 487 Back

204   Biosecurity, 'Sound Science', and the prevention paradox: Farmers' understandings of animal health, p 18 Back

205   Q 478 Back

206   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 129-132 Back

207   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 133 Back

208   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 133 Back

209   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 174 Back

210   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 138 Back

211   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 173 Back

212   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 174 Back

213   Agriculture Committee, Badgers and Bovine TB, para 8 Back

214   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Bovine TB, para 35 Back

215   Ev 103 Back

216   Q 430 Back

217   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, p 157 Back

218   Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, pp 169-170 Back

219   Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers: A Report by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, October 2007, para 7 Back

220   Q 511 Back

221   Q 508 Back

222   Ev 177 Back

223   NFU: "7 point action plan". See "Industry unite over a seven point culling plan", Farmers Guardian, 1 September 2006 Back

224   Q 583 Back

225   Q 595 Back

226   Q 574 Back

227   Q 630 Back

228   Q 634 Back

229   Q 422 Back

230   Q 460 Back

231   Ev 49 Back

232   Q 179 Back

233   Q 580 Back

234   http://www.defra.gov.uk/science/documents/papers/2007/SAC-TB(07)01.pdf Back

235   Qq 242, 659 Back

236   Q 100 Back

237   Ev 63 Back

238   Qq 314, 315 Back

239   Q 660 Back

240   Q 228 Back


 
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