Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Fourth Report


Commissioning of the King Report
1.We consider it unfortunate and unsatisfactory that Sir David King and his group of experts did not meet the ISG to discuss their work as we believe that if they had done so, a more constructive dialogue between the two groups of experts might have been established. We welcome the fact that Professor Bourne and Sir David King have now met to discuss their conclusions, and we would encourage this dialogue to continue between the former members of the ISG and the new Government Chief Scientific Adviser. (Paragraph 75)
2.The Secretary of State's undertakings to meet Professor Bourne and others, and to consider the conclusions of our report, are welcome as an indication that he will take personal responsibility for the final decision on how to control cattle TB. However Defra ministers' apparent reluctance to meet Professor Bourne to discuss the final results of the work he and the ISG have been doing for Defra and its predecessor for 10 years is both very disappointing and discourteous. (Paragraph 84)
Cattle-based measures
3.We are surprised and concerned that, in the six months since the publication of the ISG's Final Report, Defra has not yet initiated a cost-benefit analysis of the options based on cattle controls recommended by the ISG in order to inform its decision on future policy on cattle TB. It should do so. (Paragraph 116)
4.It is important that research continues to fill the gaps in the scientific knowledge on cattle TB identified by the ISG and others, and Defra must ensure that funding for this research is found. In particular, we recommend that the Government decides in the next six months whether further research on establishing the exact means of transmission is necessary. (Paragraph 117)
Lack of a clear strategy to tackle Cattle TB
5.In the light of the increasing incidence of cattle TB, and the cost to both the taxpayer and farming industry, Government must now make a decision on what its strategic objectives in relation to this disease are. The impact of the disease has reached a stage where further procrastination is unacceptable. Defra's first strategic goal should be to ensure that the impact of the disease diminishes every year. It must make clear that, even if it is feasible, total eradication of the disease is still a very distant goal. (Paragraph 122)
6.Cattle TB is the most serious disease facing livestock in this country. A reduction in funding at the risk of the disease spiralling out of control and eventually affecting England's export market is not justified. The rapid increase in the scale of this zoonotic disease continues to warrant Government involvement and financial support with the aim of reducing its incidence. The Government forecasts expenditure on cattle TB to increase to an annual cost of £300 million to the taxpayer if no further action is taken to control the disease. The policy options recommended by this Report will involve increased expenditure for the Government, but the Government must spend now to save greater expenditure in the future. (Paragraph 125)
Advice to Defra
7.We welcome the establishment of the new bovine TB Science Advisory Body which should help inform and monitor the effects of the policy decisions that Defra must make very soon. It should be given clearly defined roles in how it should provide advice to the Government. (Paragraph 134)
8.In addition, Ministers must ensure that full use is made of the wealth of knowledge, based on ten years of dedicated work, represented by the ISG as well as the continuing work of some of their members in this field. (Paragraph 135)
What the Government's Cattle TB strategy must include
9.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. (Paragraph 136)
Cattle-based control measures
10.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. (Paragraph 143)
Recommendations of the ISG on biosecurity
11.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. (Paragraph 166)
12.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. (Paragraph 180)
13.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. (Paragraph 181)
14.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. (Paragraph 182)
15.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. (Paragraph 183)
16.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. (Paragraph 184)
17.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. (Paragraph 185)
18.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. (Paragraph 186)
19.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. (Paragraph 189)
Compensation paid for slaughtered animals
20.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. (Paragraph 191)
21.The Government must show its commitment to finding a way to ease the grip that cattle TB has upon the country. To do this, its policy must be to reverse in the short term the rising level of incidence of the disease with a long term goal of eradication through the use of vaccines. (Paragraph 192)
22.The Government must continue to fund research into vaccines and the efficacy of biosecurity measures. It must also continue not only to fund the routine testing of cattle, but must examine carefully the benefits of increasing the frequency of testing and the introduction of the parallel use of gamma interferon testing alongside the tuberculin skin test. (Paragraph 193)
23.More frequent and thorough testing will lead in the short term to an increase in the number of cattle reactors that are found and slaughtered. (Paragraph 194)
24.The Government must re-consider the levels of compensation currently paid to farmers and must ensure that it does not shirk its responsibility to pay farmers a fair price for their cattle. (Paragraph 195)
25.The Government cannot countenance the reduction of its spending on the disease at this stage given the advice from the ISG that current cattle controls are not stringent enough. Defra must ensure that a cost benefit analysis (including farmers' costs and benefits) is prepared of the cattle-based measures recommended by the ISG and its agencies to ensure that it is able to plan for the proper levels of expenditure needed to fulfil its cattle TB policy. (Paragraph 196)
26.To match the Government's commitment to fight the disease, it is right that farmers may be asked to increase their own spending on pre- and post-movement testing and on-farm biosecurity measures. We acknowledge that this could mean an additional financial burden for farmers, as well as an unwelcome increase in the time and effort already spent by farmers and vets on the administrative burden demanded by the testing regime. The farming industry is already suffering from the financial and emotional consequences of the steady increase in the number of cattle TB breakdowns, but it must work together with the Government, veterinarians and scientists to monitor the outcome of measures taken to tackle the disease if we are to plug the fundamental gaps in our understanding of how cattle TB is transmitted. (Paragraph 197)
27.  We have recommended that the culling of badgers in high risk areas should in principle be licensed under the Protection of Badgers Act to counter the spread of cattle TB provided that the licensee is able to fulfil conditions based on the findings of the ISG Report. The Government must provide a practical framework of guidelines for Natural England as the licensing authority. The farming industry must accept that the Government is unlikely to fund the culling of badgers as a method of tackling the wildlife reservoir. Whilst the farming industry is likely to have to bear the costs of any cull if it chooses to go down that road, farmers must also accept that culling, in accordance with the conditions agreed between the ISG and Sir David King, cannot become the cornerstone of a Government TB policy as it would not be suitable as a control method in all areas. Other cattle-based measures, including vaccines, must be employed and that is where the focus of the Government's spending should be in future. (Paragraph 198)

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