Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)

MONDAY 18 JUNE 2007

PROFESSOR JOHN BOURNE CBE, PROFESSOR CHRISTL DONNELLY, PROFESSOR JOHN MCINERNEY OBE AND PROFESSOR ROSIE WOODROFFE

  Q60  Chairman: Can I make quite certain that my ears did not deceive me a moment ago when you said with your almost impish smile, "Left to its own devices, culling is not the silver bullet but if it induced some other activity as a quid pro quo it might have a role to play"? Is that what you were communicating to me?

  Professor Bourne: It would be very unfortunate if that happened but that is exactly what I was communicating to you because farmers have made it clear they will not co-operate unless they can kill a few badgers. Farmer co-operation is absolutely essential to get this disease under control. It will be an appalling thing for us if farmers were given the opportunity of knocking off a few badgers just to get their co-operation.

  Q61  David Taylor: Professor Woodroffe used the phrase "a thin strip round the 100 square kilometre area." What do you have in mind by "thin strip"? In the 100 kilometre area what might be the typical population of badgers and how thin is the strip in terms of dispersal, as it were?

  Professor Woodroffe: You would have about 400 or 500 badgers within a 100 square kilometre area. Are we talking about how many in the peripheral area?

  Q62  David Taylor: Yes. How big is that peripheral area?

  Professor Bourne: In the 100 square kilometres, the radius is 5.64 and the periphery is two kilometres.

  Professor Woodroffe: We detect effects of culling on badger population density and ranging behaviour as far as we looked, which was two kilometres outside the cull area. We have searched for evidence of impact on cattle and what we see is that most of the effects on cattle are within that two kilometres and they do not seem to go further than that. The genetic evidence suggests that on later culls badgers are coming regularly from four or five kilometres away.

  Q63  Mr Gray: Why are we using kilometres rather than miles?

  Professor Woodroffe: Because scientists work in SI units. We are in the European Union now.

  Professor Bourne: The total area of two kilometres periphery is about 80% of the inside core area.

  David Taylor: I thought it was more like 45.

  Q64  Mr Cox: I must pick you up on something you just said, Professor Bourne, which I have to say on reflection I would invite you to reconsider. You said, "Farmers have indicated that they will not co-operate unless they can kill a few badgers." That is as flippant a remark as I have heard given against a community of people who are very decent and law abiding, under enormous pressure, and I do believe that you should reconsider that astonishing remark.

  Professor Bourne: Maybe so, but—

  Q65  Mr Cox: Do you reconsider it or not?

  Professor Bourne: Yes, I do. Farmers have consistently stated they will not co-operate with Government in developing improved cattle controls unless there is culling of badgers.

  Q66  Mr Cox: I simply do not accept that as a version. At the moment on the evidence as it exists, the farming community as I understand their position believe that there is a role for culling. We will look at your new report and we will see what Defra does by way of the development of policy but I do not think it assists the debate and it certainly does not help the confidence of the farming community in the integrity of your conclusions to make remarks like that.

  Professor Bourne: The farming community consistently believe, as you say, that culling has a part to play in reducing cattle TB in spite of the scientific evidence which shows that localised culling has no contribution to make except to make it worse.

  Q67  Mr Cox: Let us take as a given that you believe in the conclusions that your group has reached. That does not mean, with respect, that there cannot be legitimate room for disagreement or indeed room for consideration that further research might yield different results. This is the question I really want to come to you about: that you have not in the way in which you have reached your conclusions had to take into account social factors which you overtly and explicitly do. A farmer looking at this will see the results in Ireland and see that dramatic effects can be achieved within the four areas and then be told by your group, because it is clear throughout your report that you do say this, that one of the essential distinctions between Ireland and England is that culling on the scale that Ireland are contemplating would not be socially acceptable. Indeed, you have said that today. If it were possible for a government, let us say, to take compulsory powers to achieve the type of culling mentioned by Professor Woodroffe, simultaneous, across a wide area to achieve elimination over a significant tract of territory, it looks does it not from the Irish results and from your own conclusions that there could be, on the incidence in cattle, some significant effect?

  Professor Bourne: Yes. I responded to that in relation to the question asked by Mr Gray. Clearly it is possible to take badgers out over large areas if there is a will to do it. Professor Woodroffe suggested that even that would be impossible to do in this country.

  Q68  Mr Cox: "In this country" meaning across the country as a whole.

  Professor Bourne: We are talking about the county of Wiltshire. The other question is what level of impact would you expect on cattle TB. The four areas trial gives a range of figures. It is difficult to quantify exactly what the contribution of culling is because of the way the science was designed and conducted. Professor Donnelly has carried out an analysis which suggests the reduction in cattle TB incidence is possibly about 50%. I was speaking with the individual running the Irish TB control programme a week ago, along with Professor Donnelly and Sir David Cox, and the question was asked, "What is happening in the trial areas with respect to cattle TB incidence?" He said, "Well, it is not very clear. It seems to have reduced and now it seems to be plateauing off." It is unclear what impact culling of badgers is having on Ireland. We will have to wait and see.

  Q69  Mr Cox: The published science on it is clear.

  Professor Woodroffe: Could I clarify that? You referred to the effects detected in Ireland as dramatic and it is true that some of the headline figures—

  Q70  Mr Cox: Significant.

  Professor Woodroffe:—that are quoted in that scientific paper are dramatic. There are numbers like 95% bandied around. That was for one of their areas in one of the years. I would like to add a note of caution and draw attention to some issues concerning the interpretation of results from Ireland. You will be aware from looking over our report that one of the effects we detected was that, as you move deeper into our trial areas, the effect of culling appears to improve. There is a trend suggesting that as you go deeper in you get more beneficial effects on cattle TB, which is consistent with finding this greater reduction of badger population density in those areas and smaller effects on badger prevalence and infection. All of that is consistent. In Ireland, where they were not able to identify an area that was completely bounded by geographical barriers to badgers, they had what they call buffer areas and these buffer areas were six kilometres wide.

  Q71  Mr Cox: They took out at the same level as the removal areas.

  Professor Woodroffe: They have never published the cattle incidence data from those areas.

  Q72  Mr Cox: I understand it exists.

  Professor Woodroffe: I am sure the data must exist but those data were never published.

  Q73  Mr Cox: If it were inconsistent with their conclusions, it would be scientifically dishonest, would it not? What are you suggesting?

  Professor Woodroffe: I am suggesting that we would love to see those data.

  Q74  Mr Cox: These are reputable scientists. If the data was contradicted by information in their possession which they have not published, it would be scientifically dishonest. Are you seriously suggesting that the Irish scientists are capable of that type of deception?

  Professor Woodroffe: No, I am not accusing anybody of deception. Their peer-reviewed paper does not include that information which would be informative to the debate.

  Professor Bourne: What we are suggesting is the assessment we presented to ministers, when the Irish data was published in 2006. There is evidence for a substantial impact on cattle TB incidence as a result of culling in the four areas trial but it is not possible to be precise about the extent of that impact—

  Q75  Mr Cox: You are saying you do not have all the data.

  Professor Bourne:—because of trial design and data accumulated and the way that data was analysed.

  Q76  Mr Cox: The Irish trial was reviewed, was it not, by Professor Godfray against whom I appreciate you have already registered a number of criticisms? He presented a report of the four areas culling trial in which he and his panel expressed themselves to be entirely satisfied, not necessarily with the entire quantitative data, but with the conclusion that very significant results had been achieved.

  Professor Bourne: Which is totally consistent with the report we presented to ministers and consistent with exactly what we are saying now.

  Q77  Mr Cox: There we sit with the farming community looking across the Irish Sea and seeing that, with a will, with a different social attitude to quote the expression that your report uses, genuine, significant effects can be made with the instrument of culling. That is how they will see it, is it not?

  Professor Bourne: Of course. Let me remind you: in the report we do make the point that elimination of badgers, or culling to virtual elimination cannot make an impact. We accept that elimination of badgers would make an impact if it was achievable. Let me take you back to 1999 when we started this work. It was made very clear to us by ministers of the day—and they have not refuted it since—that elimination of badgers over large tracts of the countryside was not an option for future policy.

  Q78  Mr Cox: Is it not the function of science—?

  Professor Bourne: It was on that basis that we designed the trial. We also had to take into account welfare considerations with respect to method of culling used and limitations on culling with respect to ensuring that cubs were not killed or died underground.

  Q79  Mr Cox: You had a closed season.

  Professor Bourne: Yes. Those were the clear, political limitations that we operated under. I have no reason to believe that those political limitations have been changed.


 
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