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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

MONDAY 18 JUNE 2007

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

  Q80  Mr Cox: You make an extremely fair point. That of course does not always come out in the publication of your results. Is it not the function of science to present a list of options to the Government and allow the politicians to decide what is politically unacceptable? The danger about the interpretation of your report from those who are listening to this and reading it is that you have concluded, as a matter of science, that it can be of no effect. In fact, your conclusions are substantially affected by political and social limitations imposed on them.

  Professor Bourne: We repeatedly say "culling as conducted in the trial." It is important we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians.

  Professor Woodroffe: I would like to acknowledge the work of the Defra Wildlife Unit who are the people that did this work.

  Q81  Mr Cox: Most of them have been sacked of course.

  Professor Woodroffe: Absolutely. They are the people who were confronting animal rights activists on a daily basis and in some cases were being physically threatened. Having been out with them and seen it at the sharp end, I have enormous respect for them. That is an important influence on what is possible and achievable in this country and that is different in Ireland. It is not just a question of politicians making a decision about how things are going to happen. There is a public response that has to be taken into account in planning the logistics.

  Q82  Mr Cox: One thing is for certain: the public response might change if it turned out that bovine TB started in a significant way to affect human health.

  Professor Bourne: Absolutely.

  Q83  Mr Cox: I appreciate it appears from your report, to the educated reader, that you have been set these social and political parameters in which your conclusions are ultimately delivered.

  Professor Bourne: We do extend that and we accept that elimination of badgers would have an impact in the way it can be achieved using techniques we have used in the trial. We are extending those techniques to other operations which would include the same welfare constraints.

  Professor Woodroffe: We have also considered in the course of our report to what extent greater reductions in badger population densities would improve the effect on cattle TB incidence. Given the substantially higher badger population densities in British agricultural environments, given the lack of geographical barriers to immigration, achieving elimination would be extraordinarily difficult, even if you were using snares or gas.

  Q84  Mr Cox: Your data on densities is not particularly good, is it? I read the part of your report that deals with it. You concluded 40% of English conditions in Ireland?

  Professor Woodroffe: We compared the sett densities in the British and the Irish areas prior to culling and we also compared the capture rates.

  Q85  Mr Cox: The main sett densities were not too dissimilar, were they?

  Professor Woodroffe: No, the main sett densities are not such a good indicator of badger numbers.

  Q86  Mr Drew: I have some difficulty with the Irish trial because it has been so spun by both sides. It is difficult to know what the reality is. It is good to re-read the scientific evidence. Unless I have this wrong, the one thing I understood from the Irish trial was that at the end they determined that a culling policy was unsustainable. Is that true or not?

  Professor Bourne: Correct, but nonetheless they are extending culling to the point of elimination in 30% of land mass.

  Q87  Mr Drew: Even though it is an unsustainable policy?

  Professor Bourne: Yes.

  Q88  Mr Cox: It is unsustainable in the long term.

  Professor Bourne: They are calling it a reactive policy. It is reactive in name but in effect it is to eliminate badgers over 30% of land mass. Their argument is, "We are not contravening the Bern Convention because we are not touching badgers on 70% of the land mass." I do not know what the Bern Convention will say about that. I have no idea.

  Q89  Mr Cox: Can we be accurate because it is important that we are accurate. In fact, the Government's official policy in Ireland is that an effective scheme to control tuberculosis in badgers with which cattle may come into contact is now recognised as a prerequisite for the eradication of tuberculosis from the Irish cattle population. That is the official statement from the Irish Government. It is true that the scientists like Griffin have said that it is not sustainable in the long term and they call for a vaccine.

  Professor Bourne: The comments I make in my chairman's overview which relate to 30% elimination I cleared and had written by the guy who is running the TB control programme in Ireland, because I was sensitive about that very point.

  Q90  Mr Cox: You are absolutely right that they are saying 30%, from my contact with them.

  Professor Bourne: He said it was in the public domain and he directed me to the publication where that is absolutely stated. I doubly checked with him: "Are you absolutely sure I can say this? Will you be offended if I say this?" He said, "No, that is absolutely our strategy." At the end of the day I think you have to accept that it is the price society puts on the badger. Clearly in Ireland society has opted not to put a price on the badger. In this country there is a price on the badger and also on badger welfare.

  Q91  Mr Cox: I beg your pardon: they put a price on it in terms of the suffering of the families and the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle.

  Professor Bourne: Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report.

  Q92  Chairman: The message I am getting is that everything you have said is drawn from and is consistent with the findings of the work that you were asked to do. You are not saying to us that the options to do whatever they want to do are not still available to ministers if they were so minded, having listened to what you have said and any other trial or intervention. If they want to come up with a strategy that involves every known possible contributory element to the ultimate elimination of bovine TB, it is up to ministers to choose. You are one part of the menu of information and opportunity. You have delineated in clear terms what your findings are within the terms that you were asked to look at.

  Professor Bourne: That is true, except that by extending our experience from the trial to large areas we are pretty clear about the necessity of culling over a very large area systematically and sequentially for a very, very long time, still maintaining an edge effect so there would be winners and losers. That could have an impact on cattle TB. At the other extreme, it is elimination of badgers across large tracts of the countryside to a point where you will find no badgers or no badgers with TB.

  Q93  Chairman: Even if you followed your thesis of where you think that culling would work, your conclusion was that there are not going to be that many incidents of bovine TB that would be reduced. Is that right?

  Professor Bourne: Exactly. That is the whole point of chapter nine.

  Q94  Mr Gray: On the question of spin or PR, I know it is not your area of expertise but for example you were talking on the Today Programme this morning. You said that culling has "nothing to offer in terms of controlling cattle disease. Culling does not provide the answer." What you meant, in the light of the conversation we have just had, is that under the circumstances—namely, small areas; secondly, no extensive culling across the nation; thirdly, the eradication of the kind we have been talking about, no cubs and all these other things you describe—"under the constraints I was given by ministers, culling has no role to play. In fact, under other circumstances, outside what ministers have said, outside the political arena, it might." Do you not think it would have been better to have said that scientifically there may be a way in which culling would work but I am very sorry; society is not—?

  Professor Bourne: My introductory statement to Farming Today which was not recorded was that one cannot do justice to a 278 page report in a few minutes on Farming Today. After giving that interview to Farming Today, I e-mailed my colleagues and said, "I really threw caution to the wind today by giving Farming Today a 45 minute interview knowing that they would editorially select exactly what they wanted." I understand what you are saying but you have to appreciate we are in the hands of an editorial team. It was exactly the same with the Today guy.

  Chairman: We will set up the Quoted Out of Context Organisation to offer comfort and sympathy to each other.

  Q95  Mr Gray: We know all about that but do you not think that the overall impression, because of that process you describe of selectivity, coming out of Today and all the newspapers is that badger culling does not work but what you should have said is that badger culling does not work under the circumstances that were described to us?

  Professor Woodroffe: Having been the person who took the lead on exploring every form of badger culling that we could come up with that has ever been suggested to us, you make many presentations and every time you give a talk somebody says to you, "Would it not work if you did it this way?" or "Could you not do that?" We have considered systematically every form of badger culling that we, colleagues or opponents could come up with. We have evaluated that in terms not only of our findings from the randomised badger culling trial but also in the light of findings from Ireland, Thornbury and East Offaly.

  Q96  Mr Cox: Hartland?

  Professor Woodroffe: We are familiar with all of the evidence. Interpreting that in the framework of what we now understand on the basis of this nearly ten years of work about the deep, underlying mechanisms that run the dynamics of bovine TB within cattle and badgers in agricultural ecosystems in Britain, we reached the conclusion that badger culling could not contribute meaningfully to TB control.

  Q97  Mr Cox: Except in localised areas.

  Professor Woodroffe: In geographically isolated areas, perhaps it might.

  Q98  Mr Cox: You have said that.

  Professor Bourne: That related to areas that have been badger proofed.

  Q99  Mr Cox: We have looked at 5.16 where there may be impermeable barriers.

  Professor Bourne: We also explain that it is difficult to identify.

  Chairman: It is quite clear that we are still in the work in progress area. We have another session on Wednesday and we have to go and speak to the Minister. I think it is time we moved on to other measures, principally to vaccination.


 
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