Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
MONDAY 18 JUNE 2007
BOURNE CBE, PROFESSOR
OBE AND PROFESSOR
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 circumstancesnamely, 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
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
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
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.