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

Letter dated 20 November 2007, from Professor John Bourne CBE, Former Chairman of the Independent Group on Cattle TB


  I was asked by the Chairman how I reacted to Lord Rooker's comments when our report came out. I replied that I was not sure that the comments reported in the Farmers' Guardian (29 June 2007) could be attributed to Lord Rooker.[1] However, I have since been reliably informed that they were an accurate transcription of tape-recorded comments. Similar comments made in the House of Lords (26 July 2007) have also been brought to my attention.

  Since these comments from the Minister directly relate to the conduct of the ISG and the output of the science programme on which ISG advised Ministers, I would agree with the Chairman of Efra that they warrant a response.

  The essence of Lord Rooker's reported comments was that "we" (Defra Ministers?) were not adequately informed about the scientific findings presented in the report and our interpretation of them; that scientific targets with respect to "—the extent of TB in the badger population, how badgers transmit TB to cattle, that we might have a vaccine" had not been met. Lord Rooker also apparently criticised the ISG for "deviating off into practical and financial issues, which was not really what we were asked to deal with"; and also "not providing cost benefits"!

  I wish to make the following comments on the particular issues raised by Lord Rooker:

1.  Communication of scientific findings to Ministers

  This has been fully covered in our response to Efra. Documents clearly demonstrate that emerging scientific findings were shared and discussed with Defra officials and reported to Ministers throughout the period of our work. Our final conclusions were reported to Ministers almost four weeks before our report was published. My letter to Mr Bradshaw (Ref TBX 284; 23 May 2007; now released to Efra[2]) included the statement that "On the basis of a careful review of all the available evidence, we conclude that badger culling is unlikely to meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain" and "We therefore recommend that future control strategies focus on cattle measures...". This is consistent with advice presented to Ministers following the release of data from proactively culled RBCT areas to Ministers in late 2005.

  It would appear that Lord Rooker was not informed of these exchanges.

2.  Route of Transmission

  Understanding the route of transmission of disease was not a specific objective of the trial, though it was recognized it would be helpful particularly with respect to providing advice on biosecurity aspects of disease control and was covered within our wider recommendations to Defra on associated research.

  It was identified as a key question in our first report to Ministers (Bourne et al, 1998), albeit the last of a long list of questions that would need to be addressed, in Paragraph 1.8 (page 3) and with an appropriate caveat:

    "A further key question, which would be extremely difficult to answer, relates to the route of transmission: if transmission of M. bovis from badgers to cattle occurs, is it by—

    —  direct contact,

    —  aerosol as a consequence of close proximity, or

    —  contamination of pasture or other cattle feed"

  In our second report (paragraph 2.12 D, Bourne et al, 1999), the last of a long list of questions asked, "What are the possible and most probable routes of transmission of infection to, within and between cattle herds—urine, faeces, respiratory discharge?"

  Direct transmission experiments could not be conducted in badgers since no facilities were available for this work. However studies, funded by Defra, were conducted in cattle. One of these studies involving the contamination of food stuff was uninformative, but others, particularly pathogenesis and pathology studies in cattle and badgers, have provided useful evidence of actual and likely transmission routes. These findings were routinely reported to Defra by the scientists involved. They were also presented and commented on in Bourne et al (2007) chapters 4, 7 and Appendix I, and in Jenkins et al (in press). It is surprising that Lord Rooker was not aware of these reported findings, which were discussed in detail with Defra colleagues prior to publication.

3.  Vaccine development

  In its second report to Ministers (Bourne et al, 1999) the ISG "recognized the need for effective vaccines and strongly supports the implementation of the vaccine research programme". We added "Although the vaccine programme is being undertaken by leading experts in the field, we would caution that success cannot be guaranteed, even in the long term".

  In a further report commissioned by Defra (Bourne et al, 2003), we comment (paragraph 1.11) "The option of the use of vaccines should in our view be retained—we have identified areas of research that we believe are necessary to ensure that progress towards taking a vaccine into the field is optimised. It is, nonetheless, clear that there is no quick fix or short cut that can be taken to speedily put in place a vaccine control policy option. In the short, or even longer term, alternative control options will need to be adopted in order to achieve better control of the disease in cattle".

  It is disingenuous to us and to scientists engaged in these projects for Lord Rooker to have made such ill-informed and unhelpful remarks.

4.  Practical issues

  "The RBCT was designed to test the effect on the incidence of bovine TB of two different approaches to badger culling, each of which represented a potential practical policy option—two culling strategies implemented under field conditions and in a way that could be extended into a viable policy" (paragraph 1.4, Bourne et al, 2004).

  The complex relationship between badger abundance and cattle TB risks, as revealed by our work, means that the practical issues—which determine how, where, when, and on what scale badger culling might be conducted—are absolutely critical in determining whether culling would reduce or increase the incidence of cattle TB.

  We consider it was not only a clear part of our remit, but our responsibility, to comment and advise on a number of culling approaches that might be considered to cull badgers. I have no doubt that we would have been criticized had we not done so.

5.  Economics

  The issue of "Would these badger control strategies be cost effective?" (paragraph 1.6, Bourne et al, 1998) was discussed by the ISG with MAFF (now Defra) before the RBCT was launched. The outcome of this was the subsequent appointment by the Minister of an agricultural economist to the ISG, with a responsibility for economic matters. The need for economic evaluation and the research requirements associated with it were considered in detail in our second report to Ministers (paragraph 7.7.1 and appendix D, Bourne et al, 1999). The Group had a clear remit from Ministers to take into account an economic assessment of "—possible sustainable TB control policies". Lord Rooker, then Mr. Rooker, made this appointment.

  Throughout our work we aimed "to present Ministers with a range of scientifically-based policy options which will be technically, environmentally, socially and economically acceptable" (Bourne et al, 1998).

6.  Extent of TB in the badger population

  Evidence on the extent of TB in badgers in trial areas and in the counties adjacent to trial areas is considered in detail in several papers and summarised in the ISG final report (Bourne et al, 2007) with detailed pathology characterised in Jenkins et al (in press). As with other trials and associated datasets, this was previously made available to Defra and it is surprising that Lord Rooker was unaware of it.

  In the light of the ISG's consistent practice throughout of developing its work in close association with the relevant officials and scientists in MAFF and Defra, and discussing its findings with them, I find it inexplicable that Lord Rooker could be reported as having made such a number of ill-informed, and misleading, comments that reflect badly not only on the ISG but also on other scientists engaged in work for Defra.


Bourne, FJ, Cheeseman, CL, Colston, MJ, Donnelly, CA, Eades, S, M, Fine, P, Grenfell, BT, Hewinson, RG, Houghton, S, Morrison, WI, Pollock, JM, Simmons, AG, Woodroffe, R, and Young, DB (2003) Development of vaccines for bovine tuberculosis: Report of the ISG vaccine scoping sub-committee Defra, London.

Bourne, J, Donnelly, C, Cox, D, Gettinby, G, McInerney, JP, Morrison, I, and Woodroffe, R (1998) Towards a sustainable policy to control TB in cattle—A scientific initiative. First Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, London.

Bourne, J, Donnelly, CA, Cox, DR, Gettinby, G, McInerney, JP, Morrison, WI, and Woodroffe, R (1999) An epidemiological investigation into bovine tuberculosis—towards a sustainable policy to control TB in cattle. Second Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, London.

Bourne, J, Donnelly, CA, Cox, DR, Gettinby, G, McInerney, JP, Morrison, WI, and Woodroffe, R (2004) An epidemiological investigation into bovine tuberculosis—towards a science-based control strategy. Fourth Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London.

Bourne, J, Donnelly, CA, Cox, DR, Gettinby, G, McInerney, JP, Morrison, WI, and Woodroffe, R (2007) Bovine TB: the scientific evidence Defra—report.pdf, London.

Jenkins, HE, Morrison, WI, Cox, DR, Donnelly, CA, Johnston, WT, Bourne, FJ, Clifton-Hadley, RS, Gettinby, G, McInerney, JP, Watkins, GH, and Woodroffe, R (in press) The prevalence, distribution and severity of pathological lesions in badgers naturally infected with Mycobacterium bovis. Epidemiology and Infection.

1   Farmers' Guardian, 29 June 2007, "Rooker `open-minded' on badger cull despite report". Back

2   Not printed. Back

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