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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 360 - 379)



  Q360  Mr Williams: You say your consideration was based on the ISG report. Did you gather any other scientific evidence to consider when you were reviewing that?

  Sir David King: As I say, we had experts who are very much up to scratch with publications in the literature right up to the present time. Their knowledge was absolutely crucial to this, not my own and not the papers I was reading alone but their very broad-based knowledge.

  Q361  Mr Williams: Did that include an assessment of the work in Ireland on the Four Areas trial?

  Sir David King: Yes, it did, so one of our experts was actually from Ireland and was well versed in that work.

  Q362  Mr Williams: What conclusions did you draw from that work that you were able to feed into your consideration of the ISG?

  Sir David King: We were aware of the fact that the Irish had taken the decision to have a badger cull policy. I think we were also aware of the fact that the incidence of TB in cattle has been reduced in Ireland, both through that and through the better controls on TB in cattle, and at the same time we are aware of the fact that badger behaviour in Ireland is different because of lower densities of badgers, different movement patterns amongst badgers, and of course there is a different approach within Ireland to the methodology of culling, an approach that would not be available to us.

  Q363  Mr Williams: You say that the parameters set by the Secretary of State were that you had to consider these issues with regard to the scientific evidence that was available to you, yet you come to this recommendation that strong action needs to be taken now. Was that the expectation of the type of advice that was expected by the Secretary of State when he asked you to carry out this work?

  Sir David King: Is it possible to distribute a map because I think this really underlies the basis of it?

  Q364  Chairman: Yes, it is possible to give us guidance.

  Sir David King: The map shows the distribution density of the breakdown of cattle herds in Britain with TB.[5]

  Q365  Chairman: Before you go on, on one small point of definition in paragraph 3, you said, "I have considered whether the removal (killing) of badgers in areas of high TB prevalence might ... ." What is the definition of "high"?

  Sir David King: Fortunately, that is effectively shown on this map. What we are showing in the map is simply the herd TB prevalence in the UK. The red dots indicate that prevalence at the present time. This is spreading at the rate of about an additional 18% per annum. This means we have that doubling period I previously referred to as four and a half years. This spread has occurred consistently since about 1972. What we can anticipate is that therefore in four and a half years' time this will have spread beyond the areas currently indicated there. There are hot spots which have been referred to. We believe those hot spots can be traced back to cattle movements, particularly cattle movements following a foot-and-mouth disease epidemic when people were restocking cattle. We certainly do not attribute the hot spots, if I go back to the previous question, to spreading through badgers. That would be cattle movement and quite possibly cattle-to-badger infection occurring in those areas. The question was put to me: effectively, was my advice concerning the need for action soon based on science? This really is my scientific response.

  Q366  Lynne Jones: Could I clarify that your report was submitted to David Miliband on 30 July?

  Sir David King: Yes.

  Q367  Lynne Jones: Would you care to comment on why it has taken until this Monday to make that report public, or even to make it available to the ISG?

  Sir David King: That is a question that should be put, I think, to the Secretary of State. My reports to Government are always made with the knowledge in Government that I am going to put my reports into the public domain. I have done that now for six years very consistently on the basis that if I am going to maintain public trust, then everything that I do in terms of advice to Government should be available for external judgment. The Secretary of State knew that I would wish to put this into the public domain, but I have always said, "It is your call when it actually is put into the public domain".

  Q368  Lynne Jones: Returning to the point you have just made, I am afraid I do not quite follow you. I agree we do have a very difficult situation as regards bovine TB. Whether or not strong, as you put it, action is advisable would depend on whether that is going to make it any better. I am not at all clear from what you have just said. You have just shown us there are areas where the infections are higher but I do not really think that answers the question as to why that means that the report of the ISG should be overturned.

  Sir David King: It would have been better if I had had maps showing the spread over the last 15 years. We do have such maps and we can provide them for you. What I am really trying to say is that it is spreading geographically. It is not only numbers of cattle herds; it is also spreading geographically across the country from the south-west towards Gloucestershire and back into Wales. That spread has occurred. I am simply saying that we should not wait for another 10 years of experimentation. This is the time for decision making and action.

  Q369  Lynne Jones: But not if you are going to do something that is going to make it worse. This is the question, is it not?

  Sir David King: Absolutely, and I would certainly not be advising that we do something that would make it worse. As I have indicated to you, by reading that publication from members of the ISG, the ISG do not believe that the action I am proposing would make it worse.

  Q370  Lynne Jones: May I say that that is not strictly true. The very same comment that you made, which you say was published in March of this year, was actually published in March of 2006—I have it in front of me in The Veterinary Record—at a meeting in Bristol at which Professor Dan Collins, who was your expert from Ireland, was also present. I think that the ISG would dispute—they will be able to make the point if I have this wrong—that a large area is very much larger than 100 square kilometres, which would not be considered to be a large area, certainly in terms of the Irish work.

  Professor Woolhouse: The areas in the Irish trial were exactly in the range of 200 to 300 square kilometres. The ISG report does extrapolate their figures up to 300 square kilometres, so there is a consistency there. The ISG make a number of points, and this was brought up earlier, about comparing the Irish trial with the RBCT. I agree that the comments are different. I agree with the statements the ISG makes there. I think it is very important to try to understand these differences. One candidate for understanding those differences is that the Irish trials took place with a larger area than the RBCT trials.

  Q371  Lynne Jones: Whether we can replicate that here is a moot point, is it not?

  Professor Woolhouse: It is a practical point but the scientific evidence in the view of the people they assembled suggested, let us put it this way, that if removal of badgers or any other badger control is going to be effective, it has to be implemented over larger scales and for longer time periods than the units of study that the RBCT implemented. The RCBT work was not, as I understand it—and I was part of the Godfray Committee that reported to you in 2004 on this issue—a practice mock-up of an actual bovine TB control programme. Initially it was a research experiment to try to understand better this link between cattle and badger TB. It is not surprising, scientifically or on any other basis, that you will want to move beyond the immediate RBCT trial in order to design an effective national bovine TB control programme.

  Q372  Lynne Jones: The work stopped in 2003 after the initial 2003 report.

  Professor Woolhouse: Only for one arm of the trial of the RCBT.

  Q373  Lynne Jones: I am referring to the work of the ISG. You criticise them in one of your paragraphs, I think paragraph 24, and say that the trial should have continued for longer. Of course it was Defra that decided to discontinue that trial.

  Professor Woolhouse: The issue of the reactive cull trial has been debated many times. I think there is a general consensus that it is unfortunate that that trial was curtailed quite early. Nonetheless, we do have some valuable data now from the proactive culling trial. As a scientist at this table, in no sense is Sir David's report intended to rubbish the work of the extremely competent group that the ISG represents. It is not supposed to do that. As Sir David made very clear, in fact I personally and the other members of the group agreed with the data and what the report suggested up to the point where they conclude that there is no role for removal or controlling badgers. I would like to hear their views on that. We agree with their assessment that if it is going to be effective, it has to be over large areas and for a longer time.

  Lynne Jones: It will boil down to the practicalities of achieving that, which we will go on to discuss.

  Q374  Dan Rogerson: Where you part company is on whether you feel it is your role to say it is possible or not just purely on the science. If something can be done on a big enough scale that is humane and of the relevant intensity, you feel it could make a contribution. That is where you find the major distinction between the ISG report and—

  Professor Woolhouse: There is a number of publications making the same extrapolation.

  Sir David King: What we are all agreed on as scientists is that if we really want to eliminate TB in cattle herds, then it is not going to happen while there is still TB in wildlife. While there is still a reservoir of TB in wildlife, it will come back into cattle herds continuously.

  Q375  Mr Drew: What about deer?

  Sir David King: I said wildlife.

  Q376  Mr Drew: Deer are wildlife and out there feeding.

   Professor Woolhouse: The main reservoir of bovine TB in wildlife is in badgers. There may be other reservoirs too.

  Q377  Mr Drew: You have never tested them.

  Professor Woolhouse: The main reservoir is badgers and that clearly has to be the initial one to consider.

  Q378  Patrick Hall: Sir David, when you opened your presentation, you gave us an example of your role of questioning and challenging a group of people with regard to scrapie. Did you do that after you had been asked to carry out the work that you have just done? Did you do that with regard to the ISG itself? Did you call them in and discuss and challenge not only the science but the very important conclusions and interpretation?

  Sir David King: In this instance, it was my judgment that this was not necessary because we had before us the publications and a very detailed report. As a matter of fact, as has been made very clear I think today, we were not challenging the scientific basis of those reports. We have provided a commentary on them but we are not challenging those reports.

  Q379  Patrick Hall: You are challenging the interpretation of the scientific data. Is that correct?

  Sir David King: I think it would be fair to say that in our advice we have stayed outside the area of including economics and, if you like, practicality issues. What we are actually saying is exactly the same as the ISG concludes. If this is done in large enough areas, if we can reduce perturbation of badgers (movement of badgers) by using wherever possible natural boundaries, and if we can do this over a sustained period of time, as said in the report, we would expect that the incidence of TB in cattle would be reduced, and we would need to couple this with action on cattle as well.

5   Animal Health 2006: The Report of the Chief Veterinary Officer, p37 ( Back

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