UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 981-i

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Bovine TB Vaccination

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Dr Gavin Wilson and Dr Steve Carter

Professor Trevor Drew and Alick Simmons

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-101

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 12 February 2013

Members present:

Miss Anne McIntosh (Chair)

Richard Drax

George Eustice

Barry Gardiner

Mrs Mary Glindon

Iain McKenzie

Sheryll Murray

Neil Parish

Dan Rogerson

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Dr Gavin Wilson, Team Leader, Food and Environment Research Agency, and Dr Steve Carter, Senior Scientist, Food and Environment Research Agency, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you very much indeed for agreeing to participate in our inquiry into bovine TB vaccination. May I ask, just for the record, if you would please say who you are and where from you on? I will ask Dr Wilson to start.

Dr Wilson: I am Gavin Wilson. I am a wildlife biologist. I am Team Leader of the research team at Woodchester Park Outstation, which is part of FERA’s wildlife programme. The team does a range of research, primarily funded by Defra, on issues such as badger vaccination, farm biosecurity and primary research on badgers and badger ecology.

Dr Carter: My name is Steve Carter. I am Senior Scientist at the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main area of work is in the research and development of TB vaccines for badgers. I have worked on both the injectable and, now, on oral vaccine.

Q2 Chair: Thank you. I should declare that I have the headquarters of FERA at Sand Hutton in my constituency. I am extremely proud of the work that you do. May I say at the outset thank you for accommodating the hastily rearranged change of time owing to the business in the main Chamber? We are extremely grateful for that.

Can I just ask at the outset whether we are the only member state in the European Union that has given badgers protected status?

Dr Wilson: Yes, that is correct.

Q3 Chair: Do you think this has an influence on the number of badgers in the population?

Dr Wilson: That is a very difficult question to answer. We do not have the data to say for sure whether that is the case or otherwise.

Q4 Chair: When was the last National Badger Survey called?

Dr Wilson: The last National Badger Survey-of England, Wales and Scotland at that time-was conducted in the mid1990s. The fieldwork was carried out from around 1994 to 1996-1997. To update the information that came out of that, a similar study is being carried out at the moment and is due to report this summer.

Q5 Chair: Is there any particular reason why, given that the previous National Badger Survey was 10 years before that, there was no Badger Survey in England, Scotland and Wales between 2004 and 2007?

Dr Wilson: Primarily, there was no funding for it. There was no particular call to repeat it.

Q6 Chair: So there was no funding under the last Administration for a badger survey to take place? As far as you are aware, was there any particular reason why there had not been another 10year survey?

Dr Wilson: As far as I am aware, there is no particular reason why it did not take place. The original idea behind the National Badger Survey was to repeat it approximately every 10 years. However, I have no real answer why the question of repeating it did not come up until recently.

Q7 Chair: So the last known figures for the badger population are way out of date.

Dr Wilson: Yes, they are now; that is right.

Q8 Iain McKenzie: Going back to the question you asked about Europe, could you expand somewhat on the badger population? Not being a wildlife expert, regarding the spread of badgers across Europe, are they indigenous to several countries? Are they found just in the countries of Northern Europe or are they spread throughout?

Dr Wilson: Yes, the Eurasian badger is widespread throughout Europe. However, for the most part we think they are probably more abundant in this country than in most of the rest of that range. They occur, for example, in southern countries such as Spain, but in generally lower densities than they do here-in most of Spain.

Q9 Chair: Do you think there is a correlation between the protected status and the large number of badgers in this country.

Dr Wilson: Like I say, I do not know whether we have the data to answer that question.

Chair: Who would have the data to answer that question?

Dr Wilson: It is very hard to correlate what effect the protected status of the badger has on the growth of the badger population. It is very hard to make those correlations.

Q10 Chair: It just seems odd that Ireland and the UK are the only countries in the European Union with a significant problem with bovine TB. It would appear that we are the only countries in the European Union that give them protected status. It would appear that this is a bit of a coincidence.

Dr Wilson: It is hard to say whether that is a coincidence or whether they are linked.

Dr Carter: It is probably worth adding that the particular characteristics of their habitat do differ in England from a lot of places in continental Europe-land use certainly does. There is that-as well as a longer history of the persecution of badgers across Europe. Neither of us have the data to be able to say what impact the protected status has had on badger numbers in this country.

Dr Wilson: In answer to that question, it would be interesting to look at what the population status was before the protection came into place.

Q11 Chair: That, however, was way back in the 1970s. Landuse practice will have changed hugely.

Dr Wilson: Yes, exactly. There are many factors that affect badger population size and density-primarily, habitat, availability of food and badger sett sites. All of these things play into what size of badger population can be supported.

Q12 Chair: Do you think, then, it was a surprise in summer last year when it became clear in areas like Gloucestershire and Somerset that the badger population was as big as it then appeared?

Dr Wilson: We know that badger population densities vary a lot. It is a very patchy population. Although they are widespread across Britain, some areas have very high densities, particularly the south of England and Wales, and less so in the eastern parts of the country and the north. Even though the overall density is one thing, in certain pockets there may be quite variable densities compared to somewhere nearby. When our National Badger Survey reports this summer, we will have a better idea as to whether those figures that were generated in those areas were in line or otherwise with the broader picture.

Q13 Chair: What is the timeframe for those reports?

Dr Wilson: There are two steps to the population assessments that are currently being carried out. There is a large sett survey being carried out at the moment, which will report in July or August this year, I believe. This will give us estimates of the density and abundance of badger social and family groups by region. In parallel with that, we have our research project, which is a Defrafunded project to look at the average size of badger social groups and the variability in size of badger family groups in different landscapes and parts of the country.

The two things together will combine to give us good estimates of badger populations in the different parts of England and Wales. Regarding the social group size project, the main bulk of the field work will take place in this coming winter and will report the following spring. There is a twostage reporting process.

Q14 Chair: If you do not have that information, you may not be able to answer the next question: what proportion of the badger population is infected with bovine TB? Have you found it varies across the country?

Dr Wilson: Yes, that is right: it is a difficult question to answer. In terms of proportion, if you are talking about the prevalence-the percentage of badgers that are infected with bovine TB-the only information we have is from research projects such as the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and some smallscale research projects like the longterm research project at Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire and the badger vaccine study, which was part of the licensing project. We know that it is variable, even between those small-scale studies. We will not be able to say much more about badger populations in other parts of the country where they are not being sampled.

Chair: The incidence of TB in badgers could be significantly greater than we know.

Dr Wilson: Yes; we just do not know. This is a question we will not be able to answer for the parts of the country where we are not sampling badgers.

Dr Carter: To add some numbers to that, in the RBCT the prevalence in the 10 areas ranged from 1.5% to 35%. However, there are different ways of estimating prevalence. In the RBCT, the animals were killed and postmortems were carried out. Prevalence was estimated through culture analysis, but if you do an advanced post-mortem, you look harder and you find more disease. At Woodchester Park, in the study David has mentioned, the badgers are not killed; we rely on live tests. You get a completely different measure. The actual measures of prevalence on their own are not particularly useful. What is more useful is looking at how they might vary either regionally or over time. They vary both spatially and temporally.

Q15 Sheryll Murray: Could you just tell me how effective an injectable BCG vaccine is in reducing TB in the badger population?

Dr Carter: Yes, I will take that one. The best direct evidence we have of the protective effect comes from experimental work that was not carried out by ourselves but another Government agency, the AHVLA. If you want very detailed information on it, it is best to talk to somebody there. Professor Glyn Hewinson is also due to give evidence.

However, very briefly, in animals that were vaccinated with BCG and then challenged with, i.e. exposed to, TB, under those experimental conditions, the study demonstrated the animal’s BCG did not prevent them from becoming infected, but it significantly reduced the progression and severity of the disease, which is essentially their overall disease burden or infectiousness. That is the direct evidence we have of the protective effect.

Together with colleagues at AHVLA, we have also carried out a field study, which was a badger vaccine field study that was primarily designed to assess safety. It was done to gather the safety data required to license BCG. This was done in an area of Gloucestershire, where we looked at a much larger sample of wild badgers. These badgers were not killed and postmortemed. We relied on the live test to infer their infectious status. The results from this were consistent with a protective effect of BCG in badgers.

We have repeated the analysis and have recently done a more detailed analysis. The first analysis we did has been published and reported. We divided the population into two groups: vaccinate groups and control groups. We tested all of the animals when they were first caught, so any animals that were already infected-as indicated by the live test-were admitted for the analysis. At the end of the study, we looked to see how many animals in the two groups went on to test positive to a range of tests.

Q16 Sheryll Murray: What happened to the infected animals that you found?

Dr Carter: Infected animals, if they fell into a vaccinate group, would have still been given the vaccine, because it was a field study where we were looking at the effects of vaccination on a wild population. We did actually try to see if we could get evidence of what happens when you vaccinate an animal that is already infected, but our power was not sufficient to give us any hard and fast figures on that. There was no evidence, however, that vaccinating an animal that is already infected either has a beneficial effect or any negative effect.

Q17 Sheryll Murray: Were those animals then released back?

Dr Carter: Yes. This was a field study; its primary purpose was to generate data to apply for the licence application.

Q18 Sheryll Murray: Why do you not test trapped badgers for TB? Infected animals could then be removed, leaving only uninfected ones to be vaccinated. Why were they released again?

Dr Wilson: You are asking about trapping animals, testing them, establishing their disease status and, if they are uninfected animals, vaccinating and releasing them or, if they test positive, removing them. I assume that is what you are asking.

Sheryll Murray: Yes.

Dr Wilson: That is an intuitively appealing approach, because it sounds like it surgically removes infected badgers and releases the rest. There are challenges around that. There are two areas where it becomes less simple than it sounds on the face of it. One is that it is difficult to catch all the animals. We deploy traps. Badgers are reasonably trappable, but it is hard to catch them all. We will miss some-and some of those might be infected animals. There are also limitations around the diagnostic test for TB-particularly ones you can do trapside in real time. The issue with that is you may get a negative result for a positive animal, wrongly categorise it and then release it.

Q19 Sheryll Murray: In that respect, it is very similar to cattle.

Dr Wilson: The risk in that is that we know-from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial experiment-that culling badgers and disrupting what is quite a stable social pattern of badger population may lead to a perturbation or disruption of that population and may actually have negative effects in terms of TB transmission between badgers.

Badgers may move around more because dominant animals may have been removed. They try to reestablish the social structure, potentially exacerbating disease effects rather than having the desired effect. One thing we do not have a lot of information about is when this effect might be triggered-i.e. how many animals would need to be removed before that effect starts to come into play. There are knowledge gaps around that.

Q20 Sheryll Murray: Do you think it is possible to achieve herd immunity and, if you do, what percentage of the badger population would need to be vaccinated? How often and how long would a programme need to last?

Dr Carter: The best field evidence we have of herd immunity comes from the same study I talked about, the fieldsafety study. It was not designed to measure herd immunity in badgers, but we were able to look for an indirect effect of the vaccine. On the one hand, the study confirmed the results that we saw in the laboratory-or it was at least consistent with the direct protective effect of the vaccine. However, we were also able to look at how likely unvaccinated animals born into vaccinate groups were to test positive for TB using these live tests. In groups where a high proportion of group members had been previously vaccinated, we found that unvaccinated cubs born into those groups were significantly less likely to test positive to a panel of fairly sensitive diagnostic tests. As Gavin said, however, all of the live tests have their limitations.

We attribute this to herd immunity. There are other potential mechanisms, such as the transfer of antibodies derived from the mother or the transfer of BCG, but we think both of these are unlikely. The most plausible explanation is herd immunity. The cubs were indirectly protected because a higher proportion of the badgers they were coming into contact with over the course of the study had been vaccinated and had at least received some form of protection from the vaccine.

We cannot get a precise figure from that. We cannot say what proportion of the population you would need to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity. It would depend on a whole range of factors: for example, the prevalence of infection in the population, which, as I said at the beginning, varies quite widely from area to area. It would depend on all sorts of other factors, like badger population density and possibly other environmental factors. However, we saw those effects over a period of three years post-vaccination-although we only saw significant effects in the cubs; we did not see a significant effect in the adult badgers. That may take longer.

Q21 Sheryll Murray: How similar is the badger BCG vaccine to the human one? With the human one, you carry out Heaf test before you actually carry out the vaccination. Could you just explain to me whether the badger one is similar?

Dr Carter: It is essentially the same vaccine, but it is a much stronger dose. It is 10 times the human dose. I am not sure Heaf tests are even used anymore with humans, because they are not very reliable indicators. It is, however, essentially the same vaccine. The main purpose of the field study that we carried out is to demonstrate that the vaccine did not induce any adverse effects in the badgers. We did a range of work to look at that. We observed badgers over a period of 24 hours after they had been vaccinated. We recaptured them a couple of weeks after they had been vaccinated.

We think the vaccine probably works in a very similar way to humans. The BCG in humans is variable in its effectiveness. We suspect what is happening with badgers in the field-we expect to see a range of protection: some animals will be completely protected; some animals will have partial protection, where they still become infected but they are less infectious because their disease progression and severity is reduced; and there will be some animals where the BCG just does not have any effect, particularly animals that are already infected.

Q22 Iain McKenzie: Are some breeds of cattle more susceptible to this disease than others? If they are, has this been factored in to the equation of assessment?

Dr Wilson: I think that question is probably better placed to Professor Hewinson, who will be much better placed to answer that.

Chair: We will have them in separately.

Dr Carter: We just work on the badger side; it is complicated enough.

Q23 Richard Drax: Is your area in Gloucestershire large enough to produce the statistical evidence you need? What benefit might have been gained if more areas had been analysed? As I understand it, five were cancelled; there were going to be six but five were reduced.

Dr Wilson: That is right.

Richard Drax: Is your area big enough to get the right evidence and should more areas have been used?

Dr Wilson: The short answer to the first part of your question is no. It is not large enough in its own right to look at statistical effects of TB on cattle herd breakdown rates.

Yes, the initial plan for the badger vaccine deployment project was for six areas: that area plus another five. It was never set up as a scientific trial. It was originally designed to kickstart an industry in badger vaccination and build the capacity of trained expertise in the country. There is no doubt, however, that if all six areas had all been online there would have been more data for us to work with to start looking and addressing questions around what effect this work is having on cattle TB rates.

Q24 Richard Drax: Did you say Gloucestershire was or was not large enough?

Dr Wilson: No, it is not large enough.

Q25 Richard Drax: How large do you think it should be? How large is it? Remind me of the size of it.

Dr Wilson: The Gloucestershire area is about 120 sq km.

Q26 Richard Drax: How large do you need? What would you like it to be?

Dr Wilson: If you wanted to look at the effects of badger vaccination on cattle, you would have a number of areas. You would do a replicated trial. You could do something like the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, which comprised 10 treated areas with 10 untreated and matched controls. It is that that gives it statistical rigour.

At the moment, we are not in a position to look at what impacts the badger vaccination work is having on cattle. Given where we are, with piecemeal bits of badger vaccination happening and slowly building up, we are looking at ways of adaptive management, where we look at that data and try to see whether it can be used-as things build up and as time goes on-to look at the statistical effects.

Q27 Richard Drax: Would you have got the statistical results you need quicker if you had had more areas?

Dr Wilson: Yes, with the caveat that it was not designed as a trial to do that. There would have been more replicated large areas of badger vaccination with which to look at that data, so yes.

Q28 Richard Drax: This is going to take longer and not get the results you want necessarily as quickly as you want them.

Dr Wilson: Yes. It is going to be more difficult from the position we are in now to fill the knowledge gap that we have, which is the effect that badger vaccination has on cattle TB rates.

Q29 Richard Drax: Can we move on to perturbation? I am sure you know what that is. The question is whether there is any evidence that your vaccination programme causes this. If not, might it be because the badgers are used to seeing humans around in the areas that you are testing?

Dr Wilson: The idea of perturbation is the disruption because of, say, removing badgers from the population from an otherwise relatively stable social structure. With vaccination, because we are not removing animals and disrupting what social hierarchies are there, we do not have any evidence of this, and we do not think it has any marked perturbation effect, because we release the animals. The animals are not taken away; they are just vaccinated at the point of capture and then released quickly.

The main reason we think this is because we have a lot of experience-from longterm studies over 30 years-of capturing animals, sampling them for TB to study the epidemiology and then releasing them. In our longterm study in Gloucestershire, the disease picture in the study site has stayed very stable. The disease has stayed in the same places throughout that study site, which suggests that perturbation is not happening and there is not a general mixing and spreading of the disease.

Q30 Richard Drax: Very briefly, if I may, it is argued that culling causes perturbation. From the work you have done, do you agree with that?

Dr Wilson: The evidence from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial was the main reason why it was attributed to the increase in cattle TB rates around the areas that were culled. It was attributed to greater badger movement, the perturbation on the badger population, with ongoing consequences for contact rates and disease transmission between badgers and between badgers and cattle.

Q31 Iain McKenzie: Could you enlighten us as to the cost of vaccination? Could you break it down for us, especially in relation to manpower?

Dr Wilson: I can do that for injectable vaccination. Do you mean around training?

Iain McKenzie: If you could just give us a quick itinerary of what the vaccination costs, followed by training, manpower and trapping, etc.

Dr Wilson: The components of a vaccination programme are an initial survey to find out where badger setts are and where badger activity is, which is where you want to deploy traps. There are some fixed costs. You obviously need to have badger traps and vehicles to work with to take the traps around. There are things around the vaccine itself and vaccine fridges. The vaccine needs to be kept in cold conditions at all times in order to remain viable, so that requires fridges for transport. There are these fixed hardware costs.

The largest part of the cost is the manpower. A badger vaccination round on a farm or something like that would involve a survey, the deployment of the traps-i.e. putting or digging them into place-and then perhaps several days of prebaiting the traps, which involves repeated visits by staff and operatives going back, with the traps locked open, putting bait in them and getting the badgers used to going in them for food rewards. The final step of it is to set the traps, go back, check the traps the morning after setting them, vaccinate the animals and release them, and then remove the traps and clean up. That can be a two or threeweek programme. Obviously, if you are talking about manpower for that length of time there is clearly a significant cost associated with that.

Q32 Iain McKenzie: Could that cost be reduced if you had voluntary assistance offered?

Dr Wilson: Yes, definitely.

Q33 Iain McKenzie: Would it be acceptable to have voluntary assistance step forward and reduce the cost for the taxpayer-and also for the farmers-to alleviate the biggest cost, which is manpower?

Dr Wilson: Yes, very much so. There are certain parts of that process that have to be carried out by trained and accredited people-i.e. people who have trained and have a licence to set traps and to deploy vaccines. However, there are other parts of that process, such as just transporting traps to places. Perhaps the longest part of the process is repeatedly prebaiting the traps, which is a fairly straightforward process but is key to success of catching as many animals as possible for your efforts. You may have to do that for seven or 10 days, but that does not have to be done by an accredited person or an expert. That could be done by volunteers, perhaps, because it is a very straightforward process.

Q34 Iain McKenzie: To continue the theme of cost, I am reading here that 2,500 badgers were vaccinated in 2012. Is that suggesting the vaccination programme could be rolled out to a bigger area? If so, how much do you reckon such a programme would cost?

Dr Wilson: I am not sure quite where that figure comes from. I know that in our study with vaccination-

Dr Carter: It is combined with Wales.

Dr Wilson: I think that may combine the Welsh vaccination programme as well. Presumably, all the badgers that have been vaccinated in England and Wales in this year would perhaps be around that number. I do not know what the total cost of that is. Clearly, one of the major challenges about wider deployment of badger vaccination is around the fact that it is a relatively laborious process. It is fairly involved and has a cost associated with it. There is a challenge there about how we find the resources to do that. When I say resources, I mean both in terms of expertise and finances. There may be costsharing models between stakeholders involved in this issue that may be able to fund it.

Q35 Iain McKenzie: You expect to find a number of funding sources to cover vaccination.

Dr Wilson: Yes, that is right.

Q36 Richard Drax: What is the Government doing to assess the impact of the BCG on the incidence of TB in cattle? What is being done in that regard?

Dr Wilson: There was a research call in this recent call for research funding to fund a research programme looking at modelling the potential effects-i.e. mathematical predictions of the effects of different badger vaccination deployment strategies and what impact those will have in cattle. That is yet to pick up. The proposals are in and the decisions are still to be made.

Q37 Richard Drax: So no work has been done?

Dr Carter: It is worth clarifying that there is no empirical data on the contribution that vaccinating badgers has on the incidence of TB in cattle. As Gavin said earlier, there is an evidence gap at the moment.

Q38 Richard Drax: This is rather a serious evidence gap, is it not?

Dr Wilson: Yes, it is definitely one of the fundamental knowledge gaps that we have. We have started very preliminarily looking at the possibility, as I mentioned to you before, as we recruit areas that-it is not in a standardised way: badger vaccination is being done in a kind of piecemeal way at the moment-

Q39 Richard Drax: Is there a lack of co-ordination, organisation and lots of things. Is what you are saying that it is all a bit bitty and a bit piecemeal?

Dr Wilson: I suppose, other than the programme we run in Gloucestershire and the Welsh one, it is not a Government co-ordinated initiative at the moment.

Q40 Richard Drax: Is this because it is early days still? Is there not some concern that people want answers to this? The farming community wants answers to this; the animal conservationists want answers to this; we all want answer to this. There is a slight urgency to this, is there not?

Dr Wilson: It is early days; that is part of it. Like I say, we are starting a very smallscale initiative to look at the possibility of studying the cattle data.

Q41 Richard Drax: However, a smallscale initiative-as you said earlier to my previous question-is not really big enough to find the answers we need.

Dr Wilson: We will establish, once we have gone through this process, how much badger vaccination we need to have done before we can start looking at whether there are impacts from that.

Q42 Richard Drax: There are a few holes there. Can I move on to the transition from badgers to cattle? Where is this happening most, in your opinion? Where is this transmission taking place? I understand from the evidence that farms have been sampled and what people did not think was happening-badger literally coming nose to nose with animals-is happening more than farmers thought. Is that right? Where is the biggest proportion of transmission happening, do you think?

Dr Wilson: We do not know where transmission happens. It probably happens in different ways. In some areas one route of transmission is probably more important, compared to another.

Q43 Richard Drax: Yes, but is it buildings? Is it the pasture?

Dr Wilson: Both of those areas are possibilities. In the past, the feeling was that transmission was more likely on pasture, where cattle come into contact with contaminated excreta from badgers at latrines. Equally, however, we now know from research we have carried out in the last few years that badgers readily enter farm buildings.

Q44 Richard Drax: Particularly sick ones, I understand. The research has shown that sick ones in particular tend to go into buildings, because food is easier to get and they do not have to wander so far. Is that right?

Dr Wilson: That is right. There is some very smallscale, intensively studied evidence that suggests that infected badgers have slightly different behaviour patterns that may bring them into contact with farm resources more often. It is only on a very small scale. What it on a slightly larger scale, however, is the farm biosecurity work that our team has been involved in, which led to a quite extensive study, using surveillance cameras, of how often badgers entered farm buildings.

Q45 Richard Drax: Overall, briefly, you think it is more likely in the pasture than in the buildings.

Dr Wilson: I have no evidence on which to base whether it is more likely in either of those areas; obviously, both places are risk points.

Dr Carter: It is virtually impossible to trace where the transmission has actually taken place, but we think that farm buildings represent a high risk area because we know in some circumstances badgers and cattle will come into quite close contact with each other.

Dr Wilson: In our most recent study, 60%-

Chair: We will move on. We are expecting a vote at four, I am afraid.

Q46 Iain McKenzie: On training, how many people are you able to train as vaccinators each year? What are the costs of enrolling them in these courses?

Dr Wilson: The training is built into our vaccination programme at Gloucestershire. We run about five courses a year. On each course we can train about 10 people, so we have a capacity of around 50 at the moment. It is a fourday course. The cost to attend the course is currently £750.

Q47 Iain McKenzie: What does the course have in it? Or, more to the point, what would you say it does not have in it that it should have?

Dr Wilson: The course has an instruction on how the vaccine should be dealt with and handled and the background to the legal responsibilities people have when they are deploying and working with the vaccine. The biggest component of the course is around the field work. People come on the course and get shown how to put traps down, assess badger activity and then they go and vaccinate badgers on two or three mornings on the course. It is very much a handson course, which is what it has to be in order for them for them to be able to go way and actually do it themselves.

Q48 Iain McKenzie: I am also told that there is funding available from the Government-£250,000. Why are farmers not entitled to that funding that is available from the Government for training?

Dr Wilson: As I understand it, the funding is available to the voluntary and community sectors. That would really be a question for Defra and policy as to why it is directed there. I do not feel well placed to answer that.

Q49 Iain McKenzie: Can you say what the level of co-ordination is between Government and the various NGOs?

Dr Wilson: Again, I do not feel particularly very well placed to answer on their behalf about how much coordination there is.

Q50 Iain McKenzie: Are you aware of any?

Dr Wilson: It is early days and yes, I think there is growing-

Q51 Iain McKenzie: At this moment in time, what does take place?

Dr Wilson: As far as I am aware there have been early discussions about potential stakeholder involvement in this area, but I do not know the details.

Q52 Iain McKenzie: Is this a very earlystage discussion?

Dr Wilson: Yes, very much so. It is worth bearing in mind that the whole thing is at an early stage. The vaccine was licensed in 2010 and therefore is still an embryonic piece of work.

Q53 Sheryll Murray: Could we move onto oral vaccine? What benefits would an oral vaccine have for badgers? What would it offer and what progress has been made towards developing one? I am conscious of time, so if could also ask you to comment about the Ireland trials of an oral vaccine. Do you have regular contact and discussions with your colleagues in Ireland? Why do they appear to be so far ahead of us in this area of research?

Dr Carter: The benefit that we hope it would bring is that a vaccine delivered in an oral bait that can simply be put out at the badger setts would be more practical and cheaper. We do not have any evidence yet that this would be the case because it is in the early stages of research.

I think it is fair to say that there has been a lot of work done. Defra have invested a lot of money in the research into an oral vaccine for badgers, but there are a lot of challenges, partly to do with the vaccine itself being a live vaccine-i.e. it needs to be kept alive in the bait, which requires that you get the formulation right. That particular area is one that the AHVLA are working on. It also has to be demonstrated to be safe, efficacious in the badger and there are whole hurdles of regulatory requirements that need to be overcome to be able to even start the process to get an oral vaccine licensed.

My and FERA’s particular involvement in it has been looking at the best way to deploy a vaccine to make it as costeffective as possible. The two work-streams are working in parallel. Until we have a final product that is ready to take forward to licensing, we cannot answer all of the questions, but over the last three years we have been trialling candidate baits with biomarkers-not baits with vaccine in them-so that we can look at the rates of uptake of those baits in badger populations.

Q54 Sheryll Murray: You have not mentioned your colleagues in Ireland. Is there communication between the two of you and do you share experience?

Dr Carter: Do you mean the field trial where they are trialling vaccine in the field? These are not oral baits, but this is a vaccine delivered orally to badgers in the field. They are also involved in some oral bait work as well, but the two areas are different.

If you mean the field trial, in Ireland they are essentially looking-it is proof of principle, as much as anything-to see how effective a vaccine a delivered in the field would be. They have a field trial where they have delivered vaccine over a large area to some animals; other animals are controls. In that study, I would not say they are further ahead because we have already carried out a field study in England that has demonstrated results consistent with the laboratory work and a consistent protective effect of the vaccine in the field. In Ireland, they have a similar aim. The difference there is that, at the end of the study, the badgers will be killed, so they can do postmortems on those badgers to get more information on the efficacy of the vaccine.

Q55 Chair: Can I just ask how often you would expect to have to vaccinate a badger?

Dr Carter: The truth is that we do not know how long any protective effect of the vaccine lasts.

Q56 Chair: You do not even have that information?

Dr Carter: No, but we do not really know that in humans either. There is some work going on in Ireland where they are looking at duration of immunity, but in the field study we vaccinated badgers on an annual basis, so the field data that we have of the protective effect is a result of badgers being vaccinated annually and we would recommend annual vaccination, not because badgers need to be revaccinated annually but because there is a fairly quick turnover of cubs each year. Each year, you would want to go out and vaccinate the new recruits into the population.

Q57 Chair: Have you had any discussions at all with the people preparing the cattle vaccination to build up a picture of how effective both would be at controlling TB?

Dr Carter: I have not had any conversations with them. Has there been modelling done looking at both?

Dr Wilson: There has not been any that we have been involved in. These considerations are definitely very much still in the early stages.

Q58 Chair: Are you surprised that between 1985-1988 and 1994-1997 the social groups increased by 24% and the badger setts increased by 43%? Would you expect a similar rise to have taken place between now and 1988?

Dr Wilson: Given the biology of the badger, such a change in the population is not surprising; it is feasible. However, I have absolutely no idea what to expect of the updated survey and the comparison, whether that was a trend that is ongoing or whether that was a trend that was near the top of its cycle and is coming back down again. We will find out.

Chair: I know that Sheryll Murray would like to come in, but if we are interrupted by the bell we will have to break off.

Q59 Sheryll Murray: I will be very quick, Chair. I notice that in New Zealand such vaccines were deployed successfully to control bovine TB in possums. Have you looked at the New Zealand methods as well and has that helped you in any way?

Dr Carter: That was a field trial; it was a proofofprinciple study to see how effective vaccinating the possums was. It was not done through the delivery of bait. It was done in the same way as in Ireland, where they catch the animal and essentially squirt the vaccine into their mouth. It provided useful information, but we are separately in discussion with researchers in New Zealand on the oral vaccine project.

Q60 Iain McKenzie: Quickly, pricewise, does the oral vaccine cost the same, less or more than the injection?

Dr Carter: We have no idea at this stage, because we do not know what the final bait will be.

Chair: I think that is a "no". Dr Carter, Dr Wilson, can we thank you very warmly indeed for being so generous with your time and accommodating our delayed start, for which we are very grateful. We are enormously thankful to you. We stand adjourned; we do invite the other witnesses to take their place, so that we can recommence as quickly as possible.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Trevor Drew, Lead Scientist for Virology, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and Alick Simmons, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Defra.

Q61 Chair: Good afternoon and welcome. Thank you very much indeed for participating in our thoughts on Schmallenberg. For the record, could you introduce yourselves and give your positions?

Professor Drew: My name is Trevor Drew. I am Head of the Virology Department at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency

Alick Simmons: Good afternoon. My name is Alick Simmons, and I am one of Defra’s directors with responsibility for, amongst other things, new and emerging diseases of livestock. I am Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer as well.

Q62 Chair: Thank you. I am most grateful. Obviously, I represent a large sheepproducing constituency, so I am delighted you are here with us. Were you able to quantify what the impact on the economy was from the outbreak of Schmallenberg virus in the last period?

Alick Simmons: When we were aware that the virus was likely to be coming to Britain, based on modelling information from the near continent, what we did was set up the means to understand the cost to both industry and Government. We have not tried to quantify the total cost to industry. What we have done is understand in general the average impact per affected farm, extrapolate from there and compare it with diseases such as foot rot, lameness in cattle, bovine virus diarrhoea and a number of other endemic diseases to put this into perspective. The conclusion we have reached is that, even if our estimate of the impact-that is, in numbers of affected animals per flock or herd-was at the extreme end of the estimates, the cost to the national herd and flock is still substantially less than the majority of endemic diseases that plague the national flock and national herd.

Q63 Chair: You will be aware that the price for sheep has collapsed; obviously, the loss could be fairly desperate to hill farmers at this time. Professor Drew, you nodded.

Alick Simmons: The price of sheep and lambs has fallen in this spring or late winter. There are a number of factors that influence that. I am not an agricultural economist, but I think oversupply, a need to unload stock from farms where winter feed has started to run out because of the particular poor forage year and a number of other factors have contributed to this. I do not believe that Schmallenberg disease has influenced the price of sheep.

Q64 Chair: How many cases of Schmallenberg have there been so far this year, and how widespread do you believe the disease to be?

Professor Drew: It is important to point out that the monitoring we have been doing of numbers of cases has really been with the objective of tracking the spread of the disease, not as part of any sort of assessment of the prevalence of the disease or the number of cases. That said, we have recorded the total number of holdings as being 1,211. The holdings where there have been malformed foetuses and serology in sheep has been 377. The number of holding where there have been foetuses and serology and acute disease in cattle is 834 so far.

Q65 Chair: Could there potentially be underreporting of the problem? Should it be made a notifiable disease?

Alick Simmons: I wonder if I could come in here, Chair. Using the term "underreporting" implies that we are seeking to get comprehensive information about the spread of the infection through the national flock and herd. We have not set out to do that. The figures my colleague has just quoted are almost certainly a substantial underestimate of the number of herds and flocks that have been exposed to infection. What we do know-because of work we did last autumn-is that there is evidence of infection in every rural English county. It is almost certain that the number of several hundred farms that we know have been infected-where the virus has been either isolated or there is previous evidence of infection through serology, which is looking for antibodies-is a substantial underestimate. I would emphasise that we have not attempted to quantify the actual prevalence or numbers of affected herds. We did not feel that was appropriate.

Q66 Chair: Is that because of the cost of obtaining the information?

Professor Drew: It is rather more that we did not see there was a particular value to the farmer in actually counting the number of cases. What we do know, both from our own observations but also remembering that the disease was spreading very rapidly in Europe, is that the European message was that in a very short time virtually all cattle and sheep would seroconvert. Certainly, that is the data that is coming out of Europe and our own studies.

Q67 Sheryll Murray: What is the impact of Schmallenberg on nonpregnant adult cattle and sheep? Can it be fatal?

Professor Drew: The studies that have been done-both in terms of observations of field cases and experimental work done by German colleagues-show that in cattle there is some clinical disease. There is a mild fever, which can last about five or six days. In adult cattle, there is a milk drop and there is also diarrhoea. However, the disease is quite transient and the animals do recover both in terms of their health and in terms of their milk yield. In sheep, there have been no clinical signs observed in adults.

Q68 Sheryll Murray: What about deer? Are they affected by Schmallenberg as well?

Professor Drew: Yes, they are. There have been some observations of isolation of the virus from red deer and seroconversion in red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and roe deer.

Q69 Sheryll Murray: Is there any evidence of Schmallenberg affecting species besides ruminants?

Professor Drew: Not in terms of clinical disease, apart from in goats. There has also been seroconversion demonstrated in diverse species such as bison and alpaca even. A part of our work is also monitoring other species for seroconversion as well.

Q70 Richard Drax: What is the impact of Schmallenberg-if I can say that word without stumbling-on nonpregnant adult cattle and sheep? Can it be fatal?

Professor Drew: As I have said, the impact in adult sheep we would regard as minimal, because we have not been able either see any reports of clinical signs from the field; likewise, in experimental infections, there is no apparent clinical disease. Our conclusions from that are that the virus has no observable effect, although the animals do seroconvert. As I have said also, cattle are different. There is a transient illness seen with cattle that will manifest itself both as a slight dip in growth rate, but also, in milking animals, there will be an economic impact in the milk yield as well.

Q71 Richard Drax: Can deer be affected?

Professor Drew: Yes, they can. We assume so. We do not know about the clinical signs in adult deer or whether there is any clinical disease. What we do know is that it is likely that red deer are likely to be more affected than fallow or roe deer. The reason for this is the time of the year when they get pregnant and the fact that fallow deer and roe deer come into season later, over the winter, when the vectors are likely to be very much less. Red deer, however, are much earlier in the season. It is likely that they would be affected more; that is our prediction. This is purely speculation, but we would anticipate that that would be the case.

Q72 Richard Drax: Is there any other evidence at all suggesting that other species besides ruminants are affected by it?

Professor Drew: Where we see a seroconversion, we would anticipate there is always a chance of this, but this is work to be done in the future.

Q73 Mrs Glindon: Are you confident that exposed animals develop immunity and will not suffer any ill effects if exposed to the virus on a subsequent occasion?

Professor Drew: Yes, we do see that animals seroconvert very readily. This means they produce an antibody. We have experimental evidence that animals which do undergo this production of antibody are then protected from subsequent infection. This has been shown experimentally and there is also evidence from data coming out of Germany, particularly between the 2011 and 2012 lambing season, that those flocks of sheep that were affected by Schmallenberg in the 2011 season did not have losses in the 2012 season. This is also evidence that animals do seroconvert and are then protected. There is a similar disease that is prevalent in Asia and Australia, which is called Akabane, which is a similar virus. Likewise, there is a similar level of protection afforded by prior exposure to this virus also.

Q74 Mrs Glindon: Do you think that there is evidence that immunity can be passed down?

Professor Drew: We can speculate that. We have not done the experiments to prove that, but we would speculate that the antibody in the milk of the mother would protect the young animal. I would, however, stress that a young sheep, essentially, in terms of its susceptibility to the virus, would be exposed but would probably not show any illness. In a young calf, if it were not protected by a maternal antibody, the most that might happen would be a fever and transient diarrhoea.

Q75 Neil Parish: Last year, we were told there were a few cases of Schmallenberg; that we should not get overly excited about I; it was coming across from the east coast. There were very few actual cattle or sheep in the West Country, for instance, which were affected. This year, in early lambing flocks, we have seen quite a lot of infection, and we have seen quite a lot in cattle. It is very important now to know when a vaccine will be available. Are you putting enough resource towards it?

Alick Simmons: The development of vaccines in this case is something for the commercial pharmaceutical companies. We understand that one company has already submitted a dossier for consideration for approval to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, and there may be more. The reason why I cannot be precise about that is that that is a relationship between the vaccine manufacturers and researchers and the regulator, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, to which I am not privy. The reason I know about one of them is because it has been mentioned in the press. It is not the role of Defra or other elements of Government to develop a vaccine for this disease.

Q76 Neil Parish: Yes, but with the time it takes to validate it and get it on to the market, are you absolutely certain that it is being validated? It is no good to wring our hands and say, "This disease will go away." That is what we were doing last year and it has got worse. I accept it is not necessarily Government’s responsibility to produce a vaccine, but it is Government and Europe’s responsibility to validate this. What is actually happening?

Alick Simmons: As my colleague said when we were talking about TB vaccines a while ago, the process is that the dossier that is submitted by the pharmaceutical company that has developed the vaccine needs to show data to support three tests: quality, safety and efficacy. Provided it can meet those three tests, it will get a licence for when it can be used. The process, as I understand it, is going through. What actual stage it is at is, as I say, commercially confidential and I have no data for this.

The point it is quite important to emphasise here-and I know it is a quite difficult message to put out-is that the quicker and faster this disease spreads over a larger geographical area, the better it will be, inasmuch that the majority of animals within a given population will be exposed and become immune. Whilst we do not know how long that immunity will last, we know it lasts at least one season and quite possibly may last a number of years. If that is the case then the quicker this spreads through the entire population, subject to geographical constraints, the better, particularly if that spread takes place before animals are pregnant.

The point, as my colleague has just mentioned, regarding animals that are born now out of affected or exposed ewes, young lambs, if they are exposed this summer, before they get pregnant whilst they are just a matter of weeks old, they will be solidly immune before they go to the ram in the autumn. Therefore, whilst they may well get exposed again, it will not matter because they will be able to fight off the infection.

Q77 Neil Parish: I thought there was now some doubt as to whether immunity is being passed on through the mother to the offspring, those that survive and those that actually get the disease.

Alick Simmons: With ruminants, what you find-I do not think we have the data for this particular disease-there is a degree of passive immunity, which is transmitted from the milk to the neonate, the young animal. Provided that is given in the very first few hours of birth-often as little as six hours of birth-circulating antibodies will be passed from the milk and will go into the bloodstream and will protect it for a period of time. Subsequently, when the animal is exposed either through natural infection or artificial stimulation of the immune system through vaccine, as that immunity given by the milk starts to wane, it will be picked up by naturally acquired immunity, which will be more solid.

Q78 Neil Parish: There are flocks that have lost 30% of their lambs. We have quite a lot of dairy herds now that have been quite badly affected, with some heifers never really recovering from the disease. Are you saying that farmers just have to live with it? I am just not convinced that you are taking it seriously enough and encouraging a vaccine to develop, albeit this is not the Government’s responsibility. You seem to take it for granted, in saying, "Let this disease go through and all will be well." I am not convinced by this attitude at all.

Alick Simmons: From a policy perspective, what we strove to do from the outset-and I believe we have done this-was understand where the disease was, admittedly not at a herd level but at a wider geographical area, provide as much advice to farmers and private veterinarians as practicable and develop a research portfolio in collaboration with other affected countries in Europe. We have done that.

We provided good, comprehensive information about where the disease has been and we have encouraged farmers, through information we have provided, to seek specific advice in relation to their own flocks and herds to help them address this disease. As I am sure you are all aware, however, a disease that is transmitted by vectors-that is insects, i.e. biological transmission of the disease from animal via insect and back to animal-there is little work that can be done in the absence of a vaccine.

Whilst I can understand the frustration that farmers, private veterinarians and this Committee have, it is important to recognise that the process by which a vaccine gets approved is not something on which it is appropriate for someone in my role or a Minster’s role to intervene. It is a process that needs to follow a tried, tested and properly legal method, which is open to appropriate scrutiny by the Veterinary Products Committee.

Q79 Neil Parish: I would have more confidence in what you were saying if it was not that last year that the whole thing was played down, it was all going to go away and we were told not to worry about it. If the vaccine is available, are you going to do a system like the last Government did with blue tongue, which was to buy up a lot of vaccine to make sure vaccine was available, or are you just going to stay there wringing your hands for a bit longer?

Alick Simmons: I am not aware that any of my team or I, in the number of interviews we did or the articles we published, ever said not to worry about this disease. We have taken it seriously from the outset, and we always said that we expected the affected area to be extended in 2012 and therefore start to show problems at the beginning of this year.

On the point of a vaccine, it is important to draw a distinction between blue tongue and Schmallenberg disease. Blue tongue is a disease that is subject to international and national controls. We are obliged to impose restrictions over affected areas. The economic impact that that was having on farms was primarily because of the restrictions imposed, rather than the disease itself. Therefore, in order to get it out from under that, the previous Government decided to underwrite the purchase of vaccine. There are no plans to underwrite the purchase of vaccine for Schmallenberg disease if and when a vaccine becomes approved.

Q80 Sheryll Murray: Am I to take it, then, that you are going along the lines of Dr Rachael Tarlinton, when she said that it is here to stay because midges are all over Europe? The virus will settle down to be endemic; when this happens, most of the animals will be infected in their first year of life before they get pregnant. Farmers are going to have to bear the burden of this. Is that what you are saying? Rather than going along the vaccine line, you are expecting farmers to bear the financial burden?

Chair: Professor Drew, we do have more questions on this; please answer briefly.

Professor Drew: In summary, that is the most likely scenario for the simple reason that it is just impossible to control midges across an area the size of Europe. Even if we had some national campaign, it would be quite simple that midges could be blown over. Of course, we cannot control the disease in wild deer. It is likely that your scenario is the correct one.

Q81 Dan Rogerson: On the basis that it is here to stay, do you foresee any trade issues for the United Kingdom as a result of this?

Professor Drew: Yes, there have been a number of countries that have already requested testing for the Schmallenberg virus and antibody to it in the context of trade. This includes animals and trade in semen as well. We have been very active in developing tests and validating them for use with semen. Now we are in a situation where we can provide testing services; these can accompany export samples. We have done this for bovines. We are still working up the sheep semen.

Q82 Dan Rogerson: That is semen and live animals. What about for meat?

Professor Drew: Our assessment is that meat does not constitute a risk.

Dan Rogerson: That is your assessment.

Professor Drew: That is our assessment.

Q83 Dan Rogerson: However, as we have seen in the past, other jurisdictions like to latch onto these things. What should we be doing at the European level, for example, to make sure we have a framework that guarantees that a particular country’s industry will not be badly affected?

Professor Drew: That is more a policy question.

Q84 Chair: Before you answer that, if vaccination is explicitly forbidden, is that just for bovine TB? Are we allowed to use the vaccination for Schmallenberg? Would the meat be admitted in circulation?

Alick Simmons: If a vaccine is approved, it will state on the product licence the species for which it could be used and the withdrawal period for meat and milk that is derived from any animals for which the vaccine is given.

Q85 Chair: Mr Rogerson’s point is asking what stage we are at with the vaccine now. This is big business in North Yorkshire and other parts of the country as well.

Alick Simmons: Yes, indeed.

Q86 Chair: If we proceed to vaccinate, what reassurance do we have that the meat or the live animal could be exported into the food chain?

Alick Simmons: We need to draw a distinction between the European Union and third countries. The European Union is a highly regulated market, where essentially we reach agreements within the 27 member states. Therefore, any arrangements that would apply would apply to all the other member states. There are no restrictions on the movements of animals in respect of Schmallenberg between member states.

As my colleague was saying, some third countries have imposed restrictions on the movement of live animals out of the UK and some of the other affected countries in Europe to third countries. We are in active negotiation with them. The European Commission has quite rightly concluded, like we have, that we want to try to keep this as low key as possible to ensure that we do not make an industry out of a disease that is of relatively low economic importance, and for which we believe we can provide assurances about any products or live animals that we intend to export between the UK and other countries.

Q87 Chair: I am confused. Earlier, you said it was not of low economic importance; you actually gave the figures and they were quite significant. Now, you are saying you are not expecting it to last very long, but you simply do not know. What reassurance can you give sheep producers who are coming into another season where they might be exposed to this? This is cart and horse again: are we going to proceed to supply the vaccine, even if it is at the farmer’s expense? Are we going to negotiate with the European Commission that we are allowed to export the meat into Europe?

Alick Simmons: I do not believe there are ever going to be any restrictions on the meat derived from ruminants between member states in respect of Schmallenberg

Q88 Chair: Are sheep ruminants?

Alick Simmons: Yes.

Q89 Chair: You think it will be alright.

Alick Simmons: I am as confident as I can be. The evidence base will continue to grow, but we know that there are no legitimate reasons for imposing trade restrictions between one country and another in respect of this virus in respect of meat. It is very likely that there are very few if any legitimate reasons to impose restrictions on germplasm-that is, embryos and semen-and/or live animals, provided one or two steps are gone through in order to satisfy one or two conditions that might be imposed. However, this is a disease that we believe will-either through vaccination or through natural spread-become less of a problem over time. Already in the areas that have been affected in Northern Europe and, to a certain extent, in the South East of England, the disease is less than it was last year.

Q90 Dan Rogerson: You have covered most of the issues there. I am interested in what is happening at the European level. You said you do not want to escalate it too much so that we inflame the situation and make it more likely that people will latch onto it as an issue. On the other hand, since it has already been present in other EU countries for some time-and I understand there is a ban, for example, the Russian Government is dealing with some of those-we do need to make sure we get this covered and use the collective bargaining of the European Union to make sure that products are not being squeezed out unfairly. Do you think there is enough evidence to allow them to have a robust discussion with other jurisdictions on that?

Alick Simmons: There is enough evidence in respect of meat. There is emerging evidence in respect of semen. We have a little bit of information about the persistence of the virus in semen that my colleague can enlighten you on.

Professor Drew: I would not like to actually use the word "persistence". At the time there is viremia-in other words, when there is virus circulating in the blood of the animal-there is also virus in the semen of the animal. It seems to be very low. There was a German study that took something like 16 different bulls that had been where there was virus present. They could detect the virus by molecular means. When they inoculated this semen into the skin of an animal, two of six batches were able to be infectious and the animals seroconverted. We do know that there is viable virus in the semen of animals. We must take a precautionary approach, which is simply to test by a very sensitive molecular test to look for the virus. If we do not find the virus, we can be reasonably sure that that semen-

Q91 Dan Rogerson: This would be at the time of infection, when there is an attack, if you like, and that viral level drops.

Professor Drew: Exactly; the virus is only present in the animal for about six days. The animal responds very quickly to it. It is a very transient infection.

Q92 Dan Rogerson: I assume our Government is involved in these discussions to make sure that our meat and animal products can-

Professor Drew: Yes, both in the discussions on my colleague’s part but also on the science part, we are collaborating very closely with all of our European partners. The EU has given an amount of money to answer a number of very specific scientific questions, which includes the issue of semen. We are working up tests to provide that assurance.

Q93 Barry Gardiner: Mr Simmons, what did your Russian counterpart say to you when you said to him what you told us-namely that the sooner and the faster this virus swept over the farms of Russia, the better it would be for all concerned?

Alick Simmons: Whether the disease transmits to Russia or not, I would not want to predict.

Q94 Barry Gardiner: They are trying to make sure that it does not.

Professor Drew: It has just arrived in Poland.

Alick Simmons: The eastward spread as well as the westerly and northward and southward spread has been very efficient. It is an extremely efficient virus, given the appropriate vector and a sufficient density of livestock. Even if it does spread into Russia by natural means, obviously that would be quite a significant problem for them. However, what I think is very important is if, as a third country with whom we trade, we would seek to work on the evidence and convince bilaterally-with Russia it does tend to be done bilaterally between the European Commission and the Russian Federal Customs Service and Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

In general, what we do is reach an agreement between two countries to ensure that what we do is provide evidencebased certification based on the best available evidence. It is for the receiving country and receiving Chief Veterinary Officer to understand that risk and consider whether or not, based on the evidence they we are prepared to give, he is prepared to take that risk, small or whatever else he might assess it to be. The way we do this is by negotiation. We have been very successful in opening up markets to Russia and China based on that over the last two to three years.

Q95 Barry Gardiner: Professor Drew, you described the condition that the animals have, or the loss of condition. Given that this is not a notifiable disease, would you say that it makes sense for a farmer who suspects their cattle have developed Schmallenberg then to get them to abattoir as quickly as possible, because, as day follows day, they will be losing pound for pound, will they not?

Professor Drew: No, I do not agree at all. All the experimental evidence we have had and all the field studies, which have been very carefully monitored by scientists, show that the disease is an acute one and animals recover. In the case of sheep, there are no discernible clinical signs. There are reports, which I have read myself in the lay press, that report more chronic disease and animals that never recover, but I am afraid that I have no scientific evidence that this is due to Schmallenberg.

Q96 Barry Gardiner: Surely, this will depend on the time of year. If you have beef you have raised up, you are getting them ready to go to market and you want to get them off the land this year, this perverse incentive that I talked about would kick in, would it not?

Professor Drew: If you had an animal that had been naive to Schmallenberg its entire adult life and then, just before it was due to go to market, developed diarrhoea and a slight fever, I am not sure that that would actually reduce its meat value significantly.

Alick Simmons: I would emphasise, though, that only clinically healthy animals should be put forward for slaughter for human consumption. Therefore, during the period of time the animal was sick-as my colleague says, that is generally very short-that animal should be given appropriate treatment and only once it recovers should it go forward for slaughter for human consumption.

Q97 Barry Gardiner: You would be confident that no animal currently infected with Schmallenberg-you said it was six days-could actually be presented for slaughter in the UK.

Professor Drew: This is what we would call the acute disease. I do have a certain caution, however, because of the effects of the virus in the young foetus. We do know that it infects the nervous tissue-the brain and central nervous system-of the animal. We do not know what happens to an animal that might be infected at just about the time when it is developing immunity. There is a possibility that you might have a small number of animals that might be infected at that time and not show these gross physical abnormalities that we have all seen. There may, however, still be some residual damage done. We do not know about that, because we would have to make a long term scientific study. It is planned, but it has not been carried out.

Q98 Barry Gardiner: The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control suggests that there is a low likelihood of any risk to public health. Can you quantify what that likelihood is?

Professor Drew: There have been three different studies, and the one you cite is just one of them. There have also been other studies done by colleagues in the Netherlands in the context of monitoring veterinarians to do with a completely different disease, but they had the samples. None of these studies have shown any evidence of antibody production as a result of exposure. There certainly must have been plenty of exposure on the part of veterinarians and farmers. There is absolutely no evidence that human beings are infectable with this virus.

Alick Simmons: It is worth pointing out that in the Netherlands study they did look at farms and farmers on farms, which have had quite badly-

Q99 Barry Gardiner: Sorry, are we talking about normal transmission of the disease from species to species, or are we talking about ingestion?

Alick Simmons: Let us first deal with infection via vectors. It is worth remembering that many of the midges that we are dealing are quite catholic in their tastes.

Q100 Barry Gardiner: I was not worried about the midges; I was worried about eating the meat, rather than the midges.

Alick Simmons: There is no evidence for that as well. The most likely route of transmission for this disease is by a biting insect. That is the nature of the organism; it lends itself to being transmitted via biting insects, rather than by ingestion.

Q101 Barry Gardiner: There is no compensation to farmers for infection?

Alick Simmons: No.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. This is a subject to which we will wish to return; but for this afternoon, thank you very much for coming in and accommodating the delay in timing, for which we are immensely grateful. We will now break into private session, so we end the formal session.

Prepared 18th February 2013