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Sheep Scab

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty: The sheep scab research projects to which the Countess refers ended in September of this year and the final reports are currently being compiled by the contractors. These projects have emphasised the complex nature of using a vaccine-based approach to control sheep scab. Nevertheless the data accrued are encouraging and have shown that both the lesion areas and numbers of scab mites are reduced following injection of extracts of scab mites. Furthermore, the effects can be enhanced by concentrating sub-fractions of the extract.

Accordingly the Government continue to be hopeful that it may be possible to vaccinate against sheep scab. However, the development of any vaccine is a lengthy process and to that end a new three-year programme of sheep scab research is currently being developed with a view to work commencing early in 2004. We would hope to have a clearer idea of when a sheep scab vaccine might become available towards the end of these new projects.

The sheep scab projects which began in spring 2000 have also found a fungus that will infect mites at the high skin temperature of the sheep, produced tentative evidence of mite growth hormones which may provide a key to their control and shown that anti-inflammatory drugs reduce sheep scab infection.

It is hoped that all of these investigations will continue once the new projects have been commissioned. The cost is likely to be in the order of £550,000 per year until December 2007.

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Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, following the undertaking given by Lord Whitty during the debate on the TSE (England) Regulations 2002 (S.I. 2002/843) on 15 May 2002 (HL Deb. cols. 378–416), they have:

    (a) considered ways of ensuring that representations can be made against a notice of intended slaughter issued by a veterinary inspector; and

    (b) considered bringing in further regulations setting up an independent appeals adjudicator nominated by the British Veterinary Association;

    and if so, with what results.[HL5058]

Lord Whitty: Defra officials have been working closely with people in industry, including the British Veterinary Association, to develop new ideas to improve ways of making representations. It is expected that a fully independent body will be a key component of any revised system. We are also seeking to introduce a single, consistent process for all appropriate parts of the regulations.

The new arrangements will need to be placed on a proper statutory footing. As such, we will consult on our new proposals, over the coming weeks, as part of a package of relatively minor changes to the TSE regulations. bern

Bovine Tuberculosis: Findings of Independent Scientific Group

Lord Gregson asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will update the House on the findings of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle Tuberculosis.[HL5319]

Lord Whitty: The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) was appointed by Ministers in 1998 to design and oversee a large-scale field trial, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), aimed at evaluating badger culling as a means to reduce the incidence of cattle TB. The trial involves three experimental treatments: (i) proactive culling, which aims to reduce badger densities to very low levels across entire trial areas, (ii) reactive culling, which seeks to remove only those badgers geographically close to recent cattle TB outbreaks on particular premises, and (iii) no culling (survey only).

The culling of badgers in reactive treatment areas of the RBCT will be suspended from today. The decision to suspend the culling of badgers in these areas has been taken on the basis of recent scientific findings from the ISG.

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The ISG has advised Ministers that its interim analysis of trial data so far indicates that there was a 27 per cent increase in the number of cases of bovine TB (breakdowns) occurring in reactive culling areas compared to the related survey-only areas where no badger culling took place.

We have decided to suspend operations immediately because of the risk that a further three months of culling would cause additional TB breakdowns.

The results that have not emerged from the reactive culling part of the trial will be published as soon as possible in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Data on herd breakdowns from the reactive trial areas will

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continue to be collected and subjected to further analysis with the more detailed results being submitted for publication in a peer reviewed journal at a later date.

On the advice of the ISG, operations will continue in proactive areas because the data for these areas do not yet yield a statistically significant result. The survey-only (control) areas will also continue to be monitored.

The Government's policy on bovine TB is based on scientific advice and these findings will be taken into account in the development of the forthcoming TB strategy.

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