Select Committee on Agriculture Fourth Special Report



FOURTH SPECIAL REPORT

 The Agriculture Committee has agreed to the following Special Report:—

 The Committee has received the following memorandum from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, constituting the Government's Reply to the First Report from the Committee of the 2000-2001 Session, Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis: Follow-Up, made to the House on 20 December 2000. A letter to the Chairman from the Minister of State (Lords) in response to a request for a note on the impact of foot and mouth disease on the bovine TB research programme is appended.

* * *

Introduction

1. The Government welcomes the Committee's Follow­up Report, published on 10 January 2001, which assesses the state of play on the Government's strategy to tackle bovine TB. The Committee's support for the strategy in general and in particular its conclusion that the badger culling trial remains "the only feasible way of obtaining the information essential to establishing the relationship between bovine TB in cattle and badgers and whether culling is a viable option" is welcome.

2. The Government is carrying forward its five­point strategy announced in August 1998. The five points are:

  • improved liaison with the Department of Health to monitor the incidence of M. bovis infection in humans and animals;
  • research to develop an M. bovis vaccine;
  • other research to improve knowledge of the disease and its transmission to and between cattle and other species;
  • continued regular testing of cattle herds for TB and slaughter of suspect animals, and where possible strengthening these controls;
  • a badger culling trial to test the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing TB in cattle.

3. The Government is committed to tackling TB in cattle and is determined to press on with finding a solution based on best possible scientific advice. All known areas are under consideration. £45 million has been allocated by MAFF in this financial year for controls to contain the spread of disease and to fund a comprehensive scientific research programme. A breakdown of this expenditure is attached at Annex A, together with outline projections for future years.

Latest statistics on TB in cattle

4. Provisional figures for January to November 2000 show there have been 933 new confirmed incidents of bovine TB in GB cattle herds, compared with 804 in January to November 1999. 7,666 cattle were slaughtered as reactors to the tuberculin test or as direct contacts in the first eleven months of 2000 compared to 6,373 in the same period in 1999.

Recent developments

5. There have been a number of developments since the Committee reported on 10 January. MAFF is consulting on amendments to the Tuberculosis (England and Wales) Order 1984 for England to improve and clarify the cattle testing arrangements. Changes are also being made to bring forward TB testing in parishes not subject to annual testing. The Government's response to the independent Husbandry Panel report was published on 18 January and sets out how it intends to encourage greater uptake of good husbandry practices against TB by farmers.

6. An independent audit of badger surveying in the field trial was published on 8 February. This concluded that there were no flaws in the operational procedures.

7. Finally, the Committee will be aware that Britain's first outbreak of foot and mouth disease for twenty years was confirmed on 20 February. Veterinary resources are being directed to contain and eradicate the outbreak as soon as possible as a matter of priority. Some impact on TB work is inevitable in the short term, but it is too early to say precisely what the effect will be.

Specific Recommendations in Agriculture Committee Report

The scientific basis of the trial

Committee recommendation

We believe that a more positive approach from the ISG towards constructive criticism of their analysis would be helpful, whether this consists of undertaking analysis to convince this Committee or of involving in their work other academics who have serious concerns about the scientific basis of the trial.

Government response

8. MAFF has consulted the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) on the Committee's comments on the scientific basis of the badger culling trial. The ISG welcomes the Committee's support for the trial and its recognition that it is the only feasible way of obtaining information essential to establish the relationship between bovine TB and badgers and whether culling is a viable policy option. The Group welcomes constructive dialogue with any organisation or individual with an interest in any aspect of its work, which ranges beyond the badger culling trial, focusing as it does on gaining a better understanding of the epidemiology of the disease in both cattle and wildlife. The ISG has worked with the independent statistical auditor, Professor Mollison, and noted with satisfaction his endorsement of its approach and of the statistical design of the trial. It will continue to work closely with Professor Mollison throughout the course of the trial as the Committee had previously recommended and invites Dr Mathews and others to discuss in detail any concerns over the trial and other parts of its recommended research programme.

Implementation of the trial

Committee recommendation

The Committee also noted the concern raised by the absence of a trial area in Wales despite the high incidence of bovine TB in Wales. We reiterate our support for the trial as the only feasible way of obtaining the information essential to establishing the relationship between bovine TB in cattle and badgers and whether culling is a viable policy option, and reaffirm our belief that it is in the wider interests of the farming community, as well as in the long­term interests of conservation and animal welfare organisations, to co­operate fully with the trial. There are lessons to be learnt from the slow implementation of the trial but nothing to be gained from abandoning it, before it has had time to achieve robust results.

Government response

9. The Government welcomes the Committee's continued support for the TB research programme. It accepts that there were problems with resources and logistics in the early stages of the trial. As acknowledged in the Committee's report, these have now been resolved. The ISG has stated that the trial is now on course despite protest activity aimed at MAFF staff and farmers. Initial proactive culling has been carried out in seven of the ten areas, with follow up culls in three. Initial culling will be carried out in the remaining three trial areas during 2001. The ISG has advised that results are likely to be available by the end of 2004 and possibly earlier.

10. The following table shows the number of badgers culled in the trial up to 31 January 2001:

TripletProactive Area Reactive Area
Gloucester/Hereford55 34
Devon/Cornwall397107
East Cornwall357178
North Wiltshire744 -
West Cornwall451 -
Devon/Somerset162 -
Staffordshire/Derbyshire428  -
Total2594 319

11. The ISG advised MAFF that there was no compelling scientific need for a trial area to be sited in Wales. The Assembly Secretary for Agriculture and Rural Development for the National Assembly for Wales decided that, in the light of that advice, she was content for the trial to proceed on an England only basis.

12. During the oral evidence session on 15 November 2000, the Committee asked for information on TB outbreaks in cattle herds in trial areas prior to the start of the trial. The data is set out in Annex B.

The road traffic accident survey

Committee recommendation

We recommend that MAFF make it a priority to provide sufficient resources to enable the road traffic accident survey to be carried out according to the directions of the ISG.

Government response

13. The Government shares the Committee's regret that the operational demands of the Classical Swine Fever outbreak diverted SVS resources from the road traffic accident survey. This resulted in a later start and much­reduced level of badger carcass collection and post mortem than was originally envisaged. In the first three months of the exercise, 93 carcases have been collected and 77 post­mortem examinations performed. SVS resources have now been re­directed to support the survey, and the Ministry, together with the ISG, is reviewing survey arrangements in order to improve its coverage and ensure that the sample size required by the ISG is achieved. MAFF will be seeking co­operation of local practice vets and others to ensure the required number of carcases are collected. However, in the short term there is likely to be some impact on resources devoted to the survey due to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Reactors in the food chain

Committee recommendation

We note that the concerns of the HSE at laboratory staff handling possibly infected badger carcases led to part of the delay. We also note that these concerns do not appear to have been reflected in the handling of definitely infected cattle and the passing of meat from these animals into the food chain. The Government should seek advice on the appropriateness of current controls.

Government response

14. The MAFF and Department of Health Liaison Group on M. bovis continues to review the incidence of M. bovis in cattle and humans and to identify issues for the respective departments to take forward. The number of cases of M. bovis in humans remains very low, at about 40 per year, and shows no correlation with the incidence in cattle in terms of geography or occupational group.

Risk from TB infected carcases

15. The Government is seeking advice on the appropriateness of current controls. The Food Standards Agency has asked the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food to review the possible health risks associated with consumption of meat from animals with evidence of Mycobacterium bovis infection, including animals with no post mortem evidence of disease which have reacted positively or inconclusively to the tuberculin test, and to advise on the adequacy of current control measures. The Committee has established a working group and hopes to be in a position to advise the Agency before the summer. The Agency intends to commission a short study (6­9 months) by limited tender to investigate the distribution of M. bovis in the edible tissues of salvaged carcases from cattle that have reacted to the tuberculin test or show evidence of M. bovis infection at post mortem inspection. The study will aim to determine the level of contamination in each of the tissues examined. The study will also review published data on transmission of infection to humans and estimate the likely infectious dose by mouth for humans. The invitations to tender will be sent out in the next few weeks.

Risk to humans handling TB reactors

16. State Veterinary Service (SVS) veterinary officers or official veterinary surgeons and, occasionally, meat hygiene inspectors acting on instructions from the SVS Divisional Veterinary Manager handle cattle being slaughtered under the TB control programme, including sampling of carcases for TB lesions. They are required to follow a range of precautions, such as wearing face masks and protective clothing, and to provide evidence of a BCG vaccination. Cattle presented for slaughter under TB control measures are processed at the end of the slaughter line which is then cleansed and disinfected. The length of time spent by official veterinarians with a possible source of M. bovis infection is limited and unlikely to be repeated every day. The precautions prescribed for such staff are proportionate to the potential exposure and in line with Health and Safety Executive Guidance. This position is distinct from that of staff working in laboratory facilities dedicated to examining carcases for indications of M. bovis, sampling them and culturing the organism from those samples. They would normally be in contact with possible sources of M. bovis for much longer periods and on a more regular daily basis.

17. Slaughterers and slaughterhouse staff do not carry out the sampling of carcases for TB lesions and so are not subject to the same close exposure to potential infection as veterinarians. However, they will be exposed to a degree of potential infection in the course of their normal work killing and preparing carcases. Slaughterhouse staff are therefore advised to adopt similar precautions to SVS staff. MAFF issued guidance on this to all red meat slaughterhouse owners in England in October 2000. This joint guidance between MAFF, the Department of Health, FSA and the Health and Safety Executive informs slaughterhouse owners of the precautions taken by SVS staff and advises them to consider similar measures in relation to their own staff. A copy of this guidance is at Annex C.

Husbandry

Committee recommendation

We recommend a more detailed study to run alongside the work of the ISG

Government response

18. Since publication of the Committee's report, the Government has published its response to the independent Husbandry Panel report (MAFF news release 16/01 of 18 January 2001). This sets out the measures the Government proposes to take forward on husbandry. MAFF is commissioning further research into the extent of badger visitation of farm buildings and food stores and survival of M. bovis in slurry. A contract let with a market research company in February to assess how effective the 1999 MAFF advisory leaflets "TB in Cattle Reducing the Risk" and "Farm Biosecurity Protecting Herd Health" as well as identifying better ways of providing farmers with advice on husbandry has been postponed, in view of the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease. Once we are in a position to move forward with the research it will take about two months to complete and results will be published on the MAFF TB website. The market research will be used as a basis for a revised strategy on encouraging farmers to adopt better husbandry practices to minimise TB risk.

19. The Government has also decided to undertake a pilot project in one county to test the feasibility of categorising farms according to their TB risk status for husbandry purposes. This will be based on ideas put forward in the British Cattle Veterinary Association's "Herd Health Strategy" paper.

TB99 questionnaire

We recommend that MAFF make an absolute commitment to its implementation as a priority.

Government response

20. The Government is fully committed to continuing its epidemiological questionnaire (TB99) and its database is expanding steadily; by 17th January 2001 the database contained 1,770 reports. The data for incidents which occurred outside the culling trial during the second half of the year 2000 is incomplete on account of the diversion of SVS staff to emergency swine fever duties; however the data for incidents within the culling trial areas will be complete for the whole year. The TB99 case and control questionnaires have been revised in the light of recommendations received and the new forms are being used for all cases from 1st January 2001. The TB99 data has been submitted to the ISG for analysis. The Government will endeavour to keep the impact of the recent foot and mouth disease outbreak on the level of resources devoted to TB99 to a minimum.

TB Forum (cattle testing)

Committee recommendation

We would suggest that the increased incidence of herd breakdown and the lack of prospect of any new direction until the trial is complete requires further action. An increase in the frequency of tests and a requirement to produce test data on sale both appear prudent. We are also disappointed that progress has not been more rapid towards the development of a more accurate test and hope that work will be pressed forward in this area.

Government response

21. The Government accepts the need to increase the frequency of herd tests in response to new incidents of the disease. This happens all the time at local level where new herd breakdowns trigger both immediate testing of contiguous herds and in many cases (depending on local circumstances) will result in the whole of the parish in question being put on more frequent testing. In addition, the 2000 annual review of parish testing frequencies is close to completion. This involves assessing testing frequencies across the country in the light of new TB incidents, taking into account epidemiological criteria, for example by creating buffer zones of more frequent testing areas around those which have had a herd breakdown. This review is likely to result in an increase in testing frequencies in some 400 parishes, which will be implemented during 2001.

22. Since publication of the Committee's Report, the Government has also announced that it is planning to bring forward a number of routine herd tests in those parishes currently on 2, 3, and 4 yearly testing, so as to ensure that a proportion of the herds in all such parishes are tested each year (MAFF news release 16/01 of 18 January 2001). This will be implemented over the coming year and will result in a significant increase in testing as a proportion of herds will be tested at a shorter interval than the normal frequency for the parish in question. Both the annual review and this initiative to spread tests more evenly in those areas not on annual testing will help increase the effectiveness of disease monitoring.

23. In December 2000 a new facility was introduced to enable farmers to request a copy of their most recent herd test certificate (form TB52) which they can then make available to potential buyers of cattle to demonstrate the date of their last herd test. The Government is not convinced that making production of proof of testing at sale compulsory would achieve sufficient benefits to justify the administrative burden on the industry. It should be borne in mind that the fact that a clear herd test has taken place does not represent a guarantee in relation to individual animals, as a herd test does not include animals under 6 months of age at the time of testing. Where farmers are buying stock from areas with a high incidence of TB, especially if the animals are intended for breeding, the Government already advises farmers to consider undertaking private pre­movement testing. However, the Government will keep this area under review.

24. Improvements to the diagnostic test are an important part of MAFF's research programme. A feasibility study into the use of the gamma interferon blood test, alongside the tuberculin skin test, has been underway since October 2000 (MAFF news release 367/00 of 18 October 2000). The purpose of this study is to provide information on the logistics and cost of carrying out the blood test in normal field conditions in Great Britain. The herds involved have undergone initial blood testing and the study is expected to be complete by July 2001. In addition, other elements of the Government's TB research programme, such as work on the immunological response of cattle to M. bovis, the cattle pathogenesis studies and the development of novel diagnostic antigens, will contribute to improving the accuracy of current testing methods.

Future policy

Committee recommendation

We believe that Ministers have to recognise that this might mean deciding to extend the trial beyond the end­date or beyond its current scope or it might mean finding some Plan B, which does not seem to be in development at the moment. It is the responsibility of Ministers, not of the ISG, to make the ultimate decisions and we believe that this process must be put in train now and not delayed until the crisis of no clear results from such an expensive and controversial programme is upon us.

Government response

25. The Government agrees with the Committee's conclusion that, with the TB research programme well underway and due to deliver results in two to three years, now is the time to start developing possible future policy options. It shares the Committee's concern that given the continued increase in TB in cattle, there should be no delay in moving to implement new policies when appropriate.

26.The Government agrees that Ministers have the responsibility for decisions on policy in relation to TB. This should be on the basis of the best possible scientific advice. The Government is grateful to the ISG for its role in devoting much time and effort in producing high quality advice in relation to the trials. MAFF is also, as part of its response to the Phillips Inquiry report, reviewing all the arrangements for the provision of scientific advice across the Ministry's work.

27. The Government is minded to develop a range of policy options. If appropriate these might be tested out possibly on a "pilot" basis in areas outside the present trials, in order to gain experience that would help Ministers reach an eventual decision on a national TB policy. The details of any pilot project would need to be fully explored before it was undertaken.

28. In addition, the Government wants to see if its work on TB vaccines can be accelerated. In collaboration with the ISG, MAFF plans to undertake scoping studies on TB vaccination of cattle and badgers, to provide a structured analysis of the public health, regulatory and safety issues as well as an assessment of the resource input necessary to develop an effective vaccine for use in the field. This work will complement the existing vaccine development programme. We will also closely examine recent developments in the Irish Republic on badger vaccines.

29. The Government is determined to do all that it can to contain the spread of bovine TB while scientific studies are in progress, and recognises that it may not be appropriate to wait until perfect scientific evidence is available before taking additional measures. The Government is keeping the situation under close review, and will not hesitate to take action if further measures are judged to be warranted.

14 March 2001

ANNEX A

Breakdown of the Government's expenditure on tackling TB in cattle (£m)

Out turn 1999/00 Estimate 2000/01 Estimate 2001/02 Estimate 2002/03 Estimate 2003/04
Cattle Testing17.6 20.222.4 25.328.6
Compensation5.3 6.37.6 9.110.9
Culling Trial*4.6 6.96.6 7.07.0
Other Research3.8 4.94.9 5.05.0
VLA2.4 2.32.3 2.42.4
HQ/Overheads4.5 4.74.7 4.84.9
TOTAL38.2 45.348.5 53.658.8

includes staff costs, accommodation and vehicles for the SVS Wildlife Unit.

Assumptions used for expenditure projections in years 02/03 and 03/04:

 i)   Cattle testing. 13% increase year on year. Based on average of estimated

 increases between1999/00 and 2001/02.

 ii)   Compensation. 20% increase year on year. Based on recent trends.

iii) Culling trial. £7.0 m in both years. Based on current levels of activity.

iv) Other research. £5.0 m in both years. Based on current levels of research.

ANNEX B

Historical Incidence of TB in Cattle in Herds in Trial Areas

  Confirmed Breakdowns:
Trial Areas
Past 3 Years Past 12 Months
Gloucester/Hereford
130
43
Devon/Cornwall
101
46
East Cornwall
51
21
North Wiltshire
56
22
West Cornwall
62
33
Staffordshire/Derbyshire
72
31
Devon/Somerset
50
20

Footnote: 1.   The figures for triplets in East Herefordshire, Gloucestershire

and Devon will be available following initial proactive culling

later this year.

    2.   Trial areas were selected first and foremost on the most recent

      three year period and with particular focus on the disease

   situation in the immediately preceding year. This emphasis on

   up-to-date and recent TB data was important, as it allowed the

   trial to take account of new areas where disease is emerging.

ANNEX C

HEALTH AND SAFETY IMPLICATIONS OF TB REACTOR CATTLE FOR SLAUGHTERHOUSE OPERATORS

Purpose of this guidance note

1. This information is provided to assist you with fulfilling your obligations under Health and Safety legislation to carry out risk assessments and introduce any controls or precautions you deem to be necessary.

2. This note is intended to provide owners and operators of abattoirs slaughtering cattle, including those who may receive cattle for compulsory slaughter following a tuberculosis (TB) incident, with information on the health and safety implications associated with bovine TB. It lists the precautions MAFF/MHS staff take when dealing with reactor animals.

You should consider the risk to your staff and apply some or all of these precautions to them also. Your guidance should also be explained to visitors as appropriate.

3. Abattoir personnel may be exposed to risks from the bovine form of tuberculosis caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. They may be exposed to the infection via three routes:

 a) inhalation of aerosol, e.g. aerosols created by coughing animals when checking ear tags prior to slaughter;

 b) accidental ingestion, e.g. if correct hygiene procedures are not followed; and

 c) through broken skin, e.g. as a result of cuts, scratches or other uncovered wounds.

4. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 1999 apply and require that you carry out an assessment of the risks from TB to your employees and identify the precautions necessary to control that risk. You are also required to provide suitable and sufficient information, instructions and training to enable your employees to know about the risk and precautions they should take.

Background

5. Cattle from TB restricted farms, that is cattle which have reacted positively or inconclusively to the tuberculin skin test (used to test for TB) or have been in contact with other animals that had TB, may be presented for slaughter by MAFF or the herd's owner. It is possible that some or all are infected with the bovine form of tuberculosis and their organs could be affected by disease. Additionally, the carcases of cattle sent for routine slaughter may occasionally show lesions of previously unsuspected tuberculosis infection.

6. Bovine TB is caused by a different agent to that causing most cases of human tuberculosis (M.tuberculosis) but it can infect humans. The symptoms are the same as for M.tuberculosis TB (symptoms are listed at paragraph 14).

7. Disease caused by M. bovis is now extremely unusual in the human population in this country, with only around 40 cases being reported annually in the UK as a whole. It is found mainly in older people who are thought to have been infected when bovine TB was more common, i.e. before the introduction of widescale pasteurisation of milk, and occasionally in people who contracted the infection abroad. The disease can be acquired by those handling infected animals or their tissues, as part of their work/occupation, although such cases are believed to be extremely rare.

8. In the past, human infection by M. bovis was through the consumption of infected unpasteurised milk, but occupational infection can occur either by inhalation of infectious aerosols or possibly through ingestion. Direct contact (i.e. through breaks in the skin) with infected material can sometimes initially give rise to a local infection of the skin.

9. All tuberculosis in humans is notifiable under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 to the proper officer of the local authority (normally the Consultant in Communicable Disease Control). M. bovis TB is also specifically reportable to HSE under the Reporting of Disease and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations (RIDDOR) if an individual's infection may have been acquired occupationally through working with animals or their products which might have been the source of infection. M. bovis TB is a prescribed disease for industrial benefit.

Implications for Slaughterhouse personnel

10. Abattoir personnel will not be asked by MAFF/MHS staff to carry out any detailed or close work with these animals, other than that involved in the normal slaughtering process. Nor will they be asked to assist with the selection or handling of any samples which may be taken for further examination as this is the responsibility of MAFF/MHS staff. However, staff occasionally volunteer to help with the harvesting of tissue samples.

11. Any activities carried out by MAFF or MHS staff on your premises will be done in such a way as to minimise the risks to themselves and your staff. MAFF/MHS staff will comply at all times with their own and any local Health and Safety Regulations or requirements imposed by you.

12. Appropriate guidance should be sought from suppliers of cleaning chemicals concerning their suitability for disinfecting M. bovis contaminated work areas and the subsequent disposal of waste water.

Precautions taken by MAFF/MHS Staff

13. The precautions to be taken by MAFF and MHS staff when dealing with reactor animals at the slaughterhouse include the following:

 i)  strict hygiene precautions will be observed, to avoid ingestion of potentially infected material, particularly by hand to mouth contact, for example hands and arms will be thoroughly washed before eating or smoking;

 ii)   all cuts and abrasions will be kept covered with waterproof dressings and protective overalls and gloves (which are waterproof/cut-proof) will be worn;

iii)   respiratory protection in the form of a disposable face mask to EN149 FFP3 standard or equivalent respiratory protection will be worn where MAFF/MHS staff decide there is a particular risk of inhalation of the infectious agent;

 iv)   staff will be able to provide evidence of a BCG vaccination, which provides substantial but not complete protection;

 v)   staff are educated to be aware of early symptoms or respiratory problems which may indicate TB infection and to report the possibility of exposure to their GP;

 vi)   staff will be aware of the need to report all incidents and accidents through the accident reporting system.

Common Symptoms of TB

14. Common symptoms of tuberculosis include fever, night sweats, fatigue, cough lasting longer than 3 weeks, weight loss and (later) spitting of blood.

Further information

15. Details of the Government's strategy to control the disease can also be found at MAFF's TB Website at www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/tb/default.htm. Alternatively, copies of the pages are available from ADC Division at Area 104, 1A, Page Street, London, SW1P 4PQ, telephone number 020 7904 6065.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

February 2001

Letter from the Minister of State (Lords), Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee

Thank you for your letter of 21 March about the Government's response to the First Report of this Session on Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis: Follow-up.

I enclose a note about the implications of the foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak on the Government's strategy to tackle TB in cattle. As you will see, the current emergency has had a significant impact on the Government's programme on cattle TB. However, we are doing all we can within the existing resources to minimise the impact and the time it will take to resume normal operations once the FMD outbreak is concluded.

The Rt Hon The Baroness Hayman

3 April 2001

Note on the Effects of the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Outbreak on the Government's Strategy to Tackle TB in Cattle

TB Testing

Almost all routine testing for TB in cattle has been put on hold, although a small number of tests were still going ahead as of 9 March, subject to adherence to the disinfection and cleansing protocol, in State Veterinary Service (SVS) Divisions which remained FMD-free. In most Divisions, reactor cattle disclosed by testing carried out before the imposition of FMD movement restrictions are being held on farms. Decisions on re-tests on inconclusive reactors and Short Interval Tests (SITs) are being made on a case-by-case basis according to the FMD situation in different Divisions. For example, all TB control testing has been suspended in the South-West Region. In practice, few re-tests or SITs are being carried out compared with pre-FMD activity.

SVS colleagues are considering urgently the need to deal with TB reactors during the FMD outbreak, and the possibilities for carrying out routine and follow-up testing outside FMD-infected areas.

The project to implement the staggering of herd tests in parishes on two, three and four year testing, which was announced at the January TB Forum meeting, had just started when the FMD outbreak occurred. It is estimated that it will take seven months from when planning re-starts to the first herd tests being brought forward on the ground. This means that it is unlikely to happen this year.

Other projects, such as this year's review of TB testing frequencies and the validation of 1999 and 2000 TB statistics on VetNet, will also be delayed for as long as the outbreak lasts.

The field trial

Badger culling operations were scheduled to resume after the close season on 1 May. However, preparations for the 2001 culling programme have been delayed and it is inevitable that this programme will be disrupted. Wildlife Unit (WLU) staff have been made available when required to the SVS AHDO offices to deal with FMD outbreaks. Some management functions are being maintained to ensure that the WLU can rapidly move back into trial operations when the FMD outbreak is over.

Field surveying has been suspended in the three Triplets scheduled for initial proactive culls this year (Triplet D - Herefordshire, I - Gloucestershire and J - Devon). Also the 2001 programme of follow-up proactive and reactive operations will be disrupted.

TB 99 epidemiological questionnaire

The backlog of TB 99 investigations that had accrued mainly as a result of the diversion of SVS resources to deal with Classical Swine Fever in the Autumn had largely been cleared before the FMD outbreak. However, the suspension of routine TB testing will delay the collection of TB99 data for 2001.

Survey of badger carcasses for bovine TB (the RTA survey)

Re-direction of SVS and WLU staff onto FMD duties has effectively halted the collection of badger carcasses for the RTA survey from 22 February.

The TB research programme

MAFF has halted all field work being undertaken on livestock farms as part of the TB research programme. A number of research projects entail extensive field studies and for some. Spring is an especially important time for the collection of field data. In view of the restrictions on the movement of livestock and the unavailability of SVS staff, we have had to postpone the start of the planned investigation of M. bovis in in-contact animals as part of our major project on cattle pathogenesis, scheduled for 1 April, until further notice. In addition, the feasibility study on the potential use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the tuberculin skin test has been suspended.

Husbandry

The Government response to the independent Husbandry Panel committed MAFF to formally audit the uptake of existing TB husbandry advice in order to determine the best way of getting advice across to farmers. A contract to undertake this had been signed with a market research company before 20 February but has been put on hold as the project involves canvassing views through meetings with farmers.

Views of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG)

At its last meeting the ISG received a situation report on FMD and held a preliminary discussion about the impact on the field trial and the TB research programme. The Group agreed to keep the situation under review and to develop advice to MAFF on the management of the trial and the research programme in order to keep the disruption to a minimum.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Animal Disease Control Division

April 2001


 
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