Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000

BARONESS HAYMAN, MR ROY HATHAWAY AND DR DEBBY REYNOLDS

  80. Who is doing the auditing at the moment of the surveying of welfare?
  (Mr Hathaway) The welfare auditor who did the first report, Dr James Kirkwood, has now stood down. We have a new welfare auditor in place at the moment in succession to him. I would have to check my notes but my recollection is that he has asked for his name not to be made public at this stage.

  81. You have chosen not to audit the humaneness of the trapping procedures. Is there a reason for that?
  (Mr Hathaway) I am not sure I would entirely agree with that. The welfare auditor was not prevented from looking at any aspect of the trial. You will see that in his report he does not interpret the precise words of his remit in a narrow way. He feels free to comment beyond that and we would not wish in any way to prevent him from doing so.

  82. Would it be fair for me to suggest it might be worth revisiting more explicitly whether you might want to look at the humaneness of the trapping procedures?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think we are arguing semantics rather than reality here. I have talked in the light of the auditor's report about the traps themselves, the mesh of the traps, for example. There is a conflict between size of mesh to minimise the possibility of an injury to any animal and size of mesh to allow quick and speedy despatch by a single bullet. We do have a project on comparing the different traps that are available. In that sense, we are picking up on issues about trapping regimes that came out of the report and will continue to do so.

  83. Is there a point in the report where some sort of recommendations will come out of that investigation or is that once again an iterative process?
  (Baroness Hayman) I would not want to wait until the next formal report if something clear came out of that bit of research as to something that was better to do. We would act upon that then but certainly the attitude has been to put into the public arena when pieces of work were done and action that was taken.

  84. You have already explained why there was a delay in appointing an external expert to verify the statistical basis. It was hard to find someone. When can we expect to see the first report from Professor Mollison on that?
  (Baroness Hayman) I understand it came into the office yesterday. I have not seen it but I am told (a) that it is not very long and therefore I do not think we need to go through a great process of showing it to other people and getting responses in; (b) it does not raise any fundamental issues, which I suppose is the most important thing, so my instinct is to say we could publish it immediately and let people comment on it. Obviously the ISG in particular will want to look at it, but I do not see any reason for delaying publication.

  85. I think a lot of people in this room will be very keen to see that report based on what we were discussing before you came into the room.
  (Baroness Hayman) I see absolutely no reason why it should not be published, just as it is now.

  86. Finally, some people feel that MAFF is less interested in husbandry solutions than in badger solutions. They cite the delay in responding to the Independent Husbandry Panel report which came out in May. Have you any response to that?
  (Baroness Hayman) We are trying to put emphasis on all areas of the government strategy. We are taking the husbandry report seriously. I think it was important to publish quickly and get the responses to it, but we must move now to a government response on that and take appropriate action. I am interested in working with farmers' representatives about how you can most affect behaviour, because I think that is important, and get information across. Equally, looking at testing regimes, looking at movement controls, is an important area. Research on the badger culling trials is important, the work on other wildlife and the work on pathogenesis. You cannot ignore the major area that was pinpointed in Krebs where the major research resource, because it is labour intensive, is going. I think it would be irresponsible to ignore that and a lot of other people focus on that so it appears as if it is the sole MAFF focus. It is not.

  87. Are you considering in your deliberations making husbandry related payments to farmers? Is that one of the things that is in the pot?
  (Baroness Hayman) Other people put that into the pot quite a lot. I think there are two issues here. One is whether you do pay people for good practice that is in their own interests; the other is whether we do have the causal link established that shows value for money. There are two fairly fundamental issues to be grappled with, but it cannot be ignored as an issue because other people would argue it.

Mr Todd

  88. Part of the purpose of the TB99 survey was to provide data on other possible relationships between TB in cattle and either their environment, husbandry or other factors. We have already heard the ISG express concern about the delay in TB99 usage. What steps are being taken to deal with that?
  (Baroness Hayman) TB99 is very important. Therefore, I was disappointed that when the swine fever outbreak occurred it was necessary to divert some of the State Veterinary Service into the very operation dealing with swine fever, but it was the very clear advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer. I do not think you can be staffed up all the time to deal with something as resource intensive as that outbreak. Necessarily, people were diverted onto the work. In terms of what we are doing now, we have restarted the questionnaire and the work is going on. There has been quite a lot of training of new staff and existing staff to participate in it. There is some sensitivity to the issue, particularly in trial areas, of not having the TB99 work going on and therefore releasing staff from Bury St Edmunds, making the first releases, if you like, being the people who are going back into the south west. That was something I talked about last time I was at Bury last week. Yes, it has been unfortunate that we lost a few weeks in the middle there, but we are, I hope, back on track now.

  89. You have mentioned that a reasonable amount of data has already been produced from TB99 and you are asking the ISG whether they wish to see that released. Has that data given any indication of alternative views of how to control TB in cattle?
  (Baroness Hayman) The ISG itself will publish an initial analysis of the data in their third report, which will be early next year. I would not want to preempt that.
  (Dr Reynolds) About 1,200 questionnaires have been completed so far and the ISG has been able to look at the majority of those and conduct an early analysis. It is too soon to say whether anything is emerging and the ISG is looking at the information and what can be put out in their third report as an indication of how valuable the data will be.

  90. You touched on the testing regime. There have been suggestions that we should increase the frequency of testing. What is your view on that?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think we have to test on the frequency that is necessitated by incidence, so we are in a framework that testing frequency reflects the incidence. One thing that I am actively pursuing is looking at the possibility, for example, in parishes that are on a three yearly testing regime, of moving to a rolling programme of testing, so that a third of the parishes were tested each year rather than that being an area where there was no testing at three yearly intervals. I think there are ways in which we can look at improving that regime, to give us more confidence within it.

  91. Is this a resource-led decision?
  (Baroness Hayman) It is a decision that has resource implications.

  92. Indeed, but is it being led by the amount of resources that would obviously be involved in increasing the frequency of testing?
  (Baroness Hayman) We put into our planning for SR2000 additional funding for testing. You have to make some judgments about the increase in incidence and therefore what the costs will be because of that because incidence triggers an obligation to test.

  93. But you set out a pattern of increase which is continuing at an alarming pace.
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes, and I hope that that will give some flexibility to do things like changing, as I described, the testing pattern in terms of having a rolling programme, which is actually the same amount of money but more expenditure up front. It is the timing of the expenditure. I hope that we will have the flexibility in the funding that is now coming in to improve the testing regime.

  94. You hope but do not seem certain. I think you are demonstrating a very strong resource relationship.
  (Baroness Hayman) I hope I am demonstrating that the only reason I can say that that is what we are going to be able to do is because we have some more money to do it.

  95. You are saying that but I am also reading into it that there is a clear money implication to increasing the frequency of tests, which is obvious. That appears to be one of the guiding principles behind this decision.
  (Baroness Hayman) I think value for money is a guiding principle behind any decision that you take in spending public money.

Mr Mitchell

  96. My question is in respect of the road traffic deaths of badgers and the Independent Scientific Group was concerned that this has been so long delayed. It was announced last week. What is the problem? Is it just that MAFF is in its usual financial mess and is short of resources to do its job properly, which is something it always tells the fishing industry, and presumably now it applies to RTA testing which costs MAFF, does it not?
  (Baroness Hayman) The resource problems in the RTA are different from financial resource problems. The first problem was the Health and Safety Executive ending of testing of badger carcasses without the appropriate facilities to provide protection for the workers concerned. The resource had to be found and was found to instal safe areas for doing that badger carcass testing. That was not a money problem. The money was there but it takes some time to set up those lab facilities. We then had a backlog of carcasses for testing that were from the trials, rather than from the road traffic accidents. The advice of the ISG was that frozen carcasses were not the best material with which to deal and that the priority had to be to deal with the trial badgers. We have done that now and we are now in the position that we have the capacity to do the RTA. Again, we run into a problem which is not simply of financial resource; it is a human resource problem about who actually collects these carcasses because again there are health and safety implications there. We have started the RTA collection and I hope that, as the demands from the swine fever epidemic diminish, we will be able to increase the human resources going into the RTA, but I do not think you can simplify it as much as to say it is just a matter of MAFF not having the money to do it.

  97. The numbers of people collecting is a staff resource and therefore a financial issue.
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes, but it is trained staff as well.

  98. Is there a problem with laboratory facilities? You say in the progress report, paragraph 34, "There are now five laboratories with suitable facilities for carrying out badger post mortems and these should provide sufficient capacity for the culling trial to be completed." Are they also going to provide sufficient capacity to carry on the RTA studies?
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes. There will be times when there is additional pressure on the facilities because there are carcasses coming in from proactive culls and from the RTA. The proactive culls and the reactive culls do not take place all the time, so there will be an issue of smoothing out the demand on the facilities. Again, I suppose you could provide enormously more lab facilities that were for some parts of the year not being used at all in order to deal with the peaks of demand. I think the advice that I have had is that we now have enough facility to deal on a steady basis with both the RTA and the culling trials but it would be wrong to say that there will not be specific limited periods when there may be pressure because those two things are coming together.

  99. The bodies will be put in cold storage at that stage?
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes. As I say, freezing is not ideal I am informed.
  (Dr Reynolds) Deep freezing carcases that have come from a road traffic accident survey is a particular disadvantage because these carcases may already be quite damaged as a result of a road traffic accident and on top of that freezing them. The quality of material for pathology is really quite poor.
  (Baroness Hayman) It is easier to freeze, as I understand, carcases which have come out of the trial because they tend not to be in that sort of state.


 
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