Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)

WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000

BARONESS HAYMAN, MR ROY HATHAWAY AND DR DEBBY REYNOLDS

  120. Okay. Second question, will MAFF commission the collection and publication by independent observers of data on the survival of badgers within the trial areas including the sites where permission for culling was denied? There is a question here on how effective the culling is going to be, therefore we do need an independent assessment of its effectiveness.
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes, and the work that Chris Cheeseman is doing, going in after culling to look at the comparison of the survey work and what comes out after the cull, is to provide exactly that sort of information.

  121. That will be provided and made available?
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes. I think we need to know what proportion of the badger population is being affected by the cull.

  122. What local badger groups seem to be finding is that more badgers survive than might be viable.
  (Dr Reynolds) There are two research projects trying to establish the number of badgers from signs of their activity, from surveying, because that is an unknown piece of the jigsaw. There are two projects looking at that. Then after culling has taken place in the trial areas there are revisits to assess the amount of activity in trial areas, both shortly afterwards and at regular intervals throughout the trial.

  Mr Mitchell: Finally, will the Veterinary Laboratories Agency release historical data on the proportion of badgers culled in previous badger removals which were found to have open lesions on post mortem?

  Chairman: I think that is one to reflect on.

Mr Mitchell

  123. It is important for building up the epidemiology of the issue.
  (Baroness Hayman) That is absolutely right. As I say, as a general rule, evidence that is available, information that is available, I am very happy to make available. I think one does seriously have to say the reason you have set up an Independent Scientific Group bringing together experts in this field is to try and focus your resource on getting the information that will be most effective in building into policy. That is not ruling out individuals and others who think there are important things which need to be explored but I do not think you can completely, carte blanche, say that anyone who wants any piece of information can divert resources from mainstream work where you have set up an Independent Scientific Group to guide you as to what is the most useful information. That is my only caveat, those individual requests, if I could look at them and see if we can meet them.

Dr Turner

  124. Just a quick question, if I may, Minister, on things away from the trial and also on to the other research path which this Committee recommended and the Krebs' recommendations have been followed up really. Looking at those very briefly, the research into transmission, I take it the fact this is being undertaken means you accept the thrust of the recommendations of this Committee's report, Recommendation t, that this was not an area to be ignored. Could you give us some idea as to when you are hoping the results will be published referred to in the update we have been given? You say the research is taking place until the end of December 2003. Does that mean we will be getting all the data coming together at about the same time as the trial finishes?
  (Baroness Hayman) I know that is something that John Bourne is anxious to have. In order to have an approach to the problem that brings in all the factors and is comprehensive it would be helpful to have the results from that pathogenesis work at the same time as the results from the Krebs trial and that is very much the timetable to which we are working, yes.

  125. Looking at one other aspect on wildlife species, the same question almost. From what you told us there the results will be published when they are available but the intention there is, I assume, that will also be available at the same time?
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes. I think possibly a little earlier as far as the wildlife is concerned.
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes.

  126. As a matter of passing interest, given we have been told it is impossible to reliably detect TB in badgers, work at Oxford in particular where other wild mammals are being detected, is it equally difficult there and the results are open to question or is it that in some of the other mammals it is easier to detect?
  (Baroness Hayman) Are you talking about live testing here?

  127. The Oxford University project in paragraph 2 of your report I am referring to.
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes. The Oxford University project is taking samples from living wild animals and then releasing them. The tests on those samples has a much lower likelihood of finding TB than a full post mortem which is why the approach to finding TB in badgers must depend on a full post mortem. The Oxford work will mean that samples can be taken and stored and it is possible that there may be advances which mean that those samples can be examined subsequently by new tests. Equally that applies to samples from the badger culling from our trial.
  (Baroness Hayman) There is also a research project on carcases of wildlife and deer that are dead, which have not been killed for the trial but are dead and we are getting the results from those as well. There are two separate wildlife trials going on, one on carcases and one on live animals.

  128. It does seem as though in those two areas, the wildlife species and transmission, you will have the data at the same time roughly as the trial but the same does not seem to be the case when one is looking at the vaccine programme where I think 10 to 15 years hence is the constant answer. Is it still 10 to 15 years or are you more hopeful?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think every Minister has been told that it is 10 to 15 years since the question started to be asked. I think the conference that we had in August, the international conference, was very positive in terms of some of the work going ahead on a vaccine and being helped by the worked that has gone on on genome sequencing. One of the things that I think is particularly interesting, while Krebs was very clear that we must pursue the possibility of a cattle vaccine, there are particular difficulties around that because you are testing and differentiating between vaccinated and infected animals. That is not such a problem if you are dealing with a wildlife vaccine because you are not testing in the same way. I think that particularly in New Zealand they have shown interest in using the BCG vaccine, which does exist and does not have to be developed, and therefore does not have to have the same kind of time frame on wildlife. Now, before getting too enthusiastic about that, I think experience of BCG on human beings in different environments around the world makes us cautious between being able to extrapolate simply from one wildlife species to another in terms of the effectiveness of vaccinations, particularly with BCGs. It is an area the Republic of Ireland is interested in doing some work on badgers in and we are discussing potential collaboration on that. It might be that both a wildlife vaccine and a cattle vaccine are measures you want in your armoury in the approach to tackling M bovis. That is rather a long answer.

  129. If I could have a numerical answer in terms of the number of years?
  (Baroness Hayman) I do not think anyone has suggested to me that a cattle vaccine would be available in a shorter time frame from the 10 to 15 years that is laid out.

  130. Seriously, this is always what is being said.
  (Baroness Hayman) Yes.

  131. It does not sound as though it is a well thought through figure, does it? That is always the answer.
  (Dr Reynolds) If I can comment, the figure reflects that this is a long term scientific goal and that the scientific areas that need to be developed are quite high risk and therefore necessarily may take some time. Even at the point of having an effective vaccine candidate the development procedure of the field trial determines that there is an effective vaccine candidate. Taking that forward to a licensed product which is recognised in the European Community is very long term.

  132. Normally the time taken to do something depends on the priority and the resources being used to address the issue. I suppose really my concern is it may be we are doing all we can. Given the importance of the problem we would like to think it is not something being restricted by the resources of the research programme.
  (Baroness Hayman) I honestly do not think that it is. Having talked to people at the two main centres here, I am sure they would like to have more resources but they are not raising particular difficulties about the funding. I think it is very important that we do recognise because some of this work is expensive that you should not have a "not invented here " attitude about it. It is international work and there has to be international collaboration and that can draw on what is being done across the world. I think the constraints are much more in the time of development from getting the scientific solution and then some of the practical implications in terms of trade and those issues I was talking about.

  133. Specifically referring to the report published earlier this summer when the trials from New Zealand were being referred to, in the report we were told that a large cattle vaccination experiment was being carried out in New Zealand, "Progress and comments" page six, middle paragraph. I was pinning some hope on possibly if a large cattle vaccination experiment was under way, possibly there was some work which could be put through much more quickly than the ten years. I do not know if you have a view on that. The question I want to ask is given the different geography and conditions, if experiments like that are taking place should we not be undertaking that sort of trial over here at the same time? Would that speed up the process?
  (Baroness Hayman) Debby is my New Zealand expert so perhaps she could answer that.
  (Dr Reynolds) The work that is being done on cattle in New Zealand is indeed large scale. I do not think you should misinterpret it. It still means the number of animals have been necessarily quite small in experimental situations.

  134. What does large scale mean, if it does not mean lots of animals?
  (Dr Reynolds) The scale is an experimental scale. This is under laboratory conditions, field trials under closely confined conditions to assess whether BCG is generating a protective effect on cattle. On the geography point, the work that MAFF has funded and set up has got a very close collaboration between the work in this country and in New Zealand and the challenge approach which has been set up in New Zealand has been exactly replicated in this country so that a proper comparison can take place between UK geography and New Zealand geography.

Mr Todd

  135. The TB Forum has had its problems, I suppose one might have imagined that would be so from setting up such a diverse body. Do you feel that it is going to contribute substantially to the solutions in TB?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think it already has helped us in areas such as looking at the refinement of testing regimes. I think it is important to have that Forum acting as a sounding board which brings together disparate views on the subject. It is not easy as you point out to get that working very smoothly and it is not a decision making body. Policy has to be for ministers in this area. I think it does contribute. I think its views on the Husbandry Panel report, for example, are very important. I think it is of value. I hope it will continue to meet but I do not think there are silver bullets here in terms of any one or any single policy.

  136. Do you think the NFU's non-participation makes it of significantly less value?
  (Baroness Hayman) Well, I think it is very important that we have farmers represented and producers represented on the Committee. I was sorry the NFU felt that they had to leave the Forum. I think they will rejoin again. I think the important thing is we have not completely lost the producer element. I hope that they will feel able to rejoin the Forum in the new year and Nick Brown and I are having conversations with the NFU about that.

  137. One of the possible reasons for their frustration might have been the difficulties in producing a conclusion on the proposal on localised culling. What is your perception of that? A paper was produced by members of the Forum and it appears to be following the route through the long grass at the moment to no very obvious outcome. Is that largely what the NFU are worried about? Do you share that concern or do you believe that is just par for the course?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think the issue of action against badgers outside the trials is one of the very fundamental splits between members of the Forum, even discussion of it is very inflammatory for different sides of the argument. Therefore, yes, I would say it was one of the issues that provoked withdrawal.

  138. Would that mean that the Government intends to take no step on this matter?
  (Baroness Hayman) The Government intends to see the trials through and at the moment it has no plans for action against badgers outside the trials. We are reporting on our five point plan and strategy and we will continue to do that.

  139. Essentially this paper on localised culling can wander back and forth through the long grass for quite some time to come.
  (Baroness Hayman) The paper was not only—


 
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