Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 153)



  140. The Government has already decided that it intends no further step beyond the cull areas?
  (Baroness Hayman) The paper was not only about localised culling. There are other areas of it that I think have to be considered and acted on. The issue about localised culling outside the trials is there, it has had work done on it by that sub-group and I think the TB Forum accepted that lay on the table, if you like, rather than in the long grass about a possible way forward if it was necessary. At the moment, the Government is seeing through the trials. We are not ruling out forever and a day that there could be any change to Government policy. We have talked about some of the areas in which there could be changes in different parts of the strategy. That is not ruled out forever and a day. It is important though, and I think this Committee has wanted it all along, that policy is based on strong and sound science and that is what the trials are there to provide for us. We do not want to preempt the results of those trials in policy.

  141. There has been an analysis of the consequential losses to farmers on movement restrictions when TB is found. Do you believe—and it has certainly been urged again, it was urged in the debate which took place on the Select Committee Report—that compensation levels for farmers should be reviewed?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think on compensation levels for farmers the statutory compensations are laid down. I think the consequential loss issue is slightly different because there is not a statutory obligation to pay for consequential loss. If I can answer slightly obliquely, I think the issues which have come out—I seem to have talked about swine fever a lot today—out of the swine fever outbreak raise important and broad issues about insurance in its broadest sense. I do not mean necessarily insurance through private sector insurance policies for the sorts of consequential loss which happen through animal disease or indeed we are talking about flooding no doubt and other issues like that. Farming is very much prone to lots of these sorts of circumstances. I think there has been some useful work done in the Forum and it will be continued on quantifying the consequential loss. It is, as I said to Mr Öpik earlier, quite a big leap going from that to Government becoming the insurer of last resort in some of these areas. I think we need to see from the work that is going on out of swine fever about whether there are some lessons to be learnt for endemic disease rather than exotic disease.

  142. Also, indeed, the balance between the responsibility of the producer and the responsibility of Government, where one of the issues is the control over the spread of the disease, to ensure that the correct motivations are put in place to encourage compliance and support with sensible public health and animal health measures?
  (Baroness Hayman) Absolutely.

  143. The short paper that we have had refers to the voluntary system suggested for making available the latest TB test results to those who purchase cattle. Can you explain where the voluntary aspect of this is, who is volunteering, and is it mandatory?
  (Baroness Hayman) Perhaps I can ask Dr Reynolds to respond on that.
  (Dr Reynolds) Every time a farmer has a test done on their herd of cattle, the veterinary surgeon responsible for it sends a report in to MAFF, and if a reactor result is found, action is taken. That piece of paper can now be requested by the farmer concerned and then can be requested by anyone who wants to purchase cattle from them. On a voluntary basis the farmer can make that information on the recent test report available.

  144. To get the mechanics right, a purchaser can ask for that information from MAFF who hold it, or ask for that information from the seller of the cattle who may disclose it to them if they so wish?
  (Dr Reynolds) The information is from the seller of the cattle, and now it is a formal piece of information recording the test result.

  145. So if the fellow says, "I've thrown it away, I don't have that kind of information", then the purchaser obviously makes their own judgement as to how material that issue is in their decision to purchase that particular beast?
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes, that is correct. There is no compulsion on the person selling the cattle to respond by making the information available, but MAFF has merely set up the position where that information can be provided in a standard format which can be readily understood.
  (Baroness Hayman) It is an issue, if I can come in here, which has been raised in terms of cattle passports and automatic recording. I think, as we have cattle passports at the moment, it would be an enormously bureaucratic task to be recording that information. However, we are proceeding towards an electronic database which will give you a lot more opportunities for speedy and easy recording of information that might be of benefit obviously to purchasers but also to sellers. I think we have to look at the implementation of that database and review these issues.

  146. I have just been passed a note to say that in New Zealand we are told that cattle must be shown to be negative before being allowed to be moved. I do not know whether that is the case.
  (Dr Reynolds) In New Zealand they do have movement control areas, and the procedures for controlling movements do depend on a certain level of pre-movement testing. That is not the same across the entire country.

  147. So it is only in risk areas, is it?
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes, that is right, high-risk areas. There is also a very similar process to the one that we have now introduced, to make the information available on a voluntary basis in the interest of the country.

  148. This goes a little bit back to the question I raised about frequency, because, to be honest, this would imply an increase in the frequency of tests as well, would it not? If you had to have a test made before movement could take place, that would imply an increase in the number of tests that took place. Has this approach been considered in this country? Obviously we have presumably reviewed the advantages of the New Zealand approach?
  (Dr Reynolds) Yes. The question of pre-movement testing is always at the back of our minds, and it is something which has some benefits. It also has a very sort of broadbrush catchment, and it is our approach actually to base movement testing on risk and also to make sure that it is based on a buyer beware arrangement, so the purchaser of the cattle is really the best person to arrange the testing of the animals based on what they know about the area that they are coming from and the herd, based on what they are told by the farmer concerned.

  149. So it is not just driven by the fact that the New Zealand system might appear to be rather more expensive?
  (Dr Reynolds) Not at all. The New Zealand system has been built up based on a risk approach to the management of their infection in the same way that we have.


  150. We are nearly there. Can we just look briefly at the long term. The ISG memorandum ended with a formula for the development of a long-term strategy. Are you looking to the Bourne Group, in its final advice, to lay out the framework for a long-term strategy and a long-term policy as well?
  (Baroness Hayman) I think we would certainly expect them to give us advice. There might be areas of long-term strategy—for example, on public health—that they did not focus on particularly. I think that in terms of the review as to where different pieces of research took us to inform policy for the medium term and long term, I would be looking to the ISG for advice on that. So that is obviously particularly around the Krebs trials but also around the pathogenesis trials, the wildlife trials, but there is what is called an iterative process as well going on. If, for example, we did change testing regimes and found that that was beneficial, then that would be woven into longer-term policy.

  151. What level of reduction in bovine TB would you see as the minimum in order to justify a policy of badger-culling?
  (Baroness Hayman) I once went to a meeting of an organisation and asked what their membership was. Their membership secretary said, "I wish I could say `static'". I do not think we have quantified the level of reduction that would mean success—yet. Certainly the current level of increase does not mean success, and we need to bring that down.

  152. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons said you had better have a Plan B in any case, had you not, just in case this does not work? Do you accept that you will have to have a Plan B?
  (Baroness Hayman) I am not quite sure what "this" is, in the context of what will not work, because I think I have tried to make clear that I do not believe that there is a single silver bullet answer and that we are likely to end up with a multi-faceted approach where we need to get each of the aspects right and where, in some areas—for example, the vaccine—the timeframe is going to be different from the timeframe in other areas. I think contingency planning is something that one should always participate in, and it is always a judgement about how much resource you put into contingency planning for a contingency that does not seem very likely, so you have got to strike the right balance there.

  153. My final question is, what happens if the results from the various components of the present programme do not point in the same direction—in other words, if you have got a clear result, let us say, from a proactive cull, but a negative result from a reactive cull?
  (Baroness Hayman) Then I think that is the sort of circumstance in which I would certainly be looking to the Independent Scientific Group to interpret that data and give advice as to the policy direction that was most sensible to follow. I quite envisage circumstances in which policy options will be before Ministers, without the clarity and certainty of data and information that everyone agrees on and everyone agrees on the way forward from it.

  Chairman: That, Minister, would enable me to go into a long dissertation on the history of BSE and the experience of Ministers, but I will restrain myself from doing that and thank you for coming here today. I am sure we shall see you again. We do not yet know on what subject, but there is, I think, a practical certainty that we shall see you again, and we look forward to that. Thank you.

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