Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the RSPCA (J3)

  1.  The RSPCA welcomes the Committee's continuing interest in the problems regarding bovine tuberculosis and its monitoring of the progress in implementing the Krebs report. For the purposes of this brief submission we will focus on some aspects that cause concern. Paragraph references refer to the recommendations in paragraph 131 of the Committee's report (HC 233).


  2.  Responding to the concerns expressed by the RSPCA, and others, the Committee recommended that the number and age of cubs and lactating sows caught after the close season be monitored. The Government accepted this and said the relevant data were being collected.

  3.  The second report of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) points out (paragraph 4.2.7) that the closed season was selected on the basis of the experience that once cubs are old enough to appear above ground regularly they could be easily caught and despatched humanely. However, there were claims that this summer badger cubs had been left to starve after MAFF operatives removed the sows but not some of their cubs. Data has not been forthcoming from MAFF that would clarify the extent to which this may have occurred. However, according to published data from the North Wiltshire proactive triplet, 602 badgers were caught when operations resumed and, of these, 35 were lactating females (House of Commons Written Answer, 12 June 2000, col 457W). Therefore, the question and concern is how successful were the operatives in catching the associated cubs?

  4.  We note that in their report the ISG appear sensitive to this concern. In paragraph 4.2.7 they refer to their recommendations to MAFF that in May and June working practices for reactive culling operations should include continuous trapping over weekends to avoid cubs being left unattended if their mothers were captured late in the week.


  5.  The Committee made a recommendation regarding publication by MAFF of how the requirements of the monitoring processes were met. In their response the Government set out the arrangements for internal and external auditing. The ISG's second report, published in December 1999, stated (paragraph 4.8.5) that both external auditors had submitted interim reports. Presumably the ISG and MAFF have taken account of whatever information was in the reports. However, their contents have not been made public. The RSPCA's concern therefore is that, to date, the reports of the two external auditors covering (i) humaneness aspects and (ii) the effectiveness of surveying, social group delineation and culling, have not been published and therefore the results of this independent scrutiny are not available. Unfortunately, in our view, this delay somewhat negates the potential value of such auditing arrangements.

  6.  Responding to a Parliamentary Question regarding the auditors report, assessing the effectiveness of the surveying, social group delineation and badger culling, Ms Quin stated that they intended to publish the report, together with the Government's response as soon as possible after the final report is received from the independent auditor. (House of Commons Written Answer, 12 June 2000, col 458W) "On current expectations, this will be during the summer". Although "summer" was a rather indeterminate timetable it has now passed with still no public sign of either of the reports.


  7.  The Committee made a number of recommendations regarding farm husbandry. Since then action has been taken on various aspects including the fast track review of the available scientific evidence on husbandry by a panel under the chairmanship of Dr Phillips. A concern expressed by the RSPCA, and reiterated in the report of the husbandry panel (Section 9), is that there is a need for monitoring the effectiveness of the current guidelines to farmers otherwise their purpose remains equivocal and their effectiveness in doubt. There is, at present, no way of assessing the extent to which guidance is being implemented. Whilst it is possible that analysis of the TB99 questionnaire may provide some clarification on this point the RSPCA believes that a more effective method of monitoring is needed.

  8.  In their second report (paragraph 8.2.11) the ISG anticipated that the first analyses of the existing TB data set should be complete by the end of 2000. They expressed the view that this should then help inform the Government's efforts to strengthen existing TB controls and to advise the farming community on appropriate husbandry practices. The Committee may wish to enquire whether this aspect of the work is on target and whether it is likely to fulfil the expectations expressed for it.

  9.  The report of the husbandry panel is, at present, still under consideration by MAFF and the TB Forum so the outcome of the work is unknown.


  10.  The Committee recommended that no action be taken regarding culling badgers outside the trial areas. The ISG counselled against any such culling and their detailed advice to ministers was contained in their second report. Notwithstanding this, the RSPCA was therefore very concerned that, at one stage in the year, a subgroup of the TB Forum was considering proposals to kill badgers outside the trial areas. The Society believes that the ISG's advice on this aspect is still very pertinent and that culling badgers outside the trial areas would have profound implications for the trial itself as well as the programme of work developed by the ISG. We believe that in such areas action should focus on other aspects and we welcome the fact that the husbandry and biosecurity subgroup of the TB Forum is now focusing its efforts on husbandry aspects.

3 October 2000

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