AGRICULTURE SELECT COMMITTEE: IMPLEMENTATION
OF THE COMMITTEE'S RECOMMENDATIONS
Public health implications of the rise in incidence
of bovine TB
Recommendation d: The public health
risks of the situation are extremely low ... we wish to emphasise
that there is no call for the public panic on [BSE] to be re-ignited
over bovine TB.
Recommendation e: ... the risk ... "is
not great" and we believe it should not be overplayed. We
are concerned that the rise in bovine TB in cattle may be misunderstood
and misrepresented in the media as being linked to the disturbing
rise in the number of human TB cases ...
23. The joint MAFF/ DOH quarterly meetings have continued
throughout 2000. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary
Officer reviewed progress on the public health aspects of Mycobacterium
bovis TB in January 2000. They confirmed that the levels of
infection in humans remain low (about 40 cases per year) and that
the management of risk to human health through pasteurisation
of milk, meat inspection at abattoirs and advice on occupational
exposure remains appropriate. Advice has been issued by the Food
Standards Agency to Local Authorities on heat treatment of milk
from restricted herds and by the Department of Health to Consultants
in Communicable Disease Control on screening of people in contact
with infected cattle. Advice is also being issued to owners of
abattoirs which receive cattle.
Recommendation h: We believe that MAFF
should pay more attention to identifying the principal cause of
[the increased rate of herd breakdowns] ...
24. More than 1200 TB 99 epidemiological reports
have been entered on the database. Data from 688 reports of incidents
which occurred during 1999 has been summarised for the Independent
Scientific Group; we are awaiting their advice as to whether the
data summary should be published at this stage.
Recommendation k: We conclude that,
seen in context, the number of badgers likely to be culled in
the trial will not substantially affect the overall UK badger
population and is justified in pursuit of a soundly-based policy
which should save unnecessary slaughter of both badgers and cattle
in the future.
25. The Government agreed with this conclusion. Professor
Sir John Krebs estimated that around 12,500 badgers would be culled
in the trial lasting five years. As a comparison the badger population
of Great Britain is estimated to exceed 300,000 and over 50,000
badgers are believed to be killed on the roads each year. By 17
November 2000, in the trial triplets where culling had been carried
out so far, 2454 badgers had been culled. This would suggest the
Krebs figure is unlikely to be exceeded:
Implementation of the Krebs report
Recommendation n: We regret the delay between
the publication of the Krebs report in December 1997 and the Government's
announcement of 17 August 1998, two years after the start of the
Krebs inquiry, especially given that no policy to control bovine
TB was in place at all during that period.
28. The Government accepted that an earlier announcement
would have been desirable. However, the regular testing of cattle
herds and examination of animals at slaughter for TB, which is
the principal means of controlling TB in cattle, continued uninterrupted
throughout the period in question along with controls to protect
Recommendation o: ... It is essential
therefore that a test is developed in line with a vaccine for
cattle which allows the distinction to be made [between infected
and vaccinated animals] and which is accepted throughout the EU
and by the European Commission. The Government should keep the
EC informed of developments in this field.
Recommendation p: We assume that the Bourne Group's
responsibility for advising Ministers on vaccines and vaccinations
includes the monitoring of progress on vaccine development recommended
by Krebs but would welcome clarification of this point.
Recommendation q: ... we recommend that the Government
review its entire TB vaccination strategy to ensure that sufficient
funding is given as a priority to human vaccine development, that
research is conducted into the difference between TB in cattle
and humans, and that UK scientists have access to the latest developments
in this field.
Recommendation r: The difficulties with delivering
a badger vaccine persuade us that a cattle vaccine offers more
potential in the control of bovine TB, although we advocate the
continuation of research into a vaccine for badgers.
29. The major focus of the TB vaccine research programme
involves the development of a cattle vaccine, although the option
of a vaccine for badgers is being retained. The initial approach
of developing vaccine candidates is similar irrespective of the
target species. A report on the progress made in the TB vaccine
research programme in the period July 1999 to June 2000 was published
on 9 August 2000 and is available on the MAFF TB website (www.maff.gov.uk/animalh/tb).
30. A project on M. bovis genome sequencing
and analysis is expected to provide inputs into the vaccine development
programme, for example potential subunit vaccine candidates, identification
of novel virulence factors and diagnostic reagents.
31. UK researchers working on TB vaccines are in
regular contact with leading international experts and groups
on cattle TB, notably in New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland.
There is also specific co-ordination with the WHO/NIH vaccine
screening programme for human tuberculosis. Promising candidates
generated in that programme will be forwarded for testing in the
M. bovis programme.
32. At present the programme is focusing mainly on
developing new candidate vaccines, and assessing these in laboratory
small animal models and in cattle. Their performance is to be
compared with BCG vaccination. An advantage of working on cattle
vaccines is that candidates which show promise in laboratory small
animals can then be tested in the natural host species before
progressing to clinical trials. Differential diagnostic tests
for cattle using peptide antigens which can distinguish vaccinated
animals are also being developed to address the problem of induced
tuberculin test sensitivity.
33. Closely allied to the research into promising
vaccine candidates is that on developing improved diagnostic reagents
and tests for use in live badgers. Various methods of delivering
potential oral vaccines to badgers are also being investigated,
including aerosol generating capsules and baits.
Recommendation t and u - see response for recommendation
Road traffic accident survey
Recommendation w: We recommend that
the road traffic accident survey be implemented in the counties
identified by the Bourne Group as soon as possible in order that
information may be gathered to substantiate that from the culling
trial. For counties outside the culling trial, we recommend that
the Bourne Group determine how many badgers are necessary to identify
prevalence within acceptable limits and the cost-effectiveness
of such an exercise.
34. Re-introduction of a limited RTA survey in the
seven counties recommended by the Independent Scientific Group
has been delayed, initially due to upgrading of badger post mortem
facilities at the Veterinary Laboratories Agencies laboratories
and more recently by the diversion of MAFF resources to deal with
the outbreak of Classical Swine Fever in East Anglia. The survey
started on 7 November 2000. The information from the survey may
be helpful in understanding the underlying prevalence of TB in
badgers. It will be compared with data from the badger culling
Recommendation x: The Government should investigate
the potential role of trace elements in the incidence of TB in
cattle ... we recommend that in determining future research projects
the role of trace elements in susceptibility to bovine TB in cattle
and badgers should be specifically included ...
35. A conclusion of the Independent Husbandry Panel
report was that it is unlikely that the trace elements most commonly
believed to be deficient in cattle are related to M. bovis
infection. Information regarding the use of mineral supplements
and any known trace element deficiency forms part of the TB99
epidemiological investigation. Information so far from the TB99
database indicates that 99% of the herds give compound mineral
supplement either as free access or as a balanced feed supplement,
this suggests that primary trace element deficiency is unlikely
to be a major factor in the incidence of TB in cattle. However,
the government remains aware that trace element imbalance can
make cattle more susceptible to a range of diseases and will take
account of any epidemiological evidence in relation to TB.
Funding for research
Recommendation y: We recommend that
MAFF ensure that funding for research into bovine TB remain a
priority and that the level of funding is sufficient to ensure
that the programme of research recommended by Krebs be completed.
36. The Government remains committed to putting the
necessary research in place as part of the strategy to control
TB in cattle. In financial year 2000/1, in addition to the badger
culling trial and related epidemiological questionnaire, about
£5 million will be spent on research, including vaccine development
and research on pathogenesis and transmission of TB cattle.
Implementation of the research programme
Recommendation z: ... we believe that the lack
of information on the research programme at a time when the culling
trial was underway contributed to the impression of MAFF bias
against the badger in the eyes of many witnesses ... it has done
much to undermine the goodwill of the animal welfare lobby and
to break the perception of the Krebs report as a package of measures,
rather than as the culling trial alone.
37. The research programme is an integral element
of the Government's TB strategy. An overview of the research in
progress is contained in the annual reports of the Independent
Scientific Group, on the MAFF TB website, to which summaries of
completed research projects will be added. The Government accept
there is a continuing need to publicise the existence of the research
and also the results as they become available and will take every
opportunity within its communication effort to emphasise the importance
of the research work. Several MAFF contractors presented interim
reports of their findings at the M.. bovis 2000 international
conference in Cambridge (August 2000). The proceedings will be
published in the scientific publication Tubercle and Lung Disease
Length of culling trial
Recommendation aa: The delays in implementation
carry the danger that the trial will have to continue for seven
years, two years longer than the period which was already causing
such concern to farmers.
38. The badger culling trial remains on course and
the ninth and tenth triplets were enrolled into the trial in October
2000. The Government's target is to complete initial proactive
culling in seven triplets by the end of 2000 and in all ten by
the end of 2001, in accordance with the requirements of the Independent
Scientific Group. The ISG believes results from the trial will
be available by the end of 2004, possibly earlier depending on
the strength of the association between badgers and TB in cattle.
Recommendation cc: We recommend that
the number and age of cubs and lactating sows caught in culling
operations after the closed season be monitored to assess the
efficiency of the closed season policy.
39. This aspect continues to be monitored as part
of the trial. In proactive culling operations in the first five
triplets lactating badgers were only trapped in one triplet, Wiltshire
where 51 were culled (8.5% of the number of badgers culled in
the initial cull in this triplet).
Co-operation with the trial
Recommendation dd: ... the wider interests of
the farming community must be to co-operate fully with the trial
... we urge [the Wildlife Trusts] to consider what message their
non-compliance sends to others for whom non-compliance with the
trial would take different forms such as illegal culling of badgers.
40. The Government condemns interference with badger
culling trial operations and any illegal culling of badgers. Participation
and cooperation from landowners and farmers is good generally,
around 80%. There has been some interference with trial operations
by protesters opposed to badger culling, mainly in the form of
damage to cage traps and other equipment. However, action by the
police and by MAFF field staff has limited the extent of this
disruption and the trial is designed to allow for such factors.
Recommendation ee: We recognise the concerns expressed
by one badger group that "unscrupulous individuals could
well take advantage of conveniently caged badgers" for use
in badger-baiting ... we ask the Bourne Group through MAFF for
reassurance that all traps are checked sufficiently regularly
to prevent this occurring.
41. As explained in the progress report of February
2000 traps are checked as early as possible the next day. Although
some badgers appear to have been released from traps by trial
protesters, there is no evidence to suggest their use in badger
Recommendation ff: We agree with the
recommendation of English Nature that the Bourne Group gather
what information it can about the scale of illegal culling.
42. Regular unannounced spot checks of setts are
carried out in 'Survey Only' triplet areas to monitor for signs
of illegal culling. We have no evidence to suggest this is occurring.
Recommendation gg: ... it is essential
that the Bourne Group can satisfy itself and hence interested
observers that the trial can be completed within a reasonable
timescale and that the results will be statistically sound.
43. The Independent Scientific Group has confirmed
to the Government that the trial remains on course to produce
valid results. The Group believes results may be available by
2004, possibly earlier depending on the strength of the association
between badgers and TB in cattle. See also the response to recommendation
nn, on the statistical robustness of the badger culling trial.
Recommendation hh: We recommend that MAFF publish
its forward projections of the number of staff it will need to
complete the trial within the five year period and how it proposes
to meet this requirement.
44. The projected complement of staff required in
the MAFF Wildlife Unit is 202. This ceiling will be achieved through
regular internal and external recruitment exercises to fill vacancies.
There are currently 171 staff in the WLU.
Recommendation ii: We recommend that
MAFF address the ability of its laboratories to cope with the
workload caused by the trial as a matter of urgency and publish
an analysis of the impact of the culling trial upon the existing
45. 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.
Work was carried out to forecast MAFF requirements for badger
post-mortems and VLA capacity to meet this is kept under review.
Recommendation jj: We recommend that MAFF publish
an account of how and when it met the requirements of each of
the three monitoring processes recommended by the Bourne Group
for the first triplet and how these processes will be applied
in the second, third and subsequent triplets.
46. The Government published the independent audit
report on humane despatch procedures together with its response
on 16 October 2000. Following the decision of the auditor to stand
down a contract has been agreed with his replacement. The Government
expects to publish the audit report of the procedures for surveying
for badger activity together with its response in the New Year
once it has received advice from the Independent Scientific Group
on Cattle TB. A new contract is currently being negotiated with
the auditor for surveying.
Recommendation kk: Although existing evidence
suggests that badger removal is unlikely to have adverse ecological
consequences, we support the environmental impact study that is
now underway and we recommend that it be made public as soon as
it is completed.
47. A Central Science Laboratory project to assess
the ecological consequences of badger removal is now in its second
year. Areas subject to proactive, reactive and survey-only treatments
in four triplets will be monitored for one year before and at
least three years after treatment. Surveys will assess the abundance
and performance of selected bird and mammal species in each triplet.
Results are not yet available for this research project.
Recommendation ll: ... we accept that it is not
essential to know exact densities of badgers, only that numbers
have been greatly reduced in the proactive areas.
48. Proactive culling has been carried out in six
triplets. It is estimated that about 20% of the badgers, which
are available to be trapped in the "proactive" culling
areas, will be left after the initial trapping. This 80% capture
efficiency takes account of the use of cage traps. Surveys carried
out after culling in four of the six areas proactively culled
so far are consistent with this estimate of 80%. In one area,
Gloucester/Hereford, the number of badgers trapped was lower,
possibly due to the fact that the field operations took place
in January, when badgers are less active. There may also have
been a lower population there due to previous official culling
operations in the area concerned.
The statistical power of the trial
Recommendation mm: ... [The illegal
culling of badgers] could result in the trial failing to show
that culling is a practical way of reducing the incidence of TB
... It is therefore extremely important to encourage the co-operation
of farmers in the control areas and also to monitor the control
areas periodically to assess the incidence of killing, as we have
recommended above. The use of mortality tags to estimate the level
of illegal culling should be further investigated ...
49. Regular unannounced visits to survey only areas
have not revealed evidence of illegal culling of badgers. Cooperation
from farmers and landowners in these areas is very good. The importance
of not interfering with badgers in survey only areas and elsewhere
is a message the Government continue to emphasise at every suitable
Recommendation nn: ... it is necessary
for the Bourne Group to undertake [quarterly] power analyses,
which should be verified independently by an expert, and to keep
the Minister informed of the relative strengths and weaknesses
of the trial ... We also recommend that the original data behind
the power analysis conducted by Dr Donnelly from the Bourne Group
... be verified by an external expert and the results of this
check be made publicly available ...
50. Following the Committee's recommendation the
Government has agreed a contract with an independent statistical
expert. Professor Denis Mollison of Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh
was appointed on 22 August 2000 to independently verify the original
data behind the power analysis conducted by the ISG. On 21 November
2000 the Government placed his first report on the MAFF TB Website
Conclusions on trial
Recommendation oo: We do not accept
that the answers to the questions posed by the trial are already
known ... We recommend that the culling trial be implemented in
full and strongly encourage all interested parties to co-operate
with it in order that reliable results be attained in the minimum
possible time and with the minimum loss of life to badgers.
51. The Government agreed with this recommendation.
Answers are needed about the contribution badgers make to TB in
cattle and whether culling badgers reduces TB in cattle. The Government
believes that the badger culling trial and the associated research
programme are the best ways of finding the answers which will
help the development of a science based policy for the long term
control of TB in cattle.
Speed of implementation
Recommendation qq: We recommend that
MAFF together with the Bourne Group examine ways in which the
trial could be implemented more speedily without impugning its
scientific rigour. At very least a target should be established
for the full implementation of all ten triplets by the start of
the closed season in February 2000...
Recommendation ss: The Bourne Group
will need to have the strength and authority to ensure that the
schedule for implementation is met. At the moment, it is not evident
that this is the case or that the Group have any sanctions should
the timetable slip. This problem must be addressed by the Minister
as a matter of urgency.
52. The timetable for the trial, set down by the
Independent Scientific Group, envisages seven triplets being subject
to initial proactive culling by the end of 2000 and all ten by
the end of 2001. The Government expects to meet these targets.
Communication of data and information
Recommendation tt: We recommend that the Bourne
Group prepare and release progress reports on a quarterly basis
summarising the progress of the trial and giving qualitative indications
of the preliminary results, with a strong warning as to the reliability
of conclusions based on the data.
53. Progress on the Government's TB Strategy, including
the badger culling trial, is summarised in quarterly reports which
are made available to Members of Parliament and the TB Forum and
placed on MAFF's TB website. The annual reports to the Independent
Scientific Group contain more detailed information on the trial
and the related scientific research. MAFF also issues news releases
to cover particular events; for example, the announcement of triplets
and publication of reports such as the external auditors, husbandry
and vaccine advisor reports.
Recommendation uu: We recommend that,
in consultation with an independent expert statistician, the Bourne
Group carefully consider what information can be made available,
when and in what form and that their decision be made known to
the public well in advance.
54. This forms part of the contract of the independent
statistician whose reports will be published, see response to
Recommendation ww: We recommend that
MAFF reassess its PR strategy in relation to the implementation
of the Krebs report, with particular attention to improving public
awareness of the purpose of the culling trial.
Recommendation xx: We recommend that
the communication strategy followed by MAFF in relation to informing
vets and farmers about TB incidents be reviewed.
55. The Government recognise the importance of communications
and is constantly looking for new and better ways to explain the
progress it is making in tackling TB in cattle. At this year's
Royal Agriculture Show in July there was a dedicated TB in cattle
stand where MAFF experts and Professor John Bourne, Chairman of
the Independent Scientific Group, were available to answer questions.
This initiative is to be repeated in 2001. TB in cattle information
was also available at other agriculture shows. The MAFF TB website
has been completely overhauled and provides an informative source
of information on the disease and on the research and control
work in place. MAFF has also produced a set of factsheets that
are freely available and there are regular progress reports provided
by MAFF to the Committee, MPs and the TB Forum. However, the Government
will continue to look at new communication opportunities to explain
its position and to listen to feedback. In particular more information
will be provided in individual badger culling trial areas to explain
the need for the trial and progress on the wider research strategy.
This effort will be aimed at the general public as well as farmers,
vets, conservation and welfare groups.