Examination of Witnesses (Questions 69
WEDNESDAY 15 NOVEMBER 2000
69. Minister, you keep turning up in front of
this Committee. That is because we invite you. We are very pleased
to see you again and as all ministers in the Lords you are required
to have multifaceted talents ranged over the work of the Department
and this time it is badgers. Thank you for coming. If we can start
with a rather obvious question about the reason for the trial
and the rest of the programme which we have been hearing about
from Professor Bourne, what are the latest figures on the herd
breakdowns and has the rate of infection and geographical spread
continued to increase since we made our report in 1999, for examplea
sort of epidemiological update.
(Baroness Hayman) In 1999, there were
879 confirmed new TB incidents in cattle herds and that compares
with 740 in 1998, so that is an increase of nearly 20 per cent.
That is against an increase of around 44 per cent the year before.
The number of cattle slaughtered as TB reactors or contacts rose
by 13 per cent from 6,083 to 6,890. As far as the year 2000 figures
are concerned, from January to July, the provisional breakdowns
are 633 and the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered, 5,064,
so very serious figures. In terms of spread and geographical spread,
the tendency is for it to be in areas that are already subject
to high infectivity rather than spread to areas of the country
that have never seen bovine TB before, so predominantly it is
in the traditional strongholds of the south-west, south-west Wales
and the Midlands. That is the overall picture: a continuing increase
and a continuing serious picture.
70. If I can start with the potential risk of
TB spreading into human beings, this was raised in the debate
on the Select Committee's report on TB. What is your latest evidence
about people getting TB and where possibly they could get it from?
(Baroness Hayman) Part of the five point strategy
that the government has is the protection of human health in the
context of M bovis and there is joint working with the
Department of Health in this area. There are two possible routes
of transmission. One is the food borne route. All the evidence
in terms of the incidence of M bovis, rather than human
tuberculosis in the human population, is that it is not increasing.
It is stable at around 40 cases a year. As I understand it, the
mainstream view is that, because most of those cases are in older
people, it is reactivation of disease that was contracted before
pasteurisation of the milk. Obviously, we have to keep a watchful
eye on that. The FSA has now the responsibility in terms of food
safety and I know that they are looking at this issue and looking
at further independent research on that. There is no evidence
of risk of food borne contamination increasing. I think that is
probably accepted. Equally, in terms of the occupational risk,
if I can put it that wayfarmers, veterinarians, slaughter
house workersobviously that has to be kept under review.
It is kept under review both at national level between the Department
of Health and MAFF and at local level between the local directors
of public health and local SVS, State Veterinary Service, officials.
Equally, we try and give advice to those workers. Recently we
have sent out, on the basis of advice from the Health and Safety
Executive, advice to workers in slaughter houses about procedures
to protect from contact with animals.
71. Can you take me through the process of how
infected animals can get into the food chain? The Government pays
farmers 100 per cent compensation when they have a TB breakdown.
The Ministry then comes along and takes these animals and does
what with them? The Ministry is picking up the animals. That is
the responsibility of the Ministry. Where you have infected cases,
what happens to these animals?
(Mr Hathaway) The animals identified as reactors to
the tuberculin test are sent to abattoirs where they are closely
examined by Meat Hygiene Service officers. Where there is any
visible evidence of TB, either the whole carcass or the affected
parts of the carcass are removed and destroyed and do not enter
the food chain. As you are also aware, any animals which are over
30 months of age do not enter the food chain anyway. We estimate
that two-thirds of TB reactors are aged over 30 months. The remaining
parts of carcasses or carcasses where there is no visible sign
of TB may enter the food chain. It is held that cooking destroys
the tuberculosis organism.
72. But we are talking about £1.5 million.
The Government has to find the money from somewhere but, given
the time and effort to find out whether the animals have any evidence
of TB, why are we messing around with it? Why do we not just get
rid of the animals?
(Baroness Hayman) The view has always been that we
should work within the EU framework which is set out for dealing
with these animals, taking regular checks that there are no safety
hazards, both in terms of the inspection processes which are careful,
but also in terms of double checking with those responsible for
public health. The FSA is commissioning, as I understand it, taking
over some work that we have already looked at, a risk assessment
of selling TB reactor carcasses to go into the food chain. If
there is a reason not to do it, it would stop being done but at
the moment that proposition has not gone without test, either
at a European or a national level, and it is continuously under
73. If the FSA comes back and says, "This
is daft. This is just too risky", you would have to abide
by that recommendation?
(Baroness Hayman) We would want to. It would not be
a matter of them forcing that upon us. That piece of work had
its genesis when we had responsibility for this, so it is not
a rift between the two.
74. Can I move on to the husbandry issue? You
have had this report commissioned about which we asked some questions
of Professor Bourne and colleagues. I would make two observations.
This was a hurried study, largely literature based, and yet husbandry,
everyone says, is an important contributing factorit may
not be the causeto our understanding of what is going on.
Is it your intention to revisit that, both in terms of the recommendation
or the response of Professor Bourne but also what one would assume
is something that MAFF is particularly interested in, to revisit
that and do a full-blown study of husbandry and what is going
on out there?
(Baroness Hayman) I am tempted to say if it was hurried
it was done to the select committee's timetable, who wanted it
done within three months. We took that seriously and did it. It
went slightly over three months, I have to admit, but not much.
I do not think we want to revisit it in terms of a full blown,
enormously long piece of research. We have put the report into
the public arena immediately. We asked the Independent Scientific
Group for their reactions. We have asked for reactions from anyone
else who is interested and TB Forum in particular because they
do bring together veterinary interests, farming interests and
others. We are pooling those responses together with the report.
If there is action that is recommended that is different from
or supplementary to what already goes outand there is advice
to farmers that already goes outthen we will certainly
act on that. One of the interesting issues is how you get people
to act on advice that is available. That is a recurrent problem
in this area.
75. The NFU are adamant that farmers are reacting;
they are taking seriously, as they should be, the threat of TB,
but there does not seem to be any research evidence proving one
way or the other whether that is real. Is this not surely something
which needs immediate and very careful attention?
(Baroness Hayman) It is quite a difficult research
project to frame. Just as there are those who I am absolutely
certain take advice very seriously and implement it in full, you
can also be shown examplesif you go to Woodchester Park,
you see some fascinating videosof people who do not take
some of the advice and ways in which biosecurity is not protected.
It is quite difficult to randomise and control a trial of those
who are acting in a particular way and those who are not. It would
be very nice if you could have that and have some effects out
of it that were isolated, to know exactly what people should be
investing in, in terms of husbandry.
76. One thing you could do is considerably strengthen
the movement of animals and look very carefully at where animals
are going to, to see what incidents come on the back of that in
terms of breakdowns in other parts of the country. This was not
the main point that the Husbandry Panel was looking at, but it
certainly did come up.
(Baroness Hayman) Absolutely, and I think in terms
of movement regimes, testing regimes, the information that comes
out of TB99, there is a lot to be done there. I thought you were
rather along the line of how you actually saw what individual
farmers did on their individual farms.
77. In a sense, it is what farmers do on their
farms. I do not know which is worse: if they take no notice of
that or think, "I am just going to ship my animals wherever
and that is not my problem." Both come to the same conclusion,
that we ought to be treating this extremely seriously. In a sense,
it is much easier to control the movement of animals than it is
what individual farmers do on their farms.
(Baroness Hayman) Yes. Growing awareness between buyers
and sellers of animals about the TB status and the possibilities
of different sorts of movement controls when animals come on to
farms are things that we could usefully pursue and are looking
78. I want to ask about the delays in some of
the procedures. Why did it take so long to set up the auditing
procedures for surveying and despatch of badgers?
(Baroness Hayman) I am aware of a time lag in the
auditing procedures for the statistical audit because it was quite
difficult to recruit the person to do it. I was not aware of a
great delay in terms of setting out the audit regarding the humane
nature of the trials, and as you know that has been published
with the government's response.
(Mr Hathaway) It is true that the welfare auditor
started work in the early part of 1999 rather than in the latter
part of 1998. This is to do with the selection process of finding
someone both willing and qualified to do it. His report covered
the period from the early part of 1999 right round to the middle
part of the current year and the culling operations that took
place during that time span. Then his report was considered both
by the Independent Scientific Group and then both his report and
the government response were published side by side. What is important
to note is that, during that year in which he was carrying out
his audit of welfare, lessons were arising continuously, and MAFF
would then incorporate those lessons immediately into procedures
rather than waiting until he published the report and then amending
the procedure in the way he suggested.
79. You are saying that there was an iterative
(Mr Hathaway) Very much so, yes.