MONDAY 10 FEBRUARY 2003
Mr David Drew, in the Chair
Ms Candy Atherton
Mr Colin Breed
Mr Michael Jack
Mr Austin Mitchell
Mr Bill Wiggin
Memorandum submitted by the National Farmers' Union
Examination of Witnesses
MR TIM BENNETT, Deputy President, MR DAI DAVIES, Vice President, NFU Cymru, MR JAN ROWE, Vice Chairman, Animal Health and Welfare Committee, and MS JENNY SEARLE, TB Adviser, National Farmers' Union, examined.
- Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to what is for some of us well-trodden territory over the years, but a number of us felt that it was important to look again at what has been happening with bovine TB, and in particular the progress, or otherwise, being made by the expert group. So I think it would be useful just to go over some of the old ground, but more particularly try to update that. Now I know, Tim, you have got to get away fairly promptly.
(Mr Bennett) I think, Chairman, plans have changed slightly, so I am under no time pressure, to reassure you of that.
- We are under a time constraint. I think sub-committees are a nice idea but they do tend to run out of steam, or they run out of people; so we are going to keep fairly much to time, so it will be somewhat of the order of three-quarters of an hour, but if it slips a little bit then we have not lost you. But can I welcome you and say how much we appreciate the evidence you have given, and clearly we want to update our knowledge and hopefully be able to take forward some of the ideas that are prevalent currently. What I would like to do is just start with a few factual questions, which I know will be relatively easy to answer, and then I will pass over to colleagues. The first question is, what is your understanding of the current level of breakdowns with regard to bovine TB, and what implications has that for your members?
(Mr Bennett) Obviously, if you look at the latest figures, in 2002 there was a massive escalation of animals that were culled, the number of herds that were restricted because of TB. Because of the foot and mouth disease in 2001, where we stopped TB testing, until we actually catch up with the tests, the statistics, the actual percentage increase through 2001 and 2002, are actually quite difficult to get at. What there is no doubt about at all is that the incidence of the disease has not only increased, at probably a faster rate than even we were anticipating, but, more importantly, also it is spreading to parts of the country where we have not seen it for generations; and on top of that, of course, we have got a backlog of testing, at the moment estimated at about 9,000 farms. So the situation out there is of a disease that is growing quickly, is not being contained and is costing the industry and, frankly, the taxpayer more money every year.
- Have you got a figure on that?
(Mr Bennett) We estimate, this year, our figures show that probably we are hitting about #180 million a year, because you have got the Government will spend probably about #60 million, plus the loss to the farmer himself, in terms of business disruption. About three years ago, we published some figures showing that we anticipated that, that trend, at that time, we could have a cost per year of #190 million by 2006; we so disbelieved that, just did not take it as a credible figure, it looks like we are going to get to the #190 million a year, two years early, that is how serious the disease is now.
- Obviously, one of the worrying instances is the degree of repeat breakdowns; can you say something more about that, because, traditionally, we have been hit in two ways by bovine TB, there has been a spreading-out of the area of incidence, but there has been what seems to be a greater regularity of repeat breakdowns?
(Mr Bennett) Yes. There are certain parts of the country that we would call 'hot spots', where you have got constant repeat failures of tests, that people are shut up for, no exaggeration to say, years, they test after test; and those hot spots are actually growing, and in certain parts of the country, it is no exaggeration to say, if we do not find a solution to this problem, the mere fact of keeping cattle will be almost impossible to do, economically, in the future. So we have to find a solution.
- The final point is, by way of introductory questions, and others must feel free to come in if they want to, what is your current approach towards animal movements and the possible transmission of TB; on the record, what is the NFU's approach to animal movements?
(Mr Bennett) First of all, in terms of people actually buying animals, we will take the recommendation that you have them tested before you bring them onto the farm, and that has always been our consistent advice. But we have been involved in talking to Government and DEFRA, over the last year in particular, about making sure that animal movements within areas can be done in a way that does not spread the disease but allows farmers to carry on farming, because it is a terrible problem if you are shut up and you are losing animals, which effectively is losing your income. And so there have been some changes in the last few months which I think at the moment have not followed through, but I think eventually could be helpful. But there is this balance about keeping people in business, and currently I do not think, if all animals were tested before a move, we have got the resources to do it, but it is something that we would recommend for someone, if they are buying animals it is worthwhile checking their status; but that is not a guarantee.
(Mr Rowe) Chairman, just adding briefly to a couple of those points. You were referring to the sheer number of outbreaks we have had, and we have also had quite an horrendous level, over 4,000 herds this year, that have been under TB2 movement restrictions. The interesting thing is, in relation to animal movements, that that follows a year when we had foot and mouth controls, which probably had the strictest animal movement controls in place that we have ever known in this country, you know one, virtually no animals moved anywhere, and yet, following that, when we get back into TB testing, we see this enormous spread that is taking place, which indicates that animal movement is not a hugely strong part of that. What we have seen is, since testing started and since foot and mouth, restocking has taken place, that, yes, some animal movement of TB has happened, it has moved from the west into the north, but that is not an unusual occurrence, it has happened before and usually it is a sporadic outbreak which stops and does not turn into a hot spot; it is this enlargement of these hot spots and this recurrent TB which is the real nightmare that farmers have. And we used to have a situation, when there was an element of badger trapping, where if you had a breakdown and some badger trapping you would have three or four years', maybe five years', break before it came back again; now you are very lucky if you get six months and it is back on the farm again. And that is the nightmare we are in, in these hot spot areas.
- I will put just one thing on the record and then I will bring in other people. I have been contacted on a number of occasions about the problems of restocking. Now, clearly, Tim, the testing would be one way presumably in which you could allow people to restock at an earlier time, I mean that is a fair comment?
(Mr Bennett) Yes. The restocking is a very difficult problem for which we have to find a solution; people losing animals, so their income is going down, also they are shut up. And the ability to trade, within the hot spots in particular, certainly would help people's businesses, and we have been talking to DEFRA about the way to do that, in the last year, and some progress has been made.
- Just a layman's question. It is clear from the evidence that the present system is not working, they feel that Government is not devoting enough money to it, the Krebs triplet trials are not going ahead vigorously enough and the problem is growing. The NFU is the kind of statesmanlike, politically correct, sober, responsible face of farming. How far is it true to say that what you are saying in your evidence represents a membership which has already found the badgers guilty and is voting with its guns, so to speak?
(Mr Bennett) There is no doubt at all that, with the disease spreading the way it is and similarly the disease out of control, there needs to be a lot more thought put in as to how we are going to contain and eventually eradicate this disease. All the evidence that we have seen in the past, and we will see what the Krebs trials throw up, suggests there is a link between wildlife and the cows, and that is the purpose of the trials, to further understand that. The NFU's position at the moment is pretty clear. So as not to interfere with the trials, where you get hot spots developing outside of the Krebs trials areas, and where you then test the wildlife and find that they have got TB as well, then we think that there should be some limited culling of those animals actually to stop another hot spot developing; that is our policy. But, much more fundamental than that, actually I think we have got to start to try to think of some fresh ideas in this debate. This is a disease that is now costing the country and the industry a serious amount of money, it is damaging our reputation across the whole of Europe now, because this is yet another disease we cannot seem to contain, which obviously is worrying, in terms of the reputation of British agriculture, and I think all solutions, and in particular I would draw attention to a more rapid development of vaccine, have to be looked at. I think we have got to bring together the best science we can find around the world, look at what everyone else is doing around the world and perhaps try to find some fresh thinking on this. But, in the meantime, the only way that we can see to stop this disease spreading is actually to take the philosophy that if a cow with TB is put down then wildlife should be put down as well, and, at the very least, on past evidence, that seems to give you an opportunity to slow down the spread of the disease.
- I just want to test out the rather firm view that you gave us that cattle movement had not got anything to do with the spread. In evidence to the Committee from the British Cattle Veterinary Association, they comment on the fact that there are areas like Cumbria which previously have been free of disease for many years. Restocking, as the Chairman indicated, has been suggested as one of the main reasons why the disease is leaping from hot spot areas to previously unaffected areas. Are you saying that that does not happen?
(Mr Rowe) No; if I could take over from Tim, on that one. Because we do actually acknowledge that TB has moved with animal movements and with restocking; this is part of the consequence of having TB so widespread, and very often quite innocent movement from undisclosed herds that have not had a test. We do not deny that movement takes place; what we are saying is that when that movement takes place, and it is not a new phenomenon, it has been going on for years, those animals usually get discovered at the next subsequent test, the whole problem gets dealt with quite quickly, those animals are removed, that the amplification within the herd is not normally rapid, it takes place hardly at all, it is usually singular animals, they get taken out. The complication we have now is that where, and if, we have got disease movement from bovines to wildlife, which is a possibility, if the disease does not get discovered quickly enough, there could be a potential, once it gets into wildlife, that you get another hot spot starting up. But the characteristic of all hot spots is that they are where you get this huge overlay of a badger population and a cattle population, there is not a hot spot in the country where that does not occur, and in most of these hot spots we know already from past trapping that the badgers have TB. But we do not deny that TB occasionally moves with animals.
(Mr Davies) I farm in West Wales, and it is expected that many of the farms in the hot spots in West Wales will clear up towards the spring, so it is accepted that every day now we see more farms being cleared up, but we know very well that by June they will be infected again. Where they are being reinfected from, there is a big question-mark, in fact; we know that fresh stock are not being introduced on those farms, so obviously there is some method of reinfection occurring from wildlife. As a farmer, I want to see healthy cattle, I want to see healthy badgers, I do not want to see the wholesale slaughter of badgers, but I do not want to see any sick badgers wandering around farms either.
- One of the first things Mr Bennett said was that if you are going to buy a cow you should have it tested. Is there not a fundamental problem that the testing situation at the moment does not work particularly well?
(Mr Bennett) Obviously, the test is not 100 per cent, and actually, in a sense, the resources are not there to do it, and it is at the farmer's own expense before he brings cattle in, so it just adds to the cost of an industry that is already facing very stern competition. But there is no doubt at all, the advice we give to members is, that it is always a good precaution.
(Mr Davies) In reality, the local vets in these hot spots are very tied up with testing three days a week, they just have not got the spare capacity to take on individual work and test before these animals are moved. And in reality the farms are under pressure financially and they are just not going to wait until his local vet, or whatever vet he can get hold of, is going to do the job for him.
- That is the real problem, is it not, because, first of all, the cost of the testing is at the farmer's expense, secondly it is a difficult job, you have got to put the cow through the crush, and thirdly the test is not conclusive, I would never use the expression 100 per cent when talking about testing?
(Mr Davies) The other difficulty is actually, physically getting the vet out to your farm to do a private test.
- So, bearing all that in mind, probably one of the better things that has happened is that there has been some relaxation of movement restrictions imposed on herds in which TB has been confirmed. How, as the NFU, do you balance the need to alleviate the hardship on farmers and still keep an eye on the need for disease control; how do you balance that?
(Mr Rowe) What we have actually tried to arrange with DEFRA on this is more trade between farms of similar TB status, which means that those farms are already under control. We respect totally the movement restrictions when cattle are moving from a non-TB-restricted farm to one that is free, those are very unlikely to take place, but what we have been calling for, to try to ease the problems of movement restriction, is trade between similar status TB farms, and to some extent DEFRA have now put in place a protocol that will allow that. But, coming back to this earlier point of testing animals before they move, one of the big problems with it is that most farmers know from experience that one of the huge risks you have is, and I know quite a few situations now, where farmers have had a test, done the honourable thing before a group of animals, or sometimes a whole herd, is moved, found there is TB there; 18 months later, after they thought they had sold their herd, they are still trying to clear it up so that they can trade those animals on. And this is where I think we need a whole lot of fresh thinking on how it is going, because actually that is not an incentive for farmers to do the testing, unfortunately.
- Bearing that in mind, and also I think you have to bear in mind that there is quite a serious lobby of people who are blaming farmers and the way they behave for the spread of this disease, what criteria are you going to use to judge the success of this movement alleviation, which has been going since October last year, roughly?
(Mr Rowe) Again, if I can come back to that, the reality is that most of the Divisional Veterinary Offices have not had this protocol in place long enough really to be able to be sanctioning movements, other than almost about right now, that it has not been happening really since October, it is beginning to happen at this stage, and I think it is far too early to draw very many conclusions on what effect it is going to have. No doubt, DEFRA are keeping a very close eye on it, much like farmers are, but we have such a severe number of farms stuck on movement restriction now, and the trade problem of those farms is quite immense, it is where the real cost comes. And when farmers have a strong belief, which I think probably is backed up by a lot of evidence, that the problem is coming largely from something over which they have no control then that is where they feel they need a little bit of latitude within movement restriction.
Chairman: If I could take us on now to husbandry, and I think it is fair to say that we were at our most critical in our last report of both DEFRA and the expert group over the failure to take husbandry measures seriously; but I will ask Candy now to go through some of those in detail.
- Can you tell us something about the costs associated with a TB breakdown; and could you compare those with the costs of changing husbandry practices, particularly where the risks of a breakdown are high?
(Mr Rowe) The costs of a breakdown vary enormously from farm to farm, but on the survey work we did some time ago, when we published our original work on farm costs, in the late nineties, we estimated that the average breakdown was costing farmers somewhere about #12,000. Now that is made up of a number of different factors, it is loss of trade of breeding animals, or calves, it is disruption to business through the testing, it is the increased costs of food, through having to keep cattle on the farm, you would not increase intensivity of farming, basically, I have been through situations when I have had to put up new buildings to be able to keep stock. In my own instance, the costings, so far, that I have got to are well over a quarter of a million pounds since the mid eighties it has probably cost my business to live with TB; and with that sort of cost I am interested in doing everything I can to try to protect myself. But the reality is that when you have two animal species, bovines grazing over large areas of land and badgers doing much the same, hunting for worms all over bovine grazing ground, it is almost impossible to come up with husbandry measures that keep the two apart enough to stop and break this link. And what you have to realise is, it takes only one animal in 500 to go down with TB to shut that herd up, maybe for six months, maybe for a year, maybe for two years. I am under movement restriction at the moment and have been so for two years and one month and we are still getting reactors in the herd, the last lot of reactors was three completely different groups of animals that had never mixed with each other, it could not possibly have been animal-to-animal, obviously it was wildlife contamination. We have done everything on our farm that we reasonably can to try to stop badgers getting near our stock, but there is a limit to what you actually can do, they interact so incredibly closely. The possible passageways of the disease are quite numerous as well, and there are obvious things like trying to keep badgers out of buildings, which you can do to the best of your ability, but with an extensive range of buildings and a lot of animals having to feed outside buildings actually it is almost impossible to keep the two apart. You can fence off setts, although that can be quite difficult when setts are in open ground where cattle are grazing; fencing off badger latrines is almost impossible, you have got to keep finding them in the first place and we just do not have the manpower to do it. Changing management practices is largely theory really, there is absolutely no scientific evidence that any of it really works, and one person's theory and ideas contradict totally another person's.
- So have the NFU specifically endorsed any cattle-to-cattle and wildlife-to-cattle measures?
(Mr Rowe) We have fully endorsed the leaflet that DEFRA put out about the obvious measures you can take, like trying to keep badgers out of buildings, as far as you can, like feeding from troughs that are high off the ground, like making sure water-troughs cannot be shared, mineral bins cannot be shared with badgers. But, no doubt Chris Cheeseman will tell you, badgers are quite adventurous and tough animals, they will climb all sorts of things, they are very hard to keep away from those areas in which you are dealing also with feeding anything from calves through to adult cattle. The other problem that you have on farms is that very often you are getting 400 or 500 animals being looked after by two people these days, that is the sort of budgetary restraint we are in, you have barely got time to get the cattle fed and look after them, let alone rush around trying to protect yourself from badgers as well; there has to be a reality to this.
- What are your views about herd health plans?
(Mr Rowe) The majority of good herds I know now operate them, and most herds are under farm assurance plans these days, and they demand herd health plans; in our own instance, we have been suffering with TB for years, we have had health plans in operation for five or six years now, but really it has done nothing to help protect us from TB. There are the obvious instances we have been through already, checking stock when you are buying in, that is an obvious one you can do, but when it comes to a herd health plan to try to protect yourself from a wildlife disease source it is pure theory really.
- We are quite aware, as a Committee, and obviously you are aware, that there has been concern about reactors not being removed quickly; what do you think are the causes and what do you think ought to be done?
(Mr Rowe) Again, that is a very varied picture, it has improved a great deal, a lot of it was due to sort of backlog. The problem is that it depends on the type of animal, if it is an over-30-month animal, often there are relatively few outlets within the area, and if suddenly you have got a lot of them they tend to be on ration to DEFRA as much as any farmer, and it can take quite a long time to move those; the younger animals usually are moved much more quickly. Obviously, the faster they can be moved off the farm the better, because there is a potential risk from them, but you are disclosing that risk probably long after they have become a potential risk, so the difference it makes is relatively small, but it is not a good state of affairs to have reactors that are known reactors sitting on a farm any longer than absolutely necessary.
(Mr Bennett) It is of great concern that still in certain parts of the country the time taking reactors is still a week.
- Can you give us some indication?
(Mr Bennett) A week is the longest.
- There have been some Parliamentary Questions, but from your memory?
(Mr Bennett) Seven or eight weeks, and I am told that in some areas it can still get close to that for over-30-month cattle. What is more distressing to farmers is, because of the inability to find a slaughter-house to take under-30-month, that some of those animals now are being put down on farm, and that is not very pleasant, and we have got lots of complaints from our members about having to put down animals on farm rather than sending them away to an abattoir, and that is because they cannot find an abattoir for cattle under 30 months of age.
(Mr Davies) I think, Mr Chairman, the most frustrating part of it is the fact that quite often you actually get to the stage where you have your sort of 60-day follow-up test before you have the cattle being removed from the subsequent test. Coming back to the fact that as far as costs go, a farm is concerned, in our situation I have made a rough calculation, I do not know if it is of interest to you, to have a rough idea, we have some 200 cows, in the last year we have lost 20 cows which have been slaughtered, which has meant that we have lost about 120,000 litres of milk from those cows. Also, of course, in the normal state of affairs, you would lose some cattle from your herd by natural means, which you sell, and in a 200-cow herd you expect to lose about 40 cows, which in that year would contribute about 240,000 litres; the fact that actually you cannot sell your beef cattle or beef calves from the herd, or any calves from the herd, has meant that you have to find milk for those calves and an extra 42,000 litres would have to be found for the calves, which would give you a total cost, effective cash flow, roughly in the region of #63,000. The fact that you have not been able to sell your calves would mean that your cash flow would suffer also to the tune of about #15,000. The cost of feeding those 150 calves for that period of time, assuming bedding and concentrates, and so forth, would be approximately #12,000, which gives you a total cash flow deficit of about #90,000. When restrictions have been lifted, of course, you expect to sell those 150 calves to try to help, and you would expect to get about #45,000. So in reality it has cost us in the last nine months #45,000, on a 200-cow herd.
Chairman: Can we move on now to look at the triplet arrangements, and obviously home in on the Krebs/Bourne trial.
- Obviously, the whole reason why this Select Committee a few years ago looked at badgers and bovine TB was that it was the onset of the Krebs trial and the controversy that surrounded that. And one of the concerns was that, of course, in the interim, why we have the Krebs trial, effectively we have a new policy, and the whole point was that we would set up the triplets because we needed scientific evidence to prove what the links were, if any, and if they were where did they come from, and how great they were, and the whole point of the trial was to give a scientific basis to the policy that would handle this terrible disease. But, of course, we have had a real problem with the implementation of the Krebs trial. First of all, it took a long time to get started, because of problems with it, and then just when we had got everybody up and running we had foot and mouth disease. So we are in a situation now where the trial was meant to run for only five years, but we are way, way past that. So can I ask you, first of all, what implications does it have on the robustness of the science that we are going to use as the basis for a policy, in the fact that we have had an interruption, it has taken so long to report, all sorts of other conditions have taken its place?
(Mr Bennett) We are still supporting the trials, because this seems to be what Government want to do, it is the only plank in finding a solution to the future, though I emphasised at the start that we feel that there should be other policy options going on while the trials are taking place. It is extremely frustrating to farmers that the trials have taken so long. All we can do in terms of the science is take the advice of the scientists themselves about the validity of the trials. What we are convinced of is that at times the trials are not going as quickly as they should, probably because of resource; certainly, on the reactive culling, we see an element of lack of resource going into that part of the trial, and we are extremely keen to get some evidence published as soon as possible ongoing from the trial. And I know it has been suggested there might be some interim results in 2005, frankly I think that is too long, and I think any evidence that is emerging from the trial, even of the caveats of that, of course, the trial is not complete, should be published as soon as possible. This disease is in a different magnitude today from when we started the trials, and I think that all sorts of niceties need to be taken away now, in terms of the science, so that actually we can get some results as soon as possible, even, as I say, with the caveats that the trial was not complete, but, if this trial is going to produce anything, we need to start to look at some interim evidence as soon as possible.
- You are right that there is supposed to be an interim report, and, in fact, a Parliamentary Question which I asked the Secretary of State just before Christmas, she said she hoped to get the interim report out as soon as possible, but did sort of mouth to me that that could be much earlier possibly than even 2005. But, taking that we are still with that, surely, as an organisation, you are slightly pre-empting the results of Krebs, because you are calling for reactive trapping in known hot spots. Now you cannot have it both ways, can you, you cannot say, "Well, we'll support the Krebs trial because we want to know what it says, but, by the way, we'll ignore the scientific evidence that's being collected, because what we want to do is just trap reactively in the hot spots"? How do you marry together, what seem to me, those two opposing views?
(Mr Bennett) I think our position is extremely sound. We have supported the trials, and I can tell you that is despite much pressure from our members not to support the trials, because we have seen, as an extent of all the evidence we have accumulated in the past on this issue, that the Krebs trial was once again an excuse to put off decisions that might have been unpopular, let us put it as bluntly as that. While we have been accepting and supporting and pushing along the Krebs trial, this disease has not only spread to other parts of the country but the incidence is much increased. Now all we are saying is, not to interfere with the trial, but where you get into new expert areas, where there is evidence that the wildlife has actually got TB, the same rules should apply to the wildlife as apply to the cattle that my members own. I think that does not affect the scientific integrity of the Krebs trial, but it might just do something to slow down and help to contain this disease until we come up with what Government eventually are going to do, and must do, to start to take steps to eradicate this disease.
- If the report comes out, both the interim and the final report from Krebs, in maybe 2003, '05 and '07, and it says, "There is not overwhelming scientific evidence that really links the spread of bovine TB from badgers into cattle," will your members accept that?
(Mr Bennett) If the report is based on good science and it has got the scientific authority behind it, they will; but, if I may say so, what my membership want, and the NFU has advocated, is not just to say, "Let's wait and see what the Krebs trials do," we are saying, "As an interim measure, we ought to be reactive, in terms of the wildlife in the hot spots." But I thought the solution to this crisis over this disease was actually a more rapid development of a vaccine, and so we are not sitting around waiting for this Krebs trial, we should be using all the science that the world out there has got, world-class science. There are people who are doing work on this around the world, and we should be developing a vaccine more quickly, because, in my opinion, that is the solution that actually takes this out of the political arena and eradicates the disease. So I think that is just as important, developing the vaccine and looking at what everyone else is doing around the world, as the Krebs trial.
- Actually, you have almost answered my final question to you, which was, obviously, there may be other ways of exploring the development for future policy actions, and you have mentioned vaccine, you have mentioned, obviously, supplementary diagnostic tests that you would like to see in place. Do you have any other steps that you would like to add to that, so that we can have, shall we say, a much more positive development in the future for policy options?
(Mr Bennett) What we feel actually is that this is an issue that the Committee knows has been around for some time; whatever we are doing at the moment palpably is not working, because the disease is not being contained, let alone eradicated, so any new ideas to contain this disease would be extremely welcome. That is why I have advocated looking at what is going on around the rest of the world, the use of BCG on the wildlife in Ireland, and indeed in the southern hemisphere on the possums; so everything that can be looked at should be looked at. And I do feel very strongly that a vaccine development, just telling us it is ten years away, and it has been ten years away since I started farming, is not acceptable. We are living in the 21st century, we have made rapid scientific developments, and one starts to believe the vaccine is not being developed because the companies that could develop it will not be guaranteed enough of a financial return because the Government will not be committed to an eradication programme. If that is the case, I would like to see the Government commit themselves to eradication, and with more resource going into the development of a vaccine.
(Mr Rowe) Could I just add to some of those points. I endorse wholeheartedly what Tim has said about the development of a vaccine, and I think we all feel a vaccine is the long-term and probably the most substantial answer we are going to have to this problem, but it needs a lot of resource and a lot of quick thinking put into it; with this current escalation of the disease, we cannot afford to wait for another ten years, it will be a disaster if we do. Which comes back to Diana's point about why we want action outside the trial areas, within the hot spots. What the Krebs trials were set up to do, effectively, was not to try to prove the link, I think Professor Krebs came to the conclusion that circumstantial evidence was so enormous that there was definitely a link between TB in wildlife and TB in cattle; what he was not certain of was how to break it. And, effectively, that is what the trials, if you actually read, were set up to try to do. The only evidence we have had in the past is that it is virtually the wholesale slaughter of badgers seems to be the only effective method. I think, if we come back, and hopefully these figures are now being looked at in DEFRA, what we can see is that the interim trapping policy, the Dunnet trapping, which really was supposed to be in place for only 18 months and was actually in place for nearer to ten years, was actually having an effect, and the moment the moratorium on any trapping came along that was when this huge escalation in TB started, and carried on and has got worse and worse. So that it might not have been totally effective, but certainly it was having some effect, and I think it was being done on a less rigorous protocol than we would see in the reactive trapping area. Now I have two concerns about the reactor trapping in the Krebs trials, that that is the one area that is being very, very slow to get done in the trials, and really needs a lot more effort putting into it, but the reason we are calling for reactor trapping outside the trial areas is just to try to contain the disease, to get some control over it. Because we know the circumstantial evidence against this link with the badger is absolutely overwhelming, we know it is there, it is ridiculous to pretend it is not, and we just need to get some sort of lid on what is happening at the moment until we get the final results, basically.
- You referred to some trapping earlier; were they releasing the lactating sow badgers, at the time?
(Mr Rowe) Yes, they were.
- Would it not be sensible to suggest that we could try vaccination in hot spots? I believe that the current vaccination is about 60 per cent effective, it is not widely used because it interferes with the tests, and we could be vaccinating in some hot spots and culling in others and just see which one was most effective at reducing the spread of the disease?
(Mr Rowe) The vaccine at the moment is not licensed for use. John Bourne, in ISG, will tell you much more about that, I am not an expert on the processes that have to be gone through, but it has to go through quite a long trial period, we need to get the dosage right, the administration of it right, we need to look at the effect on other species, possibly. It is not just as easy as saying that there is a vaccine there; if you could line up all the badgers and give them an injection it would be a rather different matter, but it does not work quite like that.
- I am not sure that is right, actually?
(Mr Rowe) They are actually doing some work on it at the moment, but it is a little bit blind and a little bit experimental. I gather what they are now doing is expanding their clear-out area and vaccinating some of the badgers they are allowing to restock, but I think it is on a bit of an experimental basis. In this country, so far, the work on BCG vaccine really has been absolutely nothing, other than casting our eyes on other people's, and it has to go through quite a lot of official processes before it could be sanctioned over here, I believe; but if it were a possibility we would welcome it.
(Mr Bennett) Can I come back to that, because I think it is very important. I said earlier, Chairman, that all possibilities should be explored rapidly, and I think this is just one of those that need to be looked at rapidly, and if it does pose even part of a solution then we should look at a trial of it. There are obstacles, but, hopefully, with the resources situation, some of those obstacles can be cleared away a little bit more quickly.
Chairman: I think, with the forbearance of the Committee, we will ask for some up-to-date information on what is happening with vaccination, because I am afraid that there are a number of myths, including various people making claims, which I do not think is terribly helpful at the moment. So, through you, Richard, I think perhaps we can get some information on that.
- If human beings manage to develop a vaccine for themselves against TB, have you been told unequivocally that it is not possible scientifically to do it for bovines?
(Mr Bennett) No. I think the work that has been done around the world, and massive investment, in terms of a human TB vaccine, which, all our understanding is, that we have been told by scientists, is moving along much more quickly than it had been for some time, individuals talk to us and say that we could spin off from that research into cattle. We are told by private companies, who I am sure will not wish to be named, that they have got to make sure they get a commercial return for their investment, and that means a long-term commitment from government, and governments around the world, to eradicate cattle TB.
- So, just to be totally clear, you have not been told by the kinds of company that you are unhappy to name that there is no scientific barrier to producing it, because you made a very powerful statement that somebody said ten years ago, you said which was when you started, and you reckoned it would be another ten years before something might occur; it seems unusual that there is now a growing problem, a growing market-place, and you say that you have been told there is not a scientific barrier to producing a working, safe vaccine for bovines against TB?
(Mr Bennett) We have not been told of any barrier, we have been told that it has to be developed and they cannot guarantee it, but certainly the evidence is that the vaccine could be developed more quickly if there were seen to be, from individuals, outside of government, by the companies, a bigger market for it, because they will put their resources and their investment into those areas where they will get the biggest return.
Chairman: Can we be clear, when we are talking about vaccine, are we talking about a badger vaccine or are we talking about a cattle vaccine?
- I am talking about bovine.
(Mr Bennett) It could be both, Chairman. I think, eventually, it will probably have to be both, if you want to compete .
- Some would argue that it cannot be both, and that is one of the reasons we need clarification?
(Mr Rowe) If I could add a point there. Apparently, for some reason or other, the cow is a very difficult animal to get a vaccine for; it is actually proving very difficult to get anything beyond BCG even for humans. Many drug companies have been working for quite a long time to get a more successful, direly needed, human vaccine; now, I think, with modern geno-technology, it may be coming a lot closer. When it does, I am sure it may be possible to tag it suitably, to use possibly even in wildlife or in cattle, but one of the big complications of cattle is that most vaccines are based on immune response but so is this test we use for TB. And if we had to throw the tuberculin skin test out of the window because we were vaccinating, we have an enormous problem in terms of trade and recognising where the disease is; so that any vaccine that is going to be used on cattle has quite a number of problems, (a) what it is going to cost, (b) how often it has to be administered, and )) particularly, that it has to be able to differentiate itself very easily so that we can use the TT test. That way, a vaccine for wildlife may be a lot simpler to produce.
(Mr Bennett) Can I come back on this one, it is a point I made very early on in giving evidence. I think, actually, rather than just looking at what we are doing in the UK, we need to start looking around the world at what science is doing around the world and taking on board absolutely everything, because we are now in such a serious situation with this disease that we have to put all the resources we can actually to find out if someone, somewhere, has got the answer, and we cannot just assume that we are the only people that have got the solution.
Chairman: Colin, can you move on to other aspects of scientific research.
- Looking at some of the other work that is running alongside the triplet trials and such, firstly, the road traffic accident survey, you have said that really it is not being properly resourced and there ought to be a lot wider coverage than that. What is the evidence you have got that it is not being properly resourced, and what do you think the benefits will be of getting much more extensive coverage?
(Mr Rowe) Basically, we learned through the TB Forum and just experience locally that, because of the foot and mouth interruption, it was just never taking place during that time, it was very slow to get going after foot and mouth cleared up. I think, finally, somewhere around sort of the middle to end of last year, it started off again in the main seven counties where the trial areas are in operation, and at the moment it is restricted purely to those counties where the trial areas are. What we would like is to extend it across the whole country, because it is the only way we are going to get any sort of handle on badger epidemiology, we just do not know where this disease is, in the badger population. I would like something a bit more sophisticated than the road traffic accident survey, but really that is all we have at our disposal, but it is actually very limited at the moment.
(Mr Davies) We definitely need information, if there is a correlation between TB in badgers and the hot spots themselves, that will give us quite a lot of hints for the future, if we correlate the two.
- Presumably, therefore, you do not think there has been enough work done on the epidemiology to give us the sorts of results we are looking for?
(Mr Rowe) In badgers, there is very little work at all, we do not even know the proper head-count of badgers in this country, it is pure estimation at the moment.
Mr Breed: You have called for a new survey, have you not, on the whole?
Chairman: For a change in the TB99 form, particularly.
- How would you go about the sort of survey that you are looking for in the overall badger population?
(Mr Rowe) There is work being done, I think, through ISG, at the moment, on estimation of badgers, it is possible that Chris Cheeseman later may be able to fill you in a little bit more on details on that, and the sooner that work is done the better, it is just not really being applied at the moment. And, I think, as soon as we can get some more information about badger population and where TB is in the badger population the better it will be understanding how to try to break that link, or estimate where the next risk areas are going to be. It is just that we have so little information. This is a disease that exists in two very big reservoirs that interact with each other, we know where it is in the cattle population, or we have a pretty fair idea, because we are testing, we have no idea where it is in the badger population.
- Part of the problem you indicate, in terms of the information gathering, DEFRA's TB99 questionnaire, which is rather lengthy, and everything else. I think you proposed some changes to that; can you tell us what the reaction from DEFRA has been?
(Mr Rowe) I think it has been very limited. Certainly, ISG would like to see the TB99 work done; the problem is, it has to be very contemporary, it cannot be something you go back to, because it needs such a wealth of local knowledge from the farmer, and remembering what cattle were in what field at what time, and so on and so forth, and it has got to be done very soon after an outbreak. The problem is that it also demands two controls from similar herds that have not had TB. So actually it is a very resource-hungry, information-gathering system; in theory, it could provide a lot of very useful information. It comes back to the husbandry thing, in particular, whether there are any particular methods of husbandry that do help protect, or whatever, or there is a risk husbandry, or whatever, but it is very cumbersome, and, although potentially useful, it is so cumbersome that we said it might be better to do a shorter, quicker version of it, more often, and come to more or less the same sort of conclusion. It was only because it just was not happening, we just wanted to see something get going.
- I think we can understand that, in terms of the farmer's time, and everything else, but what information that currently is being collected would you leave off it, would you not bother to have collected?
(Mr Rowe) One would have to go through it in some detail, and if you have ever seen the document, it is so thick, it is a fantastically complicated sort of document, and also it has to be done on two control farms; and I think it is now being done, and hopefully some information will come from it. But it was quite a cornerstone for gathering information, way back when the trial started, and it just never really got going, it was just totally underresourced; and that was why we suggested that we would have to look in detail, admittedly, we have not, the exact detail, of what we proposed in its place, but it was just an idea that we floated, to get something moving on it.
- Finally, on the gamma interferon blood test, presumably you are in favour of that, you were saying that it could take a couple of years to get going on that; how would you propose speeding up that blood test?
(Mr Rowe) It may be quite difficult to speed it up, and the tests are designed really to try to evaluate how useful it is. I think we are beginning to get some feedback that the trials, using gamma interferon, are taking rather a lot of cattle out of some herds, and I think this is beginning to put people off, farmers, taking part in the trials. Now that needs looking at, as to how we can incentivise farmers to take part in the trials, because I think it is something we need desperately, is a more enhanced, bigger and better test, and we have put a lot of faith in gamma interferon, but we do not want to put blind and false faith in it. We need the work done, but we need to make sure that the farmers who are going to take part in this work, some way or other, do not go through ridiculous hoops to help out everybody else. I think there could be a bit of a problem there.
- This is really quite concerning, because, if the gamma interferon test is good and suddenly the number of cattle that it is showing up as having TB is much higher than you would expect, this is a huge weakness in the whole scientific argument?
(Mr Rowe) The gamma interferon test is much more sensitive, in other words, it will show up TB or show up immune response much better than the tuberculin test, but it is much less specific, in other words, it gives you a lot of false positives. One problem we have in this country is avian TB, which overlies, which is why we have this comparative skin test; a lot of other countries only have the bovine skin test, they do not need the comparative avian one because they do not have avian TB like we do. So there are greater complications with the gamma interferon test in this country than there are in others where it has been piloted. And that really is what the test is designed to try to sort out, how useful a tool it is; the perception is that it could be very useful and it could clear up things. But I think it would be wrong to say that all these extra animals that it is taking out of the herd have all got TB, they may well not have, and this is what is frightening a lot of farmers.
- How many tests have gone on so far, because, certainly, my constituency is a test area and I have not heard of any?
(Mr Davies) As far as I know, there is one in our area, the first test that was done, 50 animals were taken out, out of a herd of about 120; well I think that put off most of the neighbours, because they knew very well that they would not be able to run their businesses, and just milking 70 cows they just would not be able to pay their bills. So, on the advice from their local vet, they would not entertain it.
- So that, effectively, what you are saying is the whole test is going to grind to a halt?
(Mr Rowe) I think we need to look at that one very closely with DEFRA.
- We have got an industry-wide forum; do you think it gets sufficient information from Defra about its work in the area, and, as there is a forum already in existence, why was it necessary to call them 'industry group', which seems to have a sort of parallel existence?
(Mr Rowe) As I sit on the Forum, Chairman, I will take that one up. To deal with the last question first, the industry group I think is looking at just more practical details, the sort of day-to-day effect on the farm; rather the Forum was actually taking a much wider view, with other stakeholders' interests involved in it. The industry forum really is looking at the practicalities of managing test procedures, farm restocking, destocking, and so on and so forth; so they have slightly different roles to play. The Forum was there really, we understood, in the first place, to discuss all the elements of TB, and I would say we are far from being short of information, we are almost flooded with information at the TB Forum. But, I think, as members on that Forum, we find one of the biggest problems and stumbling-blocks to it is the lack of discussion about how to deal with the wildlife issue, particularly when it comes to any talk of culling the wildlife, it just gets stopped dead in the Forum, and we feel that is totally unrealistic, but we do not want it to be dominated totally by that aspect of it. But the TB Forum, to be of any value, must discuss all aspects of TB, in both reservoirs, and how to control the disease, because to pretend there is no overlap and interaction between the two is just plain ignorance and na_vety. And it is the one thing that is lacking, actually it is why we left the Forum at one stage, because we were so frustrated with this lack of discussion, even, about the influence of wildlife on TB, it centres just wholly and totally around cattle, and cattle testing and cattle movement, and totally ignores one side, one huge and enormously important side, of the TB equation. And we hope that, sooner or later, that gets addressed by the Chairman and that comes back in for discussion.
- You mentioned the word 'control'. Some have floated the idea of an industry-wide levy to deal with those aspects of the spread of TB in cattle; is there any interest in the NFU in that?
(Mr Bennett) The fact is, if you try to levy an industry because of a disease that is spreading because of a lack of Government allowing us to take actions to prevent the spread of disease, it is a particularly unfair levy. We know that the Government have indicated that, part of their future strategy, they wish to discuss the use of levies, in terms of animal diseases, but I have to say that insurances and levies can only come into play when the Government themselves have got the right framework and are taking the right decisions to make sure that the disease can be controlled and have got a policy of eradication. Actually not to have a policy and to throw the risk and the costs back onto the industry, frankly, that is ridiculous.
- Can I ask, just finally, do you think that the advice on good husbandry is sufficiently well developed to make it a cross-compliance element in the context of the payment of compensation?
(Mr Rowe) Certainly, I do not think it is. There is a mass of theory about husbandry, but absolutely nothing that is proven, and certainly not scientifically proven. I think, at the moment, it is far too weak an area and there is such a huge difference from one farm to another in what husbandry may or may not work. And I come back to the original point, that you can get it 99.9 per cent correct, and in a herd of 500 cows you have to have only one get TB and it has all gone wrong again. So I think, without the science behind it, without the proven knowledge that this particular husbandry will defend you absolutely from TB, it would be crazy to say that we would accept that situation.
- We must receive calls to support that. Can I ask just one further question on the testing. I am now unclear what testing is going on, and is it true that the test does not include any longer store cattle, or we are not testing calves? I could do with some clarification. Again, I think we will ask Richard to find out a few things for us, but, from your knowledge, can you just tell me what animals are tested and how frequently?
(Mr Rowe) Very often, if you have animals on the farm that are due to go to slaughter within weeks of having a test done, those animals will be exempted from the test, because the current Meat Hygiene Regulations, Slaughterhouses, deem there will not be a public health risk even if there is TB in those animals, it is a waste of time putting them through the testing procedure because they are going to slaughter anyway. If they had TB they would be slaughtered and enter the food chain, they are going into the food chain in a very short period of time, so most vets and DEFRA are quite happy to leave them out. In relation to herds in non-TB hot spots, very often calves under six months are not tested because they are not deemed to be at high risk, but I would think it is very, very few herds in hot spot areas that are on frequent testing and have had experience of TB that do not test every single animal on the farm. I know certainly our vets test every single animal, and we would insist they do so, every time.
Chairman: Can I thank you for sticking with us. We have lost a couple of people; as you know, MPs are rarely all together for too long. If there is any other evidence you would want to either highlight or bring to our notice that you have not had the opportunity to do, please feel free to send it to us. But, unfortunately, as you have not only just been giving, if you like, a written account, also you have given a televised account; whatever you said will be used in evidence against you. But thanks very much for coming along.
Memorandum submitted by National Federation of Badger Groups
Examination of Witness
DR ELAINE KING, Chief Executive, National Federation of Badger Groups, examined.
- I will not go through many niceties now, because you heard the first session and I am sure there are a number of things that you want to put your particular perspective to; but if I could start with just a couple of things. And I do appreciate that you keep us all updated, in terms of your excellent website and the e-mails you send out on a very regular basis. We want to start with looking at the Government's autumn package and some of the changes in cattle movements; you have been quite critical about those. Really I want to know why you saw some of the previous restrictions as helpful, in trying to deal with bovine TB, which you know is spreading, for whatever reason, and what you are now worried about, as a result of the changes that have just come about?
(Dr King) We are particularly concerned that, even before foot and mouth disease occurred, the Government did not have strong enough movement restrictions on cattle and movement controls and a strong enough testing regime, and on numerous occasions, as part of the TB Forum, for example, we raised these concerns, but DEFRA declined to improve those measures. During the foot and mouth crisis we raised concerns that once farmers started restocking again, after foot and mouth, farmers would be in a position where they would be moving untested cattle, that were overdue for TB tests, from TB hot spots into new areas of the country where previously TB had not been found, or where there had not been cases for many years, for example, Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway, North Yorkshire. So we predicted that this would happen. We urged the Government to put strict movement restrictions in place before farmers started restocking, so that the disease would not be spread to these new areas, and the Government did not do that. So now we have found that farmers have been restocking, a lot of the cattle have been overdue for TB tests, they have been moved and, of course, new outbreaks have occurred. So we believe that DEFRA have not taken enough action and they have not taken it quickly enough. And the package that they have brought in now really is too little, too late, it is quite disgraceful, because there is evidence that DEFRA knew full well that TB would be transmitted to new areas, it happened after the 1967 foot and mouth outbreak, that has been confirmed in letters that MPs, MSPs, have received from the Scottish Executive, from Ross Finnie, and DEFRA itself has admitted that in various papers. So we cannot understand why stricter movement restrictions were not put in place at the beginning, though obviously we have our own ideas as to why they were not put in place.
- Can I be clear, are we talking about restocking and the threat there, or are we talking about a much more general movement ban, including non-reactor cattle, to slaughter?
(Dr King) It is a wider issue. Before foot and mouth was a problem we felt that cattle-to-cattle transmission was a significant problem, there is sufficient evidence to show that it is a problem, so we wanted tighter movement restrictions put on all cattle, particularly those in TB hot spots, we wanted annual testing in all TB hot spot areas, areas beyond the annual TB testing areas at the moment, but those were not put in place. And then, of course, foot and mouth occurred, and that has made the situation worse, because the strict movement restrictions had not been put in place, which meant then that farmers were moving infected cattle out of those TB hot spots into new areas. So it was like a time-bomb waiting to go off really, and, unfortunately, foot and mouth just showed the implications of cattle movements. DEFRA has accepted that foot and mouth disease was spread largely through the movements of infected animals, TB is really like foot and mouth in slow motion.
- Finally, before I hand over to Austin to ask about your views on vaccines, can I just be clear on your views on the gamma interferon test; again, you have been quite critical about the possible benefits of this in trying to clarify, if you like, the incidence of bovine TB amongst cattle. Now why do you not see this as potentially a much more advantageous way in which we can track bovine TB?
(Dr King) Perhaps I should clarify the position. We have always supported the development of a gamma interferon test for its use in Great Britain. Our problem, our concern, is the way that DEFRA does not appear to be implementing the pilot trial properly. Now we have always supported the gamma interferon test, we were involved in the gamma interferon sub-group that the TB Forum set up, and I attended meetings with the scientists that are involved with the gamma interferon test, and you will be aware that, initially, a small pilot was carried out, before foot and mouth occurred, which was just to see if the gamma interferon test was practical to be used in this country. And the scientists have reported on that recently and they have found that it can be used practically in this country, there are still questions that are outstanding; but the new pilot trial that Defra is implementing gives us cause for concern because it is not being carried out in a scientifically-rigorous manner. And the ISG, the Independent Scientific Group, has put forward proposals as to how the pilot trial could be carried out in a rigorous manner to maximise the amount of scientific data collected and give ministers the maximum possible opportunity to decide on policy options, using the results of the trial, but Defra has not implemented it in the way the ISG recommends. So it means that the ISG is concerned that we are not going to have the answers that we need from the trial; and this is highly significant, we are very concerned. And the gamma interferon test has been shown to be effective in Australia, so we know it works, we know it picks up infected cattle at an earlier stage than the skin test can, the tuberculin test, so we know that if it is used in cattle herds it can clear all the reactors more quickly; and the significant thing for farmers, of course, is that it is likely to reduce the time that those herds are under movement restrictions, which means that farmers then can carry on their business as normal. So we do support the test and we think it could be a very useful part of a control strategy, but we are concerned that the Government is not committed to it, and that is why they are not putting enough money into carrying out the pilot properly.
- The gamma interferon test, have you discussed this at the Forum?
(Dr King) Yes, it has been discussed at the Forum. The tenth Forum meeting discussed this, and our concern is, as I say, that Defra does not seem prepared to commit the money. And the notes say that: "Sue Eades informed the meeting that the proposal by the ISG would require substantial heavy investment on the part of DEFRA, notably in relation to the SVS" (State Veterinary Service) "and laboratory facilities to carry out the testing required. A further constraint was the priority in clearing the backlog of TB tests, which would lead to a conflict in the allocation of resources." So DEFRA seems to run out of money at its own convenience, because it has never said it cannot put the money into the Krebs trial when it is required, but important strategic measures like this, that really could help, are being starved of funds; and I think that is really important.
- You mentioned the Australian test; did you hear the points made earlier about avian TB?
(Dr King) Yes.
- And do they have that there?
(Dr King) Work is being done to improve both the specificity and the sensitivity of the gamma interferon test, and I understand that the mycobacterium avian issue is being dealt with.
- So we will get a better gamma interferon test?
(Dr King) Yes. So the more work that is done on the gamma interferon test, it is more likely that it will be more sensitive but also more specific to mycobacterium bovis, which means, of course, there will be fewer false positives. But the important thing at the moment is that, the loss of those positives, they really are reactors and they are animals that the tuberculin skin test has missed; so really it is very important the gamma interferon test is trialled properly, and that it should be rolled out in this country as soon as possible.
- But it cannot be rolled out until it is as sensitive as it needs to be though, can it, that is the problem?
(Dr King) I think we need to carry out the work so we can see at what point it can be rolled out, we need to carry out a cost/benefit analysis really, to see whether it is worthwhile implementing a test whilst we know that some cattle may well be slaughtered when they are not true reactors, but then that happens anyway at the moment.
- I am going to ask you about vaccines, but, first of all, would I be unfair if I gained the impression, from this evidence, it is rather like a brilliant defence put up by a very clever barrister to defend a client that is manifestly guilty and prevent that client being sentenced by obfuscating every issue, demanding more research, more detail, more tests and generally criticising DEFRA?
(Dr King) With respect, I think there has been a huge focus on badgers for the last 30 or 40 years, there has been very little work that is being carried out on cattle, which of course is the main problem, very little has been carried out on cattle-to-cattle transmission, the significance of cattle in the transmission of the disease, the impact of more severe movement restrictions, for example. You will be aware that the three so-called independent inquiries that have been carried out into bovine TB have had the remit of looking at badgers and TB in cattle, not the whole issue. So what we want is to redress the balance; we do not mind badgers being looked at in terms of their potential role in transmitting TB to cattle, but also we want the role of cattle in transmitting TB to cattle to be looked at, and that is what has not happened in the past, it is still not happening in the way it should be. And that is why we are critical of DEFRA, because we do not think that DEFRA has the will to carry out a balanced research programme, and we do not think it has the will to bring in, for example, stricter movement restrictions that we think will help control the disease.
- Well, which is your view, that the badger is not guilty, that the case is not proven: which?
(Dr King) The case clearly is not proven, because that is the whole point in carrying out the Krebs trial.
- So you are not saying the badgers are not guilty?
(Dr King) We do know that some badgers are infected with bovine TB, we have never argued that; it may well be the case that badgers are involved to a minor extent, and I think this is the important thing, to a minor extent, and I think the Krebs trial is likely to show that either badger culling is totally ineffective or it may work in a small number of cases, but the significant issue will be that cattle-to-cattle transmission is the most important area to deal with. And what we do not want is for ministers to be put in a position where the results of the Krebs trial become available, they are inconclusive and there is no plan B, there is no other research and work to show that actually measures could be taken to control the disease by dealing with cattle issues.
- In that case, you are being very unfair to DEFRA, are you not, because, in fact, DEFRA fears, because it is not politically correct to say that we should arm farmers with machine-guns and send them out to blast the badger population, they are not allowed to say that, they do not want a cull because they know that is not politically correct and all the animal-lovers will be round their necks. Therefore, whether through incompetence, through meanness, or through a general failure to understand the situation or deal with it, they are, in fact, helping your case, because the inadequacy of what is going on helps prolong the trial? I mean the legal trial, not the other.
(Dr King) Yes, I realise that. We do not want to prolong the whole issue any longer than it should be. We want a solution for farmers just as much as the farmers do; but it has got to be a solution that is practical for the farmers, obviously humane for the livestock, humane for wildlife, acceptable for the environment and also cost-effective. And our whole point has been, all along, that badger culling has never been cost-effective, that was worked out by people who are involved in the ISG, long before the ISG existed, when Dunnet was looking at it, they found that it was not cost-effective.
- That says you are not opposed to it, in principle?
(Dr King) We need to find a solution that is going to be sustainable, and I think that solution has got to come through better cattle control measures and through understanding what is happening, and that means a science-based policy. Now up until the time that the Independent Scientific Group was put in place the Government's control policy, its whole strategy, was not based on science, it was based on, I think, as the Select Committee said itself, guesswork and folklore. Well, there are still a lot of people who are working on guesswork and folklore, even within DEFRA, and that does give us great cause for concern. But what we need is a science-based policy, and that really is what the ISG has tried to implement; it is implementing a trial, but right from the start it said that it wanted to look at the wider issues, and it has encouraged the Government to implement research which is more cattle-focused, and we do support that. But we want the results of that research to be available before the Krebs trial, or at the same time, so that ministers have a wide range of policy options available to them, rather than just being presented with badger culling, because we think that would be an absolute disgrace, to put ministers in that position. We are still not confident that we have that broad-ranging research programme.
- You said, quite rightly, that you want to solve the problem of this dreadful disease, you want to see a science-based policy and that you believe the case for the badger is at present not proven; okay. It is rather like the sort of flip-side of a coin, of the question I asked the NFU. If, as a result of the science-based activity, the policy comes out after the Krebs trial that badger culling is deemed necessary to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle, would you be in favour of that?
(Dr King) We would want to see that the Government had looked at all possible policy options.
- That is a bit of a let-out though, is it not, because if you want a science-based policy and the Krebs trial was to look at, as you said earlier, the extent to which the one transferred from the other, we do not know what the trial is going to be but if it came out and said, yes, it did, to a huge degree, and that the effective way of dealing with it was that in certain places, in certain instances, you would have to have badger culling, I am asking you the question, would you be in favour of that? Because that is what it hinges on, does it not?
(Dr King) You are absolutely right; and I will make my point again, that we do want a science-based policy, and we do want the Krebs trial to be as scientifically-based as it possibly can be, but we need all the other options to have been looked at scientifically as well. Now, if it does show that badger culling may work, we need to know whether that really is the best way of controlling the disease, or whether that is the only way - - -
- But that is the point of the Krebs trials.
(Dr King) But it is not.
- That is why, for five years plus, they have been looking at ten triplets to see the link and to see if it works?
(Dr King) But it is looking to see whether badger culling is effective, it is not looking to see whether badger culling is the most effective way of controlling bovine TB in cattle, because it is not properly looking at all the other potential ways of controlling it, it is only looking at badgers, and that is the flaw.
Chairman: We are going to look at ways of control; with Austin, we are now going on to vaccines.
Mr Mitchell: I think you are being very tactful in not doing any analysis between this style of questioning and our problems over the UN inspectors and Saddam Hussein.
Chairman: Do not start on that; keep moving on.
- I am sorry, I should not have brought that in. But let us get on to the vaccines now. Your evidence says that DEFRA is focusing its efforts really on a badger vaccine rather than a cattle vaccine; what are the arguments against developing vaccines for both?
(Dr King) The most obvious thing against the badger vaccine is, of course, there is no conclusive proof that badger culling is effective, or, at least, that badgers are involved in giving TB to cattle to a significant degree. So long as the focus is kept on badgers it means that money is being diverted away from finding other solutions. Now in the early days of the vaccine work DEFRA said a lot of the initial work on the badger and the cattle vaccine will be the same, a lot of the development work, but the impression I am getting from DEFRA is that they are putting a lot of focus on the badger vaccine and less so a cattle vaccine, and we are very worried by that because there are all kinds of practical problems with implementing a badger vaccine.
- Like catching them?
(Dr King) You have got to deliver it, you may not need to catch them, I think they are working on a strategy where they are baited with the vaccine with some kind of yummy food, I think they have tried it in Ireland with, I think it was, Badgervac, where they put the BCG vaccine in some kind of food that they fed to the badgers. But the issue really is that it is impractical, and you have got to keep administering it, you cannot just do it once. Then there is the issue of introducing what would be genetically-modified organisms into the environment; so far as I understand it, it may be a sub-unit vaccine, if it is not the BCG vaccine. So you have got all kinds of problems associated with a badger vaccine, but the most obvious one being, if badgers are not a significant source of TB to cattle, it is not going to be effective.
- That is jumping to the conclusion, it is the same as "My client is not guilty, therefore he shouldn't be questioned"?
(Dr King) We are saying that we need an equal, if not more so, focus on a cattle vaccine, because it is not only cattle that we are trying to deal with.
- Why not both?
(Dr King) Because it may be that it is diverting critical resources away from finding a solution. DEFRA is always saying it needs to prioritise its resources, it does not have enough funding for all the research it wants to carry out; it may well be that this is just a diversion.
- I think that is a bit feeble.
(Dr King) I do not think it is, I think it is critical. We need a vaccine for cattle, that is the important thing. The other point is that it is not going to come quickly either, which is why we are so worried about - - -
- That is a tenable position; not saying "My client is not guilty, therefore there shouldn't be a vaccine," there is not. You are emphasising a cattle vaccine; what other features should a TB control strategy contain besides cattle vaccine?
(Dr King) We want to improve biosecurity.
- What does that mean?
(Dr King) Improved movement restrictions on cattle and improved TB testing regimes, so more frequent testing of cattle, and also an improved diagnostic test. I know we have discussed this already, but the tuberculin test, as John Bourne always says, it is not the gold standard, it is the bronze standard, and really it is a problem, because it does miss an awful lot of infected animals, it misses one in ten in infected herds, leaving quite a few animals to be transported around the country infecting new herds. So we need a better TB testing regime at the moment, but also developing better TB tests; and we need funds to take responsibility for biosecurity. The NFU has said that they advise farmers to test cattle before they are moved; well before this meeting I asked the NFU if they could send me any paperwork that they had issued to their members to reduce the risks of introducing TB into their herds, and they could not provide me with anything, and I think that is quite telling.
- That is placing all the onus on the farmers, is it not, and I notice in your evidence, in the 'Executive summary', you say that badger culling will not prove to be effective and that all the problems will fall on the smaller farmer, though that is not actually said in the report, it is in the summary of the report; but what controls should be exercised on wildlife, countervailing controls?
(Dr King) In answer to your question about other measures, the thing we are worried about is that farmers generally do not seem to take biosecurity seriously, we have seen that with foot and mouth disease, and they do not seem prepared to take responsibility for disease control themselves, and there is a whole raft of infectious diseases that are also increasing in the national dairy herds, we have got mastitis, bovine viral diarrhoea, leptospirosis, salmonella, e-coli, a lot of zoonosis as well, and a lot of those come down to simple husbandry measures, good husbandry, that farmers are not putting in place. But with bovine TB there seems to be a mental block, we have got to keep badgers and cattle apart, that is all they can think about; but we need good herd health on farms, which covers a range of diseases. So one of the things we need to do is implement good herd health plans, which also include isolation of stock which have been moved onto the farm, isolation for a period of time so that they can be tested for TB and a number of various other diseases, before they are then introduced into the main herd. Now this has been recommended by the NFBG, by other organisations, but for some reason DEFRA just ignore it completely; and, of course, the farming unions generally resist those moves because it is putting more pressure on their members to implement measures that they do not want to implement. We are concerned about the small and family farmers because they are the ones that are going to be hardest hit by foot and mouth, by bovine TB; often they do not have the resources to produce these facilities that might be required, for example, isolation facilities, and that is why we have asked the Government to provide grants for farmers, particularly small and family farmers, so that they can improve their isolation facilities, improve biosecurity on their farms. Again, the Government has ignored our proposals.
- I misquoted the evidence. You say you expect "small and family farmers to be the hardest hit by continued TB outbreaks, with Government and the farming unions doing little to help their situation." So I am just anxious to correct that, although I do not see that in the main report, I see it in the 'Executive summary' at the beginning, which is usually the only thing people read anyway. You are continuing there your tactic of diverting attention away from the badgers, you are saying "It's the cattle that done it." And I asked you about controls on wildlife, what can we do and what should we do?
(Dr King) What kind of controls are you thinking of?
- You have advocated all sorts of controls on cattle movements, what should we do about the wildlife side of it?
(Dr King) There is other wildlife that can transmit to cattle, as I am sure the Committee is aware, bovine TB has been found in deer, deer graze very closely with cattle, but for some unknown reason DEFRA has always dismissed this as a concern. White-tailed deer are a source of bovine TB to cattle in the US, and the US has a policy of carrying out whole-herd slaughters, and this has worked extremely effectively. There is just one part of America, in Michigan, where the white-tailed deer are transmitting to cattle, and there they keep the animals apart. But there is other wildlife that probably are transmitting bovine TB to cattle, rats obviously being another issue.
- You seem intent on controlling everything except the badgers?
(Dr King) I think we are redressing the balance here, with respect, and over 30,000 badgers have been killed before now, so it is not as if we are starting with a clear slate, and it has not worked. So what we are trying to do is get the Government to implement a policy that really will work, and it means using a broad-ranging strategy that looks, yes, at badgers but also at cattle and other wildlife and all other measures that may be possible to control the disease. Just focusing on badgers has not worked up till now, and there is no real reason to believe that it will.
- A farmers is entitled to shoot deer and poison rats, but he is not entitled to do anything about badgers, and this is why Austin's argument about biosecurity and your reply breaks down, because there is nothing a farmer can do legally; that is the problem, is it not?
(Dr King) But that is assuming that badgers are a source of TB to cattle, and of course we do not know that.
- Well you have assumed that deer and rats are, and we accepted that, and therefore equally we can accept that TB is a species-jumping disease, and therefore the farmer has his hands tied by the legal process and cannot actually act on the one species that could well be just one of the vectors for the disease?
(Dr King) The difference is that there has not been a major eradication programme for rats and deer whereas there has for badgers, as I mentioned, over 30,000 badgers have been killed. It has been tried since the mid 1970s, using various control strategies, and the overall result is that killing badgers has not controlled the level of TB in the cattle population; but people seem conveniently to forget that.
Chairman: Can we move on to look at some other issues, and we will start with Diana, with the triplet trials.
- Can I ask just one on this, because people were saying, I think, from the NFU, and I think they raised some concern about it, which really follows on from what my colleague over there was asking, what in your estimation is the population of badgers in England and Wales, in your organisation's estimation?
(Dr King) We have not carried out a census of badger numbers.
- So you have no idea of the population; do you think they will be threatened then?
(Dr King) The only census we have is the National Badger Sett Survey that was published in 1996, I think, and then there was the other one in about 1985; both relied on estimating badger social group numbers from the number of setts that were seen.
- So you have no idea of the badger population in the UK, in England in Wales?
(Dr King) The current estimate is about 300,000 adult badgers, and that comes from the latest survey that was carried out by Stephen Harris, at Bristol University.
- The distribution of badgers, because the sort of landscape that they live in and they like, you know, it is like all of us, we quite like to live in sort of a Mediterranean clime, but they just quite like it where they can graze around in nice bits of grassland but also go into bits of woodland and hedges. I think they do, because that is where they seem to be, is it not; maybe I am wrong. But what I am asking you is, in those areas where badgers like to be, which predominantly are in the south and the west of Britain, are their populations threatened in those areas, or are their populations, over the last five, ten years, growing?
(Dr King) I think the survey found that generally numbers had either increased or were the same. In most parts of Wales, they had actually declined, and the authors of the report put that down to heavy levels of persecution; and, of course, badger baiting is a big problem in Wales, and in other parts of England and Scotland.
- You talked a little bit about your concerns about the, shall we say, robustness of the gamma interferon pilot, as a result of foot and mouth, but also you were very concerned, and you were not convinced by the Independent Scientific Group's reassurance, that, as a result of foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, it would not affect the Krebs trial. Can you just explain to me why, because the trial was stopped, but why are you not happy about the reassurance that has come from the Independent Scientific Group that actually there is not really any effect, other than the fact that it is going to take longer?
(Dr King) We are concerned about the statistical power of the trial, and this is something that has been raised with the Committee previously. The Independent Scientific Group, I think, has done its absolute best to implement rigorous research. I think one of the big problems has been that DEFRA has not implemented the research in a rigorous way. We will talk about that, I hope, later on, for example, the TB99 questionnaire. We would like to see the statistics of the trial verified independently, because this is a hugely expensive operation, it is probably the biggest experiment of its kind that has ever been carried out, it is using a huge amount of Government resources. We do not want the results of the trial to be available in two or three years' time and then there to be doubt over the statistical robustness of the trial because the stats have not been independently verified. It is the statistics that we are particularly concerned about, and we do not claim to be statisticians, but we do think that an independent assessment of the strength of the trial would be a good idea.
- So it is not that it is the sort of foot and mouth outbreak per se that gives you concerns about, shall we say, the adverse effect on the trial, it is actually the statistical plan, therefore you are calling for it to be independently verified; okay. Having called for that, can I just ask you, is it that you really do not trust these people, you think that somehow or other they are going to sit on statistics and nobody is going to notice? And the second part to that is, if it is going to be verified independently, how is this going to be done, when it goes on, who is going to do it, and then are you going to trust the independent verifiers?
(Dr King) Yes, I can understand your concerns. We do not think that the ISG are going to fiddle the statistics, but you will probably be aware that concerns have been raised over how they calculated the sample sizes that would be required, and the concern was that the sample sizes still are not large enough to see any difference, if there is going to be a difference; so if badger culling is actually going to reduce bovine TB in cattle, can it actually be detected. Now this concern was raised, I think you know, by Dr Fiona Matthews; she submitted her paper to a number of scientific journals, and interestingly they were all rejected, and I think she has been quite clear of the reason why, that she was warned off. And I think it was the kind of publication that people did not want in the public domain. She was told that her work was declined because there were people who did not want it published, because it cast doubt on the scientific robustness of a trial that people had staked their reputations on.
- So really it comes down to, does it not, that you are concerned about the size of the sample? All these things about, you said, you were unhappy about foot and mouth, because you felt it would adversely affect the Krebs trials, but actually that is to do with the statistical power that you want independently verified, because you consider that the sample size is too small, hence you are not feeling that the statistical power is correct. So it is down to sample size?
(Dr King) That is only one of the concerns.
- You do not think that Professor Sir John Krebs, who has had a lifetime's work in doing statistical sampling, actually knows how big the sample needs to be to get some kind of pattern, and therefore some kind of evidence?
(Dr King) No, we do not, because the power calculations were carried out after Krebs had published his report. It was Crystal Donnelly who carried out the power calculations, not Professor Krebs. So we are concerned not just about the power calculations, we are concerned also about the robustness of the trial because of foot and mouth.
(Dr King) Because 7 per cent of the herds in trial areas are completely culled out because of foot and mouth, 135 herds in trial areas, which was 21,000 cattle.
- But it might be elongated because those herds had been taken out with the culling because of foot and mouth, and so that window when we were looking at the trial is now being tacked on to the end?
(Dr King) And we are being given reassurances that the culling of those herds is not going to affect the scientific robustness of the trial; but I would like to be assured independently that that really is the case.
- So who would you like to be doing this independent verification?
(Dr King) We have not got anybody in mind, but we think, in principle, it should be investigated; because we do not want ministers to be put in the position where the results of the trial are available and yet they are ambiguous.
- There is a problem there, Elaine, if you are calling for something to be independently verified. You do not have any steer on what would constitute an independent verification? It is a bit like saying, as a business, you have got to go to the auditor and one takes what he says, because he is independent. You must have some steer as to which body you would have faith in to do the verification. Because the problem with this is, Elaine, is it not, that when it all comes out, which went back to my earlier question, if you claim foul on the trial in 2007 because you do not like the statistical power, you do not like the sample base, it has not been independently verified, then you do not have to sign up to what it says. So how can we put into place a position where you have faith in the activity of the outcome of the trial, so that you are satisfied that it is independent, and all the other things; you must have some view about who you want to be the independent verifier?
(Dr King) I think the important issue is that it should be somebody who is seen to be independent and who is recognised within that profession. I am not a statistician and I do not claim to be one, but it should be somebody who has an independent reputation as being a reliable statistician who can look at it and give their views on it. But I do not want to get too bogged down in whether we support the trial or not, because, as you know, we never have supported the trial, on the basis of its continuing that focus on badgers, and on the basis of its wasting so much of the Government's money. And really we think that, to a certain extent, the results of the trial are irrelevant, because we think that the trial is not going to show that badger culling is effective, or practical, or cost-effective, and that is why we are really so determined that the Government should also be looking at cattle, cattle-focused control measures; that is so important, and then it is not getting enough attention.
Chairman: Can we finish by just looking at the TB Forum.
- Can you tell us, just briefly, what problems you may have encountered with the operation of the TB Forum, from your perspective?
(Dr King) Yes, of course. The TB Forum was set up originally with the remit to look at alternative strategies for controlling bovine TB in cattle. It was not, as the NFU said, to look at the whole issue, it certainly was not to look at badgers, because the whole point was that, I think, DEFRA, in setting up the TB Forum, wanted to look at other measures for controlling TB. The Krebs trial was already underway, this was to look at other measures, and, constantly, in the TB Forum, we have had monologues from the farming unions that have been totally unhelpful, they have not provided any constructive comment on controlling bovine TB in cattle, other than calling for more badger culling outside the trial. Now these proposals have been rejected by ISG, rejected by conservation and welfare groups, rejected by ministers, and it was for that reason that the NFU walked off the Forum in 2000, because they only want to talk about badgers, they are not interested in controlling the movement of cattle, in tighter testing regimes, in biosecurity and in improving cattle health, they see the solution as killing badgers. And that was what they brought to the Forum, and really it very much hindered the working of the Forum until they walked off in 2000. And actually the meetings after that were a lot more constructive because we did get on to talk about cattle controls, measures that could be put in place now, not after the Krebs trial had been implemented and the results gained, but now, like movement restrictions. But the farming unions have obstructed those proposals all the way, which is why we find it so surprising that ministers have now said they have worked up this autumn package with the industry, which includes movement restrictions; well they resisted them up till this point, and I think they have only agreed with them now because the damage has already been done, most farmers have already restocked after foot and mouth. And the Forum we thought really would be a way of organisations like ours being able to give our views to other stakeholders, to have those views put forward to ministers in a coherent way; obviously, that is not happening. DEFRA does not produce minutes of the meeting, it produces its own summary, and we have had to fight quite hard to have information put into the notes of the meeting that DEFRA has conveniently left out. A lot of that information relates to cattle control measures and reports from the ISG on the pathogenesis work that they are doing on cattle-to-cattle transmission, for example. So we have supported the Forum, we have made constructive additions to the Forum, we have commented wherever we could on proposals that DEFRA have put forward, on proposals that other people have made; we have had absolutely no feedback from Defra ministers as to whether our papers are even read, let alone taken into account. So we are not happy with the way the Forum is operating at all.
- Can I thank you for enduring this grilling, though you managed to take it on single-handedly, which says something about your ability to deal with the facts. But, as I said to the NFU, if there were any points that you would wish to raise with us that have not been brought out and you felt would be useful to your case then please feel free to make them, but, unfortunately, for good or bad, you are on the record, which is not just a written record but also a televised one. So thank you very much for coming and giving your evidence.
(Dr King) Thank you for inviting me.
Chairman: Thank you.
DR CHRIS CHEESEMAN, Central Science Laboratory at Woodchester Park Research Station, examined.
- Chris, you have tried manfully over many years to try to explain the science of all this to me, so you are going to have a go at various other people as well. I think, just by way of an introduction, it would be quite useful, in about three minutes, to explain what you have been doing over the last 20-odd years at Woodchester and how it relates to both previous people's evidence-giving?
(Dr Cheeseman) Thank you, Chairman. To summarise 25 years' work in three minutes is going to be a problem. Basically, we were given the remit, back in 1976, when we started our project, to investigate the role of the badger in the TB problem in cattle. What we have accumulated in the last quarter of a century, I must not keep reminding myself of the timescale, but it is a long, prospective study, and we have a huge database which has taught us a lot about the population dynamics of badgers, about the epidemiology of the disease in badgers, about the way badgers behave, particularly about the way diseased badgers behave. So it is biological and more focused on the ecology and the behaviour of badgers in relation to how this disease, if indeed it is transmitted from badgers, gets into cattle. So a large element of our work has been actually on the husbandry side, focusing on the risk factors, and we have pinpointed certain situations which we consider to be high risk, farm buildings particularly and places where cattle are fed, and we have work in progress at this moment that is trying to expand the identification of these risk factors, to be able to give advice to farmers on what measures they could usefully take to reduce the chances of their cattle getting TB. We have projects looking at the involvement of other wildlife, which you may like to hear more about, and I will leave that to you, that is species other than badgers that may be implicated in this problem. In the future, we anticipate being involved in the development of vaccines, we have work already which is relevant for this, but, for example, if it is going to target badgers you have to develop a delivery system, it will have to be an oral vaccine, so developing a suitable means of delivery is going to be quite a challenge. We are looking at badger genetics, population genetics is important, questions like is natural immunity to TB a factor in badger populations, if so, the very last thing you would want to do is take out that component of the population; so this is one of the potential downsides of control. Allowing a population to develop natural immunity is a very desirable thing, and some of the culling policies that have taken place in the past may indeed have had that negative impact. Another aspect of our work is concerned with what we call the perturbation effects, what happens when you remove badgers from the eco-system, is the disease exacerbated by the disruption that takes place when you take badgers out. Because there is no doubt about it, if you remove a large component of a badger population the behaviour of the remaining badgers is highly disruptive, they move over greater distances, there are probably more interactions between badgers, and one of the critical factors in any disease is what is called 'contact rate'. If one animal contacts and gives disease to one other animal, at least, you have an epidemic on your hands; if it is fewer than one, the disease will decline to extinction. So anything that exacerbates, or promotes, contact is bad news, and the perturbation effects are something that exercises our minds at the moment. In relation to the trial, we are looking at the impacts of removing badgers in the eco-system in terms of what happens to the other species. One factor, just as an example, to exercise your minds, if you took badgers out, there are key species in the eco-system, they may have an impact on rabbit populations, remove all the badgers, or a lot of the badgers, you may have more rabbits. Ground-nesting birds is another phenomenon, it has been suggested repeatedly that badgers impact on ground-nesting birds in a negative way, and this is something that will come out of our study, because that is one of the aspects that we are looking at. So there is a very wide range, a huge, very broad research programme. Woodchester Park, in Gloucestershire, is our study area, that is one of the worst affected areas in the country, so we chose Woodchester Park, which has a high density badger population, for the focus of these studies. One of the criticisms that has been levelled is that the data that is emerging is from just that one population; my answer to that is that it is the only data we have got, we would very much like to have lower density data, but it is all that we have got to be able to model the disease. I have not mentioned modelling, by the way, another aspect of our work is modelling, and we are using the data that we have generated to construct models that could be used in a predictive capacity to see what impact certain strategies might have on controlling the disease in cattle.
- I did ask Elaine beforehand, and she did not really know because that is not her field, about the badger population, and she gave a ball-park figure of about 300,000, and I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions about what you think the badger population is, are they growing and thriving? They joked at me about this, that they quite like to live in these sort of habitats, which is where we are, in the South West, but it does seem to me that that is where they seem to be. I drive along the roads of the Forest of Dean and I see a dead badger virtually every week, and that is not because my constituents are worse drivers than those anywhere else in the world, I think it is because there are a load of badgers there. So I wonder if you can just give us some information about your estimate of the badger population, the regional differences and where they like to be and what kind of habitats they like, and the problems of that, and are they moving into new areas? Because if we have got the spread of TB, do we have a situation where actually the badger population stays in one area but TB is going all over the place where there are badgers, or are the badgers going where the TB is, or the TB going where the badgers are?
(Dr Cheeseman) Elaine pointed out, quite rightly, that the only surveys that have taken place are the two national surveys, one in the mid eighties and one in the mid nineties, and they both relied on counting badger setts to estimate numbers. You can extrapolate crudely from setts to populations, and the last survey put the population at about 300,000-plus adult badgers, and it is increasing, on the whole, nationally, there are places where it is going down, there are places where it is going up. I would go along with that estimate. I was asked to put my own estimate on it before the first national survey, and I think I got within about 20,000, just as a guesstimate, you can do that with knowledge of the sort of density they live per kilometre square, and you just multiply up the range of densities and the land mass that we have got that will support badgers.
- What area are we talking about, England, England and Wales?
(Dr Cheeseman) England, Wales and Scotland. The majority of badgers are concentrated in the south and west of the country, the second part of your question. The habitat in the west of England is absolutely ideal for badgers, indeed it has been suggested that we are farming badgers, because we have created optimal conditions in certain areas, the pastoral system is largely responsible, and badgers' principal food source is earthworms, they like short-grass pasture, the more heavily the grass is grazed the more easy it is for badgers to find earthworms, and areas that support the dairy and the beef industry also support high densities of badgers, so the two seem to go together. However, there is a huge caveat here, it does not follow necessarily that the more badgers there are the more disease you will get in badger populations; there is no linear relationship between the number of badgers and the prevalence of TB in the badger populations. Indeed, at Woodchester, we have got a population that has doubled over the period of study, the density of badgers has doubled, and the disease has cycled, with about a seven-year periodicity, and it has gone from highs of perhaps 10 per cent or more to lows of very nearly zero. And that is one of the puzzles, because I was taught, as most ecologists are, that diseases are usually density-dependent, the greater the density of the host species the greater the prevalence of disease; that is not the case with TB in badgers. So it is a complex problem, and that is one of the points I would like to make at this juncture, perhaps, for your understanding, it is not a simple issue that the more badgers there are the more TB there is.
- Also, the other question, which I think was quite crucial, about the expansion of TB in cattle has gone into areas of Staffordshire and up into the Cheshire Plain, but the concentration of badgers, does that overlay, or is there a mismatch between where we have TB hot spots and TB spreading and a growing population of badgers, or is there a smaller population of badgers?
(Dr Cheeseman) I think Jan Rowe mentioned earlier that most of the hot spots coincide with high densities of badgers. There are some anomalies, there are some areas where cattle TB seems to occur where there is very little, or even no, TB in badgers, that we know about; so it is a question of perhaps if we looked we might find it. I think, on the whole, there is a correlation between the distribution of the disease in badgers and cattle, but I do not think we should look into it any further than that and deduce a causative effect. That is what the trial is all about; the purpose of the culling trial is to see whether killing badgers has any impact on the disease in cattle, and that will tell us that fundamental question.
- Am I right to say, if this is not a population density disease in badger population, then it is highly unlikely that the culling, if it reduces the density of the population, will have any impact; unless you specifically cull exactly the right badgers, which are the ones with the disease, it is not going to work, is it?
(Dr Cheeseman) It will make it worse. Culling, with the disruptive effects that I have described to you, and the possible removal of disease resistance in the badger population, could actually make it worse. And some farmers said to we scientists before the culling trial began, "If it had not been for DEFRA killing badgers on a neighbouring farm, where there happened to have been an outbreak, I wouldn't have got a problem, because my badgers were healthy, and the population's been stirred up and now I've got a diseased population whereas I had a healthy one before." And that is a perfectly valid point.
- Right; so really DEFRA should be working on the vaccine and forget about the whole - - -
(Dr Cheeseman) No, no; please do not misunderstand what I said. We do not know the contribution of the badger, I do not know whether you are going to get onto the culling trial, but there are two things to say to you here. The culling trial had two objectives. One was to quantify the contribution of badgers to the TB problem in cattle; that objective has gone, it no longer exists, because we compromised the culling strategy that Krebs had envisaged. He was talking about taking out all of the badgers, and if you take out 100 per cent of the badger population and you get an effect you can say that it was because of the badgers; as it is we are removing, at best, about 80 per cent of the badger population in the proactive strategy, and I have already explained to you about the disruptive effects that could make it worse. So there is no way the trial will quantify the contribution of badgers to the TB problem in cattle; however, what it will do - - -
- What is the purpose of them then?
(Dr Cheeseman) What it will do is satisfy the second objective - - -
Mr Mitchell: Can you prove anything from an 80 per cent cull as opposed to a 100 per cent cull?
Diana Organ: There is only enough proactive - - -
- Let him finish.
(Dr Cheeseman) I am just about to put your mind at rest. The only point to the trial, believe me, and I do strongly support the trial, for this reason, it will tell us whether killing badgers has any impact on the disease in cattle, and it is absolutely crucial, because that question has never been answered. The two strategies, the proactive and the reactive culling, are not taking place as designed by Krebs, it is true, so that is why that first objective has been compromised. The second objective is intact, and it is absolutely crucial that we satisfy that, because, as I have already admitted to you, I have been involved in this a long time, and right at the beginning we were asking DEFRA, or MAFF in those days, to test the strategy that they employed to see whether it had any impact. And I was extremely pleased when Krebs recommended those trials, there were a lot of critics, but I think just about every scientist in the community was extremely pleased that, at last, we were attempting to underpin policy with science. I suppose we have to say that we have been slightly disappointed in the implementation, I think the delays are regrettable but probably unavoidable. And I must say this also, I think that the ISG, DEFRA, the Wildlife Unit of DEFRA, everybody concerned has done absolutely everything they can to make this trial work, and it is no fault of anybody that we have had foot and mouth and other things, and it is true that foot and mouth have compromised the trial probably in its duration and particularly with respect to the reactive strategy, it has imposed all sorts of additional limitations that are going to make interpretation difficult; but nevertheless the trial is still important. I would say, if the trial is abandoned, for whatever reason, what else is going to happen; and I would hate to see us return to the old dogma of, well, I am afraid we have heard some of it already today, there is one camp that says "Kill badgers, because that's the answer to the problem," there is no scientific basis to that, and there is another camp that says, "Leave them alone because they're not involved," there's no scientific basis for that either. And I would like to see a scientific underpinning of future policy, and therefore the trial is extremely important.
- But the other alternative is to vaccinate and forget about badgers at all and actually focus our efforts on curing the disease, which would have been a constructive and a better use of taxpayers' money?
(Dr Cheeseman) We have heard something about vaccine today.
- We are confused now, about the whole status, of what is being vaccinated, with what and what is happening internationally?
(Dr Cheeseman) Would you like me, Chairman, just to elucidate vaccines and the options, and the pros and cons. Can I preface this by saying that perhaps I am not the best person to ask, I think we should put these questions to the ISG, who have some expertise that is better than mine.
- We will.
(Dr Cheeseman) But I think vaccine is looked at as being a panacea, by some parties, and it is not, either cattle or badger vaccines. It is true that the option has been there for a long time, and it is still being said that it is a long way off, and you will be aware that the ISG have a sub-committee at the moment looking into the prospects of vaccine for badgers and cattle; they are due to report at Easter. I have been a member of that committee and heard all of the deliberations and I should say this, that it is extremely complicated on both sides, badgers and cattle vaccine. If we take badgers for a moment, delivering a vaccine to the badger population, we do not have an effective vaccine, or, at least, we do not know whether BCG might work, there is some evidence that it works in New Zealand on possums, and the Irish currently are trying the vaccine in captive facilities; but it is not a very effective vaccine, even for humans, so I doubt very much that it is going to be very effective on badgers. And we have two factors to take into consideration, one is the efficacy of the vaccine, and, two, the proportion of the population that you can actually get the vaccine into. So if you have a vaccine that is 50 per cent effective and you can only deliver it to 50 per cent of the population, you have only got 25 per cent coverage, so that is the kind of issue that we are up against immediately. Also you have to take into account the fact that I do not think it would be a realistic policy to introduce a vaccine with the intent of eradicating disease, it would not happen, TB is too widespread in the badger population, and you would be committing yourself to a very long-term strategy even to attempt that. So vaccine would have to be administered at least annually, probably twice a year, to make sure that every cohort of cubs, and remember badgers breed once a year, so you have got to make sure the cubs get vaccinated, to have any chance of succeeding. If cubs are infected before they come above ground, which is the first opportunity we could deliver an oral bait, we have got a huge problem, and there is already evidence that pseudo-vertical transmission, that is transmission from the sow badger to her cubs in the sett, may be an important component of this disease maintaining in badger populations; and if that is the case it is another, really serious, compounding factor. So we have not got an effective vaccine, and even if we did have it would be a very tall order to make it work. And perhaps, Chairman, if I can suggest that the cattle side is even more complicated, I will not go into that, but it would require policy changes which, I am not a politician I am just a scientist, but we export a lot of bloodstock from this country and we cannot export vaccinated animals, they have to be disease-free; those sorts of issues are big political issues for the EC and others to consider. And, with cattle, Jan Rowe also mentioned that a vaccine would have to give cattle protection without compromising them against the skin test, and that is not the case with BCG at the moment, although it is a technical possibility that it could be developed in that way. But, again, there are huge hurdles to be overcome to develop an effective vaccine. We have heard mention of sub-unit vaccines, and sonicated; these are bits of DNA, if you like. The vaccines are usually live vaccines, and these are the most effective. The problem with sub-unit vaccines is that they are not as effective, and the only alternative is genetically-modified vaccines, and I am sure I do not need to tell you that there would be problems with implementing something like that. So I would just like to leave you with the idea that vaccines are hugely problematic.
- We do not have a live vaccine for use on the wild badger population for their TB, is that what we are saying, we have not got that yet?
(Dr Cheeseman) BCG is a live vaccine.
- Because you said that the human one does not really work terribly well.
(Dr Cheeseman) That is right.
- So we have not got something that is tailor-made as a live vaccine for badgers?
(Dr Cheeseman) No, we have not. I have just been reminded that there is another problem, and if we have a reservoir of TB in badgers that is one thing, we could have a reservoir in other species as well.
- I want to go on to that. Can we just come back to that and talk about the international things, because obviously one of the things that is thrown at us is, the Irish are beginning to get it right, New Zealand have already sorted it, because they just took the possum out, and when we went there they did not want to talk about TB, so either they have sorted it or it is better not to talk to visiting politicians about it. Now what is happening in different parts of the world, because there was a call from Jan Rowe to say we should all get together and get the latest international evidence and we can learn an awful lot from abroad. Is that true?
(Dr Cheeseman) With respect to New Zealand, they have a huge problem there, it makes ours pale into insignificance by comparison.
- That was why they did not want to talk to us.
(Dr Cheeseman) And I think they have gone cold on the idea of vaccines, they have gone back to the old policy of blitzkrieging possums, and they do this by dropping poisoned carrots out of aeroplanes, and for non-target species obviously it is a big problem, and it is not cost-effective unless it is extremely localised. And that is another thing that perhaps we have not touched on today, the cost-effectiveness of any policy and who pays. But anyway the only other place in the world where there is a reservoir in badgers is Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland seem to be committed fairly wholeheartedly to the development of a vaccine. I would say that their constraints, their conditions, their attitudes are very different from those that prevail here. It will be interesting to see whether BCG works on badgers, because, as I say, their trials are underway, but I think they will realise very quickly that it is not as easy as just finding out whether BCG works, you have to develop effective delivery systems, you may have to commit for a long period of time; do you want to do that, and who is going to pay, these are all huge questions.
- When you think of bovine TB in New Zealand, it is not through the badger, it is through the possum, but Ireland has got it in the badger; is there anywhere else, other than Ireland and us, that has got badgers with TB and a bovine TB, the two together?
(Dr Cheeseman) Anyone else with badgers and TB. As far as I know, there are records on the continent of Europe, and bovine TB has been found in badgers in Switzerland, Italy, Spain.
- They have got cattle?
(Dr Cheeseman) Yes; they do not have a problem, for some reason, in their cattle, a TB problem. So if there is disease present in the badgers, as yet, there is no evidence that they are a wildlife reservoir that is causing infection in cattle.
- So has anybody studied, say, there is this badger group, to see whether that whole population is immune?
(Dr Cheeseman) No.
- Or there is some husbandry, because the Swiss farmer, for instance, very often, takes their cattle indoors during the winter and then puts them out on the high pasture in the summer; is it something to do with their husbandry that is so different from the way we do it, so they do not have a problem?
(Dr Cheeseman) It may be true. I should say that the density of badgers in Switzerland is a fraction of what it is in south-west England, they do not seem at all worried about badgers. It may be that the husbandry is different as well. So, whatever it is, the combination of factors that exist in Switzerland is such that they just do not have a problem, so they are not worried. But, in fact, the first record of TB in badgers came from Switzerland, but it was back in the sixties.
- What about in America?
(Dr Cheeseman) In America, the elk, the bison, the wood bison, these are all carriers of TB, there is a huge problem there with wood bison because they are an endangered species, and there was a veterinary proposal to eradicate one population because of the TB problem, which did not go down too well.
- Can we just establish, in the UK, because we have had an international run around the map, what other wildlife species are known carriers of bovine TB? We have concentrated on the badger; there are those who would say, and Austin was touching on this, about what else you could have to take out if you wanted to eradicate bovine TB if you believed that culling was the answer. Can we just have a list of what else is in the frame, just so that he gets his legal brain around this, and also contributing to the case?
(Dr Cheeseman) The disease can be present in any one valid mammal species, and so far in this country it has been found in foxes, we have found it in our current studies in all four species of deer, that is red, roe, fallow and muntjak deer, for the first time on record; recently it has been found in stoats, common shrews, woodmice and squirrels. We have only just gone through the intensive phase of this work, which is to establish whether M. bovis is present in any of these species; our next phase of work is going to be to try to establish the extent of the problem, if there is a problem, so there will be some extensive sampling of these species to find out what prevalence there is. And, of course, whether they constitute a reservoir of TB will depend on a number of factors, the density of the host, the prevalence of disease, the pathology that the disease shows in that species, and their ecology. So, for example, if we find that there is an extensive reservoir in the common shrew, I doubt very much whether that poses a threat to cattle; on the other hand, woodmice are found in dairy buildings, and if we find there is a reservoir in woodmice, potentially that could be significant. But in the context of vaccination, if I could just remind you of that, Chairman, if we succeeded even in eradicating TB in badgers by application of a vaccine and there was another wildlife reservoir there that could reseed the infection in the badger population, it would set you back to square one; and where do you go from there. So I just put in that point to remind you that there is no quick fix here, it is a long-term problem and it is extremely complicated, with the potential involvement of other species as well.
- Can I ask you about something that we have received evidence on, and that is trace elements, in particular, the changing nature of agricultural production, which supposedly has denuded both stock and, through that, the soil of certain trace elements, particularly selenium and zinc. Has this got any merit, this thinking, is it just a contributory factor, or is it one that is a bit of a red herring?
(Dr Cheeseman) I think it could be, and it is deserving of investigation, as to whether selenium, for example, could help the immune system combat such a disease, but I believe that there are more important factors, like natural immunity to disease in certain species, the badger included. So whilst these things may have a role to play, I would not put them high up my list of priorities for investigation, I think there are more important issues that we need to know about first.
- And how do you breed a natural immunity, in either cattle or badgers, given that we could be culling both, including those that may develop a natural immunity? There are those who say this is a disease that we have made a problem, that in reality if we allowed it to be bred through we may end up with an answer, but we keep preventing that from happening. Now is that a viable proposition, or is that just make-believe science?
(Dr Cheeseman) With cattle, you could do it by selective breeding, and that has been done for many attributes that are held to be desirable. With badgers, I am afraid you would have to let nature take its course and allow those populations where natural resistance is present, if indeed it is present, to develop, and it may take generations and generations of badgers. We do have some tantalising evidence from Woodchester that there is such a thing as natural immunity to TB, these are cubs which react positively to the ELISA test, which is a test that just looks for antibodies in the blood. So we know these animals have got antibodies to TB; for the rest of their lives they are going to be negative on testing, so they never develop disease, and there is enough of these animals to make us think that this could be natural immunity. Now our genetic studies, that I mentioned, if these tell us that these animals are in some way genetically related, or similar, that will be another part of the jigsaw and it will tell us whether this phenomenon does exist. And we are getting there slowly, we are piecing together this intriguing jigsaw of whether that sort of phenomenon is important and whether it exists. And then you have to decide whether it is widespread, and, if it is not present in all areas where the disease is a problem in cattle, I suppose you could envisage a policy where you would encourage it, in some way, but that is way down the road and one which at the moment I could not really elaborate, other than hypothetically.
- So it is fair to say that each of the different proposals, and we have heard, if you like, the two sides fairly starkly presented, but each of the proposals that those sides would propose have their limitations and clearly could be counterproductive, and this is one of the issues to do with bovine TB which makes it so difficult for us to get a handle on?
(Dr Cheeseman) Yes, I think that is true, Chairman. I see polarised arguments and I am only interested in a scientific solution, I think that is the only way out of this problem, it is extremely complex and it is going to be with us for a long time to come. I get a sense of d_j_ vu talking to you today because I talked to another Select Committee a few years back and the same sorts of questions were being asked then, the same questions were asked by Krebs, and before him by Dunnet, and before him by Lord Zuckerman. Every now and again this problem causes sufficient angst in the farming and the political community to want to review it, and each time I say just let us get on with the research to underpin a proper, one could call it a holistic approach to the problem. Vaccine may have a role. I believe that culling may have a partial role, although I would say that culling, to me, does not look like a sustainable, long-term policy, it will always come back while the disease remains endemic in badgers; culling, you have to look at the cost-effectiveness and who is going to pay. Husbandry is an aspect that we could find will make a useful contribution to reducing the risks, and I am glad now that DEFRA is funding work on the husbandry side. We cannot tell farmers at the moment that if they do certain things they will reduce the risks, we can give them commonsense advice, like it makes sense to keep badgers out of buildings and to prevent badgers gaining access to cattle feed in fields, but you cannot say to a farmer, "If you do this you'll reduce your risks by 50 per cent." We need to get at that so that they can actually quantify what their biosecurity measures should produce.
- Can I just ask, there was a husbandry report which as a Select Committee we did very much encourage, and there was some resistance. To your knowledge, are farmers taking much notice of these appeals to improve their husbandry?
(Dr Cheeseman) I have to say, Chairman, that I believe farmers could do a lot more to help themselves in the biosecurity of their farm. There are a lot of good farmers out there who do everything possible; but equally there are some pretty shoddy operations where there seems to be a complacent attitude, and I am not sure what we can do about that.
- Your argument to us is one of despair, because while we wait for the scientific evidence, gather all the information, decide not to decide, the problem becomes more rampant; that is no counsel?
(Dr Cheeseman) I am afraid, Chairman, that is not my problem. I am as despairing as you are, Sir.
- But it is this Government's problem, it is a problem for farmers who are hit by TB and desperately want something done about it?
(Dr Cheeseman) I can understand that frustration, but I would say, despite the problems and the delays that the trial has suffered, we absolutely must see this through, I do not want us to go back to 20 years ago, when it was just down to dogma, that would be a very retrograde step. So I would say be patient, let the research take its course and eventually we will get a much better scientific - - -
- But you cannot put a time limit on it, you cannot say in ten years?
(Dr Cheeseman) I cannot make it happen any quicker, I am afraid, and that is the reality of life, it just takes time to unravel what is probably one of the most complex disease problems that there is in the world.
- I was going to say, what else can we do? You have seen this before, you know it is not working; what should Defra be doing?
(Dr Cheeseman) I believe DEFRA is probably doing all it can, and I am saying that without any vested interest.
Mr Wiggin: You are the only one, I think, in the whole world.
- No-one else has said that to us, I think, it is not right.
(Dr Cheeseman) I believe that perhaps Defra could do more if it had more money.
- If they stopped spending it on badger trials, they would.
(Dr Cheeseman) Well, they are spending enough to keep the trial going, but there are other aspects of research that could be done that are not being funded.
(Dr Cheeseman) I will give you one good example. All of the badgers that are being killed in the trial, we could be looking at diet, we could be looking at reproductive biology. One of the things that is absolutely crucial, if you start to kill, manage a population, they are going to respond, they are going to turn up the wick and breed faster. We should be looking at those carcases to see just what is happening in the proactive follow-up culls, are they breeding faster; nobody is doing it because there is not enough money to do it, I think that is lamentable.
Mr Wiggin: Thank you very much.
Chairman: What is left of this Select Committee are fascinated, we could go on all day. But on that point can I thank you for giving evidence, in your usual, frank manner. And, as I said to both the previous participants, if there is anything that you feel that you would like to have said, and have not said, please feel free to write to us, but if you have said it and it is on the record, hard luck, because it will appear not just on the written record but you might be able to see it on Sky on Saturday afternoon, if you have got nothing better to do, which people who watch Sky on Saturday afternoon certainly have not. Thank you very much.