Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Seventh Report



List of conclusions and recommendations

1.  We welcome the fact that controls on the movement of livestock have been tightened in high risk areas. Nevertheless, we are surprised that stricter controls were not imposed sooner (paragraph 9).

2.  We understand why the Government wants to implement its Animal Health and Welfare Strategy as soon as possible. However, we recommend that Defra take time to assess what might be learnt from past responses to animal disease outbreaks, including bovine tuberculosis. Such an assessment would reveal the best ways for Defra to get its message across to farmers, and so help in the delivery of the Strategy. It might also suggest ways in which advice specifically relating to bovine tuberculosis should be improved (paragraph 14).

3.  The average cost of a TB breakdown is #36,000. We are therefore surprised that farmers have not more urgently sought Government help in testing better husbandry methods, in line with the Krebs Report. We urge the farming industry to come forward with proposals for improved husbandry methods. If it does so, we recommend that the Government provide suitable financial support to help with their implementation (paragraph 15).

4.   Defra should recognise the growing concern within the farming industry about the spread of TB to areas previously unaffected by the disease. It should therefore ensure that all dairy farmers are regularly updated, via its website, about the spread of the disease and about the latest 'good husbandry practice' that is available to farmers to counter the spread of the disease (paragraph 16).

5.  We expect Defra to explain more fully developments relating to pre- and post-movement testing. We also ask that it consider:

7   whether 'tuberculosis-free' regions should be defined, and what rules should govern the movement of animals into such areas;

7   what the implications of a positive test of an animal held in isolation following a movement should be both for its herd of origin and the herd it was to join; and

7   what would be the costs and benefits of compulsory pre-movement testing (paragraph 18).

6.  For the time-being, the SVS must concentrate on clearing the backlog of tests. In the longer-term the Government should consult interested parties about the merit of introducing flexible, 'on-request' testing for tuberculosis (paragraph 19).

7.  We welcome in principle the proposal to use 'lay' testers to clear the backlog of outstanding tests. Such testers may have a role to play in respect of diseases other than bovine TB. However, it is vital that lay testers are properly trained. We therefore recommend that the Government publish more detailed proposals about the qualifications it will require, taking into account the views particularly of the veterinary profession. The proposals should also outline the role combined lay testers and animal health officers based in Animal Health Offices might play in overcoming the shortage of veterinarians (paragraph 20).

8.  Although no single measure will obviate the risk of a TB breakdown, investment in husbandry and biosecurity measures will clearly help. We are therefore concerned about limited progress in respect of improved husbandry. We have suggested (in paragraph 15) how farmers and the Government should take responsibility for the issue. In addition, communication by Government and others of recommendations for better husbandry must be improved (paragraph 21).

9.  We understand the concerns of farmers. But we believe that the continuation of the culling trial is necessary to establish once and for all whether killing badgers has any impact on bovine tuberculosis in cattle. We therefore welcome the Minister's clear statement that the Government will not sanction culling outside the trial areas whilst the trial continues (paragraph 28).

10.  We recommend that, as soon as practically possible in 2004, the ISG publish the number of TB99 forms collected in the current calendar year and an assessment of their suitability for analysis (paragraph 30).

11.  We acknowledge that the TB99 form is complex. But its value in providing definitive information to complement that found in the culling trial and other scientific work would be diminished if it was peremptorily changed (paragraph 31).

12.   We support the road traffic accident survey. If it is found over time to provide a good indication of the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in badgers an extension to the survey should be considered (paragraph 34).

13.   If it requests advice Defra should obviously allow the ISG adequate time to provide it. But Defra is not obliged to follow the ISG's advice: Defra is responsible for the decisions made. However, the importance of a harmonious relationship between the ISG and Defra is such that in this instance it would be helpful for Defra to clarify the differences between the protocol it adopted and the advice it received from the ISG and provide some commentary on the reasons for their different approach (paragraph 36).

14.   We ask that Defra now provide an update on recruitment to the pilot, detailing both the anticipated recruitment for each three month period of the trial and recruitment to date. Defra should also detail any changes it has made to the protocol since 9 October 2002, in response to the ISG's comments (paragraph 37).

15.   It is apparent that all interested parties would be willing to endorse the use of an effective bovine TB vaccine. Therefore, despite the long time-frame, research into the development of vaccines should continue. Moreover, other important lessons about the disease are likely to be learned from the vaccine research programme. However, the long time-frame means that the Government and others cannot afford to pin all their hopes on the development of a vaccine. It would be helpful if Defra could provide a statement summarising the present state of work worldwide on the production of a vaccine by the veterinary medicines industry. Finally, the private sector should be encouraged to play a part in the development of a vaccine (paragraph 42).

16.   We would therefore encourage the ISG to indicate why specified topics which have been drawn to its attention are not recommended for further study (paragraph 44).

17.   We recommend that the Government publish the terms of reference of and plan of work for its review as quickly as possible (paragraph 45).

18.   We therefore reiterate the call made by the Agriculture Committee that a 'Plan B' be developed to address a situation in which the results of the culling trial are inconclusive (paragraph 47).

19.   It would be reassuring for farmers and others if the Government would re-confirm what is the overriding aim of its TB strategy (paragraph 48).

20.   Members of the TB Forum should re-assess what role it should play and Defra should consider redefining its remit accordingly. It may have a particularly important role to play, for example, in communicating the results and validity of the current scientific research programme (paragraph 50).