"The Government's current method of controlling cattle TB, that of surveillance, testing and slaughter, is not working effectively Government must now make a decision on what its strategic objectives are. The impact of this disease has reached a stage where further procrastination is unsustainable".
Their report points out that bTB is one of the most serious animal health problems in Great Britain today, with the number of infected cattle doubling every four and a half years. Projected to 2013, this figure could reach £1 billion, and involve 66,000cattle slaughtered. The consequential growing cost of the disease to the taxpayer and to the farming industry, they say, is unsustainable. And it is a Governmental responsibility.
"A reduction in funding at the risk of the disease spiralling out of control and eventually affecting England's export market is not justified. The rapid increase in this zoonotic disease continues to warrant Government involvement and financial support with the aim of reducing incidence."The Committee called this approach "budgeting to save" and called on Government to "show commitment to finding a way to ease the grip" which bTb had on the cattle industry. They are very much aware of the stress and misery caused to farmers by a herd breakdown, and subsequent movement restrictions and inability to trade.
In "hot spot" areas where the prevalence of the disease is highest, the farming industry has reached a breaking point as the disruption to business in both human and economic terms has become unacceptable. The final straw for many farmers has proved to be the introduction of a new system of valuations for their slaughtered cattle which has proved inequitable in many cases.
The committee recommend that Governemnt overhaul the tabular valuation system for slaughtered cattle and other animals. They conclude that the system
"... is unfair to farmers of pedigree animals. Compulsory slaughter is a measure to protect the wider industry and society as a whole and it is iniquitable for those unfortunate enough to be hit by the disease effectively to subsidise others by receiving artificially low values for their animals."
The Committee's conclusion is that there is no simple solution that will control cattle TB. The Government must adopt a multi-faceted approach to tackling the disease, using all methods available. The Government's strategy for cattle TB should include:
• more frequent cattle testing, with more frequent and targeted combined use of the tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon test;
• the evaluation of post-movement cattle testing;
• greater communication with farmers on the benefits of biosecurity measures;
• the deployment of badger and cattle vaccines when they become available in the future; and
• continued work on the epidemiology of the disease.
(We are delighted to see that post movement testing has made a belated entry to the toolbox, but urge caution on the gamma interferon, as its specificity - or lack of it - is well documented, not least by this committee.)
On controlling the disease within the wildlife reservoir, the committee has this to say:
The Committee recognises that under certain well-defined circumstances it is possible that [badger] culling could make a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of cattle TB in hot spot areas. However, as there is a significant risk that any patchy, disorganised or short-term culling could make matters worse, the Committee could only recommend the licensed culling of badgers under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 if the applicants can demonstrate that culling would be carried out in accordance with the conditions agreed between the ISG and Sir David King, which indicated that there might be an overall beneficial effect. These were that culling should:
• be done competently and efficiently;
• be coordinated;
• cover as large an area as possible (265km² or more is the minimum needed to be 95% confident of an overall beneficial effect);
• be sustained for at least four years; and
• be in areas which have "hard" or "soft" boundaries where possible.
We recommend that no application for a licence should be approved by Natural England, which already has statutory responsibility for the granting of culling licences, without scrutiny to ensure that it complies with the conditions set by the ISG and Sir David King. It is important that were such a cull approved, other control measures should also be applied. Any cull must also be properly monitored by Defra. It is unlikely that such culling would be sanctionable in more than a limited number of areas. We recognise that culling alone will never provide a universal solution to the problem.
So any badger cull should be along the lines of recommendations of the ISG and Sir. David King? Both agree that badgers give Tb to cattle - and the ISG showed us how not to deal with it. But agreement? We live in interesting times.
EFRAcom refer to the 7 point Industry plan, which we covered in the posting below, which calls for an organised licensed cull by farmers, or their contractors. The NFU believe it would fulfil the conditions agreed by the ISG and Sir David King.
If the NFU is able to meet the licensing requirements laid down by Defra, can satisfy Natural England both that it would conduct any cull in accordance with its animal welfare requirements and would satisfy the conditions agreed by the ISG and Sir David King, we accept that a licence for such a cull could be granted.
Commenting on the report, the Chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee the Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, said:
"This is a complex issue and there is no simple solution. But I am pleased that the Report represents the unanimous view of the Committee."
The report of this inquiry can be found at the EFRA committee page of www.parliament.uk