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Badgers/Bovine Tuberculosis

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the most accurate methods of estimating the badger population are; and what the margins of error are. (73569)

For small scale surveys, of individual or a small number of social groups, Defra-funded research has used DNA fingerprinting of faecal samples obtained from badger latrines to identify the number of individuals present. Due to cost this method is not appropriate for use over large areas.

Widescale national surveys have been based on counting the number of active badger setts, but this method cannot identify the number of animals using each sett and is insensitive to changes in social group size. In these circumstances night-time lamping surveys can be used to estimate badger densities on pasture. The margins of error of each method depend on the number of samples collected and no generalisations can be made.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what assessment he has made of the success of methods of containing bovine tuberculosis other than the culling of badgers; (70800)

(2) what evidence he has assessed on the effectiveness of alternatives to badger culling in significantly reducing bovine tuberculosis.

[holding answer 23 May 2006]: The Government have assessed and implemented a range of alternative measures to reduce bovine tuberculosis (TB):

In addition to the routine TB testing programme prescribed by EU legislation, we introduced compulsory pre-movement testing of cattle in England on 27 March to help reduce the risk of spreading TB through cattle movements. The legislation applies to cattle over 15 months of age moving from one and two year tested herds (phase 1 of the policy). It will be extended to movements of cattle over 42 days old on 1 March 2007 (phase 2). We estimate that phase 1 will achieve a reduction in new TB incidents of about 500 each year, with reductions of about 700 under phase 2.

We plan to extend the use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the TB skin test in order to improve diagnosis of the disease.

We have a wide-ranging research programme in place looking at developing a TB vaccine for cattle and badgers, and investigating ways to limit interactions between cattle and badgers.

Based on the findings of past research, DEFRA has issued farmers with guidelines on good husbandry practices to try to minimise the transmission of bovine TB. More details are available on the DEFRA website: www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/abouttb/index.htm#protect

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate he has made of the potential costs of bovine tuberculosis outbreaks caused by the perturbation effect resulting from badger culling; and whether these costs were included in the cost-benefit analysis included with his Department’s consultation document. (70801)

[holding answer 23 May 2006]: The partial regulatory impact assessment and cost benefit analysis published with our “Consultation on controlling the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle in high incidence areas in England” made clear that the potential cost of any perturbation effect was not included as data were not available at the time.

The existing cost-benefit model is now being updated to include the effects of perturbation resulting from badger culling.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in what ways he takes into account public opinion in determining the Government’s policies on bovine tuberculosis control. (71857)

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: The ‘Government strategic framework for the sustainable control of bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain’, published in March 2005, sets out our commitment to work in partnership with our stakeholders, including farmers, consumers, vets, wildlife groups and conservation groups, in developing policies on bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

We worked closely with stakeholder groups in developing the Strategic Framework itself, and in developing our policy for pre-movement testing in England. Between December 2005 and March 2006 we consulted on the principle and method of badger culling in high incidence areas of England, and held a number of citizens’ panels to provide further information to feed into the consultation process.

On 6 March we held our first annual bTB meeting for Great Britain, which allowed a two-way exchange of information between the Government and our stakeholders on the latest bTB developments and provided opportunities for constructive discussion. In addition, we are in the process of setting up a new national bTB stakeholder body to advise on the development and delivery of new bTB policies.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) how his Department plans to weight responses to the consultation document ‘Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling’; (71858)

(2) how many responses were received to the consultation document ‘Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling’ by (a) post, (b) email, (c) telephone, (d) e-petition and (e) other methods.

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: 47,474 consultation responses were received by post and email; further responses were received in the form of petitions. The specific method was not recorded for each response as it is not relevant to the analytical process.

Responses are not being weighted. They are classified and analysed by the type of respondent (e.g. stakeholder or public) and the content of the response (e.g. standard campaign letter, brief yes or no statement or detailed response).

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions his Department has had with Prionics AG since its acquisition of the Bovigam gamma interferon bovine tuberculosis test; and what alternatives to this test are available to the Department. (72247)

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency is working closely with Prionics to refine the Bovigam test and further evaluate its performance. There are currently no equally sensitive alternative blood-based tests.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the terms of reference are for the current trials using snares for catching badgers; where the trials are being conducted; and when (a) the trials will end and (b) the results will be published. (73519)

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: The objective of the current trial is to assess whether a specially designed body snare for badgers is an effective and humane method of restraint. The body snare is intended to be non-lethal and the purpose of the proposed trials is to assess the snare. The study will follow the principles laid down in the draft EU Directive on Humane Trapping Standards whereby the humaneness of a trapping device is first assessed under controlled conditions in pen trials before, if its humaneness is deemed to be acceptable, field trials of the device are conducted to confirm its humaneness and to assess its efficacy and non-target risks. The aim is to release all captured badgers taken during the trial back into the wild unharmed.

Pen trials have now been completed and field trials have commenced. Following completion of the trials and peer review a full report will be published by the end of the summer.

Research in relation to wildlife can be sensitive and controversial. There are real concerns over the security of the sites and the personal safety of the staff involved in this particular work and therefore I regret that I cannot supply this information.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the most recent statistics are for the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle; what assessment he has made of the impact on the results of the use of new tuberculin in tests; and if he will make a statement. (73520)

[holding answer 25 May 2006]: Latest provisional statistics show that the estimated incidence of bovine TB in Great Britain was 2.9 per cent. in the first quarter of 2006, compared to 4.8 per cent. in the same period of 2005 and 3.4 per cent. in 20041.

It is too early at present to draw any conclusions about the reduction in incidence from 2005 to 2006, as this may be due to one of a range of reasons or a combination of factors. The possible causes are currently under investigation.

1 Confirmed new herd incidents as a percentage of tests on unrestricted herds. Provisional data downloaded from DEFRA’s animal health database (Vetnet) on 24 May 2006. Subject to change as more data become available.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the extent to which the total eradication of bovine tuberculosis is achievable. (70830)

[holding answer 24 May 2006]: The ‘Government Strategic Framework for the sustainable control of bovine TB in Great Britain’, published in early 2005, focuses on our assessment of what is achievable within a 10-year timeframe. The vision set out in the Strategic Framework is to slow down and prevent the geographic spread of bovine TB to areas currently free of the disease, and achieve a sustained reduction in disease incidence in cattle in high incidence areas.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what definition his Department uses of (a) satisfactory, (b) control, (c) reduction, and (d) contain in its summary of the advice from veterinary surgeons in the report Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling. (70831)

[holding answer 24 May 2006]: The definitions the department have used are as follows:

Satisfactory: disease control and humaneness requirements are met by the policy.

Control: a halt in the increase in the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.

Reduction: a decline in the number of outbreaks of bTB in cattle in high incidence areas.

Contain: prevention of the spread and establishment of bTB in cattle herds in areas clear or with a low incidence of TB in England.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what the total coalesced land area involved would be if (a) badger culling boundaries were set at (i) one kilometre and (ii) 2.5 kilometres from the boundaries of all tuberculosis-infected farms in England and (b) if badger culling areas of 300 square kilometres were established around the boundaries of all such farms, using 2005 as the reference year; (72949)

(2) what the total coalesced land area is in the example of coalescence over (a) one kilometre and (b) 2.5 kilometres from the boundaries of farms in high tuberculosis incidence areas in England, in Figure 3, page 37, of the consultation document, Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling.

[holding answer 23 May 2006]: The area covered by a cull would be dependent on the culling policy. No decision has been taken on whether to introduce a culling policy nor the precise way this would be done.

The Government have made it clear that if a decision was to be taken to cull badgers to reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), culling would be limited to land in high incidence areas in England, (i.e. with repeated herd breakdown) and not to any farm infected with bTB.

The maps of coalesced culling areas presented in the consultation document, “Controlling the Spread of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle in High Incidence Areas in England: Badger Culling”, are for illustrative purposes only. The coalesced area they illustrate is based on only one possible approach to culling and is estimated as a range of 19,650 km2-25,200 km2.