Skip to main content

Bovine Tuberculosis

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when he expects to respond to the report by members of the Independent Scientific Group on the effect of the culling of badgers on the spread of bovine TB. (95341)

I assume my hon. Friend is referring to the paper ‘Culling and cattle controls influence TB risk for badgers' produced by members of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 2 October.

We do not intend to issue a formal response to the paper. However, the findings from this work will be taken into account alongside all the other evidence when considering if badger culling should form part of the TB control programme.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many and what percentage of cattle TB reactors had open lesions at post-mortem in the 12 months following the resumption of TB testing after the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. (95372)

When tuberculosis (TB) testing resumed after the foot and mouth disease outbreak, it was targeted at those herds considered most at risk from developing the disease. In 2002, a total of 23,744 cattle were slaughtered under TB control measures in Great Britain. Of these, 6,993 cases (just over 29 per cent.) were confirmed by the identification of lesions at post-mortem examination and/or isolation of ‘Mycobacterium bovis’ in the laboratory.

The location and nature of TB lesions in slaughtered animals are not recorded on a central electronic database and, therefore, this information is not readily available. An assessment of the infectiousness of a reactor cannot always be made on the basis of a routine slaughterhouse post-mortem examination. Furthermore, there is not a direct correlation between the nature and extent of gross TB lesions found in the carcase and the ability to excrete ‘Mycobacterium bovis’.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what conclusions his Department has reached on the relative importance of channels for transmission of TB among animals. (95373)

The bi-directional transmission of infection between badgers and cattle is undisputed— i.e. both are capable of being the source of infection for the other, and both are capable of maintaining the infection in their respective groups in the absence of the other. Transmission of infection can be either through direct (animal to animal) contact or indirect contact from the environment. Wild deer may in certain situations act as a reservoir of infection although a recent quantitative risk assessment has shown that the relative risk to cattle from wild deer is lower than that from badgers.

Research demonstrates that due to the combination of the differences in the pathology of the disease and the active surveillance, testing and culling policy pursued in cattle, a higher proportion of badgers are infected and when infected they are more likely to be infectious.

We are continuing to carry out research to try to clarify the relative importance of the different routes of transmission. For example, recent research using data from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial has shown that during the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 when cattle TB testing and badger culling was suspended, the prevalence in badgers increased and contributed to an increase in cattle TB.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps he has taken to ensure the reliability and robustness of the consultation on badgers. (95374)

The consultation has been invaluable in helping us hear from all sides of the debate.

The summary of all the responses received a detailed type of response, including those from the seven campaigns by wildlife groups. We will take this into account, along with the Advertising Standards Authority ruling on the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals campaign, when considering public opinion on this issue.

The summary of responses and report on the citizens’ panels are available on the DEFRA website at www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/abouttb/badgers.htm#public

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment he has made of (a) capabilities of the tuberculin previously manufactured at Weybridge and (b) tuberculin manufactured at Lelystad in Holland to detect animals infected with TB. (95375)

The chief veterinary officer recently issued a report on a reduction in the number of new tuberculosis (TB) incidents in Great Britain (GB). This report is available from the DEFRA website at:

http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/stats/index.htm

The report includes an assessment of the performance characteristics of the tuberculins manufactured by the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and by Lelystad in Holland in the context of GB’s TB in cattle testing programme. It suggests that, although the two tuberculins perform slightly differently in the field, and that this could be a small contributory factor to the reduction in the number of new TB incidents, the difference is not significant enough to account for the whole fall.

Both tuberculins are produced and assayed to the same standard, as part of European Union licensing procedures. However, as tuberculin is a biological product, there has always been variability between batches—even from the same supplier. Our reviews do not call into question the efficacy of either tuberculin supply.

DEFRA has established arrangements to purchase further supplies of tuberculin from Lelystad as required to minimise the risk of disruption to the TB testing programme. Either Lelystad or VLA tuberculin will be released for field use as stocks become available.

We will continue to closely monitor and analyse the relative performance characteristics of the two sources of tuberculin currently used in GB.