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Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB

Volume 461: debated on Monday 18 June 2007

The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) has today published its final report, “Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence”. Copies of the report will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

This report is the culmination of nearly 10 years’ work by the ISG and provides a wealth of valuable evidence. I am very grateful to Professor John Bourne, chairman of the ISG, and his colleagues on the group, for their long commitment to this study.

It is indisputable that bovine TB remains a serious problem for the farming industry with disease prevalence increasing sharply over the last decade. The cost to the taxpayer was around £80 million in 2006-07, and farmers whose herds are affected by disease also face significant financial and personal costs.

Cattle control measures are critical to tackling this disease. We have already tightened these with the introduction of a zero tolerance regime for overdue tests; changes to the compensation system; a new requirement for pre-movement tests from high risk herds; and the extension of the use of the gamma interferon test. The numbers of herds tested each year has increased significantly, increasing costs to both the taxpayer and farmers. We will consider carefully the ISG’s conclusions, which suggest more could be done to tackle transmission between cattle and root out infection from herds. New cattle measures would of course increase the cost of the TB control regime. We will therefore need to work with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to assess the implications of these recommendations.

We know that the badger can play a role in maintaining disease in the areas where bovine TB is endemic. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 allows the culling of badgers under licence for disease control purposes but, while the randomised badger culling trial (RBCT) has been in progress, there has been a moratorium on issuing licences for culling of badgers for bovine TB. The ISG’s final report marks the end of the RBCT. We therefore need to decide next steps.

The ISG’s report summarises the results of the RBCT. These show that small scale culling can increase levels of TB in cattle. The report also says that proactive culling as practised in the RBCT can bring benefits but only if culling is sustained over a number of years and co-ordinated. The ISO are not convinced that it would be practical or economical to deliver a cull in this way, leading them to conclude that badger culling could not contribute meaningfully to the control of bovine TB in Great Britain.

I have always made it clear that we will base our approach to tackling bovine TB on all the available evidence. The publication of this report makes an important contribution to the now extensive evidence base on this disease. We will be considering the issues it raises very carefully and will continue to work with the industry, Government advisers and scientific experts in reaching a final policy decision on this serious issue.