Has a cost benefit analysis ever been undertaken to justify the existing programme of eradication in the UK? The UK, in common with many European countries, is in dire financial straits and cut backs are expected in many areas. What about bovine TB? We put this question to Ministers and DEFRA in March 2010 and sent them a copy of the report 'Public health and bovine tuberculosis: what's all the fuss about?' by Paul R and David J Torgerson. The response is below.
CCU Ref: DWOE178656 April 2010
BOVINE TB Thank you for your email of 26 March regarding bovine TB (bTB) and the copy of the opinion paper by Torgerson & Torgerson to which you refer. I have been asked to reply.
Whilst the paper may have a point in pure monetary terms of human lives saved (or clinical cases of TB prevented) by the bTB control programme, we should not lose sight of the fact that the costs of an existing disease control intervention are often easier to quantify than the benefits, some of which may be rather intangible.
As stated in the paper, under EU Animal Health legislation (not only Council Directive 64/432/EEC), there is a legal obligation on every Member State to draw up and implement a plan for the eradication of bTB from their respective territories. The UK plan is approved and co-financed by the European Commission. It is simply not a realistic option for the UK Government to seek derogation from Directive 64/432/EEC (which applies to all Member States), or to expect that the Commission would grant it. Were the bTB surveillance and control programme to be terminated, the Commission would probably impose an automatic ban on all live cattle exports from the UK and instigate costly infraction proceedings against the UK government. The trade of cattle between England, other parts of the UK and especially with Scotland (designated as an officially TB free [OTF] region last September) would be severely disrupted.
Additionally, Mycobacterium bovis infection would be expected to spread out of control not only within the national cattle herd, as implied in the paper (and evidenced after just a one-year suspension of testing during the 2001 epidemic of Foot and Mouth Disease), but it would also spill over more frequently to other domestic and wild mammals (including pets) at a much higher rate and over a wider geographical range than at present.
Furthermore, the absence of a national bTB surveillance regime on UK cattle farms would have knock-on effects on OTF guarantees for meat and (especially) dairy products. The wholesomeness and safety of UK beef and dairy products would likely be called into question by importing countries (both EU and rest of the World), regardless of any meat inspection and milk pasteurisation procedures in place. The current drive in food safety regulation is also to produce uncontaminated, safe products at source, rather than apply chemical or physical treatments to render them safe. Although pasteurisation of milk and dairy products is generally considered an effective and efficient way of eliminating the risk of foodborne human M. bovis infection, pasteurisation failures are also known to occur and the procedure is not universally applied to all milk sold in England and Wales. It would be impossible to impose or enforce a ban on the personal consumption of raw milk and dairy products on farms, etc.
To address your reservations regarding the relevance of bTB control to public health I must point out that the majority of M. bovis infections in humans are chronic and latent. Clinical cases of TB confirmed by culture represent only a fraction of the total population infected. The majority of human M. bovis infections diagnosed in the native UK population involve reactivation of old infections in elderly persons who contracted them before the advent of compulsory bTB testing of cattle herds and the widespread adoption of pasteurisation by the dairy industry. Whilst the incidence of clinical human M. bovis infections has been low for several years due to a combination of control measures, a sudden rise in the prevalence of M. bovis infection in cattle and other animals in the UK would lead in turn to a marked increase in the risk of zoonotic TB due to milk, airborne or cutaneous transmission. This would affect farmers and other sectors of the population most likely to come into contact with infected animals. Many of those human infections would remain subclinical for the time being, but a proportion of those would be expected to emerge as cases of TB disease several years after the exposure.
The current test and slaughter regime is helping to contain the prevalence and geographical spread of bovine TB at a relatively low level. Hilary Benn announced in the House of Commons on 25 March that the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) issued an authorisation for Badger BCG vaccine on 24th March 2010. This vaccine provides another tool in the box of measures for tackling bovine TB. Development of cattle vaccines continues. The earliest projected date for the use of a BCG cattle vaccine with a differential diagnostic test to Differentiate Infected from Vaccinated Animals (a so-called 'DIVA test') is 2015.
Vaccination on its own would not be sufficient to eradicate the disease and even less so if the prevalence of infection is high and widespread in a range of species when the vaccine becomes available. We need a holistic approach.
I hope I have provided sufficient clarification of the Government’s position on this issue.
Lee Hodkinson Defra - Customer Contact Unit
Customer Contact Unit Defra
27 Mar 2015, 5:38 PM
Bovine TB brings in valuable revenue! The European Commission has approved the UK TB Eradication Plan for 2015 - for the sixth year running for Wales. With this approval comes around 31 million euros awarded to the UK - to help stamp out the disease. This funding offsets some TB testing and compensation costs ....
17 Feb 2015, 6:53 PM
February 2015 - Defra Consultation on changes to statistics on the incidence of TB in cattle in GB
The Lies Defra Tell This year, Defra admitted that due to an ‘IT glitch’, their published figures about the shocking increases in bovine TB in UK cattle were actually a huge exaggeration. In fact, it was such a big exaggeration that they reported an 18% increase in cases of infected herds since 2003, rather than the reality, a 3.5% decrease. The truth is that in 2013, 13% fewer cattle were slaughtered because of bovine TB than in 2003, making the case of the badger cull even weaker. It seems that recent increases in testing and biosecurity measures, largely imposed by EU legislation, has been effective in reducing the Bovine TB problem in the UK. It is still a major issue to the livelihoods of many farmers, and a significant drain on the economy, but the situation at least does appear to be getting better.
So, it seems the government has stacked the deck. Unable to get the answers they wanted from independent scientific studies, or from expert panels monitoring culling trials, they’ve opted for a review process that is almost certain to give them the answer they want – that culling should continue. The UK government continues to refer to it’s policy of badger culling as “science-led”, in reality, it is anything b
The BVA has issued this statement on the second year of culling.
19 Dec 2014, 10:17 AM
The controversial badger cull in Gloucestershire may not succeed in reducing tuberculosis in cattle, the government has admitted for the first time YET THEY ARE STILL INTENT ON PROCEEDING WITH A ROLL OUT OF CULLING ACROSS THE UK.
But environment secretary Liz Truss, releasing the results of the 2014 cull pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset on Thursday, said she is determined to continue culling.
The Gloucestershire pilot failed dramatically, as predicted bymany, killing fewer than half the minimum number required. In Somerset, the minimum target was met, but the target has been criticised as “rubbish” and “unbelievably easy” by a leading expert.
Access to Information – Request no 2224 Thank you for your request for information which we received on 19 October 2013. Your request has been considered under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004. You requested the following information: 1. The following latest data for each of the Pilot Badger Cull Areas in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire. Total head of cattle in each cull zone. We do not hold figures as to the cattle numbers in each zone and therefore Natural England does not hold this information and so Regulation 12(4)(a) – information not held, applies. Total number of herds in each cull zone and number of herds under TB restriction in each cull zone. At the time of the licence application assessment, of the holdings participating, there were 154 herds in West Somerset and 223 in West Gloucestershire. Based on Animal Health Veterinary and Laboratory Agency figures; at the time of assessment the 3 year TB incidence in West Somerset was 72 herds under TB restrictions giving a 16% average per year. For West Gloucestershire it was 80 herds giving a 12% average per year. 2. The following latest data for each of the 2km rings around each of the Pilot Badger Cull Areas in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire. a) The total head of cattle in 2km ring around edge each cull zone. We do not hold figures as to the cattle numbers in each zone and Therefore Natural England does not hold this information and so Regulation 12(4)(a) – information not held, applies b) Total number of herds in 2km ring around each cull zone At the time of the licence application assessment there were 90 herds in the West Somerset 2km ring and 121 in the West Gloucestershire 2km ring. How many herds are under TB restriction in each ring around each cull zone. Based on Animal Health Veterinary and Laboratory Agency figures; at the time of assessment the 3 year TB incidence in the West Somerset 2km ring was 24 herds under TB restrictions giving a 9% average per year. For West Gloucestershire it was 4 herds giving a 12% average per year.
21 Mar 2014, 9:33 AM
Rethink Bovine TB (www.rethinkbtb.org) now has confirmation from Defra (under ref RFI 5988, see formal response set out below) that they do not know how many cattle or herds or Btb incidents in either cull zone (Gloucestershire or Somerset). Animal Health also don't hold this data. Natural England confirm they hold the data for participating farms only.
So how do they plan to monitor the effect of the badger cull on Bovine tb over the next few years if they have no starting point.
Dear REQUEST FOR INFORMATION: Cattle in Badger Cull Areas
Thank you for your request for information about the numbers of cattle in the pilot badger cull areas, which we received on 7 November. We have handled your request under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs).
You requested the following information: 1. The latest data for each of the Pilot Badger Cull Areas in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire including Total head of cattle in each cull zone. Total number of herds in each cull zone. Number of herds under TB restriction in each cull zone. 2. The latest data for each of the 2km rings around each of the Pilot Badger Cull Areas in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire including The total head of cattle in 2km ring around edge each cull zone. Total number of herds in 2km ring around each cull zone 3. How many herds are under TB restricted in each ring around each cull zone
I am writing to advise you that the information that you have requested is not held by Defra as statistics are not held at this specific level of detail..
20 Feb 2014, 4:27 PM
New figures from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories have revealed that in Wales levels of bovine tuberculosis (as identified by the flawed skin test) have fallen significantly over the last year. Between November 2011 and November 2012 there were 1145 instances of the disease in new herd reported in Wales. In the same period last year, there were 880 reports - a 23% drop. And the numbers of cattle slaughtered in Wales because of bovine Tb fell by a third.
Across the whole of the UK figures revealed a 6% reduction in new herd incidents and a 14%t reduction in the numbers of cattle slaughtered for TB.
Wales is hosting the World mycrobacterium bovis conference in June 2014.
12 Feb 2014, 3:53 PM
so ... Defra overstated UK herds with bTBb by 38%. See data on p3 of link document. It was originally stated and 5961 herds and is now revised down to 4312. Not satisfactory.
The Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) has published a report 'Differences between bovine TB indicators in herds in the IAA and herds in the Comparison Area (Project OG0142): First two years, 1st May 2010 to 30th April 2012'. This was commissioned by the Welsh Government under Project OG0142.
Summary conclusion A more intensive testing effort was used in the IAA compared to the Comparison Area. However, observed differences in trends in bTB incidence since the initiation of the IAA are small in comparison with the historic variation between years. There have been major changes in testing regimes in the IAA, differences in demography between the Comparison Areas and IAA. Because of this, and a lack of true randomisation or replication, we predict that any difference in bTB trends due to control efforts between herds in the IAA and herds in the Comparison Areas will not be detectable until several years have elapsed. Specifically, the purposive selection of the IAA and the difficulty in finding a Comparison Area with equivalent bTB exposure reduces the soundness of evidence that any observed differences in bTB incidence are due to bTB control strategies rather than other differences between the areas in the epidemiology of bTB.
15 Jan 2014, 7:29 PM
What a shambles! According to the Farmers Guardian (http://m.farmersguardian.com/61420.article?mobilesite=enabled0 the number of farms under bovine TB restriction might have been significantly overstated in official figures for more than two years, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency has admitted.
Defra and AHVLA have suspended the monthly TB statistical update while the problem, which stems from AHVLA’s problematic Sam IT system, is reviewed.
An AHVLA spokesman said the review could result in a ‘fairly significant review downwards’ of the number of cattle herds under restrictions, dating back to autumn 2011.
AHVLA has identified a problem with data recording in the Sam system, which provides all the information on which the statistics are based.
Since September 2011, a number of herds have continued to be incorrectly reported as being not officially TB free, when in fact TB restrictions had been lifted during this period. The number of these herds under restriction has therefore been overstated for a period of more than two years.
Explaining the problem in its latest statistical notice, AHVLA said: “Further investigations are underway to verify the extent and scale of the problem, however it can be expected that this data series will be revised significantly downwards for 2012 and 2013.”
The problem is also likely to have affected the incidence rate, a key measure that takes into account the ratio between new herd incidents and herd tests.
The publication of the incidence rate has also been suspended ‘as a precautionary measure’, although AHVLA said it was ‘unlikely that it has been affected to any significant degree, if at all’.
AHVLA said revised figures will be published as soon as it has corrected the data in Sam, revised figures have been produced, and quality assurance checks have been completed.
The statistics for cattle slaughtered because of bTB remain unaffected. The latest figures for the first 10 months of 2013 show 27,474 cattle were slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts between January and October 2013, a significant fall (-11.8 per cent) on the 31,143 killed during the same period in 2012.
AHVLA said the ‘short term changes in these statistics should be considered in the context of long term trends’.
Defra and AHVLA are bracing themselves for criticism from opponents of the badger cull, who have already seized on the admission as evidence the TB problem has been ‘hugely overstated’ over the past two years.
The agency also stressed its IT problems have had ‘no impact on operational activities in the field.
“No herds have been mistakenly placed under restrictions, nor have any cattle been slaughtered unnecessarily. TB surveillance and disease control regimes have continued to operate normally and no livestock businesses should have been impacted in any way,” the agency said.
15 Nov 2013, 3:58 PM
Access to Information Request 2249 sent to us is in response to the question: (the response would seem to demonstrate just how badly thought out and chaotic the culling policy is?). Surely culling badgers in areas where there are no cattle is a complete waste of time and money?
Can you tell me the number of farms or landholdings in each of the three pilot cull areas that contain livestock, meaning cattle, and those that do not hold any cattle? Somerset, Gloucester and also Dorset the reserve area.
The response was:
Not all farms within the cull areas are participating. Within the West Somerset area 60% of participating farms have cattle. In the West Gloucestershire area 43% of the participating farms have cattle. In the Dorset reserve area 70% of participating farms have cattle.
17 Sep 2013, 3:20 PM
Access to information request – Request no 2154 (emailed to us by DW on 16/9/13).
Thank you for your request for information about checks performed on farmers and landowners involved in the pilot badger culls which was passed to us from Defra on 6 September 2013. Your request has been carefully considered under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Your requests have been considered under Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
You requested the following information:
1. How many farmers and landowners involved in the two pilot cull areas, were checked to ensure that they could demonstrate they have taken practicable proportionate and appropriate measures to minimise badger to cattle contact?
Natural England carries out biosecurity visits to over 10% of the holdings in both pilots.
2. How many farmers and landowners involved in the two pilot cull areas, failed to demonstrate they had taken sufficient action, and therefore how many were refused a licence?
Reasonable biosecurity measures are being, and for the duration of any licence will continue to be, implemented by participating farmers on their land. Overall Natural England is content with the standard of biosecurity measures in place on the holdings.
It will take yet another 25 years to be TB free and even then this is not guaranteed! The Farmers Guardian (www.farmersguardian.com/home/latest-news/defra-unveils-25-year-bovine-tb-eradication-plan/56951.article) has provided an outline of the government's proposed bovine TB eradication strategy which is currently subject to yet another consultation to, no doubt, be ignored.
Farmers will shoulder more of the cost burden and take on more of the responsibility for managing the disease under a comprehensive new bovine TB strategy for England.
Under the strategy, which sets out a path to rid England of the disease within 25 years, England will be divided up into three distinct disease control areas.
Distinct approaches to tackling the disease will be adopted in the areas defined as the Low Risk Area, the Edge Area and the High Risk Area to reflect the regional differences in how the disease is spread. For example in the hotspot areas of the South West and Midlands the focus is on addressing the disease in cattle and wildlife to reverse the upward spread, while enhanced cattle controls, like compulsory post-movement testing, will be introduced in a bid to eradicate the disease in the cleaner areas.
The goal will be move to a position where counties in the Low Risk Area can achieve Officially TB-Free (OTF) status, easing the TB control burden and facilitating trade’, ‘as soon as possible’ in a phased approach that will create a two-tier cattle trading zone.
A target has been set of achieving OTF status for ‘much of England’ by 2025 and the whole country in 25 years.
The other key theme underpinning the strategy is the development of an ‘enhanced partnership’ in TB control where farmers are encouraged to take more responsibility for disease controls and a landed with a greater share of the costs.
The strategy document, published on Thursday and based partly on the work of Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, leans heavily on the experience of New Zealand, where control of bTB has been fully devolved to an industry-led body and the industry has co-financed the budget through levies and grants.
The strategy stresses that the current cost of TB control to taxpayers is ‘not sustainable’, highlighting a likely £20m shortfall in the estimated at £95m cost in 2014/15 and the funds allocated in the budget.
It sets out a whole range of policy options, to be consulted on over the summer, to achieve these broad aims, including the widespread adoption of risk-based trading to reduce the risk of cattle spread across the country, reductions in TB compensation, including in ways to incentivise good practice on farms.
Farmers will also be increasingly asked to fund and organise elements of TB control like TB testing and vaccination and maybe given a greater say in the sale of TB reactors into the food chain,
The strategy also seeks to pave the way for a ‘mutual TB control fund’ financed by Government and the food and farming industry and the adoption of TB eradication boards to run policy at local level.
5 Jul 2013, 2:27 PM
ANOTHER 25 years to be TB free in England!
Yesterday the Government launched its bovine TB eradication strategy with the aim of England becoming TB free within 25 years - so farmers have to wait again.
The strategy sets out action in areas such as disease surveillance, pre- and post-movement cattle testing, removal of cattle exposed to bTB, tracing the potential source of infection and wildlife controls including culling and vaccination trials. It also focuses on the development of new techniques such as badger and cattle vaccines and new diagnostic tests that could one day offer new ways of tackling the disease.
13 Jun 2013, 10:21 AM
Supplied to us by DGP email 7/6/13.
In response to our point that a TB incident can only be accurately described as 'new' if the herd involved has never been restricted (ie consistently OTF since registration), you inform us that you "don't track which herds become restricted and unrestricted over time".
But if a herd is suffering from recurrences or resurgences of bTB then it is clearly misleading to describe each of these breakdowns as 'new herd incidents'.
Please give us a precise definition of your term 'new herd incident'?
DEFRA response (DWO309557) to FOI request regarding the accuracy of the term 'new herd incident;
"It is worth pointing out that the term now used is 'New herd incidents with OFT status withdrawn' This change has been introduced to bring it in line with terminology used in EU legislation.
"When a TB outbreak is identified in a herd, it is classed a a new herd incident with OTF status withdrawn. If TB is then eradicated from a herd, it is classed as a new herd incident with OTF status withdrawn. We regard those descritions as accurate and appropriate.
"On your suggestion that Ministers are ignoring the opinions of stakeholders, farmers and the public, we don't regard the published material on the Animal Health and Welfare Board's Call for Views as evidence of this. That exercise went far wider than the Government badger control policy, which was subject to specific consulations in 2010 and 2011. Ministers are very aware that there is great strength of feeling on this issue and no-one wants to see badgers culled. However, no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has successfully controleed the disease in acttle without tackling its presence in the wildlife reservoir as well.
"Finally, cattle polation in Great Britain for 2012 and the number of cattle dlaughtered for bovine TB control can be found at" www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-environment-food-rural-affairs/about/statistics "
A depressing read for those of us that have been campaigning on this subject for years and seen the goalposts moved so regularly. The timescale for vaccination - because of the EU bureaucracy - is now a staggering ten years before cattle vaccination can be introduced and even then this is only a possible guideline. Badgers are being vaccinated NOW so why can't farmers have the right to vaccinate their cattle NOW?
15 Mar 2013, 6:17 PM
Comment from Badger Trust New Half Truth In Coalition Statement on Bovine TB
Yet another half-truth about bovine TB has appeared in a news release  by the Coalition Government saying that the number of cattle slaughtered in England went up by seven per cent last year without mentioning that 6.48 per cent more were tested . The detailed statistics reveal a similar pattern in Great Britain as a whole – 5.73 per cent more tests and 10.24 per cent more cattle found with the disease.
David Williams, chairman of the Trust, said: “Far from being a cause for concern these figures show that the more you test – as you must - the more TB you find in Britain’s national herd. This confirms the existence of a devastating reservoir of bovine TB in cattle themselves. Annual testing should be universal, and this was vital to the success in virtually eradicating the disease up to the 1990s .
“Any contribution made by wildlife has been shown to be small compared to that from cattle themselves. Killing badgers in particular can make no meaningful contribution to eradication and could make the situation worse .
The Defra statement calls for ‘urgent action’; Mr Williams said the increases in testing showed this was already being done. “Better testing has been lacking for 20 years while the cattle industry wasted time in pointless clamour for badgers to be killed”.