“We have great hopes for this conference. By bringing so much wisdom together in one room we hope to take a step towards establishing the whole truth about bovine TB, and, in a frank and open discussion, open a new era of genuine cooperation in the fight against this pernicious pathogen.” Dr Brian May’s opening remarks at this unique event set the tone for the proceedings as Farmers, badger experts, veterinarians, and wildlife groups gathered together to listen to the leading experts, drawn from all around the UK and the Republic of Ireland, united for the first time on a journey to discover science fact - not science fiction.
The conference was chaired by Professor Lord Krebs with an overview of Bovine TB presented by Prof Ian Boyd, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor who said 'Getting everybody together in one place is vital to evidence and values and to assess the best science".
The conference agenda covered four strategic categories, each independently chaired, and leading to a developing policy debate to conclude the day. The first of which was Cattle based controls with Prof Rosie Woodroffe in the chair. Prof James Wood discussed the performance of the current cattle tests and concluded " More stringent cattle measures, such as radial testing around infected herds in the 'edge area', have been implemented. Thier impact may also take some years to become apparent'. who was followed by Prof Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales who discussed the Welsh approach to the eradication of Bovine TB. Prof Rowland Kao, The university of Glasgow provided insights from Scotland’s approach to Bovine TB before we moved on to look at new testing methods and how they can improve cattle controls with Dr Cath Rees of Nottingham University. To complete this section Richard Sibley, a practising veterinary surgeon from Devon discussed frontline TB management from vets prospective.
The second strategic section covered badger population controls and was chaired by Prof Glyn Hewinson. the APHA’s lead scientist. Prof Christl Donnelly of UCL London covered the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT), that remain as the benchmark in providing data to resolve the problem of TB in badgers. Prof Tim Coulson, Prof of Zoology at Oxford University discussed the effectiveness and humaneness of the government's current policy of farmer led badger culls. Prof Coulson said, "we can be 95% certain that a combination of controlled shooting and cage trapping removed less than 48.1% of the pre-cull population of badgers in Somerset and less than 39.1% of the pre-cull population in Gloucestershire". Dr Lucy Brunton covered the incidence of Bovine TB in both the Somerset and Gloucestershire cull zones in year two of the farmer led culls. Her report concluded "This analysis provides some insight into the impact of the intervention but is limited by the non-random nature of area selection and lack of subsequent selection of control areas. Statistical testing of the difference in incidence rates between the combined intervention and comparison areas found there to be no significant difference in incidence rate for any of the time periods'
Dr Lucy Brunton covered the incidence of Bovine TB in both the Somerset and Gloucestershire cull zones in year two of the farmer led culls. Her report concluded "This analysis provides some insight into the impact of the intervention but is limited by the non-random nature of area selection and lack of subsequent selection of control areas. Statistical testing of the difference in incidence rates between the combined intervention and comparison areas found there to be no significant difference in incidence rate for any of the time periods'
Prof James O’Keefe DAFM discussed how the Republic of Ireland, who have completed extensive badger culls over many years, are now moving from culling badgers to a vaccination programme. Prof O’Keefe defined clearly the policy used by the Irish government was based upon reducing the badger population to a level where vaccination became the more effective option without risking local extinctions, concluding the model would probably not work in England due to the much larger badger populations found here.
Dr Graham Smith from APHA presented ‘Modelling the effects of localised badger culling” where he explained the theory behind how DEFRA, the Welsh and Northern Irish governments use data to produce robust simulation models related to badger vaccination and culling. The final speaker on this section was Dr Liz Wellington from Warwick University who presented PCR guided badger culling - could it work?
Delegates and speakers then had a chance to meet and discuss the morning's presentations during an informal vegetarian lunch before returning to the Lecture Room for the afternoon.
Prof Christl Donnelly chaired the third strategic section Vaccination with Prof Glyn Hewinson, APHA lead scientist covering cattle vaccination in Britain. Dr Freya Smith APHA, a vet and epidemiologist covered badger vaccination in Britain, followed by Prof Eamonn Gormley, University College Dublin who discussed Badger Vaccination in the Republic of Ireland, followed by Dr Frazer Menzies from DAERA, who discussed the Test-Vaccinate-Remove (TVR) method used in Northern Ireland.
The fourth strategic category Farm Security was chaired by Dr Brian May who introduced Dr Amie Adkin, a risk analyst specialising in animal and public health risks at APHA. Amie discussed improving cattle controls with risk-based trading. Prof Rosie Woodroffe previewed her groundbreaking new work on interactions between badger and cattle covering her research and outcomes of her trial to support the hypothesis that badgers and cattle do not interact directly in pastures.
The section concluded with a talk by Dr Gareth Enticott of Cardiff University who looked at the relevance New Zealand to TB controls in the UK. That set the stage for Nigel Gibbens, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer to summarise the government’s TB Control Strategy for England. The conference adjourned briefly for afternoon tea before returning to an open panel discussion titled ‘How should these new insights inform TB control policy?
The panel, chaired by Lord Krebs consisted of Prof Sheila Bird, Prof John Bourne, Nigel Gibbens, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, Prof Christianne Glossop, Chief Veterinary Officer Wales, Prof James Wood, University of Cambridge, James O’Keefe DAFM, and farmer, Ian McGrath.
Each panel member was given two minutes to summarise what they believed to be the key points of the day. From the perspective of an audience member it was pleasing to note that all the panel had learnt something new from the presentations with most saying that they still had some questions that they would like to have had answered, overall, to summarise their comments and observations they concluded that the conference had delivered new and exciting insights in the fight against Bovine TB The delegates now had the opportunity to ask the assembled panel questions; Lord Krebs asked for the questions to be as succinct as possible to allow more people to ask their question and that he would take three questions at one time before asking the panel to answer. He then invited questions - immediately 50 or 60 hands wee held up - this was definitely going to be a lively debate. The first three questions were asked and answered by the panel, with lord Krebs allowing specific questions to individual panel members.
It was clear that Nigel Gibbons and Christianne Glossop would be busy, however, it was Sheila Bird who drew the first spontaneous applause from the delegates with a very honest and direct answer related to the lack of TB testing on culled badgers. Prof James Wood answered a number of questions regarding data used by the Government in estimating badger populations and min/max cull numbers whilst farmer Ian McGrath was happy to comment on his own farms experience, how it feels when you loose cattle to TB and the financial impact, not the business, his honest appraisal having an impact on many in the room.
The Chief Vet was the primary focus of the questions from farmers and the badger group members who asked some direct questions on key policy issues, and to his great credit, Nigel Gibbens, answered every question, directly and openly.
It panel debate was a fitting end to an incredible day. The BTB symposium brought together the leading scientific experts from around the UK, to discuss, a clearly emotive subject for all concerned, in scientific terms.To the credit of all speakers and delegates, the day was conducted in a spirit of collaboration and working together to find solutions to the problems caused by Bovine TB to cattle and wildlife.
As the delegates and speakers left the conference, it was a privilege to listen to their thoughts and comments on what had been a truly remarkable day, full of new insights and information to digest. We have received some amazing feedback from speakers and delegates from the day and a great response via social media. The BTB Symposium has been a catalyst to new insights, fresh thinking and collaborative working, we hope it will be a force that brings about the end to the suffering of all animals from Bovine TB.