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How the members of the Independent
Scientific Group on Cattle TB were appointed

James Irvine

Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire

Filed 22 June 07
©www.land-care.org.uk

The final report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB was published on 18th June 2007 (1). After 10 years of deliberation, it recommended to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that:

"while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others' data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain"

This website commented on the report on 20th June in highly critical terms (2), describing its publication as a sad day for UK science and for UK animal health and welfare that it was supposed to protect. One wondered why, in their 10 year watch the ISG had allowed to escalate in such a disastrous manner what had long been recognised to be a serious problem (3).

The question needed to be asked as to how this particular advisory group was put together. I therefore emailed the ISG Secretariat at DEFRA to enquire. The following is the reply:

APPOINTMENT OF THE ISG

Thank you for your e-mail, received yesterday, to Mike Summerskill.  He has asked me to reply to you.

The Krebs report in 1997 recommended (paragraph 5.6.14) that an "Expert Group", including statisticians and mathematical epidemiologists, should be established to oversee the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, that was completed last year.  (The Final Report on the Trial was published by this Expert Group, the ISG, last Monday.)

As the Government of the day, in 1997-8, accepted the recommendations of the report, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Defra's predecessor) officials considered of what composition such a Group should consist, and what names of individuals should be put before Ministers for their consideration.

The size of any such Groups is usually about half a dozen (as the Krebs Committee was) and as it had been recommended that some places should be filled by statisticians and mathematical epidemiologists, it was decided that the other places should be filled by individuals who had appropriate (cattle and wildlife) veterinary and immunological experience and by a badger ecologist.

Ministers were consulted and, by Ministerial appointment, the Chairman (Professor John Bourne) was appointed in 1998, as were five Members (Dr Christl Donnelly, Sir David Cox, Professor George Gettinby, Professor Ivan Morrison and Dr Rosie Woodroffe).

A little time after these individuals first met together, a combined decision was made that the Group additionally needed the experience of an agricultural economist.  A number of leading academics was considered and Professor John McInerney was considered the best choice.  He was appointed by Ministers a few months after the other Members.

I hope you find this explanation satisfactory for your purposes.

If you need any more information, please contact me by letter, telephone or e-mail.
Kind regards,

Alan
A L PATEY
ISG SECRETARIAT
Defra, 1A Page Street, London, SW1P 4PQ
Tel: 020 7904 6057

 

So it transpires that it was Ministry Officials who considered the size of the group and what names should be put forward for the approval of Ministers. In the event all the members of the ISG, including its Chairman, were appointed by Ministers. The Secretariat was within a Ministerial Department, currently DEFRA.

It is therefore very difficult to regard the ISG as being truly independent.

Moreover, the strong influence of Professor John Krebs is apparent in shaping the ISG, and, it might be surmised, its individual membership. The result included a mathematical epidemiologist (epidemiological modeller) and a statistician, with an economist added later for good measure. There are ingredients of this mix that are all too reminiscent of the advisory group that was set up - again allegedly very much under Krebs influence - to deal so disastrously with FMD UK2001.

It may be that Ministers did not interfere with the activities of the ISG once it had been set up, and that the Secretariat operated totally without Ministerial bias. But the fact that all the members of the ISG were directly appointed by Ministers makes one wonder just how "independent" they were. Certainly, the choosing of the individual members would appear to have been far from independent.

The result - an appalling costly mess after 10 years.

©www.land-care.org.uk

References

1. Bourne et al (2007). Bovine TB: the scientific evidence. A science base for a sustainable policy to control TB in cattle. An epidemiological investigation into bovine tuberculosis. Final report of the independent scientific group on cattle TB.
Click Here to View (large pdf file)

2. Irvine, James (2007). The "Independent Scientific Group" advises against badger cull as part of plan to control TB in cattle. A sad day for science, and for animal health and welfare that it is supposed to protect.
See TB Homepage, filed 20 Jun 07, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View

3. Zuckerman, S (1980). Badgers, cattle and tuberculosis. Report to the Right Honourable Peter Walker, Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Her Majesty's Stationery Office

Finis