To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the potential for bovine tuberculosis to transfer between (a) badgers and humans, (b) badgers and companion animals, (c) cattle and humans and (d) cattle and companion animals.
Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is primarily a respiratory disease in most mammalian species, however, the relative importance of different routes of transmission (respiratory, oral, cutaneous) among and between species is unknown.
The principal species affected by bovine TB in Great Britain are cattle and badgers. While small numbers of companion animal species and many wild animal species have been shown to be infected with bovine TB, most are spill-over hosts. There is some indirect evidence of transmission from spillover hosts though it is uncertain how often this is occurring.
The Health Protection Agency has lead responsibility for tuberculosis in humans and works closely with DEFRA where human cases of Mycobacterium bovis ( M. bovis) infection are identified. The risk posed by bovine TB to human health from cattle, pets or wildlife is considered very low and the number of cases is not increasing. In 2006 there were 33 cases in the UK. Most cases seen today are attributable to infection picked up abroad or reactivation of infection in older people who contracted the infection before the introduction of milk pasteurisation. Despite the low risk there are robust controls in place to protect public health. These include regular testing of cattle herds and early removal of test reactors; cattle movement controls; a cattle tracing system; slaughterhouse inspections; controls on meat and milk; and occupational health controls. DEFRA works in liaison with a number of Government Departments including the Health Protection Agency, Department of Health, Food Standards Agency and Health and Safety Executive, to help protect the public from contracting infection caused by M. bovis.