Headlines of our research findings will appear on this page. The details of all our results and outputs are found on the sub-pages to this page.
Professor Wyn Grant completed a piece of research based on material within the National Archives. He was originally seeking to understand how endemic cattle diseases have been treated within government, but made two discoveries. First, that bovine tuberculosis is virtually the only endemic disease mentioned in any of the papers. Second, that the handling of bovine tuberculosis as a political issue has been characterised by policy failure. This second finding has been written into an article for the British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2009, 11, 557-573), and the abstract is reproduced here.
The failure to eliminate bovine TB from the English and Welsh cattle herd represents a long-term intractable policy failure. Cattle-to-cattle transmission of the disease has been underemphasised in the debate compared with transmission from badgers despite a contested evidence base. Archival evidence shows that mythical constructions of the badger have shaped the policy debate. Relevant evidence was incomplete and contested; alternative framings of the policy problem were polarised and difficult to reconcile; and this rendered normal techniques of stakeholder management through co-option and mediation of little assistance.
One of our key results is the importance of “problem framing” in the management of livestock disease. We find that “problem framing” provides the best conceptual framework for understanding the rationale for a decision maker’s choice of endemic disease management. For example, whether a disease is defined as endemic or exotic is essentially driven by policy and political considerations. Once defined as exotic, a disease attracts central government resources to research certain aspects of the disease such as good diagnostics and traceability, and considerable resources are diverted to remove the disease when it comes into the UK. In contrast, endemic diseases generally receive far less funding for research, and attract little government involvement in control: they are regarded as problems for farmers and livestock industry. Consequently, farmers learn to live with them, and adopt management practices that might mitigate their impact, but which might also enhance their persistence.
Bovine Tuberculosis is a Special Case
The issue of problem framing is especially relevant to bTB. There are multiple groups who have an interest in livestock disease (the “stakeholders”). However, they approach the problem, singularly, from different perspectives: livestock health, animal welfare, ecological conservation, productivity and profitability, and as a potential political issue. These different perspectives mean that the interpretation of scientific evidence is contested, and that it is difficult to find consensus approaches based on general principles. For example, the precautionary principle suggests that, in the face of uncertainty, decisions are taken to avoid the worst case outcome. In the case of bTB, the precautionary principle results in conflicting recommendations: if conservation is the main concern, it dictates not culling badgers, but from the viewpoint of animal health and productivity, culling badgers is the most pragmatic action.
Influence of Compensation on Farmer Behaviour
We have analysed the influence of government compensation attitude to risks and risk management, in particular focussing on the problem of “moral hazard” and adverse selection problems and how it might influence endemic disease epidemiology. We find no conclusive empirical evidence of risk-related moral hazard and of adverse selection problems. These results suggest that the existing compensation scheme does not distort farmers’ incentives in ways that helps spread bTb, and, consequently, compromises the government’s disease control objectives.