Sunday, April 24, 2016

T.O.W.I.E.

In our last posting we explored the bizarre - [link] and ridiculous release protocol for badger rescues, illustrating the post with a pic of a tattooed stripey which had expired in West Wales. Where had he come from? we asked. A member of Facebook asked the same question and this was the reply from Secret World.
Our badger rehabilitation and release policy follows the protocol agreed by wildlife charities, farming groups, specialist scientists and MAFF (now DEFRA) in 2001.

The policy followed by Secret World is the best possible, as advised by these scientists, to minimise the risk of disease transmission and ensure good animal welfare. We work extensively with private landowners to ensure they understand our policies, that any release sites are suitable and that we have their full consent for any releases. You can read more about our release process on our website.

The badger photographed was a cub released in 2011. The cub was tested three times for bovine TB, as is our policy, and was vaccinated before release.
Actually, as our Parliamentary questions showed, release protocol dreamt up by these charities, was not approved by Defra, but let that pass. That assertion was contradicted in a later paragraph from SWorld.

So where had this rescue (now dead) originated? Secret World had not answered at first, but later volunteered this gem:
"It came from the 'low risk' area of Essex. Other animals in that group originated in areas of similar risk".
So a T.O.W.I.E 'rescued' in Essex, reared and tattooed in Somerset, and released in 'someone's' orchard in West Wales? Are they short of badgers in that part of the UK? Is it TB free?
What a mind blowingly stupid idea.

The question was posed as to the geographic spread of released badgers from these centres. The answer:
"I am not in a position to discuss exact sites for releases, not least to maintain the confidentiality of those landowners who work with us.

The aim is to release badger cubs (not just from Secret World, but from all rescue centres around the country) as close to where they were found as possible. This is for both genetic reasons, as well as being good practise for disease control (not just TB)."
It's just about as far as you can get  from Essex to West Wales without getting wet feet, but let that pass.
The answer continued:
"The distribution of release sites depends on availability, but broadly mirrors the population of badgers across England and Wales. So more badgers are found and released in the south west of England than anywhere else. All adult badgers go back exactly where they are found.

Most cubs rehabilitated at Secret World are released in the south west of England. When we decide which cubs to release where, this is based on a risk assessment that includes consideration of where they came from and where they are going."
Mmmm. But 42 11 W, an Essex badger, ends up released in a TB hotspot in West Wales? Which hardly fits the described 'protocol' does it?

 Secret World - [link] is registered with the Charity Commission - [link] documents from which, show its income in 2014 as around £1.15m. Better than cattle farming then?






Now it seems pretty ironic to us, that having seen an increase - [link] in main setts of 103 per cent in England over the last few years, combined with a disease level of around 50 per cent (FERA figures) in the South West of England, (an area which is presently putting together population reduction strategies to control a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen) that such outfits as Secret World should be introducing more badgers into the area from Lord knows where.

Anyone want a badger or three? Just contact Secret World. We are sure they'll oblige. Possibly for a fee?

From their comforting blurb, for the dead badger with the tattoo 42 11 W, obviously the only way should have been Essex. But not so: he was adopted by a landowner in West Wales, and died there.

Credit: Facebook.com/BadgerCullPage

Saturday, April 09, 2016

You learn something new every day.

Long years ago when we were phrasing up Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions on zTB, most were crafted already knowing the answers. We just wanted the rest of you to know too.

But this week, we have learned that on one subject we did not probe far enough.

 And that subject is the translocation, following the rescue - [link] and release of badgers.

So as this week saw the further ratcheting down on cattle and extra testing, we must update our readers on that omission.

 In February 2004, Mr. Paterson asked this question and received the following answer:
6 Feb 2004 : Column 1109W
Mr. Paterson:" To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the sensitivity of the test used on translocated badgers is in (a)positive response and (b)negative response. [150583]

Mr. Bradshaw: The test, which is generally used, for the detection of TB in translocated badgers is a test for antibodies (the Brock Test). This is generally accepted to have a low sensitivity (the ability to detect diseased animals). However it is difficult to give accurate values for the sensitivity because euthanased animals are not always subject to laboratory culture.

Where a badger translocation is carried out under licence (from Defra or English Nature) each individual badger is tested three times. If any of the three results are positive, the badger is euthanased. Any other badger that has been in contact with the positive testing badger is also euthanased, regardless of the results of its own tests

Where an orphaned or previously injured badger is translocated by an animal centre or similar body they follow a voluntary code of practise (drawn up by the RSPCA, National Federation of Badgers Groups and Secret World Wildlife Rescue).

Any animal to be relocated is tested three times and, if it tests positive, is euthanased.

This protocol does not advise in the destruction of badgers who have had contact with a test positive badger.

It should be emphasised that this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra. "
But that is only half the story, as TB Information - [link] has discovered. On the site there is a link to a document drawn up to facilitate the release of rescued badgers.

And from that little gem, we note that the guff contained in the answer to PQ 150583, (above) does not apply to ADULT badgers. They are not tested as to do so would mean a long period of captivity to accommodate the 3 tests plus weeks in between. And that would never do.TB Information also reports:
About 70 badgers each year were reported in 2007 to be released by the wildlife rescue centre called Secret World.

 In 2003 a voluntary Badger Rehabilitation Protocol was drawn up by Secret World Wildlife Rescue National Federation of Badger Groups and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Although it recommends testing badger cubs, it says the following regarding the testing of adult badgers.

* An adult badger should not be blood tested for bovine TB for the following reasons:

* It will be released to its original location, so eliminating the opportunity for the spread of disease to new areas;

* Recent published data show that a single blood test is unreliable (Forrester et al., 2001);

* It is unlikely to be held in captivity long enough to conduct three blood tests.
Marvellous isn't it? Cattle nailed to the floor, tested to extinction and the major UK wildlife reservoir of disease is rescued and released, translocated and fostered, 'accustomed to life in the wild', using, if it's used at all, a test with sensitivity of around 47 per cent.



We're grateful to a member of The Farmers forum - [link] for the above screen shot of a badger found dead in Wales.
(Credit : TFF and Facebook)






As you can see it's sporting a handsome tattoo - 42 11 W - so from where did it originate, to end up squished on a  roadside in West Wales? And why is this crazy situation still going on at all?


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

New TB rules.

Today, April 6th, Defra finally managed to 'zone' England into the dirty areas and clean for TB status.

This zoning has nothing to do with how you farm or the health status of your cattle. It is dependent on where you happen to keep your cattle. And in particular, the relation of that location to endemically infected wildlife.
Farmers Guardian - [link] has the details.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Blowing the budget

On March 16th., Budget Day for HM Government,  Defra released its 2015 figures for zTB casualties, and as we predicted in this posting -[link] the numbers of cattle slaughtered are some 32 per cent higher than were forecast.

Farmers Guardian has some nuggets - [link] from the annual tally; but as  Defra have offered their EU paymasters 27,440 dead cattle and a downward trend in disease in 2015, that particular budget is well and truly blown..

Wales reports a staggering 27 per cent increase in slaughtered reactors over 2014, and is said to be considering some drastic measures [ link] including reducing to not a lot, compensation for reactors purchased under license. England's increase over 2014 is 6 per cent, with the SW reporting arguably their worst year on record. And the areas allegedly acting as buffers, Defr'a  Edge, are bubbling nicely.
Thus despite a decade of cattle measures and their associated modeled predictions of reduction in disease incidence, nothing was achieved.

It is said that a definition of insanity, is repeating the same action - [link] but expecting different results.
But that is precisely what Defra's mandarins have done by bearing down on cattle with small token culls of grossly infected  badgers in a very few, small areas.

And we have no doubt that some more imaginative schemes to save money, such as dreamt up by the Welsh Assembly government, will surface as Defra's budget is blown apart .

Sunday, March 13, 2016

BBC - British Badger Cabal ?

For years now we have had to endure anthropomorphic fluff from the nation's premier broadcasting company, (at least in its own eyes) when it comes to badgers. But is the tide turning?

 Shown on BBC 2 and hidden amongst a programme dealing with Country Life magazine, was a harrowing piece on TB testing, reading and finally loading for slaughter, some home bred dairy cattle. For the next couple of weeks, the programme can be viewed on iPlayer - [link]

Maurice Durbin, the farmer, his staff and their vet all came across as caring and deeply upset by the effect of zTB on this lovely herd. The story was reported in the local press - [link] but the programme then prompted an outraged flurry from the Badgerists, in the form of a letter to the Director General of the BBC, accusing it of 'bias'. On that we can make no printable comment.

 The editor of Country Life, Mark Hedges, who gave an excellent overview of the situation which many livestock farmers now find themselves in, at the end of the programme, also gave an opinion statement to The Times.

Under the strap line "BBC must not give in to bullying by the Badger Trust", the article begins with criticism of the 'grip that pop star Brian May and his Badger Trust, has on the media and the dairy-farming industry'.
Mr. Hedges explains:
"One section of the programme, which is based around the magazine I edit, showed the distressing reality of life on a West Country farm that has been shut down for most of the last six years due to bovine TB. It seemed to open the eyes of viewers, an overwhelming number of whom have demonstrated sympathy for the farmer and his family, but the trust didn’t like it one bit and has complained to the BBC about impartiality."
Mr. Hedges continues:
The programme has certainly got everyone talking about an aspect of the bovine TB tragedy that is rarely seen. The tension was palpable as we watched Maurice Durbin’s pedigree Guernsey herd, which he inherited from his father, being tested for TB. “Poor old girl, she’s got to have a little trip,” he said, bottom lip trembling, as another cow was sent to be slaughtered.
This happened to some 36,000 cows, many in calf, in the UK last year, although you won’t find protesters outside farm gates complaining about the cows’ fate. Instead, they’re too busy harassing the farming communities where Defra’s pilot badger culls have been taking place. Mr. Hedges resumes his story:
"As I said on television, the cull has not been perfect in its execution, but there is evidence that farms in Somerset are now free of TB for the first time in years. Science should be allowed to take its course. Although measures can be taken to prevent badgers getting into farmyards, little else can be done to prevent them infecting cattle in the fields."
And Mr. Hedges has certainly got the point that:
"Britain’s dairy industry is on the brink of disaster because of decades of government dilly-dallying and a one-sided view of the badger. However charming a creature it may be, its inexorable population growth has been at the expense of the hedgehog, ground-nesting birds and bumblebees.

There are always two sides to a story, and we are proud that we have enabled the farmer’s story to be told at last. A single-issue group should not be allowed to bully the BBC for doing that."
(Mark Hedges is editor of Country Life.)

 There is only one point we would make on this programme or Mr. Hedge's article, ( apart from sending our thanks and best wishes to Mr. Durbin and his family, Mr. Hedges and Country Life magazine) and that is zoonotic Tuberculosis is not a disease which affects only 'dairy cattle' .

It is a grade 3 pathogen and affects any mammal, and thus should not be allowed to rampage through our badger population at all.
Mr. Durbin's story can also be read in Country Life - [link]

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gesture politics.



As our country has progressively dismantled the ability to govern itself, periodically the civil servants at DEFRA have to submit a ‘plan’ to the European Union of their intentions and their progress in achieving them, for disease control. Particularly if they need some of our money back, in what is called ‘co-financing’.

Below are snips from their 2015 effort.
Member States seeking a financial contribution from the Union for national programmes for the eradication, control and monitoring of animal diseases and zoonosis listed below, shall submit applications containing at least the information set out in this form.
Co-financing 2015 – 2020.
In December 2015, this somewhat out of date package for the eradication (??) of zoonotic tuberculosis was available for us to digest. As usual, it was high on hope and cattle measures, while doing very little other than a token sporadic cull of the wildlife reservoir, in very specific areas and on a small scale. And any farmers participating, paying for that dubious privilege. A few areas are licensed to indiscriminately jab badgers of indeterminable health - until such vaccines (BCG) were limited by the World Health Organisation which preferred them to be used on human babies.

As this EU submission is 117 pages of fierce cattle measures, combined with some rather spurious predictions, we’ll paste a few tasters of this document and leave our readers to do their own delving of what's in store.The overview is somewhat optimistic, we felt:
5. Overall, these descriptive statistics point to a gradual stabilisation of the main bTB incidence and prevalence indicators in England over the last few years, even though the greater testing effort has resulted in more positive herds being detected (at least until 2012). It is premature to reach any conclusions on the factors at work in these reductions, including the impact of any particular TB surveillance of control measure introduced in recent years. To draw more meaningful conclusions, we need to look at longer term trends and see whether the reductions achieved in 2013 can be sustained in the following years.
Reading from that hymn sheet in 2016 and twittering about 'stabilisation', members of Defra's TB staff obviously have not looked at longer term trends. Or if they have, they are not looking at the same stats - [link] that we are.

In 2013,  9056 herds were under TB restriction (TB2) out of  79,287 registered - if SAM can be believed.
Cattle slaughtered numbered 31,715. Two years later, to November, Defra's figures show that they  had slaughtered 35,650 cattle and their buffer, the Edge area was bubbling nicely. Now we wouldn’t call that ‘stable’ at all. In fact 2015, looks to be heading for the record books as one of, if the worst year on record when the December figures are in. This despite all the tightening of cattle controls and the vaccinating of badgers. Or in the case of the latter, possibly because of it?

The UK has had a raps over the knuckles - [link] before, from our paymasters, and as in section 8.2 of this document, they are asking for an increase above the 50 per cent co-funding arrangement, as ' reimbursement of eligible costs', then those projected costs must be accurate. Or our paymasters will want to know why.

The EU submission mentions badgers a bit, but their numbers in Defra-land have not altered one bit since 1997. Despite two head counts logging substantial increases - [link]
Targeted culling using PCR is mentioned in paragraph 26:
26. We are working to develop practical, sensitive and specific diagnostic tests for badgers as part of the GB research programme administered by Defra on behalf of England and Wales.
This would allow us to better understand the scale of badger infection in terms of geographical area. Such tests could mean that future interventions are targeted at individual badgers or setts, rather than the wider population. They could also help us judge how effective vaccination might be in a specific area. The research that Defra is concentrating on:

• Non-invasive tests to identify infected badgers, including the development of blood sampling devices; and

• Tests to identify setts and areas where infected badgers are resident, such as tests to detect bovine TB bacteria in environmental (soil, latrine) samples, including use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. .
Another pretty underhand attempt at ‘gesture politics’ here: when the Department’s own blinded trial for the most promising ‘non invasive’ screen, passed its main criteria - [link] but is still being misrepresented by 'modeled' false positives and dismissed out of hand.

Interestingly, we note that Warwick University - [link] are in receipt of £930,032, part of a £7m grant, to use this screen or one similar, in the ‘farmyard’ environment. This funded by the  Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which in turn is funded by government. Let's hope no wandering stripey has marked his territory around said farmyard then. It's all m.bovis is it not? Yet we’re told by Defra, that these tests do not work on m.bovis material obtained from badgers?
How very odd when others seem perfectly happy to throw nearly £1m at screening the farmyard environment for the same bacterium.

But we digress: Defra has listed in this document all these futile cattle measures which it has either implemented already, or plans to foist on us, in an attempt to isolate zTB to the W/SW. Thus allowing the so-called Low Risk counties to achieve TB free trading status earlier, while ignoring the march of TB problems in the middle of this sandwich - their Edge area,  Defra also seek to form local discussion groups.
42. There are also a number of stakeholder groups looking at specific issues (e.g. cattle movements and biosecurity) which bring together different agencies and industry. In addition, the engagement of local stakeholders and their willingness to work together is essential and the draft Strategy proposes the establishment of voluntary industry-led local eradication boards particularly in the LRA. A local eradication board has been set up in Cheshire in the Edge Area and it provides a model for local organisations taking charge of their local disease situation and working together to integrate services and respond effectively to the disease situation in the county. The board comprises a wide range of representatives from farming sectors, veterinarians, auctioneers, wildlife groups, local authorities and APHA.
Essential? Que? For what? Fulfilling EU demands so Defra can trouser more funding to kill more cattle?
Such groups could, if Defra had not already made up its collective mind on its protocol of cattle carnage in eradicating zTB, have a part to play. But as this turgid 117 page tome already lists the department’s plans for the next 5 years, they are immaterial. Just another nasty piece of ‘gesture politics’.

Finally: 
153. The Commission Working Document SANCO/10181/2014 Rev 1 (Guidelines for the Union co-funded programmes of eradication, control and surveillance of animal diseases and zoonoses for the years 2015-2017) provides suggested ambitious targets for the reduction of disease levels for the years 2015 and 2017 against the baseline in 2012. Defra, Welsh Government and DARD have developed a series of targets for the period between 2015 and 2020, based on previous epidemiological trends.
As we pointed out, the data in this submission is based on 2012/3, with targets set for 2015 – 2020. So how accurate are these? We touched on the cattle slaughter figures for 2015 earlier in the post.

 In 2015, figures offered to the EU in this document predicted prevalence of disease (that’s herds not cleared by piling up dead cattle every 60 days) was 10.54 percent for England and 8.45 percent for Wales.
The New breakdowns target was 5.24 percent for England and 3.78 per cent for Wales. (total)
And the cattle slaughtered in 2015 was predicted to be 27,441 for England and Wales combined.

The actual figures for 2015 will not be available until March 16th, but the total number of cattle slaughtered to November totaled 35,650 for England and Wales. And that's an increase of 8,209 dead cattle and almost 30 per cent over Defra’s predicted figure offered to the EU. It's also 3,794 head above 2014.
DG SANCO - [link] should be as pleased with that, as they were in 2012 when they commented on Defra's progress as it swopped badger culls for vaccination:
"UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections. The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
We think DG SANCO will be delighted with this 'progress' and will not miss the point made in para 5, of a ‘gradual stabilisation’ of the TB situation in England and Wales. They may also question the optimistic forecasts that all these cattle measures, the majority of which have been in place for a decade now, are going to achieve their targets in 2020. And for which the Department of Food and Rural Affairs is seeking increased funding.

Gesture politics indeed.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Strategy? what strategy?

In today's Sunday Telegraph - [link] columnist Christopher Booker examines the rationale behind Defra's road block on its own research into a DNA test which will identify infectious badgers.

And a road block of some proportions it certainly is, with spurious misinformation freely offered, despite this test, as we remarked in this posting - [link] passing 4 out of 5 strict criteria (when offered genuine positively infected samples, not 'putative') And it achieved this even when the 'blind' testers used half the optimum samples required, one tenth of the bacteria and a third of background prevalence it needed for the best results.

What was left was 'specificity' (false positives) at group level which was described as 'borderline'..

But the samples were singles, were they not? And the group level specificity was 'calculated' from 1 animal out of 10. We think what Defra's apparatchiks did, was to take a single sample / badger? at say 99 per cent specificity and model it back to a group, thereby creating a heap of falsely accused, but very dead badgers.

But qPCR cannot to be modeled. It is DNA. So a simple answer - Yes or No, but not the milkman.
It is also a group test, not a single animal test.

These are the results chart for  Warwick University's Test B in Defra's 'blinded' trial.


The reason for this rejection and all the hubris surrounding it, is we think, that once zTB is found in an animal - any animal - then under International Statute, responsibility for its eradication commensurate with dealing with a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, passes to Defra. It cannot be shafted onto farmer funded population reductions. Thus a battle is raging, as Booker explains:
" The truth is, I learn on very good authority, that a battle is raging, with officials still too much under the influence of the animal rights lobby, who are stopping further research needed to perfect the test. If they win, it would be a scandal not only to those thousands of cattle farmers for whom TB has been an appalling tragedy.
This is a tragedy for all the healthy badgers too. Badgerists please take note.

Thinking about this 25 year strategy which Defra are ratting on about, (21 now as the first four years have elapsed - but let that pass) designed apparently to eradicate zTuberculosis from our shores, we have come to the conclusion that it is not a 'strategy' at all.

What this country has is a reactive, annual, farmer funded cull, over very few of the affected areas, repeated in 4 year bites, 25 times plus a shed load of cattle measures. And then what? When areas deemed to have jumped through enough of Natural England's hoops have completed their 4 years, there is nothing at all to put in place afterwards. No 'management' at all.

And the so called, but ever moving 'Edge' area with its expanding number of TB restricted herds and slaughtered sentinel cattle? That mobile buffer between the High Risk area, steeped in cattle measures and infected badgers, and the far North, North East and Eastern counties, for whom zTB is a distant problem. For those farming cattle in the Edge, with an ever increasing, bubbling  infection, there is nothing at all.

 So when we speak of using qPCR to locate infectious badgers, we do not mean as an alternative to an initial population reductions in the areas where badgers are so abundant - [link]  and their infection rates extend to half the population.

We see this technique of DNA matching as a long term tool, to screen and manage infected groups of badgers (and wild boar or deer) over the whole country as and when they occur. Disease driven. And certainly to give the pilot cull areas some sort of safety net after their 4 year stints.

 The alternative is to leave infection to build up to the extent which is seen now in Wales, the West and South West, and then apply for a four year wipe out cull. Which is no strategy at all.