Wednesday, January 21, 2015


We gave a fair hammering to the paper released by Moustakas & Evans (M&E) in this posting - [link] and the Guardian - [link] was amongst many media outlets to run with the abstract.

Mathematical modeling is a useful tool, but only if the input data is solid. And even though M&E have listed a hundred references, as we pointed out, many are previously modeled assumptions based on or around papers by the ISG or their followers, involved in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial or, in the case of other stuff, so historic as to be meaningless after almost 20 years of inertia on badger control.

So let's look at some of the input data, entered by M&E:
Their model area is approx 67 miles square (or 11,500 km2) and contains 1.4 million (dairy) cattle. That's an area slightly more than the size of Devon plus Somerset. The total cattle population of GB at the end of 2013 was 9.7m, of which the dairy herd was said to be 1.8m and the beef herd 1.6m; the rest are calves, young stock and fattening cattle. So they've got almost the entire national dairy herd squashed into two counties, and they're not allowing for sheep, arable, woodland etc, never mind the occasional town or village?

They've also assumed 5.7 adult badgers per km2, which seems on the low side for what appears to be a lovely area of wall-to-wall dairy farms and much lower than FERA have published for Gloucestershire where they trapped 844 in 55 sq km during their vaccination 'Elf n' Safety' trial in 2007/8. That is over 15 per sq km. (or 15.5 if one counts half a badger). And in parts of Oxfordshire, population densities of 38 per sq km have been recorded.
Following those badger numbers, the M&E model starts out with badgers in only 3113 out of 16384 of their "cells" - which seems unlikely.

Cattle-to-cattle infection: M&E say that cattle can transmit TB at even early stages of the disease and so their model reflects this belief. But actual hands on research on reactor cattle [SE3013] -[link] referred to by the ISG - but not in detail for obvious reasons, found that of 1543 nasal samples taken, and a further 1000 in a parallel study [SE3033] not a single one was capable of onward transmission.

 To avoid confusion, we'll quote again the conclusion of this £2.8m study:
"M.bovis was not detected by bacterial culture in any of the nasal mucus samples." and "The results suggest that large concentrations of M.bovis are not present in the nasal passages, and the shedding of M.bovis, if it occurs, is rare in naturally infected GB cattle."
This is also born out by pairings of reactor cattle with in contacts, done in Ireland - [link]Ireland by Eamon Costello and Dr. O'Reilly.

Thus M&E's 'Winter housing' assumption is just that, and not the experience of studies which housed reactors together for months, slaughtered, salami sliced and collected samples to prove or disprove their work.

Their model also seems to assume that all cattle on a farm are housed together in one place. This is not what happens in practice, as is their assumption of cattle moving round their entire farm 'cells' randomly all of the time. Again, not what happens in practice, particularly on a dairy farm.

But the 'assumption' we appreciate most, is that of badger-to-cattle transmission: M&E do not seem to have a clear idea what the rate of badger-to-cattle transmission is, even claiming that it is a "little studied variable". Whaaaaat???

 This has been 'studied' to death - in fact the death of up to 40,000 cattle a year, even if it did not need to be, and as we pointed out in this posting, where we listed the 'postulates' of disease transmission - [link] , a table used by epidemiologists and veterinary scientists - if not modelers.

All papers written over the past four decades - Zuckerman,  Dunnett, Krebbs etc - have concluded that infected badgers pose a significant risk to cattle. And even dear old Defra, in a booklet issued in 2001, instructing readers about reducing the TB risk [to cattle] state:
"The consensus of scientific opinion is that badgers are a significant source of TB infection in cattle...."
So as the conclusions of the model M&E have used, seems to turn all this on its head, one has to question the input data they have used. On the other hand, in a few short months, an election is looming...

But we digress: on badger culls, their model seems to assume that if just one badger is shot in a cull, then all the other badgers in its group will move out? That is taking the perturbation myth a tad too far we think. Particularly as at least twice annually, the badger groups have a shake out of the old, the sick and the young males. And they seem to 'leave' without causing a problem or even a space?

A paper by 'Gilbert' is quoted many times as a source of the M&E assumptions on cattle movements as 'a significant source of TB spread'. This paper is modeled on post FMD restocks, when a handful of cattle were found to have moved, carrying TB. The point here is that their post move skin test identified them, they were slaughtered and that was that. They did not pass their TB on to other cattle on new farm. A point lost on M&E, as is the compulsory pre movement testing of all cattle moving around or from annual testing areas. A policy in place since 2006.

Thus based not on any of the epidemiological work which Defra has produced, taxpayers have funded we have quoted, but assumptions modeled on previous assumptions, M&E published that the "three main factors influencing TB were the percentage of cattle movements, the frequency of testing, and the badger-to-cattle transmission rate."

But hidden within the paper they also say that:
"Culling of badgers does seem to be a strategy that will eventually lead to a lower incidence of TB in cattle."

MAFF / DEFRA knew this thirty years ago, when the Thornbury area of Gloucestershire was cleared so successfully, leading to over a decade of TB free cattle. We asked why:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]
So from a professional modeler,  a comment on computer modeling generally:
" There are usually a few key variables and you can adjust them to give you almost any answer you want."
 And finally a reminder that less than a year ago, the Guardian - [link] ran a story on computer generated guff, which was published and regurgitated, because no-one was prepared to challenge it or admit they couldn't understand a bloody word of it.

If the input data is 'unsafe' then its modeled conclusions, however seductive to the politics of the day, are even more so.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mistakes and Evans - a modelled scenario

The headlines this week have included an astonishing abstract from Mistakers Moustakas and Evans of Queen Marys University of London (QMUL) in which their computer model suggests that more frequent TB testing and keeping cattle outside in the winter are the best ways to control bovine TB (bTB) And that culling badgers has minimal effect.

Amongst many others, Farmers Guardian - [link] has the story. The abstract which has got the Badgerists so excited is on this link - [link]

But the paper itself is a wonderful fairy land of cells in which badgers move, cells, (square or round) in which cattle move and apparently, so does zTuberculosis. At least in theory. If the cells are correct, the movements are correct and the input data used was solid, this may have been a useful exercise, but...
The paper asserts:

Computational models provide a valid alternative to expensive experimental approaches (Godfray et al. 2004) as a method of testing the likely effects of various strategies designed to control or eradicate TB in cattle. To be useful such models need to represent the modelled system in sufficient detail to allow realistic predictions to be made about the outcome of any control strategy (Evans et al. 2013b
True. but if the data input is incorrect, aged or derived from flawed assumptions? What then?

This justification is part of the basis of this particular 'theory' now expounded by Mistakers Moustakas and Evans who explain:
Model coupling (Verdin et al. 2014) of multiple dynamically acting animals can provide powerful predictive tools (Evans et al. 2013a
However, entering other people's 'assumptions', even if they've been published, is never a good way to begin, especially if actual available data tells you it is way out of date, or just plain wrong.

 Much of the modeling seems to stem from 'Meyer et al : 2007 - who is mentioned quite a lot. As we haven't heard of  an epidemiologist called Meyer, we assume that he may have developed mathematical models, the calculations for some of which is explained below:

Sensitivity analysis of model input parameters (Latin hypercube sampling) indicated that observed and simulated values in terms of percentage of infected cattle were not significantly different from each other (t test statistic = -1.26, P = 0.45).ANOVA results of the most parsimonious mixed model with the number of infected cattle as a dependent variable, show that there were significant effects of the percentage of cattle that are moved in a year (F4, 156 = 54.62, P\0.0001), the distance which cattle were moved (F4, 156 = 7.74, P = 0.006), both the cattle-to badger and badger-to-cattle infection rates (F3, 156 = 4.46, P = 0.036; F3, 156 = 8.59, P\0.004), the inter-test interval (F4, 156 = 59.80, P\0.0001) and the accuracy of the test (F3, 156 = 3.81, P = 0.053), badger culling (F2, 156 = 8.91, P = 0.003) and the initial number of infected badgers (F2, 156 = 16.08, P = 0.0001).
Still with us?

We note that present, factually incorrect and expanded are the 'assumptions' made by the diminutive professor, John Bourne who explained so helpfully in his Final Report (2007) [ 7:24] that actually looking at herd breakdown risk assessments was just too time consuming, so his team had assumed two parts cattle (contiguous or purchased) and one part badger .........   and switched on their model.

This is a chart of what they assumed and 'roughly estimated'.

The data from the same period for the county of Devon,  which they received but failed to examine, showed a completely different picture, with at least 76 percent and up to 90 per cent of herd breakdowns due to infected badgers. This according to the data sheets, painstakingly filled in by AH staff.

This paper of Mistakers Moustakas & Evans is peppered with mathematical terminology designed to baffle brains. They speak of 'regressions, co-efficients and remaining parameters' but also, echoing the ISG models, use words such as 'assumptions and estimates', building on previously well churned ISG sand.
 The sources of cattle and badger data are also predominantly post 2007, and thus ISG / Woodroffe material.

We suppose we should be grateful they didn't include the modeled scenario published in July 2014 by Dr. Ellen Prook-Bollocks,  Brooks-Pollock, who put 100 per cent of cattle into her model, switched on, and then exclaimed that if we culled all the cattle, - [link] zTB would vanish.

This well publicised model took cattle to cattle transmission, cattle into the environment and cattle movement, describing them as 'idealised control measures'.

But we digress: in the Evans paper, badger numbers seem way too low, as is tuberculous infection within the badger population, now given by FERA at around 50 percent in areas of endemic infection.(Chambers et al)

And much as we hate to break into the QMUL modelers' bubble,  actual data on what makes a difference does exist, and has done for some time. As is shown above and in PQs below.

A decade ago, Shadow minister Owen Paterson, MP asked for the results of the Thornbury badger clearance and why it had been so successful at reducing TB in cattle to zero: a situation which lasted at least a decade. They didn't ask a computer, but the answer was unequivocal:
"No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area were disclosed by the tuberculin test the the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" [150573]
 So not 20 years of buggering about trying to cull out infected badgers in ones and twos, very occasionally? (Or even taking pot shots at the scent markers ?)

Was anything else done? Biosecurity? Extra cattle measures? Pre movement testing? No cattle movements at all? Licenses? Shrink wrapped grass, raised troughs and cattle in hermetically sealed boxes?

The answer:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]
And bringing this right up to date are the published results from the Somerset cull, lasting merely a well publicised (and interrupted)  few weeks in 2013, when 34 per cent of herds in the cull area were under TB restriction.

A herd data check before the second cull in 2014 and reported here - [link] showed that this figure had reduced to just 11 percent - a drop of almost 68 percent.

We are pleased that Mistakers Moustakas and Evans appear to appreciate the accuracy of the skin test though, observing that: "
Accuracy of the test to detect infected cattle explained less than 3 per cent of the variance in the number of infected cattle."
But we also note that their model predicts MORE cattle infected while tucked up in their winter housing.
However, the current advice and biosecurity guidelines issued by the APHIDs  APHA, and expanded by Professor Godfray recently, is to place all dairy cattle - [link] in hermetically sealed boxes, into which badgers cannot gain access.

Thus cattle farmers receive diametrically opposed views even on that one small piece of husbandry advice.

So as all this taxpayer funded 'research' spills into the press with headline grabbing sound bites which inevitably exclude badgers, hang on to those basic facts. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. And sometimes, simple squared really does equal stupid.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 - In Limbo

As 2014 draws to a close, cattle farmers are in limbo-land as far any meaningful control of diseased badgers is concerned. The two pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have just lurched through their second high profile year, and having adjusted their target numbers, Somerset was deemed to be a 'success'. But Gloucestershire, who did not challenge Natural England's guesstimates of badger numbers, was deemed not to have been a success.

 However, the proof of the pudding is in the number of cattle herds, previously under TB restriction, which are now trading clear. And it is reported - [link] that after a single year's culling, in Somerset, the figure of 34 per cent of herds under TB2 has fallen to just 11 per cent. A significant and substantial improvement of around 68 per cent.
And while the great and the good argue about how many beans make five, or in this case how many badgers live in the cull area of Gloucestershire, 'success' for many herds has come in the form of clear TB tests after years of restriction.

As we scribble this on New Years' Eve, more cull areas are apparently being formed to hit Natural England's collective desks for licensing, in mid January. But being a cynical lot, we see nothing at all happening in 2015 which gives us any cause for cheer. Politics will get in the way. A General Election in May, with results too close to call, will we suspect, see the current caretaker Secretary of State, Ms.Truss replaced.

And should the other party win an overall majority, the delightful Maria Eagle is already on record as saying she will 'stop the badger culls'.
She is intent on playing to gallery and in doing so, 'honouring the lie - [link] that vaccinating an infected group of badgers can somehow improve the situation. - [link]

The cost of the two pilot culls ran way beyond licensed farmer contributions and was underwritten by the NFU. But will they underwrite any more areas? Or are any newly licensed areas going to share that support pot? It has been hinted that some of the more onerous protocols, dreamed up by fully paid up member of Owen Paterson's Green Blob, Natural England - [link] may be relaxed. But should that be so, then we predict an immediate challenge by Queen May's Team Badger.

And even if Defra - if such an organisation exists any more - are successful in defending the right to control infected badgers, the opportunity for doing so in 2015 is likely to have been lost. Along with participating farmers' up-front cash, paid in advance with no security of tenure as to its eventual use.

 Meanwhile the group previously headed by Michael Seals, which was charged with 'reducing costs' within the TB budget, has been hard at work.

We've already seen heavily pregnant dairy cattle shipped from Dorset to Wales - [link] passing within 9 miles of a Somerset abattoir which takes reactors, for the sake of 2p/kg. This is neither animal nor human welfare but we can expect to see more of this desk-jockey type of juggling pennies, regardless of its animal or human consequences.

We also understand that on the table is another bright idea. That of an 'on the hook' price for any reactor, rather than even the current miserly tabular valuation. And not content with that, further deductions could be made by a shady, under the radar group, passing judgement on the affected farm's efforts at 'biosecurity'.

Are your feed stores secure from .......? Is the way you feed your cattle inaccessible to ......., are your gates sheeted and hung the regulation had height of 7.5cm (3" in old money) both off the floor (concrete) and at the sides, to prevent ingress by ......? And in all these questions, the ....... are referred to as 'wildlife'.

It would be churlish to point out that deer would have difficulty squeezing under a 3" gap, and that rats would have no trouble at all. But badgers? Even now, it's still a name they dare not even speak.

So to all our readers, whose businesses are still suffering the ravishes of an over protected animal, worth more votes to the average politician than any number of dead cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas or even pet cats, we wish you a Happy New Year.

To those personally suffering from the disease itself, we wish a speedy and satisfactory outcome to the long, hard drug regime you have had to endure, some of you with no success other than a brief respite.

To contributers across England, Wales and beyond, grateful thanks for sharing your stories and experiences.

And to the vets and professional epidemiologists who help and support the site - thankyou.

 There are no words which we could submit to print,  to describe the members of the Green blob who have, through political chicanery and self serving obfuscation, supported and encouraged the spread of mycobacterium bovis, and continue to do so.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Christmas 2014

It is now over a decade since as Shadow Minister, Owen Paterson MP, irritated the hell out of Labour's baby Ben Bradshaw with his 500 Parliamentary Questions. The answers, most of which were extremely revealing, form the 2003/4 archive on this site.

Ten long years of blogging about zoonotic tuberculosis, and have we achieved anything at all?

A coalition of greens, celebs and badgerists, aided and abetted by the BBC's PR machine and fueled by fully paid up pseudo scientists - [link] has presented a case for vaccination - [link] as an alternative to culling wildlife, both infected and infectious with z.Tuberculosis. While seemingly they are quite content to keep testing and slaughtering cattle and banging on about biosecurity.

And earlier this year, they succeeded in ousting the best Secretary of State - [link] we have ever had.

The European Union has approved funding - [link] to the tune of around £25 million for the UK, to test more cattle and offer advice. This, says Farmers Guardian is by far the largest slice of this particular pie, needed or requested by any EU member state.
"In total roughly £25m will be provided to the UK from the EU, the single largest allocation for a member state’s animal disease eradication programme. The funding received will be split between England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Defra said the funding would help it pursue elements of England’s TB strategy, including for on-farm cattle tests and laboratory work.
This is the sixth year running, that funding has been allocated, after the EU first approved the UK TB eradication programme in 2010.

We would have thought EU patience was wearing a tad thin, especially as the bottomless pit of cattle carnage while leaving a wildlife reservoir of disease to flourish, appears to be errr - bottomless, with almost 24,000 cattle slaughtered in the 9 months to September 2014. That is slightly down on 2013, but so are the number of herds registered on Defra's computer network. Thus the percentage of herds experiencing TB restrictions remains stubbornly high at around 10 per cent of all cattle herds in GB.

We note that 2014 ends with some pretty outrageous statements made by the top end staff at Defra, which in the positions which they hold, and with the qualifications they wave about, are an insult to reality.

We reported Ian Boyd's gaff at the NFU TB Conference - [link] in November, and he is not alone in using wild, computer  generated assumptions when solid data is available from his own departments.

But the word which seems to have got the great and good in such a tail spin is 'Transmission'. How it happens, by what method, why, when, how... and usually combined with the need for more 'research'.
It goes on like a broken record. And merely confirms the total lack of epidemiological credibility within the upper echelons of Defra / AHVLA.

Which brings us neatly back to those PQs of a decade ago.

For sure they were publicity for a problem which should never have been allowed to ferment, but they were much more than that. They sought to satisfy the 'gold standard' of disease transmission, by answering certain postulates originally formulated - [link] by Professor Koch for the spread of Tuberculosis, in 1884.

This is pure epidemiology, where if certain events happen, (causality)  then how transmission occurs does not need further investigation. Such transmission can be assumed.

These early postulates were upgraded by Evans in 1977 and include:
* Disease should follow exposure to the putative agent
• Exposure increases disease incidence prospectively 
* Exposure increases disease prevalence
• Exposure to the cause more common in those with the disease than those without ceteris paribus
• Dose-response relationship.
.* Experimental reproduction of the disease possible
• Measurable host response following exposure to the cause
          • Elimination of putative cause reduces incidence

          • Prevention of the host‘s response eliminates the disease

          • The whole thing should make biologic and epidemiologic sense

But how this zoonotic, bacteriological killer has been handled in this country over the last three decades make no sense whatsoever; biological, epidemiological or any other descriptive term Defra can dream up.

 As research over the last century has shown, for zoonotic Tuberculosis, the epidemiological postulates are satisfied. Thus further prevarication over its control in wildlife is purely political .

And that is a damned disgrace.

We'll end this post with a snippet which we hope you will appreciate.

You may have read the [shock, horror, how awful ] stories of how long it takes a badger, shot during the pilot culls to 'die'. But all may not be as it seems. For sure, the stopwatch starts ticking when the rifle fires.

 But then the marksman has to discharge the spent round, discard his camouflage gear, (including trousers), having removed his boots so that said trousers could be discarded. Put on bio security garb commensurate with the examination of a Category 1 waste product under EU Waste regulations, (a dead badger) and sprint across to where said badger was felled.

Now this may be 10 feet, 10 yards or 100 yards. And when he finally reaches the animal, he has to tickle its eyelid with a twig to confirm death. And it is only when he indicates a 'thumbs up' to the man with the stopwatch and a torch, does that apparatus get stopped.

So all is definitely not as it seems. And let's hope there were no chimneys involved. Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hermetically sealed boxes for dairy cows .....

... and beef cows to decorate the landscape?

A suggestion from Professor Charles Godfray, from Oxford University, who delivered the prestigious annual Bledisloe Memorial Lecture at the Royal Agricultural University, in Cirencester, last week. is that dairy cows be housed 24/7 to protect them from infected badgers, while beef cattle should graze, to add to the landscape value.

It's not April 1st. and  Farmers Guardian - [link] reports his suggestion thus:
Farmers should consider keeping more cattle indoors to protect them against bovine TB (bTB) infection where the disease is being spread by badgers, a leading academic specialising in food and farming has suggested.
That is not so daft as it sounds, as we reported last year, in this posting - [link] where a restock herd of dairy cattle were 'incarcerated' - but safe. And regularly, it is noted that cattle herds will test clear in the winter, as cattle are housed away from pasture (and providing feed stores and access points to buildings are badger proofed) only to fail skin tests after a summer of grazing, 'au naturale'.

 But now an Oxford academic, whose claim to fame in 2005 was a paper on the sex life of yeast, (Goddard, M.R., Godfray, H.C.J. & Burt, A. 2005 Sex increases the efficiency of natural selection in experimental yeast populations. Nature 434, 636-640) wants to rearrange the life of Britain's cattle herds, to suit infected badgers? Professor Godfray's  speciality appears to be the  biological control of parasites in insects. He is a parasitologist. We suppose he could broaden his scope to include other, larger parasites? 

 Seriously, have we gone stark, staring berluddy mad?
"I think there are some really interesting questions about the way we farm and the way we manage land in the west of the country,” said Professor Godfray.
Interesting maybe, but missing the point of 1:3 tractor free slopes and wonderful grassland which supports grazing animals but not machinery, he also pointed out that:
The mixture of pasture and woodland where many cattle graze in the west of England was an ideal breeding ground for worms, which in turn, creates perfect conditions for badgers.

“There are higher densities of badgers in the west country at the moment than ever before,” Prof Godfray said.

“We like to farm in a particular way. We could farm in other ways. You could bring more dairy cattle indoors in larger facilities so they can be protected from badgers. You could still have beef cattle out so the landscape would not look different.”
Obviously other grazing mammals succumbing to 'badger' tuberculosis have failed to cross the good Professor's radar. Or perhaps we should house them all? Alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, deer, bison - a modern day Noah's Ark.  And then farmers could run badger sanctuaries, as a diversification.

And when the eminent gentleman said 'housing' of dairy cattle, as Ken Wignall points out in his brilliant  cartoon to illustrate this bovine fantasia, we don't think he meant, errr ' farm house housing'.

Or perhaps he did?

(Ken Wignall's cartoon appeared in Farmers Guardian, December 5th. and we reproduce it with thanks.)  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The 'right' sort of scientific consensus? - Nudge.

In an article for the Western Morning News this week, Anthony Gibson, - [link] former SW regional director, then reincarnated as press officer for the National Farmers Union, has apparently nudged back into the NFU fold, describing a conference at which, from his dialogue, he was not present.

 Illustrated with a library picture of a shiny badger, Gibson's piece is a mass of contradictions. But given a  Nudge Farmers Under hymn sheet from which to sing, and despite a totally guesstimated model presented by Ian Boyd which we described in this post - [link] he's sung to it very obediently and in tune.

He explains:
.... we do need to achieve a scientific consensus as to how and why the infection spreads if we are ever to achieve political agreement on action to prevent it. To that extent, any consensus is better than none, even a consensus with which very many farmers might feel profoundly uncomfortable – always provided the scientists are right, of course,...[ although that is another story]."
"Any consensus is better than none?" Whaaaaat? You cannot be serious.

And if these desk jockeys are not 'right'?

And if they are completely unaware that the data they require to formulate policy given proven risk, particularly before making such wild statements, is actually collated daily within their own departments?

Who is going to tell them? Is anyone going to point that out?
Not Nudge. They can always rely on Nudge.

 The Nudge Farmers Under group will always do exactly as their masters tell them. Dissent is not permitted.

Thus we have a group of over qualified people, (but not a single epidemiologist) faithfully worshipping a model created with guesses. Estimates.

 Assumed data, not the actual figures which are  available for every new TB breakdown.

And telling us quite sincerely, that up to 94 per cent  of outbreaks are down to cattle?

Although it may be 100 per cent badger related. Wonderful. And they call that 'science' ?

Gibson continued, observing quite correctly that:
"Of course, no such official foot-dragging is evident when it comes to cattle controls. In that context, the prospect offered by the conference was of ever-more tests and ever-tighter restrictions, without anything being done – quite possibly not even the continuation of the pilot culls – to cut off the flow of disease from infected badger setts."
Quite. But in the whole disgraceful, sycophantic diatribe, that was the only bit he did get correct.

And predictably, he failed to mention documented data of those who had previously attempted these drastic 'cattle only' measures, now proposed. Thus history - [link] is likely to repeat itself on a grand scale with similarly ignominious and expensive results..

But hey,  when Government says jump, Nudge says  "how high"?

Disgracefully, what Gibson omitted to mention (while polishing some Nudge egos), is that the NFU appears to have done absolutely nothing to avail their Conference speakers of information relating to the circumstances leading to the TB breakdowns of their members, most of whom, according to recorded SVS / AH data, did not fit Boyds' model.
And that is unforgivable.

Thus there is nothing at all to prevent the scenario which we described last year - [link]

But somehow that is a good outcome?

For whom?

Not farmers, not cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, bison, deer, goats, cats and dogs. And not badgers.

If you remember, last year, Defra carried out some mind games - [link] giving them the excuse to say that they had 'consulted'. Never mind what was said at these gatherings, the end result would be a heap more dead cattle - [link] - a scenario now apparently supported by the Nudge Farmers Under group which approves a 'consensus'.

The NFU will 'nudge' those pesky farmers along as instructed, one miserable, expensive, ineffective step at a time, and hope they don't put all these miserable barbs together at the same time. That would never do at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Depressingly vague fluff

We have been gathering comments from attendees at the NFU Conference last Monday, which offered presentations from the great and the good, mainly involved with keeping this disgraceful charade going.

The speeches opened with Chief Scientist Ian Boyd, ignoring all the myriad of SVS /AHVLA / APHA's risk assessments on the cause of TB breakdowns, and announcing that the reason for TB problems was in the 'too difficult file', but he'd have a guess.

 Farmers Guardian's political reporter, Alistair Driver quotes him thus:
To the exasperation of many in the room, he [Prof. Boyd] said there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ most of the risk to farms ‘lies from cattle-to-cattle infection’ within herds and from the wider cattle population. He said the proportion varies significantly between areas where badgers are present and quoted a previous speaker’s assertion that the overall estimated proportion of badger transmission lies ‘between 6 and 100 per cent with 50 per cent in the middle’,

“We do not know in any specific circumstance. What we do know is there is a big range of possibilities"
What absolute rubbish. Vague, unsubstantiated, assumption modeled fluff.

No wonder his audience were left gasping. They know, as do we from bitter experience, that each and every breakdown is back traced by Animal Health officers. And has been for decades.

 The results were painstakingly tabulated a decade ago, for presentation to the Killarney Epidemiological Conference - a gathering involving real vets, real scientists and using real data. Not modeled assumptions.

And the result, for a county with one of the highest breakdown rates in the country?

Purchased cattle accounted for just 8 per cent of breakdowns, leaving 76 per cent definitely badgers and 16 per cent probably badgers. So no need for guesses. Just dust off the correct data and read it.

 And it is under those circumstances (no bought in cattle and no cattle contact) that we remind our readers of a salient quote:
"the onus must be on those disputing the role of the badger as a significant reservoir of infection to hypothesise other sources of infection for such herds, especially where when investigated, the majority of badger populations in the area have been found to be infected".
This last snippet, we quote from Dr. Richard Clifton-Hadley's most excellent paper, 'Badgers, Bovine Tuberculosis and the Age of Reason". (British Veterinary Journal - Guest Editorial 1996)

So we find it quite bizarre that Professor Boyd can make such generalised and factually incorrect statements which are gathered and recycled unquestioningly, ignoring the (many) herds which do not fit his hypothesis or computer model, and still call it 'science'.

Little discussion followed Boyd's presentation, which opened with the caveat that only pre screened questions would be allowed. Blood pressure was thus raised a tad among his audience.

As Nigel Gibbens was duck watching in Yorkshire, his colleague Malla Hovi took his slot, with the announcement that 'after consultation, 6 monthly testing would be introduced in Cheshire'.
Ms Hovi said the change, which would help pick up infection more clearly, was being made because the radial system of testing farms around breakdowns was ‘proving too difficult to do’.

She said Defra and APHA had ‘taken the [Cheshire] TB eradication board with us’, which she said had been pushing for it as well as they were prepared for ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’.

But one of the members of the group, Cheshire farmer Bill Mellor, called for better communication, claiming he was unaware of the change, at which point Ms Hovi said it ‘has not been decided yet’.

Later, however, Defra confirmed six-month testing was being introduced in the edge area only of Cheshire.
And speaker after speaker rattled on like a broken train about further cattle controls, oblivious to to the irony of their predecessors valiant attempts - [link] to nail our cattle to the floor, and the ignominious failure - [link] of it all.
And of all these speakers, not a single one was prepared to even mention the elephant in the room. Control of the wildlife reservoir which is at the root of all this country's problems. Although one did mention that Australia had no wildlife reservoir of TB.

And as with many of these unchallenged assertions, this speaker was dead wrong - [link] As our pictures show, 13,000 water buffalo and feral cattle were rounded up by helicopter, corralled and shot.
And that is pest control, big time.

Arch wizard of vaccination -  Mark Chambers gave an overview of vaccination of badgers, remarking that his forays into oral vaccination 'seemed to be safe'. Which is very reassuring given his previous attempts.

And predictably, he omitted to mention his failure, a perfectly healthy badger known as 'D313' - [link] who in a less well publicised trial, in which Chambers was involved, was rendered so infected with tuberculosis that had he been on the loose, he would have been described as a 'super excreter'.

What Chambers did confirm though, was that in this project where vaccinated badgers were exposed to m.bovis and postmortemed, all had lesions and all were shedding.
And when the product license was applied for, on the basis of 'doing no harm' rather than efficacy, we assume D313 was airbrushed? 

But no one wanted to go anywhere near the possibility that these specimens, (this badger on the left had tuberculous pleurisy) were in any way responsible for the deaths of thousands of cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, cats and dogs.

Neither did they mention that around half the badgers (43 - 52 per cent) in areas of endemic Tuberculosis were now infected with this dreadful disease.

All they wanted was more testing, more dead cattle and more controls. And we'll pay.