Saturday, May 16, 2015

HRH Prince Charles and the need for a badger cull.

This week, the letters - [link] which HRH Prince Charles wrote to ministers a decade ago have been made public, and on agriculture in general and bTB in particular, they make for interesting reading.

 In March 2005, the Prince wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Bliar to express his concern over the increasing pile of dead cattle and lack of any control on eradicating zoonotic tuberculosis from its wildlife reservoir, badgers.

Political Editor,  of the   Farmers Guardian - [link] , Alistair Driver has the overview, and Bliar's reply.

HRH Prince Charles,  pictured here with Ayrshire dairy cattle,  confirming a recent meeting, pointed out  to Bliar : 

"You said that you were aware of the recent study in the republic of Ireland which proved that badger culling was effective in ridding cattle of TB - in Donegal for instance, by the fifth year of the trial there was a 96 per cent reduction in cattle infections in the 'badger removal' area."
And he emphasises the need for urgent action:
"I do urge you to look again at introducing a proper cull of badgers where it is necessary. I for one, cannot understand how the "Badger lobby" seem to mind not at all about the slaughter of thousands of expensive cattle, and yet object to a managed cull of an over-population of badgers - to me, this is intellectually dishonest."
We couldn't agree more Sir. And a week later, on March 30th 2005, Prime Minister Bliar replied thus:
"You raised the issue of bovine TB and the link to badgers. The Irish trials have indeed changed everything here, and I know Ben Bradshaw acknowledges this."
Acknowledge it he most certainly did, with answers to the carefully crafted 538 Parliamentary Questions, tabled to the Ministry of Agriculture's office in 2004 and which form the basis of this site.

And then the fragrant Ben, waved a couple of fingers at Owen Paterson who had tabled the questions, and said words to the effect "OK, we know it's badgers ..... but whaddya going to do about it?"

Ten years later,  the answer, as we have found out to our cost,  was over 300,000 dead cattle, thousands of dead alpacas, goats, sheep, pigs and domestic pets, and on badgers? Absolutely nothing at all.

Which gives support to the comment that if some politician's lips are moving, they're lying.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Research v. Research

The more we read these 'research' papers, some good, many weak and now some repeat performances, the more we understand that on many occasions, a conclusion is reached ahead of any work. And thus a paper can be quoted to fit almost any conclusion.

Take radio collars attached to badgers and to cattle sharing the same pastures. Work was done on this in GB in 2009. We reported it in this posting - [link] The conclusion of that paper was that contact was much more frequent than was thought.

The results showed that a single badger (V59) had recordable contacts with 5 of the 13 cattle. Inter-group contact between the two badger social groups was recorded, mainly in September.
Six proximity data loggers (two badger loggers and four cattle loggers) recorded 103 and 32 inter-species interactions respectively (Tables 3 & 4). Overall, two Valley badgers and five cattle were implicated in inter-specific contacts, with the two badgers contacting all of the five cattle. All five cattle were in the top eight for CI rankings in cattle, with four out of the five amongst the top five.
So just two badgers recorded 103 inter species interactions? (Inter species = contact with cattle) and the authors reckon Defra should test the cattle more regularly? Amazing conclusions.

But now a different set of collars were attached to some Northern Irish cattle and badgers - [link] with somewhat different results.Or maybe the parameters were set differently.
Researcher Dr O'Mahoney enthused: “Proximity collars are a new and exciting technology, which allow a hitherto unprecedented level of data to be obtained on interactions between animals.
Not really 'new'. It's been done before, but we digress. The study found no direct contacts and concluded:

This study occurred in one area of Northern Ireland over a relatively short period of time, so whilst direct interactions between cattle and badgers were not recorded, that does not necessarily mean that interactions never occur.

However, it does support the increasing evidence that such contact is likely to be at a very low level, but still may be important if infected animals are involved.

Nothing like stating the blindingly obvious, is there?

 However,  New Zealand came to a totally different conclusion, using sedated possums and a video camera [ [link]

 And they recorded the interaction on a video of how cattle react to a sedated possum - [link]

They nuzzle it, lick it, smell it and roll it around.

And if that possum happened to be a half dead badger???????????????????

What happens if a group of these..

..comes in contact with one of these?

As a cattle farmer, you live in fear of your next TB test, that's what.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Data on reactor cattle.

Defra's latest figures -[link] for cattle slaughtered in 2014, shows a slight increase for GB over all the county's records compared with 2013. (32,612 in 2013, compared with 32,858 in 2014)

However, in three counties, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Hereford / Worcester, the drop in reactor cattle was substantial while most other counties in the West region showed increases. Those with the largest fall in reactor cattle slaughtered are the ones where two pilot badger culls have taken place. (The Glos cull crossed the county border into Hereford / Worcs.)

We are aware that to get Defra to produce any figures for these two pilot areas is akin to pulling teeth. And it is only the diligence of the farmers concerned who have published -[link] their early results, that we have an inkling of what is going on.

Comparing figures for 2013 with 2014, Defra data - [link] indicates that the total number of bTB reactors slaughtered in the Western region of the UK fell from 17,822 (2013) to 17,017 (2014), a fall of 4.5%. But the variation in counties is considerable, with increases in Avon (18.1% increase), Cornwall (6.8% increase), Devon (12.6% increase), Wilts (16.3% increase). Warwickshire showed an increase of 66.5%.

There was a drop in reactors in Dorset (17% fall) but Gloucestershire recorded a 28.9% fall, Hereford and Worcs 28.5% fall and Somerset a 34% fall.

Over the same period the number of bTB reactors slaughtered in Wales - the land of intensive cattle measures (IAA) and vaccination of badgers - has increased from 6012 in 2013 to 6379 in 2014, a rise of 6.1%.

Now any drop in TB incidence or reactors will be attributed by the Badgerists to bio-garbage and stricter cattle controls; or, in the case of the Lib Dims, you may add floods. But it may be prudent to point out that the measures mentioned, if not the Ark on the Somerset Levels, applied to all counties.

The only event which was different from the other counties, was, in the case of Somerset, Gloucester and Hereford Worcester, the population reduction badgers within a small area of those counties and over several weeks.

 And as our PQ's a decade ago, explained about the effect of  Thornbury's badger removal;

"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]  

Especially when neighbouring counties recorded increases in dead cattle.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Some good news

Western Morning News reported this week, that after several years of TB restrictions, Gordon Tully, - [link] was finally cleared of herd restrictions. Mr. Tully, breeder of prize winning South Devon cattle, is now clear to show and sell his cattle.

We told his story in this 2009 posting - [link] where Mr. Tully, whose herd had been clear of TB for 63 years, informed a senior civil servant - [link] that a third of his pedigree herd had been killed unnecessarily.

Mr. Tully's Lib-Dim MP, Adrian Sanders, reportedly told the farmer that "culling badgers was cruel".

However a Lancashire vet, who arrived to do the risk assessment for Mr. Tully's breakdown was more forthright as Mr Tully pointed out:
"I told a vet who came down from Lancashire to do a risk assessment on my farm that I was farming with one armed tied behind my back. He said; ‘yes and with a blindfold on as well’.
He understood the difficulties.

Some of the comments below this article are predictable. And wrong.

Mr. Tully's herd had had no cattle contact, and with few if any bought in cattle, this herd, on annual testing had remained clear of TB for 63 years, as had many of us.
So where do these spurious claims of a rubbish skin test (comments below the article) come from?

We suggest it is from that tome of multiple assumptions, the ISG Final Report, where on page 140, 7:4 the group postulate that :
"If, for example, the true sensitivity of the [skin] test is 75 per cent, infection will remain in one in four herds ...... etc. etc."
Delete the first three words, and bingo. But despite these grammatical gymnastics over how accurate the skin test actually is, the evidence from around the world suggests that in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, it works just fine. It is the primary test, compulsory under OIE (Office des Epizooties) and rubber stamped under EU Directive 64/432/EEC.

Our Parliamentary Questions confirm that its sensitivity at standard interpretation is up to 95 per cent, with specificity up to 99 per cent. [150495]
 It is intended and designed as a herd test, not for individual animals and another PQ reminded us that:
"All countries that have eradicated, or have a programme to control bTB, use one or more forms of the skin test." [ 150492]
"Evidence from other countries shows that, in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, cattle controls based on regular testing and slaughter, including abattoir surveillance and movement restrictions [] can be effective at controlling bTB." [15906]
All those PQs are from 2004.

But think about it: if the skin test was missing shed loads of cattle, then that abattoir surveillance - [link] designed for exactly the purpose of finding TB lesions, would be finding the 25 per cent of the annual kill that the skin test missed, would it not?

Wind up your calculators dear readers, because there are too many noughts for us in that Defra paper.

But briefly, out of 11.1 million animals from TB free herds, passing under the MHS officer's TB inspection microscope 2009 - 2013, just 5,366 samples proved positive for m.bovis. We cannot find any more details as to whether these samples were from old, walled up lesions, or active disease. But nevertheless, the figures and evidence from around the world do not support the ISG's mischievous assumption that 'If for example....' the skin test is rubbish.

On the other hand, FERA now confirm that the figure of 43 percent infectivity which they confirm was  'typical of the level'  found in badgers in the endemic areas of TB, has now increased to 52 per cent.

So in a nutshell, (information offered by FERA itself)   if you have the misfortune to farm livestock in an area of endemic TB, half the badgers urinating across your pastures, coughing into your maize and dying in your ditches are infected with bTB.

So what the hell do we expect when we test cattle who have had the misfortune to stumble over that level of environmental contamination? That question was rhetorical, by the way.

And enjoy the freedom to trade your lovely cattle, Mr. Tully. After 7 years and  40 herd tests, you've earned it.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Election - poles apart.

Nope, we are not discussing immigration. But giving a very quick overview on how the various political parties in the coming election would honour this country's commitment to control zoonotic Tuberculosis. And for some, it is a subject about which they would rather not speak at all.

Without saying from which camp we were coming from, or reminding any of them about previous successes, when infected badgers were removed, we either asked directly or picked up from websites, their answers. And they couldn't be more diverse.

 The Conservatives - [link] replied promptly and spoke at length. Liz Truss, caretaker Secretary of State, having seen the results - [link] of the two pilot culls, explains that she is keen for them to be refined and expanded.

While coalition partners over the last 5 years, the Liberal Democrats - [link] fully supported by VIVA, say they are proud to have blocked a wider roll out of any badger culls until the full four years are completed, examined and reported upon. Which is a not particularly helpful policy if you want ££s for skools n'ospitals and you have read up on a bit of history.

 Ulster's politicians - [link] in much the same position as us in GB, are trying to test then vaccinate healthy animals, and remove individual badgers proven to have TB. At least they see the problem, while the Scottish National Party -[link] appear to have made no policy statements at all during the last 6 years, other than to want to distance themselves from Defra's 'disastrous fudge'. Whatever that might mean.

UKIP - [link] say they will "Take and follow professional veterinary advice on the control of bovine TB" which is a bit vague, but possibly in a better direction than this lot. - [link]

In 1997, Labour, having steered the diminutive John Bourne in an armlock to deliver their very own political variety of 'the science' - [link] are not about to abandon its conclusions any time soon.

So that leaves the Green party - [link] who have produced a myriad of county 'manifestos' and appear to want to give animals 'oooman rights'.

One could say that a certain furry creature with a white stripe down its face has acquired too many 'rights' but let that pass. The Greens do not want to kill any badger, infected or not, and together with Labour would stop any culling immediately - as the Welsh Assembly Government has done already.

So, two diametrically opposed views, with a handful of whoring middle ground hopefuls prepared to sell out the control of zoonotic tuberculosis for a cosy seat and pension. Inspiring choice, isn't it?


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

..shame about the cow.

We have been less than supportive of the over generous cattle measures introduced, steered, pushed through - call it what you may - at the behest of his political masters anyway, by the chairman of the AHWB (Animal Health and Welfare Board) Michael Seals.

So given his location, it with no great surprise that we learn from Farmers Weekly - [link] that the small pedigree herd belonging to the illustrious gentleman, no doubt doubly bio-secured, insured and protected, has revealed a reactor.
Mr Seals said of the moment its death sentence was passed:
It was quite an emotional moment. This was a home-bred animal, born here in 2010. It was immensely frustrating because we knew the cow very well as an individual.
And the rest of us do not have 'emotional moments' as good cattle are consigned to the scrap heap?

 He continued:
"However, I was very surprised at the amount of paperwork that followed. I think we could consolidate that."
Whaaaaat? So the chairman of the AHWB has no idea of the shed loads of paper emitting from Defra's various offices, when a reactor is found? You don't say.
That's rich when he's just launched another load - [link] on us.

We examined more of the measures dreamed up by the quango chaired by Mr. Seals in this posting - [link]

So although we are sad for his South Devon cow, her calf at foot, and the calf she was no doubt carrying, we trust that Mr. Seals took his own advice and obtained TB insurance for just this event?
And we assume that unlike the rest of the hoi polloi, he may get a renewal of that insurance, after this breakdown? After all, he seems to think that we can all do that.

He explained that he:
".. now faces an anxious wait until the next scheduled TB test in May."
Don't we all.

In an update to this posting, Farmers Guardian reports that the herd of NFU deputy president, Minette Batters - [link] is also under a TB2 restriction, and awaiting further tests in May.

So these two high profile people, both involved with TB eradication in this country, now have herd restrictions imposed, thus joining the 11.3 per cent of GB herds in that position during the last three years.

And just to remind readers, to trade as a TB free, the international standard for that status is reached when 99.8% of domestic cattle and deer herds have been free of bovine TB for three years. This figure has been set by the Office Internationale Epizooties (OIE) and in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, many countries have achieved it.

With constant cattle testing, but an ignored and protected wildlife reservoir, as our appalling TB incidence  shows, GB needs to move the decimal point several places to the left.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Cows that may squeak.

Just when you think you've heard it all - something pops up which reminds you that really, you must get out more.

This time it's milk; sold as healthy and free range from happy cows grazing green pastures. That is the advertiser's dream and the consumer's hope.

So waddya find in the press this week? GM cows with added mouse genes - [link] which, the Chinese developers say, may make them a tad more resistant to TB.

So what else may you get? Long muscular tails? whiskers? Ten offspring in a litter? Squeaks not moos? And sharp gnawing teeth?

Who knows. The driver of this is cash.

And methinks, we may need some very large mouse traps.