Sunday, July 23, 2017

Defra's latest consultation

On 19th July, Defra opened a new consultation - [link] inviting views on cattle measures in the High Risk Area of England and other tweaks to their flagship Low Risk Area.

These things are usually done and dusted, with paperwork fluttering around merely to indicate that interested parties have 'been consulted', before Defra does what it wanted all along. The introduction gives readers a Jack and Jill view and a few pointers:
The proposals in the consultation document fall in to three broad categories: *Simplifying surveillance testing in the High Risk Area of England. These proposals have been developed following a Call for Views in 2016. The response to the call for views can be found at found at

* Increased use of private vets to support the delivery of TB controls

* Changes to the TB compensation system to more effectively encourage risk-reducing behaviours at the farm level.
It is important before filling in any form, especially one from Defra, to read the small print. And then read it again. Some of the plans are explained more fully here -[link] And while seeming innocuous on first reading, they seek to pass a lot of extra cost onto cattle owners.
 This applies to testing under certain circumstances, and also compensation for animals moved on under licence during a breakdown. The intention is to reduce that figure to 50 per cent of tabular for certain categories of reactor, and animals consigned dirty to abattoirs.
 Veterinary practitioners may be used more, replacing APHA staff, but their visits will be paid for by the 'beneficiary', the farmer, not Defra.

 Annex A explains that most of the rigmarole of contiguous testing, trace testing and radial will be replaced by two tests per year. And a further pdf, explains the rationale behind this:
TB testing addresses a market failure caused by the under provision of disease freedom in the free market. It provides requirement for farmers to test their cattle, preventing individual businesses to free ride on the disease control efforts of others. However, TB testing legislation can be improved to reduce its administrative burden and provide additional disease control benefits.

A move to 6 monthly routine testing will simplify the regulatory environment by replacing a complex suite of existing tests which depend on the circumstances of each farm business. This will reduce the administrative burden of dealing with different reasons for requiring a test and move farm businesses to a standardised testing regime.

The introduction of earned recognition can reduce administrative burdens further for farm businesses that face the lowest risk of suffering a TB breakdown by reducing the number of routine tests they must do. This incentivises keepers to introduce more effective bio-security to benefit from earned recognition.
We have a better idea. How about double compensation for home bred reactors, on farms with no bought in cattle? No?  We thought that wouldn't go down too well.

That weasel phrase 'earned recognition' makes our blood boil, when home bred reactors are loaded up to be shot, because of decades of government intransigence over wildlife upspill of disease. And no amount of bio-garbage will prevent this, unless farmers are prepared to keep cattle in hermetically sealed boxes 24/7 to achieve their 6 year of  'earned' TB clear with a bonus of annual testing.

 How the new testing regime will pan out, and who will benefit is explained in this Annex C - [link]

 Details of extra veterinary costs, restrictions on restocking and slurry management are in Annex D -[link] This also includes the banning of red markets in the low Risk area, changes and cost realignment to AFUs and phasing out of grazing AFUs.
'Cost realignment' is a cosy way of explaining that these costs pass to markets and farm businesses via local vets rather than through Defra. But ultimately ALL costs are passed back down the line via prices or levies, to the primary producer. Us.

Annex E - [link] deals with compensation for reactor animals. The three point plan is as follows:
*Introduce a cap on individual TB compensation rates of £5,000 per reactor(an animal that is found to be infected with TB) , replacing the current no upper limit.

 *Reduce compensation paid to 50% of current value for cattle brought into a breakdown herd which subsequently test TB positive while the herd is still under TB restrictions .

 * Introduce a charge by APHA in the form of 50% compensation reduction to cattle owners for the processing and disposal of unclean cattle sent to the slaughterhouse and for which the condemnation is as a result of owner action/inaction.)
Finally a Consultation letter - [link] invites us to respond by 29th September to this new clamp down on cattle and increase in costs.

All this, while sporadic farmer funded badger culls, are made more onerous - [link] and certainly less attractive to participants by recent Defra add ons, and no action appears to be forthcoming on other susceptible farmed animals whatsoever.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Thrown under a bus.

We pointed out in this posting - [link] just how convoluted and difficult, badger cull areas were for farmers to set up and operate. Not to mention expensive.

So as we said in the posting linked to above, farmers who had signed and paid up front for the privilege of culling badgers for just 42 nights on their own land, were none too pleased to find Defra have now added a few bits to those contracts.  

The cynics among us would think that Defra did not want zoonotic Tuberculosis eradicated, just its cost to the taxpayer..

If you remember, a couple of years ago, Defra published a a road map - [link] of farms with TB incidents, which led dear old Camel Ebola (who likes to be called Jay Tiernan) to thank them so very much for that information. He had much more use for it than farmers.

 And now, as farmers are being encouraged yet again, to sign on the dotted line, right up to date, Farmers Guardian - [link] reports that: "Farmers taking part in the badger cull are at risk of being targeted by violent animal rights activists because of a new ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)". Well there's a surprise.

The paper continues:
The ICO has told the Government it must publish information about the impact the badger cull is having on local ecosystems within 35 days or end up in the High Court. For three years, Natural England had refused to reveal the analysis because it feared the information could be used to identify participating farmers, leaving them vulnerable to intimidation."
Reading the rules and regulations - [link] attached to these few and widely scattered culls which have begun, and absorbing the 'help' described above, given by both Defra and Natural England to those wishing to disrupt them, it's no wonder that some farmers have viewed the co-operation sought to do Defra's dirty work, as akin to being 'thrown under a bus'.
That's after being blamed for the epidemic in the first place of course.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Petition from NBA.

We are pleased to give publicity to a petition organised by the NBA, which highlights a few struggles that beef finishers face trying to keep their businesses afloat. Please print, sign and return to:

Monday, June 05, 2017

Contract or Con-trick?

As two badger cull areas come to the end of their four year stint, (with, as yet, no long term management plan to replace them) and a very small handful of farms approach the middle of that four year 'contract', Defra have added a few more hoops.

 At a recent Beef Expo event, Farmers Weekly reported the NBA position - [link] on a couple of these new regulations. Abolition of AFUs (Approved Finishing Units) and the mandatory use of Gamma interferon blood testing, if a herd in a cull area has a breakdown after year two.

AFUs are not really our field, but we have done a bit of digging into the notorious GammaIFN and can find nothing reported in this country after 2005, when scientific papers were full of hope, rather than reports of its limitations and the despair felt by victims of its widespread roll out.

 The late John Daykin and Dr. Lewis Thomas had this to say - [link] in 2007, and we pulled apart the 'early detection' line - [link] in a further posting. But despite the warnings of low specificity, many false positives and a pile of dead cattle, Defra went ahead. And this sort of carnage - [link] was the result on many farms.

News from Germany confirms it it not in use in that country due to low specificity. Our correspondent tells the following story:
"The test was used in Bavaria when 40+herds went down with M. caprae. Farmers were up in arms because truckloads of cattle were killed as positives based on the results of the IFN test. Where both tests ( SICCT+IFN) were used only 56.1 % of animals gave the same results in both tests and the majority of cattle slaughtered after IFN didn't show lesions and were culture negative.

Of course this doesn't mean they were not infected but it didn't help to boost acceptance. The reliability of the [blood] test seems to be very much affected by the amount of bacteria circulating.

Another blood test, AB-ELISA, failed completely.

The reason for the problems with IFN in Germany were that there is no way to standardise samples. Even the location where the blood is taken ( tail, neck etc) makes a difference as does temperature, time between sampling and arrival in the lab, storage, time of transport...

In Germany, there is the opinion that the test is not fit for use under field conditions and if used, a positive result must be confirmed by other diagnostics tests. That leaves only SICCT or pm....

Also of interest, is that if skin testing isn't done properly (i.e. subcutaneous ‎inj. instead of intracutaneous) there will be false positive IFN results later, even after a long time. The German reference lab clearly states that the skin test and the IFN have to be done absolutely 'lege artis', (that it is performed in a correct way.  ) otherwise the results are not reliable."
Nevertheless, and despite the carnage caused by its widespread use a decade ago and the problems of standardisation of its use in the field, Gamma IFn is set to be introduced under the following circumstances:
Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle and measures are in place to prevent further spread of disease from this source;

Criterion 2: The infected herd is located in one of the areas where at least two years of effective licensed badger population control have been completed.

Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeated skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a bTB incident.
Now, farmers who have signed up to these scattered, small areas of badger culling, already have a number of Defra / NE hoops to jump through. One could say too many. And we hear that if they do not carry out Defra's duty of eradicating TB infected badgers properly and in a timely manner, then Defra may do the job for them - and charge for the privilege.

 So for Defra to bolt on other criteria for cull areas, already signed up and presumably agreed with the organisers, we think is a pretty low blow. Especially a bolt on as brutal as gamma IFN.

In fact we would go so far as to say, it should be subject to legal challenge. But with the NFU and cull organisers comfortable with the concept, while not understanding the reality of this test, that is unlikely to happen.

 But what will happen is this:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Matt Ridley on badgers

While not as acerbic as Jeremy Clarkson - [link] in our posting below, Matt Ridley writing in the Times and on his own blog - (link) argues the case for controlling badger numbers.

He begins thus:
Badger culls work. They worked in Ireland, where bovine tuberculosis has been largely eliminated. Recent badger culls in Britain, though apparently designed by timid bureaucrats to fail and thereby frighten off politicians, have almost certainly been a success, resulting in a big drop in tuberculosis among cattle. True, the government has been slow to publish this officially — the data are working their way through the scientific journals — but the anecdotal evidence is now strong.
The article then points out that dozens of farms in the cull zones that had been closed down by TB for decades are now going clear. Which is true. But these will not show up under the data collection methods prescribed by Messrs. Donnelley and Co - [link] at Imperial College, as the herds under restriction within a short period of the cull beginning, were apparently excluded from their results.

 We would point out the obvious here, that if ALL herds in cull areas were under TB restriction at the time a cull of badgers began, and all subsequently went clear, then there would be no data to collect at all. Sometimes, simple squared really does equal stupid.

The article then describes the wider benefits to the ecology of controlling badger numbers, citing hedgehogs and bumble bees as species with the most to gain.

  " Human beings should not shirk their duty as the apex predator," says Ridley, whose article concludes:

 Having long got rid of the wolf and the lynx, people have unleashed middle-ranking “meso-predators” such as badgers and foxes to reach unnatural densities with devastating effects on other species. To restore an ecological balance, they need to control the numbers of these animals."

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Clarkson on badgers, hedgehogs and Prince Philip.

Hiding behind a paywall, an article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times (May 7th) was a gem.

Commenting on the retirement at the age of 96 of H R H Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Jeremy settles on an idea to keep the Duke active. Not golf or bridge, he explains, "It needs to be something with a point."

Mr. Clarkson then describes the aftermath of floods in Yorkshire, which prompted a local septuagenarian to make their village 'hedgehog friendly' to encourage the surviving swimmers amongst them, back to Burton Fleming.
"Taking advice from a genial-looking 78-year-old hedgehog enthusiast in the next county, she has transformed the village, drilling holes in fences, installing little ladders in ponds and erecting feeding stations. Her work has been described as “the best thing that’s ever happened” to the community."
Because, says Mr. Clarkson, hedgehogs are like ice cream and David Attenborough and Rome. Everyone likes them. Especially a badger, which is a real menace.
"When he’s not marauding about the place, knocking over walls and killing cows with his arsenal of vindictive diseases, he likes to eat as many hedgehogs as possible.

One of the main prerequisites, in fact, for turning your village into a hedgehog-friendly zone like Burton Fleming is that the area is not infested with an army of Brian May’s flea-ridden mates.

Which brings me neatly back to Prince Philip. When he stops walking around with his hands behind his back later this year, he could very easily keep his mind fresh and his body active by joining a hedgehog reintroduction scheme near one of his castles.

Obviously, I can’t see him drilling holes in a fence or erecting a small ladder [for local hogs] Nor can I see him running a bring-and-buy stall in Sandringham’s village hall. However, I can see him doing his bit by pouring himself a nice glass of red and sitting at his bedroom window with a brace of Purdeys, waiting for a badger to heave into view."
More scientific stuff on the lack of hedgehogs where badgers predominate is here - [link], here - [link] and here - [link].