Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Update on Geronimo.

We told you the background of a very expensive New Zealand alpaca, imported in 2017 in this posting - [link]

After twice testing clear of zTB in his country of origin, this animal tested positive in the UK, and thus began his owner's fight against authority.

But after a High Court hearing, Devon Live reports that Geronimo - [link] has lost the battle.

Another casualty of Defra's non policy of the eradication of zoonotic Tuberculosis.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

'Owning the problem'.

I don't know about you (our readers) but your editors are seething after reading the headline of Farmers Guardian - [link] this week.  In our posting below, we explained that after fifteen long years of banging our collective heads against the proverbial, we had decided to call it a day, leaving this website up as a monument to stupidity. And then we read the headlines of the FG.

In 2007, we reported  the 'Trojan Horse' - [link] factor of zTB control, proposed by John Bourne, when he explained that he would allow farmers to shoot a few badgers, if that went hand in hand with extensive and increasingly brutal cattle controls which he said, would bring the epidemic under control.

And this is exactly what is happening now, a decade after it was proposed. But we digress - the Farmers Guardian this week, reporting on yet another conference on zoonotic Tuberculosis explains:
"Farmers have been urged to ‘take ownership’ of bovine TB control after a survey revealed 70 per cent of those in the high risk area (HRA) have not undertaken any activity to improve their biosecurity on-farm."
(By that, the author of that remark means keeping grossly infected wildlife away from grazing cattle.)

And that headline is some statement. And in many cases - especially those of our contributors - wildly inaccurate.

So take the situation on one of your editors' farms. A closed herd with no bought in cattle, no neighbouring cattle farms touching boundaries and good bio security, but it suffered a 5 year breakdown.

The cost to the cattle - 53 dead. The cost to the taxpayer? Testing every 60 days instead of annually plus compensation for the aforementioned dead cattle. The cost to the farmer in terms of stress and hassle? - immeasurable.

Roll forward to this year, and the cattle measures imposed after the signing of cull contracts, - [link] continue to rain down 365 days / year, while farmers are allowed under very strict circumstances to chase 70 per cent of badgers in a small, well defined area around for just  42 nights and trap / shoot what they can, while paying up front for that privilege.

How is that 'farmers taking ownership' of zoonotic Tuberculosis? And where is Defra's responsibility in all this fiasco which began in 1997 with that moratorium on the culling badgers 'to stop the spread of disease'?  (Protection of Badgers Act. Section 10 (2 a) )

These were parish breakdowns in 1986 - when we were almost clear of TB as a country. The 'Clean Ring' system operated and badger groups were destroyed within a 7km radius of a confirmed outbreak in cattle.

Around 1982, underground euthansia was replaced by cage traps and the land available to the MAFF operatives reduced from 7km to just 1km, and then only on land which cattle had grazed.

Incidence of TB in sentinel tested cattle rose.


Cattle controls and testing increased, and in 1997 a moratorium was placed on the section of the Protection of Badgers Act which allowed for culling 'to prevent the spread of disease'.

Thus no badgers were culled for this reason at all. None.

And after two decades of prevarication this was the result.

Fast forward to current non-policy, and Zoning the country hasn't worked either, with wildlife spreading disease beyond the ever moving 'Edge area' into so called Low risk counties.

Where badger culls are in progress, incidence is dropping, but slowly. And last year,  GB shot 44,000 cattle. That is appalling. Absolutely appalling and bloody disgrace to all involved in keeping this fiasco going.

The architect of this latest rubbish reported in the Farmers Guardian, is one James Russell, a BCVA representative, who while no doubt trousering a considerable largesse for increased testing of our sentinel cattle, would do well to look back at the impact these brutal, - [link] extortionately expensive and futile cattle measures had on disease incidence in the past.

 Mr Russell may also benefit from taking a glance at our parliamentary Questions, lobbied 15 long years ago now, and see the unequivocal reply to the success of the Thornbury badger cull.
" 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]
It's that simple. And any amount of keeping cattle in hermetically sealed boxes does not solve the problem of grossly infected badgers, piddling over grassland, maize crops and anything else cattle are asked to consume either directly or ensiled.

And neither will chasing them around on just 42 nights out of 365, scattering social groups while not knowing if those destroyed are infected, infectious or not. 

Mr. Russell got one thing correct when he is reported to have said:
"We are up against a bug which has adapted and evolved to survive inside its host without killing it, and it is excreted in the millions every day."
But what Mr. Russell did not say is that the most successful host of this bug, which can maintain its body weight, rear cubs annually (and infect them) and live for up to 8 years, is the badger. Not cattle, tested and shot, which are a spillover host.

In fact £2.8 million - [link] was thrown at trying to prove that cattle were a maintenance host of zTuberculosis. And after thousands of samples taken, even from cattle with lung lesions, not one was capable of onwards transmission. Not a single one.

 So yet another another straw man - [link] rears its head, and once again it's down to cattle farmers. All our fault.

Or are we seeing, as John Bourne suggested, and so eagerly grabbed by the industry leaders, a largely untargeted and disparate badger cull, while accepting on our behalf, the cattle measures and culling which have failed so spectacularly in the past? A Trojan Horse indeed.

Farmers cannot 'own' the problem of z Tuberculosis while those who have most to say, have not a single thing to lose.

So we are minded to repeat the words of the fragrant Dr. Chris Cheeseman, late of Badger Heaven Woodchester Park, who, on several occasions when addressing farmers about biosecurity in the proximity of his chosen species, was asked how to keep cattle healthy, safe and secure.

His answer which drew gasps from his audience, was pretty straightforward. He said:
"You can't. You get rid of your cattle ".

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Natural England / Defra - How to kill a cull?

It is now 15 years since those 500 Parliamentary Questions lobbed at the then Secretary of State for DEFRA were collated and their answers posted to form the basis for this site.

 It is much longer than that since our co editors and contributors, farmers and vets took a keen interest in the UK's Governmental inaction on their statutory responsibility to eradicate a Grade zoonotic pathogen from its wildlife maintenance reservoir in an ever expanding population of Eurasian badgers.

We've seen history - [link] repeat itself in ever more stringent cattle controls, while infected, over protected wildlife are left to die in our fields, spreading their deadly load as the totter along to that great sett in the sky.

 A sort of badger cull, based on a very shaky premise began in 2013: it was run by farmers, funded by farmers and overseen by the most unhelpful agency - [link] Defra could ever have appointed. It struggled in the face of media antagonism, criminal damage and personal harassment, all totally ignored by the desk jockeys in a London centric Defra.

No-one mentioned the zoonotic pathogen itself and the battleground was drawn: badgers v. cattle.

Farmers were on their own, trying to reverse thirty years - [link] of government inaction.

Roll forward to this spring, our fifteenth anniversary. And Tony Juniper - [link] described as an 'eco-warrier', a new face at unNatural England lost no time in revoking licences - [link] for corvid control.

This at a critical time for farmers lambing their sheep, arable crops being planted to feed us all and smaller, less high profile bird species nesting. Poster boy - [link] Chris Packham received an OBE.

But hard on the heels of that debacle comes a second challenge to licensing by the same crew, and that is to once again tweak badger cull license conditions. Having given way on this one once, with the use of the most unspecific blood test - [link] for zTB ever dreamt up, dependent not on veterinary expertise, but a signature scribbled on a contract two years ago, the NFU are scrabbling to accommodate this latest onslaught.

 Farmers Guardian reports:
The judicial review, brought by ecologist Tom Langton*, claimed badger culling was increasing fox populations and, therefore, threatening ground nesting birds with protected status. In order to collect more data on fox numbers in cull areas, NE has requested all cull companies provide records of historical fox control in 2017 and 2018. It has also demanded information on current fox control practices within miles 1.24 miles (2km) of sites where ground nesting birds are listed as features of special interest.
* Tom Langton - [link] - another eco warrier - his background.

The NFU's Tom Rabbetts offered this placatory gem:
When the cull companies were set up, this was certainly not a requirement.

They have not recorded this data and they do not have access to every person controlling foxes in the area.

You could be in a situation where you have to go to 100 or more farmers to try to find out the level of fox control on each farm.

To do it in any single year is hard, but to try to backdate the information is even harder.
That is missing the point, Tom. Those contracts had two party signatories: they were a legally binding document and one side has retrospectively set about tweaking those conditions.

We came across this with the addition of gamma interferon, (see above) however ridiculous that was, and with no veterinary oversight to the farm situation. It faced no challenge and a precedent was set.

Because of these fiascoes, there is talk of farmers not signing up to new cull areas and with retrospective demands, now withdrawing from culls already begun. So having opposed badger culling in the face of disease since 1997, Defra and its love affair with celebrity lobby cash have discovered another way to trash their responsibilities.

After a month of inaction, the corvid row is still rumbling in the bowels of unNatural England, with only three species offered specific individual complicated licenses and a deafening silence on the rest.
And now as Defra leave the cull companies hung out to dry, this latest fiasco further destroys any semblance of trust or co operation with the Ministry known as the Destruction of  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or its agencies.

 So sadly, this site will now shut up shop and stop posting. Fifteen years is enough. We've tried to open up discussions and offer insights into past success and past failures in TB control world wide.
We also supported targeted culling of diseased badgers, playing no small part in a £1m grant to develop tools to do just that. We failed.

To our contributors we say, our grateful thanks and to our readers, the best of luck.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Goldilocks - When to kill a Cull.

Not the fairy tale girlie, with three bears, Goldilocks is also the description of the principle of getting the outcome of a scientific process  'just right'. Described in Science Daily, -[link] the Goldilocks principle is one of balance to achieve the desired outcome.

So how does this relate to badgers, cattle and zoonotic Tuberculosis?

Published on March 6th, The Royal Society - [link] described a paper entitled 'When to kill a Cull'. Apart from a title which gave us pause for thought, that does relate to badgers, cattle and the control or eradication of zoonotic tuberculosis. The paper explains:
Culling wildlife to control disease can lead to both decreases and increases in disease levels, with apparently conflicting responses observed, even for the same wildlife–disease system.     There is therefore a pressing need to understand how culling design and implementation influence culling's potential to achieve disease control.

We address this gap in understanding using a spatial metapopulation model representing wildlife living in distinct groups with density-dependent dispersal and framed on the badger–bovine tuberculosis (bTB) system.

We show that if population reduction is too low, or too few groups are targeted, a ‘perturbation effect’ is observed, whereby culling leads to increased movement and disease spread. We also demonstrate the importance of culling across appropriate time scales, with otherwise successful control strategies leading to increased disease if they are not implemented for long enough.
The paper is modelled - and some of the hieroglyphics, although pretty, are beyond our editors, but in a nutshell we glean that if you do a rubbish cull on a grossly infected population, you spread disease through perturbation, whereas if you cull all infected individuals - wipe out, then zoonotic tuberculosis disappears. But so do badgers.

The Goldilocks banding in bright yellow is the modelled ideal.

Below some of the modellers calculation  tools, and their Goldilocks charts.

Now going back to 1997, when the notorious RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial began, launching into an infected population for 8 nights only, annually if you were lucky, all this was known.

Especially to the chief bear, who led the group, the diminutive Professor John Bourne, who delighted in informing politicians - [link] on the EFRA committee that the outcome of his trial was known before it started, and that it was designed in such a way to protect badgers.

'When to kill a Cull' indeed. That charade was Goldilocks in action.

And we also know from the answers to Parliamentary Questions that the Thornbury trial which culled for 8 months, and removed most of the badgers in that area using underground group euthansia, kept cattle clear of zTB for at least ten years. And that the reason it was so successful was:
" 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 back to Goldilocks, and one could say, another wodge of money spent stating the obvious.

This is a chart of various badger culling exercises, and their effect on cattle TB over the last four decades.

So basically, if you are going to cull an infected group of animals, do it thoroughly, for long enough and over an appropriate area .. or you end up making things worse. Simples isn't it?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

New year - Old lies

Approaching the 6th year of badger culling in the two pilot areas of Somerset and Glos., and with over 40 per cent of the High Risk Area signed up to manage infected populations, how are things going for Great Britain’s 25 year TB eradication strategy?

 In August 2017, after two years of culling, the Brunton report - [link] gave the figure of a 58 per cent drop in herds with TB trading status Withdrawn in Gloucestershire. More recently the North Cornwall cull area - [link] noted a similar drop after three years. And where herds have been placed under restriction, that is often for an inconclusive reactor or a bought in animal - a detail missing from the TB Interactive map.

Compare this to New Zealand, which undertook a similar population reduction of their infected wildlife, (the brush-tailed possum) and the country achieved a respectable drop in TB incidence in cattle. But then NZ stopped culling - with no management follow up. The result of this ‘one off’ control, was a time limited reduction in TB in cattle of 3-5 years, only for it to increase as possum numbers recovered, together with the infection they carried.

 After a sporadic, inefficient farmer led culling programme which followed, an Animal Health Board, independent of government (but set up by them) and including cattle farmers, took over managing TB operations. Clear and regular targets were agreed, with staff performance reviewed annually by an independent company.

Thus in New Zealand, those with responsibility for eradication of TB in cattle, are accountable to those who wanted to see TB in cattle reduced.

 New Zealand culls 90 per cent of possums over all affected land.

 Compared with Great Britain, that is a long way from our progress, impeded by a drag anchor of guff, obfuscation and noise. Put simply - lies. .

 In 2011 Defra produced a paper describing how they wanted to "pump prime" - link farmers to accept the concept of vaccinating badgers, as opposed to culling any at all.

The Badger Vaccinne Deployment Project (SE3131) - [link] was probably the first wide spread trial of badger BCG in the field. Its secondary aim was " to test the hypothesis that vaccination deployment had an effect on the incidence of bTB in cattle in the BVDP area and its buffer through comparing trends in incidence in these areas to trends in matched comparison areas where no vaccination had occurred."

 Running from 2010 - 2014, the effect of vaccination of local badgers on the incidence of cattle TB, the BVDP concluded:
"The results of this analysis suggest that badger vaccination had no effect on cattle bTB incidence, as demonstrated by the decrease in OTF-W incidence rate in both the BVDP area and the comparison areas since the start of the BVDP."
Having cancelled a plan cull, another area to trial badger BCG was part of Wales, along with areas in the south west England: we report their conclusions below. But the myth lie still continues, with the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and Badger Trust all offering vaccination of any old badger, infected or not, as having a beneficial effect on cattle TB - and as an alternative to a cull.

So in Great Britain, we have scattered areas, culling 70 per cent of badgers, with patches, some large others small, within them, offering vaccination and keeping residual infection alive.

This phenomenon has become more apparent with reports from the latest state sponsored vaccinations. In Wales this was along with 6 monthly testing and bio security, overseen by veterinarians, produced by the Intensive Action Area . (IAA) This area reported its six year results in 2016, and concluded - [link] that:
"Overall the long-term trends in the IAA [Intensive Action (vaccination) Area] and CA [Comparison Area]are similar." "Notable differences in indicators of TB incidence have not yet been seen...".
And a year later, in October 2017, UC Dublin and the Quantitative Epidemiology Group in the Netherlands published a point study - [link] on a field trial of badger vaccination. The result?
“.. a complete lack of effect from BCG vaccination on the infectivity of vaccinated badgers was observed, i.e. vaccine efficacy for infectiousness (VEI) was 0%. “
The only project which post mortemed badgers after vaccination, the Lesellier trial - [link] in 2011, found all had lesions and all were shedding. One individual (D 313) was so badly infected he was euthanized. We remember him well.

Importantly, Lesellier’s team , similarly to previous GB badger vaccination trials, also pre screened the badgers they used, noting after blood and culture tests that:

 “ Each animal was deemed to be TB-free on the basis of three consecutive negative results to both tests, spanning a total period of 24–25weeks.”
This is very different scenario from cage trapping into an infected population, and vaccinating any old badger, regardless of its health status, often more than once.

The BCG vaccine used is limited in its licensing, having achieved LMA status only in that ‘it does no harm’, to pre screened badgers’. As far as we are aware, no efficacy data has been produced to lift that status.

But continuing the 'honour the lie', last month, Cornwall Wildlife Trust - [link] announced their own ‘trail blazing trial’ of badger vaccination in part of Cornwall. An area ringed by cull areas and the sea. They are seeking donations to help farmers fund it.

This was not trail blazing at all. It perpetuates and honours all the lies told about vaccinating badgers, and ignores published results of  trials conducted years before. Thus despite these long term vaccination results published above, the ‘pump priming’ continues, with Wildlife Trusts encouraging hard pressed farmers to vaccinate - and pay for it.

So compared with New Zealand's policy of TB eradication, it appears that in Great Britain, those with responsibility for TB reduction are accountable to those who are most vocal about badger culling and who are largely disinterested in TB reduction in our cattle and other mammals, large and small.

And they and their paymasters continue to ‘pump prime’ farmers and general public about the efficacy of badger vaccines as they rattle their aptly decorated collection tins..

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Merry Christmas!

It's been a difficult year for many of us. The weather has played a few nasty tricks, and left its mark on fodder stocks and straw prices. The prolonged dry period which followed compounded this, but typing this on a dull, wet Sunday afternoon, some sunshine would be good.

A few notices have been posted in the last month, possibly the most important is how successful the culling areas -[link] have been. A total of 32,600 badgers have now been removed. Which is a sobering reminder that in the early 1970s, the Mammal Society put the total number of badgers in GB at an estimated 35,000.

 Below is a snapshot of the 2018 cull totals, with Areas 1 and 2 omitted as these pilots are now into their follow up strategy of maintenance. The report explains:
Given the ongoing reduction in badger population estimates in Areas 3 to 21 since the start of their licences, these areas will see the benefits of reduced disease in cattle over their four year cull period. The initial cull areas are starting to see these benefits, with the number of new confirmed cattle breakdowns dropping by around 50%. (Fifty per cent)

In Area 1, the incidence rate has dropped from 24% to 12% in the twelve months following its fourth year of culling. Similar results were observed in Area 2, which dropped from 10.4% to 5.6%. A full analysis of the data, similar to that of Brunton et al. in 2017 is underway and will be published in due course.
A link to the Brunton paper is in this posting - [link]

And here are the 2018  badger removal figures:

Latest news from one cull area in North Cornwall - [link] also reports a significant drop in cases of TB in cattle, after just three years of badger culling. Farmers Weekly has the story. Long may it continue.

Conversely we have seen both politicians and Z list eco-slebs, playing to a gullible media, hurling equal parts of bile and blame against cattle farmers. Scratching up isolated cases of reactor fraud and making a huge meal of what is a very small proportion of millions of tests.

We cannot defend any fraudulent testing - be that by farmers or vets. And the sooner all compensation, tabular or valued is removed from perpetrators, and testing licences removed from vets found guilty, the better.

 Bio-security accusations are also an ongoing niggle, when the primary culprit of disease spread enjoys ultimate protection, wherever it walks, and in whatever state of health it may be in.

We would also point out that the ongoing support for badger vaccination is as big a red herring as it ever was. And no amount of BCG at 10x the strength for a human being, jabbed indiscriminately into the backside of any passing badger is going to make any difference to cattle TB in the area (as Wales has found)

In fact it could be said that by increasing the available bacteria into a candidate already infected with zTB, that badger will be uplifted into 'super excreter' status. And the amount of bacteria he will excrete, before he eventually expires in a most horrible fashion, could bring down a herd of cattle with no help from his sett mates at all.

 Game, Sett and match.

So to all our contributors, in whatever part of the world you may be, our grateful thanks for your stories, experiences and technical help.

A Merry Christmas and a peaceful TB free New Year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Magic Roundabout / Fake News.

Several press releases this week, combined with a flurry of pro zoonotic tuberculosis splutterings from a hitherto unknown to us group known as the Prion interest Group - [link]
From BSE to zTBin one seamless leap then?

Writing to Defra's new Chief vet, (Christine Middlemiss) this was heavily reported in that most unbiased of our broadcasting media, they accuse Defra of "barefaced lies" - [link] That was on the 12th November.

 Of course it would have been helpful if when the pilot culls began, all those years ago, if Defra had published results. They are there, but they are sparse. Nevertheless, Lucy Brunton et al, did do some modelling and drew out figures for Gloucestershire and Somerset cull areas, compared with non cull areas  for 2013 - 15. These were published, but in the morass of figures, it took a humble vet and his calculator to extrapolate the end result of a 58 per cent drop in cattle TB in Gloucestershire and 21 per cent in Somerset. We covered the story in this posting - [link]

The Prion Group missed them.As they missed this snippet:

3rd para on page one of the report,

Err, yes, Pretty obvious? But invisible just the same.

There have been numerous past historical culls, designed to prove the obvious, and which are conveniently ignored by those intent on riding this roundabout of denial and research. (Credit for those figures go to BovineTB information)

Then today, 13th November, Defra released their update on the 25 year plan to rid the country of zoonotic tuberculosis. The full package is here- [link] and dutifully the BBC - [link] reported some startling headlines concerning culling of badgers.

 "A modest effect on cattle TB" is the most glaring headline, given that the Defra  comment is based on that most political of trials, the RBCT which began 21 years ago and had, its leader - [link] .. explained with such pride, a political steer from its onset.
Culling badgers at the end of his 8 day forays, then walking away for a year or more, was not going to be the answer.
There is nothing at all on the current farmer led (and funded) culls. How's that for Fake News?

So Defra's latest plan is a brand new quango to hoover up all things badgery, a proposal to make farmers insure against a wildlife reservoir of disease over which they have little legal control and compensation reduced or abandoned on the back of insurance levies.

Farmers have to 'own' the disease, they say.

 For those of us who had ring fenced farms, no bought in cattle and still years and years of restriction, dead cattle with no insurance offered as 'exposure to risk was too high,' that is a damned insult.

We'll 'own' it if you remove the straightjacket .

 But we'll finish this posting on a happier note. We are hearing farmers who have had continuous 60 day testing, reactors and stress for years. Decades in some cases, and after just a few years of a 42 night cull, lambasted by the animal loving public with nothing whatsoever to lose from complaining, and propped up by political scientists and vets, they are now trading TB free.

 One such story below, is told in the farmer's own words.

"We’ve gone TB free. In theory we are now onto annual testing for the first time in 10 years. For the first six years of that, each year the TB got worse then the cull started in our area. Since then our incidence of TB has dropped year on year here with us going clear in the spring three years in a row only to fail in autumn, but with less cases each time.
Then this February we went clear and now our 2 inconclusives have gone clear this autumn meaning we haven’t had a cow with TB for 14 months.
So if proof was needed that the cull has a place in the eradication of TB we are living proof of it.

So today I have mixed feelings. I’m elated that we in theory don’t have to put our stock through the misery of testing for a whole yr.
But I’m also angry. Angry at the NFU and MAFF for allowing this insidious disease to spread when it was so very nearly eradicated. Angry at our politicians for designating the badger a protected species without considering the consequences it would have on the balance of the countryside and those of us who derive a living from it.
Badgers , hedgehogs, ground nesting birds have all suffered as a direct result of this interference.
Lastly I’m angry at those, how ever well meaning, who think the life of a badger is worth more than the life of one of my cows.
To you I say congratulations for the misery you have cause many people and cattle over the last number of yrs and not forgetting the infected badgers who have been suffering and playing their part in spreading this devastating disease within their community and beyond.
I hope you have the decency to admit and reflect on the role you have played in its spread at a time when maybe just maybe we are getting to grips with it."

We thank this SW dairy farmer for that heart warming story. And fully expect it'll take Defra 20 years to catch up with or publish current farmer led cull results.

This magic roundabout of spurious research, sparse excuses and misery has led us to a situation where a trade ban is likely. The chart below tracks the progress of TB 'eradication' in cattle through decades, overlaid with various Ministerial non-policies.
And see what happens when badger control is loosened and finally abandoned in 1997?

Under no circumstances is that anything that we would be proud to 'own'.