Sunday, August 12, 2018

Another high profile casualty

Last week, the national press carried the story of a black alpaca called Geronimo, who had failed a blood test for zTB. In our opinion, his owner is fighting the order to slaughter, on some very spurious grounds, not least questioning the validity of the priming skin test.

New owner of this imported animal, Helen Macdonald is quoted as saying that she:
... " voluntarily agreed for Geronimo to have a blood test for TB shortly after he was imported last August. She believes the test came back with a false positive because he had been injected with tuberculin as part of skin tests conducted just before he left New Zealand and also nine months earlier. "
So this alpaca, imported a year ago, was tested in New Zealand, prior to export and previous to that, nine months earlier? No details are available as to exactly what test was used, but if it was just a skin test, then forget it. The Sensitivity of that on alpacas is notoriously bad.

What is also strange about this case, is that the blood test used by Miss. Macdonald on this animal, was our friend, Enferplex -[link] together with a priming skin test. And it was repeated, giving the same result. Positive.

 Now as we explained in that posting, Enferplex with a priming skin test, has a specificity of 97 - 99 per cent. So false positives are very rare. It does however have a low sensitivity (the ability to identify disease) Thus a positive result from Enferplex should be treated with respect.

Geronimo originated in New Zealand, at the Nevalea stud - [link] home to over 700 alpacas, and situated in the Taumarunui region of NZ's North Island. This area is on the edge of a TB hotspot - [link] - Whangamarino - one of the few remaining in New Zealand after years of wildlife control.

New Zealand farmers are keen not to take a foot off that particular pedal, and let incidence of TB rise again. However  Miss Macdonald describes Defra's attitude as 'bullying and intimidation".
In a letter received by Miss Macdonald last Tuesday, Defra’s lawyers gave her seven days to confirm she will have Geronimo put down or they would apply for a warrant to kill the animal. Miss Macdonald last night called for Defra to carry out further tests. She said: ‘If they are sure he has got the disease, it will not hurt them. I have volunteered to pay for it. The problem is they are not listening to anyone because they are arrogant.
This is not the first time alpacas from Gloucestershire have tested positive for zoonotic Tuberculosis. We covered the story of Balthazar - [link] in this 2009 posting. Since then several hundred animals have been slaughtered in the UK and more sensitive tests trialled. Not least the privately funded qPCR test - [link] which screened dead alpacas with great success.

So although we have sympathy for Miss Macdonald, she is on a hiding to nowhere with this fight. As previous owners of alpacas and cattle have discovered.

 More about the alpaca herd and the animal in question, here - [link]


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Water badgers.

A short post to comment on today's news from the South West.

Parts of Exeter near the estuary have flooded badly in the last few years, so a £32m scheme is being undertaken to protect the city, homes and railway links.

A badger sett was / is in the way, so a new ancestral home was built at great expense, but these Newcastle supporters don't approve of the decor and have returned to their old stomping grounds, which from one report, just happens to be the new flood embankment.

Local BBC news - [link] has the story.

But this isn't the first time badgers have destroyed waterway infrastructure. We reported in 2004, how the Llangollen Canal in North Wales was was drained - [link] flooding nearby farmland and stranding narrow boats. The cost of repairs then, not to mention the the disruption, was said to be £500,000.

Fourteen years on, and the cost of Exeter's new flood defences are put at £32 million. They may or may not survive a watery onslaught, but will they survive the tunneling associated with badger house building?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another High Court challenge

Yesterday saw another High Court challenge to culling badgers launched. The Independent - [link] headlined the story  and it was picked up by other media - [link] later in the day.
From the Independent:
"Cull opponents will accuse government ministers and officials of “incompetence, negligence and deceit” in drawing up their plans and extending the “growing series of brutal, bloody countryside purges”.
The challenge is headed by Badger Trust member and ecologist Tom Langton, who believes officials acted unlawfully. He challenges two aspects of the cull policy.
The first is over the way in which Natural England, the government body in charge of protecting wildlife, did its homework before issuing licences to shoot badgers. Mr Langton and the trust claim its habitats regulations assessments, including judging the effect on protected species such as hen harriers, were flawed.

The second challenge is over a consultation in 2016-17 and the decision last summer by Department of Environment officials to grant more culling licences in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset for a further five years. The cull opponents say the officials wrongly interpreted the conclusions of randomised culling trials.
Presumably publication of the latest more targeted culling permissions - [link] in the original pilot cull areas, and published on July 6th. is what has provoked this latest whine.

So even with the outrageous -[link] and proud boasts of former un-civil servant, Andrew Wood, in charge of Natural England at the time of both the badger dispersal trial RBCT and pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, this miserable cavalcade moves on.

In fact now this duplicitous man is involved with both the Badger Trust and The League Against Cruel Sports, he may still be pulling the strings of his former employees.

 It does seem a tad of a co incidence that Wood should publish his outbursts and Langton launch a High Court challenge to a lawful mop up of disease (abandoned by Defra) which has been paid for and operated under license by farmers for six years, all in the same week.

While the articles airing this story are populated by photographs of healthy badgers, shiny and fat, the Badger Trust supporters do not see what cattle farmers see around their fields, farms and lanes which is very different. These often appear as harbingers of a cattle breakdown.

 Excluded by their peer groups, emaciated, showing suppurating bite wounds and often starving to death, sharing the bacteria they carry with any mammal unfortunate enough to sniff it or consume it, below are some examples of the Badger Trust's successes.

They should be proud of themselves.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Fox - outed.

If you ever wondered just why any control of the maintenance reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis in GB was kicked into the long grass, look no further than the League Against Cruel sports latest blog - [link] which features the disgraceful mutterings of former Defra fox, Andrew Wood. - [link]

 We commented in 2011, on the extraordinary link up between AHVLA, a body with responsibility for controlling zoonotic diseases, and this quango, known as 'Natural England - [link] who seemed to be doing all in its power to prevent this.

 Andrew Wood also over saw the notorious badger dispersal trial RBCT, on which he draws for 'evidence' of a badger cull not working. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the whitterings of its arch wizard, the duplicitous John Bourne - [link] who openly boasted of his trial's predetermined conclusion to the EFRA Committee.

 Of his time at Natural England, Wood boasts thus:
That seems an apt analogy for my time working for Natural England when the badger cull was initially rolled out. I wanted to stop it, and I tried to stop it – but I was a civil servant, not a government minister, and I didn’t have the power. When I knew I couldn’t stop it, I did what I could to save as many lives as possible, and I’m confident that I did that.
So, Andrew Wood and his cohorts at Natural England took a decision that culling was ineffective, the problem was cattle, and then did all they could to frustrate any attempt to sort out the problem of zoonotic tuberculosis in badgers?

 Yes, they did, and are proud of their achievements. Wood's diatribe continues:
So, do I regret my involvement in the early stages of this obnoxious policy? My firm belief is that without my engagement and that of others in Natural England, the policy would have been rolled out more quickly and with even less regard being paid to the evidence. More badgers would have died. There would have been no pilots and culling would have begun over much bigger parts of the country much sooner. The Government may even have resorted to gassing badgers. I am glad that I did what I could to prevent this.

Since leaving Natural England I offered support and advice to Brian May in his legal challenge to the policy in 2015. The challenge didn’t work, but we must not stop in our bid to halt this hideous slaughter of a beautiful, British animal.
So, no matter how many cattle are slaughtered, and how many alpacas, sheep, pigs and companion animals die, badgers rotting with tuberculosis must be protected?

 During this man's tenure of Natural England, (2007 - 2015) almost a third of a million - 313,000 cattle were slaughtered as reactors to zoonotic tuberculosis. And as numbers continue to rise in counties not licensed to cull, GB is in serious danger of losing its ability to trade - [link]

 And we have no doubts that Andrew Wood left some 'cubs' behind when he vacated the particular hen house known as 'Natural England'..

Those who pretend to be your friends, are most often your enemies. And anyone who protects the bacteria which causes 'zoonotic tuberculosis' is no friend of any mammal, especially badgers..

Friday, May 18, 2018

About time too.

When a farm has a TB breakdown, much information is collated by the local veterinary offices. This includes slide samples (above) of bacteria present in any lesions. Sadly this is often dissipated between several APHA offices, but at some point it comes together as a report.

And better late than never, the farm's history of breakdowns, cattle movements and most importantly the genotype responsible for the breakdown, will be made available to the farm concerned.

 A newsflash from the NFU:
The APHA is making more data available to farmers in England and Wales to help tackle bTB.

Reports for individual farms are produced by the APHA using TB breakdowns and cattle movement data, these are posted out a few weeks after the start of a breakdown, with the aim of helping farmers better understand the bTB risks to their herd and to take action to reduce those risks.

 It is strongly recommended that farmers start to share these reports with their private vets which should help both parties to understand the level of bTB risk to the herd, the impact of previous TB breakdowns on the herd, the pattern of cattle movements and its potential effect on the herd's bTB risk, and also the reasons for the pattern of bTB breakdowns in the herd (if applicable).

The report describes the herd type and size, and any TB breakdowns that have occurred on the holding over the last 10 years, along with the causative strain (genotype) of bTB identified in the lab which shows the geographical area where that strain is commonly found.
This can help with identifying the route of transmission to establish if it is more likely to have come from cattle movements or indirect/direct contact with infected badgers.
And it is that final paragraph which is important.

When APHA culture samples from cattle taken as reactors, (and any badgers they feel like looking more closely at)  a genotype is revealed.
This, over many decades, has formed a database which we have described here, in 2006 -[link], and here with some charts - [link].

Each individual strain or spoligotype has slight variations if the sample is subject to VNTR (Variable Number Tandem Repeats) then these may be described as regional accents - [link] which a former Chief Scientist was delighted to 'discover'. They were there anyway, but until an 'ologist has found them, they remain unique but invisible.

 Farmers under TB restriction will also be offered a map - [link] of breakdowns in their area, including spoligotypes of the offending bacteria.

 Finally a thought for the day. The predominator strain of m.bovis (AN5) found decades ago, has now been eliminated, leading many scientists working on this subject to the question 'have we now got badger adapted TB - [link] spreading back up into our tested, sentinel cattle?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another Defra cash snatch? (Updated)

Futher update:

The EU document from which this legislation is spawned, is linked to below. It was published on June 8th 2016 and is quite specific as to the time line - in EU speke.

"This Regulation should be applicable from the first day of the twenty-eighth month after the date it enters into force."
Which is November 1st 2018. The EU document also helpfully explains  

                             HAVE ADOPTED THIS REGULATION:
So having sat on their hands for almost all of that allotted time, Defra now have a consultation out to discuss it. And clarify any misinterpretations in the 3 months before it comes into force.

**The Defra documentation can be accessed here - [link] and must be returned by July 11th.**

But our posting below has already highlighted an unwelcome  side effect of this grindingly boring paperchase. And that refers to the difference - many thousands of £s in some cases - between Defra's perceived 'value' of pedigree animals and non-pedigree casualties of their Animal Health programs.

When cattle become TB 'reactors'. Defra's table valuations swing into action, and in most months, casualties which have a pedigree certificate are 'valued' higher than non-pedigree cattle.

Note: this valuation applies to other Defra Animal Health slaughterings too.

But on November 1st 2018, unless the smaller breed societies get their collective heads together, pedigree cattle registered with them will lose that designation and be paid out as non-pedigree.

All the relevant bedtime reading is contained in this document - [link] which deals with intra community trade in zootechnical products.The document spreads its wings over breed societies and explains how they should / must operate.

The registration of such societies is operated in the UK by the Defra committee known as FaNGR (Farm Animal Genetic Resources committee) whose pedigree and contact details are described here - [link]
This latest tranche of paper appears to owe most of its content to exporting cattle into and around the EU, rather than breed promotion within the UK. But sadly we hear that already some overzealous vets are using it already, to reduce TB compensation paid to owners of pedigree cattle, whose breed societies have not yet made it on to Defra's new list. We also hear that Brexit appears to have stalled some pending registrations.

Here is a snippet from the current legislation - [link]  

.“pedigree animal” means a breeding animal for which a pedigree certificate has been issued by a breeder’s organisation or association that fulfils the conditions  of  Commission Decision 84/247/EEC(a) laying down the criteria for the recognition of breeders’ organisations and associations which maintain or establish herd-books for pure-bred breeding animals of the bovine species;......"

 Notable absentees from Defra's new list include minor beef breeds, such as Salers, Bazadaise, Parthenaise, Gloucesters, Kerry and many more.

Apparently having paid a breed society for membership,  Herdbook registrations and having a pedigree certificate, is not enough. If your breed society is not on this list - [link] then from November 1st.  any reactors will be paid at non-pedigree rates.

 However long their pedigree is.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


We are hearing many heart wrenching tales of lorry loads of cattle, and in some cases whole herds - all headed for premature slaughter after failing the Gamma interferon - [link ] blood test.

We wrote about this test in 2008, and described the problems with it in this posting, [link] where we quoted snippets from the infamous pilot, carried out by Defra into the use and in particular, the specificity (false positives) associated with Gamma - which were summarily dismissed..

These are described in a paper labelled SB4021 - [link] and where those unexpected results - 25 per cent of one herd, expected to be negative results - were ignored.

Comments on the thread above pointed out that the condition of bloods and timing of samples v. their delivery to a laboratory are crucial to results. And the lives of our cattle. And we hear that other countries using the test do not use it as a slaughter test. Results have to be confirmed with a skin test. And in 2006, after the pilot study (which excluded any  results the team did not expect to find) Hansard records thus:
22 May 2006 : Column 1294W Mr. Bradshaw:

It was research project SB4021 ( ) that was established to evaluate the specificity of the gamma interferon (IFNg) test. This project confirmed the findings of previous studies by concluding that the commercially available IFNg test had a specificity of between 95-97 per cent. Findings from SB4021 supported the view that it would be inappropriate to use IFNg for routine screening purposes because it risks producing too many false positive results.

A further roll out of Gamma ifn, by invitation only, failed to attract enough support and petered out.

In the interim, studies found that a priming skin test increased sensitivity of gamma, which got Defra very excited, but we can find nothing to contradict the findings of that Pilot study SB4021. And this showed the ability of gamma to hoover up as positives, many micobacteria in the MTC (Micobacterium Tuberculosis Complex) family. Many of which are widespread and harmless.

So fast forward to 2016 and a 'consultation' to tell us what Defra have in store for our cattle next. And we see this for Gamma ifn in 2017:
Gamma testing is being used in the following circumstances:

"From April 2017, the gamma test will be applied alongside the skin test to help resolve TB breakdowns with lesion and/or culture positive animals in the HRA where any of the following three criteria are met:

* Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle (e.g. via cattle movements, residual cattle infection from a previous TB breakdown, or contact with a contiguous infected herd) and measures are in place to prevent further spread of the disease from this source

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

* Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeat skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a TB breakdown .
And so it is. With devastating results - especially in herds which fall into criterion 2. i.e, the owners have signed a contract to manage badgers in the area. And having followed the prescribed scatter gun approach to disease control by culling 70 per cent of badgers, on 70 per cent of the area and leaving the rest to wander, if the herd has the misfortune to go under restriction with at least one lesioned or culture positive reactor. Then as we read this, no epidemiological veterinary interpretation of the herd history is needed. Just point and shoot.

The only criteria being a signature, on a contract drawn up at least two years ago.

Thin ice? On a legal basis, we have grave doubts about this. Leaving aside SB4021 and the failings of gamma ifn, so ably covered by Defra's soothingly modelled statistics, can it be legal for one party to add conditions to a contract already signed and paid for?

We pointed this out in this posting - [link] but it has taken a few months to really hit home, in terms of cattle slaughtered in GB which totalled 43,564 last year. The highest ever in our memory.

The use of this screening test has been variously described to us in less than enthusiastic terms  by Veterinary professionals - [link], but the word which stood out is 'madness'. And with that we would not disagree.