Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wales - FUW reports a 37 per cent increase in TB in one year.

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) have issued a press release, urging the new Welsh Government to work with the farming industry to address the issue of TB in wildlife.

 Speaking during the FUW’s Annual General Meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts told members that an average of 36 cattle were culled every working day due to TB, representing an increase of 37 percent on the previous 12 month period, and an eight hundred percent rise since 1996.
“The pattern in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area, where millions have been spent on vaccinating badgers over the past four years, is no different”,Glyn Roberts told those present, referring to the latest scientific report into the impact of badger vaccination in the area, which found there was no improvement in TB rates in the area despite more than £3.7 million having been spent on vaccinating 5,192 badgers in the area since 2011.

We therefore look to this new government to finally grasp the nettle, and accept the basic facts which our Chief Vet has made clear to successive governments,” he said.
Glyn Roberts also highlighted the experience of other countries where cattle TB controls, which are less stringent than those applied in Wales, quickly eradicate the disease and restore TB-free status, citing the example of Germany. The badger population here is proactively managed, and numbers are reduced by around 65,000 a year.
“Their badger population [in Germany] is not endangered by any stretch of the imagination - and nor is it infected with TB.”
Glyn Roberts said such patterns are repeated around the world, and that scientific evidence gathered from across the EU and the globe showed that TB cannot be eradicated while the epidemic in wildlife is ignored.
“This truth, and the distressing figures in terms of the numbers of cattle being culled every day, is something we will be highlighting over the coming months, and we hope Welsh Government and those from across the political spectrum will work with us in helping educate the public about the severity of the situation, just as we have done in the past,” he added.


Pictured: (L-R) Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Professor Christianne Glossop, FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas, Environment and Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths and FUW President Glyn Roberts

Saturday, June 04, 2016

A (nother) new test for TB

Making the headlines this week, is another new screening test - [link] for zTB. This is a blood test, with results available in 6 hours, and aims to find TB bacteria circulating in blood, ahead of any lesions forming.


The test has been developed by a team at The University of Nottingham led by Dr Cath Rees, an expert in microbiology in the School of Biosciences and Dr Ben Swift from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The researchers have used this new method to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - which causes this bTB - in their blood. The research: ‘Evidence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteraemia in intradermal skin test positive cattle detected using phage-RPA' has been published online in the peer reviewed medical journal Virulence = [link]

The full paper is behind a paywall. More information is available from the authors.
Contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

 In her introduction Dr Rees explains: “This test delivers results within 48 hours and the frequency in which viable mycobacteria were detected in the blood of skin test positive animals, changes the paradigm of this disease."
This new, simple and inexpensive blood test detects very low levels of mycobacteria in blood using a bacteriophage-based technique developed by The University of Nottingham. The group has patented an improved version of the method that delivers results in just six hours. More recently ‘proof of principal’ experiments have shown that this is even more sensitive. This is currently licenced to a spin out company, PBD Biotech Ltd.
This test uses amplified DNA, and is explained by the authors thus:
Bacteriophage amplification technology was developed 20 years ago as a method to rapidly detect and enumerate slow growing pathogenic mycobacteria. In addition it can be used as a tool to rapidly detect antibiotic resistance and to investigate mycobacterial dormancy. The assay detects the growth of broad host range mycobacteriophage, capable of infecting a wide range of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic mycobacteria.
Any diagnostic test with a decent pedigree, is welcome, and having heard the guff circulating about the sensitivity of the internationally used skin test, many will latch on to these discoveries like the Holy Grail.
But tests such as this for cattle, would still be supplementary to the primary skin test. Just like Gamma ifn - [link] and Enferplex - [link] and even qPCR - [link]

But only a scientist on a mission could come up with the following two statements - and keep a straight face:
"Routine testing for Bovine TB uses the Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin (SICCT) skin test for M. bovis infection and all healthy cattle are regularly tested this way. However, it is known that this test is only 90 per cent sensitive at best and misses many infected animals."
and then in describing the test results:
"The data we are getting has taken the scientific community by surprise. In our paper we show that when blood samples from (45) skin test negative cattle were tested for M. bovis cells, all the samples proved negative."
Priceless.

Dr Rees then explains that the test showed:
"viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteria (MTC) were detected in 66 per cent of samples (27/41) from skin test positive animals."
So this test agreed 100 per cent with the 45 skin test negative animals and 'found' 66 per cent of the skin test positives? We're trying to get our collective heads around that one, but suggest the remaining skin test positives would be NVL at post mortem. That is, both the skin test and this blood screen, had, in some cattle, picked up mycobacterium bovis circulating ahead of lesions. Dr. Rees explains:
“More excitingly, using our new more sensitive six-hour method, this figure is even higher - all animals with visible lesions were MTC positive, and even 26 out of 28 animals where the lesions were not yet visible also were positive suggesting that M. bovis is commonly found in the circulating blood of infected animals. Using our bacteriophage-based test the hope is that we can help improve herd control by finding animals at the early stages of infection and helping farmers control outbreaks of bTB more rapidly. ”
The Nottingham team are working with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Animal Disease Center, to set up the first animal trial using the blood test to detect M. bovis in the blood of experimentally infected animals to determine exactly how soon this test can detect infection.

Dr Rees said: “The test also offers the potential for new, better tests for other farm animals. We are directly detecting the bacteria and so the method will work using blood samples from any animal species – so far we have detected mycobacteria in the blood of cattle, sheep and horses, but it could also be used for deer, goats or llamas. Not only that, we can detect any type of mycobacteria, we have use the same method to detect other diseases, such as Johne’s disease, not just bTB.”

Why only this suggested use on 'farm animals'? What about infected Badgers? Don't mention the 'B' word.

It could be useful. Just like non invasive qPCR on badger latrines and sputum could be useful. But it won't be used, as the responsibility for eradication of this Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen then becomes Defra's, not that of a farmer with a cage or a rifle trying to jump through Natural England's increasingly  convoluted hoops.

Finding cattle exposed to mycobacterium bovis, presently screened by the Intradermal skin test, and confirmed by this method is fine. As long as continuing  upspill from wildlife is then excluded. Otherwise, as now, we will shoot the messenger in ever increasing numbers, while gaining nothing at all.

Our take is that this test correlated very snugly with the results of the skin test, on the cattle which were examined.  

The paper is available to purchase on this link - [link]
For further information, please contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

Sunday, April 24, 2016

T.O.W.I.E.

In our last posting we explored the bizarre - [link] and ridiculous release protocol for badger rescues, illustrating the post with a pic of a tattooed stripey which had expired in West Wales. Where had he come from? we asked. A member of Facebook asked the same question and this was the reply from Secret World.
Our badger rehabilitation and release policy follows the protocol agreed by wildlife charities, farming groups, specialist scientists and MAFF (now DEFRA) in 2001.

The policy followed by Secret World is the best possible, as advised by these scientists, to minimise the risk of disease transmission and ensure good animal welfare. We work extensively with private landowners to ensure they understand our policies, that any release sites are suitable and that we have their full consent for any releases. You can read more about our release process on our website.

The badger photographed was a cub released in 2011. The cub was tested three times for bovine TB, as is our policy, and was vaccinated before release.
Actually, as our Parliamentary questions showed, release protocol dreamt up by these charities, was not approved by Defra, but let that pass. That assertion was contradicted in a later paragraph from SWorld.

So where had this rescue (now dead) originated? Secret World had not answered at first, but later volunteered this gem:
"It came from the 'low risk' area of Essex. Other animals in that group originated in areas of similar risk".
So a T.O.W.I.E 'rescued' in Essex, reared and tattooed in Somerset, and released in 'someone's' orchard in West Wales? Are they short of badgers in that part of the UK? Is it TB free?
What a mind blowingly stupid idea.

The question was posed as to the geographic spread of released badgers from these centres. The answer:
"I am not in a position to discuss exact sites for releases, not least to maintain the confidentiality of those landowners who work with us.

The aim is to release badger cubs (not just from Secret World, but from all rescue centres around the country) as close to where they were found as possible. This is for both genetic reasons, as well as being good practise for disease control (not just TB)."
It's just about as far as you can get  from Essex to West Wales without getting wet feet, but let that pass.
The answer continued:
"The distribution of release sites depends on availability, but broadly mirrors the population of badgers across England and Wales. So more badgers are found and released in the south west of England than anywhere else. All adult badgers go back exactly where they are found.

Most cubs rehabilitated at Secret World are released in the south west of England. When we decide which cubs to release where, this is based on a risk assessment that includes consideration of where they came from and where they are going."
Mmmm. But 42 11 W, an Essex badger, ends up released in a TB hotspot in West Wales? Which hardly fits the described 'protocol' does it?

 Secret World - [link] is registered with the Charity Commission - [link] documents from which, show its income in 2014 as around £1.15m. Better than cattle farming then?






Now it seems pretty ironic to us, that having seen an increase - [link] in main setts of 103 per cent in England over the last few years, combined with a disease level of around 50 per cent (FERA figures) in the South West of England, (an area which is presently putting together population reduction strategies to control a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen) that such outfits as Secret World should be introducing more badgers into the area from Lord knows where.

Anyone want a badger or three? Just contact Secret World. We are sure they'll oblige. Possibly for a fee?

From their comforting blurb, for the dead badger with the tattoo 42 11 W, obviously the only way should have been Essex. But not so: he was adopted by a landowner in West Wales, and died there.

Credit: Facebook.com/BadgerCullPage

Saturday, April 09, 2016

You learn something new every day.

Long years ago when we were phrasing up Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions on zTB, most were crafted already knowing the answers. We just wanted the rest of you to know too.

But this week, we have learned that on one subject we did not probe far enough.

 And that subject is the translocation, following the rescue - [link] and release of badgers.

So as this week saw the further ratcheting down on cattle and extra testing, we must update our readers on that omission.

 In February 2004, Mr. Paterson asked this question and received the following answer:
6 Feb 2004 : Column 1109W
Mr. Paterson:" To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the sensitivity of the test used on translocated badgers is in (a)positive response and (b)negative response. [150583]

Mr. Bradshaw: The test, which is generally used, for the detection of TB in translocated badgers is a test for antibodies (the Brock Test). This is generally accepted to have a low sensitivity (the ability to detect diseased animals). However it is difficult to give accurate values for the sensitivity because euthanased animals are not always subject to laboratory culture.

Where a badger translocation is carried out under licence (from Defra or English Nature) each individual badger is tested three times. If any of the three results are positive, the badger is euthanased. Any other badger that has been in contact with the positive testing badger is also euthanased, regardless of the results of its own tests

Where an orphaned or previously injured badger is translocated by an animal centre or similar body they follow a voluntary code of practise (drawn up by the RSPCA, National Federation of Badgers Groups and Secret World Wildlife Rescue).

Any animal to be relocated is tested three times and, if it tests positive, is euthanased.

This protocol does not advise in the destruction of badgers who have had contact with a test positive badger.

It should be emphasised that this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra. "
But that is only half the story, as TB Information - [link] has discovered. On the site there is a link to a document drawn up to facilitate the release of rescued badgers.

And from that little gem, we note that the guff contained in the answer to PQ 150583, (above) does not apply to ADULT badgers. They are not tested as to do so would mean a long period of captivity to accommodate the 3 tests plus weeks in between. And that would never do.TB Information also reports:
About 70 badgers each year were reported in 2007 to be released by the wildlife rescue centre called Secret World.

 In 2003 a voluntary Badger Rehabilitation Protocol was drawn up by Secret World Wildlife Rescue National Federation of Badger Groups and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Although it recommends testing badger cubs, it says the following regarding the testing of adult badgers.

* An adult badger should not be blood tested for bovine TB for the following reasons:

* It will be released to its original location, so eliminating the opportunity for the spread of disease to new areas;

* Recent published data show that a single blood test is unreliable (Forrester et al., 2001);

* It is unlikely to be held in captivity long enough to conduct three blood tests.
Marvellous isn't it? Cattle nailed to the floor, tested to extinction and the major UK wildlife reservoir of disease is rescued and released, translocated and fostered, 'accustomed to life in the wild', using, if it's used at all, a test with sensitivity of around 47 per cent.



We're grateful to a member of The Farmers forum - [link] for the above screen shot of a badger found dead in Wales.
(Credit : TFF and Facebook)






As you can see it's sporting a handsome tattoo - 42 11 W - so from where did it originate, to end up squished on a  roadside in West Wales? And why is this crazy situation still going on at all?


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

New TB rules.

Today, April 6th, Defra finally managed to 'zone' England into the dirty areas and clean for TB status.

This zoning has nothing to do with how you farm or the health status of your cattle. It is dependent on where you happen to keep your cattle. And in particular, the relation of that location to endemically infected wildlife.
Farmers Guardian - [link] has the details.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Blowing the budget

On March 16th., Budget Day for HM Government,  Defra released its 2015 figures for zTB casualties, and as we predicted in this posting -[link] the numbers of cattle slaughtered are some 32 per cent higher than were forecast.

Farmers Guardian has some nuggets - [link] from the annual tally; but as  Defra have offered their EU paymasters 27,440 dead cattle and a downward trend in disease in 2015, that particular budget is well and truly blown..

Wales reports a staggering 27 per cent increase in slaughtered reactors over 2014, and is said to be considering some drastic measures [ link] including reducing to not a lot, compensation for reactors purchased under license. England's increase over 2014 is 6 per cent, with the SW reporting arguably their worst year on record. And the areas allegedly acting as buffers, Defr'a  Edge, are bubbling nicely.
Thus despite a decade of cattle measures and their associated modeled predictions of reduction in disease incidence, nothing was achieved.

It is said that a definition of insanity, is repeating the same action - [link] but expecting different results.
But that is precisely what Defra's mandarins have done by bearing down on cattle with small token culls of grossly infected  badgers in a very few, small areas.

And we have no doubt that some more imaginative schemes to save money, such as dreamt up by the Welsh Assembly government, will surface as Defra's budget is blown apart .

Sunday, March 13, 2016

BBC - British Badger Cabal ?

For years now we have had to endure anthropomorphic fluff from the nation's premier broadcasting company, (at least in its own eyes) when it comes to badgers. But is the tide turning?

 Shown on BBC 2 and hidden amongst a programme dealing with Country Life magazine, was a harrowing piece on TB testing, reading and finally loading for slaughter, some home bred dairy cattle. For the next couple of weeks, the programme can be viewed on iPlayer - [link]

Maurice Durbin, the farmer, his staff and their vet all came across as caring and deeply upset by the effect of zTB on this lovely herd. The story was reported in the local press - [link] but the programme then prompted an outraged flurry from the Badgerists, in the form of a letter to the Director General of the BBC, accusing it of 'bias'. On that we can make no printable comment.

 The editor of Country Life, Mark Hedges, who gave an excellent overview of the situation which many livestock farmers now find themselves in, at the end of the programme, also gave an opinion statement to The Times.

Under the strap line "BBC must not give in to bullying by the Badger Trust", the article begins with criticism of the 'grip that pop star Brian May and his Badger Trust, has on the media and the dairy-farming industry'.
Mr. Hedges explains:
"One section of the programme, which is based around the magazine I edit, showed the distressing reality of life on a West Country farm that has been shut down for most of the last six years due to bovine TB. It seemed to open the eyes of viewers, an overwhelming number of whom have demonstrated sympathy for the farmer and his family, but the trust didn’t like it one bit and has complained to the BBC about impartiality."
Mr. Hedges continues:
The programme has certainly got everyone talking about an aspect of the bovine TB tragedy that is rarely seen. The tension was palpable as we watched Maurice Durbin’s pedigree Guernsey herd, which he inherited from his father, being tested for TB. “Poor old girl, she’s got to have a little trip,” he said, bottom lip trembling, as another cow was sent to be slaughtered.
This happened to some 36,000 cows, many in calf, in the UK last year, although you won’t find protesters outside farm gates complaining about the cows’ fate. Instead, they’re too busy harassing the farming communities where Defra’s pilot badger culls have been taking place. Mr. Hedges resumes his story:
"As I said on television, the cull has not been perfect in its execution, but there is evidence that farms in Somerset are now free of TB for the first time in years. Science should be allowed to take its course. Although measures can be taken to prevent badgers getting into farmyards, little else can be done to prevent them infecting cattle in the fields."
And Mr. Hedges has certainly got the point that:
"Britain’s dairy industry is on the brink of disaster because of decades of government dilly-dallying and a one-sided view of the badger. However charming a creature it may be, its inexorable population growth has been at the expense of the hedgehog, ground-nesting birds and bumblebees.

There are always two sides to a story, and we are proud that we have enabled the farmer’s story to be told at last. A single-issue group should not be allowed to bully the BBC for doing that."
(Mark Hedges is editor of Country Life.)

 There is only one point we would make on this programme or Mr. Hedge's article, ( apart from sending our thanks and best wishes to Mr. Durbin and his family, Mr. Hedges and Country Life magazine) and that is zoonotic Tuberculosis is not a disease which affects only 'dairy cattle' .

It is a grade 3 pathogen and affects any mammal, and thus should not be allowed to rampage through our badger population at all.
Mr. Durbin's story can also be read in Country Life - [link]