Saturday, August 28, 2004

Animal Rights

Farmers Guardian reported this week the sad story of a Beef Shorthorn herd struck with bTb.

This breed is a designated 'Rare Breed' and is native to this country. But the loss to that breed from this small closed herd raises the question "Do we have the right to award one animal higher 'rights' than another?".

The owner of this small herd had just 30 cows, which graze 180 acres together with 150 head of sheep.
Both units are self contained and effectively 'closed' to outside diseases and contacts. The herd lost 7 cattle.

The Beef Shorthorn breed lost 7 individuals from its dwindling genetic base.

The owner has explained in a letter to Mr. Bradshaw that "to fence the farm would involve 6 miles of fencing which would have to accomodate public footpaths and roads, and even if this were possible, as a member of the local badger protection group, it is not what she wanted for 'her' badgers". Restricted food and water supplies would effectively starve the members of 4 setts which surround her farm.

So she has asked Mr. Bradshaw for his advice.

The authors of this site offer no comment on that course of action, other than to commend her optimism.
But we would point out that as the Minister's answers to PQ's have shown, he knows exactly what the problem is, and how to solve it. We have reminded readers of Ben's answers on numerous occasions, and will continue to do so.

He knows that the Clean Ring strategy worked.
He told us "no other contemporous change was identified" other than a thorough clearance of infected badgers at Thornbury, which kept the cattle clear for over 10 years.
He confirmed the infectivety of badger's urine at 300,000 units of tb bacteria in just 1ml. And he told us just how little was needed to infect a cow - even a rare breed Beef Shorthorn. Just 70 units or 0.03ml. or a sniff from an inqusitive cow.

Our Ben confirmed how long the bacteria can survive in setts, on grassland and in cattle sheds - some of this excellent work being done by the lovely Elaine King.
And although he is still awaiting (hiding behind?) the 'science' of Bourne's Krebs' trial, he confirmed that the traps used in the trial only accounted for 80 per cent of their target group, and often as little as 30 percent.
But although Ben seems happy to cough up taxpayers' money mending the 57 percent of traps that have been damaged and replacing the 1827 that have gone AWOL, he's a little less eager to compensate farmers - even for rare breed genetics - when their cattle encounter m.bovis in badger pee. He's pegged the compulsory purchase budget for the next 2 years, despite expecting 20 percent per annum increases in dead cattle. (It's up 25 percent actually, but our Ben insists it's down 14 percent).

His accepts that his policies have rendered cattle farmers uninsurable.
He tells us that bTb is endemic in badgers - even those moved around the countryside under a code of practise that "Defra neither drew up nor approve of", from 'sanctuaries' , the location of which he neither knows. (nor cares?)
He confirms that the live badger test is rubbish with low sensitivity on a negative result.
And finally he tells us that yes, we have an epidemic of Tb raging through our cattle herds.

Is anyone surprised?

So having answered 538 Parliamentary Questions on bTb, (archived on this site) the Minister for Conservation and Fisheries knows exactly what to do to sort out the problem. And having lost a quarter of her small herd of rare breed Beef Shorthorns to bTb, even as a member of her local badger group, so does their owner.

Farmers - including the owner of this small herd - value a balanced ecology, which includes healthy badgers. But the badger has been awarded so many 'rights' there are not enough left for the rest of that ecology - in this case rare breed Beef Shorthorns - so will our Ben, answer the lady's question, and offer his 'advice'?

Don't hold your breath.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

The cost of Apathy

While the Minister for Conservation and Fisheries was on his holidays, his department (Defra) released bTb figures for the first 6 months of 2004. Remember our Ben's announcement in May, reported on this site, that bTb was down 14 percent? And remember that we told you that it was not. It was actually up 25 percent.

Defra's figures for Devon & Cornwall show that in the first six months of the year 1150 herds were subject to movement restrictions compared with 1500 for the whole of 2003 (which Defra had explained was still a catch up year after FMD)

Farmers are not surprised, and say they see no end to the drip feed of infection from infected badgers.
Tony Yewdall who has lost 89 pedigree Island Guernseys is quoted as feeling "completely helpless" at the onsluaght and in not being able to protect his cattle or his business.

But a Defra spokesman is reported as saying that the figures could change and it was difficult to identify trends from them. Really? How about UP.

At the end of the Clean Ring strategy in 1986, just 638 cattle were slaughtered.
After 10 years of 'Interim strategy' when everything the Ministry knew about bTb control was sanitised by copious donations and loud protests from single species activists, the figures crept upwards to 3,760 in 1997.
But after the £1 million dropped into Tony Blair's lap by PAL (the Political Animal Lobby) all badger control was stopped and guess what? We are now faced with slaughtering 30,000 cattle a year. But Defra have employed a Compensation Accountant (see recent post on this site) and are still hiding behind the diminutive John Bourne and his Kreb's 'trial'. (archived on this site).

Once again this site is indebted to Mr. Bradshaw for confirming in his PQ's (that "bTB is endemic in badgers" and that "under current strategies it will not be eradicated from cattle"

There are more votes in a dead badger than a dead cow.

A New Vintage?

Badgers eat earthworms.
True, but they are omnivourous, intelligent opportunists when it comes to diet.

A few years ago a group of badgers gave villagers in Somerset a taste of 'animal rights' when they partook of hamsters, pet rabbits and guinea pigs. After much red tape, and children's tears over their munched up pets, a license was granted and the badgers were moved to Exmoor - to the delight of farmers up there.

In 'Badger Heaven' - otherwise known as Woodchester Park in the Cotswolds, Dr. Chris Cheeseman and his team feed them peanuts by the tonne to check they 'habits' and 'movements'. I don't know about you, but if meals-on-wheels came to my door, I wouldn't have to go out and fetch any groceries.

A wildlife park in Staffordshire has the same tactic with peanuts, but charges the public a few £'s to view the herd - or is it flock - of badgers that trundle up to munch them. One local farmer tried to make hay of a field near the park, and was puzzled when the grass didn't grow and was flattened every morning.
He sat up and watched. Sixty eight badgers crossed it - and came back - en route for a peanut feast.

That's one for each cow a neighbouring dairy farmer lost in a Tb breakdown.

But with a hungry population at saturation point, badgers in West Cornwall are causing problems for a different type of farmer. They've developed a taste for grapes and are stripping the vines in Cornish Vineyards.

Farmers report that to a height of about 3 feet they have no grapes. Not one.

We hope they haven't coughed on the rest.
Vintage Tb?

A New Kid on (Defra's) Block

We are reliably informed that Defra have appointed a new face to their TB team. No, not a wildlife specialist in population management, this person is a genuine 'bean counter'.
An accountant - or to be more precise a 'Compensation Accountant'.

This site has already described the dubious 'benefits' of having a cattle herd under restriction for Tb. But the inevitable result of a static and highly infective wildlife maintenance reservoir, has increased cattle slaughterings beyond even Defra's 20 percent / per annum prediction and brought the Tb budget to the attention of the Treasury.

In evidence to the EFRA committee earlier this year, our Ben, Mr. Bradshaw said he was determined to hold the budget down to last year's level of £31 million. (That's just the bit that farmers are paid you understand, not the other two thirds). His first foray into this was to sort out the valuers, and last week a new system of valuations was introduced. No longer could a farmer with Reactors to be 'Compulsorily Purchased' - (We prefer that to the term 'Compensation') choose who valued them. Defra or in this case, the local SVS office would appoint one for him. But as usual each county SVS office has done its own thing, and while some counties have only a couple of valuers, others operate a huge list with all the world and his dog on it.

We hear that in the first week of this 'system', a 'valuer' actually asked a farmer what he wanted for his cow, after cheerfully announcing that he sold sheep on Wednesday, chickens on Friday and furniture on Saturday and actually knew very little of cattle values! Why are we not surprised?

Some valuers give good value to their paymasters by packing several visits into a day, while others, knowing that only the first visit attracts a premium, make sure that they only do - one visit.

But Mr. Bradshaw has obviously heard the knives rattling at the Treasury, and having told the EFRA committee, (and parliament) that bTb was decreasing at 14 percent (it's not - it's up 25 percent a year) he had to do 'something'. In fact 'something' must be done said the same committte. That mythical 'something' is sounding like an 'A' level English grammar lesson. So our Ben's done it. And his solution has nothing to do with sorting out the disease in the wildlife reservoir, but a 'Compensation Accountant' to 'sort out' (reduce) the cost of killing thousands of cattle.

Would that job creation opportunity have been needed if we only slaughtered 638 cattle as in 1986?
At today's average 'Compulsory Purchase' price that's less than £1 million. And as cattle slaughterings head ever higher, (25 percent / per year over the last 4 years) that pegged £31 million will see some seriously undervalued animals, and some seriously stressed farmers.

The old system of a bog standard 'market price' for the animal and the farmer insuring for the difference in pedigree values is now unworkable, and once again we are most grateful to Mr. Bradshaw for explaining in his parliamentary answers that "The Insurance Industry is not offering new Policies".
What Mr. B. omitted to explain is that any farmer who is lucky enough to have a policy in place has found that it's premium has increased ten fold, while cover is halved, and in the event of a claim, no new cover can be obtained.

This administration has rendered Britain's cattle farmers uninsurable for Tb, and now appointed a 'Compensation Accountant' to make sure they don't overcharge the treasury for the priviledge of killing their cattle.

Will the last cattle farmer in GB turn out the light?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

"In the Absence of a wildlife reservoir......." Gamma Interferon

The use of the Gamma interferon 'Bovigam' test is another 'Holy Grail' expounded by the ISG and enthusiastically endorsed by cohort, Elaine King's NFBG.
It'll kill a whole heap more cows, but will it clear Tb more quickly from a herd?

Pilot schemes are running in Wales, Staffordshire, Cheshire, Hereford & Worcs., and Shropshire.
Defra say they would like to do more.
The ISG say they should do more.

The gamma interferon test was trialled over 5 years in Northern Ireland - Yup that's our bit, part of the UK - and abandoned!
Irish vets described it as follows in the Veterinary Record: "An optimist may say it was 'hopeful', a pragmatist would describe it as 'equivocal'".
They were puzzled at Defra's enthusiasm for a repeat 'trial' on a much smaller scale, particularly as their results were available. (Aren't we all?)
The 'trial' in N.I ran for 5 years and involved 6,500 cattle - but of course not the ISG and John Bourne who are so keen to replicate it.
By the end of February 2004, 88 herds had been recruited for Defra's (repeat) performance in GB.

Our man in NZ tells us that over there it is 'relatively successful' in overcoming the 'latency' of the intradermal skin test, which will not show exposure to m. bovis 30 - 50 days before testing, and may not show up until 7 months afterwards. (7 years in Australia!). In NZ it may shorten the time spent under restriction.
Defra are co operating with NZ on trials, but in the UK there is a 'But', and it's a very big one.

Gamma interferon is a laboratory based blood test which measures immune response to - tuberculosis - and that means any tuberculosis, not just m.bovis.

M. bovis is only one strain of Tb, but the current 'Bovigam' test will also pick up avian Tb, para Tb (Johnnes) and skin Tb amongst others. And therein lies the problem. In NZ they are able to use a single skin jab - they have no avian strains, and an onfarm questionaire weeds out any Johnnes candidates before slaughter.
Over here we kill the lot - only to find that nearly 35 percent - YES 35 percent - are not infected with m.bovis at all. Gamma interferon is only 65 percent specific to m.bovis.

As usual, we are indebted to Mr. Benjamin Bradshaw, the Honourable Member for Exeter for his answers to Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions.
What a pity he doesn't seem to read his answers more frequently...

Parliamentry Question . 8th. dec 2003 Col 218W
Mr. Bradshaw: "The test ..... results in a higher probability of false positives"

Under EU rules it is also secondary to the approved intradermal skin test, used everywhere else with no problems.

VLA (Veterinary Laboratories Agency) confirm that in the case of a big herd breakdown, (sometimes found where testing is on a 4/5 year programme rather than annual) and where confirmed cases may be developing ahead of skin tests, then the gamma-inteferon 'bovigam' test may shorten the time under restriction.
But only, the man said:
"in the absence of a wildlife reservoir to keep reinfecting........."

We are not in NZ, we do have many strains of TB and we do have that maintenance reservoir..

Keep focused readers..

"In the absence of a Wildlife reservoir......." Vaccination.

Parliamentary Questions 25. March 2004 col 989W.

Mr. Bradshaw.
"Evidence from other countries shows that, in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, (of Tb ) cattle controls based on regular testing, and slaughter (of reactors), inspection at slaughterhouses, and movement restrictions including tracing and contiguous testing, can be effective at controlling bovine Tb without vaccination."

So there we have it from the horse's mouth (or at least Mr. Bradshaw's) - no need for vaccination at all.
The Intradermal skin test is just fine and used all over the world in accordance with OIE (Office of International Epizootics) and EU (64/432/EEC) rules.

The difference in the UK is that we do have a ' significant wildlife reservoir', the establishment of which has been encouraged over time by generous donations to both political parties, culminating with £1 million from the Political Animal Lobby to Labour in 1997. This stopped any action whatsoever on infected badgers after cattle breakdowns.
Defra spent £74 million on Tb in 2003. That £1 million was value for money then?

Old Stripey's pretty face also appears on collecting boxes for the majority of the Wildlife Trusts, which isn't much use if you happen to be the only black and white animal actually tested for Tb, and which seems to have escaped PAL's title definition - a cow.

There is however, much faith placed in the vaccination myth, and Mr. Bradshaw is not the only politician to think it will get him off the hook without killing a single badger. (Losing a single vote?)

For the last 30 years, farmers have heard the Holy Grail of 'vaccination' promised within a time scale of 10 / 15 years- and the time scale is the only constant in the whole fairy tale.

M. bovis has 29 different strains and a single jab can only protect against 1 main and a couple of secondary strains. It would be like giving your granny an annual flu jab for Asian flu, when the strain which flies into her Christmas stocking is from Hong Kong.
So which strain do we choose to inject, and just how much protection could be afforded against the overwhelming exposure to m.bovis suspended in badger urine? (300,000 units in 1ml - 30ml voided at a time and just 70units needed to infect a cow)

The regulatory process to process a medicinary vaccination license is as lengthy as it is expensive.
Parliamentary Question 23 March Col 686W, asked how long was the time scale for such a vaccine. The answer (for which we are indebted to Mr. Bradshaw):
"a time scale of approximately 2 years" after its "development, field trials, safety and efficicacy assessments." I think he means we' re back to that elusive 10/15 years again.

We also have to have EU permission to vaccinate. It is no longer our choice.
Meanwhile, the EU tells us that vaccination will not replace the skin test, so any cattle Reactors will have to be blood tested to confirm their status. Are they a Reactor to their vaccination, or a Reactor to exposure to Tb?
That multiplies the cost of testing.

How much is Defra spending on developing a vaccine?
£1.6 million out of the Tb budget in 2003. The budget was £74 million.
(Really important then?).

Has the EU been approached to help fund vaccine research?
Defra applied, but were told "It is a UK problem, and of no benefit anywhere else."
(That's a 'No' then?)

BCG (Bacillus Calmette Guerin) has been tried in both badgers and cattle.
It is ineffective in cattle, but the Irish are trialling it in badgers, using baited chocolate drops.
SVS see a problem with this in the potential contamination of cattle skin tests when (and it has happened) cattle take a fancy to the 'badger chocolate drops' loaded with BCG. That animal will then be Reactor at the next skin test. But what's another dead cow in the interests of 'science'.

In 1986 we slaughtered just 638 cattle.

Keep focused readers : "In the absence of a wildlife reservoir ...."

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Will the Welsh reinstate Offa's dyke?

A report produced by the Welsh National Assembly's Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee was launched this week.

Entitled "New ways to tackle Tb in cattle", it proposed a Welsh Tb action group, and the establishment of 'intensive treatment areas'. Within Tb hotspots, all affected cattle would be removed ( aren't they now??) and if necessary, diseased wildlife as well.

There is nothing 'New' about that idea. It was done very successfully in the 1980's and reduced cattle Tb to just 638 cattle slaughtered annually. Then it was called 'Clean ring' and it worked. And it worked because action was directed at all sources of infection, not just cattle as has been the case since 1997.

In the 'Clean Ring' strategy, if a herd intradermal test found a reactor, the neighbouring farms to a distance of 2 - 3 of miles (7 km) were tested very quickly, to see if the outbreak was due to a wildlife source, and was affecting more than one farm. If it was, then a 'ring' was drawn around the area, and working inwards from farms that had tested clear, the infected badgers were destroyed.
New badgers re populating inwards into the cleared area were assumed to be free of disease - until the cattle tested indicated otherwise.

The interesting conundrum here is that it is our Minister of Conservation and Fisheries, the delightful Mr. Bradshaw MP has final responsibility for Wales as well as for England - (not that he's shown too much concern up to now for the thousands of English cattle slaughtered through Tb, except how much they're costing him).
So will he accept the advice of his Welsh Committee, and let Wales re-dig Offa's dyke?

Will he accept that badgers are the maintenance reservoir of cattle Tb and now the cause of spill over into other wildlife and take 'necessary action' on them as well as the cattle?

Dai Davies, deputy president of NFU Cymru commenting on the 'New' plan, remarked that " It was up to the Minister to activate the Committee's recommendations ".
" If he does not" Mr. Davies pointed out, " what is the point of having a Committee to look into it?"

Mr. Davies, that is precisely the point of Committees, Forums, Stakeholders and Enquiries.
The more the merrier. Throw in the odd scientist or two in need of a research grant, and Ministers can hide behind them ad infinitum and be seen to be doing 'something' while actually doing - absolutely nothing.

A new Offa's dyke? Don't hold your breath.

Monday, August 09, 2004

"Huge reservoir of undiscovered Tb"

" The onus is on those disputing the role of the badger as a significant reservoir of infection, to offer an alternative to this hypothesis"
Dr. Richard Clifton-Hadley. Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
'The Age of Reason'. 1996.

The people Dr. Clifton-Hadley referred to as 'Those' have already targeted Bambi, (see Dear, Dear Deer - archived on this site) but between 1997 and 2002 in 6 years, only 22 cases of Tb were confirmed in wild deer, and 21 in farmed deer by VLA, so Bambi it ain't..

So where is this huge reservoir of undiscovered Tb that is letting the badger of the hook? This site has reported the Irish cattle / cattle trials and their conclusions, but so called 'slaughterhouse cases' are also worthy of a mention.

Every animal slaughtered in a UK abattoir (including all OTM cattle) must undergo an inspection by Meat Hygiene Service personel for amongst other diseases - Tb.

So how many did they find? Thousands? There must be to fuel such an exponential rise in cattle Tb.

In the last 3 years data ( 2000 - 2002) MHS sent away 818 samples for culture.
Out of those, an average of 103 per year have been confirmed as positive.

To put this into context, the average annual kill for beef animals and OTM stock is :
3.1 - 3.4 MILLION animals. (Ref: Intervention Board / Defra Stats. York / HMSO )

So a really big reservoir then? An average of 103 in each of the last 3 years out of over 3 million killed?

And in Mr. Paterson's PQ's, a follow up question on this subject (28th Jan Col 383W) led our Ben to reveal that: "The proportion of Tb incidents detected at slaughterhouses is lower in parishes where herds are tested more frequently, in other words frequent tuberculin testing reduces the risk that diseased cattle are disclosed during slaughterhouse inspection".

Are we to assume from this statement, that most of these slaughterhouse cases are found where Defra least expected them? That is in areas of 4 year cattle testing? Well, well, well.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Testing tales

As we pointed out in the next post, (Relocation / Tb takeaways), the NFBG is on record as accusing farmers of dodging Tb tests. 4700 of them actually. Is it true? Yes and No.

Defra figures indicate an increasing backlog of 'overdue' tests, but only a handful by a significant amount. Some will be requested of farms - with no cattle!
But whose responsibility is it?

Tb testing is totally in Defra's hands.

It will come as no surprise to farmers reading this site that if they request a test, the answer is 'Fine, but you pay'.

Every month, SVS (State Veterinary Service) send a list of herd Tb tests which (they say) are due, to the appropriate LVI vets, who arrange to test the cattle on behalf of the farmers, their clients.
If a farm is not on that list, then no test.
Even if the neighbours are down with Tb, no test unless it's on that list.
Farmers can ( and we know of very responsible ones who have) request an interim test, but the answer from SVS is "Yes you can, but at your own expense. You're not on our list".

Now this could be interpreted as somewhat dilatory on behalf of SVS disease control, plain work overload or a realisation that in fact cattle, even those with a skin reaction to Tb are usually not that infectious (see Irish story - cattle to cattle).

A lovely tale concerns a bull, traced by SVS as needing a check test. The new owner was approached in January for this single animal, and pointed out that he had arranged his herd test for February. After much argument, this was agreed.
The herd including the bull, were tested and all OK. But in April came another missive:

SVS - April "Test your bull"
Farmer: "He's been done, in February".
SVS : "No he's not. Test him or we close you down".
Farmer: "It's your money. Test him again then". (He passed - again)
SVS -June: "We need to test your bull......"

You get the picture? Defra shouts -farmers jump.

If a farm does appear on one one Defra's lists, and fails to test its cattle, then after a warning the herd is placed under movement restriction anyway - as was threatened to the owner of the bull tested 3 times.
But it's Defra's list that is paramount. And it's getting longer.

This site is not exactly going to make the delectable Mr. Bradshaw's day, by reminding him that his department tested 2036 fewer herds and 105,161 fewer cattle in the spring of 2004 than in the same period of 2003, while the incidence of Tb increased.

"But", I hear you say, "Mr. Bradshaw told us Tb was going down by 14 percent".

It is not.

From the spring of 2000, the number of cattle slaughtered has increased by a staggering 149 percent - up 25 percent a year. But new breakdowns (which then require consecutive 60 day tests - adding to Defra's 'list') are on target for our Ben's previous prediction. Up 20 per cent per year.

Not so much a lie, more a 'Ben-ding' of the truth.

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation - Tb Takeaways..

When a cattle herd is diagnosed with a Reactor to the intradermal skin test, the vet carrying out the test issues a movement restriction notice (Article 12 of a TB2 notice) - a standstill - on all cattle on the holding.
From that date, cattle can only move to direct slaughter, or occasionally under strict DEFRA licence to another premises under the same restriction.
The movement restriction continues until the herd has a clear test.

So what about the wildlife?

While the NFBG (National Federation of Badger Groups) accuse farmers 'dodging Tb tests' (more on that later) many Questions raised by Owen Paterson MP, reveal an incredible opportunity for the spread of Tb by the involuntary translocation of badgers. (That's not when they walk into your farm by themselves, but when they arrive in the back of a vehicle, and are released by 'others' in the name of 'animal welfare'.)

There are no restrictions on where 'sick / mended' badgers are released by 'sanctuaries' .

These places are not licensed by Defra, and although they may use a 'voluntary protocol' to release badgers, this is neither drawn up nor approved by Defra.

Animal hospitals are not legally required to test badgers for Tb before release.

There are no statutes preventing the 'relocation' of wild animals - even diseased ones.

Well that's smart isn't it? The cows are nailed to the floor, but these appallingly inefficient cage traps have given the badger activists a golden opportunity. They don't have to catch it and it can't bite. The cage even has a convenient carrying handle and hey presto - a Tb takeaway. Your place or mine?

Describing her work in Somerset at Secret World, Pauline Kidner wrote in the BBC Wildlife magazine (1999) of the difficulties of relocating badgers within the area where they'd been found. (Turfed out?)

" Recent events have led us to question the procedure. (Of releasing them back into familiar territory).
Two badgers were brought to us and treated for fight wounds. After being released, both were returned to us after suffering further and more severe fight wounds. They had to be put down".
"Our rehabilitated badgers when released for some reason not known to us are not accepted back by their own kind. They must be returned to sites unoccupied by badgers".

Your place or mine? Is the landowner consulted? Does he even know?

This elusive 'voluntary protocol' referred to by Defra in PQ's had our Ben getting seriously excited a few weeks ago. Mr. B. thought he'd found the Holy Grail. Test the badgers and only cull the infected ones. Sorted then? Well not really.

The old 'Brock test' has been trundling around for years, in fact another 'trial' was set up in blaze of glory in the late 1990's to test it. It wasn't finished. It failed. Didn't anyone think to tell him?

The Ministry - MAFF ( Defra in another life), knew before they started that the live badger test was rubbish on a supposed negative result, but they had to be seen to be doing 'something', and Mr. Paterson's PQ's teased out the same answers in 2004. Pretty good on a positive, but dangerously ineffective - in fact 60 percent wrong - on a negative result.

Defra say that if used 3 times, the accuracy increases, but if the badger comes from "a population with a background prevalence of infection of 10 percent, then there is a 2.7 per cent risk of the animal still being infected". (26th March 2004. Col 1085W).
Perhaps we'd better ask what happens to the test if the 'background prevalence' is above 30 percent, as in the last figures released. I'm sure someone's worked it out.

SVS (State Veterinary Service) say that when used on a large group the Brock test gives a more accurate result. But Ms. Kidner and Co. are dealing in ones and twos, NOT a large group. And of course the well meaning, but totally misguided people who just pick up a caged badger and release it 'in the wild' use no test of any description.

15,666 cage traps had been 'damaged' in the Krebbs trial. That's 57 percent of them. And 1827 'disappeared'. Were they occupied? Defra doesn't know. But what they do know is that the 'efficiency' - and by that they mean that a set trap actually turns up with a badger inside it - is a maximum 80 percent and can be as low as 30 per cent.

The Krebs trial was supposed to assess the efficiency of culling badgers and was set up in areas of high cattle Tb. But for every 10 badgers they target, the ISG and John Bourne chose to use a capture method that they knew would only account for say half that target?
And that method gives the opportunity for the translocation of Tb - anywhere and to any other species.

You couldn't make it up.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

"UK way behind NZ on Tb control"

A letter from a NZ farmer to our farming press expressed amazement at the lack of control of Tb he was witnessing in the UK.
"You are way behind NZ in Tb control"

He goes on to say:
" We have vector control programmes and we are aware that Tb can effect our export market, so we try to keep it under control."

He then asks:
"Does the UK want to be clear of this disease, or would it rather close farms, and have infected wildlife running free? This might be a great plan for a large 'rural playground' with no farms".

Sometimes it's a salutary lesson to see ourselves as other see us. " A rural playground with no farms, and infected wildlife running free"?. The flaw in this bucolic idyll of course is that tuberculosis, (including m. bovis) is a zoonosis, and as a secondary to such diseases as AIDs, the biggest killer of human beings on the planet. How long before we are the 'spill over' from 'infected wildlife running free'?

Below is a press release from NZ, describing their efforts to control Tb.

Massive Possum kill programme starts.

"A massive possum killing operation in the Hunter Hills, amongst the largest ever undertaken by the Animal Health Board (AHB) has begun.

Work has started laying cyanide bait stations. The programme has funding of $400,000 (NZ) for the first year's work, with this likely to decline as possum populations reduce.

Response from the public has been positive. Any enquiries are dealt with by the contractor.

Initial surveys of vectors ( wild animals known to carry the disease) around the deer herds produced no positive results, but as 2 herds recently tested positive east and west of the Hunter Hills in the last 18 months, the AHB has decided to establish a buffer zone to protect the 1000 cattle herds in the Waimate area, which are considered 'at risk'.

Possums have been targeted as the 'maintenance host'. It is difficult to detect the disease in them, but once established, it can stay there for generations.

At the moment there are 62 cattle herds in Canterbury listed as infected with Tb.
The AHB aims to reduce this number to 7 by 2013, and believes it will do so, provided there are no outbreaks in unexpected areas."

Compare and contrast, as the NZ farmer did, with our non - policy in the UK.
He is wrong however, to think that the UK does not know what to do.

It is not that we do not know, but there are those in power who do not wish to know.
One could describe the UK's non-policy as 'constructive ignorance'.

(see also "Tuberculosis and the .............." archived on this site)

Sunday, August 01, 2004

"Our badgers would therefore starve and die in considerable numbers"

No apologies for returning to Ben Bradshaw's naive and novel solution to keeping badgers and cattle apart. (see Fence 'em Out Fence 'em In & Biogarbage -- on this site)

A letter published in Farmers Guardian July 30th., from a Welsh farmer was scathing in its description of the implications of our Ben's 'desk top' bio security measures, and their effect on its wildlife target which he so obviously values.

"The implication (of electric fences) seems to be that although the farmer is not allowed to (directly) kill a badger, the latter should not come into contact with grazing cattle, so it would be just fine to deprive badgers of the opportunity to forage, albeit thereby starving them to death. Problem (perhaps) solved."

The writer described his farm in West Wales as having boundary banks containing badgers between almost every pasture field. "If I were to fence off these areas, then there is effectively nowhere else for them (badgers) to go, except maybe our neighbours' fields. Problem displaced, but certainly not solved."

"So if our many badgers were successfully confined (at great expense) to their territorial banks they would therefore starve and die in great numbers. Animal welfare has to take wildlife welfare into account ."

Well said. We couldn't have put it better.

Elaine King of the NFBG is reportedly very keen on Bradshaw's brand of 'bio security', with Bourne of the ISG equally supportive. Do they understand the reality?
Starved badgers?

Tb Beneficiaries

Defra's consultation paper to help them formulate their 'new' Tb strategy asked who were the main beneficiaries of their current 'non- policy'.

Predictably opinions were polarised, with organisations directly concerned ( farmers and vets) citing Government and the tax payer, while the NFBG named livestock farmers as the main beneficiary.

Both are wrong. But there's a lot of mileage in this 'polarisation' and in keeping it rolling, a beneficial employment opportunity. Cause a crisis and create a need?

A huge industry has evolved around the exponential and predictable rise of bovine Tb in our cattle herds. What other industry predicts growth of 20 percent a year?. The Tb budget is now in excess of £74 million annually, but in the last couple of years less than one third of that went to farmers for 'compulsory purchase' of their reactor cattle.

60 - 70 percent is absorbed by scientists and universities, laboratories, the ISG and Bourne's Kebs trial, vets and valuers, hauliers and abattoirs, forums and think tanks and ever more 'strategy' consultations.

For the benefit of non-farmers visiting this site, or farmers who are expecting bovine Tb but are not yet involved, we'll itemise the 'beneficial costs' involved in being under restriction. Defra value and pay for a 'reactor' animal, which they then slaughter. The 'restricted' farm is then locked into 60 day testing of all animals, and (with very few exceptions) NO movement of cattle is allowed off the farm except to direct slaughter. This continues until the herd achieves a clear test.
With constant re infection from wildlife the restriction can be indefinite.
The consequential losses for a farm under restriction include:

Testing cattle 6 times / year instead of once (or as directed by Defra). 2 days per week x 6 = 12 days labour for up to 4 people. Up to over 300 hours / year. No charge.

Stress on cattle during confinement and testing. Weight loss on beef cattle, and growing dairy heifers is estimated at about 7 - 10 days each time tested. Six / eight weeks loss of growth in a year. No charge.

Abortions and early embryonic death in pregnant cattle. No charge.

Loss of her calf and breeding value of pregnant cow. No charge.

Extended calving index for dairy herds and barren suckler cows. No charge.

Trauma and even death to animals resisting penning and needles. No charge.

Injuries to stockmen / vets involved in handling these cattle. No charge.

Slaughter of unsaleable calves @ £5 - £7.50 head to knackerman. No charge.

Occasional sale but at much reduced price of calves, under Defra Tb licence to avoid shooting. No charge.

No sale for store or breeding stock or newly calved dairy/beef heifers/ bulls except under very limited Defra license and at much reduced prices. No charge.

No entries into Agricultural Shows or specialist sales for exceptional breeding stock. No charge.

Cancellation of farm sales, delayed divorces, extended farm tenancies. No charge.

Overstocking on home (Tb restricted) holding, extra cattle need extra food, housing and quota. No charge.

Loss of volume and profile bonuses on level milk payments from milk buyers. Up to 1ppl. No charge.

Failure to fulfill suckler cow numbers for EU scemes = penalties. No charge.

Replacement stock, especially with rare or endangered breeds of cattle unavailable. No charge.

Bio security risks of bringing in replacement cattle from other herds to a 'closed herd' under restriction. No charge.

Insurance premiums for Tb up ten fold, with cover reduced by half for exsisting policies. In the event of a breakdown cover will not be re instated, and new policies as rare as hens' teeth. 'Exposure to risk is too great', the man said. Most livestock farmers now uninsurable for Tb. No charge.

Sale of beef to 2 high profile buyers, restricted. "We'd rather not take them". No charge.

Sales of 'green top milk' or unpasteurised cheeses / yoghurts - banned. No charge.

Sales of all raw milk into food chain from 'reactor animals' in just over a year- banned. (As yet detail undefined - see post above) No charge.

And farmers are thought to be 'beneficiaries' of all this?
At an average valuation in 2003 of around £1300 per animal slaughtered - Yup, we're just queuing up to join.

EU to ban sales of raw milk from 'Reactor Animals'

Present laws allow the sale of raw milk from herds under Tb restriction if the product is to be pasteurised.

Different and very serious problems face producers of 'green top' milk and unpasteurised cheeeses. If herds producing for those markets have a Reactor to the intradermal skin test, then their sales are banned. For the farmhouse cheese makers, even stocks of cheese held would be subject to intense scrutiny by HSE and FSA and would possibly have to jump through judicial hoops before any sale was allowed - by which time the cheese would be walking off the shelf.
Raw milk and milk products made from it, has to be produced from herds that are "officially TB free".

Further questions on the subject of milk sales by Owen Paterson MP, teased out a more disturbing answer for producers of any raw milk, which we quote in full:

"The new European Union consolidated Food Hygiene Regulation, which is expected to come into force in January 2006, will not permit the sale of milk from reactor animals for human consumption - including milk that has been heat treated."

The EU is responsible for the majority of agricultural legislation. Defra's role is to implement it. But in comparison with our trading neighbours in mainland Europe, our compliance hoops tend to be smaller and more difficult to jump through.

So how will Defra interpret this little gem and define a 'Reactor Animal' as described by the EU statute?

Will it be a +5 ml Reactor, or an animal which has given an 'Inconclusive' reaction to the skin test as well?.
If the herd is measured under severe interpretation, will the statute include the + 3 ml 'Reactors'?
Or, in the absence of any action whatsoever on the maintenance reservoir in wildlife which is now giving an incessant and pernicious drip feed of infection to herds under restriction, will Defra's definition of this new EU satute, extend to 'expected Reactors' ? In other words will they ban all milk sales from herds which fail the skin test in the expectation of 'more to come'?
Knowing from past experience the zealousness with which Defra gold plates and tinsel wraps every European word, the dairy industry has a right to be worried.
And as the numbers of cows involved in herd breakdowns is now into very large numbers rather than an odd 1 or 2, what the hell do we do with their milk whose pollution potential exceeds that of silage effluent?

This statute comes into force in just over a year.

We'd better ask Mr. Bradshaw.