As Parliament re-assembles after its hols, and our Ben rolls up his shorts and puts away his bucket and spade, that elusive 'something' has reared its head again.
Pre movement intradermal testing is we're told, on top of Defra's agenda.
Its value in disease control limited, its application horrendously difficult but politically, our man can stand up and be seen to be 'in control' by doing - 'something'.
During the spring consultation period for Defra's 'New Tb Strategy' (when ordinary people were elevated to the rank of 'stakeholder', and made to feel important - so that Defra could do 'something' and then say they had 'consulted' on it), the idea of pre movement cattle tests received a mixed reception. The NFBG supported it, farmers said 'not a chance until Defra act on those little black and white Tb takeaways' (see Relocation, Relocation on this site) and vets and SVS staff pointed out its flaws as follows:
1. The latency of the test will not show exposure to Tb 30 - 50 days before testing, so that period + the 8 week window originally proposed for selling gave almost 4 months of potential exposure which would not be covered. They described it as a 'placebo with little value in disease control' which would give buyers a 'dangerously misplaced sense of security'.
2. The skin test is designed as a herd test, and as such is very accurate. It is less accurate on a single animal, unless that animal is tested several times, when sensitivity reaches 100 percent. And we are of course, most grateful to Ben for the answers to that point from Parliamentary questions (archived on this site).
3, Most farms who are able to 'trade' stock do so on a weekly basis, from calves (which may be exempt) through store stock, breeding stock and milking cattle of all ages and animals for slaughter.
Even excluding calves and slaughter stock, that adds up to a whole load of tests in a year. Can the system cope? Vets and Trading Standards officers at the meetings said they could not, while Auctioneers described it as their 'worst nightmare'.
But in the interest of assuring his master that he is doing 'something', our Ben looks set to introduce it.
So what would be valuable?
This site will always give credit where credit is due, and the lovely Elaine of the Battersea Bunny Huggers (NFBG) has suggested that farmers get assistance to create dedicated isolation facilities for Tb testing of individual cattle.
That's better than getting a degree on researching "The Risk to Cattle from Exposure to mycobacterium bovis in Badger urine" and then spending the next 20 years making a living denying there is any risk, but we digress.. Yup Tb isolation units, good idea. We like.
Farms already have isolation facilities as part of the rules of supermarket fan clubs - sorry Farm Assurance schemes, so maybe an (NFBG approved) upgrade would do, bearing in mind that if a bought in animal was not confined to dedicated isolation facilities, then its positive test could bring the whole herd under restriction.
We understand that post movement tests would need a new statute for Defra to enforce it, while pre movement can be done under existing legislation. But why that should be a problem we cannot see.
The sweeping powers of the new Animal Death Bill, plus Part 2, Section 21 of the Civil Contingencies Bill which proposes 'regional co ordinators' with extraordinarily loosely defined powers to do - exactly as they like, regardless of parliamentary statute and any pretence of 'democracy' could elevate the State Veterinary Service to 'Heil Defra'. Problem solved.
But as our Ben treads water by pretending to do 'something', while doing absolutely nothing of value "In the absence of a wildlfe reservoir ....." all of it is of course, totally unecessary. Keep focused readers.