Sunday, September 26, 2004

Trials - and tribulations

At the Dairy Event, former president of the BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association) Richard Sibley told his audience that he had asked our Ben, the Minister for Conservation and Fisheries, what would be his goal for bovine Tb?

Bradshaw's slick and slippery reply (Sibley said) was that he hoped "Not to be in the hot seat when a decision had to be made"

Well that's helpful isn't it?

How many 'Trials' does he want? One suspects, as many as it takes to get him the answer he would like.

In the last 20 years, taxpayers have funded several and all showed that if infectious badgers were removed, then surprise, surprise, cattle Tb disappeared. Totally at Thornbury, and by over 90 percent at the others. And don't forget readers, that our Ben (or whoever answered the PQ), confirmed that apart from a thorough clear out of badgers "no other contemporous change was identified". So where has your money been spent?


From 1975 - 1981 in Thornbury, a thorough clearance of badgers gave the cattle a respite until 1992 at least, by which time the badger population had recovered, but could be assumed (by the sentinels of cattle testing) to be relatively uninfected. Thornbury has the advantage of having a reasonably defined boundary in the M5 and M4 motorways and the Severn estuary. Culling in the rest of the country was limited to smaller areas averaging 7sq. km, but after 1986 that area was sanitised to just 1 sq km. The Thornbury report explains that " The removal of badgers from around Thornbury was not conceived as a scientific experiment, but as a means to control the spread of tuberculosis from badgers to cattle". Well it succeeded in that.

Other areas of the country also had a larger badger clearance at around that time, including Hartland in Devon, and Steeple-lees in Dorset, which also gave similar results. We won't bore you with too many figures.

In the Republic of Ireland, the East Offaly 'research' project ran from 1988 - 1995. This one targeted the eastern part of the county of Offaly, had a buffer area around it and used the 5 counties surrounding as 'controls'. During this 'trial' the incidence of cattle Tb dropped from 326 per year in 1988, to just 30 in 1995. A reduction of 90 percent. Not quite as good as Thornbury, but the buffer area was not as secure. When the clearance began in the central clearance zone, a lot of movement was seen as badgers who couldn't read the 'Keep Out' signs moved into the vacant area.

In 1996 following Offaly, further 'trials' began in what was quaintly referred to as Central Removal areas. Sounds like Pickfords doesn't it? These were located in Counties of Cork, Donegal, Kilkenny, and Moneghan, and their interim report in 1999 concluded that "where cattle Tb is endemic, there is no choice but to remove tuberculous badgers". This trial was a Krebs look-alike, in fact Professor Krebs could have saved us all a lot of money by accepting their findings. He went and had a look, then made ours slightly different shape, and christened them 'Krebs'. Although they finished in 2002 and should have reported a year ago, the results have been a tad slow in coming forward. They've been referred to, both by Professor Godfray and now by outgoing Irish Agriculture minister Joe Walsh. Godfray confirmed that he had been briefed on the Four Area trial, and that he " Believed it provided strong support for the presence of bovine tb reservoirs in badgers , that result in cattle infections".

Joe Walsh has said that the extensive Irish badger culling trials prove beyond all doubt that culling badgers reduces the Tb incidence in cattle. Scientists involved in the trial have confirmed (Farmers Guardian) that they have seen a reduction in cattle Tb that mirrored Offaly. Up to 90 percent.

And we have Professor Bourne. And Krebs. Incomplete after 7 years and needing another 3 to finish and report. And a Minister of Conservation and Fisheries who is reported to have said that his aim for bovine Tb is "Not to be in the hot seat when a decision has to be made".




1 comment:

DICKFORTH said...

An old man once told me when I was a young boy, that if I continued to shake the apple tree sooner or later no more apples would drop.What would all these Vets do if we got rid of Tb in the UK??? Makes you wonder why Vets like Mr Sibley dont even mention Badgers in there speeches! or does it!!