Sunday, October 17, 2004

Herding Cats

Forgive the exasperation in this post.

Herding cats would be easy compared with trying to get politicians to work together - even those (supposedly) of the same political persuasion.

Last November, Owen Paterson MP, a member of the Conservative Shadow Agriculture team, in the face of an exponential rise in cattle tb, set himself a fact finding mission concerning all aspects of bovine tb, the results of which are archived on this site. He has asked 538 Parliamentary questions which delve into cattle, badgers and other hosts: vaccination, skin tests and gamma interferon: Krebs and other trials and the effect of tb on badgers' health and welfare. Mr. Bradshaw's answers, for which we are most grateful, are archived as well.

But now is the run up to general election, and MP's - particularly heavyweights - are being wheeled out to constituencies for a vote catching exercise. Anywhere from Cumbria to Cornwall, they will encounter rural concern about bovine tb, and on this site which has s its base the 538 PQs and answers, they have the opportunity to research and obtain solid information about the problem.

Do they look? No.
Have they consulted the author of the 538 PQ's? No.
Will they jump in with wild statements and make a bad situatiuon worse? Absolutely.

Shadow Minister Jim Paice was reported in the Western Morning News last week, with banner headlines;

"Shadow Minister's Call for Badger Cull".

Well done Jim. This site is calling for 'wildlife management' on all bovine tb vectors, because by now the problem has spilled from the endemically infected badgers (Ben's words in PQ's - not mine) to deer, foxes, domestic cats and even to human beings.(see comment archived on this site). Our aim is a sustainable, balanced ecology with healthy badgers and healthy cattle. It's Tb we want to 'eradicate' not any particular species. (Politicians? - now there's a thought.)

That headline was a cheap soundbite - but it gets worse.

"We need" says Jim, " to bring forward the use of the Gamma Interferon test for Tb in cattle. It is more accurate than the current (skin) test and would reduce the number of cattle slaughtered".

The hell it would.
Cattle in Wales and the West have had so much exposure to m.bovis in their environment from badgers, that almost 70 percent would show positive antibodies say VLA - and that's without the avian and skin tb that the test will also flag up.
But Jim Paice MP, the new Shadow Minister is questioning the intradermal skin test, and proposing to kill less cattle with gamma interferon? In your dreams Jim.
Your 'soundbite solution' has already been covered in PQ's from your colleague Mr. Paterson, answers to which are confirmed by Mr. Bradshaw, and which we quote in full below;

8 Dec 2003 Col 218W (141968)
Mr. Paterson. To ask how long the current Tb skin test has been in use?
Mr. Bradshaw. The tuberculin skin test has been compulsory since 1950. This is the test prescribed by the OIE (Office of International Epizootics) for international trade, as well as under EU directive 64/432/EEC.

30th Jan 2004 Col 540W (150492)
Mr. Paterson. How many countries use the current skin test and how many have reported problems with it?
Mr. Bradshaw. All countries that have either eradicated or have programmes to control bovine tb use one or more forms of the current skin test.

8th December 2003 Col 218W (141969)
Mr. Paterson. Has the Secretary of State any plans to replace the current Tb skin test with a more accurate and sensitive test?
Mr. Bradshaw. The gamma interferon test was officially recognised by the EU in July 2002, but only as a supplement to the SICCT (skin test). The (gamma interferon) test is considered more sensitive but is less specific, meaning that it results in a higher probability of FALSE POSITIVES.

23rd March 2004. col 697 W (158363)
Mr. Paterson. What assessment has been made of why the gamma interferon test achieves sensitivity of 60 -65 percent in UK trials, compared with Australia?
Mr.Bradshaw. The gamma interferon pilot currently running, has not been designed to assess the sensitivity of the test, and no comparisons can be be drawn with trials run in other countries.

25th March 2004 col 989W ( 159061)
Mr. Paterson. What assessment has been made of the need for a) vaccination of i) cattle and ii) badgers and b) other measures to control the incidence of Tb in cattle herds?
Mr. Bradshaw. Evidence from other countries shows that in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, cattle controls based on regular testing and slaughter, inspection at slaughterhouses and movement restrictions can be effective at controlling bovine tb without vaccination (or gamma interferon? )

Owen Paterson has teased all these points out of reluctant Minister, only to have his colleague in the Shadow Agriculture team stumble through the lot, on a vote catching excercise for a new Tory-Boy in North Cornwall.

Did I say herding cats? That's simple compared with getting politicians to talk to each other.
Cheap sound bites are so much easier than solid research. But long term they are destructive, demoralising and of little value to those of us trying to block the rat holes down which our current Minister of Conservation and Fisheries would like to keep scuttling. Well done Jim - and welcome to the team.

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