Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Changes to Defra's 'disease control'.

Farmers with herds under Tb restriction will notice several changes to Defra's procedure this autumn.

We've mentioned the new 'valuation' form - BT 1 (Rev. 7/04) which requires a signature from the owner of cattle to be Compulsorily Purchased BEFORE valuation. When the valuer (whom he cannot now nominate) has pronounced sentence, having signed the form, the owner has no right of appeal.

Even this cursory type of valuation we suspect will be 'culled' after Christmas as Defra's new Banding system comes into force, after the usual cursory 'Consultation' excercise. SVS field staff say that they do not expect to implement the new system on farm - which leaves a YTS on minimum wage to tick the appropriate boxes.

This is what he / she will have to work with:
(Only a proposal at present - comments by Christmas Eve)

Male or Female. (That shouldn't give too much trouble - or will it??)

Beef or Dairy. (Could be tricky on dual purpose breeds)

Pedigree or Non Pedigree.
(We have been told that Breed Societies are not accepting new member's cattle for registration if those animals are already under Tb restriction. New herds can only be accepted and registered when clear. The new form BT 1 excludes grading up animals from 'pedigree' prices . They will be classed as 'non pedigree'. So Defra have cottoned on to animals for the 'chop' becoming ' pedigree' in an afternoon, using unclassified data)

Age. Under 2 months.
2 - 10 months or 2 - 12 months.
10 - 18 months or 12 - 24 months.
over 18 months or over 24 months.

Pregnant or non pregnant aged 18 months / 24 months or over.

Calved, with or without calf at foot.

This age banding appears too wide to be accurate.

In further cost cutting measures, Defra are relying totally on BCMS (British Cattle Movement Service) identities and not attaching their own uniquely numbered 'Reactor Tags' to animals once identified, inspected and valued. (We reserve comment on this one.)

The Cleansing and Disinfecting notice normally handed out at the same time as notice of intended slaughter, is now 'discretionary', depending on Post mortem findings. Only if open lesions which SVS consider capable of onward transmission are found, will a form be issued.

It has been wryly pointed out to the editors that given the amount of m.bovis bacteria being plastered across cattle grazing areas, feeding troughs and buildings by infected badgers, should farmers take the C&D notice literally, they would fall foul of the Environment Agency for polluting the whole area with highly toxic chemicals!

A most extraordinary response to a highly infectious zoonosis.

Kill as many cattle as you like Mrs. Beckett, but that bacteria is still there - and it's coming to a farm near you.

The Return of the Hedgehog.

In a letter to the Veterinary Record , Gerald. C. Coles from the Department of Clinical Science, University of Bristol has pointed out :

"A balance needs to be struck between badgers - omnivores with no natural enemies - and the hedgehog. It will require reducing badger numbers if hedgehogs are to return to rural gardens and countryside"

We agree.

Farmers within the cull areas of the Krebbs trial, have noticed that where a reduction in badger numbers has been achieved (and that is not always the case, given the appalling inefficiency of cage traps) a few hedgehogs are returning. Some have remarked that they hadn't seen hedgehogs around the countryside in years.

Not so lucky are the bumble bees and wood wasps whose nests were summarily destroyed in July / August (see If you go Down in our Woods Today - archived) .

Totally dependant on spring pollen collection for building the nests in which they should have spent winter, after the destruction by badgers of this habitat in mid summer, the raw material used for building is short on the ground - or in this case in the flowers. Our wild bees, bumble bees and wood wasps didn't make it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Throwing her Teddies?

The Veterinary Record (Nov. 6th) carried an extremely long letter from Elaine King CEO of the NFBG, castigating veterinary practitioners and scientists who had dared to question the role of the badger in the spread of bovine Tb. Well she would, wouldn't she? It would hardly be conducive to her continued employment if she told her sponsers the truth.

We quote a few gems:

"Cattle movements after FMD are spreading Tb around the country at an alarming rate".
A few maybe, and we have no problem with a post movement test for breeding stock. But farmers whose herds were culled out with FMD noticed a significant change in their wildlife. The badgers moved on. They packed up and trundled off to find the nearest (live) cattle, being 'parasitic' on cattle 'habitat richness' for their survival. But that territory was already occupied, and farmers observed the very 'pertabation' that is blamed for spreading Tb among badgers. They scrapped and fought for space and territory, and when the farmers restocked, the badgers who moved back were a very sorry sight. And they brought with them - Tb.

"Sensitivety of the skin test is relatively low; many herds probably permanently infected"
That is the same skin test approved by OIE (Office of International Epizootics) and used all over the world? We haven't suddenly abandoned that and dreamed up another one? No, we haven't and as Mr. Bradshaw said in his answers to Parliamentary Questions (archived on this site) "In the absence of a wildlife reservoir (of Tb) the skin test is all that is necessary as a diagnostic tool . Its sensitivety is 96 - 99 percent".
What do they say about bad workmen and tools?

Matthew 3's herd has been under restriction for 4 years now, and has had a drip feed of infection from that wildlife reservoir so vehemently defended by the lovely Elaine - badgers. Tb has only been confirmed in 3 cases out of 40 animals slaughtered, as the intradermal skin test every 60 days is picking up exposure to m.bovis prior to lesions developing. The skin test is good as a herd test but not so sensitive on a single animal - unless as Mr. Bradshaw kindly told us, the animal is tested several times, in which case the sensitivety rises to 100 percent. So no problem there Elaine.

"Killing badgers is unlikely to be part of government policy to deal with bovine Tb. It would have to be proven - scientifically - that they were a significant cause of Tb outbreaks.
The 'Reactive' killing of badgers does not reduce the outbreaks in cattle. The cause of this is unclear. "
"I will say this clearly and only once." says Matthew 3 (who is a tad upset at losing 40 homebred cattle)
"Our herd had bought in NO cattle since 1997. That animal was post movement tested, and the herd annually. Badgers got into our cattle buildings, under 4 inch gaps below sheeted gates or through cattle cubicles and then infected feed in a central trough which we had thought secure and vermin proof.
Badgers have caused the deaths of 40 of my cattle and their unborn calves.
The reason that 'Reactive' culling did not work on this farm is:
1) Single-species activists smashed traps, removed traps + their occupants (57 percent of Krebbs traps were interfered with) and trapshy badgers. Only 30 - 80 percent of the target group caught is a pretty poor target but that is the best traps will do.
2) 3 years to ' react' is not what we signed up to the Krebbs charade for. Between June 2000 and May 2003 not a single operative arrived to 'React to the valley's farms which were all under restriction and losing cattle by the lorry load.
3) When they did come, 2 badgers caught on this farm were in appalling condition. One was thoroughly emaciated and the other had a huge abcessed bite wound in her back - dripping pus.
M. bovis did not fly in with the man-in-the-moon. It was badgers who infected my home bred cattle, not deer, foxes or other cattle. Other cattle they can see a mile away, and they can hear them. (Perhaps a 'trial' on whether m.bovis can be transmitted through the ears through listening to bulls--t?)"
Matthew 3 is very angry.

"The ISG has re-analysed data from previous government badger culling operations and found no evidence that badger culling had any impact on Tb in cattle"

We answer this with a quote from Parliamentary Questions:
Q. What effect did the clearance of badgers at Thornbury have on cattle TB?
A. No reactors were found in the cattle for more than 10 years after the clearance, by which time badger numbers had recovered.

Q.What other factors could have influenced the result?
A. No other contemporous change was identified.
Just a thorough clearance of the maintenance reservoir in the badgers. Result? Healthy cattle (tested with the intradermal skin test) and healthy badgers (as shown by sentinel testing of cattle)

"Proactive badger culling would be relatively costly (Not as costly as 30,000 dead cattle and a predicted budget of £2 billion over 10 years NOT clearing Tb) Policies involving zoning and vaccination appear to provide benefit at low cost"
Progressive non-policies have created a beneficial crisis, and given much needed work to many.
'Clean ring' culling of badgers around Tb outbreaks resulted in just 638 dead cattle per year 15 years ago. Would that have spawned such an industry? We think not.
Drawing a line on a map, i.e 'Zoning' is a heroic gesture, but badgers can't read and as the red zones of infected parishes now spread from Cornwall to Carlisle isn't it a little late? The idea was tried with bees and the verroa virus. Unfortunately the bees flew over the line and it had to be moved - and moved - and moved.
The Holy Grail of vaccination is still years away, is unlikely to protect against a multi strain bacteria (30 in badgers , 16 in cattle) and with the potency of a super excreter badger would not protect at all.
He is the original WMD.

"Pre-movement testing, cattle movement controls and gamma interferon would revolutionise the detection of Tb in cattle"
Detecting Tb isn't the problem. Dealing with the cause apparently is.
And the NFBG are arguably the biggest block to this country having healthy cattle and healthy badgers.

"The Treasury will refuse on cost / benefit grounds to invest further resources in controlling the problem"
With that we would agree. The dead hand of the Treasury will cull the cattle valuers about Christmas time and many farmers are uninsurable. From Jan 2005, Russia and the EU have drawn up a bi-lateral veterinary certificate which could isolate this country's produce and EU food Hygiene regulations will ban the milk from Reactor cattle from January 2006 - even if it heat treated.

We note that the references which Elaine uses in her letter are restricted to the magic circle of the ISG or its members, the EFRA committee - which takes evidence from the ISG or Defra - which is hiding behind the ISG and Krebs. The Krebs trial - devised and run by the ISG - had cost the taxpayer £30.5 million to Jan.2004.

And Elaine's thesis - which gained her the doctorate - which would have been helpful in gaining her present employment?
"Factors Influencing the Risk to Cattle of infection with Bovine tuberculosis (mybacterium bovis) from Badgers (meles meles)"

From her letter in the Veterinary Record , one would assume that they posed no risk whatsover.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

More Questions than Answers - EU / Russia

See Post - 'Don't forget your Toothbrush', for list of questions that our man took to Brussels.
He has returned, with some answers and other questions have been shafted to the Tb ( non) Policy team.

We list the answers so far:

1. Define milk 'products'. (and animal products). How far does the cascade go down? e.g Milk Protein concentrate, lactose, whey powder, gelatin etc.?
"To help exporters, Defra is already seeking clarification to this point from the Commission. Once we have the answer, exporters will be made aware of the definition".

2. 4600 farms have been under restriction this year, with a 20 percent year on year increase forcast under current 'policies'. Will that lead to a two tier market in trade? Separate collections of milk? What are the consequences for those under restriction?
"Reply to be provided by Tb policy division".

3. When a farm is placed under restriction following a positive Tb test, what happens to milk / beef already in the chain of supply to EU orRussia?
" To export to Russia, a farm must have been free of Tb at the time of milk collection for the previous 12 months. As soon as Tb is confirmed, an Official Veterinarian cannot sign the Russian certificate"

4. We export a lot of animal products into the EU. do you condiser it would be risky for those importing our products to continue to do so if they wish to trade with Russia?
" Intra community trade will continue as normal, but trade with other Member States for onward shipment to Russia, will have to accompanied by 'pre-export certification' meeting the Russian conditions. (described above)

5. Commission press release (IP/04/1060 dated 2/9/04) describes 'regionalisation' so that a disease problem in any Member state can be 'isolated', so as not to affect the trade of the whole EU. Is there a danger because of our Tb status we may be so 'isolated'.
"Intra community trade will continue as normal.' Regionalisation' deals manily with 'List A' animal disease - not bovine Tb. Further information see OIE site.

6. How can we certify herds free of Paratuberculosis (Johnnes) as we do not test for it?
"A test is available, but the Russian federation only requires absence of clinical signs"

7. What happens to products already in the supply chain?
"Retrospective certification of a manufactured product is not envisaged. Pre-planning will be necessary".

8. What is being done to inform those most affected; dairy companies, exporters and farmers?
" Defra is in contact with Trade Associations and information is available on the Defra web site."

9. Do the Russian dairies, recently cleared to export into the EU meet the same requirements with regard to Tb and other diseases as we have to if we are to export into Russia?
" The EU has model import conditions that all Third Countries have to comply with to import into the community. If the 3 Russian dairies meet these conditions they with be allowed to export to the EU"

10. Do the requirements of the certificate also cover cattle semen exports?
"Not yet".

So there you have it. The two big questions fudged or shafted. On 'cascade' products of both milk and beef, the question is passed back to the Commission. And that usually means - anything they want it to mean.
The two tier market (if indeed there is to be any market for Tb resticted herds?) passed back to the Tb (non) Policy Division, who it might be argued, have got us into this mess in the first place.

For onward export via a third EU country, the ethos of EU inter-community trading is broken, in that the new bi-lateral veterinary certificate accompanies the product from source, and product identity cannot be hidden behind 'added provenance' in another Member state. And 'regionalisation' was specifically referred to in the context of Tb by the Europa press releases, notwithstanding the answer decribing OIE site and 'A' category diseases.

When we receive further information, we will post it.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Back to the Drawing Board - 2

Hard on the heels of Defra's August 4th. revamp of Compulsory Purchase arrangements for Reactor cattle comes yet another change.

Announced on the Defra website 31/10/04 under 'What's New' section is the draft of a Statutory Instrument which will revoke all previous SI's dealing with cattle compensatipon for Tb, brucellosis and EBL, and BSE.

Defra's explanantion notes are predictable:
"The trend is + 18 percent per year"
(But our Ben has told Parliament it was down 14 percent???)

"The Tb budget was £89 million in 2003 / 04"
(It didn't need to be, see Beneficial Crisis etc. on this site)

"Government is determined to tackle the problem..."

So our Dan - Mr. Hackett the Compensation Accountant has come up with a cunning plan, now outlined on the Defra site and in the new draft SI.

Bog standard market value for ALL cattle + a few brownie points for 'enhancement banding'.

And that's it.

The site explains that a Reading University report has found that 23 percent of dairy farms and 35 percent of beef farms actually made a net profit from being under restriction. How they arrived at that little gem is not explained, and the state of farm accounts for the other 70 - 80 percent of farms in their survey, is not explored either. We've listed some of the 'benefits of restriction' on this site but obviously Reading did not take those into account.

As far as we (and the valuers) can see at the moment - and we will stand corrected should we be proved wrong - the new system will take Compulsory purcahse back to the days of the 1980's when this system operated and the farmer was expected to add insurance if he felt that his herd warranted 'enhancement'. No valuers.

The difference now of course is that our Minister for Doing Nothing, has made cattle farmers uninsurable - for Tb at least. "Exposure to risk is too great" as the man from the Pru said.

So bog standard market value it is folks. The average of cattle of that age, sold through local markets in the previous month. A few points (££'s) for pedigree, more for age and state of pregnancy and extra for milk/beef recording schemes. And no valuers for high genetic merit pedigree stock.

And some seriously undervalued cattle.

Back to the Drawing Board - 1

Defra's new bovine Tb automated post system clanked into action last week, with the first run of 'instructions' for herds which fall into its various defined sections.

It is our understanding that this amazing bit of machinery is like an automated vending machine. Put a coin in and press the button for your choice of drink, only in this case press for category of 'official letter' to be dispatched about a herd's Tb status.

Farmers have contacted this site, puzzled and angry to have received a letter threatening a herd close down.
The button had been pressed on Defra's wondermachine, for a 42 day window when the farmer had to arrange for a whole herd TT test, and if he failed to do this he would have an immediate whole herd movement restriction imposed!

What should have been sent, was a letter indicating that a recent TT test had revealed an inconclusive reactor (IR), and in those circumstances that animal (or animals) should be isolated and would be re tested in 60 days!

A really good start then?