Monday, January 03, 2005

2004 – A Most Extraordinary Year

This site has been running for 6 months now, and despite a very narrow and specific brief, has attracted a respectable number of ‘hits’.

Following an exponential rise in cattle Tb after the cessation of all badger culling in 1997, which coincided with a £1 million donation to the Labour party by the Political Animal Lobby, 2004 started with a deluge of Parliamentary Questions on Bovine TB directed at the Minister of Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw. The questions and the Minister’s answers are archived on this site and a preliminary analysis follows:

The badger population in Great Britain is very high. National Badger Survey work which took place in the mid 1990’s estimated 300,000 – 400,000 with a 77 percent increase taking place in that time. Latest research indicates a further doubling of numbers, but onto a smaller area available for sustainable habitat.

Badger densities are highest in the South-west, West midlands, Southern counties and Wales, which exactly coincides with the highest incidence of Tb in cattle.

If there is evidence for association, there is also evidence of what happens when badgers are removed. Prior to the Krebs trials, the Minister confirmed that four large scale badger clearances resulted in a reduction or complete elimination of cattle TB. Thornbury, with action taken on setts over a longer period was the most successful, "with no other contemporaneous change identified that could have accounted for the reduction of in TB incidence with in the area" (24 Mar. col 824W)

Also, "No enhanced biosecurity measures were maintained during the Thornbury badger clearance programme" (25th Mar Col 989W) and "no confirmed cases of tb in cattle in the area were found in the 10 year period following the cessation of gassing" (28th Jan Col 385W) while badger numbers recovered to pre gassing levels.

The method of transmission of M. bovis between the two species was explored with questions on most common site of cattle lesions and infectivety/longevity of badgers with TB. Most common in cattle were respiratory tract lesions, followed by lymph nodes, which suggests that the most likely source of infection is inhalation, or ingestion followed by inhalation. (28th Jan Col 379W)

Badgers infected with M. bovis may excrete the organism in both urine or faeces, and they also transmit through sputum and pus from abcessed bite wounds. Although faeces tend to be deposited in latrines, urinations take place at pasture, trail up to 3m long and can contain up to 300,000 units of bacteria in 1ml of urine. 30ml is voided at a time, and while cattle will avoid faecal deposits they will sniff urine.

M. bovis is relatively resistant to U/V rays when suspended in badger urine, and if only partially eliminated can repair damage to cell walls.

The Minister confirms that not only can M. bovis survive for up to 6 months on pasture land, and longer underground (3oth Jan Cols 542W – 543W), the minimum infectious dose via respiratory tract is just 70 CFU (Colony Forming Units). Badgers have been known to survive for up to 8 years, while shedding m.bovis. They can maintain body weight and rear cubs during that time and are a most successful maintenance host for the bacterium.

The number of badgers testing positive for TB has been steadily rising (28 Jan Col 380W) and by 1997 had reached 24 percent. The minister confirms that Tb is now endemic in the badger population (30th Jan Col 538W)

Despite its increasing numbers, evidence of association with the transmission of TB, an increased proportion of infected badgers, and an ‘epidemic’ in cattle, the minister has no plans to remove the protected status from badgers. Compare the pathological eagerness to destroy in a contiguous cull, animals adjacent to infected herds with FMD, with Bradshaw’s refusal to include contiguous infected wildlife in any plan for the control of bovine TB.

Despite knowing of the onward transmission from an infected sow to her cubs, (29th Jan Col 485W) no effort is made to prevent this reinfection, nor the prevent recolonisation of infected setts (20 Jan col 1186W).

Further to that, the Minister is happy to confirm (20th Jan Col 1186W) that no controls exsist to register badger sanctuaries or 'hospitals' and no provision to oversee their relocation of badgers - merely "a 'code of practice' neither drawn up nor approved by Defra".

Our Minister of Conservation and Fisheries culled in the region of 25,000 cattle, spent (wasted?) over £74 million of taxpayer’s money and despite ( very reluctantly) answering our questions proved that he has a uniquely one sided way of treating a highly infectious zoonosis.

As we said – 2004 proved to be an extraordinary year.

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