Sunday, February 27, 2005

13 Million cattle movements cause Tb - Dr. (Flat Earth) King

In a response to the letter signed by over 300 vets and professors addressed to Margaret Beckett last week, Battersea's badger champion has galloped into print again with a response - which in the interests of fair play, we shall highlight on this site .

"The vets leading the campaign to kill more badgers are calling for a policy that some of them created in the 70's.
They certainly are. Badger culling protocols prior to 1986 were gassing followed by the 'Clean Ring' strategy 1982- 86, whose mean area of operation was 9 sq km., working outwards from an outbreak of bTb until it reached 'clean' badgers and clean sentinel cattle. And the result?
In 1986, before pressure from 'animal welfare charities' intervened, the UK had 'Tb free' trading status, only 88 herds under confirmed bTb restriction and an annual cattle cull of 683.
We also had fewer, but healthier badgers.

"The government's own Independent Scientific Group has shown that this policy failed to deliver a reduction in bovine Tb"
Our colleague on this site - the one with the 'ology - hasn't christened the lovely Elaine 'Dr. Flat Earth King' for nothing. "failed to deliver a reduction in bTb" the lady says. In 1981 we slaughtered 1011 cattle as reactors to bTb skin tests, but in 1986 it was down (not up) to 683. That to me is a 'reduction', but from then on it certainly was 'downhill' all the way as progressive sanitisation of protocol made disease control in the round impossible. Cage trapping replaced gassing, and land available for that was reduced from 7 km to just 1km, and then only on land cattle had grazed.

" The vets claim that the Thornbury trial in the 1980's proved that killing badgers was effective. Yet the trial has statisical weaknesses".
And your point is???
Dr. (Flat Earth) Elaine doesn't name the weaknesses, but in answers to Parliamentary questions archived on this site, when asked if anything else could have influenced the result of 100 percent clearance in cattle Tb for at least 10 years at Thornbury, our Ben replied "No other contemporous change was identified - except a thorough clearance of badgers".
Define weakness.

"For evidence that killing badgers doesn't work, look at Ireland"
Yup. We have. And the result? 96 percent clearance in East Offaly 1n the early 90's, followed by up to 96 percent reduction in cattle Tb in the 4 County Trial results released a few weeks ago.

"The recent outbreak in the Furness peninsula has been traced, by genetic analysis to cattle imported from the traditional Tb hotspots in the SW. The disease has spread from cattle to deer, an entire herd of farmed red deer sourced from the Furness peninsula had to be shot in 2002"
Our information is that the Cumbrian strain was in fact - Cumbrian. On basic spoligotyping it appears similar to the strains in the SW, but further investigation using VNTR methos (Variable Numbers of Tandem Repeats) confirms it is Cumbrian.
But if it was not, then a post movement test of breeding cattle would have prevented any spread. And if the deer were riddled in 2002, then this disease had been fermenting happily un tested for some time. We are getting reports of a lot of dead badgers in the Kendal area of Cumbria at the moment by the way.

"300,000 badgers in this country. Badgers do not move all over the country"
Parliamentary Questions give the estimated badger population in the mid 90's as '400,000', and the latest report indicated that had nearly doubled. And do badgers move? Not voluntarily they don't. But we are aware of unauthorised, irresponsible, downright daft, translocation of caged badgers, in a futile attempt at 'remove ' and 'rescue' by activists, sanctuaries and others. How many cages disappeared during Krebs? Almost 2000. Were they occupied by little Tb takeaways? Do those removing them either know or care?.

"The real problem is the vast reservoir of Tb in the cattle, The figures speak for themselves. 10 million cattle and 13 million recorded movements in 2004."
Jumping all over the place then weren't they? Err - no actually.
The movements that matter are breeding stock going into herds not under regular testing.

In 2004 , of those 13 million (alleged) movements, (more on that figure later) 22,975 were 'OFF' movements of cattle destined to be shot as Tb reactors. Another approx. 3.6 million were slaughter cattle either for meat of the OTM scheme. And every animal moved directly farm to farm incurs 2 movement records with BCMS, 1 OFF and 1 ON. If that animal 'moves' via a market the recorded 'movements' double up to 4, 1 Off farm, 1 ON market, 1 OFF market and 1 ON purchaser. In answers to Parliamentary Questions Defra estimated any pre / post movement testing could apply to 2.8 million animals.
"13 million " the lady said - or wrote. Defra's latest offering, the March 1st. 2005 Strategy 'framework' quotes CTS figures for 2003 (p.60) Movements ON to farms out of a total of 9,316,000 movements logged (and that's a lot less than 13,000,000) were 3,663,000 from which Defra estimated (as we have already pointed out) that 2.8 million may need pre / post movement testing.
Alistair Campbell would have been proud of this one. 2.8 spun out to 13 million.

"Vast reservoir of undiscovered Tb"
In the year to Dec 2004, 389 'suspicious' samples were taken by MHS staff at slaughter of which 178 proved positive - out of a kill figure of approximately 3.6 million animals. So a really huge reservoir then.

"Even localised cattle trading poses a significant risk of Tb transmission. The risk is enhanced by illegal movement of untested livestock. Livestock 'dealer' John Varney was sentenced to 8 months imprisonment for moving livestock while under Tb restriction."
Localised cattle trading, in fact any trading cattle trading is fine as long as the cattle are regularly tested. And one bad apple (Glos. dealer) is not enough to explain the exponential increase in cattle TB particularly in herds belonging to farmers who have not bought cattle in, or if they have, had taken the precaution of having them post movement tested.

In the interests of continuity and bearing in mind that if one says a thing often enough, many will believe it, from now on we shall refer to Dr. Elaine as Dr. Flat Earth King.
This in spite of the fact that her excellent thesis - "Factors influencing the risk to Cattle with Bovine Tuberculosis (mycobacterium bovis) from Badgers (meles meles), is the basis of much quoted research into bTb transmission.

Such a pity she's spent the last 20 years denying it.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Krebs "Ecological Survey" - £1.48 million

In a Parliamentary Question 30th January 2004, and answered by the Minister for conservation, Mr. Bradshaw, the ecological impact of badger removal, or badgers living within the ecosystem was posed.
Column 537W 30th January 2004)

"The budgeted cost of the project is £1.48 million, expected date for completion March 2005. Project managed by the head of the team at the Woodchester Park site of the central Science Laboratory" (otherwise known as Badger Heaven)

"What are they on with now?" we hear you ask!

This ecological impact survey is being sited by the Wildlife Trusts as being of 'great importance' to them, and we were told "The Krebs trial is not only about culling badgers you know".

So how detailed is this £1.48 million 'ecological survey'?
Who does it, when and how much time is spent on each area?
How much time is required of the landowner to monitor changes in his wildlife patterns over years?

Several farmers involved in the Krebs trial have told us that a single young graduate stands for 4 minutes on a spot marked X once a year at a given time, and records what he / she hears and sees. And that dear readers is it. One spot in 250 acres or 2500 - a holding anyway. No input required from the landowner to tell how his ground nesting birds, bumble bees and hedgehogs have all gone - but his badger setts have increased 10 fold.

Protocol and methodology are everything to secure a definitive survey.
It could have been useful.

C**p in = C**p out?
And the taxpayer has paid £1.48 million for this bucketful.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Daily Telegraph

The Daily Telegraph also runs with the vet story today, under the headline: "Despairing' vets call for badger cull to tackle TB"

Written by environment editor Charles Clover, the story is as follows:

More than 350 vets and scientists have written "in despair" to Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, calling for a cull of badgers in areas where cattle herds have been hit by tuberculosis.

The vets say that the total number of outbreaks last year could reach 3,000, a figure they describe as "disastrous", and they criticised the Government's "wholly inadequate" approach to controlling the disease.

Mrs Beckett is expected to outline a new strategy for containing bovine TB next week but the vets, who are backed by the Conservative agriculture spokesman, Owen Paterson, believe this will fall short of culling badgers.

Bovine TB currently costs the Treasury £100 million a year in compensation for the 20,000 cows that have to be slaughtered. The Government now estimates the cost of containing the disease, which has spread to cats and deer, will be £2 billion a year over the coming decade.

An independent scientific group recently reported to Mrs Beckett that a vaccine to control TB in cattle was still a "distant prospect" and said that the value of culling badgers had still to be determined in Government trials, which are likely to go on until 2006.

The trials were set up to investigate whether badgers actively increased the transmission of bovine TB or whether the spread is caused by transmission from cattle to cattle as the animal welfare lobby maintains.

The vets, led by Dr John Gallagher, a retired member of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, said that it is unacceptable to go on using "hopelessly compromised" scientific trials designed by Prof Sir John Krebs, now head of the Food Standards Agency, as "an excuse for inaction".

The vets warned that the "dire" extent of the disease meant that the country's TB-free status was likely to be lost in the near future.
Here, you can see Beckett's stance - as long as she can put off doing anything until after the election, that will be fine. Perhaps we should call her policy: EBA - "Everything But Action".

Western Morning News

In a splash front page story today, headed: "Vets in revolt over Bovine TB", over the strap, "350 vote 'No Confidence' in Beckett", the Western Morning News today ran the following story:

More than 300 vets have written a letter to Defra Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, expressing a vote of no confidence over her handling of the growing bovine tuberculosis crisis.

In the letter sent yesterday, 350 vets in the Westcountry and across Britain called on the Government to agree to a controlled cull of infected badgers, which they say are largely responsible for the epidemic which has affected thousands of cattle.

So bad is the problem, said TB expert Dr John Gallagher, that the disease has spread to other species, including all five types of deer native to Britain and even domestic cats.

The letter stated that current research into the disease was unnecessary and expensive as the link between infected badgers and cattle was proved as far back as the early 1970s.

The vets also refer, in the letter, to the recently published report on the Four Counties Trial, in Ireland, which claims to have proved the effectiveness of controlled culls of badgers in areas where bovine TB is known to exist.

In the letter addressed to Mrs Beckett the vets say: "We write in despair over the present disastrous bovine tuberculosis situation and the wholly inadequate approach taken by your department in controlling the disease."

Leading the protest is TB expert and retired vet Dr John Gallagher, of Lustleigh, near Newton Abbot.

He has been involved in research into the disease since the early 1970s, when Dr Roger Muirhead discovered the first badger with bovine TB.

Dr Gallagher said: "It is extremely frustrating to think that we have all the evidence to prove the link between badgers and bovine TB and the Government still refuses to act.

"As long as badgers are left unmanaged this problem will continue to escalate and before long we will not have a single area without the disease.

"This has become a political issue and one on which the Government will not act ahead of a General Election. They do not want to be seen to be approving something that would lead to killing lots of furry creatures"

"If badgers are left unmanaged these animals will continue to die a long and very painful death."

Dr Gallagher said evidence proved that the disease was being spread by infected badgers through their saliva and urine as they fed on worms on pastures in the late winter and early spring.

He said: "All the evidence shows that the increase in cases tends to be shortly after this time when cattle were being put back out to graze on the same land. Where the badgers have been taken away the problem ceases to exist."

A number of experiments similar to the Four Counties Trial showed during the mid-1970s that after controlled culling of badgers by gassing, there was a significant drop in the presence of the disease, to the point of virtual eradication.

When cattle become infected by the disease farms are effectively shut down, with cattle only allowed to be sold or moved off the farm after they have provided two clear test results, 60 days apart.

But, said Dr Gallagher, the problem would soon return because of the presence of infected badgers.

He said: "We do not want to eradicate them, but there are simply too many of the creatures around now and they are having to fight among themselves for territory.

"We don't discount the presence of TB passed from cattle to cattle. But there are cases arising in farms, which were previously uninfected by the disease, in areas where there are setts occupied by infected badgers."

Dr Gallagher said the rapidly expanding badger population (the badger is a protected species), meant that they were having to fight for land to build their setts.

He explained: "If an infected animal bites a healthy one it will inject the disease with its teeth directly into the body and it will spread much faster."

But while infected cattle were slaughtered, he said the disease was allowed to run its course in badgers.

The Government has already said it will not rule out the possibility of controlled culls.

But it said it would not a make a decision on the matter until the Independent Scientific Group presents its findings in the so-called Krebs trials, which could take at least another two years.

And that, according to yesterday's letter, is time unnecessarily wasted.

The letter stated: "You have already been advised that the Krebs trial set up in selected areas in 1998 has been hopelessly compromised and that also it is a hugely expensive exercise which is most unlikely to yield any valid results. It is thus unacceptable to continue using this trial as an excuse for inaction."

The letter was signed by 350 vets from across the country from Cornwall and Devon to Preston and even London.

Dr Gallagher said: "It is rare that so many scientists agree on an issue like this.

"If the Government does not act soon the Westcountry will be particularly badly hit as it has large badger population and many of them are infected."

Dr Elaine King, chief executive of the National Federation of Badger Groups, said last night: "These vets appear to be out of date and out of the loop. The culling of badgers does not reduce TB in cattle, the research in Ireland does not apply to the situation in Britain. We need to be taking heed of the independent advice."

Miss King blamed the rising incidence of TB in cattle on it being transferred from cattle to cattle, due to the unregulated movement of cattle around the country.

She cited the recent court case of a farmer in Gloucestershire who was jailed for eight months for breaking the cattle movement regulations, after he moved cattle around the country illegally.
As always, Elaine King is in there, blaming cattle for the spread of the disease and discounting the role of badgers. In another life, one could see King being a founder member of the flat earth society.

4000 and Counting

As part of Defra's crack down on the cattle side of bovine tuberculosis, (the only side they are taking any action on whatsover) from February 15th. any routine test which was overdue - even by one day - triggered a movement restriction. Farmers would be given 2 - 3 months prior warning of an impending test, and it was up to them to book the test before the due date with their veterinary surgeon.

We have no problem with that.

But in its first week of operation, an overstretched SVS apparantly 'farmed out' this work to an agency. Up to 4000 letters of restriction landed on farm doormats on Monday morning. Devon alone received 400, and one in particular has been flagged high. Richard Haddock had tested his cattle mid January - but received a movement restriction on February 21st.

Defra's switchboards were jammed, and enquirers told "It's chaos". By midweek, letters removing most of the restriction notices had been filed - and posted to the appropriate addresses.

What part of the Tb budget did that little lot come out of?

Safety in Numbers

It was an impressive sight. Television cameras scanned the signatures of an extensive list of members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and various professors, all standing shoulder to shoulder on the platform of 'wildlife management' and complete lack of confidence in Defra's current Tb non-strategy.

In a letter to the Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett, the signatories detailed concerns, including:
"A wholly inadequate approach taken by your Department (Defra) in controlling the disease"

They reminded the Minister that in 1986, the country recorded only 88 outbreaks, and emphasised "the statutory eradication of tuberculosis has been allowed to go backwards alarmingly, to fast approach the threshold of the 1960's when the hard won 'Tb free' status was achieved."

The signatories pointed that "(The Minister) had already been advised that the Krebs trial set up in 1988, had been hopelessly compromised and that it was also a hugely expensive excercise which was most unlikely to yield any valid results ".

And they reminded her, citing the recently published results of the Irish 4 county trial - which itself mirrored many 'trials' in this country - that "It is thus unacceptable to continue using this 'trial' as an excuse for inaction."

They concluded:"We fully support the field veterinarians of the State Veterinary Service (SVS) who have been prevented from taking any control measures against the primary host of bovine tuberculosis in this country and yet are still expected to control tuberculosis in cattle. Tuberculous badgers suffer a prolonged and wretched death and a quarter of over 5000 badgers tested by MAFF in 1996 - 98, were infected.

For the foregoing reasons, we the undersigned members of the RCVS exhort you to ensure that Defra takes positive steps to properly address the control of tuberculosis in the cattle herds of this country, which of necessity will need to involve the strategic culling of infected badgers".

Over 350 signatories stood shoulder to shoulder and signed this unprecedented expression of 'No Confidence' in the Minister and her Strategy.

And in blue corner - the fragrant Elaine. "What do vets know" she exploded - but looked a tad taken aback as the cameras scrolled down the impressive and comprehensive list of cattle vets who had signed the motion. And then the NFBG 'secret weapon'. A long shot of 40 badgers 'playing' on top of their sett. "Arn't they sweet" she gushed - the implication being "how could anyone kill these?".

Unfortunately cameras were not at the slaughterhouses to record the regularly dispatching up to 200 often heavily pregnant cattle per DAY as reactors to the skin test. Or around to film the dying months of a tubercuous badger - a far cry from the fluffy, anthropomorthic visions of Dr. King and her cohorts in deepest Battersea.

Proposals to Curb Epidemic

Yesterday, veterinary surgeon Dr Gallagher and 350 other vets sent an open letter to the Secretary of State for Defra, demanding immediate action over the growing epidemic of TB.

The Conservative Party has immediately come out in support of the vets with the following statement:

England, Wales and Ireland are in the grip of a major epidemic which the Government predicts will cost £2,000,000,000 over the next ten years, without being cured. Although it may be "invisible", this does not reduce its impact. It is causing massive disruption in the cattle industry and catastrophic harm to wildlife, especially in badgers and deer.

As Dr Gallagher and his colleagues point out, the disease has increased in cattle from 88 herds reported infected in 1986 to an estimated 3,000 last year with no sign of the increase in infection abating. According to the last known survey of badgers, up to one quarter of the adult population is infected with the disease.

If it is allowed to continue, the economic damage to the cattle industry and the nation will be even greater than it is now. The UK will risk losing its international disease-free status, with the result that the export of many dairy and related products will be banned or restricted. Wildlife will continue to suffer and the burden of disease will become overwhelming.

In accordance with the views of Dr Gallagher and his colleagues, therefore, we believe that the Secretary of State of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, can no longer avoid making decisions in the hope of staving off unpopular action until after the general election.

As the countryside is a managed environment and has been so for centuries, we believe that there is a duty to maintain this to a high standard; this includes care and control of the wildlife in it, the density and diversity of which is entirely the result of human intervention.

It is our view that the present policy of non-intervention, which is permitting the spread of Bovine TB in wildlife – in particular in badgers – is an abrogation of the duty of the Secretary of State to manage the countryside, which can no longer be sustained. There is now more than enough evidence to justify taking action.

We agree that we should bear down on the disease in cattle and support the use of pre movement testing. However, the reservoir of disease in wildlife should also be tackled through a structured wildlife management programme:

1. We agree with the vets that the current Krebs trials are compromised. On coming to power we would require all available data to be published and peer reviewed before deciding to continue with the trials.
2. Learning from the recent Irish “Four Counties” trials and earlier trials in England and Ireland, targeted badger culling should be resumed immediately in hotspot areas.
3. The effectiveness of BCG vaccination of wild badger populations should be evaluated.
4. Work should continue with urgency into an effective cattle vaccine.
5. Immediate trials should be launched into the use of PCR technology to detect the disease in badgers, enabling culling to be selective.

Our primary aim will be the reestablishment of effective management of the countryside in the interests of wildlife, the cattle industry and the nation.

We cannot condone spending £2 billion over the next ten years in not controlling this epidemic.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

"'Conservationists' say Beckett and Bennett should Apologise for Tb Spread"

That was the headline of an NFBG press release, timed to coincide with an address to the NFU Conference by Secretary of State Margaret Beckett on Monday 21st. February.

Given the content of the post below, and Dr. Stanton's records of the exponential population explosion in badgers, one might question the adjective "conservationist" when applied to the NFBG. Better describe them as a single species support group which having awarded an omnivourous predator whose numbers now far outweigh any vestige of rarity, 'cult' status, show no concern whatsoever for its victims within the wider ecology. But the delightful Dr. Elaine wouldn't do that, and her press release blames both Defra and the NFU for allowing unrestricted cattle movement as farmers restocked after FMD, to spread bovine Tb to every region of England and into Wales.

Really? Strange that in counties that didn't suffer the carnage of FMD and subsequent restocking, the problem is just as bad. In fact the 7 small hotspots which showed on Defra's maps of 1997 have exploded - and grown to a coast to coast red from Cornwall to Carlisle. They were there (small and manageable) in 1997, but with absolutely no control of the wildlife maintainance reservoir of Tb, have expanded outwards and upwards to become an utter disgrace to all those to claim to have responsibility for these years of non-policy.

We are told that Mrs. Beckett's speech to the NFU consisted of "many words with little content". Vaccuous statements involving more 'research' and 'reviews' - which will certainly take this administration through to the coming election - if not the election after that. But it could be that the good lady will choose to hide behind Ben Bradshaw's skirts and announce any nasty bits from the safety of Page street - rather than to the floor of farmers on the sharp end.

One phrase which seems to be making a regular appearance from both the ISG and Mrs. Beckett, is the "cost effectiveness" of any management of Tb infected wildlife. One assumes that they mean the cost of badger trapping - which may have been taken from the Krebbs' team's antics with less than 50 percent of the target group actually trapped (and those probably the strongest and healthiest of the lot) - and divided into John Bourne's expenses, finally arriving at a horrendous figure of £X thousand per badger. But another way of looking at 'cost effectiveness' if one is highly cynical - as Matthew 5 is after 4 years under restriction with a home bred herd - is the potential 'drought' of drip fed 'donations' into government coffers from so-called wildlife charities if 'management' of populations is mentioned.

Think about it!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

"Total Protection for Badgers - Sense or Sentimentalism?"

In this post we quote from the report by Dr. W. I. Stanton, a former Trustee of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, who has kindly forwarded it for our attention.

"The 'Wind in the Willows' image of the worthy badger, allied with natural revulsion against the cruel sports of badger digging and baiting have resulted in badgers enjoying a degree of legal protection seldom achieved by a single species. The question must be asked: has it a sound scientific basis?"

After observing that in the 1980's badger damage to gardens, property and other wildlife was rare, in the mid 1990's Dr. Stanton undertook a comprehensive and detailed study of badger setts in an area of 4 square km near his village, Westbury-sub-Mendip. He used methodology employed in the 1997 'Harris' survey of badger population.

In this 4 sq km area, Dr. Stanton mapped "21 main setts, some large and complex with as many as 20 entrances: 9 annex setts with fewer but well used entrances: 13 subsiduary setts, frequently but less intensively used and 59 outlying setts, with a few entrances in part time use".

To put this into context, Dr. Stanton quotes the late Ernest Neal who mapped badger setts throughout the British Isles in the 1940's and later, reporting in 1969 "The greatest density ( of badgers) is a broad belt from Cornwall through Devon, Somerset (including the Mendips), Gloucestershire, and the Midlands to the Dee estuary. Badgers were 'very numerous', 'very common', or 'abundant' within this belt, where (this is the interesting bit) just under one sett per square mile was typical".

"The first national survey of badger setts in 1988 assumes that each social group consisted of 6 badgers, using various of these setts. On this basis Neal (1989) reported that in 33 sq km of "excellent badger country" there were about 324 adult badgers (10 per sq km) . However the Harris report in 1997, found evidence that the size of the social groups had increased, perhaps to as many as 8 or 9 adult badgers".

Dr.Stanton applied this basic criteria to his survey of setts and found that on the 1988 terms it equated to 126 adult badgers in the 4 sq km, and in the revised Harris method of 1988, as many as 168 - 189.

This density of 37 adult badgers per sq. km, Dr. stanton compares with earlier descriptions ;

"1 per sq km. in areas of GB where badgers were 'abundant' in the 1940's" (Neal 1969)
"3 per for Somerset as a whole in the 1980's" (Neal 1989)
"10 per sq km. in "excellent badger country" of Milverton. (Neal 1989)

Having noted this huge rise in badgers around the area, Dr. Stanton and his neighbours also noted the disappearance of hedgehogs and slow worms, but other species recorded as having been taken by badgers included bantams, (chicks / eggs) lambs and grass snakes.

Dr. Stanton concludes: "Normally animals are 'protected' when they are rare or endangered. In Britain the badger is neither. Given that man was always the main and since the 1740's the only, predator of badgers in Britain - it is not in the least surprising that when human predation was legally terminated in the 1980's the badger population hugely expanded"

"There can be no doubt that sentimentalism and not sense is the attitude that now, sheltering behind Acts of Parliament that were passed for a different purpose, prevents the rational control of badgers".

"Badgers need to be controlled, like rabbits, rats, foxes,grey squirrels, deer and other animals that easily multiply to the point where they prejudice the well-being or humans or other wildlife - including themselves. Logically control should be a humane cull. Badger numbers should be reduced until they make up a small and respected component of local wildlife, as they did before the 1970's, causing negligible harm to farmers, gardners and the general public and allowing repopulation by those elements of wildlife that the badger has exterminated, in particular hedghogs, slow worms, grass snakes and toads."

"Ideally" Dr. Stanton says "the pre 1973 population of an area should be re-established. One badger social group per 1 sq. km and no setts at all within say, 750 m of human dwellings, or areas of particular importance to endangered prey species such as ground nesting birds"

That sounds pretty sensible - to anyone who values a balanced ecology, and doesn't derive a good living from single species protection.

Monday, February 14, 2005

20 Years of Tb Stats.

The figures for cattle slaughtered and herds under restriction from bTb in Great Britain are now released for 2004, and below we put them in context of policies, donations and non-policies of the last 20 years.

Conclusions can be our reader's own.

1986 - 638 cattle slaughtered :
Less than 100 herds under restriction and then the end of the 'Clean ring' stategy.

1987 - 1173 cattle slaughtered.
Maff began their Interim Strategy - it lasted 10 years while they discussed what to do next.
1988 - 782 cattle slaughtered.
1989 - 1098
1990 - 1570
1991 - 1304
1992 - 1626
1993 - 2455
1994 - 2773
1995 - 3451
1996 - 3881
1997 - 3760
£1 million donation to government coffers from PAL = the end of any badger control.

1998 - 6088 cattle slaughtered.
1999 - 6772 cattle slaughtered
2000 - 8353 cattle slaughtered in 2511 breakdowns. 1734 New Herd Incidents out of 105,714 herds registered on database. Herds under Tb2 restriction during the year - 2.38 percent.

2001*- 5916 cattle slaughtered ( FMD stopped routine testing, and Defra warn against using this year* or the following 2 for 'comparative purposes' as they caught up with skin tests)
2002*- 22,886 cattle slaughtered, in 4047 breakdowns. 3157 New Herd incidents out of 100,017 herds registered on database. Herds under Tb2 restriction during the year - 4.05 percent.
2003* - 23,804 cattle slaughtered, in 5501 breakdowns. 3220 New Herd Incidents out of 97,119 herds registered on database. Herds under Tb2 restriction during the year - 5.67 percent.

2004 - 22,975 cattle slaughtered, in 5244 breakdowns. 3313 New Herd Incidents out of 92,289 herds registered on database. Herds under Tb2 restriction during the year - 5.68 percent.

We make no comment on this carnage, but expect the Minister of Conservation and Fisheries to concentrate on the apparent 'drop' in cattle slaughtered compared to years he warned others NOT to use, while ignoring the increase in NHI (New Herd Incidents) and percentage of herds under restriction from a smaller herd base - which has doubled in 4 years.

Quite an achievement.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

What About the Cats?

The site has had a comment posted after the (archived) Cat's Out of the Bag post.

Our reader tells us the story of cattle both on his/her smallholding and neighbouring farms destroyed by MAFF after failing the Tb test. Subsequent badger removals failed to identify Tb in the badger carcasses. (This was under the old system which ground on painfully slowly via the old badger panel. This met quarterly to discuss MAFF's requests for a BRO (Badger Removal operation) in response to their opinion on likely cause of bovine Tb on a holding. It could take a year to authorise a BRO)

In this instance the farms in question were being visited by a feral cat which had " Open sores on its face, -- was seen being sick --- and was subsequently found dead some years later" . Our reader explains that neither he/she or 'neighbours were able to catch it. (Sometimes a 12 bore is the only way)

Our reader thinks that this mangy cat may have been the source of the cattle problems and not the now (dead) badgers. After reading our Tb infected cats post he/she continues:
" Now proof of this hunch has evolved "
Errrr- yes. Cat's are susceptible to TB and we described in the post how after sharing feed bowls with a BADGER that turned its toes up in the garden of a smallholding, 5 of them died of - TB. That wasn't a hunch but cause and effect as the DNA was typed and found to be a match from badger / (exhumed) cat lesions.

Our questioner does not " advocate the decimation of one of our (thankfully abundant) native British mammals being singled out to the exclusion of other possible causes of infection"
He/ she wants to know the reason for just killing badgers, (Actually no-one's killing badgers at all - Defra have been targetting just cattle for the last 7 years) and concludes that all the money "should be spent on VACCINATION".

Now there are several points here.
Farmers cannot criticise the 'carnage by computer' which we saw in FMD, where only a small number of now very dead animals were actually positive for disease, and at the same time defend the 'E' route so wildly propagated by John Bourne's ISG as the alternative to his proposals - unless of course that 'E'limination refers to the ISG.

But vaccination?
Tuberculosis is endemic in UK badgers and in some overpopulated hot spot areas to the degree of 50 - 60 percent of individuals. And in the last months of their miserable infectious lives, they are suffering as much as our reader's feral cat. So what would he/she vaccinate? Cattle? Too long away from a solution.
And meanwhile what else is this pernicious, highly infectious zoonosis which has been allowed to become endemic in our badgers spilling over into. Deer? Farmed and wild. How in hell would you vaccinate wild deer - or any other of the wild Tb spill-over casualties?. Children are now receiving the BSG jab again, but in their teens. Toddlers remain unprotected - as Exocett's comment told us.

But cats are susceptible too as our post showed. So do we vaccinate all the country's cats ?- Explain that to their owners.

So we'll throw the question down again to our readers.

What about a targetted sweep of the country to identify ANY source of tuberculosis?
We're testing the cattle with a test that Bourne says "is an excellent herd test". Thankyou for that, John.
But is the PCR diagnostic tool,(see 2005 - A Good Idea- archived) the 'magic bullet' to identify badgers - or any other species that's harbouring tuberculosis and spreading it?

Our reader tells us that he/she is a member of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Mammal Group and several members of the Trusts have expressed an interest in this more accurate diagnosis of disease source. We quote from a recent conversation with a high ranking member:

"I have no problem with culling infected badgers, but it's no use starting with bits of the middle of Devon - start at Lands End and the coasts and working inwards and upwards, screen all the setts. Where Tb is found cull out the badgers and destroy the sett so that clean badgers cannot become infected. Break the cycle."

Or, dear readers we can vaccinate - everything including the cats.

"Exports blocked by Tb restrictions"

Farmers Guardian reported this week the frustrations of Lincolnshire cattle breeder Michael Read , who has had semen orders from his Lincoln Red bull 'Anwick Chancellor' blocked for export to Australia .

We have referred to the block on exports breeding bulls and semen before on this site, as a 'benefit' of being under movement restriction. If a bull supplying semen or a cow supplying embryos for export has been on a holding which has had a Tb 10 movement restriction imposed, then the export market is blocked.

One of Mr. Read's cows tested inconclusive at a routine test in the spring of 2004, and a movement restriction was imposed on the whole farm for TWO days while Defra officials sorted out the paperwork for the single animal. The herd restriction was then lifted and re-issued to the single cow who was isolated and then retested at 60 days. She was clear.

Defra officials confirmed that under EU legislation, if an animal has been on a farm which had been the subject of a Tb movement restriction, they could not issue export licenses.

They explained that if the animal in question had arrived after the restriction had been lifted, been away during it or was only going to be used for the UK market then a license could be issued, but an export license would be blocked by the restriction notice which covered the time the animal was on the farm in question

We have seen this situation before in the contract mating arena, where top class UK genetics are deliberately chosen to produce a bull calf for a semen company with the hope ultimately of world wide sales. Several of these highly expensive operations have been jeopardised by the imposition of Tb movement restrictions on the main holding of birth, even though the calf in question has been reared in an isolation or quarantine unit. The hours he was with his dam after his birth, was enough to block the export - and render him worthless.

Mr. Read summed up the situation as "Crazy". He concluded " This is a market which has been closed to us for the best part of 10 years. There are breeders in Australia, New Zealand and many other countries who are desparate for Lincoln Red semen. It is an idiotic situation, that we are unable to meet that demand".

Great Britain used to be the 'Stockyard of the World" but under the stewardship of first MAFFand then Defra and with the aid of 'gold plated' EU directives, it has now become its Graveyard.

Friday, February 11, 2005

ISG Statement on skin test - Miss - Herd??

The ISG (Independent Scientific Group) has advised government to take tougher controls to combat the spread of tuberculosis cattle to cattle.

The full report can be viewed at
but the gist is that the intradermal tuberculin skin test "fails to accurately identify infected animals" and therefore enhanced cattle to cattle controls are needed.

We have already reported the Seminar 16th. September 2004, at whch John Bourne of the ISG told the great and the good, including Mr. Bradshaw, that the intradermal skin test was "an excellent herd test".
So was his statement miss-herd?

To be fair he quantified it with the proviso that "it was not an effective individual animal test".
(see later)

And Mr. Bradshaw confirmed both statements in PQ's (archived).

8 Dec 2003 Col 218W
"The tuberculin skin test has been compulsory in Britain since 1950. This is a test prescribed by the for OIE (Office of International Epizootics) for international trade, as well as under EU directive 64/432/EEC."

As the rest of the world considers that the intradermal skin test is the gold standard for measuring tuberculosis infection in cattle, any other diagnostic tool can only be supplementary to it.

30th Jan 2004 Col 540W
To ask the Secretary of State (pursuant to her answer above) how many countries use the current skin sensitivety test, and how many have reported problems with it.
"All countries have either eradicated, or have a programme to control bovine tuberculosis using one or more forms of the skin test"
"The Government are not aware of any country that has replace the skin test as a primary test for bovine tuberculosis".

On its effectiveness when used on a single animal, Mr. Bradshaw confirmed;

25th March 2004 Col 988W
"Any test with imperfect sensitivety (The skin test has 98% as a herd test but 68% on a single individual) when applied more than once to a single animal, will cause the overall sensitivety to rapidly approach 100 percent."

Which is why when a cattle herd test reveals reactors to the skin test which subsequently become confirmed as carrying tuberculosis, TWO herd skin tests are required to lift the restriction - always assuming that 'somebody' has ordered the tuberculin, which must now be used 'judiciously' as it is short supply.
(see post below.)

Strange that - if it's all a waste of time anyway.

The ISG continues " Regardless of the role of wildlife intervention, we (the ISG) believe it is essential that more effective disease control measures directed at cattle, should be put in place without further delay"

And when we've done that..??

What part of "96 percent drop in herds under restriction" (Irish Trials) does the ISG not understand?
And Battersea's battling Boadicea - the lovely Elaine has said "Badger culling only reduces TB in cattle if every single badger is exterminated". (see posts below)

"Regardless of the role of wildlife intervention..."

How can we be regardless of it, when it accounts for 96 percent of the problem?
How much does the ISG need continued funding?

Thursday, February 10, 2005


We have been told of an urgent message that has gone out from Defra's South West headquarters warning veterinary surgeons to:

"Make judicious use of tuberculin testing phials" as the product was " in very short supply".

How a vet could make an 'un-judicious' use of this product through his calibrated injector, Defra do not make clear - unless he was jabbing the farm cats and the farmer as well. Herds which come under Tb restriction will have to undergo 6 tests annually instead of just 1 or in some cases half or a third of 1 if they were in 2 or 3 year testing regimes.

Has 'someone' forgotten to order the tuberculin, or to tell its manufacturers that Defra predicts a 20 percent increase in cattle reactors, and therefore a 20 percent increase in herds undergoing 6 tests a year - which on just one farm can equate to 1000 extra doses annually.....?

Why are we not surprised?

Create a Crisis - and Walk Away?

In the last month or so, we have noted a depressing 'sea change' in attitudes of people (some of whom should really know better) as to the way forward in controlling b.tuberculosis 'endemic in badgers' which has now spilled over to create 'an epidemic in cattle'. Our grateful thanks as ever, to Ben Bradshaw for confirming both descriptions in Parliamentary Questions archived on this site.

Recently Farmers Guardian reported the comment by Prof. Stephen Harris of Bristol University, that any badger culling strategy would now have to be so draconian as to be 'politically unacceptable', and it would be better to wait for a cattle vaccine. And the corridors of power in the giddy heights of Defra appear to take the same line. It's too late for any definitive action on badgers.


From where we sit, nailed down amidst skip loads of dead cattle and years of ongoing restrictions on our business, visits from Communicable Disease specialists, our markets reduced and our tourism enterprises compromised that's defeatist, dangerous and just plain wrong. It is also reckless in the extreme to allow a reservoir of a major Grade B1 pathogen - a zoonosis affecting many other species as well as man - to become entrenched in Britains' countryside.

What is wrong with telling the taxpaying public the truth?

Sorry I forgot - there's an election coming up. Silly me.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Derbyshire Organic Farm Threatened by Tb

A third of Derbyshire farmer Nick Adams' organic Aberdeen Angus cows has had to be destroyed after reacting to a routine Tb test. The 52 strong herd of cattle is effectively 'closed', with pedigree stock bulls which sire calves sold under the 'Crystal Farm Organic' label the only purchases into the herd. When he purchases a new bull, Mr. Adams stresses that it of the highest health status and is quarantined.
"I do not buy cattle in" said Mr. Adams, "and I believe my cattle got Tb from badgers".

The 15 cattle slaughtered were young cows between 3 and 6 years old, and they would have been on the farm for at least another 8 years. Mr. Adams points out that to build up his stock numbers again, after effectively losing a third of his cows will take him about 3 years ( assuming that he has no more reactors) and puts the farm's viability at risk.

In this area of Derbyshire, 6 of Mr. Adam's neighbours are also under Tb restriction. In 1993 just 3 farms were under Tb restriction in the whole of Derbyshire. This has increased to 72. Aware of biosecurity, Mr. Adams has fenced off badger setts on his own land, but is unable to control access from badgers living in nearby gravel pits.

"Defra are aware that there is a problem with Tb infection in badgers" said Mr. Adams, "but there isn't much political will to do anything about it".

"I run an organic farm. I'm an environmentalist and I want to see badgers - but not if they're spreading disease to cattle. Badgers are a protected species. At one time they needed protecting - people used to go 'badger baiting' with dogs which was appalling. But they're not an endangered species now. They are predators, and I've seen a reduction in wildlife. I have some wetland, supporting snipe, curlew and lapwing. I also have leverets, and bumble bees. Badgers prey on all these and their numbers are dropping. "

"If Defra would allow affected groups of farmers to cull badgers under licences, say within a 1km radius for 12 months it would cost the taxpayer nothing."

"Government has to do more to eradicate this disease. The worst thing is that I am utterly powerless. I have to just sit and wait".

"I have to just sit and wait".

Since this was written, Mr. Adams has had another 60 day test and will lose another 3 cows and a calf.

And until action is taken on the maintenance reservoir of Tb in the Brailsford badgers, Mr. Adams and his neighbours will be locked into 60 day tests and more dead cattle.

We are always willing to put the 'other side' on this site, so will quote from the chairman of the South Derbyshire Badger Group, Stephen Grimley:

"It's still not proven that badgers are responsible for causing Tb in cattle"
Really? Nick Adams' cattle got it from the man in the moon then, did they?

"In a sett, 2 badgers can be carrying Tb and the rest might not catch it, yet farmers expect us to believe that badgers can give cows the Tb virus above ground"
Yes we do. And it's not a virus, it's a bacteria - micobacterium bovis - actually. Battersea's Battling Bodacea, the lovely Elaine knows all about the risk to cattle from it in badger pee. Remember, her thesis was done on it.

And a badger with kidney lesions can spread 300,000 units of the stuff in just 1ml of badger pee, can't he Elaine? and this site is most grateful to the delightful Mr. Bradshaw who confirmed in Parliamentary questions that it takes as little as 70 units to infect a cow - even one of Nick Adams lovely organic Aberdeen Anguses.

"There is little political will to do anything about it"

There are more votes in a dead badger than a dead cow Nick....