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".
"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.