Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Capricorn. Cattle Defender, Protector and Guardian?

Our Northern correspondant, Matthew 2 has recollected for us a tale of 'biological warfare', waged by his father on tuberculous badgers prior to the Ministry clearances in 1953. He tells us that in the late 1930's and 40's it was common to run a goat (preferably a Billy) with a herd of cattle "to protect them" from badgers, and as a child can remember his father doing just that. He also remembers that their cattle did not get Tb.

The theory is that the goat would do what goats are famous for and kick seven bells out of any 'intruder' into the grazing area occupied by 'his' cattle. (Defra vets, RPA eartag inspectors, animal activists with wire cutters? We like that!!) In short, he would act as a the herd's guardian, sentinel, and protector.

We've heard of this tale in connection with the 'protection' of sheep flocks, where a goat (or an alpaca) has been introduced to deter foxes, badgers and dogs at lambing time, but how feasible is it in the context of disease control?

Imagine dear readers, Defra vets wearing 'green biological warfare' suits, (disposable, and complying with EU Waste Management rules of course - last seen when their occupants were slaughtering millions of cattle in FMD) delivering (Tb tested) goats onto cattle farms. It would be popular with Captain 'Birdseye' Ben, (please note, not 'Rear Admiral' Ben- some of our more imaginative readers seem to have a strange aversion to the Fisheries minister's nickname) who having been paid by the PAL piper, does not have to mention the word' badger' in the same breath as 'tuberculosis'. But what of this sorry, suffering creature? Well in the face of Capricorn on the warpath, his territory would be severely curtailed, his foraging limited and his numbers drastically cut. In short, as with Bradshaw's 'Fence them out' biosecurity advice, he starves.
And nobody gets their hands dirty.

Anything's got to be better than deluging the cattle farms with standstill notices, slaughter forms and endless 60 day '007' tests - who's going to get shot this month dearie? Defra's own predictions involve running up a bill with the Treasury of £2 billion over 10 years, doing absolutely nothing about the exposure of not only cattle but deer, domestic pets and ramblers to - tuberculosis.

Bring on the goats?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Luck of the Irish...

...cows that is. Irish cattle have some protection from tb infected wildlife, but on their horizons may be a little bit more.

While the Republic of Ireland was carrying out their very successful and well reported 4 County badger culling trial, they continued with a more targeted form of Reactive culling, possibly in such a manner suggested by Prof. Godfray (see posts below).

When a farm goes under tb restriction in the R of I, it is our understanding that depending on how many reactors are involved, badger culling is initiated anyway. Criteria for inclusion in the 4 county trial was '1 confirmed reactor cow' . This compared with the Reference area where outbreaks described as having '4 or more reactors disclosed at standard interpretation of the intradermal skin test', qualified for badger removals.

But in the rest of the Republic, provided cattle transmission can be excluded, badger removals are initiated anyway, if 2 or more cattle reactors are found at standard interpretation.

Building on their success in Monaghan, Kilkenny, Cork and Donegal, we hear that officials in the Republic are now considering 'population management' in an effort to damp down Tb in the country's badgers.

We drew your attention to the exponential growth in the UK badger population most recently in our post:
"Total Protection - Sense or Sentimentalism" (19/2/2005) with extracts from Dr. Willie Stanton's research into badger numbers, which he found had increased over 40 years from what the late Ernest Neal described as 'abundant' (1 per sq. km. in the late 50's) to 37 per sq. km in 1999. We cannot guess how Ernest Neal would have described that number - 'teeming' , 'overcrowded', 'excessive' or 'saturated' perhaps? But we understand that the Republic are considering a 'population management' excercise in an attempt to reduce the reservoir of Tb in their badgers both to prevent its overspill into cattle and other species, and for the health and welfare of the badgers themselves.

Under the terms of the Berne convention this reduction can be up to 20 percent, and here the Irish have a distinct advantage over the 'devolved' UK. Mountain, moorland, lakes and forests will account for a small percentage of badgers in a much larger area of available land, while clearances on land where cattle are farmed will be a great deal higher - but still total less than 20 percent overall.

For the sake of English cattle, may we reclaim Snowdonia and the Cairngorms?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It's all in the Name

A couple of comments on this site have taken us to task for referring to the Minister for Fisheries and Conservation, the Right Honourable Ben Bradshaw MP, who presides over Defra's non-policy for bovine Tb as 'Rear-Admiral'.

A dictionary definition describes this rank as "Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Commander of the Fleet or High ranking officer". We would point out that the term was awarded to Mr. Bradshaw by Britain's fishermen, in recognition of his outstanding leadership of their fleet.

Like the cattle farmers who edit this site, the fisherman (who at least are mentioned in Bradshaw's job title) are not sure to which destination his leadership is taking them. Destruction or Oblivion?
Quite apt really we thought.

What on earth did you think we meant?

Monday, March 21, 2005

It ain't What you do - It's the Way that you do it.

Defra is getting mixed messages from its two main groups advising on bovine Tb.

In an interview given to Farmer's Guardian last week, Professor Charles Godfray, of Imperial College's Biological Science Department confirmed his report into bovine Tb (see post below) and assessment of the Krebs' RBCT. He told FG that "The evidence on reactive culling from the trial, was not conclusive." In fact Prof. Godfray suggested there was "urgent need for a further study", to see if "practised in a different way, reactive badger culling could work".

He continued, "We advise that the results of the Reactive culling at the time it was halted (Nov. 2003) should not be interpreted as evidence against - or of course, for - reactive culling policy. The experiment only provides evidence about one particular type of reactive culling, and the manner in which it was implemented during the RBCT. It is possible that a more efficient reactive culling policy could be designed."

"An example of the last option might be licensing farmers to control badgers on their own property"

Professor Godfray again described the 'constraints' and 'delays' which have dogged the RBCT including inefficient trapping methods and a lack of resources which led to delays in culling.

We would agree, and our farmer contributors have told you many times of 'delays' of several years in 'reaction' times. Parliamentary questions archived (and as always, our grateful thanks to the Minister for Fisheries and Conservation, Rear Admiral Ben) confirm that 57 percent of the Krebs traps were 'interfered with', and 12 percent disappeared, either with or without their occupant. So yes - delayed and inefficient it most certainly is, but the other scientific heavyweight in Defra's arsenal, Prof. Bourne is hanging on in there. 2008 did he say?

Prof. Godfray is not alone in proposing that farmers be given licenses to sort their own problems - John Bourne has said the same to one of the thirteen EFRA select committees who have examined Tb. Swifter, more discreet and yup, basically Defra get in a hole and want someone to dig them out of it. As cheaply as possible.

Small problem here though. Or rather a large one given Ben's answer to PQ 158605 18th March
2004 col 431W. Defra is responsible for issuing licenses under 2 sub sections of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. A culling license granted under 10(2)a is for the "purpose of the spread of disease, to kill badgers or to interfere with a badger sett within an area specified in the license by any means so specified."

Q. To ask the Secretary of State what is her policy on the issuing of licenses to kill badgers under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and how many licenses she expects to issue in the next 5 years.

A. It is current policy NOT to issue any licenses under sub-section 10(2)a to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Has there been a Statutory Instrument to amend the Act? No.
Debate and discusssion on this major breach of a persons's right to apply for a license under this section? Absolutely no.
Who decided to amend this Act?

We don't know - but we'll ask.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Report? What Report?

The latest in a long line of eminent professionals whose reports into bovine Tb have been studiously ignored by MAFF / DEFRA is Prof. Charles Godfray of Imperial college. Just over a year ago he was commissioned with our money - never underestimate bureaucratic eagerness to spend that - by Defra to have a look into Kreb's RBCT, its progress and likelihood of delivery.

Professor Godfray's executive summary concluded:

" Control of bovine Tb has proved difficult in countries where there is a wildlife reservoir for the disease. In the British Isles, badgers are often infected by bovine Tb and there is substantial evidence that they may be the cause of infection in cattle".

Here Prof. Godfray is following in the distinguished footsteps of Sir. Solly Zucherman who said the same in 1986, but then saw government policy sanitised even further with a 7 fold reduction in land available for badger control and gassing replaced by cage trapping. Taxpayers then supported Prof. Dunnet whose similar conclusions led to the 10 year 'Interim Strategy' - which one might reasonably have described as an extraordinarily long time to decide a strategy on a highly infectious zoonosis - until now.
Then along came Prof. Krebs, who chaired the penultimate review in 1997 and concluded (as had his predecessors) "The total available evidence for a reservoir (of tuberculosis) in badgers is 'compelling'. And having been to the Republic of Ireland to look at their 4 county trial, he set up the Krebs Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) under judge, jury and executioner Prof. John Bourne.

Prof. Godray's carefully chosen words in 2004 described the progress of the trial:

"Delays in training skilled staff and FMD in 2001, have delayed the RBCT which is currently about 2 years behind schedule. In November 2003 the Reactive part was suspended. There have been substantial delays in the TB99 case control study, and RTA badger infection status projects.

There has been a lack of clarity and agreement over the key information that Proactive treatment of the badger culling trial can furnish.

As originally envisaged, badger densities would have been reduced to near zero in procative sites. A variety of factors have made this impossible.

As implemented, the RBCT cannot prove that badgers are not involved in bovine Tb transmission to cattle. It can however put a lower bound on the importance of badgers as reservoirs of infection. It is important to realise though, that an inconclusive result does not in itself mean that badgers are not a significant wildlife reservoir, or that other types of culling will not work"

Prof. Godfray went on to point out that the trial may not yield data until 2008, and it was his opinion that this later date would be more likely than any earlier time frame given. He urged that interim results were made available to ministers to act on.

"We believe that the formulation of bovine Tb policy by Defra should not wait until the RBCT is complete. Based on the conclusions of Krebs, and research since then, especially in the Republic of Ireland, we recommend that policy is based on the assumption that badgers are involved in disease transmission as a wildlife reservoir. "

And on the judge, jury and executioner?

"We believe that the ISG has borne (Bourne??) too heavy a responsibilty for the running of these projects and that links between policy formation by Defra and the scientific input from the ISG have not been as seamless as would have been desirable.

We believe that a single relatively senior figure within Defra, takes ownership of the whole research programme. He or she should have a strong science background, and should report directly to the Chief Scientific Advisor who we believe should have overall responsibility for ensuring the quality and policy relevance of the science produced."

Translated into ordinary language we get the feeling that Prof. Godfray actually said 'Get your finger out, accept badgers play a reservoir part in this disease, use what you've got and get a Tb policy sorted which includes infectious wildlife. And the ISG should not have ultimate control, but should report directly to a senior Defra scientist.'

And what did Defra do with this advice?
In 2004, they appointed 2 new committees.
They wasted a lot of people's time on 'stakeholder' meetings.
Issued a further vaccuous 'Framework' document outlining their 'Policy for Going Nowhere - slowly'.

And of course slaughtered 25, 000 more cattle, lifting the percentage of herds under tb restriction in 2004 to nearly 6 percent and putting the UK in the firing line for another trade ban - and spent another £100K of our money doing it.

This is a government department which has united its consumers (farmers), advisers (ISG), vets (both private and SVS), ecologists and several eminent scientists (see above ) in disenchantment. It used to be called 'flirting with the enemy', and like moths around a candle, those taking part in the charade expected little, often gaining only extinction.

Welcome to the madhouse Prof. Godfray - you're in good company.

Are the current players yet so seriously disenchanted with 'treading water' and woolly non- policies bearing their distinguished names that they produce their own joint strategy...??

We hope so.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

When you're in a hole ....

Cattle farmers from across the country have told us of problems relating to Tb testing and its results, following Defra's tightening up on 'overdue' tests but more worryingly, on removal and identification of reactor cattle.

We have no problems at all with the concept of "'test by the due date' or a movement restriction will be imposed" - provided the tools are there to actually do the job. But several farmers have had herds put under restriction, with no date for their test because a) Their vet is so busy he's unable to give a date, b) Routine tets are taking second place to the increasing number of 60 day re tests and c) Tuberculin is in short supply, and veterinary practitioners are advised to use it 'judiciciously'.

More worryingly are tales of confusion over post mortem results when Reactor animals are slaughtered, this one particularly from Devon. On two days per week, all Devon's reactors are consigned to one abattoir, which takes up to 150 animals per day. But the post mortems are carried out (we are told) at the VI centre, so bags of cattle lungs and lymph glands etc. have to be transported. One hundred and fifty at a time - and uniquely identified - or not in some cases.

Defra to farmer (Wednesday) "We've postmortemed your cow and we're sorry to have to tell you, she had open lung lesions".
Defra to farmer (Thursday) "Sorry Mr. Farmer, we made a mistake - that open lung case was not your cow".
Farmer to Defra "Well did my cow have lesions or not"
Defra. "Yes".
Farmer "You were sure it had open lesions yesterday.... are you sure it was a cow - and not a b****y sheep?"

Another Devon farmer had a reactor taken in Decemberand has received no result of that postmortem. He had a clear test in March but has no idea if he can trade or not. This isn't the time between his vet sending test charts in and Defra clanking them through the system - he has been told by SVS that they are "not clear on the post mortem result of the December cow". And so don't know whether he needs one test or two for the herd restriction to be lifted.

A herd test which revealed 2 reactors at the end of February, has had no notification of identification / isolation and intended valuation / slaughter - nearly 3 weeks after the test.

Tracing animals sold prior to new herd breakdowns, is still taking 11 months.

One veterinary practise in mid Devon we are told, has 60 percent of its cattle farmers under restriction.

That's a lot of testing, a lot of tuberculin (even if used judiciously) and a lot of dead cattle, whose 'bits' then have to transported elsewhere for full postmortem, with the potential for mix ups en route.

The farmers, cattle and badgers deserve better. There's a state-of-the art abattoir moth balled on the A 30, in mid Cornwall which could be requisitioned if that grand canyon of a county border could be breached. But never overestimate the power of bureaucracy to do joined up thinking.

And of course all this could be avoided ... if vets threw away their shovels.
When you're in a hole.....

Sunday, March 13, 2005

"Well done - Partner"

At a time when the badger population is at saturation point with endemic tuberculosis causing suffering and a lingering death to many, and a spill over from which has condemned hundreds of thousands of cattle to a premature end, Defra has backed an award for the NFBG.

At a ceremony attended by Eliot Morley, the NFBG received the Defra backed 'Partner of the Year' award for its work against the odious pastime known as 'badger baiting'.

The timing of this 'award', as tuberculosis in the cattle herds reaches an all time high and 350 vets (even those relying on Defra's LVI licenses ) have signed a letter voicing their concern into the Minister of State's handling of the situation is a vivid reminder - if farmers needed one - as to where Defra's loyalties lie.

Shadow Minister Owen Paterson MP, declared he was 'flabbergasted'.
He continued "You cannot let one species, a dominant predator like the badger take over like this. Wildlife needs to be 'managed'. To leave things as they are would incredibly cruel to badgers. While we slaughter cattle with bovine Tb, badgers are suffering as the disease is allowed to run its course".

The National Farmers Union took a similar view, and while commending the NFBG for its work against badger baiters felt the announcement of the 'award' and the involvement by Defra was 'badly timed".

Having cleared his farm of sick and suffering badgers, and kept the area Tb free for 5 years, farmer Bryan Hill is less diplomatic. "Defra backing awards like this when we have a major problem all over the country is the most stupid thing I've ever heard." he said, "If nothing is done to tackle this disease, then it will become a disaster".

We have posted comments and research on this site from Wildlife Trust members who back 'management', and control of dominant predator species for the benefit of less high profile members of the ecology. We have logged the damage and disease caused by a population at saturation point of badgers with endemic tuberculosis, who have learned to their cost the benefit of total protection under the law. Far from 'protecting' them, the misguided, highly vocal anthropomorphism which elevated these beautiful animals to 'cult' status in the first place, has by its very success, now condemned them to a slow, lingering death.

As tuberculosis in the UK cattle herds reaches nearly 6 percent of the national herd, and the cost to the taxpayer is predicted as £2 billion over the next ten years (surely a couple of 'schoolsandhospitals' at least) with impeccable timing, Defra has shown a cavalier disregard and utter contempt for the industry it pretends to represent.

Thanks 'Partner' - Why are we not surprised?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"Farmers have no Tb Strategy"

The title of this post is an accusation which has been levelled at the farming industry many times, including within comments on this site (particularly after the petition idea) but actually - it is not true.

In the wake of Defra's strategy 'Framework' - A Policy for Going Nowhere - Slowly, Farmers Guardian (March 4th) asked representatives of leading organisations for their alternatives, and with one notable exception, a thread of continuity emerged.

Dr. John Gallagher, a former government vet and leading figure behind last week's letter to Margaret Beckett, which was signed by over 300 of his colleagues proposed:

"Tuberculin testing in cattle needs to be vigilant. Movement testing is sensible with isolation and post movement check tests, to counter any transmission from infected purchased stock.

Control of tuberculosis in badgers needs to be mix of culling diseased communities and attempts to raise the immunity of healthy badgers in the surrounds. Culling of infected badgers in new hotspots, as well as endemically infected areas should only begin after investigations have ruled out any other source. The work would consist of surveying all setts in a wide zone, followed by trapping initiated from the outer ring inwards. Badgers testing negative to tuberculosis would be boosted with a BCG injection and protection offered to cubs with oral doses. Any positive testing animals should be euthanased."

Robert Forster. CEO National Beef Association.
" Tb spread must be tackled now to reduce hardship and save taxpayers' money. Infected cattle and infected badgers must be removed simultaneously.

Use Defra's database to to identify cross-parish (or county) infection clusters and reschedule cattle testing to six month, 1 or 2 year intervals depending on the farm distance from the nearest 'infection cluster'. Test all herds within 30km of a new outbreak annually. Test all cattle farms next to a new outbreak twice over a 4 month period . Use gamma interferon to clear any lingering infection in areas of low incidence of tb. Encourage post movement isolation and testing of all (breeding) cattle coming in from other farms".

"Search for infected badgers as soon as Tb infected cattle are discovered. Introduce field trials for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) portable diagnostic laboratory to identify Tb in the environment. Lift the moratorium on the use of Section 10 of the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act which allows removal of badgers to prevent the spread of disease. Make translocation of badgers illegal. Use carbon monoxide to eliminate (positively identified) infected badger setts and fill them in (to prevent re infection of new badgers).
Inform the public that across the UK it is costing them £107 million per year to leave infected badgers uncontrolled, and that could rise to £2 billion."

Jan Rowe. National Farmers Union Tb specialist.

"Continue with Defra's short term measures (zero tolerance on overdue tests) . Proceed with caution on pre/ post movement testing - it hasn't worked in Ireland. The intradermal skin test is a herd test and is not designed as an individual animal test. Evaluate Gamma Interferon to set base levels for UK conditions. Herd health planning, and careful sourcing of purchased stock are a vital part of farm management. Defra to maintain adequate compensation for slaughtered cattle, while farmers are prevented from dealing with tuberculous badgers".

"RTA survey across the whole country to identify clusters of tb infected badgers, and also healthy ones. Implement a targeted cull of badgers in hotspot areas on a well planned basis. Maintain vigourous attempts to prevent recolonisation until a vaccine is available. Take note of the Irish work which clearly show that cattle based measures are of little use if disease is maintained in the badgers. Evaluate the cost of continuing Krebs trial . (The weakness of protocol in Proactive areas left more badgers behind than Irish methods). Urgently develop more humane, cost effective and thorough methods of disease clearance in badgers. Develop field trials for BCG badger vaccine to protect healthy colonies. Review 1992 Protection of Badger Act moratorium, to enable more flexible granting of licenses for diseased badgers and better population control of this top predator species."

Owen Paterson MP. Conservative Shadow Agriculture minister.

" Continue to bear down on the disease in cattle but movement testing and other measures cannot be relied on alone. We would continue to support research into cattle vaccines.

Reconsider the Krebs' trial. Learning from the recent Four County Irish trial , resume targetted badger culling in hotspot areas. Set up immediate trials into the use of PCR technology, enabling such culling to be selective. Commission studies into effectiveness of BCG vaccination of badgers. I agree with Dr. Gallagher and his colleagues that we can no longer stave off taking 'unpopular' action. I have asked over 600 questions on bovine tb, and Government have revealed extraordinary amounts of information.
There is now more than enough evidence to justify taking action to reduce the reservoir of disease in the badgers and to re-establish effective 'management' of the countryside in the interests of the wildlife the cattle industries and the nation".

Andrew George. Liberal Democrat shadow minister.

"As an interim measure, pre / post movement cattle testing . Long term, development of cattle vaccine"

"Development of badger vaccine long term. Interim - badgers will have to be culled"

Dr. Elaine King. CEO National Federation of Badger Groups.

"Use of Gamma interferon for all herds positive to skin test. Annual testing country wide. Pre movement testing of cattle. Lay testers trained to test cattle. Include Tb test dates on cattle passports. Zone areas of high cattle incidence to protect low risk areas through cattle movements. License farmers to implement a health plan, and refuse compensation if it hasn't been followed. Long term - cattle vaccine."

And Badgers?.
Nothing - not a sausage. What did you expect?

It appears from these proposals, that not only are all the farmers' representatives are pulling together an extremely responsible 'Strategy' for control of tb in cattle, using modern diagnostic tools, but that they also extend that responsibility to the wildlife.

It couldn't be that farmers care more about her beloved badgers than the CEO of the National Federation of Badger Groups could it? All the organisations' figureheads mentioned the need to 'protect' , 'reduce the disease level in', and 'boost immunity of healthy colonies', of badgers --except the lovely Elaine. She hasn't earned the title 'Flat Earth' for nothing.

By her denial of the badger's predatory status over less high profile or 'attractive' members of the ecology, and its over population combined with serious endemic zoonotic disease status, one might question just what Dr. King's extremely vocal and well funded 'industry' is intent on protecting.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Six Years under Tb restriction - with a Home Bred Herd.

This month, Cornish farmer Roland Uglow 'celebrates' an anniversary - one he would rather not have had. He has been under a Tb herd restriction for 6 years without a break. In March 1999, this closed, home bred herd suffered a Tb breakdown, which has relentlessly ground on with no action on the source, for 6 consecutive years. To put that in context, the farm should have had 6 annual herd tests. Testing every 60 days, it has had at least 30, using around 18,000 doses of tuberculin (which Defra are asking vets to use 'judiciously') instead of 3,600. And Roland Uglow has lost 129 head of cattle.

The 'culprit' (or one of them) he found at Christmas. A severely underweight badger, in the last stages of its miserable life had been seen around the farm several times during the summer and it was found comatose and almost dead in December. A post mortem confirmed that it had extensive Tb lesions in lungs, liver and kidneys, the latter of which would have been pumping out 300,000 units of Tb bacteria onto grassland and feed troughs in each 1ml of urine. As only 70 units are needed to infect a cow, (information from Parliamentary Questions (archived) for which we offer grateful thanks to the Minister for Fisheries, 'Rear Admiral' Ben), Roland Uglow's cattle can consider themselves lucky that any survived.

This herd is relatively small, just 100 milking cattle kept on 300 acres of the North Cornish coast. It is our understanding from veterinary pathologists that a 'super excreter' badger in the latter stages of Tb can bring down half a herd on his own, and having lost 129 cows over the 6 years, Roland can vouch for that.

"Wildlife needs controlling" he told Farmers Guardian- 4/3/05 .
"I love nature and all the wildlife around here, and I like healthy badgers. I just don't want to see 5 or 6 of them digging up a small 5 acre field when I'm out here in the dark with a torch, attending a calving heifer".

Roland describes the stress he feels every couple of months, before each test as "getting twitchy and anxious" and concludes "It's a horrible disease. The pro-badger people think we want to kill everything in sight but we don't, we just want healthy badgers . We want it (tuberculosis) controlled".

We've pointed out before on the site, that farmers are keen to eradicate Tb - not eradicate badgers. Single species focus groups are being seriously misinformed by their leaders about the cause and spread of Tb. Home bred herds such as Roland Uglows, who did not 'buy in ' Tb, will continue to go under restriction (or stay there) as the infective load carried by the badger found on his farm spreads, through bite wounding and onward transmission to cubs and siblings.

The cattle who were infected were tested and removed - all 129 of them. What about the deer, farm, feral and domestic cats, dogs walkers and their children? Any or all of whom may have had exposure to the bacteria. And what about the state of this poor badger - or at least the one found and post mortemed - there are likely to be more.

By their absolute denial of the prime role of badgers in the spread of tuberculosis, so called 'conservationists' and 'pro-badger' groups condemn the animal to a miserable, drawn out death and as a result of their 'intervention', the badger will suffer more not less.

Badgers are the 'victims' of their focus groups' success. But its called animal 'welfare'.

Monday, March 07, 2005

"Animal Lobby condemns Badgers to slow Death"

Christopher Booker writes in the Sunday Telegraph, of "the road to hell being paved with good intentions", and in this instance describes the fate of Britains' badgers in those terms.

"The implication of Government's dismissal last week of an urgent plea by 350 vets and scientists that it should act now to halt the epidemic of bovine Tb that is sweeping through Britain's badger population", as Booker points out, is that "Every taxpayer in the land could eventually face an £80 bill to fund a policy which condemns hundreds of thousands of animals to a lingering and painful death".

""Furthermore it risks inflicting a devastating blow on an efficient industry , which could cost the UK economy billions of pounds"

Booker describes the policy as causing " great suffering to the badgers themselves. Thousands die each week, from the long drawn out effects of the disease, unless as any West Country roadside bears witness, they are so weakened they fall prey to a passing vehicle. The tragedy of Britains' badgers is an instance of a road to hell, being paved with good intentions."

Booker explains that it is now more than 70 years since Tb spread from cattle into the badger population, but that until the mid 1980's (after 1950's accreditation schemes to clear the cattle herds) sick badgers were also taken to break the reinfection cycle.

"In 1997, when Labour returned to power having received £1 million from the 'pro-badger' Political Animal Lobby, vets and farmers were refused licenses to tackle the disease by targeted culling (of infected badgers). Since then the incidence of cattle Tb has risen to the point where taxpayers last year paid out £88 million. Defra's figures show that unless this disaster is halted, the bill in 2014 could total £2 billion."

"Last Ben Bradshaw, brushed aside the vets' proposals as 'publicly unacceptable' and Mrs. Beckett unveiled her "Strategic Framework for the Sustainable control of Tb", which reads like a bureaucratic parody of a policy for doing nothing. Peppered with buzz words such as 'sustainable', stakeholders' and 'robust' the nearest it gets to the distasteful idea that sick badgers might be culled, is an offer of a 'transparent process for making policy decisions'.

Booker concludes "The Government will thus continue to pay for the slaughter of 25,000 cattle each year (a figure predicted by Defra to rise annually by 20 percent) while we edge periously close to the point where Britain must lose its Tb-free trading status and millions of pounds of exports. Meanwhile vast numbers of badgers are condemnded to a very nasty death, as the price of New Labour's sentimentality".

The bigger picture of what is happening to Britain's badgers, and indeed their position in its ecological balance is called into question by observations in these last few posts. Farmers and wildlife experts have noted the disappearance of many smaller, less 'visisble' occupants - and their return if badger numbers are reduced. There is absolutely no doubt that tuberculosis eventually condemns badgers and any of their spill over victims, to a long drawn out lingering and painful death. But Bradshaw dismisses vets' concerns as 'publicly unacceptable ."

Why should it be 'unacceptable' to control a highly infectious zoonosis and an exponential rise in population in one species, to benefit ecology as a whole? Are commentators, and the vets wrong to point out the onwards transmission of Tb in badgers to domestic animals?
We would question again the 'industry' that has blossomed around 'Wildlife' and single species focus groups. Is their concern really for Britains' ecolological balance, or is fundraising and any vestige of 'protection' now afforded to their own structural organisation?

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Update - The Silver bullet.

"Sick Badgers are Shot - 5 years clear in Devon's worst Tb hotspot"

We told the story of farmer Bryan Hill's strategy for clearing Tb (archived on this site) and it's probably timely to update the story. Veterinary surgeons in mid- Devon tell us that up to 60 percent (Yes that's 60 not 16) of their cattle farmers are now under Tb restriction. But not Mr. Hill, nor many of his neighbours. In the late 90's Bryan warned the ministry of the population explosion of badgers in the area. The warnings were ignored.

"In 1998, we did not have Tb in this area", he said, "but we started to find dead badgers in the sheds. In the spring of 1999, we were one of 3 farms to go under tb restriction. But within eighteen months another 19 farms were affected."

After the devastation caused by BSE and FMD, Bryan Hill told Ministry vets and John Bourne who visited the farm, that he was not putting up with this (Tb) , when it was controllable. An enthusiastic countryman and ecologist, neither was he prepared to see badgers suffering - as they were doing. We described his 'strategy' in the earlier 'Silver bullet' post, and Bryan has continued 'managing' all his wildlife whether it's deer, raptors or badgers. Using the Protection of Badgers Act 'mercy killing', Brian watches for badgers excluded from a social group. He monitors their whereabouts in what he calls 'hotel setts', single hole refuges left for this purpose. If those setts become active he watches for the 'health' of the occupant, and if it appears in distress or bears the unmistakeable signs of Tb, he shoots it.

"I had another clear Tb test a few weeks ago" he says, " and that's over 5 years clear in a badger / tb hotspot - so make of that what you will".

We would also point out that Bryan's 'strategy' hasn't cost the taxpayer a brass farthing. He has not eradicated badgers, his badgers are alive and well, healthy and active. Aware of endemic tb in the badger population, it's the ones THEY exclude that he targets, now the farms' population is under control.

Bryan has put it to Defra that Devon and Cornwall (and the rest of the country) could be clear of tb in a very short time, beleiving the problem to be a 'political one'.
He comments "just because a badger is protected, would you let it go out and suffer unreasonably?" and "if we are advised to wear a face mask and gloves, to handle them when they are dead, how much worse is it when they are alive?. They are passing on a disease which causes suffering and are starved into a slow death".

Although frustrated by the current political situation which is not controlling tb, Bryan is adamant that his 'strategy' is working and he cites non other than our own Dr. Flat Earth King for inspiration and guidance.

"Dr. King, the CEO of the National Federation of Badger Groups has said herself that she has taken suffering badgers to the vets to be put down. What I'm doing is no different. By being vigilant and sensible - I have dealt with it. "

5 years clear in a Tb hotspot. He certainly has.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

"What a Disgrace"

Farmers Guardian editorial (March 4th) looks vainly for something on which to comment in the 69 page 'Framework' document issued March 1st by Bradshaw (on behalf of an absent Beckett), and makes the following scathing comment:

"You are a farmer in a Tb hotspot area, desperately worried about your cattle contracting or re-contracting TB. The government is launching a new strategy to tackle the insiduous disease and you think that maybe this time they mean business.

You receive the document, open it and go straight to bit where they say what they are going to do about the badgers. You read this:" We will develop a transparent process for making policy decisions on whether badger culling may form part of future policy, in light of new evidence as it emerges".

Pathetic, and of no use to any farmer, his cattle, let alone the disease ridden badgers or the taxpayer. Defra is cynically postponing any decision on badgers for a few years but want to impose more restrictions on cattle and shift more of the financial burden on to farmers.

The strategy is a disgrace. The evidence for a targeted badger cull is there in neon lights and with bells on. What is missing is the moral fibre, intellect and compassion of those who make important decisions to grasp the nettle".

A badger management policy? Messrs. Bradshaw and Beckett, our duplicitous duo are still of the opinion that 'the public' would not like it. Rubbish - they are not being told the truth, and there is an election coming up so forget the cattle, this government sees more (lost) votes in dead badger than a dead cow.

This is another non-policy. We would say 'A Strategy for Doing nothing - very slowly'.
But what about the long term risk of Tb in the environment to anyone or anything that is in contact with it? Or are farmers themselves going to have to erect warning notices of the dangers?

' Enter at Your own Risk' and 'Now Wash Your Hands' on farm footpaths ?

Conservation? What conservation?

Already on this blog, we have queried Dr. Flat Earth King's description of herself as a 'conservationist'. With the success of her organisation's protection of badgers in the UK, the phrase may be applicable to her salary - but little else.

Wildlife Trust member Dr. Willie Stanton, whose detailed work tracked the explosion in badger numbers - and the attendant loss of other species, we have also quoted at length, but several letters to the farming press express similar sentiments, and we quote extracts below:

In a letter entitled "Beautiful but deadly", Geoff Loxton from Bath points out that "During the 1950's Tb had been eradicated from my 450 cow herd. At that time there were still many ground nesting birds such as peewits and skylarks, safe from the omnivourous badger jaws, which now scoop up many of the eggs and nestlings : these birds used to be everywhere in the countryside in the 1920's, 1930's and 1950's. Why do people nowadays think it is ecologically balanced for badgers to be as plentiful in the English countryside as they are today? Their prevalence is a recent phenomenon; as a boy, I never saw or heard about badgers. How did the badger lobby succeed so well? They used attractive badger pictures to head publicity campaigns and made much of the 'kindly' Mr. Badger of the Wind in the Willows, and propagated the view that badgers were a 'good thing'.

There is no mention of the danger to peewits and skylarks. And now the badger is protected by law and its population has exploded. I cannot understand the badger lobby. Are they so fond of 'wildlife' that they will be happy to have rats and mice in their kitchens? But they appear to be happy to see thousands of cattle slaughtered rather than accept similarly controlled slaughter of badgers to prevent the spread of Tb. And they don't seem to like my peewits and skylarks".

In another excellent letter, John Capstick from Penrith, Cumbria questions (as do we) the "Contradictory conservation ethos", of allowing an unconstrained species- specific policy to masquerade under the 'conservation' banner.

"While a booming badger population enjoys complete protection under the law, elsewhere thousands of red deer are being culled without so much as a raised eyebrow from the general public. Any suggestion of curbs on a fast expanding seal population raises a storm of protest, while hedgehogs are removed wholesale from islands where they are not thought to be 'appropriate'. Single species campaigning and 'conservation' to the exclusion of the wider aspects of biodiversity does a disservice to genuine efforts to achieve balanced wildlife populations in the countryside.

An uncontrolled and exponentially increasing badger population will lead to diminished food supplies and starvation with the attendant disturbing scenes which badger lovers will find distressing". (Farmers are seing this already and they are pretty distressed too. Badgers, sick and emaciated, seeking food and shelter where they can - often in broad daylight)

"Where species without predators are allowed to expand beyond the carrying capacity of the ground they occupy, this is the inevitable result.In a small country such as this, some degree of 'management' is necessary if we are to have a countryside where all species have a reasonable chance of sustainable populations. Our predilection for making arbitary choices over which species have a superficially attractive appearance, and should therefore be excluded from sensible management, while a blind eye is turned to others who are seen as not so attractive and therefore expendable is irrational. It does nature and conservation no service"

We agree. In fact we would go further and request a definition of the role of 'Wildlife Trusts'.
Is that 'Wildlife' singular or 'Wildlife' plural??

Friday, March 04, 2005

Tb in Michigan: "If we pull away and do nothing, it would get worse"

In this post we have trawled up problems from across the pond. Compare and contrast, the attitude taken to the eradication of tb in Michigan to the latest 'offering' - a 'Framework' and a new 'Committee' from our very own comedy duo - Beckett and Bradshaw.
Michigan is using PCR diagnostic technology as well.

"If we pull away and do nothing, it would get worse".

Prophetic words in 2001 from Michigan State University scientists and vets, attempting a balancing act between hunters and tourism on one side and dairy and beef farmers on the other. The results from a two pronged attack on mycobacterium bovis have now shown fewer Tb cases for the second consecutive year.

In 1995, a hunter discovered lesions in the carcass of a whitetail deer, which were confirmed as Tb. During that winter 20 more infected deer were found. And during a USDA Tb check in Michigan during 1998, the disease was also found in the cattle. This was a huge surprise to the farmers as Tb had been virtually eradicated from the country during the 1970's. By 2001, twenty cases had been discovered by routine intradermal skin testing the cattle herds and eleven of those had opted for 'depopulation' - whole herd slaughter.

Farmers and scientists blamed the cross contamination or transmission of this infectious bacteria on the feeding and 'baiting' of the deer populations. Hunters were sustaining larger deer populations by supplementary feeding during the winter, and then drawing them out of the woodland cover, by using sugar beet, carrots and corn for 'close shots' in the autumn.

This close contact of the deer at communal feeding, the scientists felt encouraged the spread of Tb within the deer population, and sustained by this extra feeding, the over populated deer then spilled out into the cattle pastures. Any residues of infected saliva etc. on the remains of the 'bait' was then available to cattle.

The two pronged appraoch adopted by Michigan involved reducing the population of whitetail deer drastically, and they banned the feeding and 'baiting' of the animals in some areas. The number of infected deer carcasses fell. More hunters' licenses were granted - less deer meant less tb, and the compensation for slaughtered cattle was increased to $4000 per head.

Michigan scientist Dr. Mitch Palmer suggested that they were breaking new ground, because "The established dogma was that you couldn't maintain Tb in a wildlife population" .
His partner is concentrating on studying transmission of the disease via the feed piles laid out to encourage the deer in range of the hunters' rifles.
"The only way to control Tb in the wild is to rely on the hunters."

Like the UK, farmers in Michigan dread finding Tb in the herds. When one animal tests positive, the whole herd and the farmer's livelihood can be destroyed. This calls into question the management of the wildlife source - the whitetail deer. Farmers point out that the ban on supplementary feeding and 'baiting' the deer is only applied rigourously in one corner of the State, but allowed to continue 'at a reduced level' else where.

"They have to do away with ALL baiting. It's like being a little bit pregnant - it ain't gonna work", said one farmer.

That view is also held by the Michigan Farm bureau, representing 17,000 cattle farmers. A one sided policy will not work, but to help Michigan farmers, cattle compensation has been increased (to $4000) and the State covers all testing and veterinary checks. USDA stresses the importance of regaining and retaining its Tb free trading status'.

In 2001, Michigan had tested 39,200 white tailed deer and found a total of 285 with confirmed tb. The Department of Agriculture has conducted 156,674 tb tests on cattle, goats and bison and 8,400 privately owned cervids. IOWA University warned in 1996 of the folly of countries (like the UK) who allowed a wildlife reservoir of tb to flourish, pointing out that such actions were putting at risk decades of eradication work on the disease. The Tb eradication project in Michigan involves a multi-agency team of experts including the Department of Agriculture, Community Health, Natural Resources, Michigan State University and the US Department of Agriculture. Co-ordinator of the project is Bob Bender, an ex dairy farmer who served 13 years with the State Legislature.

"This is a hugely expensive project to save livestock and wildlife", said Bob Schmitt, a vet with the Department of Natural Resources, "but if we pull away and do nothing, it will get worse".

More on this story and Michigan's use of the PCR at:


Thursday, March 03, 2005

We'll only help if cull is agreed

Andrew Forgrave of the North Wales Daily Post writes today:

Frustrated farmers say they will only help shoulder the cost of the Government's new bovine TB strategy if badger culling is included.

Rural ministry Defra this week published guidelines to help government, vets, farmers and wildlife groups tackle TB in cattle and farmed deer more effectively.

Research on badger culling will continue, but in the meantime efforts will concentrate on the premovement testing of cattle, designed to prevent cattle-to-cattle spread.

Under the strategy, greater responsibility for making bovine TB decisions will be passed to the regional administrations.

Wales countryside minister Carwyn Jones is hoping to develop a partnership approach which would demand "commitment, compromise and co-operation".

But the National Beef Association said co-operation would be difficult if farmers were unconvinced by the tactical approach - especially if there was a financial cost involved.

NBA chief executive Robert Forster said: "Farmers will only agree to contribute to cost if they have more say in control strategies."

Last week, 322 UK vets signed a letter urging the government to back a strategic cull of TB-infected badgers.

Their letter condemned the "wholly inadequate approach... in controlling the disease".

The National Association of Badger Groups said Defra was unlikely to be cowed by the letter, especially as cattle trading was seen by scientists as the main mode of spreading TB.

The FUW accused Defra of giving badgers a "god-like status" and refusing to face facts.

FUW policy officer Nick Fenwick said: "Defra supports the killing of deer in order to protect trees, despite the fact that, in Wales, badgers outnumber deer by 40 to one."

Defra has said it will use data from Ireland as well as the randomised badger culling trials to assess whether badger culling may form part of future control strategies.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Farmers mobilise for nationwide protest

TheWestern Morning News picks up on the Defra strategy for not controlling Bovine TB with the following story:

The strategic framework for improving control of bovine tuberculosis over the next decade will do nothing to dissuade farmers from a new plan of attack.

Following on from the initiative of 350 vets who criticised the handling of the bovine TB crisis by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, farmers are planning a campaign ten times bigger.

The aim is to involve everyone linked with the issue to campaign on it.

Bill Harper, chairman of the South West board of the National Beef Association (NBA), said: "We want to do what the vets did, but increase it tenfold. It's not just farmers we want in this, but everyone in allied industries so that we write 3,500 targeted letters."

Specifically, Mr Harper said the aim of the plan would be to highlight the financial impact of the Government's existing policy for dealing with bovine TB.

"Currently, they spend £80 million a year and rising on this. It is a terrible waste of taxpayers' money if they do not do something about stopping the problem growing," he said. "It is also a waste of the animal health status of our nation, both for wildlife and domestic animals."

Mr Harper said the initiative would be focused in the Westcountry, where the worst of the bovine TB problem is to be found.

"It has to be the South West. We are isolated here and the rest of the country doesn't really understand how bad the problem is," he said.

Mr Harper said the Defra plan did not offer any proposals for dealing with the problem.

"Cattle to cattle transmission accounts for ten per cent, we need to be looking at the other 90 per cent. Farmers will do their bit, but the balance must come from looking at the other 90 per cent," he said.

North Devon farmer Tony Yewdall said the plan to get 3,500 people in the livestock industry involved in a campaign was a "good idea", but he added: "I have written countless letters to Ben Bradshaw to little effect. We need something done now otherwise we are just letting the disease run out of control."

At a national level the NBA yesterday welcomed the Defra document for acknowledging that new strategies had to be introduced to reduce, and then eliminate, bovine TB, but questioned whether the Government's contribution to TB eradication would be "wholehearted".

NBA chief executive Robert Forster said: "We welcome its pledge to form a partnership that will introduce control strategies based on transparent decision making on badger culling as well as the adoption of independent scientific advice to construct evidence based reduction tactics. And we will work with Defra to secure this.

"But we are not ready to endorse Government plans for farmers to bear a greater share of control costs which last year topped £92 million, are expected to hit £110 million by the end of this year, and could increase in further 20 per cent annual jumps thereafter.

"Farmers will only agree to contribute to the cost if they have more say in control strategies and are sure that they are working. They will not sign up to financing ineffective tactical plans if costs continue to rise and they have no confidence that the financial burden they are being asked to shoulder will be short lived."

Paul Griffiths, deputy chairman of the National Farmers Union in Devon, whose farm is currently under TB restrictions, said: "It's still something that is on the drawing board, but if vets can manage to get 350 names together I would hope we can manage 3,500. It is a whole-industry initiative. Everybody is affected by this disease which is growing and growing."

Devon NFU chairman Layland Branfield said the aim was to make Chancellor Gordon Brown aware of the massive financial impact of bovine TB.

The plan to drum up support for thousands of people in the livestock industry was inspired by the high profile actions of more than 300 vets. In their letter to Defra Secretary of State Margaret Beckett, the vets said: "We write in despair over the disastrous bovine tuberculosis situation and the wholly inadequate approach taken by your department in controlling the disease."

They stated that the problem had become so bad that the disease had spread from badgers to other wildlife, including all five types of deer native to Britain and also domestic cats. The vets stated that current research into the disease was unnecessary and expensive as the link between infected badgers and cattle was proved in the 1970s.

The National Federation of Badger Groups gave a cautious welcome to yesterday's Defra publication. But the federation warned that without a clear timetable and targets for implementing control of bovine TB in cattle, the document would have little impact.

Badger cull postponed by Beckett

The Daily Telegraph runs a piece this morning by Charles Clover:

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, was accused yesterday of postponing action on bovine TB, Britain's worst animal health problem, until after the last possible date for calling a general election.

Her new strategy for the control of bovine tuberculosis ducked the question of killing infected badgers until 2007 and raised the prospect that farmers would be saddled with the cost of the problem, estimated at £2 billion over the next decade, at some point in the future.

Mrs Beckett, who has been under pressure from farmers to allow the culling of badgers in areas where vets say bovine TB is out of control, did not even turn up at the launch of the long-awaited bovine TB strategy, leaving this announcement to her junior minister, Ben Bradshaw and the chief vet.

The 10-year "vision" document, to which Mrs Beckett wrote the introduction, set out ways of attempting to slow down the spread of the disease into areas currently free of the disease while scientists continue to study how to tackle the problem which affects 20,000 cows a year.

Mr Bradshaw said that results from the Republic of Ireland, as well as the ongoing "Krebs" study of badger infections in dairy farming areas, would be used to work out whether a cull of badgers would be effective.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

A Strategy for Doing Nothing

The Shadow Spokesman for Agriculture, Owen Paterson, today condemned the Government's new Strategic Framework for the sustainable control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in Great Britain as "a complete travesty".

"This is a transparent strategy to do nothing very slowly in order to get the Government past the last possible date for the general election without dealing with the problem. Simply dumping the cost of the Government’s abdication of responsibility upon farmers is a disgrace.

In addition, the Government is practically advocating cruelty to badgers by admitting that there are welfare benefits to badgers by reducing the level of TB amongst them, but then refusing to intervene.

Notes to editors:

Bovine TB is increasing by 20 per cent every year.

It will cost £2 billion over the next ten years without finding a cure.
The trial culling of badgers has been bedevilled by problems and delays.
The Government has dragged its feet over the development of vaccines for both cattle and badgers, and failed to come to a decision over badger-culling (despite positive results in the Republic of Ireland), whilst the livestock industry continues to suffer.

Chapter 4.8 of the Strategy admits that:

There are arguably potential welfare benefits to badgers and other wildlife of reducing the level of bTB in their populations, though this in itself is not an accepted reason for intervention.”

Conservative Action:

We are determined to do whatever is necessary to create healthy thriving cattle herds living alongside a flourishing wildlife population, including healthy badgers.

We also recognise that there is a reservoir of disease in cattle, badgers and deer, which must be fought with existing tools – we cannot just wait another ten years for a badger or cattle vaccine to be developed. We must also maintain the confidence and co-operation of farmers.

We would aim to reduce Government waste on dealing with this problem and harness resources more efficiently by:

  • using the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act to issue licences for controlled culling in the most affected areas. These decisions should be made locally by regional DEFRA offices in conjunction with local vets;
  • requiring pre-movement testing of animals unless it had been carried out within the previous three months, whilst ensuring that the compensation scheme remains fair;
  • actively promoting the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to diagnose disease in individual animals, whilst continuing research into vaccines.

Strategy fails to grasp the nettle

The Country Land & Business Association expressed disappointment that Defra's new ten-year strategy for tackling bovine tuberculosis (TB) is sidestepping the most effective method of tackling the disease due to concerns over the 'social acceptability' of culling.

"Fortunately the Framework hasn't discounted culling but when are we going to be able to implement culling as a control measure to break the cycle of this disease?" said Mark Hudson CLA President. "Why are we still waiting for the results of the flawed Krebs trials when the recent Irish study irrefutably shows the benefits of culling in tackling TB hotspots?"

Bovine TB currently costs the tax payer £64m in testing and compensation and Defra estimate that cost will rise to £300m by 2012. The incidence of TB in the UK continues to increase with ever greater numbers of herds affected by the disease.

Mark Hudson continued, "If we are ever to control TB in this country, then we have to control it in wildlife too. There is no escaping this and when the Minister cites 'social acceptability' as a reason for avoiding the most effective method of control, it does nothing to engender our confidence that Defra will take necessary but unpopular decisions."

Taking the piss

Just when you thought we might get some action, wadda we get? Another strategic framework, 69 pages (including the covers) of unadulterated bilge that all adds up to a big fat zero.

Do not be fooled by the press release though, which is headlined: "Defra publishes new strategic framework for tackling bovine TB". What they actually mean is Defra has published a new strategic framework for not tackling bovine TB.

For want of action, we get "a set of ground rules" which are "designed to improve control of the disease over the next ten years", we get "new commitments" outlines, responsibilities "defined". And you will all be delighted to learn that this "signals the development of a stronger regional approach."

Count Dracula has obviously been hard at work as this new, improved, whiter than white framework strategy has been developed in full "consultation with stakeholders”, and we even have a “core stakeholder group”.

Ben "Rear Admiral" Bradshaw also tells us that there is: "no quick solution to the problem of bovine TB." He is certainly right there, if the government insists on doing nothing about it.

Never mind, as long as we have a "framework strategy", some stakeholders and - yes, you’ve guessed it – a "partnership" with farmers, vets and wildlife groups, then that will be enough to get NuLab past the next election without having to do anything.

Actually, I do Defra an injustice. As well as “ground rules” they have a “vision” which sets out "twelve strategic goals". Stand up number three and take your round of applause. And goal number three is: "to have a transparent process for making decisions on whether badger culling may form part of future policy...".

This may be a family Blog but what Defra are doing can only be described in one way: they are taking the piss.