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.


Anonymous said...

There is a lot of info to take in here, but I would suggest no one has come up with an acceptable solution/strategy which would make the sort of impact needed.

Anyone who thinks trapping is the answer (Gallagher and co) doesn't understand the extent to which this disease has spread. I notice he is an ex-Government vet. I would suggest his data is out of date. Trapping may have been a possible solution in 1998 when the Krebs Trials were put in place, but the disease has been allowed to spiral out of control to such an extent that trapping (unless paid for by farmers) will only be a viable option when we are top of the disease.

Carbon Monoxide (as suggested by Robert Forster) - no chance. It is simply not environmentally acceptable to have badger setts (even closed ones) full of Carbon Monoxide.

The most worrying suggestions are from the politicians (Patterson and George). Both clearly do not have a clue how to tackle the disease. God help us if the Tories win the election. I am afraid simply saying 'resume targeted badger culling in hotspots' in no way constitutes a strategy. I would suggest the best thing for Patterson to do is return to asking his PQs (fat lot of good that did !!)

Although I disagree with much of what our NFU representative says, I do agree that we must find an alternative humane way of killing the badgers. This is the only way forward until a vaccine is available. Government should target its considerable resources into developing an inert gas which would quickly kill any badgers in the sett, but have no lasting effect on the surrounding environment.

I agree with pretty much everyone on how to tackle the disease in cattle. However, all of them have ducked the key issue - who pays ! Personally I would like to see the 'polluter pays' principle applied, but this would be dependent on the disease being tackled in badgers. Any badger killing should also be funded by the farmers.

Matthew said...

Thanks for this. As we said - a thread of agreement is coming.
Methods may have to be refined.

Traps. People who have to operate them, and farmers who see what they leave behind, say they're clearing the wrong badgers. The strong 'alpha' members and inquisitive cubs are the first in. The lone sick, miserable ones, excluded from the group anyway are not in the 'sett'. That certainly happened to us + cut fences, trashed traps, and traps removed. They are indiscriminate and open to abuse as we've seen in Krebs.

Carbon monoxide??. Any gas needs to be heavy enough to sink into the labyrinth of tunnels, but if delivered in a 'non-lethal dose' not maim the recipiant as cyanide.
We have questioned whether the use of gassing helped by preventing recolonisation (and reinfection) as

Identification of the infection, then discreet speed of clearance is paramount, whatever method.

Cattle measures. Personally I have always been in favour of a post movement test for breeding cattle -or date of next test on all movements. Pre movement is a 'fig leaf', a 'comfort blanket' because of the latency of the intradermal skin test. It may not flag up an immune response 'Reaction' until 30-50 days after exposure to the tb bacteria (that from PQ's - they were useful!) So younger cattle (which some groups want to exclude anyway) may slip the net giving the impression of security, but
end up in areas on 4 yr testing - causing big trouble down the line.

We like the PCR. America has refined theirs and MoD say Enigma's will pick up tb in the environment.

Who pays?
Routine testing is responsibility of Government, under various and many animal health obligations.
Individual animal testing, up to say x% of total herd numbers should be at the farmer's expense and 'On' movements in excess of x% the herd should be on annual (at least) testing as routine.

We like "the polluter pays"!
As I have a letter from BCMS that confirms 'No 'ON' movements of bought in cattle have been registered' to our farm at all, can I send the bill for our breakdown - 4 years, 20 consecutive tests and 40 dead cattle - to Elaine King?

If we clear the maintainance reservoir in the wildlife, then routine cattle testing is all that is necessary. But if we elect to leave it - then with constant reinfection from it, nothing else will work anyway.

Keep the ideas and comments coming. If farmers and wildlife supporters could provide an alternative, government wouldn't have so many holes to slither down.