Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Tb Saga - A Vet's View.

Practising veterinarian, David Denny, B.Vet.Med, M.R.C.V.S from Worcestershire, has provided the editors with his overview of the bTb saga, past and present.

On testing:
"There was some satisfaction in testing cattle for Tb in the 1960's. Reactor cattle, some in advanced stages of the disease having been slaughtered, the remaining cattle passed their subsequent tests and farms remained free of Tb for 30 or 40 years. Job well done.

No longer: there is now despair and frustration. In spite of using a more sensitive test, finding reactor cattle is only the start of a major problem for all concerned.

In spite of the reactors being slaughtered, at subsequent 60 day or 6 month tests on virtually all farms, I find more reactors. The farms remain under restrictions - unable to move cattle on or off the premises (except for direct slaughter) The farm is unable to trade.

Usually cattle can leave their winter housing in the spring and go out to grass 'free of tb', only to react again in the autumn. (at a 6 month test). But it is not uncommon for cattle to become infected during the winter while housed.

In the 1960's, a double fence six feet apart was sufficient to stop the spread of bTb. now there is a lateral spread of two or three miles annually. Cattle in completely 'closed' herds (those who do not buy in cattle) are having Tb breakdowns. Cattle to cattle infection overall is minimal and insignificant. In several incidences, in spite of some reactor cattle with clinical signs of Tb ( coughing, nasal discharge, loss of weight etc.) that are confirmed as Tb postmortem, the remaining cattle from the same group have passed their two 60 day tests and the subsequent 6 month one. That hardly indicates a high incidence of cattle to cattle transmission."

"Doubts are now being made about the sensitivety of the intradermal test and the new blood test. That claim is based on the number of reactor cattle with 'Non visible lesions' at slaughter. The doubters show a complete lack of understanding of the disease process and the body response. Both tests look for response from the animal when it has met up (been challenged) with Tb. - an antigen, its immune status. Depending on the size of the challenge and its health status, the animal can either overcome the challenge and remain healthy, or the disease process progresses. In the case of Tb, which is a very slow disease to develop, it takes at least 6 weeks before any lesion in a lymph gland develops. More often than not, 'No Visible Lesions' is not a false positive as claimed, but an indication that the animal has been challenged with Tb, and is at an early stage of the disease process: if the challenge is small, then the animal will stop producing antibodies and pass subsequent tests.

The new blood test (Gamma interferon) is far more sensitive than the intradermal test, resulting in many more 'positives' and even more cattle being slaughtered. It is only of use when there is no reservoir of infection in the badgers (or avian - ed.)"

On badgers:
"Once badgers became a protected species in the 1970's, together with an increase of maize growing, there has been a population explosion: in some regions, a high proportion of badgers have Tb, coinciding with a high incidence of Tb in the cattle herds. Maize is a favourite food of badgers, who waive all 'territorial rights' for a feed. It is high in energy, offering badgers a higher survival rate. Unlike most other animals, badgers infected with Tb can take 3 or more years to die from it. For most of that time they are apparently healthy - capable of breeding etc., but they are infectious - able to transmit Tb to others. It is during their latter six months when they become 'ill', and suffer. Having been 'expelled' (from the group sets) they go into 'sheltered accomodation' in or close to farm buildings and an easy source of food. This is the most dangerous spread of Tb (for cattle). They spread Tb in their urine - 300,000 bacteria in a teaspoonful - which they dribble out as they move, and in their saliva - and so contaminate troughs and feed."

On Krebs:
" The Proactive culling, like Reactive has been sabotaged by the so-called badger protection groups, but this has not significantly reduced the badger population. Badgers are running around in broad daylight - so what must be happening at night? Since the traps have been placed on the runs and around the sets, it is only the healthy badger (although it may be infected) that is trapped. The terminally ill badger in 'sheltered accomodation', escapes. It is these badgers that are transmitting Tb to housed cattle. Since it takes these badgers six months to die, it will be at least a year before any improvement in the cattle situation can be expected. The termination of reactive culling was premature for that reason. Those responsible are ignorant of badger behaviour.

Another significant factor in the efficiency of the trial, is that within the culling areas there have been 10 - 20 % of farmers and other landowners who have forbidden culling on their properties. This has resulted in areas of very high badger population on them. Since badgers travel miles to feed, if infected, these badgers will act as reservoir of infection for cattle within the 'trial' areas. (editor's note: If a farm was under Tb restriction at the start of the 'trial', then it did not qualify to take part anyway, and no culling of any sort took place. A hotspot within a hotspot.)

"It is inevitable that given very close contact, an infected sow suckling her offspring, will infect them. Who could have designed a 'culling trial' which has a closed season of 3 months to allow this? The whole trial appears to revolve around the survival of the badger at the expense of the cattle. It (Krebs trial) is no more than an expensive charade."

On other players:
"I am under the impression that there is an orchestrated campaign to exonerate the badger from having any significant input into the transmission of Tb to cattle. A major part appears to be cleverly conducted by the Chief Executive of the NFBG Dr. Elaine King.

When reactor cattle are slaughtered in their thousands and while she appears happy for badgers to suffer from Tb, perhaps she can reveal what her motives are? The current scapegoats include the FMD debacle, inefficient tests both intradermal and the recent blood test, cattle to cattle transmission, badgers catching Tb from cattle, late testing, cattle movements and the involvement of deer. Anything to exonerate the badger from blame.

The ISG (Independent Scientific Group) of seven (5 being professors, only one a veterinary surgeon) which advises Ministers on Tb strategy, are either research scientists or statisticians (3). and have minimal field experience.

The conclusion:
Those of us on the front line, whether veterinary surgeons or farmers know that it is beyond all reasonable doubt that the badger is the reservoir of infection, and is by far the most significant factor in the Tb saga.

In that front line, there is frustration and very low morale. Any plans to implement further petty and irrelevant restrictions will result in a total loss of goodwill and a complete breakdown in co-operation. Until badgers are culled, the situation will only deteriorate. Why is acceptable to slaughter reactor cattle, many pedigree and heavily pregnant and not to cull the infected badgers who are responsible? Any reduction in Tb depends on co-operation of the farmers. If they are asked to take on more financial and other responsibilities they must be allowed to remove the reservoir of infection - the badgers.

Why should farmers have to 'stand and stare' (quote by a client after 15% of his pedigree cattle were found to be reactors) while their livlihoods and generations of work is destroyed as a result of Tb?

Professors do NOT have a monopoly of knowledge and statisticians in a remote office are NOT competent to determine future policy".

D.J.B. Denny 2005.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

'Identify and get rid of the Source'....

Two comments on the post describing cattle to cattle controls which failed in the Republic of Ireland (below) referred to measures adopted by a Cornish Divisional Veterinary Officer, 30 years ago. As our current Lords and Masters seem hell bent on repeating past futilities, on our reader's behalf, we thought it appropriate to find out exactly what measures had been taken, and what was the result.

Our information (from retired vetenarians) is that to clear bTb 'once and for all' from the west of Cornwall, in 1972 a Scotsman, Mr. William Tate was dispatched south to "identify and get rid of the source". Like some of his colleagues today, Mr. Tate concentrated on the reservoir of what he assumed was 'undiscovered bTb in the cattle'. Early infections, not flagged up by the skin test he felt were undermining the whole bTb eradication process. The comment on the blog pointed out that under his direction, 'severe interpretation' was applied to all tests, routine or 60 day. No prisoners were taken, but Mr. Tate we have been told, went far beyond that. He was 30 years ahead of the Ministry in constructing a mountain of 'cohorts'. If a reactor was revealed in a defined group of cattle - he slaughtered the lot as 'dangerous contacts'.

So, severe interpretation on all tests - that's only a +3 ml difference on a bovine reaction - and all animals in the group slaughtered if one failed. But Mr. Tate was looking for animals undisclosed by the skin test. Did he find them?

No, he did not. And neither did he reduce the level of reactors in west Cornwall . How could he, when the maintenance reservoir was not in the cattle at all. . . ?

The second comment from 'George', refers to Mr. Tate's frustration and stress in not fulfilling his goal. If this blog can make known the 'mistakes' of the past, so they are not repeated by naive opportunists and scientific lightweights of the present, then those mistakes will not have been made in vain.

From the Front Line: Summary

Worcestershire vet, David Denny B.Vet.Med. MRCVS has provided the editors with a copy of his letter which was sent to members of the House of Lords. We quote the summary below, and will post his 'TB Saga' over the next week.

" The Tb situation in cattle has been allowed by Politicians, to insiduously deteriorate over the past 15 plus years. Now, as a direct result of badgers being made a protected species in the 1970's, it is a catastrophe.

Typically, in an attempt to solve one problem - badger baiting - another problem has been created; not only has there been a population explosion of badgers, but the involvement of the badger 'protection' groups which under the guidance of the Chief Executive -Dr. Elaine King - have developed into a very powerful lobby. These groups are prepared to allow badgers to suffer from Tb. What are their motives? Who are these groups and how are they financed?

They have sabotaged the Krebs' trial by intimidation and the destruction of traps. Since it is illegal to transport badgers without a license, where do they relocate the trapped badgers? They are too intelligent to just let them go, to be re-trapped.

Ministers, having been 'control freaks' during the Foot and Mouth debacle are now shirking their responsibilities for fear of upsetting the 'electorate'.

Bacteria and viruses are not sensitive to Political spin.

The situation has spiralled out of control. ACTION NOW."

D.J.B.Denny, B.Vet. Med, M.R.C.V.S

to be continued.......

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Anything you can do......

.... the UK can do better. Especially if it involves re-inventing wheels or joining the 'Flat Earth' society ( or sundry other beneficiaries of the current btb explosion.)

To move forward, it is sometimes wise to look back, and this site is most grateful for documention of the Republic of Ireland's fight against bTb, which highlight the crass futility of nailing the cattle to the floor, while allowing a wildlife reservoir to flourish.

In 1960, R of I had 160,000 reactors and instigated a raft of cattle measures, county by county to eradicate the disease from - the cattle. These included compulsory and regular testing, prohibited the movement of cattle into the designated area except under license (permit), regulated the movement of cattle into and out of herds within the area, controlled public sales and disposed of reactor cattle.

By 1965, the disease had shrunk back to 20,000 reactors, but there it stayed averaging +/- 30,000 per year over the next 20 years.

Enter the 'Downie' Era. In 1988, this new broom decided to rid the country of btb 'once and for all' and get rid of the reservoir of btb in the cattle. And 19 new measures were brought in to sweep it all away. These included:

* Exhaustive tuberculin testing. (44 million tests , 7 million cattle , over 4 years)

* A reactor collection service and improved compensation / hardship grants.

*Random sample testing of herds by veterinarians.

*Establishment of a specialised research, investigation and epidemiology unit for bTb.

*Continuation of a pre movement test.

*Improved control of dealers.

*De population of persistantly infected herds.

*Improved identification - cattle tags + checks at markets, abattoirs.

*Improved post mortem procedures at meat plants.

*Establishment of badger research and control services.

*Control of calf movements.

These measures were combined with an establishment of a Tb farm advisory service, and improved DVO procedures.

And the result of 44 million tests on 7 million cattle over 4 years and pre movement testing etc?

At the start of the 'Era';

1988 30,000 reactors.
1989 42,000
1990 41,000
1991 35,000

And at the end:
1992 35,000

And despite all that sweeping (under the carpet?) +/ - 30,000 is where it remained......

.....until the East Offaly badger removal project, which ran 1989 - 95 and showed a drop of over 90 percent in cattle tb, followed by the 4 County Trial which achieved a 96 percent reduction in the area with the tightest border control.

Quotes from this peer reviewed Irish work:

"....bovine to bovine transmission of M.bovis is no longer the primary source of new outbreaks." Griffin & Dolan 1995

"...generally little evidence of transmission from each primary (cattle) case."
Griffin 1991, Flanagan, Finn et al 1998.

"The most striking change was the absence of large outbreaks of the disease (bTb) in the Project area (Offaly badger clearance area) in later years..." Eves 1999

"Cattle herds present in the badger-removal area had a significantly lower proportion of new confirmed herd restrictions compared with cattle from an area where no systematic badger removal was attempted" . O.Mairtin, Williams et al 1998.

And so the (ecological) wheel has turned full circle, and under a shrill, strident and vaccuous onslaught from the ISG's Prof Bourne and cohort Elaine King, the UK is considering - doing exactly what had absolutely no effect in Ireland 1988 - 91.

As we've said before, this site has no problem with genuine disease control measures, but we don't do 'comfort blankets' for political expediency. A post movement test for breeding cattle going into areas of 3/4 year testing is sensible. That said, only 5% of new bTb outbreaks are outside the heartlands of bTb but after 7 years of political inertia, those heartlands are not just 7 or 8 'hotspots' as described by Prof. Harris in 1997, but a huge area stretching from Cornwall to the north Midlands and into Cumbria. When the RBCT started, 75 percent of the tb problem was within the areas covered. By 2004, 88 percent was outside them. Like Topsy - they've grown and grown and grown - just as Prof. Harris predicted.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Industry 'Action Plan' for bTB

At a meeting in Exeter on April 14th., representatives of the countryside organisations, veterinary practitioners and researchers, rural businesses and farmers met under the NFU's stewardship to prepare the draft 'Strategy' for eradicating bTb. This had been requested by the outgoing minister for Conservation and Fisheries, Ben Bradshaw (see post below).

Our comments on that move were scathing. But having told vets 18 months ago that his 'strategy' on bTb was "Not to be in the hot seat when any decisions had to be made", we take our hats off to the upwardly mobile political animal, Ben Bradshaw. He's made it, and as he energetically defends his (Exeter) seat, has thrown the ball back to the industry.

But we digress. At the meeting delegates heard of:

*New work by Exeter University which is finished but now languishes under a government 'purdah' until after the election. This mirrors work at Reading on the effect of Tb breakdowns on farming businesses and the wider rural economy, which found that 75 - 80 percent of Compulsory Purchase valuations were broadly in line with market values.

* 7.25 percent of cattle herds are now under restriction.

*At the beginning of the RBCT (Krebs) 75 percent of the breakdowns were within a Krebs' area. Currently 12 percent are - meaning that the 'hotspots' have exploded outwards - just as Prof. Steve Harris predicted. "It gives me no pleasure to say, we told you so", was his comment.

*Veterinary researchers told the group that transmission chain of bTb is primarily badger - badger, (given the close knit sharing of air space in the sets) then badger - cattle. Cattle - cattle is slight and cattle - badger insignificant.

*Work on cattle to cattle transmission, exactly mirroring current ISG recommendations had been done in the 1980's in the Republic of Ireland. 'Very intensive measures' including annual testing, pre and post movement testing had devastated the industry's ability to trade, vastly increased costs but had minimal impact on the incidence of bTb. (See post above. Anything you can Do ...) The Republic then conducted the trial at East Offaly, followed by the recent 4 County trial and now a 'population management + BCG' thrust. (see post; The Luck of the Irish.. below)

*On BCG for badgers, the R of I are much nearer to a field trial with a badger vaccine than our own VLA, as are NZ. And their most promising candidate gives more protection against lung lesions. (see post below Damping Down)

*Gamma Inteferon can be helpful under certain circumstances, but with a wildlife interface, it needs a 'bottomless pit of money'.

*In 1988 our own UK veterinarians and scientists conducted a BCG field trial - and it worked.

*RTA badger surveys were a vital tool. Tuberculosis in RTA badgers was followed within 3 years by Tb in the cattle herds nearest the RTA casualties. "A useful technique - stopped by politicians." Another 'purdah' is in place on current RTA survey for hotspots v. cattle herd breakdown maps. (Why are we not surprised?)

*Prof. Harris' latest population survey - approx. 800,000 badgers. Given the time from his survey to publication to today, the figure could be 1,000,000. At that density, changes to the weather and farming practises, constriction of available land etc. put them at considerable stress, and vulnerable to territorial aggression.

*The effect of this density on the wider ecology. Ground nesting birds, hedghogs and incursion of sets from woodland into fields and property causing danger and damage.

Conclusion and Draft Strategy.

The group confirmed that they would work with government in 'partnership' short term to reduce, and ultimately eradicate bTb from the environment.

They urged that the best testing methods available be used, to identify and remove infected populations of badgers, using vaccines to protect non-infected badger populations. A recommendation was made that Government to work closely with Irish researchers in urgent field trials using BCG based vaccines to reduce tb infection in badgers, and that published RTA surveys should recommence for England and Wales.

Subject to the adoption of the above, and simultaneous with it, the group would recommend extra cattle testing - at the moment pre-movement - but with a feasibility of post- movement to be urgently evaluated. Farmers to be encouraged meanwhile to isolate and test all bought in cattle (not for slaughter) before they join the host herd. In parallel to the proposals, an urgent enquiry to be set up into the wider issue of 'badger population management'.

It was made clear to the chairman, that this draft Strategy came as a package, and was not to be 'cherry picked'. Delegates stressed that the word 'Simultaneous' was key to their proposals on a wide range of measures, all of which had been proved successful in the eradication of bTb, both in this country and elsewhere.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

MEPs say - "Adopt the Precautionary Principle"

In a letter of support for the signatories of the MRVS plea to Margaret Beckett, members of the European Parliament's Environment and Agriculture committees, Robert Sturdy and Roger Helmer have called on government to "adopt the precautionary principle" on bovine Tb.

"The position of government is unsustainable. On health and environmental issues, the government and the European parliament rely on the precautionary principle. That is where risk is suspected, but cannot yet be proved or quantified, they take pre-emptive action to eliminate the possibility of harm"

"If that principle had been applied to bovine TB, badger culls would have been undertaken years ago. The disease would now be controlled or eliminated, and fewer badgers would have been culled than will now be necessary".

Mr. Sturdy and Mr. Helmer draw a comparison between the relationship 20 years ago between smoking and lung cancer, and currently bovine Tb and the reservoir of the disease in badgers:

"The evidence of a link is overwhelming. But it is possible - just about - to argue that it is not 100 percent proved. Government has turned the 'precautionary principle' on its head, and instead of responding to a clearly perceived risk, it has refused to act until it has 'scientific proof' of a link."

They describe the protests from the badger lobby as " looking increasingly threadbare and desperate."

And conclude "If the same logic had been applied to smoking, we should have seen many more deaths from lung cancer. And if government sticks to its position, we shall see hugely more damage to the Britsh dairy industry".

We agree.

In epidemiological circles the gold standard for 'causality' (or the perception of risk) is "Evans Postulates". Many of the Parliamentary questions (archived on this site) were directed to ascertain the extent to which 'Evans Postulates' had already been fulfilled. In the questioner's opinion, "Answers indicate that the key postulates are satisfied and provide powerful evidence of a causal link".

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A 'Biological' Fence?

An 'old wive's tale' still practised in many country gardens uses a variation of biological scent marking to deter intruders. While the shelves of up-market garden centres may contain 'lion's dung' pellets, the carrot patches of rural gardens were given of dose of a home grown deterrent. The men of the family, (we're told it doesn't work with females) would urinate around the perimeter, to stop badgers digging up the carrots.

We have been given permission by its author to quote a BSc pilot study which used this principle, to determine if ' non-kin' badger scent, could be used in a similar way, i.e to deter other badgers not of the same social group.

Badgers are territorial, scent marking 'their' patch with a latrine or urine spray. They will fiercely defend this area and sometimes kill other badgers who try to enter. The trigger appears from the study to be the communal 'scent' from their excretions.

The researcher introduced faecal material to a badger latrine from a non-kin sett latrine several miles away. Adult badgers refused to use it and created a new latrine area. Only the 3 small cubs ventured near. Similar experiences with sett bedding, had been seen by researcher in a previous study. When a ball of new grass bedding was artificially scented, the badgers ignored it for 24 hours but if scented with non-kin badger scent they ignored it for at least 7 days, with the dominant male eventualy kicking it away from the sett entrance.

The researcher's conclusion was that non-kin badger scent was a powerful deterrent to incoming badgers not of the same social group.

"The scent of non-kin faeces is sufficient to deter a badger from entering its own latrine area, even if only temporarily, suggests it may be possible to exclude badgers from a particular area by using scent" .

The author saw possibilities for the use of their own scent in the translocation of badgers away from construction sites, and from undermining buildings. But the primary interest of this site is the transmission of tuberculosis, and on that subject the researcher concluded:

"As badgers have been very strongly linked with the spread of Bovine tuberculosis, the implications for this (research) are obvious. If this effect could be reproduced chemically and commercially, it may be possible to segregate cows and badgers thus minimising the spread of Tb between the species. Goman et al's research (1984 - Distinctive badger social group scent) could be expanded in the hope of isolating the particular chemical(s) which, in sufficient quantities could be used by farmers as a deterrent."

The weak link in all strategies concerning the eradication of Tb from badgers is their ancestral home. The sett has acquired a Grade 1 listing, and is allowed to remain intact - a time bomb to reinfect incoming badgers. Artificial scent marking may have a place here, as it may in the protection of farm buildings.

Our grateful thanks for the paper.

Damping down.

Irish trials in conjunction with our own Professor Glyn Hewinson at VLA (Veterinary Laboratories Agency) have been working on BSG 'vaccines' to damp down transmission of tb in badgers. It is our understanding that the work may be ready for publication in early May.

Mr. Hewinson explained:
"Sixty potential vaccines have been tested on mice and guinea pigs, 10 in cattle. The most promising is based on boosting the immune response primed by BCG, with another type of vaccine. BCG might work well with badgers, because although it doesn't prevent primary infection in the lungs, it does prevent Tb spreading to other organs. This may reduce the chance of badgers spreading Tb to cattle and each other".

While any 'damping down' of Tb transmission is welcome, one might question Prof. Hewinson's assurance that the complex vaccine "does not prevent primary infection in the lungs" of the candidate badgers. Thus transmission via bite wounding, territorial aggression and in the confines of the sett would still presumably occur. Only the urinary / intestinal route may be protected.

We have quoted from Captain Ben's PQ's (all 500 are archived) and certainly any reduction on the 300,000 units of Tb bacterium contained in 1 ml of urine from a badger with kidney lesions is good news. But those primary lung lesions are not going to halt the spread of Tb throughout the badger population (especially from an infected sow to her cubs in the confines of the sett) and the animal will still suffer a long drawn out, and increasingly public death.

And don't forget the cats. Or the deer or...... any other tuberculosis ' spillover' casualties.

UK : US Special Relationship - Sometimes.

We've touched on other country's problems with bTb and their control of any wildlife reservoir in several posts on this site, the most recent being "Tb in Michigan - "If we pull away and do nothing it will only get worse". (archived 3/4/2005)

In that post we were delighted to see that Michigan had taken development of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology further along than their 'Light Cycler' . In March 2001 this machine was offered to the UK Government to rapidly diagnose FMD on site. One individual went as far as ordering one at a cost of £20,000, but Government intervened to prevent this without providing the industry or even the most generous benefactor with an explanation as to why they had refused it.

This 'magic box' designed for battlefield diagnosis of biological agents, had been used successfully in FMD outbreaks elsewhere in the world but in the UK, was turned down in favour of 'carnage by computer'. But a British version developed by an offshoot of the MoD Porton Down - Enigma Diagnostics - was on the drawing board, and we've touched on that in the post "2005 - A Good Idea".

Both the Shadow agriculture minister Owen Paterson MP, and the National Beef Association are keen to incorporate the PCR in Tb strategy.

Now fast forward to April 1st 2005, when Defra began to:

"Assess research applications for projects, which will conduct a reveiew of all current PCR assays available for Mycobacterium Tuberculosis complex identification and assess their cost / benefit analysis for incorporation into routine Tb testing".

But they are " not currently conducting research using portable PCR laboratories for the detection of Tb in badgers. But recent collaboration bewteen VLA and Enigma Diagnostics is evaluating a prototype machine for detecting BVD and FMD, and there are plans to evaluate it for use in detecting m.bovis in the field - in the future".

No urgency then?

Our comments on these little gems are as follows:

* As the Blair / Bush relationship is so close at the moment, instead of looking to Iraq, look to Michigan where the 'assessment' described above was being used in 2001. Michigan were using PCR to speed up diagnosis of cattle Tb lesions ahead of laboratory diagnosis 4 years ago.

*In 2005, we understand they have developed the technology for use in the environment - ie. further than a candidate host which in the wild, may be difficult to capture. .

*Defra will look at 'all current assays'. Does the word 'all' inlude technology beyond the UK?

When technology is available which will add to knowledge and speed up clearance of targetted sources of Tb, the bland, woolly phrases used by Defra could be seen as further evidence of Ministerial inertia.

Could the 'special relationship' (or unholy alliance - depending on your point of view) which saw us invade Iraq holding tightly to the hand of George Bush, extend to a sharing of technological achievements in the field of infectious disease control?

We hope so.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Bradshaw asks for Help?

After a 'constructive' meeting with an NFU delegation, vice chairman Meurig Raymond told Farmers Guardian, that Mr. Bradshaw had asked the Union to construct a proposal for controlling bTb which he could present to ministers.

Optimists may see this as a sign that Ministers may be finally be prepared to address the issue which they fear has become so divisive that it may jeopardise the success of their 'Animal Health and Welfare Strategy'. The more realistic among us would say 'There's an an election coming'. But we would agree that government's commitment to 'Animal Health and Welfare' has been distinctly lacking on this issue. And if the industry now ignores Captain Birdseye's plea - it will be used as stick to beat them with at a later date.

Meanwhile it buys a little more time, will probably be 'cherry picked' rather than used as a complete strategy and will ensure several thousand more livestock farmers leave the industry.

Meetings will take place next week, in which veterinarians, conservationists and farmers will draw up a common strategy which will include cattle movement and/or testing controls and the targeted culling of infected wildlife.

Mr. Raymond said the Minister seemed genuinely concerned to find a way through the situation, as it was undermining the ' parnership' approach. He said "Farmers will play their part in eradicating Tb but we need a commitment from Government to do the same, in partnership with us. We desperately need a resolution and an end to this scandalous situation, before Tb destroys the cattle sector".

That cosy word 'partner' again. Did Meurig not realise that Defra had already awarded the NFBG 'Partner of the Year'?

Two's company - three's a crowd.

Peers Attack Tb 'Strategy'.

Joining the ranks of eminent critics of government's 'Policy for Going Nowhere - Slowly' on bTb are several peers of the Realm. They too have realised that the prevarication has produced no winners. Not cattle, the ecology, the taxpayer and certainly not the badgers. An employment opportunity - maybe.

In a House of Lords debate last week organised by Lady Mar, Defra's Lord Whitty was faced with a barrage of adjectives describing current non-policy on bTB, and they were neither supportive nor complentary.

Lady Mar asked government to reconsider its policy on Tb, in the light of concerns expressed by over 300 members of the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) about the spread of the disease. She pointed that vets in private practises and government vets were 'desperate' to be allowed to play a part in reducing, if not completely eliminating bTb from the environment.

"Government policies prevent them from doing so. Talking shops and inappropriate scientific research do nothing to halt the relentless march of the bacterium through the countryside" said Lady Mar. She continued, "The situation is so serious that action is required now. It is not good enough to tell farmers that they must take measures to ensure biosecurity when some of the measures are exremely expensive, and particularly where badgers are concerned - virtually useless".

Lord Soulsby said that there was sufficent evidence from previous trials including the Irish 4 county and Thornbury, to support a policy which included culling infected badgers.

From Lord Plumb: "It is surely now beyond doubt that badgers infected with bTb are directly involved with the transmission of that terrible disease" .

And Baroness Byford, describing the Krebs trials asked "Why wait another 18 months - or more, when the trials are already flawed? Further delay is not an option. We must come up with an effective policy to deliver a healthy wildlife population living in harmony with an equally healthy cattle population".

And Lady Byford said she was 'flabberghasted' by the wording of the new 'Strategic' document, and asked if government had a strategy.

From behind his ministerial barracades and in the face of this noble onslaught, Lord Whitty admitted that bTb was undoubtedly the UK's biggest animal health problem, which for most farmers was "distressing" and for some " ruinous".

He refuted the view that government had done nothing about it.

Spent shed loads of taxpayers cash - yes.
Allowed an seriously infectious zoonotic disease to become endemic in some of the UK's best loved wildlife - yes.
Ignored the advice of grass roots SVS employees on the best way of avoiding transmission - yes.
Re-interpreted a Law of the land, and decided not to issue badger culling licenses under any circumstances after a £1 million donation - yes.
Ignored the doubling of bTb incidence in the cattle herds in the year following that contempt for parliamentary procedure - yes.
Predicting a 20 percent increase in cattle Tb under 'current government strategies' - yes.
Fulfilling that prediction - with bells. The increase has been 25 percent - absolutely.
Allowing this bacterium to be spread over Britain's countryside, putting at risk anything which comes into contact with it -Yes.
Putting at risk Britain's trading status - Yup, he's achieved that too.

Lord Whitty can be extremely proud of his achievements.

No-one else is.