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.


cornwallbadgers said...

You quote the draft stategy as saying "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."

Could you please clarify:

1/ what they consider "the best testing methods available" are ?

2/ what is meant by a "population of badgers" - infected or otherwise?

3/ what vaccine they would suggest, how would it be administered, and whether it would be possible to disinguish between 'infected' and vaccinated badgers

Looking forward to knowing more about the proposals

Matthew said...

At a distance - but we'll try!

1. To us 'best testing methods available' means not just UK, but worldwide methods, and probably a mixture of all known and proven diagnostic testing. PCR, ELISA bloods, RTA postmortems - every tool we have.

2.'Population' (to us) means a screening of sets (but to include deer habitat etc. as well), to identify where m.bovis infection actually is, that to be coupled - as the press release explained - with 'BCG protection to protect non-infected badger populations'.

3. BCG is mentioned in the press release, and as the UK one is not yet ready but Ireland's is, we hope that sense will take precedence over 'hope and opportunity' and the UK is able to use the 'best candidate' for the job, regardless of origin.
Our own research suggests oral vaccines are easier to administer, but less effective as a couple of individuals may scoff the lot, leaving cubs and 'lesser' group members unprotected. (Dosage is inaccurate)
Injection (we're told) may give a more robust protection, but means traps and capture. Oral BCG is also a big danger to 'curious cows' and if they eat it by mistake (it has happened) they react to skin test - and are slaughtered. So here we really do not know the 'how' - but we're listening.

Distinguish 'infected v. vaccinated' badgers. We would suggest screen / vaccinate negatives where cattle herds are testing negative, and moving inwards screen / remove positives at much the same time?

It's not for us to prejudge this one, and it does need careful handling.

This is a skeleton start and much flesh needs to be put on its bones. Like you, we look forward to the next stage.

Anonymous said...

I belong to a group of country folk known as Ashwater Badgers, we have for many years studied badgers in our area and have seen both clean and infected badgers in that time,we welcome any policy that clears the country side of btb,and wait for the day that the UK is finaly TB free, lets hope everyone can focus on the main cause of everyone`s anger, TB.

Matthew said...

Thanks for that.
We agree.

cornwallbadgers said...

Thanks for your response Matthew.

It seems that te NFU + 'friends' are still no where near getting their act together and formulating a practical policy that stands any chance of working.

So the theme is somehow test all badger setts for bTB and kill all badgers that are any where near a bovine TB 'hit', and while you're at it do the deer as well. Presumably any other mammals that could be concealing the disease would also be'removed'.

I'm so pleased to see you say "It's not for us to prejudge this one, and it does need careful handling". If only that you meant it with regard to the whole problem of bTB, or began to understand the complexities of getting across to us 'non-farmers'the merits of your plan that seems rather reminiscent of the 'clean-ring' policy that failed when tried before.

Seems, for instance, that your proposal , if it could be implemented 'sucessfully', would ultimately result in all badgers testing positive for bTB - because you'd given them a vaccine that would do this. Presumably that would give you reason enough to demand the complete removal of the species.

Unlike 'Ashwater Badgers' we cannot "welcome any policy that clears the country side of btb" - after all this 'any policy' could involve removing all the bovines! All mammals?

I expect the next stage will be the election!

Matthew said...

You got that right - election fever and a news black out on anything that the electorate actually need to know.

Puzzled that your impression of the 'clean ring' is that it failed.

For readers of this site who maybe haven't heard of it, Clean Ring strategy operated 1981- 86, and was undertaken if a herd breakdown was NOT connected with a cattle movement i.e from a definite wildlife source. From the farm in question a 'cordon' or ring was thrown out, and neighbouring farms tested - stopping where cattle herds tested clear. Then sets were gassed right to the edge of outbreak - a 'Clean ring' as shown by the cattle tested.

It operated on badger boundaries (not lines on a map)and was undertaken by skilled operatives.
Uninfected badgers could then migrate inwards and recolonise without meeting territorial aggression.

At the end of this strategy, (1986) just 686 cattle were culled in the UK and 88 herds were under restriction. We qualified for Tb free trading status and were within a whisker of eradicating the disease completely. So in what way did it fail?

As we said to your earlier comment, 'simultaneous' seems to be important and the word is stressed by the press release from the 'Strategy group'. This we would hope would also apply to any targeted clearance, which could possibly be concurrent with BCG delivered to populations testing negative, so 'cross contamination' would not be an issue.
But - if BCG was delivered prior to any 'screening' then if it's as successful as we're told the Irish work is, then bTb would not be being shed anyway - (just thinking aloud here!)

As we've said before CB, this site wants healthy badgers - not no badgers. Tuberculosis is the target for 'eradication', not any particular species.

Anonymous said...

I totaly agree with Matthew, btb is the target and not any particular species,perhaps all the "left wing lovies" at cornwall badgers should wake up to the fact that not only do cattle suffer from btb but so do badgers.I also agree with this country group Ashwater Badgers,they have focused on the real issue,there are sick badgers in the country side we have them in our area of N Devon. you know when an animal like a badger is sick with tb it has very little body weight it has sores on its body and it is slow moving,what a pityfull scene, we should put animals like this down to stop their suffering.