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".


Samantha, Devon said...

It is simply not proven that badgers spread bTB to cattle. In fact, after around 30 years of Government persecution, there is still no evidence of a link beteen the disease cattle and the disease in badgers. Yes badgers can be infected with TB, but so can birds, deer, humans, cats and probably other animals too. It would be far more of a precautuionary approach to deal with the problem in cattle, most importantly by finding a vaccine. It would also help to ensure that testing of cattle is accurate and kept up to date.

I believe that the current cost of the Krebs' Trial is 7 million per year. These trials are fatally flawed and unscientific - I can't see that they will ever produce any kind of valid results. Some of the reasons for this are:

Not all landowners in cull areas allow DEFRA on their land (I think the refusal in one area of Cornwall is around 50%)

The incomplete Re-active area trials
(Killing badgers was found to increse bTB by 27%)

Interference from protesters opposed to the cull, damaging or removing large numbers of DEFRA traps.

Therefore, it would be far better for the Government to spend the money currently wasted on the cull on vaccine research. Why would farmers have a problem with that?
If a vaccine could be found the problem would be solved, both in the short and long term.

Matthew said...

The rest of this site explores many of your points.

Krebs. We agree. Waste of money, flawed but a handy government 'shield' . Cost £31 million - PQ archived.
Traps - 57 percent 'interfered' with and 12 percent missing. @ £50 each.
Report on Krebs + Reactive - see Prof. Godfray's comments. Also Prof. Harris' predictions.

On most other diseases we would agree. However bTb is a multistrain bacteria. Vacc. will only cover a single main strain plus a couple of secondaries. Which ones?
Cattle tt testing is mandatory under OIE trading regs. Therefore any vaccinate must have a marker to distinguish between the vaccinated animal or one exposed to tb. None has yet been identified.

If the infective pathogen dose is large enough, no vaccine will completely prevent disease - but it may reduce the effects. So even with a vaccine of the correct 'strain', and assuming a marker could be found to identify vaccinates / tt test failures , if the infective dose was high enough disease would still occur, but on a reduced scale. TT test shows exposure, and a btb reaction = slaughter. That would still be the case.
We think a BCG type oral vacc. for badgers may help in reducing transmission to cattle, but as we've said, it won't prevent badgers dying from tb. (See Damping Down)

Badgers are such successful hosts of Tb because they are able to live, maintain body weight and breed - all while shedding Tb. (300,000 units in 1 ml of urine - and only 70 units needed to infect a cow? - that's an enormous load in every 30ml void). This stage can last up to 8 years, before the disease overwhelms. (Woodchester reseach on this site)It is only in the last stages of the disease in badgers that they 'suffer' - which is what we are increasingly seeing now.

Birds. Avian tuberculosis is widespread in UK, hence 2 comparative cattle jabs to test between - and eliminate the avian influence.(NZ, Australia and US only use a single bovine.)

Transmission: infected badgers / cattle. We've dealt with many opportunities, and PQ's + comments have told of more.
Urine 'markers'. In the later stages of the disease, badgers become disorientated and wander from usual latrines, so much of the load is on grassland. Elaine King's research showed that in a suspension of badger urine, bTb bacteria can still be active for up to 11 months.
The spit / spray defence action when badgers are surrounded by 'curious cows', (see post) was followed by a comment from NZ which told us of this being observed in NZ, when a dying possum was surrounded by cattle, who sniffed it.

Feed and sanctuary, is often sought in farm buildings by sick badgers. And it is virtually impossible to exclude them.
Dr. Chris Cheeseman (Woodchester) when asked by an audience in Cheshire how to keep infected badgers and cattle apart, replied "You can't - get rid of your cattle".

cornwallbadgers said...

Hello again

What a good idea to ban smoking - I presume that would follow from your 'precautionary principle'. Then we could ban cars - they kill people.

Oh well, before I get too silly could I ask a question please?

I can't seem to find a way of posting a new tread to this site, but I would like to take the opportunity to ask the farmers that run it exactly what is the definition of a "closed herd"?


Matthew said...

CB. You are most welcome to post comments - or as you have done ask questions and we'll try to answer. Only the editors can actually 'post a new item'to the site.

A 'Closed herd' - as 3 of the editors of this site have (or had),- is a self contained breeding herd which has bought in no cattle from other herds. These herds are the 'seedcorn' from which other herds will normally purchase replacement or new cattle.

It doesn't work - we are still under restriction from tb.

cornwallbadgers said...

Thanks for the definition of a closed herd.

So does this mean that absolutely no cattle were brought onto the three farms you mention after the first initial stock?

I query this because there does seem to be some confusion amongst farmers as to what a closed herd is. For example, Ian Pettyfer in 'Westcountry Farming' recently said that he has a closed herd, "only buying in stock bulls and the occasional breeding cow..."

This would not then be a closed herd would it?

Matthew said...

A farm which buys in cattle on a regular basis cannot be considered 'closed'.

In some circumstances, new bloodlines or a new stock bull is unavoidable, to avoid 'inbreeding'. Our contributer from Staffs had a self contained dairy herd for 47 years, buying in no milking cows. But 4 pedigree angus stock bulls, each working for about 10 years, were purchased from Scotland over that time and post movement tested.
When the Tb breakdown occurred, the current bull had been on the farm, and annually tested for 6 years. Such was the strain of trying to keep, feed and house a years' supply of cross bred cattle which could not be sold, that when the herd went clear over the second winter, the farm sold out.

Our Derbyshire 'Matthew' uses AI (artificial insemination) on organic Angus cattle, and has bought in no cattle. That Tb breakdown lasted 2 years. The farm is clear at the moment, but not confident of remaining so, as all neighbours are under restriction.

After listening to the cattle / cattle theory, we deliberately 'reduced the risk' and have brought in no new bloodlines for the last 8 years, and we have that in writing from the British Cattle Movement Sevice.(BCMS)
" There have been no 'ON' movements of bought in cattle to this farm."

We are on annual testing, and were a member of the Ministry's voluntary herd health plan for other diseases which involved a farm bio security inspection, to exclude any possibility of cattle / cattle contact.

But our farm has been under continuous restriction for over 4 years, and has had 21 consecutive 60 day tests, losing nearly 50 home bred cattle in that time.

After paying for compulsorily slaughtered cattle, 16 extra tt tests, tuberculin, vets fees, SVS costs, VLA culture samples, hauliers, valuers, slaughterers and Krebs, as this herd has bought in no cattle, the taxpayer may be entitled to ask - why?


If you havent moved animals on to your farm in years there is only one cause of the out break, BADGERS,
Is it against the law to shot sick badgers, if it isnt why dont you protect your animals by killing the diseased badgers?

Matthew said...

It took a year or three for the penny to drop. When our herd (with no bought in cattle) went down, we first looked to blame ourselves. Had the bacteria come in on bought in forage, in the bale chamber of the contracter's machine? Was this first reactor a 'mistake' in the testing? Was another disease underlying? It was only after reading Prof. Tim Roper's research where he filmed badgers visiting cattle buildings that we realised this was happening to us, and despite every precaution advised by Defra, we failed to keep them out. Cattle don't come in a hermetically sealed package, so even if we'd managed to protect them inside, what about turnout?

The only badger we've actually seen, was one dead one - in a dire state. It was the infected live ones that caused the trouble and the farm became a mass of trails, which went under wire fences, around chemical deterrents and through electric barriers - from all sides.

It is our understanding of the Badger Protection Act, that yes, if a badger is found 'suffering', it is entitled to be put out of its misery - we didn't find any like that.