Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Prolonged Wringing of Hands.

We referred (in the post below), to the profound witterings of the Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Debbie Reynolds at the launch of Defra's Animal Health Report 2004 - this in the context of an increase in the pile of dead cattle as Tb reactors by 30 percent in the first 3 months of 2005, which she was happy to oversee. The dear lady also announced that "The industry will be putting forward proposals for Tb control strategy that would involve badger culling" , and it would be presented to the Minister, (our own Ben Bradshaw, Minister for Conservation and Fisheries. Yup the parcel stopped on his chair) in the next few weeks.

We assume that this refers to the Minister's request that the 'industry' comes up with a plan, to halt the scourge of bovine tb through the cattle herds, to which we have also referred, and which is presently doing the rounds of 'discussion'.

Dr. Reynolds went on "We want a sustainable long term solution on the wildlife component. The scientific evidence base for future changes is very important. As laid out in the strategy, if wildlife measures are to be adopted they need to be effective, cost beneficial, take account of animal welfare and be socially acceptable".

She described such a policy as "a major investment to find a sustainable way to deal with wildlife".

We'll deal with those points one at a time, but we will not refer to anything Defra touches as 'science' - in the true meaning of that word.

Cost beneficial. The minions at Page street have added up Krebs, divided by a not- very- large pile of trapped badgers - (arguably the wrong ones) and remember 57 percent of the traps were interfered with, and 12 percent went AWOL, and come up with a figure of £'X'000 per badger, to control Tb - which frightened them to death. The minions not the badgers. The sad thing is that they actually believed this rubbish, and fed it all into the regulation 'computer model' ending up with zillions of £'s which far outweighed the donations from PAL and the 'animal welfare' charities. Sp whatever the core discussion group comes up with, cage traps are not a likely candidate. They are indiscriminate, far too slow, open to abuse and hence very expensive.

Animal Welfare. By this we assume the lady means the welfare of any targetted wildlife, and not the piles of dead cattle - about which she appears to care not one jot. Game management specialists are already employed by Defra on their 'deer management' strategy. With night vision stalking rifles, that is as good as it gets. Their class 1 'Game management ' qualification ensures they are excellent marksmen with a wider appreciation of deer habitat and laws governing their control. They keep numbers under control for a given area, taking out the old and the weak. Her own 'wildlife' teams are in the main, well versed in wild animal control, habitat and management. She could do a lot worse than listen to them. What must be avoided is the stirring up or perturbation of a group of badgers, leading to territorial aggression, which spreads their endemic Tb through bite wounding. We would favour mapping a strong vibrant sett in an area of cattle testing clear, in a density of about 1 adult per sq. km as described by the late Earnest Neal, as "abundant", - and gas the dispersers, and single hole 'problem' sets and sets disturbing sensitive wildlife habitats, houses and gardens, farms and cattle, using carbon monoxide. This was suggested by Dr. William Stanton of the Somerset Wildlife Trust in 1999 and described in our post below. To continue with the 'animal welfare' bit, simultaneously we would use BCG vaccines to protect the cubs in that main set, and continue to monitor all the outlying sets in the area, to pick up the 'badgers which the badgers have excluded' from their main group.

Socially acceptable. Defra have a library of pictures of badgers suffering from advanced Tb. It is much less than honest not to show that suffering. Landowners are seeing in increasing numbers the results of the total protection that this delightful animal 'enjoys' and it is mendacious to pretend it isn't happening. Honesty and politics are unlikely bedfellows, but the lady could do worse than 'tell it as it is' - before the tabloids print pictures of what ramblers and walkers are likely to trip over - any time now. Emaciated, mangy and boasting abcessed sores which ooze highly infectious pus. The press is keen to sieze on animal cruelty stories and Defra's deliberate abandonment of a wild animal species to an the endemic zoonosis 'Tuberculosis' is an accident waiting to happen.

But while Dr. Reynolds is pacing time hand in hand with 'the Industry', she is also saying that she will let Krebs run its course. Another 2 years? 3? The next election? And while she "regrets" farmer anger, and shares their "frustration" she is not going to be hurried into any decision.

"There is a serious problem, and I share the frustration. If it were possible to bring forward the decision, I would".

We deliberately entitled this post 'A Prolonged Wringing of Hands'. We would also add that politicians and 'political' vets should not be seen within a mile of infectious bacteria.


Anonymous said...

Yet more interesting stuff, but I would be more interested to read the blog authors comments on Dr William Wint's research published in Nature this week (and Professor Woolhouse's comments in the same edition).

I wonder if the authors of this site will have the same opinion as the distinguished NFU spokesperson Anthony Gibson ?

Matthew said...

Mark Woolhouse's piece did gently point out that "In further analysis, Gilbert et al (the Oxford team) found that cattle movements played a more obvious role outside the 'core' areas where bTb is established, imp-lying that movements were more important for the spread of infection, than for its persistance".

He went on " Indeed there are regions where bTb occurs only sporadically, despite regular imports of cattle from infected areas. Some other necessary factor seems to be missing - which brings the discussion round to wildlife reservoirs - and especially the badger".

We have spoken to a couple of epidemiologists re. this excercise, and their comments were - unprintable. We'll paraphrase and say 'with computer modelling, it's crap in = crap out" .

We repeat our comment which closed the posting above, and will blog the 'Nature' stuff ASAP.

Anonymous said...

But all this is about is moving infected cattle from the bad areas and finding them somewhere else. As long as the disease doesn't get into the wildlife at the destination, it doesn't matter where you find them.

Matthew said... long as you do find them, which is why we favour a post movement test, or date of next due test, of all breeding cattle.

Anonymous said...

All the reactors in the study were found! Farmers buying cattle are more likely to want to test them - especially if they are in clean areas - so you could target the clean areas for post movement testing. The vets there are not going to be tied up with masses of routine and 60 day testing either.

Matthew said...

Good. We hadn't realised that. (All reactors found)
What does come through from the paper, is that once these individuals were found and removed, herd disease status was soon restored to normal, in other words, as Woolhouse said, 'spread of infection was more important than its persistence'.

And we agree that a post movement test of breeding cattle moving into areas of GB where testing is sparse, would be responsible.

It's worth pointing out that only 152 cattle were confirmed as having bTb at slaughterhouses, out of a total of over 4 million which went past the MHS inspection. A really HUGE reservoir of undiscovered Tb that! (And some of these would be from herds already under restriction).

Anonymous said...

It is likely that most would not have had TB in their lungs - so would not have posed a risk.