Sunday, June 26, 2005

Badger BCG - more Smoke and Mirrors?

In our post Damping Down, (archived May 05) we told you of both VLA and Irish trials using BCG tuberculin to 'damp down' infection in badgers.

Our observations then - as now - were that it was potentially difficult to administer the accurate optimum dose orally, and that if cattle had access to the bait, would probably flag them up as Reactors to the skin test, and slaughter at Defra's convenience. Injection was safer, but that involved trapping and with all the problems encountered by Krebs - only about 30 - 50 % of target badgers captured and 57% of traps 'interfered with' and 12% 'disappeared' - was unlikely to yield substansive results.

Also, we explained that any badger vaccine so far tested, only slows down the disease progression to other organs than lungs, so while generalised Tb throughout the body may damp down the spread to cattle via urine, the progression of this dreadful disease through the badger population, continues. And it would seem slightly odd to 'vaccinate' an already infected animal - if not fatal.

But having held back the Exeter University report until post election, on the day it was released, our Ben, Captain Bradshaw threw another red herring from his shoal (well he is Minister for Fisheries) to the waiting farmers.
A Tb vaccine trial.

"A small-scale, 3 year study using BCG vaccine will begin in a South West Tb hotspot in the middle of next year. It's primary purpose will be to gather data to assess the safety of the vaccine for badgers, although this will be a secondary aim. There are instances where this method of administration may be useful as an alternative to culling, for instance in disease hotspots" said Captain Birdseye.

Field trials are necessary before the candidate vaccines can apply for the necessary licensing procedures, and results are not expected before 2009. That's another election then? The intention is that the field trial will take place in or near an abandoned Reactive area of Krebs.

That would be the one where the Wildlife teams didn't turn up Leaving our Matthew 5 with a festering warren of infected badgers, which in turn cost the taxpayer ££ thousands for 300 of his and his neighbour's cattle over 5 long years? And that was where by very small scale muddle and incompetence, not to mention animal activists' interference, Bourne and Co managed to 'increase' bTb in the cattle by 27%? Where heavily infected badgers are seen dead or dying, in broad daylight all over the place. That's where they propose to do this 'trial'?

"Defra plan to seek landowners' permission for this trial which will begin after next spring's closed season" - and cost £1.1 million / per year. Not on my patch you won't Ben. Go and play somewhere else.

With his usual ascerbic wit, Muckspreader in Private Eye, (June 21st) captures our own reaction to this latest attempt at displacement activity - or Defra's 'Smoke and Mirrors' if you prefer.

"Apart from the tacit admission that it is badgers that are the cause of the problem, the rug has already been pulled from under this plan by none other than Defra's favourite Tb 'expert', Professor John Bourne. There has now resurfaced a report from a committee chaired by Bourne as recently as 2003, whish poured withering scorn on the value of vaccinating badgers. At best, said Bourne's report, vaccination could only offer a 70 percent success rate (that's a lot better than the good Professor is achieving with his Kreb's traps - ed) - making it virtually useless."
'Virtually useless' ? With that we would not disagree - but would include the RBCT Krebs' trial as well.

Bourne's report continued "Researchers have been looking for a better vaccine since the 1920's - and failed." The only effective strategy Bourne advised, was a cull.
"Dead badgers", he concluded "don't spread disease".

Absolutely spot on. So why not protect the healthy ones?


Anonymous said...

This government when under pressure, makes policy 'on the hoof'. Therefore it is hardly surprising when the Minister, Ben Bradshaw announces in Parliament a new initiative - a trial of vaccinating badgers against Tb.

This must be an act of desperation since even his Guru Dr. Elaine King of the NFBG has stated in the past that vaccinating badgers is not feasible.

It is accepted that to be efficient, at least 80% of any population must be vaccinated. This new trial will involve trapping and injecting badgers. Since the now discredited Kreb's trial only managed to trap 25% of its target badgers - what chance this trial?

Vaccinating badgers is another deliberate diversionary tactic to delay having to take the inevitable Political decision that badgers will have to be culled, in order to stop the present insidious decimation of the cattle population. [assuming, of course that is their objective]

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if DJBD could provide a reference for his claim that 25% of the target badgers are caught in the krebs trial areas.

Anonymous said...

It's OK giving percentages of populations, but none of them mean a thing if you don't know how many there were (even approximately) in the first place.

Matthew said...

Too many?

We were in a Kreb's area, and the wildlife teams surveyed the sets (active ones) + latrines prior to trapping. Using Harris' methodology, they estimated the number of badgers in each group. (8/10 in a group)

I suspect that DJBD has used the answers to PQ's + trapping estimates to arrive at his 25%. i.e: 80 percent of target only (maximum) - numbers as described above. Then from PQ's - 57 percent of traps 'interfered' with, and 12 percent disappeared.

69 percent of 80 leaves only 25% of the originally targeted 100.

But that's my working out. I'm sure DJBD will explain in due course...

The same methods of counting were employed by Dr. Stanton in our post on badger densities (Sense or Sentimentalism) where he logged an increase from 1 adult per sq. km. to 38 per sq. km. over a few years.

Anonymous said...

No - much more simple. Farmer in Proactive area (Hereford / Worcs) has 26 active setts on 650 acres.
Assuming 5 occupants per sett, the estimate was 130 badgers to be cleared. The first trapping session caught 32 and a second, many months later 36. Only 25% of the number of badgers estimated to be there.

Matthew said...

...5 adults per sett is very generous, as Prof. Harris used 6/8 many years ago, and has now upgraded to 8/10.

Anonymous said...

So, DJBD's based his claim on the basis of the results from one farm. I know of another farmer in a proactive culling area who thinks 100% of the badgers on his farm where trapped and killed - however, I woundn't be so stupid as to come on here and claim 100% of badgers are caught in the krebs trials. People should stop cherry picking the evidence to support their standpoint.

Matthew said...

Interesting point - 100% of badgers trapped and killed. (Maybe)
But what then? It's impossible to 'clear' any area of a wild animal, and not have others replace those which have gone. The problem (in our experience) is that if this happens with badgers in an area of gross tb infection, the 'dispersers' which fill the void are those that neighbouring groups have kicked out. And they could be more infectious than the group trapped.

None of us will know for sure what the Kreb's trapping rate was until John Bourne releases his results. We can only glean from the Wildlife team's and farmers involved, combined experiences. In places they were fairly successful, and in others due to time of year, lack of badger activity, 'interference' with traps or prohibition of access, the cull was extremely small compared with the expected target.

We're told that one pro-active area managed just 6 badgers in a month.

The nearest we have to a substansive answer is as I said, the PQ's (archived) which state that 57percent of traps suffered
'interference' and 12percent
disappeared. Added together that is almost 70percent of traps set, which backs up DJBD's 'farmer' observation.

Anonymous said...

John Bourne told farmers in the Krebs meetings that he was going to cull ALL badgers in the proactive areas. It was only when he was cornered on this point that he admitted that was impossible and it would be 'as many as they could get'. If your farmer reckoned all his badgers were trapped, he was lucky. On the whole farmers were misled.