Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Lay testing moves a step nearer...

In a press release issued 25/07/2005 Defra announced the start of a pilot scheme to assess 'lay testers' carrrying out cattle skin tuberculin tests.

State Veterinary Service Animal Health Officers, under direct veterinary supervision will take part in two pilot schemes to begin next month. The tests are expected to involve up to 11,000 cattle and will be subject to veterinary inspection of both innoculation procedure and interpretation of results. This pilot scheme follows the 'consultation' excercise carried out in 2003.

Defra are not expecting a drop in demand any time soon then.....

More on: http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2005/050725b.htm

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Industry Strategy - update.

Last week representatives from all the main farming and veterinary organisations met in Exeter to discuss the draft NFU Strategy paper, presented to Mr. Bradshaw and launched at the Royal Show in July.

Commenting on the proposals, which contained a 'complete toolkit' of options - some of which were snuck in by Defra (see our post Kite Flying or Stitch-up) - the group agreed on a few amendments. These were outlined by Anthony Gibson, SW Regional Director of the NFU:

The group endorses the NFU's proposals to Defra on badger control, but with the suggestions that the strategy should be applied to infected badger social groups rather than to wider areas, for maximum public and political acceptibility and cost effectiveness. And that culling operations should only be carried out by fully trained farmers organised and supervised by Defra.

The aim of the meeting was to agree common ground between all the organisations involved and to: Encourage their representatives to sign up to a single common strategy and action plan.

It was also proposed that as a separate excercise, a further badger population survey was undertaken covering densities as well as numbers, to inform a wider debate about badger management.

It was suggested that PCR technology may now be used to target infected populations, a point vehemently and continually denied by Mr. Bradshaw and government scientists, on the basis that 'no such test exists'. As Michigan have been using PCR for 5 years, what they probably mean by that is 'we haven't got ours sorted out yet'.
But Shadow Minister, Owen Paterson MP has been on a fact finding mission to Warwick University where Professor Elizabeth Wellington has refined PCR to a degree that it will identify Johnnes (m.avium paratuberculosis) in cattle slurry. And as we pointed out in our posting Left Hand and Right Hand, (below) Defra are funding the study.

Mr. Paterson told reporters from Farmers Guardian that during his visit, where he was accompanied by some eminent veterinary professors and bTb experts, Professor Wellington advised the group that the test could probably be applied to diagnose bovine tb in live cattle and in badgers and their environment. She had refined the technology and with her colleagues, developed a 'simple, robust and rapid system for detection of M. Bovis bacterium in infected farm areas, with high sensitivety.'

"Not only is the test fast, with two operators being able to process some 100 setts per week, it is inexpensive and can be used to provide quantitative estimates of infection. Professor Wellington estimates that a mobile laboratory could be equipped for as little as £10,000", Mr. Paterson said.

He has written to the Minister for Fisheries and Conservation, Mr. Bradshaw, urging him to commission a field trial to establish the effectiveness of PCR in the environment around badger setts, and also suggests a parallel trial into diagnosis of Tb in nose and throat swabs from cattle sharing the same habitat should also be set in motion. Mr. Paterson concluded "This technology could provide incontrovertible evidence upon which to base a programme of selective culling of positively identified infected badgers".

£10,000. Not a lot is it? Equivalent to about 7.5 dead cattle. And as Defra have slaughtered 40 percent more cattle in the year to May 2005 than they did in May 2004 and are killing nearly 100 per day - one could say it would be value for money.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck....

....and quacks like a duck then Defra's Animal Health Spokespersons are likely to say" they are unable to confirm its ' identity' ".

In a curious follow up to our post below (Spillover into Pigs) political editor Alistair Driver, this week attempted to delve further into the murk of this case for Farmers' Guardian.

Despite the mischievious headline of last weeks' report, the owner of the pigs, Mr. Appleton confirms our post and says he is 'infuriated', by suggestions that the pigs became infected after they drank milk from a local farm.

"It is in no way linked to milk" he said, " The cattle were tested for Tb before the pigs contracted it and were negative. They were tested afterwards to make sure, and again the result was negative. That shows that the milk cannot have given the pigs Tb".

It might be clear to local vets, and most other people - test sources and eliminate them...but remember the duck.

Mr. Appleton explained that the vet who had examined the pigs in March concluded that the site and severity of lesions in head and neck pointed to its having consumed something with Tb.

"There are 10 badger sets on this small holding [in Professor Harris' methodology that's 80 - 100 badgers] and infection is rife amongst the local population."

Mr. Appleton thinks that a sick badger was turfed out by its social group, made its way to a refuge in his pig barn under gaps in the door, and died. He points at that Tb causes a long drawn out and painful death, a point which "these do-gooders in London" fail to understand.

"If you had a cat infected with such a disease, you wouldn't let it die such a horrible death" he said.

But true to form, the Animal Health spokesperson in Defra was sticking to the party line on this one, reiterating last week's damaging, misleading [and eliminated] headline:

"Cattle on this [and a neighbouring] farm have tested negative for bovine Tb. We are looking at all possible sources of infection including unpasteurised milk and wildlife involvement. We do not yet have a definite origin".

One could be churlish and say that if Mr. Appleton is right, the 'origin' has probably been consumed. And having tested the cattle - twice - milk should have been eliminated 3 months ago.

But never overestimate Defra's ability to recognise a duck.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Nail up the Cat flap...........

Last week both Radio 5 Live, and the Daily Mail carried the story of a Wiltshire badger who 'burgled' the home of a pensioner at 1 o'clock in the morning, and is now 'in custody'.

Now one could be extremely cynical, and comment that having telephoned 999, the pensioner was somewhat more than lucky to get the attention of the police within minutes, to sort out her intruder. But that is another blog, another day.

She was watching television in her Swindon semi, when sounds of footsteps, overturned furniture and scuffles from the first floor led her to dial 999. Two police officers arrived and went straight upstairs, truncheons drawn to apprehend the intruder - and met a badger.

Not equipped with a jemmy to prise open the door, it had apparently gained access through the cat flap, trundled upstairs and attempted to create a nest in the airing cupboard before exploring the pensioner's bedroom. Everything in the airing cupboard had been turned upside down, and the furniture in the bedroom upended as the badger bumbled around, finally attempting escape by hurling itself at the bedroom window, which it broke.

The police officers were at a loss as to what to do with the animal, so called in the 'expertise' from the local animal 'sanctuary'. The badger was captured and is now safely behind bars before being 'released back into the wild'. (Your place or mine?)

Nice story? Many more questions than answers I think.

Radio 5's observations were that the badger was a large adult, with many scars and wounds on his back and sides from fighting and had 'probably been excluded from its social group'. When questioned as to his 'treatment', the reply was that the badger would be 'returned to the wild, when he was recovered enough to defend himself'. The Daily Mail's picture of the animal in the capture cage showed an adult with scars beneath his eye and behind his ears. But more worrying was the 'hedgehog' appearance of his face. Fat, glossy and bushy tailed with a glint in his eye, he was not. His eyes were sunken, and his face narrow and hollow.

To have arrived in a surburban semi in the middle of the night indicates a badger population density which had excluded this animal from its 'natural' habitat. And what is its fate? To be 'mended' and returned to 'the wild', which means fighting his corner - and losing - all over gain.
Where is this vague place - 'the wild'?
Anywhere within 30 miles of the house in which he sort shelter? And straight into a resident established population - of badgers.

This area of Wiltshire is part of a Krebs triplet. bTb is endemic in the badger population.
Has the householder been warned? Has she re laundered all her clothes from that 'upturned airing cupboard' , and her carpets and bedding in the appropriate bio secure way to neutralise any m.bovis from a thoroughly stressed out scarred, thin, disorientated badger?

And has she nailed up that cat flap?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Tb Spillover - Pigs

After our posts on the spill over of bTB into deer and cats (see archives) BBC News has reported that bTb has been found in a batches of Cornish pigs consigned to a small abattoir near Bodmin, in mid Cornwall.

Two pigs and some piglets from a farm near Bodmin, were sent for slaughter but were found to have lesions in head glands, but one had generalised infection in the carcass, said the owner.

Defra is 'monitoring' the farm, but said that it had no record of when it was last informed of bovine tb in pigs as it was not a notifiable disease in that species.

The owner of the pig farm Martin Appleton, told reporters for the BBC that he was sure infected badgers surrounding his farm were to blame. He has 10 setts on his smallholding.

"Badger proofing is impossible. We've got open sheds either side, it [a badger] will climb or tunnel, and a hungry badger will go where it wants".

Abattoir owner Vernon Lobb who has been the meat business all his life, said:
"I've never experienced it [ bovine tb] in a pig before".

Badger campaigner, Pauline Kidner commented;
"Culling an animal alone is not going to resolve the problem"

The International Society for Infectious Diseases who operate the ProMed website (www.promedmail.org) are more succinct.

The ProMed comment on this BBC report:

"Contrary to the views expressed by some interviewees, the spillover of bovine TB from the highly infected, dense badger population in Cornwall to other species wild and domestic, porcines included, should not be surprising.

Though laboratory confirmation on the species identity of the mycobacterium isolated from the affected pigs (lymphnodes) should be awaited, it may be assumed to be M.Bovis.

If the current situation continues, it might be only a matter of time before humans are infected......"

A postscript to this story was found in the Farmers Guardian (16th July) where their article carried the headline 'Milk linked to bovine tb in pigs..'.

Pretty strong stuff. The article quoted a 'Defra Animal Health spokesperson', (unamed but full of mischief - if not spite and spin)
"We are looking into the pigs consuming dairy by products as a possible source. It is possible that the milk came from infected cows.."

Now this story is not new. The pigs were found to have lesions in mid March. And in mid March, Defra's local SVS (State Veterinary Service) clanked into action. Samples were taken for culture, and sources checked. Mr. Appleton confirms that he sometimes fed very fresh milk (that's milk from a cow which has calved in the previous 4 days and not allowed into the food chain) to his Gloucester Old Spot rare breed pigs. SVS were informed and (in mid March) checked the health status of the supplying farm. And to make doubly sure. they tb tested the farm again.

It had a clear test before the incident, and it had a clear test afterwards.

The Defra spokesman added:"We may never find the source of the outbreak. It may never be proved one way or the other....".

But at the time of this statement, Defra's SVS arm had already re-tested the herd supplying occasional milk to the pigs. And it was clear. Twice.

So 'we' knew what the source was not, didn't 'we'?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stitch-up , or "Kite flying?"

The two posts below described a joint initiative on Bovine tb which was put together by the NFU, but involved representatives from various other organisations including the CLA, RCVS, BVA, Research Universities, NBA and individual farmers. As we said, the final document appeared to drift from what we had understood to be the core policy - and it certainly provoked comments.

In the murky world of 'politics' this is euphemistically known as 'kite flying'.

No stranger to this method of sneaking a controversial idea into policy, Defra are under fire from fisherman for just such a proposal right now. On the BBC Politics show, Bradshaw accused questioners and the media of 'lies and scaremongering' when they questioned his proposal to charge £1000/ year license to small fishing boats. This little gem was buried in the heart of Minister's own report, which had taken 3 years to prepare and which he had written - or so he said. (more on www.warmwell.com/05jul11bradshaw.html )

So what is the relevance to our posts?

Well, having spoken to the original instigators of the NFU Policy, the 'Area clearance' which provoked such a vehement response from our commentators, and which the Telegraph (and other newspapers) used as headlines, was certainly roundly condemned - as was snaring (although succesful in Ireland). My comment was 'Stitch - up', but in retrospect, I think it more likely our upwardly mobile Minister was doing what sneaky politicians do - and 'kite-flying' this proposal under the NFU banner, to guage reaction to it.

'Kite flying' is where a controversial proposal is slipped in, or leaked ahead of final copy, to test public reaction. If that is favourable, or at least muted then the idea is pursued. If vehement opposition is raised, then clever Defra denounces or denies responsibility for it - and then awards it to someone else. In this case the NFU. Quite clever really.

And so 'Area clearance' in the NFU Tb policy proposal grabbed the headlines. It's a fudge. As 'George' said, and I've said - it won't happen and it's counter productive to suggest it could. It isn't necessary - but could just scupper the whole policy.

And - it wasn't there when this proposal left its original drawing board.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

NFU Strategy - For Disease Reduction through Sustainable Wildlife Management

Singing from the same hymn sheet as the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management (see post 'Badgers must be Controlled' below), this week the NFU presented its Policy Statement on Tb to the minister at the Royal Show, Stoneleigh.

The title of the Telegraph's piece (below) by environment correspondent Charles Clover, we can find nowhere in the document at all. Farmers are not calling for a "Total Badger Cull" - far from it. The document calls for;
" an environmentally sustainable policy involving management of the population, with intensive measures aimed at diseased populations which do not threaten the thriving badger population as a whole."
But scary headlines are there to sell newspapers.

The strategy involves a number of measures to be taken concurrently which include:

* Targeted area clearances in which diseased badger populations are present (farms, parishes, districts). Assessment of setts to establish their disease status, and appropriate action taken on those found to be inhabited by infectious badgers. Repeat clearance operations and maintainance of both areas through frequent follow-up operations. This to ensure that the wildlife reservoir of bTb is much reduced, and allow test-and-slaughter policies for livestock to remove disease from the area. Measures to rely on gas as a culling method.

*Lifting of the moratorium, implemented in 1997 while awaiting the results of the RBCT , on issuing licenses for disease control purposes under Section 10 of the 1992 Badger Protection Act.

*A general reduction of badger numbers irrespective of livestock disease. This measure as involving the repeal of the 1992 Act, and replacing it with new legislation which protected the badger from inhumane treatment, while making provision for sustainable mangement of its population.

The document emphasises that contrary to the headline on our post below, the NFU is not advocating widespread extermination of badgers. They wish to see healthy cattle and badger populations, and a corresponding removal of diseased individuals.

They also stress that any policy or combination of policies should be undertaken after thorough risk assessment, and involve the expertise of the State Veterinary Service, Defra Wildlife teams, farmers and landowners in joint initiative.

The whole Policy document can be viewed at: www.nfuonline.com (click Royal Show link)

Monday, July 04, 2005

Farmers suggest total cull of badgers

The The Daily Telegraph reports today that a general cull of badgers irrespective of whether they or cattle have been found locally to have tuberculosis will be put to ministers today.

This is the most radical of a series of proposals for tackling the growing epidemic of bovine TB that will be published by the National Farmers' Union at the opening of the Royal Show in Stoneleigh, Warwicks, today.

Farmers are alarmed by the spread of the disease, which has led to movement restrictions being placed on 6,000 herds this year, most of them in the South-West. About 10,000 cows were slaughtered between January and April, 3,000 more than last year. It is estimated that the Government's slaughter policy will cost £2 billion in the next decade.

Farmers' leaders are expected to threaten to boycott Labour's strategy for improving farm animal welfare if it does not lift its moratorium on licences to kill badgers in TB hotspots.

Today's NFU report details how a successful eradication programme of the main disease carrier, the possum, is dealing with the problem of bovine TB in New Zealand.

Meurig Raymond, the vice-chairman of the NFU, said: "There are certain areas of the countryside where we do need radical solutions."

But Dr Elaine King, of the National Federation of Badger Groups said: "It is not going to work because it is not backed by the science. There is clear evidence that the vast majority of TB outbreaks result from cattle movements."

Friday, July 01, 2005

"We Don't Want your money...."

In a novel sea change from the popular image of farming 'subsidy junkies', National Beef Association (NBA) representatives have this week delivered several hundred letters from farmers addressed not to Defra and its Minister of Conservation, but to Number 11, Downing Street, and Chancellor Gordon Brown. Their message was stark. "We do not want your money - £2 billion over the next decade - we want bovine Tb tackled 'in the round', and that includes infected wildlife."

Farmers from the southwest delivered almost 1500 letters, describing the situation as;

"more of a problem than BSE or FMD, and with more and more herds going under restriction spreading out over Devon and the Southwest, there is a real sense of despair.."

"We have got to have this issue tackled, because farmers are now so desperate that if we do not, they will feel they have to take the law into their own hands and that cannot be right for anyone".

Southwest NBA chairman Bill Harper, himself a beef farmer with experience of managing a suckler beef herd under Tb restriction, said:

"It is pointless to try and control the spread of disease in cattle, without dealing with the reservoir of disease in badgers".

(*That would depend on what one's 'point was, surely? - ed)

NBA Chief Executive Robert Forster said:

"Farmers have written to the Chancellor in the hope that potential cost savings would prompt him to investigate Defra's stance. We do not think that the Chancellor and Parliament are properly aware of the costs arising out of the procrastination by Defra over (lack of) Tb control."

"If the disease is not checked, there could be a £2 billion bill to the taxpayers over the next ten years, much of which is avoidable".

"We want to get the manacles off the industry by persuading Government that they cannot defer action over the badger issue any longer".

After the presentation, NBA representatives met Ben Bradshaw to discuss the implications of his non-policy. Although one Exmoor farmer detected a 'glimmer of hope', a Defra spokesman said that although Mr. Bradshaw had listened to the farmer's concerns, there was;
" nothing to indicate a change of policy..."

Over the last 8 long years, DEFRA have managed to 'miss the point' of most of the industry's representations on this issue, while hiding behind John bourne's increasingly flimsy skirts. Why should this initiative be any different? Bradshaw has already played true to form and 'invited' the NFU to formulate a strategy for him, and while making soothing noises to other industry heavyweights will probably do exactly the same with them.

Isolate, divide, polish a few individual egos - while doing absolutely nothing. Classic politics.
And as a young, upwardly mobile politician, it will be extraordinarily difficult to persuade Bradshaw to 'understand' anything at all, when his future promotions and salary depend upon his not understanding.