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.