Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Talking Shop

The 4th International Conference to discuss mycobacterium bovis was held at Dublin Castle, Dublin 22 - 26th August.

Delegates from all over the world met to attend lectures and workshops. From the UK, our own Debbie Reynolds would have been able to tell attendees how Defra was not tackling the problem in the wildlife, and could remind them of the exponential growth of bTB problems they could expect, should other countries decide on such a one sided policy of only cattle slaughter.

VLA was represented, as was the State Veterinary Service. But conspicuous by their absence ( so we are told) were any members of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG). From their lofty perch as Tb supremos, shields and arch protectors of the Minister of Fisheries and Conservation - and having decided cattle are the problem, the whole problem and the only problem - one may assume they felt the whole debate was beneath them.

No papers have been published from this conference yet, but workshop details and lecturers involved can be viewed at:

Friday, August 19, 2005

1 down, 56 percent to go...

In our Parliamentary questions on the 'efficiency' or otherwise of cage trapping, Minister Ben Bradshaw gave the astonishing answer that of traps used in the RBCT, a staggering 57 percent had been 'interfered with', and 12 per cent were 'missing'.

So nearly 70 percent of the target traps had not caught anything.

Before the 'trial' started farmers and other scientists (notably Prof. Stephen Harris) warned of the effect of the RBCT's high profile, and suggested the predictable result would be 'polarised opinions' and violence.

Western Morning News reported today the outcome of one such confrontation. The farmer had pulled out from the RBCT after suffering damage, intimidation and trespass on a 500 acre area and had erected signs to that effect. The ability to read the notice obviously had little effect on animal activists, who cut wire fences and allowed 30 cattle to stray from the farm.

One such individual, having been convicted last year of similar criminal damage to badger traps, failed to appear in court at Liskeard to face charges related to this farm.

That's 1 percent of the criminal damage incurred to traps in this farce of a 'trial'. What about the cost of the other 56 percent?

Full story at:Western Morning News

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bradshaw's 'Leg Restraints'.

It's August so a nautical flavour to go with our Minister for Fisheries' bucket and spade in the post below. Bouyed up with the Irish badger trials results which cleared cattle Tb by up to 96 percent, our Ben is casting his net for a reliable culling method for old stripey. Cy-mag is OK he says for moles, rats and rabbits, but for badgers 'it's cruel'. Why he doesn't explain.
Obviously John Bourne's cage traps are disaster, 57 percent having suffered 'interference' and 12 percent went AWOL. Not exactly a clearance then was it John? So a boat-trip to Ireland for our Ben had him enthusing about what he euphemistically calls 'leg restraints'.

This is a slick and skewed description of what used to be called a 'snare'. The only thing in its favour is that any animal caught in one is unlikely to be removed easily when alive. With a trap, a badger becomes a Tb takeaway. It's trussed up, can't bite and can be translocated (rescued?) and released any where. But on every other count 'leg restraints' or snares are vile.
And imagine a photograph of a badger so 'restrained' on the front page of a tabloid.

Ireland may like them - we do not. What with an RTA survey which was distinguished more by its omissions than its content, (see post below) and now our Ben's unbounded enthusiasm for snares, one could be forgiven for thinking that he deliberately wants farmers and badger groups polarised. Surely not?

Anyway, on this tack and trying to gently steer the Minister to use the following wind of Treasury pressure, the NFU on Radio 4's Farming Today programme, (Friday 12th. and Saturday 13th. August) while explaining that culling badgers was illegal, said that the tools for the job and the expertise to use them had not yet been lost to the countryside. They told how badger social groups tend to heave out sick or old individuals, who then roam and excavate single hole sets, away from the main group. This was confirmed by the Minister in parliamentary questions (archived) for which, as ever we are most grateful.

It was into those sets ( in past times) farmers would control population densities by gassing from a tractor exhaust, or stationary engine. As with deer management, undertaken by our nautically challenged Minister last autumn, the national badger population was kept under control and more importantly - healthy. The speakers insisted that any control method considered, should be totally under Defra's control.

They also reminded listeners that tuberculosis spill over from infected badgers, had already been recorded in domestic cats (19 in one county) and a dog (report will be written up in Vet. Record this month).

The programmes can be listened to on the following link:

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Throwing Crumbs

With MP's safely out of earshot on the longest recess in parliamentary history, our Minister for Conservation and Fisheries announced (at the eleventh hour) that only 1 in 7 badgers picked up in RTA's have Tb."Even in those parts of the country worst affected by Bovine Tb, most badgers test negative for the disease. They also show no clear correlation between levels of Tb in cattle and badgers". And then our Minister, Rear Admiral Bradshaw, packed his bucket and spade and disappeared.

The crude and wholly unsatisfactory 'survey', which again left out much more than it contained can be viewed at:

Going back 25 years the percentage of badger carcasses found to be positive for TB after a badger removal operation rose steadily, from 15 percent in 1977, dropping briefly during the Clean Ring strategy 1980 / 81 to 9 percent, before rising steadily to a staggering 27.9 percent of carcasses examined and cultered, in 1997.

So how may one ask, does our Minister arrive at 1 in 7 today? Well, he ignored all badgers picked up in the RBCT areas for starters. John Bourne is still guarding those results - his pension depends upon it. And the few that were collected over 4 years, were subjected to 'imprecise diagnostic tests'. Well that's pretty smart - don't seek and you won't find?
But our Minister has also overidden the Freedom of Information Act, invoking the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, as a reason for not disclosing postmortem results to farmers who report RTA badgers found near their land.

A Defra spokesman says "These Environmental Information Regulations cover a wide range of environmental information, as well as any measures or activities that may affect what is defined as environmental information."
Errr yes. I think we understand that.

He continues, explaining that badger postmortem results "Clearly fall within the scope of the definition, and so the request must be dealt with under EIS 2004, and following careful consideration, I regret to inform you that we have decided not to disclose the information".
This to a farmer who found a dead badger and reported it for collection. At least it was collected, many are not.

More about this elusive and convenient antidote to the Freedom of Information Act can be found at:

That was Defra's answer at the end of May, and in June they still pointedly refused to release any information on RTA results, citing 'illegal culling' for the delay. In fact most of the main stream media reported Defra officials as saying "They feared the results would encourage farmers to take the law into their own hands and illegally clear out badgers". The implication a month ago was that the full results of the seven county study, when RBCT areas were included, when badgers dead on farm land and in buildings were included and when comprehensive spoligotyping and cultures were undertaken - showed a whole lot more than '1 in 7', that our Minister for Conservation announced this week.

The actual 'report' ( if that is what it can be called) does state that the 'survey' is not comprehensive and "it is better to interpret the prevalence estimates relatively, rather than absolutely". This is because the survey used "imprecise diagnostic tests and a limited number of badgers collected".

This report could be described as 'throwing crumbs' to the peasants. "You wanted an RTA survey - here it is." RTA information, if undertaken comprehensively and used carefully is vital in getting ahead of pockets of disease, but this...?

One could ask why this exercise in futility was ever undertaken at all when the full results, nutured by the chosen few of the ISG, were available all the time. Or are they destined to remain concealed behind the veil of 'Environmental Information Regulations 2004'.?