Monday, November 28, 2005

Animal behaviour = Tb transmission opportunity?

We have explained cattle behaviour before on this site (Curious Cows) and described a badger's 'fright & flight' reaction to being startled. (Our contributer had his wellies sprayed when a short sighted badger mistook his boot for a cow-pat)
We hear that New Zealand veterinarians are also interested in methods of transmission of tuberculosis between species, and have done some work using a sedated possum.

While he was groggy and behaving 'atypically' i.e as if he had advanced tuberculosis, the NZ vets put him in 3 different situations and video taped the results. (Sorry, no link. verbal info only)

First with a group of cattle, where he was surrounded, sniffed, licked, nudged and generally thoroughly investigated for a considerable time. Had tb. infection been present in the possum, these actions of curious, maternal cows would certainly have encouraged transmission of Btb, the vets felt.

Then he was introduced to NZ's very own woolly jumpers - sheep. Their reaction was "eeer yes ?" and they continued to graze the grass! No reaction at all. The dopey possum was ignored, which could explain the lower rates of tb found in sheep grazing the same areas with infected wildlife.

But when placed with red deer, the reaction totally amazed the vets. The possum was butted, then thrown in the air and generally mauled. In fact, for his own protection the possum was removed. Contact was made by mouth. The deer grabbed the possum in their teeth, and threw him about.

Given badger group's (Avon Wildlife Trust -'Badgers without Bias') and farmer's experiences already quoted on this site, that when startled or surrounded a badger will 'spit and spray urine', this exercise into the behavioural differences between species of animals exposed to
a bacterial blast from a common wildlife reservoir of Btb is very useful. And anyone who still says "but we don't know how it's transmitted", really needs to get out more.

Defra Excels

Latest Tb statistics figures posted on the Defra website show a 9 per cent increase in herds under restriction in GB. But cattle slaughtered (John Bourne is still guarding the badger results) show a 35 percent - yes you did read that correctly - 35 percent rise in the 9 months to September30th. in Great Britain.

In the same period 2004, Defra disposed of 16,986 animals as either Reactors to the skin test, Inconclusive Reactors or Direct Contacts (usually calves from reactor suckler cows) .
But this year in the nine months to September they excelled themselves, killing almost as many as in 12 months just a year ago.

To Sept. 2005, 22,941 cattle were slaughtered. An increase of almost 6000 head.

More on the somewhat inappropriately named weblink 'Animal Health'.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Bending with Bradshaw

Lead story in the Farmers Guardian today, is the astounding figure of 80 percent of Tb cases are down to spread from cattle to cattle.

This figure was provided to members of the House of Commons a week ago, in response to a Parliamentary question on how the Minister intended to rid the wildlife population of BTb.
It led to an angry response from opposition Agriculture spokesman Owen Paterson MP, who said:

"This demonstrates Mr. Bradshaw's loose grasp of the details of how Tb is spread and his tendency to 'bend' the facts to support his, and the Government's prejudiced view of the problem".

NFU vice chairman, Meurig Raymond also refuted Bradshaw's figures, and asked for clarification of their source. Particularly as official Defra figures from the minister's own department show exactly the opposite.

Only 2 months ago, the Central Science Laboratory published a data which accepts that wildlife (badger) reservoirs can account for up to 85 per cent of bTb spread.

"Preliminary assessment of cattle movement data suggest that between 26 per cent and 85 per cent of cattle herd breakdowns were not caused by cattle moving into the index herd, and thus, this percentage could [only] have been caused by wildlife."

Coming only a few days before Government is due to make a statement on future policy for cattle controls which are expected to include pre movement testing and a flat rate valuation, this stance is not helpful to cattle, badgers or the wider victims of Btb spillover, domestic cats and dogs and of course, human beings.

Industry stakeholder meetings have repeatedly called for a 'package' of measures in the round. Both vets and farmers have stressed to Defra officials that they would only accept the cattle controls if they went simultaneously with action on reservoirs of disease in wildlife. Politically expedient cherry picking was not on the agenda. However, for an upwardly mobile political animal like our Ben, it appears that even evidence from his own department can be 'bent'. And we fully expect his announcement next week will have cattle nailed securely to the floor, with a top compulsory purchase rate of £600 for reactors - sacrificial lambs on the altar of Ben's career expectations.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beef Farmer blocks Cull

BBC reports that a farmer who has beef cattle with a positive reaction to the intradermal skin will not allow Defra to slaughter them.

Margaret Booton of Lower Snead Farm, near Worcester said that she would not cooperate with Defra. She criticised the skin test, pointing out that two years ago, 4 heavily pregnant cows slaughtered in similar circumstances had turned out 'to be healthy'.

We have said many times on this blog, that the skin test is the best we have.

It is used all over the world, recognised as the 'gold standard' by the OIE (Office of International Epizootics) and gives no problem to any other country - except the UK, where a maintenance reservoir in wildlife is giving a constant drip feed of exposure.

It does not show clinical tuberculosis.

It flags up exposure to mycobacterium bovis, as an immune response from an animal that has had contact with it.

Eight cattle out the herd of 100 are affected this time, and the farm would have been issued with a 'standstill' order. A Defra TB 2 form, 'Prohibiting the Movement of Bovine Animals', except for direct slaughter.

Mrs. Booton said " We have to be sure that these animals have got Tb before we would consider letting them go and I'm certainly not convinced". Another owner of some of these Reactor cattle on the same farm has asked the courts to inform her of any application that is made to remove her cows for slaughter.

A Defra spokesman commented that when used as a herd screening test the intradermal skin test is "designed to maximise identification of unifected animals at an accuracy of 99.9 percent. whilst retaining good identification of infected animals at an accuracy of 77 percent (individual animal) to 95 percent (herd screen)".

Worcester's SVS said it was " Unable to discuss individual cases, but that if animals were found to have a reaction to the skin test they needed to be removed from the farm. Papers are sent out and a valuation arranged."

The statement ended "There are legal steps that can be taken to ensure removal of animals".

One might also wish that 'Legal steps were taken' to prevent bTb infection reaching those cattle in the first place. But from our post below you will see that CVO Debbie Reynolds has the situation in hand, with pre movement test and a flat rate valuation. Would it be churlish to point out, - with the greatest respect of course - that Margaret Booton's concern is not for the size of the Defra cheque, but the premature slaughter of her animals?

Report: see here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

"Don't Underestimate Tb Strategy..."

...CVO Debbie Reynolds told members of the BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association) when she addressed their Congress recently, in Torquay .

Reported on the front page of the Veterinary Times 14th. November, (sorry - no link) Dr. Reynolds reiterated current policies ( Policy? define policy ??????????) and promised new ones would be announced soon.

"I know that this (bTB) is the area of greatest frustration to everybody in the room - and I include myself in that - because we do have a particularly difficult animal health problem that our profession is facing at the moment".

We would of course point out that the disease itself is a minor part of the 'problem', described by the good doctor. The politics surrounding the eradication of it from the wildlife reservoir in which it is now endemic, is her problem and one thus far we see no indication that she is willing to grasp.

The speech continued at length with the usual scattering of spin and fog. 'Strategic frameworks' were mentioned, as were 'partnerships' and the need to 'maintain public and animal health' not least beacuse bTb is a 'zoonotic disease'.

Peering into the far distance, through her (rose tinted?) spectacles, Dr. Reynolds outlined government intention to regionalise cattle areas, and introduce pre movement testing. This she said, 'to keep clean areas clean'. The fact that even Rear Admiral Bradshaw has admitted that this will miss 60 percent of target animals seems to have escaped his CVO, but it sounds good. And more importantly, it appears that government are actually doing 'something'.

It has been tried before as we have reported, both in Ireland and Cornwall in the SW of England, with absolutely no effect. Unless the wildlife reservoir is tackled, pre movement testing of cattle is of minimal value as disease control.

Dr. Reynolds also highlighted a strong commitment to the introduction of a new system of cattle compulsory purchase compensations, based on table valuation of animals. That'll sort it then.

Regarding the issue of bTb and wildlife, Dr. Reynolds appeared enthusiastic about the publication of the 4 area trial in Ireland, describing it as 'the most significant development last year'. It probably was, but it also follows a long line of 'trials' from Thornbury onwards, all of which turned in the same result. Sort out the infected badgers and cattle tb - just disappears.
And it obviously slipped her mind that her department (Defra) has constantly and on the grounds of 'sound science', defended the £100 million of taxpayer's money spent on the UK's latest effort - the as yet unfinished Krebs trials.

She continued, 'Since then, (the published results of the Irish 4 county trial which saw an up to 96 percent drop in cattle reactors where infected badgers were taken out) we have been working on the cost benefit analysis of a variety of options which recognise the badger as a maintenance host of bTB. We need to get the balance right between cattle and badger management'.

It may seem churlish to point out after that gem of wisdom, that as we've seen when that 'balance' tilts away from that management of disease in badgers, there will not be too many cattle left. And that costs the taxpayer a lot of money. Far more, we would estimate than government gains in copious donations from so-called 'animal welfare ' charities..

Dr. Reynolds concluded by telling her audience that the package containing all these points was with Ministers at present and that she hoped to make a detailed announcement later.

We await the announcement with interest, if not baited breath.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Notifiable Zoonotic Diseases - and a name Defra dare not speak...

Defra has just published its 2004 report into Zoonotic Diseases.

mycobacterium bovis, or Bovine Tb is mentioned and it is on the increase.

Described as being present in cattle ' and wildlife' in some regions of the UK, the greatest proportion of confirmed human infection is in England and Wales.

The report points out that pasteurisation of milk in the early 1950's "significantly reduced human infection with this organism from levels recorded prior ".

It describes current data:

"In England and Wales in 2004, there were 15 (provisional data) laboratory reports of tuberculosis due to m.bovis, an increase on the total (13 revised) from the previous year.

But points out that:

"None of the cases in 2004 had a known current link with the disease in cattle, although one case had previous occupational exposures in agriculture".

The report also explains that potential causes of cross infection to human beings from m.bovis include:

"the effect of a reservoir of the disease in wild species (including the badger)"

And we thought the name of that black and white wildlife reservoir, was a name Defra dare not speak. The complete report can be viewed at:


(This report is a very large file)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Dear Ben...

"We are disappointed that you have been unable to find time to speak to us. We note that you found time in your busy schedule to visit Cornwall to take part in an episode of the BBC's Any Questions programme. We also note that your participation in a light- weight radio programme appears to take a higher priority than the present epidemic of bovine tuberculosis and its effect on the British cattle industry"

So opens a letter to Ben Bradshaw, from exasperated farmers Stephen and Margaret Miles down on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall, a copy of which has been forwarded to your editors.

We have covered the Miles' problems in earlier posts, but will recap - as did Mrs. Miles - lest our Minister of Fisheries and Conservation forget.

She writes:

" Last October we suffered the first case of bovine TB in our dairy herd in forty years of farming. We run a closed herd with no cows purchased since 1966. In that time we have bought in 3 bulls, all from clean farms (and all regularly tested in the herd - ed) the most recent of which was purchased ten years ago. Since last October we have seen over half our milking herd slaughtered as TB reactors, some 51 cows and 1 bull over 6 separate sixty day tests. The consequences of this outbreak are as follows:

* From October 2004, we have been unable to sell any stock (except for direct slaughter- ed) Large numbers of beef cattle, normally sold as 'stores' , now fill the fields. We have the prospect of welfare problems this coming winter as we become overstocked.

* Our milking herd is no longer viable. Our milk sales have more than halved yet many of our overheads remain the same. We are now running the business at a loss.

* Defra compensation for slaughtered cows has been less than our losses in milk sales, and is now seeping away on running costs.

In view of our closed herd policy, and our strict adherence to biosecurity measures we have discounted cattle movement as the source of infection. We, the local SVS (State Veterinary Service) and our own vets consider that infection has come from wildlife. Various reports as far back as the 1960's and 70's put the badger at the top of the list of likely reservoirs of the disease in wildlife. "

Mrs. Miles points out to the minister that they have received little or no help from Defra in attempts to identify the source of this devastating outbreak.
(They know, but dare not speak its name Margaret....)

The letter asks many questions of our Ben, including where, how, by whom and why badgers are translocated. And what are the safeguards for this activity?
(We will watch with interest his answer to that one - and compare to PQ's " No knowledge or registration of 'sanctuaries', and using a protocol and test not approved by Defra" ... the man said then.)

Several dead badgers were found on the Miles' farm prior to this breakdown. None were tested, although SVS were asked.
(Now this is classic 'Don't look - won't find' political skew. Road casualties are tested - or at least there is provision for so doing. But if a badger expires off-road so to speak then the cost of the postmortem is born by the finder. And it is £117 per carcass. One might suggest that this is a pretty good incentive for using a shovel - or the Miles' can play the Minister's game, move the carcass - with all care and wearing the appropriate protective masks and disposable overalls accorded to Class B / 1 infectious zoonosis - and phone the Ministry from a layby on the side of the A30)

In the Minister's 1 in 7 RTA survey release, Mrs. Miles has noted dates and locations of the few carcasses that were collected. None were collected in the Roseland area in 2004 when the survey was done, thus no TB in badgers was reported in the area. This means that unless private testing was carried out, at £117 per corpse, there was no testing of the numerous carcasses seen both in fields and on local roads in the area.
(We did say: Don't look - won't find, but we'll say it again)

The Miles have approached Defra for a License to cull badgers on their land, under the Protection of Badgers Act. They were told to 'Wait until after the Election". Which election wasn't made clear. We expected Bourne's RBCT to steer this administration through two, but perhaps the Minister is banking on three or even four.

Mrs. Miles concludes;

"We are now in an impossible situation. We have a business in crisis without the legal means to eradicate the cause of the problem. Our options are very limited. We can continue farming at a loss or we can have the remainder of our herd slaughtered, receiving only a fraction of their value. Either way, we stand to lose a great deal of money and are left with a diseased farm, with reduced agricultural value."