Sunday, December 18, 2005

Defra takes the 'Quid'...

... but shows no sign of delivering the 'pro quo'.

'Quid pro quo' : something given or taken as equivalent to another.

In the Industry Strategy on bTb worked out representatives of veterinary groups, SVS and cattle farmers, the proposals came as a package of measures, all of which were to be instigated concurrently and parallel. The cattle industry reluctantly accepting the high profile (but of little disease control) pre movement testing - which even our Ben accepts would miss 60 percent of cases of bTb. And believing that providing the wildlife source was tackled in a meaningful way and numbers of cattle slaughtered fell dramatically, then the proposed flat rate valuation could and should be enhanced once again by farmer's own insurance in quite a short space of time. That to go hand in hand, or quid pro quo with decisive actions on wildlife sources of the disease - and all at the same time. Concurrent.

So what has our Minister of Fisheries and Conservation announced?

February sees both cattle measures introduced. Pre-movement testing on the 20th. and tabular valuation on the 1st. And the wildlife? A consultation with options designed to scare the badger groups witless and further polarise opinions - and options.

One may say the Minister proposes to take the quid, and has not delivered the pro quo. Neither we suspect has he any intention of so doing.

Granted his appearance on the media was designed to appease the farmers. He was pressing - as they say - all the right buttons. But the bottom line is that the cattle industry faces costly and restrictive practices while the reservoir in wildlife flourishes unchecked.

We have pointed out before on this site that cattle farmers in areas of high tb incidence are unable to get insurance cover for the disease. The proposed tabular valuation is based only on 'market value', which means exactly that. Draft sales, specialist sales, breed sales and private pedigree sales are not included. So is just £500 / head a good enough incentive for farmers to do Defra's work for them? We hear that the wildlife teams are being stood down, and this week CSL (Central Science Laboratory) are advertising for applicants 'with 5 GCSE's' (sociology, media studies and IT?) to count badger setts. Oh and just to really stuff the job, Defra have no intention of using PCR technology to identify infected badger setts - even though they could - if they wanted to.

John Bourne has scrambled an interim report together, which delivers exactly as predicted - not a lot. Well what did you expect using cage traps, 57 percent of which were 'interfered with' and 12 percent 'disappeared'? That combined with an arbitary line as an 'edge' to the RBCT zone which moved in the duration, including different farms halfway through the 'trial', and thus excluding others, and encouraged the chaos of perturbation at its 'soft' and fluid perimeter. All this they knew at the start - and were reminded in spades. You really couldn't make it up. And they call this 'science'?

More on:


Anonymous said...

Well I'm no scientist Matthew - but I presume that 'farmers' know better than any professor!

This from:

17 December 2005

A cull of badgers is likely to increase the spread of bovine TB in the Westcountry, the head of the Government's scientific trials warned last night.

Professor John Bourne, the chairman of the Government's Independent Scientific Group on TB, accused ministers of "ignoring" scientific advice suggesting that anything short of a total elimination of badgers across vast areas was likely to accelerate the spread of TB in cattle.

Professor Bourne, who has overseen the so-called Krebs Trials of badger culling, is writing to the Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw to complain that the group's work has been "misinterpreted and misrepresented". Although the eight-year trials were set up by ministers to find a solution to the TB problem, Professor Bourne said the group appeared to have been "sidelined" during the last two years.

"For the first time ever ministers have a robust science base on which to base TB control and they are ignoring it," he said.

Launching a consultation on badger culling this week Mr Bradshaw suggested that the plan was broadly supported by the findings of the Krebs Trials.

But Professor Bourne told the WMN that the trials had shown that two of the culling options put forward by Mr Bradshaw would not work. He said the idea of "targeted culls" or issuing culling licences to individual farmers had now been shown to make the TB situation worse.

The Government's third option of allowing a general cull over "larger areas" might work in theory. But Professor Bourne said such a cull would have to be so large and comprehensive that it would be "impossible" to achieve in practice.

He added: "I would not be planning a cull at the moment. There is no indication it will make the situation better, in fact it will almost certainly make it a sight worse."

Two scientific papers on the Krebs Trials this week showed that badger culling reduced outbreaks of TB in cattle by 19 per cent. But they also showed that outbreaks of the disease rose by 29 per cent in the surrounding areas as badger populations were scattered.

Professor Bourne said he had great sympathy with farmers as badgers were "clearly involved" in the spread of TB.

But he suggested it would be better to focus policy on cattle controls.

He added: "In the South West at the moment I think the cattle reservoir is a bigger problem than the badger reservoir. We need to improve diagnosis, we need rigid movement controls and we need much better biosecurity. Farm biosecurity is a joke at the moment."

Professor Bourne's comments will delight animal welfare groups and infuriate many farmers. But they will also prove embarrassing for the Government, which has spent the last eight years arguing that the Krebs Trials should provide the scientific basis for TB policy.

Matthew said...

I'm not a 'scientist' either, and if the arrogance, impotence and thoroughly bad practise undertaken with such vigour in this shambles of a 'trial', then for that I am most grateful.

Professor Godfray's report into the RBCT shambles started the rot, and Bourne started to throw his teddies around.

But eight long years ago I was priviledged to accompany Professor Stephen Harris on several forays into Defra's (or MAFF as it then was) hierarchy in an attempt to bridge the gap between farmers and badger groups on the thorny issue of how, when and under what circumstances badgers with bTb, should be culled. Prof. Harris predicted at the time that the RBCT would achieve nothing except complete polarisation of opinions, and out of control tb as hotspots spread.

He wrote an alternative thesis to the then Minister, Nick Brown proposing intensive hot spot culling of badgers, which is once again part of the government's (alleged) consultation, and which several farming groups backed. Eight years ago there were 7/8 hotspots. Now the map is red from Cornwall to Cumbria, with Wales, Staffordshire and Derbyshire submerged in a wave of infection.

Today Pofessor Harris says it gives him no pleasure to say "we told them what would happen".

That is a scientist with whom I have argued on occasion, but on the whole agree with. We also proposed a 'date of next due tb test' health certificate, to accompany any cattle sold except for direct slaughter. That was ignored too.

As far as Bourne goes, he is less than economic with the truth. Addressing farmers at the start of Krebbs, they were assured that the RBCT intention was 'to cull all badgers' in the respective 'zones'. I challenged him at the time over the use of cage traps, their inefficiency and the consequent likely peturbation effect. The reality was far worse - for the Reactive zone in particular. The Krebbs lot did not come at all.
Fat lot of good that was, as we watched helplessly as tb overtook our 'closed' herd.

The RBCT interim report only covered years 1 & 2, and not years 3,4, 5 and 6 so I guess Krebbs will number crunch on at all our expense for some time yet. And for services to thousands of sick badgers, and piles of dead cattle I expect Bourne will receive his due reward.

On the WMN headline, I agree with Bourne. How the RBCT has performed - or not - has made things very much worse for many of us. And especially the badgers.