Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Overall level of disease remains unacceptably high"

This the bland non-statement from defra when explaining this month's bTb statistics, which for a short period are available at:

Defra says:

"When making year on year comparisons of bTB incidence, it is important that these are not made in isolation but in the context of the wider disease picture over a longer timeframe. Whilst bTB incidence in Great Britain has fallen recently, this follows a steady increase over recent years. Furthermore, the overall level of the disease remains unacceptably high."

We are not taking anything in isolation. Nothing at all. We can read stats and also comments from our European masters. We see that Ireland have a handle on their problem and we do not. (see post below on how Ireland have halved Tb incidence and related expenditure)

Defra's latest figures show that this year's upward trend continues with the headline figure of 'New Herd Incidence' down during the period Jan - Oct by just 9 percent, from the dizzy heights of almost 30 percent ..... the figure which gave our minister such a splendid shield in March / April.

Herds under bTb restriction are again up on last year, both in simple numbers (+ 40) and percentages. And the percentage of herds under restriction because of a 'bTb incident' Jan to October was 5.67 percent of herds registered on Vetnet database. (To put that in context, the international bTb 'Tb free trading level' for a country is just 0.02 percent)

Posts have been a little sparse this last month. Apologies for that; your contributing farmers have been testing cattle and guess what?

Yup, three of us are under restriction. Again. Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dear Mr. Brown..........

As Chancellor of the Exchequer and a canny Scot - who are usually noted to be particularly parsimonious - we feel you are under pressure this week, so we offer a crumb of hope (with the greatest respect of course).

The national press has put you on the spot by trashing your figures for the national debt. You have they say, ignored the pensions' black hole and the debt of certain flagship projects when calculating your own figures. And that adds up to ......... negative equity. Or put simply, debt outstrips the country's assets and at £1.3 trillion is now 103.5 percent of the country's wealth. We're broke.

And what, we hear you ask has this to do with bovine Tb?

We have spoken on this site of the 'beneficial crisis' which this totally avoidable situation has created. The governmental largesse divided variously between researchers, 'scientists', focus groups and protectionists and vets, laboratories, hauliers, abattoirs and farmers. Could it be shaved? Could this phenomenal and exponential growth of 20 percent per year (Defra figures) be cut, and thus the expenditure?

Yes it could, and Ireland is leading the way.

A closer look at the Republic shows that they are using the results of previous 'trials' to eradicate bTb from the cattle herds, by a combination of skin testing and yup .......... badger culling. They say that by reducing the level of infection in the badgers, they can not only apply meaningful animal welfare to this popular wild mammal, but prevent bTb spill over into the country's cattle herds.

And dear Gordon, in five years they have halved the expenditure on bTb in the country. Think about that. Almost 50 percent less cash going out of the Treasury's piggy bank. Think of all the other things you could do with those £millions. No, perhaps not.
But we digress. You would like figures?

In 1999 the gross expenditure on bTb in the Republic of Ireland was 88 million euros. Levies and EU cash reduced this to 66.6 million euros, net. But in 2005, just 35.6 million euros was the net expenditure on bTb! In fact Gordon, so successful has the Tb eradication been that the government have been able to reduce - actually reduce by half - the animal disease levy paid by farmers! How about that, a government that is popular with its electorate! And the Irish government is popular with the its European masters too, with bTb incidence being described as 'under control and decreasing', while the UK is ..... well let's just say we're in a mess. The only country in the Community to have an 'increasing incidence'.

So, how have they done it? They have used their research (East Offaly 1989 - 1994) and the Four Counties Trial (1998 - 2002) and applied it to Tb hotspots as shown by the sentinel cattle. They realised that nailing the cattle to floor and ignoring wildlife, as done in the Downie Era ( didn't work and they acted on both sources simultaneously, just as Professor Stephen Harris suggested to your predecessors in 1997 in fact, and which we covered in our posting: But your lot preferred the prevarication and repetition of the Krebs 'badger dispersal' trial - and £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby. Value for money was it?

The decision to act on the results of the Four Counties trial was taken against a background of increasing Tb incidence and was probably influenced by the EU veterinary certificate issued in Sept. 2004, which we covered in several postings including: .
A ban on exports would have seriously dented Ireland's GDP. The problem was thus taken out of the political arena, and placed firmly where it belonged - in the hands of veterinary scientists, well versed in epidemiological matters and out of the hands of focus groups, the public and most of all - politicians.

James O'Keefe from the Dept. of Agriculture and Food says quite bluntly, "If you don't like the plan, give me an alternative.... My primary concern is eliminating Tb in the cattle, but until we eliminate it in the badgers we can't do that".

So Gordon (may we call you that?) you are a canny Scotsman, but a canny Scot with a cash problem at the moment. How do you save some money? Your junior Minister, Baby Ben Bradshaw, has cut farmer compensation, but that has only made a small dent in the Tb budget as it accounted for less than a third of the Tb expenditure. And all the other little Tb hamsters are busily trundling around their respective wheels, linked firmly to the Defra cash machine which is tied to the Treasury and which we covered here:
So what can you do? Well look west to Ireland where they have returned to almost a 'clean ring' policy which operated here in the UK in the early 1980's and when this country boasted less than 100 herds under restriction and 686 cattle slaughtered. (Now it is 4797 herds under restriction to Sept, and 16,000 cattle dead. And with 3 months still to go, incidence is rising sharply again - but your muppets in Page St. say "that doesn't change anything". Really? Change 'anything' they may not want to do, but buying votes with misinformation costs. And Gordon, you have books to balance.

Anyway, to explain the Irish approach. When a farm in Ireland goes under restriction and fast track veterinary investigation has ruled out infection from bought in cattle, the area up to 2km from the farm is 'ringed' and the badgers culled. This continues annually for four years. But in the only two years that it has been operative it has had a phenomenal effect on the incidence of Tb in the cattle herds - and associated costs to the taxpayer. The reduction in cattle reactors has been equally stunning, from 44,903 in 1998, to 25,884 in 2005. This Gordon, has a knock on effect for the costs of 60 day testing, vets, bTb antigens, hauliers, abattoirs and other assorted beneficiaries. You get the picture? Oh and the reaction from Ireland's badger groups, as the cattle figures tumble is described as 'muted', while here in the UK the 'cattle-to-cattle' chant has been adopted as a national anthem. But Ireland has proved that the circle of infection needs to be closed and when it is, bTb in the cattle just disappears, and with it all the associated costs.
More on this from Tom Levitt in Farmers Guardian:

So Gordon, there is a way to control bTb. In the UK, we do not have a different strain of Tb bacteria, as implied by John Bourne - we have a strain of misinformation and interference which is costing the Treasury £millions, the badgers their health and the country possibly its trading status. And it is as expensive as it is totally and utterly avoidable.

We wish you a Happy Hogmanay.
from Matthew 1, 2, 3 and 4.

ps. Trevor Lawson has still not explained to us how bTb arrives in
herds with 'No Bought in Cattle'.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tb Spillover - Another Cat

The single thing which our Minister for Animal Health and Welfare, baby Ben Bradshaw did this year, and on which we congratulated him - never failing to give praise when it is due - was to make tuberculosis notifiable in all mammals.

We have already mentioned in our postings and the susceptibility of cats (among many mammals) to bTB. And from a Midlands contributer, comes the sad tale of a ginger tom called errr - 'Ginger'.

Briefly, this puss was a family pet, a neutered male aged three and half, sharing his domicile with another cat, two young children and his owners whose house was on the edge of a development overloking fields. This summer, Ginger began to lose weight and looked ill, so he was taken to the local vet. Initial examinations showed 'a slight wheeziness' (where have we heard that before ?) and antibiotics were prescribed. The cat did not respond and began coughing. Much further investigative work was done on said cat, involving blood tests and X rays finally resulting in his demise a week later on 'welfare' grounds.

Postmortem indicated major lung damage, enlarged lymph nodes, pneumonia and emaciation. Cultures confirmed bTb.

In the immediate local area, no cattle have grazed the fields nearest to the house in which this cat lived for many years. But to the south of the area in 2005 a dead RTA badger tested positive for bTb, and this year, three farms are experiencing what Defra define as 'emerging new cases' in their cattle, involving multiple reactors. As we have said many times, and no doubt will continue to say, it is absolutely no use shooting the messenger - in this case the tested cattle - and leaving the other half (or even threequarters) of the circle, to wander about infecting anything that crosses its miserable path.

The ususal suspects clanked into action within this shocked family's household, with visits from the Communicable diseases section of the local council, TB tests for the children, monitoring of the remaining cat and advice on the symptoms they must look out for in themselves and neighbours and susceptible pets.

The source of this strain (17 spoligotype) of bTb in a domestic, non feral family pet is not linked to infection from either human beings or other local 'pets'. Cattle herds are to be tested within a 3km area. And the badgers, one of which expired locally and tested positive for the same strain of bTb? Sssshhhhhhh ... Defra may not speak its name.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update: A voice of sanity.....

Earlier this year, the site received a comment which we felt worthy of hoisting into a posting. This posting has now received extra comments, and we feel it worth reminding readers of its content. It can be found:

Trevor Lawson's latest comment, (below on the post re. Gamma interferon) we will attend to as time permits. Or perhaps we should just say "look at the archives, and in particular the answers to PQ' s", which are seriously adrift of the points you are attempting to make - with no references or context.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mr. Miliband - "the figures are dropping".

Defra have posted the bTb stats for the period Jan - September and as we predicted, the 'trend' is now firmly .... up.

For the next month only they can be viewed at;

Our new, upwardly mobile and agressively ambitious minister, David Miliband (already spoken of in hushed tones as a possible replacement for Towny Bliar) has been firmly stating that while " the bTb statistics were dropping", he would not consider any action on wildlife reservoirs. And while his future promotional prospects are described in such hallowed terms, he is unlikely to do so at all, we might add. The fact that his CVO's report had such half-hidden gems describing the performance of Lelystatd tuberculin antigen, as "less effective because of failing to pick up NVLs (Non Visible Lesion reactors) " which would " result in under dectection of cases, resulting in a transient decline in cases reported, despite there being no true decline in cases" he has of course, ignored - even if we have not. We explored this in August:

Lelystatd tuberculin antigen has now been use for over twelve months and these September stats will see the first lot of testing with this slightly different product, drop off the radar so to speak. The very big drop which caught even (especially?) Defra by surprise occurred in the months to March / April, but from then on there has been an inexorable rise in new breakdowns. They are up 13 percent to August and 16 percent to September, which now records a drop on 2005 of 11.3 percent, compared with 27.5 to March.

But even these headline 'Confirmed New Incidence' figures tend to confuse, as the number of herds under bTb restriction "because of a Tb incident" (i.e a bTb breakdown as opposed to delayed test or delayed test results) is up on 2005, showing 4,797 in 2006 to September, compared with 4,785 in 2005. This is 5.31 percent of herds registered on Vetnet, compared with 5.21 percent in 2005.

And as two of your contributers have recorded 'new breakdowns' (not yet confirmed) during November, and the 'Lelystad effect' continues to fall off the testing radar, we predict the autumn figures going higher. More on Defra's September figures from Alistair Driver in Farmers Guardian:

The regional figures are a disgrace. The 'West' region now stretches from Cornwall to Shropshire and the county figures are as follows:

Glos. had 20 per cent of herds under restriction because of a bTb 'incident, in the period to September, Hereford / Worcs. 18 percent, Devon 17.8 per cent and Cornwall 15 percent. The counties of Avon and Wiltshire had 10 percent of their herds under restriction, and Somerset, Dorset and Shropshire 6 - 7 percent.

Defra's 'North' region recorded all three Staffordshire offices with up to 8 percent of herds affected and South and West Wales areas had between 10 - 13 percent of their cattle herds under restriction Jan - September. And even our Midlands Matthew is twitchy, with parts of the East showing a persistant and 'amplifying' (Defra speak for increasing) problem and 2 percent of its herds under restriction; 20 years there was a big fat zero. None at all, in fact only 86 herds across the whole of GB were recorded as being under restriction, and less that 700 cattle slaughtered in 7 or 8 'hotspots'.

So as the figures are definitely on the up, and the statistical shield behind which our new minister has slunk since March is getting thinner by the month, what will he do about tackling the disease 'in the round'? Or are we still on track for Defra's predicted 20 percent / per annum rise in incidence, if the maintenance reservoir in wildlife is not tackled?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A new leaflet - farmers would prefer not to have...

... has been issued by Defra - don't they just love those fat green booklets? - printed on recycled paper of course. This one brings all the small pamphlets together in one 44 page A 4 issue entitled "Dealing with Tb in your Herd" - or something like that. Available in pdf format:

(Sorry folks, just checked this direct link, and it won't flag up this file. Go to Defra home page, type ' gamma-interferon' into the search box, and the file is near the bottom of first page of publication options. Best we can do until they get their 'link fairy' operative.)

Meanwhile as a top up to our posting ;
on the proposed introduction of gamma interferon, the Veterinary Times reports unamimous welcome from industry spokesman on its introduction - but with reservations as to specifics.

Its use will mainly be limited to new outbreaks in 3 or 4 year testing parishes, on skin test- negative animals, and with that we would agree. As would Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, and under those circumstances, many veterinary organisations and farming groups.

The test as envisaged for herds in annual and 2 year parishes is of more concern. In those areas Defra say they plan to use it :

*On inconclusive reactors that fail to resove their first tuberculin re test.

* On tuberculin-test negative animals in severe TB incidents to inform decisions on whole or partial herd slaughter.

*On tuberculin test-negative animals in herds with persistant, confirmed infection that fail to resolve through repeated short-interval tuberculin tests and have taken the basic herd biosecurity precautions.

Those criteria could apply to most of our contributers. IR's are historically given two chances to pass the skin re-test, which will now be reduced to a single strike. And Matt 5 lost over 40 animals through a 4 year breakdown, of which only three proved to have culturable confirmed disease. A g-IFN test at the height of this outbreak would no doubt have enabled Defra's best to "de-populate" Matt's herd, but it would not have addressed the source.

BCVA president Andrew Biggs is quoted in the Vet Times article :

"We have to remember that the RBCT showed, if nothing else that badgers give Tb to cattle. If we don't address that, I don't see any future for closed herds that go down with TB, when cattle movements onto the farm or even nose-to-nose contact [with neighbouring herds] are not significant factors".

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the NFU supported the announcement of the introduction of another diagnostic tool aid "as far it goes". But he said that it still did not get to the root of the problem:

"The increased use of the gamma-interferon blood test will make it easier to stamp out isolated outbreaks of disease away from the main hotspot areas, - but additional testing will be of little value to the thousands of farmers whose herds are constantly exposed to infection from wildlife as a result of the Government's refusal, so far, to deal with the disease in badgers ... ..... Until we get to grips with that, Tb will remain a scourge to cattle, badgers and farmers alike".

We confidently expect Matt 5 to receive his own copy of Defra's new booklet any time soon. Yup, after eighteen months of freedom, the routine test revealed one reactor and 4 Inconclusives.

So our Matt is under restriction again. And this is where pre movement testing is such a comfort blanket. Not. Matt has tested 15 animals this year - and sold them. He has also purchased ( for the first time in 13 years) pre movement tested pedigree bloodstock to establish a new herd of beef cattle. In Spetember the herd consigning the new cows and their calves, went under restriction, involving Matt in cattle tracing and retests, and now all 15 animals sold from Matt's farm this year may have to be traced and tested. Defra don't have too much faith in the preMT do they?
And neither of course, do we. All Matt's new ladies passed their post movement re-test by the way, and that is a far better indication of their disease status.

Matt's Reactor is a cheeky angus yearling which tested clear last year after her purchase as a 3 week old calf. The inconclusives are home bred incalf heifers, both beef and dairy. The source is - well we'll leave that for you to fill in, but I think Defra would describe it as "non-bovine".

More on the gamma interferon blood test on the Defra website:

Thursday, November 02, 2006


The map of GB bTB outbreaks, as determined by the spoligotyping ferrets at VLA, is not - as one would expect if cattle to cattle transmission and cattle movements were the primary cause of the disease, - like a kaleidoscope of scattered strains. We have updated the post below: to show the results of a thirty year survey which concludes:

"In general the spoligotype and VNTR patterns obtained from badger isolates between 1972 - 1976 were the same as those observed in the same geographical areas today. This suggests that the geographical clustering of strains has not changed since the first isolation of M.bovis from badgers over thirty years ago."

The results of the geographic spoligotyping excercise on reactor cattle is below:

Type 9 isolated in 44% Cornwall/Devon 20% Dyfed

Type 17 " 66% Here /Worcs / Glos.

Type 21 " 74% Somerset / Avon

Type 35 " 77% Here / Worcs /Shrops.

Type 10 " 79% Glos.

Type 25 " 79% Staffs / Derbys.

Type 22 " 84% Gwent / Here / Worcs.

Type 15 " 89% Cornwall

Type 11 " 93% Devon / Somerset

Type 12 " 94% Cornwall

Type 20 " 95% Cornwall

So, up to 95% of m.bovis isolates identified from reactor cattle, are identical to the strains identified and persisting for over thirty years in ....... badgers indigenous to the same geographical area? Yup, they are.

We accept that the 5 - 25 per cent of isolates identified outside their indigenous home deserve attention, but what about the cause of up to 95 percent - which is getting absolutely none?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pre movement testing Survey

The National Farmers Union are trying to assess the costs to farmers of Pre Movement testing cattle over 15 months old, prior to sale out of annual / 2 year testing areas. This is to try and get some idea of cost v. benefit, ahead of the proposed roll down of the animal age cut off to 42 days next March. Farmers who have pre movement tested cattle since March 2006, are asked to contact the NFU with details of the test results and the costs incurred, both directly ( to veterinary surgeons) and indirectly to their businesses of extra labour etc.,
Press release with contact details is below;

"The NFU is collecting information to support its lobbying activity on TB. We are trying to establish the costs associated with, and the effectiveness of, pre-movement testing as a means of controlling TB.

We are asking all members to input information relating to their own experiences. This information will be crucial in strengthening our argument for improving the viability and effectiveness of control measures.
The survey can be filled out online by NFU members ( ).

Non members can fill out a paper copy or an excel version. (Contact details below)

We ask them for their holding number so that we can be sure that they are genuine farmers, the validity factor is important! If any farmers have any queries about the questionnaire or would like an Excel version or paper copy sent out, please tell them to contact Nancy Fuller on 024 7685 8540 or
Thank you.’

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blame Cattle (and the Man in the Moon?) ....

....but not badgers.

From the rural heartlands of deepest London, Ms. Jenny Barsby, writing on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports has this week bombarded the farming press and many rural newspapers, if not national ones, with a letter which she hopes will draw her readers attention to 'new research' on the spread of bTb. This opines Ms. Barsby, snugly tucked up in SE1, "should finally bring to an end the continuing myth surrounding badgers and the spread of bovine Tb"

We would challenge the ' myth' bit of that, but the lady will certainly be responsible for serious indigestion among her farmer readers, especially those under bTb restriction, who have the dubious honour of testing every 60 days, loading up good cattle for premature slaughter, and have had no bought in cattle on which to blame their plight - but we digress.

The letter is superficially persuasive, with Ms. Barsby purring gently : "I'd like to draw readers attention to new research which should finally end to the continuing myth surrounding badgers and the spread of Bovine Tb".

It isn't new, it's ISG Krebs data, recycled from Rosie Woodroffe's perch in sunny California which we covered; it's own operatives described it as "rubbish"and thus any data flow flow from it should carry a health warning, but let that pass. The lady continues"The NFU has long been propelling the view that badgers spread Tb to cattle".

Only the NFU? What about 450 members of the RCVS including pathologists, epidemiologists and practising veterinary surgeons? Sheesh, this woman really should get out more.

"New findings (No - recycled maybe but not new) by top researchers (Errr yes. 'Top' of what she doesn't explain, but we can visualise, I'm sure) commissioned by Government (Yup. No need to do that old badger dispersal trial at all, but never underestimate a bureaucrat's ability to waste your money) "show that the route of infection lies much more with cattle than badgers."

Well that's fine and dandy then. And having read that superficial bit of fluff, all those of us who have done the biosecurity bit, and got the closed herd T shirt can now unpeel ourselves from our respective ceilings. It was cattle after all.

The lady blathers on about the need, as expressed by the ISG and recycled by little Rosie's paper, that what is needed is better cattle controls.

And when you've done that Ms. Barsby? Nailed home bred cattle to the floor, and still had years of continuous bTb herd restriction and seen infectious, overpopulated badgers, dying around the farms? What's the excuse this time? The man in the *!!!** moon?

If the League Against Cruel Sports wants to retain any credibility whatsoever- and we still remember its conspicuous absence during the FMD carnage - then the 'sport' of killing up to 30,000 cattle per year, and leaving bTb to infect more and more badgers - which end up like this ('A slight wheeziness') should be uppermost on its agenda.

That said, for all its victims, bTb is a very cruel 'sport' indeed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

PreM.testing - 6 months on.

Defra have just released the figures from the pre-movement testing of cattle to be moved within or out of, annual or two year testing regimes; this can be viewed:

As we have pointed out in previous postings, pre-movement testing is only of value as part of a package, and while the theory of 'preventing spread of bTb' from cattle movements is a heroic gesture, a line on a map - in this case an annual or 2 year testing parish boundary - is not respected by wildlife who have tendency not to read the 'Keep Out' notices.

Our Ben, the minister for Animal Health, carefully cherry picked two of the items in the Industry package earlier this year, while impaling himself firmly on the fence over the third.

So what are the results of the costly and time consuming effort, farmers have put in? Well not surprisingly, they bear little resemblence to the predicted figures, contained in the policy documents drawn up by the pre movement testing group. Bill Madders, its chairman admitted that the exercise had picked up less infection than it was originally anticipated by the group. Which just goes to show, you can do anything with figures. Mr. Madders accepted that data flow from this will no doubt show less than the 700 'new cases' (indicating confirmed infection) predicted in Defra's Regulatory Impact Assessment. In fact at 176 cases, a number of which are almost certainly to show NVL (no visible Lesions) in just 6 months, it has a way to go. But as it is farmers who are paying, there is no pressure on Defra to look at the system at all. Neither does it have a 'sunset clause'. That is to say, as with the post FMD 6 day shut down, pre movement testing has no 'end date'. It stays despite its inability to predict infection, industry costs v. benefit or the level of bTb in GB's cattle herds. More in Farmers Guardian;

Meanwhile, information about the spread of bTb, as shown by the spoligotypes in slaughtered reactor cattle, compared with indigenous badgers has been undertaken, but rarely used.
We have pointed out before that if cattle to cattle transmission was a serious contender for bTb spread, then the cattle spoligotype map of GB would look like a child's kaleidoscope. Different colours all over the country. But this is not the case, and work done is available at;

The report (a SID 5 / Project code SE3020) which delved into the spoligotype map of GB, describes its results thus:
"In general the spoligotype and VNTR patterns obtained from badger isolates 1972 -1976 were the same as those observed in the same geographical areas toady. This suggests that the geographical clustering of strains has not changed since the first isolation of M.bovis from badgers over thirty years ago."

The authors describe this data "as in sharp contrast to the rapid movement of strains " observed in positive post movement tests on re-stocked herds after FMD. Exactly. These were found by the skin test and slaughtered out; end of story.

The eleven main spoligotypes which have remained "in their geographical areas" we summarise below, adding geographical areas i.e 'shared border' counties together.

Type 9 isolated in 44% Cornwall/Devon 20% Dyfed
Type 17 " 66% Here /Worcs / Glos.
Type 21 " 74% Somerset / Avon
Type 35 " 77% Here / Worcs /Shrops.
Type 10 " 79% Glos.
Type 25 " 79% Staffs / Derbys.
Type 22 " 84% Gwent / Here / Worcs
Type 15 " 89% Cornwall
Type 11 " 93% Devon / Somerset
Type 12 " 94% Cornwall
Type 20 " 95% Cornwall

Thus up to 95 percent of slaughtered reactor cattle were subsequently found to have contracted a strain of bTb of the spoligotype indigenous to its badgery home.

Well, well, well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Much has been made of the so called 'edge' effect of the Krebs badger dispersal exercise and the resulting 'peturbation' of badgers. Personally speaking, I'm not too bothered about John Bourne's 'edges' - or any other part of his anatomy for that matter - it was what did not happen in the middle of the Krebs' areas which should be of concern. Peturbation, or put simply and not so anthropomorphically, the mixing up of badger social groups thus encouraging territorial scrapping, bite wounding and spread of bTb, is said by some to be the trigger for bTb in cattle.

The answer from the Badger Groups, is to leave well alone. Leave the badgers to their own devices, even letting Tb act as a population depressor and all will be well. This of course is absolute rubbish, as experienced by three of our contributers, all of whom did exactly that, and whose cattle paid the ultimate price. 'All was not well' at all. But Bryan Hill's letter (post below) and our observations of the effect of FMD on the badger (and other wildlife) populations, got us thinking that this 'golden goose' term, 'peturbation', about which many speak, but few understand is a natural phenomenon anyway.

When Dr. Tim Roper, formerly of Sussex University, put night vision cameras into farm buildings in Glos., he found that the badgers were using them as a local Macdonalds. Not one but three 'social groups' were regularly feeding there and sharing feed with cattle. Likewise the experience of Staffordshire farmers, unable to grow or harvest crops on a field adjacent to a wildlife park, sat up one night and watched to see why their grass was flat, and nothing was growing. They counted over eighty badgers trundling along to be fed shed loads of peanuts, for the 'benefit' of a paying public. Eighty ? That's a damn big 'social group'. Prof. Harris from Bristol reckoned about eight was stable, then updated this figure to ten a few years later. Pity nobody told the badgers.

So what of 'peturbation', and what is its effect on bTb?

Logically, even without the 2005 / 2006 drought stress as described by Bryan Hill (below), and depopulation of cattle from thousands of acres in the time of peak feeding for badgers which happened during FMD (see our posts on Rosie Woodroffe's 'Letter from America', below), movement of the population is inevitable. Old badgers will fight with younger males, lose the battle and be turfed out, and younger animals have to find their own 'group' structure to survive. Nothing is set in stone. That combined with very large territories in parts of the UK, and simply not enough pee for the alpha male to scent mark 6 sq. miles every week or so, means overlapping of territories will occur. Likewise feeding opportunities seem to indicate that groups will intermingle if a large and regular food source is available.

So is food source the key? With bTb 'endemic' in UK badgers (thank you Mr. Bradshaw) for sure anything that stirs up and stresses the population forcing movement is bound to have a dramatic effect on the diease, primarily in the badgers, but then spilling out into sentinel cattle and other mammals.

But this is where Trevor Lawson, Bourne, Woodroffe et al differ from the farmers who contribute to this site. Leaving an endemically infected population to fester,in our experience, is not an option. Our cattle are victims of that - even, or especially, within Krebs' areas. But neither is causing the territorial scrapping stress (as we prefer to call 'peturbation') as did the Krebs' badger dispersal trial, cage trapping in general and activist 'opportunities' for release or Tb-takeaways in particular.

Which is why, from the early days of this site we have been pushing for whole sett gassing, to reduce population stress, this preferably with the help of Warick University's PCR to identify badly infected setts, followed by continued removal of 'dispersers' or super excreters, living alone in single hole setts or farm buildings.

That Mr. Hill has described his own 'population mangagement' of a heavily infected area, with such stunning success is a victory for common sense, and the result is a healthy badger population living alongside clean testing cattle. But more importantly, the opportunities for territorial scrapping are gone. There is no perturbation if the whole group is dispatched underground. No 'peturbed' animals searching for lost relatives, and instead encountering vicious opposition.

There is no territorial scrapping, bite wounding and stress induced Tb because the main groups which are left, just quietly spread out.

The problem of Tb infected setts reinfecting incomers is solved too - at least for a time, as decomposing carcasses in a sett appear to prevent immediate recolonisation. But what do we know? Probably not a lot. But certainly more than Bourne and Co. - and we're still learning - mainly because we are prepared to listen.

"Nature is having its own unofficial cull"

Last year we told how farmer Bryan Hill of mid Devon, had 'managed' his badger population to exclude the sick and suffering individuals which the groups had turfed out, and thus had gradually kept a very large area bTb free - but with healthy, stable groups of badgers living alongside the cattle.

Mr. Hill, has written of this year's extraordinary weather conditions and their relation to bTb in cattle, in the Western Morning News :
where he points out that the very hot dry summers of 2005 and 2006, have had a huge effect on badger behaviour:

"....this summer, 95 per cent of the badgers' natural food sources vanished in the drought. Water supply, streams, ditches and puddles all dried up, causing the biggest natural 'peturbation' of infected badgers since foot and mouth."

Mr. Hill points out that under these circumstances, baked earth with worms deep underground, and a very limited natural water supply, the badgers had two choices: "Stay and starve, or move and fight" [for territory already occupied by other groups of badgers] ..... or they had a third option.." to drink, eat and hide in barns, sheds or under stacks of bales ; spreading bTb to cattle. "

It is this close contact, often within farm buildings and involving 'shared' water and feed sources that, in our experience is the cause of btb cattle breakdowns which are depressingly long, bitterly persistant and difficult - though not impossible - to control. The main sett and its group are not the problem, it is the badgers which they have turfed out that will lurk around farm buildings - as Bryan Hill says. But this hot dry weather has forced even established groups to either move, and then fight for territory, or stay, sharing feed and water with the cattle.

"The same thing happened with foot and mouth, only it wasn't drought that caused the mass badger movement, but the slaughter of cattle on hundreds of farms .... [ ] .. no cattle, no muck, no worms; just long grass, covering thousands of acres." And then as now, Mr. Hill points out the badgers left to search for food, a situation he has been told by farmers all over the SW this summer, which is happening again.

"...starving badgers in sheds and barns, carcasses going through balers and forage harvesters; nature is having its own unofficial cull this summer".

Mr. Hill's letter is addressed mainly to Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, vociforously defending all badgers - especially the sick ones - which Bryan Hill has made a point of putting out of there misery, to protect the rest of the group, and the cattle. He concludes;

"..... I've never made any secret that if there are any sick badgers in this area, for their own welfare and to protect the healthy badgers and the cattle, they will be killed. I'm proud that I didn't just sit waiting for my cattle to be tested, killing the reactors, then on the same day turning what was left of the herd out with infected wildlife. Proud that I didn't leave sick badgers to nature's long merciless cull, freely spreading infection as they die a long, slow death. "

"If he (Mr. Lawson) thinks that by changing the cattle tests without removing wildlife infection, just killing ever more cattle in the hope that bTb will be contained, then his head is in the clouds with the flawed science..."

Mr. Lawson's job, as did his predecessor's, the fragrant Elaine, depends totally on 'defending' badgers. But it does not go as far to defend them from Tb:
see our posts: Badgers don't suffer from TB!and'A slight wheeziness'

The cynical amongst us may point out that if the problem of Tb in badgers was solved, as Bryan Hill has solved it in his patch of Devon, then Mr. Lawson and many more bTb 'beneficiaries' would not have a job at all.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Using you, using me.. ?

In a stance reminiscent of the General Sir Richard Dannatt's statement on Iraq, its relationship to government policy and the media, which our sister site has flagged up: ,

Western Morning News yesterday placed the head of the 'Sustainable Food and Farming Delivery Group, Sir Don Curry, squarely in the frame over the politically thorny issue of bovine tb.

For the full article, see link at:

"Bovine Tb is a barrier to progress for so many livestock farmers in the region", said Sir Don, while on a visit to the Westcountry. And he continued "Until we recognise the source of the infection in wildlife, we shan't make the progress that is so vital. There are many of us who have believed for a long time that we need a comprehensive campaign to beat bovine Tb."

Quite. And the key word here is 'us', in fact the 'many of us' Sir Don is reported as saying.

Your cynical contributers believe that Sir Don's timely statement is a smaller echo of the situation we see with General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Daily Mail (and others) and the British army's presence in Iraq, still under scrutiny at;

Government knows what it needs to do, but for reasons of perceived 'popular support' either in the form of votes, donations or inter country links, is reluctant to step into the frame and so spins up a heavyweight 'outsider' to the media, who then spearheads the unsavoury decision for them. That it was the decision which government wanted to make anyway is thus removed from their responsibility and media reporting attributes the idea to an independent source.

More in Western Morning News' editorial: which concludes:

"No one relishes the prospect of a badger cull, but those who oppose it need to recognise that there are animal welfare issues involved that transcend their routine arguments. There is the welfare of the wildlife afflicted with this spreading disease; there is the welfare of the cattle [ .. ]and there is the welfare too of the farming economy that is vital to the life of the countryside and the nation as a whole."

Government recognise this; of course they do. But the RSPCA's / Badger Trust's recent campaign only shows that with skewed information, there are more votes in dead badger than a dead cow. Coupled with an administration which has handed responsibility for the security and safety of British food production to the supermarkets, government desperately need a figurehead to extract them from the ever deeper hole (of bTb) which they have excavated for themselves over the last almost ten years.

In Sir Don Curry they may just have found one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ignorance or Arrogance ?

Our postings below which outline Rosie Woodroffe's 'Letter From America', and blame cattle untested for twelve months for the increase of infectivety found in the RBCT badgers, has provoked a response on the ProMed website from a person involved with bTb 'at the sharp end'. That is, in the field as opposed to behind a computer with a crystal ball and a wish list.

From ProMed:
Date: Tue 10 Oct 2006From: Roy Fey <>re: posting 20061005.2857 Tuberculosis, bovine, badgers - UK

"I read the posting and found some of the claims a bit difficult. I am a consultant in communicable disease control (CCDC) with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK. Part of my training was in Gloucester, which has been a hot-spot for TB (both in cattle and badgers) for many years. Indeed, one might say that the largely successful programs to control TB in cattle after World War II failed in that area (or were never successfully concluded). I recall a vet from the (now) State Veterinary Service (SVS) office in Gloucester explaining that the major differences between the TB they were seeing in badgers and in cattle were:

1) Cattle were captive and being checked regularly, with the result that the reactors were being detected at an early stage of the disease and very few had "open" lung lesions that are necessary for airborne transmission (and none had udder lesions necessary for transmission through unpasteurized milk);

2) Badgers were free ranging and not being checked, with the result that the disease progressed in the badgers to the stage where an infected animal was excreting (in various body secretions, excretions and fluids) vast quantities of bacilli onto the ground/pasture, in their setts, etc;

3) As a consequence, an infected badger was the source for both other sett mates (and other badgers in the area and other animals) and for cattle [A badger sett is a deep burrow that they dig, share with other badgers, and raise young. - Mod.MHJ]. The cattle picked up the germs as they grazed on the infected pasture (and also inhaled germs from the pasture).

Badgers [and possibly other infected wild and domesticated animals: posting 20061009.2896 records "Although called bovine tuberculosis, the bacillus has a broad host range, including cattle, pigs, goats, cats, dogs, badgers, foxes, marsupials, rabbits, sheep, horses and deer. - Mod.LL] also possibly raided stores of feedstuff and contaminated the feedstuff, increasing transmission. In contrast, because most of the cattle were not "open" cases, they were only very rarely transmitting the germ to other animals (including man or badgers).

Clearly, there will be the occasional "open" TB case in cattle, but I must say that, in the past 8 years I have been in my present post, I have only seen one report from the SVS to me in which there have been macroscopic lung lesions (as a proxy, not perfect, I agree, for "open" pulmonary TB) and many hundreds where the skin testing has detected an earlier stage of disease, principally retropharyngeal and mediastinal lymph nodes without lung lesions or even no visible lesions.
[ ................................... snipped]

The conclusions of the report from Dr Woodroffe, that the results clearly show "that there is substantial transmission of TB from cattle to badgers", and "no other explanation fits the data [of an increase in the prevalence of TB in badgers in areas that were left alone during the FMD restrictions]" are not the only logical possibilities and I would contend are not even the most likely explanations."

And with that, we would agree.

A Wake Up Call.

The reporting this week from New Scientist, ProMed and the BBC Midlands website, of a human to human spread of tuberculosis, strain mycobacterium bovis, between 6 young people, one of whom has died, is a timely reminder that bTb, is not confined to cattle, and affects other mammals uncluding human beings.

We have variously reported spillovers not only into the tested 'canaries' - cattle - from the maintenance reservoir of disease in badgers, but into cats, free range pigs and deer. Camelids, such as alpacas are said to be very susceptible as well, but are rarely tested unless for export. Once infected and left to fester, any animal with bTb lesions carrying bacteria capable of onward transmission of the disease is a walking time bomb - to anything that crosses its path.
See some bTb time bombs :

The seriousness with which this disease should be taken, cannot be overstated. And the cavaliar attitude of government towards its eradication is a gross abdication of their responsibilty. After the 'Attested Herd' scheme for cattle in the 1950's, and the pasteurisation of milk, this disease was so nearly eradicated. Almost. This outbreak which spread laterally from one or two indivuduals, is a reminder that bTb kills. Period.

The article on ProMed website, and taken from the New Scientist report [edited]

"Six people who spent a night clubbing near Birmingham, in the English Midlands, in late 2004 have contracted bovine tuberculosis (TB). One man has been identified as the source of the outbreak, and one woman who was infected has died.

This is the 1st time in decades that human-to-human transmission of bovine TB has been documented in the United Kingdom and coincides with a steady increase in the rate of infection in cattle. Nearly one per cent of the British herd is now thought to carry the disease. (And how many badgers? - 28 percent in Monmouthshire - ed)

In the 1930s, around 40 per cent of cattle in the UK were infected with TB, and around 2000 people a year died from the disease, mostly as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk or coming into close contact with the animals. Pasteurization and the introduction of routine TB testing in cattle brought this under control but, in recent years, bovine TB has been on the rise, a trend that some farmers blame on badgers spreading the infection.

Peter Hawkey of the University of Birmingham, who presented findings on the human outbreak last week at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco, says that all the evidence suggests it was an isolated incident. "The increase of infections in cattle may increase the opportunity for human infection, but nothing has changed about virulence or transmission from cattle," he says.
(By that we assume he means that cattle are regularly tested, and slaughtered if they show contact with the bacteruium. Milk is pasteurised and so very little opportunity arises in the UK for onward transmission from cattle)

Hawkey says the outbreak was caused by a confluence of rare circumstances and should therefore not cause undue alarm. Some of the people affected had underlying medical conditions such as being HIV positive, or were using anabolic steroids, both of which would make them more susceptible to infection. The average age of the people affected by the outbreak was 32, whereas those who catch the disease from cattle are usually much older.
(bTb can have a long incubation period and contact in early years may not be apparent until late adulthood - although not in this case)
[byline: Michael Reilly and Linda Geddes]- -- ProMED-mail<>


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rosie's 2 + 2

In our posting below we gave links to the a paper described both as 'American', and 'New', which amongst other more sensible conclusions, like tackling Tb in all species, hypothesised that cattle could give Tb to badgers. As we pointed out, the chief contributer was none other than our own Rosie Woodroffe, now perching in Californian sunshine, and various members of the UK Tb 'magic circle'. But as its main conclusions were drawn from UK Rosie's RBCT dispersal exercise, then it was neither 'American' nor 'New'.

Dr. Woodroffe said;
"Repeated badger culling (this would be in the RBCT badger dispersal exercise) in an area, is associated with increasingly prevalence of M bovis infection in badgers."

If, as with RBCT cage trapping on 8 nights only, a badger group is fractured, then territorial scrapping occurs as they regroup. So nothing new there, except that our Rosie appears to think she and the ISG have discovered something novel.

She continues:
"Additionally, we show that suspension of cattle Tb controls during the nationwide epidemic of FMD which substantially delayed the removal of Tb infected cattle, was associated with a widespread increase in the prevalence of M. bovis infection in badgers".

This was the sentence onto which Trevor Lawson and the Badger Trust hooked their tentacles.

But the BBC website went further:

"Culling badgers should be a low priority for curbing cattle tuberculosis", according to a scientist advising the British government. New research by Dr Rosie Woodroffe and colleagues suggests that culling raises the rate of TB infection in badgers. It also demonstrates that cattle infect badgers with the bacterium.

"This research has 2 important conclusions," said Dr Woodroffe, a researcher at the University of California in Davis and a member of the UK government's Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB."The first is that it shows for the first time that there is substantial transmission of TB from cattle to badgers, whereas in the past it's been assumed that didn't happen," she told the BBC News website. "The 2nd conclusion is that repeated culling increases the prevalence in badgers -- each time you cull, it goes up and up."

After a suspension of culling in the Krebs areas during the FMD outbreak of 2001, Tb infection in cattle went up, and that was expected due to lack of routine testing, but also a rise was recorded in tb infection in badgers. And that, according to Rosie Woodroffe, was most definitely not expect. Why, one wonders when with incomplete culling over 8 nights with cage traps, that very scenario was predicted by badger experts prior to the start of Krebs is hard to understand - but we digress:

"We saw across seven study areas a rise in the badger TB prevalence -- almost a doubling," said Dr Woodroffe. "No other explanation fits the data."

"Across the 8 years of analysis, culling was also associated with increased TB in the badgers; areas which had received 4 culls saw a doubling of the rate. What appears to be happening is that badgers move more freely and more widely in culled areas, increasing contact with each other and with cattle." Not really. It was the ones left behind by the RBCT, you remember, the up to 80 percent not trapped, or released by activists, that were on the move.

Predictably, animal welfare (sic) groups greeted the study enthusiastically. "This research confirms beyond doubt that cattle are the main vectors of bovine TB, readily infecting badgers and other cattle," said Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust. "
Source: BBC, 2 Oct 2006 [edited]<>

Hmmm. "No other explanation fits the data" the lady said.

Our Rosie seems to have ignored all evidence to the contrary, and assumed that the RBCT actually culled badgers. All of them. And more than that, they stayed culled. And by that I mean, the farms 'Krebbed ' on those 8 nights, once a year (if they were lucky) remained a badger-free zone. The reality is far from that as we have pointed out. The last thing the RBCT did was a clean sweep of its target animals. So why should anyone - except Dr. Woodroffe it seems - be surprised if "everytime you cull, it [Tb infection in badgers] goes up and up.."

No it does not. If a whole social group is taken out at the same time, then social disruption or peturbation as it is known, is nil. But do a half cocked job as described by the leader of one of the Wildlife Teams undertaking the work, ., and of course the infection 'goes up and up.' Badgers that are left, up to 80 percent of the target, are frantically travelling to locate missing relatives and territorial scrapping spreads Tb. The result on cattle herds, even ones with no bought in cattle, was reported here

But as well as the total shambles of the RBCT in practise, the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 should not be assumed to be limited in its effect, to 11 million dead animals - or as Dr. Woodroffe would have it, the lack of tb testing of remaining cattle..

It is impossible to remove 11 million mainly grazing animals out of their environment, very quickly and at a time of premium activity and growth (February - August) when their dung, placentas and even stilborn offspring were then unavailable for use by other animals and insects within the wider ecology. And to put the agricultural practises which supported those 11 million dead cattle, sheep and pigs into a state of suspended animation for over 12 months, and expect the ecological balance of thousands of acres to remain constant.

Well if the good doctor has missed the point, at least English Nature recognised it, producing a 100 page pdf file: in which even half way through the carnage, they try to assess the effects of the lack of grazing livestock, coupled with over- grazing and poaching in other areas, on the British country side.

They comment:
"Changes in the structure of livestock farming, for instance changes in stocking levels or type of livestock, and changes in land use where livestock farming ceases as a result of the FMD outbreak are likely to be the major long term and most complex influences on biodiversity"

Their map chart on page 12, shows that loss of livestock, change in livestock farming and/or a change of land use where livestock farming ceases post-FMD as impacting every type of habitat listed. Their cover sheet FMD map shows that outbreaks were concentrated in areas now covered by red Tb parishes on Defra's latestTb incidence map - which in itself is an amplification of the original 7 or 9 hotspots, described by Prof. Steve Harris, ten long years ago.

Without livestock, and in particular cattle dung pats, the whole pyramid of 'ecological life' changes. Beetles, flies and worms are not there, so their predators including bats, songbirds and badgers, have nothing to eat, and are forced to forage elsewhere - or die.

A double whammy occurred where animals on short term grazing were impounded, and their pasture land became overgrazed at best, and a mud bath at worst. This too affected the insect life, and thus levels of wildlife predatory on 'normal' farming practise, and over a wider area.

But Rosie's 'no other explanation fits the data" totally ignores the thousands of acres of livestock free land, abandoned to rank long grasses, no corn crops and no agricultural practise at all, and conversely, areas so heavily stocked as to be unavaibale for predatory use by any other species, and their unfortunate occupants subsequently offered a 'welfare cull'.

Rosie's observation of the increase of infection after suspension of RBCT culling during FMD within the badgers was correct - her conclusion as to its cause, in the opinion of the Wildlife teams and farmers unfortunate enough to have taken part, was not. Perturbation was the result of that shambles, and the same scenario was repeated as Britain's countryside was systamatically de-populated of the very animals on which badgers are parasitic for their survival. Cattle and sheep, and the husbandry which surrounds them.The influence of FMD is certainly important, but the assumption that the suspension of some cattle testing during it, led to 'infected cattle giving Tb to badgers' is lightweight shot in the dark. Adding 2 + 2 and making 8.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weasel Words and the Sins of Omission.

The 'weasel words' are described by a contributer to Western Morning News - who roundly takes to task the spokesman for the Badger Trust, Trevor Lawson, suggesting that he is "straw clutching against the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the government could be at last reaching the obvious conclusion - on the basis of cost if nothing else - that the vicious circle of bovine Tb infection between badgers and cattle, or as Trevor Lawson would have it, cattle and badgers, is broken."

The writer then describes a visit to an Exmoor farm, slaughtered out (or 'depopulated' as Defra likes to sanitise the procedure of culling a whole herd) after a devastating outbreak of Tb. The report issued by SVS confirmed "the cattle had become infected with tuberculosis from a non-bovine source - a politically correct "code" for ... badgers. Devastatingly for the farmer, his family and his business, the SVS report went further, suggesting that restocking would be futile because any cattle brought in, however "clean" (free of disease) would soon be stricken by the disease (bTb) from the same "non-bovine source".

The piece concludes: "Nobody is "waging war" on badgers, Mr. Lawson. We like them, but we would like them to be healthy.......[ ].......It is not the badger's fault any more than it is the cattle's , farmer's or anyone else's - it is a fact of life, an intractable disease which can ONLY be tackled in the round of its vicious circle.
See the full piece ;

The 'Sins of Omission' are to be found quietly buried, and certainly are only selectively used by the vociferous Mr. Lawson in Recycled-Rosie's-paper, a link to which may be found ;

"Although the suspension of cattle testing during the FMD epidemic was associated with increased M.bovis infection prevalence in badgers, (It was? who said? Did you know that the badgers moved house when the cattle were slaughtered out over hundreds of acres? No, I thought not. Sorry, readers we digress.) .. this increase would not be expected to undermine the beneficial effects of badger culling on cattle Tb incidence. Indeed, because high prevalence was recorded after FMD in both culled and unculled badger populations, the expected benefit of removing badgers by culling could, if anything, have been increased."

The paper continues that their results illustrate the need to consider all transmission routes in planning control policies for multihost pathogens.

Err yes. It is also necessary to have a culling procedure which actually achieves something other than the dispersal of its target - but let that pass. Trevor Lawson certainly missed out that bit in his high profile rant, didn't he?

Meanwhile, our Midlands Matthew has suggested a novel way of bringing the Badger Trust into the loop of responsibility for disease control. Anytime now we as farmers expect to get landed with a 'disease levy', reportedly set at around £3.45 per animal traded. This is Defra's weasely attempt at the much vaunted 'partnership' and 'shared responsibility' it keeps banging on about. But in the last couple of posts, the level of infection of a highly dangerous pathogen, is variously set at up to '28 percent' of road kill badgers found in the Monmouthshire.

So, how about, our colleague suggests, a devolved and shared responsibility on levies too? We aren't greedy, so how about £1 head on every badger resident in the UK? Annually. Yup, that would be 'shared responsibility' - in the round.

Ring 'a ring a' "Rosies"... this case our own Rosie Woodroffe, late of the unlamented RBCT, and now perching in the USA. Dr, or now Prof. Woodroffe has headed a team of recycled and predominantly British acedemics who have taken the first year results of Krebs together with the computerised and entirely preventable carnage of FMD and added them up to produce - well not a lot really.

But true to form, the Badger Trust has stormed into the fray asserting that 'New American Research' shows cattle gave Tb to badgers.

Covered at length in the Western Morning News, (link: we would point out (with respect of course) that this paper is not 'new', neither is it 'research' and it most certainly is not 'American'. (That is 'paper' as in Rosie Woodroofe et al's latest offering from the scientific TB magic circle - not the Western Morning News)

The full text of the paper is at:

Briefly, the contributers have taken 2001 as a year in which little TB testing was carried out, added some extraordinarily vague figures on badger infection before and after that year, and using the computer modelling now famous for removing 11 million animals completely unecessarily in FMD, assumed that cattle passed Tb to badgers. Simple really.

That the removal of those 11 million animals, mainly cattle and sheep, caused total disruption to the ecology of badger habitat as well - seems to have escaped their limited vision. Or maybe it was not computer compatible, and so didn't happen.

We have pointed out before, and parliamentary questions confirmed that badgers are totally dependent on the 'habitat richness' provided by - cattle. The dungpats, placentas, still born (and not so stillborn) lambs and the the crops grown to support them, are the equivalent of 'Badger Macdonalds to meles meles. And for sure, when those 11 million animals were slaughtered, badger habitat changed. No maize crops, long grass, no dung pats to encourgae worms to the surface and shed loads of disinfectant. In fact very little farming at all took place in the areas badly hit by FMD, as shell shocked farmers struggled with teams of white coated Defra 'inspectors' to cleanse and disinfect their farms and rebuild their shattered lives.

So what of the wildlife, and in particular the badgers at this time? Farmers involved in the carnage tell us that their farms became 'death valley'. No wildlife except a very few deer remained, and certainly no badgers. They moved. They trundled off to find the nearest cattle. And the food and dungpats and everything else they were used to predating on for their survival. But when they arrived at the 'D' notice farms on the edge of culled areas, resident badgers were already there, thus the territorial fighting associated with Bourne's now infamous 'edge effect' in the RBCT took place here as well.

Any increase in Tb in badgers after FMD was nothing whatsoever to do with cattle, and everything to do with badger behaviour, which seems to have escaped everyone's notice especially the Badger Trust spokesman. And coming just hours after the ASA supported a claim by the FUW against its sister charity, the RSPCA, for 'unsubstantiated and untruthful' advertising campaigns, (see our post below) using the same information from the same clique of 'scientists', the timing of this 'paper' originally published in July, is slick unadulterated spin.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Welsh RTA badgers - up to 28 percent infected.

The results of the Welsh road kill badger survey were published last week, and showed an infection rate of up to 28 percent. Counties differed, with the highest proportion of infected carcasses found in Monmouthshire. Overall the figure was around 12 percent for the 459 found-dead badgers collected and submitted for sampling. And this small number were road side kills, not ex farm, ex farm buildings or anywhere else tb infected badgers crawl off to die.

We covered the collection of this small number of carcasses in the second part of our posting; - and sure enough, on September 28th., the results were made available. Although not the spoligotypes. That will drag it out a little longer, and they and the full reports are expected early in 2007. NFU Wales president, Dai Davies said of the initial results: "The results not only vindicate the long held view that TB is present in the wildlife, but that it is there at epidemic levels" and FUW spokesman, Evan Thomas pointed out that if that level of disease was found in children, "it would be the worst disease epidemic in centuries".

Predictably the Badger Trust urged the Welsh Assembly to concentrate on cattle based Tb control measures. Now there's a surprise. But if you think about it, sort out Tb in the badgers, and not only the polemic between so-called conservationists and farmers, but the raison d'etre for the Badger Trust - just disappears...

Full story from

Thursday, September 28, 2006

RSPCA falls foul of the Advertising Standards Agency

"The RSPCA advert breached breached CAP Code clauses 3.1, 3.2 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness)."

That was the conclusion of an investigation of the 'Back off Badgers' campaign run by the RSPCA this spring.Taken to task by the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales) and an individual (un named) farmer, their complaint against the RSPCA was today upheld. The campaign run by the charity, (together with the Badger Trust) alerted their followers to the government's consultation paper on how, when and if it should cull badgers in response to outbreaks of bTb.
We covered their high profile campaign, in our post here and the Telegraph reported;

The FUW case to the ASA rested on the RSPCA's assertion that cattle were to blame for the spread of bTb. And the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today supported their complaint, describing the charity's campaign as being untrue and unsubstantiated. The outcome of this decision could have caused immense damage to a government consultation process on disease control. That the responsibility for this very serious zoonotic disease is wholly Defra's seems to slipped everyone's mind - especially the RSPCA's - but let that pass.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Gareth Vaughan said this morning : "

Defra received 47,472 responses to the consultation and the vast majority were campaign responses prompted by, and supportive of, the RSPCA stance. The RSPCA itself claimed: "Our campaign to try to stop the proposed cull of badgers has received a fantastic response. Thousands of you wrote to the government in opposition of the cull……more than 10,000 people showed their support for the campaign by sending a text message to the government in opposition of the cull. A booklet of your text messages was presented to the government, along with the RSPCA's official response to the government consultation on the proposed cull."

Mr Vaughan said: "It seems clear that the vast majority of responses will have been made by people who were severely misguided by the RSPCA’s advertising campaign and those opposing a cull should now be disregarded. The repercussions of the RSPCA’s untruthful and unsubstantiated advertisements are truly huge. Today’s ASA ruling should serve as a warning to all pressure groups that they cannot twist the truth to subvert a public consultation process for their own blinkered ends."

In light of the ASA ruling, the FUW has written to Defra asking it to review the outcome of the consultation.

FUW policy officer Nick Fenwick, who lodged the complaint with the ASA, said: "The RSPCA has in recent years pursued an increasingly extremist agenda, and the fact that it published such misinformation in an attempt to influence an important government consultation demonstrates the depths it will stoop to follow that agenda."

In its evidence to the ASA, the FUW supplied the ASA with an overwhelming body of evidence from leading scientists, politicians and veterinarians, supporting the fact that the RSPCA was wrong to claim unequivocally that most TB is spread by cattle.

The FUW said "Our evidence even included sources quoted by the RSPCA itself, which highlights its inability to deal objectively with the scientific facts. In fact, we believe that most of the research points to badgers being the major cause of TB in cattle."

Click here to access the ASA website and click here for the FUW.

The conclusion of the Advertising Standards Agency's investigation is below:

"We noted the ad aimed to highlight that a cull of badgers would not stop the spread of bTB and considered that readers were likely to understand it in the context of the RSPCA's position as a well-known advocate of animal welfare. We also noted the RSPCA's assertion that the ad was intended to inform readers that the issue was not straightforward. We considered, however, that the claim was a straightforward and unqualified statement which, in the context of the ad, was used to support the RSPCA's position. We considered that the claim did not reasonably provide readers with an indication of the caution and uncertainty among scientists and government advisers surrounding the relative importance of the two factors in bTB transmission. We also considered that the RSPCA's reputation and public profile was likely to enhance readers' acceptance of the claim. Although we acknowledged that the opinion of scientists and government advisers indicated that cattle-to-cattle transmission was an important factor and may have been the main cause, we considered that it was not generally agreed by expert opinion or supported by the available evidence. We concluded that the RSPCA had not substantiated the claim or shown that it was generally agreed by informed opinion."

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1, 3.2 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

Full judgement: ASA website

The RSPCA enjoys "charitable" status, and as such is regulated by the Charity Commission.
One wonders what their view will be of the antics of one its most high profile members, found guilty of committing breaches of "substantiation" and "truthfulness". As we have said before, such organisations are not a solution, or even part of the solution to bTb, they are the problem.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

90 pages of.........Fluff.

The editor and her team of 14 Very Important Persons profess 'pride' in their glossy booklet, which Defra has produced to promote 'Disease Control, Animal welfare, Consumer protection and Public health'. Not doing too well on bTb are they? Unless a succession of glossy booklets and stakeholder partnerships count as 'Disease control'.

"I am proud to present you with the first Government Veterinary Journal bovine TB special edition." can be viewed here

Editor Linda Smith then enthuses that her readers will 'learn from it', pointing out that 'contributions have been made by some of the UK's leading authorities on bovine tuberculosis".

Aside from making the damn thing sound like a MacDonald's Special, what, may one ask, has the editor, or anyone else involved in this whole charade got to be proud of?

After almost eradicating bTb in the 1980's, the 2005 figures for bTb are back where GB was in the 1950's at the start of the Tb eradication programme. Define progress?

Skimming the 90 page A4 tome's content shows little new, even less to be enthusiatic about - even its "recycled paper, containing 80 per cent consumer waste, and 20 per cent totally chlorine free virgin pulp," could probably have been better used - eeerr elsewhere.

The introduction by the CVO Debbie Reynolds contains many weasel words - stakeholders, partners and the commitment of Government to developing policies. Then she spoils it all by regurgitating the first year's Krebs results - yup, the ones John Bourne was spitting feathers about and alleging he was being misquoted in our post here.

Dr. Reynolds also mentions pre movement testing, about which she is enthusiastic and the tabular valuation which she says "is designed to be fairer to both cattle owners and taxpayers" . That is a matter of opinion, but is now somewhat outdated by the EU bombshell of last week, which we covered here.

She concludes: "The range of policy mechanisms available for controlling Tb depends largely on achieving a better understanding of the disease, how it is spread, and the effectiveness and practicality of interventions and the outcomes of our research programme and other evidence will help us with this."

Understanding the disease? It's really quite simple. Badgers carry bTb - in some cases an overwhelming load from which they eventually die - and cattle are curious.

To identify another creature, cattle sniff and smell (see above)

And if that 'other creature' is carrying mycobacterium bovis in its lungs, urine or pus ridden bite wounds, as infected badgers do - 300 units in just 1ml of urine - then a sniff of just 70 units of the bacteria is enough to flag up a reaction in the skin test. And that means another dead sentinel cow.

We are back to the appalling level of bTb reactors slaughtered of 1959 - in fact last year we exceeded it - and the lady wants more research? Almost 50 years wasted, 30,000 cattle dead annually, our trading status in tatters and the spill over from infected badgers affecting cats, dogs, pigs and camelids - and the lady wants more research? Sheeesh.

The Parliamentary Questions archived on this site were the millenium equivalent of the Evans postulates - the gold standard in epidemiology. What do we know about this disease? How is spread? For how long and under what circumstances can the bacterium survive? What is the infectious load carried by an infected badger, and how long can it survive carrying it? How little does it take to infect a cow? What are the transmission opportunities? And all the other 532 questions answered patiently - or not - by baby Ben Bradshaw, with the Minister finally admitting that "Government recognises that eradication of bovine Tb is unlikely to be achieved in the next 10 years using current control methods" Well he got that right and he continues "A desirable outcome would be achieve Officially Tb free status, as defined in EU Directive 64/432/EEC".

But from Ricardo de la Rua Domenech's charts in this dead tree booklet (OK, recycled dead tree ) that ain't going to happen any time soon. Only Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Spain have a worse record of disease clearance. The UK (GB) trend over the period 1999- 2004 is unique in the Community, described as 'Increasing steadily'. Something else for the contributers and editors of this book to be proud of?

Other contributers from the circle of Tb beneficiaries, offer their thoughts on the Intradermal skin test (good world wide tool - yup we knew that) the value of NVL reactors ; not 'false positives' but animals picked up early in the disease transmission cycle (yup- it was useful, but Lelystad tuberclin has stuffed that) and wildlife interface in other countries. Been there as well.

But there is nothing in this booklet about the disease in badgers. Nothing to show the extraordinary suffering, starvation and suppurating abcesses that these creatures are enduring - and spreading to cattle and onwards and upwards into other species. And absolutely nothing about which Ms. Linda Smith and her team should be in the least bit 'proud'.
Those with a strong constitution may view the evidence of abandoning the problem of bTb in badgers at: (Warning: This picture should offend)

Another glossy booklet and a new committee is not a solution to the problem of bTb, which after twenty years of prevarication is now "endemic" in the UK's badgers and producing an "epidemic" in the sentinel cattle. (thankyou Ben) This gaggle of bTb beneficiaries - including Ms. Smith and her editorial team - are the problem. They should hang their heads in shame.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

More on the EU Animal compensation cut...

After our posting below, which sketched out Commission proposals to change the rates of animal disease compensation payable to reporting farmers in member states, more from that document has surfaced - although we expect it to be of little use to UK farmers. Defra - formerly MAFF in a new jacket - have a history of making things more complicated for, or of less value to their so-called 'partners' - or any other member of the European club for that matter.

The Commission proposals limit animal disease compensation paid by all member states to 75% of market value (80% in LFAs, Less Favoured Areas) and then only to businesses able to substantiate a 30 percent loss. And any compensation would be limited to 'small or medium sized' enterprises.

But hidden in the depths of the paperwork is an option to offset 'consequential losses'.

These occur when farms are put under a 'restriction notice by Defra, and can be as expensive and onerous as the death of the individual candidate animal(s). The farm cannot trade at all, except for direct slaughter, or, in rare circumstances and with Defra's permission, to another holding of the same status. That means a standstill on all breeding stock sales, store stock and calf sales. Only finished beef animals and cull cattle can move, and then direct to abattoir or via dedicated collection centres.

As we have pointed out before, the accumulation of extra stock numbers may cause problems with pressure on feed and housing, and with tuberculosis restriction, the testing of all cattle every 60 days for years at a time, is time consuming and stressful both to men and beasts.

But within the EU package - and we are not defending it in any way ( see on our sister site; ) is a section on such 'consequential losses'. Although member states would be limited to paying only threequarters of market value on an individual animal, and then only in a breakdown which involved a 30 per cent loss to the business concerned, a further 75 percent of cash could be available for 'consequential losses' of the disease.

Defra however, is indicating 'shock horror', and that it has no intention of taking advantage of this option, stating: "Current UK policy is that we do not pay for consequential losses".

More here:

The whole point of this debacle, with the greatest respect to Defra and its numerous spokesmen (and women of course) is that Defra have very little choice in the matter anyway. That competance has been signed away to the unelected and nebulous 'Commission', who in our humble opinion have got this particular rule change totally, recklessly and dangerously - wrong.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Copy Cats...

In our posting : , we described some of the measures undertaken by the Irish, against cattle / cattle spread of Tb during what was known as the 'Downie' era in an effort to circumvent the tb problem - without encroaching into the disease in badgers. Exactly mirroring the contortions, prevarications and general arrogance of our own dear Defra - twenty years later. And with the same result of course.

A snippet of information to build on that has come in from a farmer who has a better memory for these things than we do, about the effect of this water-treading on the veterinary profession as well. In the postings discussing Lelystadt tuberculin, Defra's smokescreen was 'veterinary practise' about which the CVO issued a report. But if the SVS and LVI vets conducted cattle tb tests on several hundred cattle, in the way in which they were supposed to - and able to - on ten, then all these clerical 'technical errors' (primarily concerned with who writes eartag numbers down, and who measures with calipers the skin thickness on day one etc.,) would double the time taken to conduct the test.

And this, we are told, happened in Ireland during the late 1980's. In a broadside aimed at its practising vets, the Irish Ministry of Agriculture at the time issued instructions not dissimilar from our own Debbie Reynold's 'retraining' manual. The result being of course, that a Tb test would take twice as long, and up with which the Irish vets would not put. Well, not for the same money anyway. They went on strike. And for a period of time, variously described to us as 18 months to two years, no cattle were tested at all.

Defra seems to have a nasty habit of repeating vacuous efforts of the past, while ignoring anything of note (PCR) which may drive targeted detection of bTb nearer. But I wonder what our own veterinary profession's reaction will be, when after its 'refresher course' in Tb testing, it realises that it is expected to do twice the (clerical) work - for effectively half the money?

Any bets on it being the same as the Irish vets of the 1980's?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Compensation - all change again?

Compensation for animal diseases is set to change dramatically as of January 1st 2007 - and as far as we can see, there is little the UK government can do about it, even if it wanted to.

Out to tender from Sept. 8th, but with a closing date of September 17th, is the following 'consultation paper', which has been forwarded by the moderators of

Proposed EC changes to slaughter compensation
Defra has informed participants at their recent FMD, CSF and Avian Influenza Stakeholder meetings that the EC is proposing changes to the state aids regulations for agriculture. We urge you to read and discuss with others these proposed changes as they would appear to have serious consequences for livestock keepers and could constitute an unacceptable disincentive to reporting of suspicious signs.

Note that the consultation deadline is 17 September 2006, and that the changes are currently due to come into force on 1 January 2007 . This matter deserves wide public dissemination.

Please do send your comments directly to the EC at the address below (email:, and we invite you to comment and discuss these issues on our CA Forum and include your submission to the EC if you wish. We also invite comments on the role of Member States.
According to Defra: “State aid is Commission competence. This means that the Commission has been given the power by Member States to decide which forms of aid are to be allowed and under which conditions. There are therefore no negotiations or vote on these issues – the Commission will decide having listened to the views of the Member States and those with an interest.”

Extracts from a Defra email to stakeholders dated 8 September 2006: “We have just been made aware that they are holding a public consultation period which ends on the 17 September. Comments can be sent to the following address/fax/email. European Commission Directorate General for Agriculture, Unit H.2, Office Loi 130 05/126, B-1049 Brussels, Fax (32-2) 296 76 72, E-mail:
These changes are currently due to come into force on 1 January 2006 [correction: 1 January 2007] and would have the following implications:

* Limit aid to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
* Limit compensation payments for animals
slaughtered to 75% of their market value (80% in less favoured areas (LFAs)
* Limit compensation for animals slaughtered to
outbreaks of disease which result in a 30% production loss on the holding concerned.

Article 10 contains the relevant information on 'Aid in respect of animal and plant diseases and pest infestations'.”

The briefing document sent by Defra is available on the CA Forum at :
Extracts from this document: "As the Community Animal Health Policy is currently under review we are questioning whether it is appropriate to introduce quickly a temporary new policy at this moment in time. State aid is Commission competence. This means that the Commission has been given the power by Member States to decide which forms of aid are to be allowed and under which conditions. There are therefore no negotiations or vote on these issues – the Commission will decide having listened to the views of the Member States and those with an interest. The Commission is likely to launch a public consultation on the Block Exemption Regulation shortly. There will then be a further consultation of the Member States in the autumn. We have previously circulated the links to the relevant documents, but they are attached again for ease. The Block Exemption Regulation can be found on the Commission website at:

The Article 10 on page 14 is the relevant section. The proposed revised guidelines are also attached, the animal diseases section begins at paragraph 121 on page 30.” The document with the proposed revised guidelines that Defra sent to stakeholders has only 24 pages, so we ask Defra to please post this information with the correct page and paragraph reference on the Defra website.
From: Mary Marshall, Member, Defra’s FMD, CSF and Avian Influenza stakeholder groups

The extent to which the UK has lost control - or rather its elected representatives have given or bartered it away - is quite clear, when this 'consultation' is taken in the context of previous EU legislation already in statute.

We understand that new guidelines, described as "the strengthened partnership with national parliaments", were announced by the Commission on May 10th, and endorsed by EU at the June summit. From September 11th. 2006, all the Commission's new legislative proposals and consultation papers will be sent by e-mail, to national parliaments for 'comment'.

But this 'partnership' is in name only, in that national parliaments and their elected MPs, have the right to receive the Commission proposals directly, but not the formal right to oppose them.

Margot Wallstrom, Vice-President of the European Commission is quoted as saying" A greater voice for Parliaments is a greater voice for Europe's citizens". Which is all well and good, but does not mean that the commission is under any obligation whatsoever to follow up on any 'opinions and comments' which it receives. As the Commisssion says " The procedure does not change existing legislative procedures forseen by the Treaties".

For more on the background to how our decision making process has been culled, see our sister site;

So dear old Defra in a spin over this, we understand. They seem unable or unaware of just how to operate the EU's instructions on animal compensation due to be introduced on January 1st 2007, and are presently trying to interpret how the key elements which will affect UK farmers. In particular how they define:

* Limit aid to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
* Limit compensation payments for animals slaughtered to 75% of the market value (80% in less favoured areas (LFAs)
* Limit compensation for animals slaughtered to outbreaks of disease which result in a 30% production loss on the holding concerned

And they have just one week in which to - say anything at all to the Commission, having presumably agreed to this procedure at the June summit. How this will pan out with Tb compensation is anybody's guess. Defra haven't a clue, so why should we?

So from a professional 'valuation' procedure, we have been shafted onto a 'one size fits none' tabular chart - with little chance of obtaining insurance to prop up pedigree values. And now our lords and masters in Brussels are preparing to ratchet 'values' down again. From what we can see in some instances, to perhaps nothing at all. And all in a year..........

This is not helpful in the due process of disease control. For that, full co operation with the owners of affected livestock is crucial. If they feel that they cannot 'afford' to report a suspect animal, then they will not. Long term, that has huge implications for any disease control programme - particularly zoonoses like tuberculosis. Perhaps we should have entitled this posting 'Cheques and Balances'. More in Farmers Guardian today.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

'Cream' is the new 'Fern'.

In a squabble which echoes the case of Devon farmer Sheilagh Kremers and her Dexter calf Fern, a Cornish beef farmer from Looe, is challenging defra over his 'Cream'.

This time the animal is a twelve year old beef cow, whose Tb test was positive. Owner Mr. Arthur however is refusing to let her go for slaughter, claiming the test was not carried out properly. He has banned Defra from his land, meaning that the cow cannot be valued (at approx. £680) collected and slaughtered. However, SVS has in this case, refused to retest the 12 year old cross bred beef cow and stand behind the veterinary surgeon who conducted the test.

Quoted in the Western Morning News, Mr. Arthur said: "I am demanding that she is given a retest to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don't believe she is carrying the disease and I'm willing to carry this through."

But a spokesman for Defra replied: "We are aware of a case in Cornwall where a farmer has disputed the way in which a TB test was carried out on his premises.The State Veterinary Service has spoken to the local veterinary inspector who performed the test and are content that it was performed satisfactorily. A request for a retest has been refused as there is no reason to suppose that there was any fault or problem with the first test.The purpose of TB testing is, of course, to prevent the spread of the disease in cattle and this is why it is imperative that an animal which has tested positive is slaughtered."

When an animal is found to be reactor to the intradermal skin test, the vet who has conducted the test immediately serves a 'standstill' notice on the farm. No animals can be traded at all, except for direct slaughter until the whole herd tests clear at least once. And this is now the position of Mr. Arthur. He can sell nothing at all until 'Cream' is slaughtered, and, depending on the post mortem results, all his cattle have had at least one clear test. If the reactor cow (Cream) has lesions, or samples from her prove 'culture positive' then he will need two tests at 60 day intervals to get his herd clear again. Assuming there are no more reactors lurking he is looking at a standstill of at least two months from when 'Cream' leaves the farm, and possibly four. And the longer she stays, the longer this beef farmer will be unable to trade any of his stock. And the longer he will have no income.

Unlike Mrs. Kremer's Dexter calf, which was part of a much loved ' hobby' herd, Mr. Arthur is a beef farmer with over a hundred cattle. He needs to sell cattle for his living, and with a standstill on his herd, this he cannot do. His protest to Defra is therefore very different, and from all directions both trade and other income, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affiars have him over a proverbial barrel.

the Western morning News article quotes 'farmers' (they didn't ask us) as suggesting that the intrdermal skin test is "not 100 percent accurate". In fact on the back of the Kremer's case, Defra sent a few clerks out with both SVS and LVI vets to see if 'I's were being dotted and 'Ts' crossed. And shock, horror they were not. Nothing to do with the actual physical jabbing you understand, but 'vets were not filling out eartag numbers', and 'vets were not putting 5 digit Lelystadt batch numbers into 3 box batch codes, so that they could be read'.

As far as your contributers are concerned, they have utmost faith in the skin test, particularly as a herd test, as in the case of Mr. Arthur. And also its veterinary practitioners. Used around the globe, either with or without a comparable avian jab, this test is the primary tool for diagnosis of exposure to tb bacterium. Not full blown disease, but exposure to the bacteria. And as we have said many times, and as PQ's confirmed, in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, it is the only tool that is necessary.

If of course a country is daft enough to let Tb establish and flourish within a wildlife reservoir, then nothing is going to eradicate it. Not intradermal skin tests, gamma interferon, PCR or the man in the moon.

In this case, Defra cannot afford another 'Fern', and Mr. Arthur cannot afford a prolonged standstill of his business. 'Cream' has to go.