Sunday, January 29, 2006

Gordon Brown attacks Tuberculosis.

"Tuberculosis is now the biggest killer [... ] worldwide, with one person becoming infected every second."

That was just for openers and we hoped that our illustrious Chancellor would have a little more to say about his problems back home.

But no. The finger wagged in true 'teacher knows best' fashion as our Gorrrdon promised action to stop the scourge. But his target was ... the rest of the world.

No mention then of the armies of 'Tb liason' officers rampant in areas of rural Britain, descending on farms under restriction with soothing words but little else. No mention of his Government's commitment to spending £2 billion of taxpayers' money over the next 10 years, NOT sorting the unholy mess politicians of varying hues have created in the countryside of the UK. Not a word about the Tb budget delivering sustainance to academics while condemning both cattle and badgers to an unecessary death. And of course no mention at all of the fact that the UK's appalling Tb status (now the worst in the world) is increasingly coming to the notice of the OIE (Office of International Epizootics) and others, who point out that while a significant reservoir of tuberculosis is allowed to flourish in wildlife, the long term health of the human population is at risk.

As our Chancellor lectures, pots and kettles come to mind.

Tuberculosis worldwide can be seen at this link:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Victims and Villains

This week's Farmers Guardian carries a letter from Worcester veterinary practitioner, David Denny, MRCVS which goes a long way to explaining why badgers are both the villains and the victims of the tuberculosis epidemic. His letter begins:

"It is ironic that those who attempt to exonerate badgers of being the reservoir of infection for cattle, show such little concern for the suffering those badgers undergo."

Mr. Denny then explains the epidemiology of tuberculosis in both species and explains why cattle rarely transmit the bacteria even to each other, let alone other species. He concludes:

"..... Is it hypocritical of Martin Hancox and his ilk to allow the suffering of the infected badgers, never mind the mass slaughter of cattle and the despair of the farmers concerned, to be further prolonged? ." read in full

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Voice of Sanity in a Mad World..

Yesterday the ISG (Independent (but they are not) Scientific (debatable) Group (no conflict there) gathered in London to present the latest update on the RBCT 'Krebs' trial. A voice of sanity they are not. For that please see later in this post.

At the ISG jolly, Professor John Bourne outlined his victims (badgers) and villains (cattle) and ensured his survival and place at the public trough Defra call the TB budget for .... as long as it takes the statisticians to numbercrunch his 'trial'. He dismissed PCR technology, (well there's a surprise) and outlined improvements to the Gamma Interferon blood test which allegedly has been 'refined' to exclude at least some of the false positives. However under OIE and EU inter trade disease monitoring the skin test is supreme. Anything else is supplementary to it.

It was only 3 years ago, when a leading light at VLA (Veterinary Laboratories Agency) told a contributer to this site, 'Don't go there, you'll lose half your herd!'. the Gamma Interferon blood test measures antibodies to a challenge from m.bovis in the bloodstream of the candidate animal. So if a cow has had exposure - and her immune system has fought it off, the gamma interferon bloods would identify her as a positive when in fact, in another world, she may be classed as 'vaccinated'.

Dr. Rosie Woodruffe described how she assessed the numbers of badgers around to be captured in the RBCT. She went out at night with a lamp - and counted them.

Bourne blamed the badger activists for the peturbation effect experienced in the RBCT. "They released my badgers" he explained. Well they said they would, what did he expect? And the meeting was told that a free running badger (one excluded from the social group?) at about 4/5 years old but not yet in the emaciation stage of advanced tuberculosis, was the most dangerous for onward transmission of Tb. As a 'disperser' with no social group, his range was immense and although outwardly he appeared 'healthy' in that his body weight was normal, horrendously infectious he most certainly was.

The meeting could have been described as more entertainment value than 'science', with Thornbury's 100 percent clearance of tb in cattle dismissed out of hand by Professor Bourne.

That was depressing. Predictable but still depressing. More on this can be seen at:

This site receives several comments but one received today we felt deserved a more prominent posting and we show it below in full entitled 'A Voice of Sanity':

Sorry I have to remain anonymous, as I'm a civil servant, an officer with State Veterinary Service - MAFF/Defra/Ministry, whichever you prefer.Yes a vaccine against bTB is the ideal, but before a vaccine can be used on animals, it has to be guaranteed 100% effective. Once an animal has been vaccinated it will show as a Reactor if tested, due to the antibodies generated, the whole point of a vaccine. The BCG vaccine used in humans is less than 90% efficient. If humans get TB they will react to the Heaf test, and if a clinical case, will be treated, and usually cured, with antibiotics. Cattle aren't, why not? The extortionate cost of the drugs, plus the animal would test as a Reactor at any future tests.

The Tuberculin test is in fact, a very good test, and certainly the best we've got at present. We actually get an extremely small number of false negatives (animals that are infected with TB that don't show as Reactors) and they're usually found to have developed TB extremely badly, affected by BVD, or other conditions which damage or destroy the immune response of the animals. The fact that an animal reacts to the test, does not necessarily mean the animal is clinically infected - it has the antibodies to the disease, hence the reaction.

The fact that we don't find Visible Lesions does not mean the animal isn't infected. A bovine is a large animal to PM, and we're only allowed around 5-8 minutes for performing a PM, so the most common sites are targetted, using (palpation) manual feeling of the lungs, and knife to cut organs and lymph nodes open for examination by eye. A TB lesion in a cow can be the size of a grain of sand - using the Mark 1 eyeball - not easy to spot and easily missed. Culturing TB by VLA is to say the least rather hit and miss. An animal will react to the test if it has been exposed to TB and developed the antibodies.

By far the majority of VLs that are found are what we refer to as "closed" cases - not getting to the outside world, less than 5% (probably nearer 2%) of PM'd cattle are "open" cases, in Lungs, Kidney, Liver or Udder, where the infection can spread to the outside world and cattle to cattle, or cattle to wildlife (ie the Holstein/Friesian foxes). Cattle moving from the west country were blamed for introducing TB to Cumbria and other places post FMD, but spoligotyping (strain) of the TB showed to be different to the west country type - therefore home-grown more locally. Look at the number of closed herd animals that become Reactors. Cattle are tested so frequently that very few are badly infected with TB. Unfortunately B&W foxes are not tested...........Badgers are extremely susceptible to bTB, but don't die of it very quickly, once infected they produce huge amounts of the organism, which they spread as they move along, constantly dribbling urine as they go, and in their faeces and saliva. They gradually get sicker and sicker, eventually being forced out of their sett and have to go elsewhere.

Farmers are criticised for their lack of bio-security, yes you can keep cattle away from known badger dung pits; but you can't tell where they've been dribbling, and you certainly can't keep badgers away from cattle, and out of their housing in any practicable/affordable way. Feed and drinking troughs are an absolute Mecca for B&W foxes - who's going to refuse a free meal! Maize clamps are a huge attraction to badgers, which get driddled on and infected.

Cheeseman and Bourne have lost all credibility in my eyes. The Krebs trials - what a farce, and a misinterpretation of the scientific facts. Wildlife Unit staff in Reactive trapping areas, only allowed to put traps out for 8 days - the badgers don't get the chance to get used to the traps, so yes there's bound to be disturbance - a sett with 6 accesses would have 12 traps - badgers aren't that thick they know something's different! Many setts have many more entrances. It is not possible to trap out 100% (apart from being illegal under the Berne Convention), 50 -75% at most. Unless a sett is cleaned right out and kept completely empty for at least 3 months - probably nearer 12, the TB organism will still be present and waiting to infect any clean badgers. This is why the ring culling by gassing in the 60s/70s actually caused a decrease in TB incidence.

Where do you find TB in the human population? In heavily or over-populated housing, especially in warm damp conditions - any similarities with a badger sett are purely coincidental!SVS staff on the ground are as frustrated as the farming community - NO-ONE wants to see the badger exterminated - just a HEALTHY and CONTROLLED population, so they can exist in harmony with cattle. There is no natural predator of the badger - they top of the line - where there's a high badger population, there's very, very few hedgehogs, ground-nesting birds or hares - they live and breed above ground, and hence, are easy Take Away mobile food for badgers! Any mammal can become infected with bTB, and there's no doubt that deer population is becoming seriously infected and another reservoir of infection. Where do deer pick up the infection? The same way most cattle become infected - grazing or eating infected feed.

It is no good just taking and killing cattle, the wildlife reservoir has to be tackled. Some farmers have lost more than 50% of their stock, and in some cases the last of blood-lines that have been bred by their forefathers. Come on Bradshaw, bite the bullet (not much chance of that though) and order a proper, efficient cull of the wildlife reservoir as well as cattle - oh, but I forgot, that's not politically acceptable.

To quote the proverb, "Don't shoot the messenger".

As we have said, 'the messengers' of tuberculosis are cattle that react to the skin test, like the canary in the coal mine. But Defra appear quite happy to pile up dead cattle without listening to the song they're singing. And when herds like those belonging to 3 of our contributers to this site go down, with a confirmation from the Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) that ' No bought in cattle have entered the holding', contamination of the environment has reached a point where overspill into other species is inevitable.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

PCR diagnostics.

Former Shadow minister, Owen Paterson MP recently visited the USA, and in particular the state of Michigan to see for himself the response of other countries to a tuberculosis reservoir in wildlife, and in particular the strides made with Polymerase Chain Reaction on-farm diagnostic testing.

In an article (in FWi) written by Owen Paterson, he describes his visit:
"....The USA shows clearly that Bovine TB can be eradicated in cattle and wildlife by a combination of the following:
* Fast, accurate and modern diagnosis.
* Rigidly enforced but workable pre-movement testing and movement restrictions.
* Vigorous, if unpopular, campaign to bear down on disease in wildlife.

It must be emphasised that only a combination of all of these will work. Picking only one or two of them will not eliminate the disease. ..."

"...... new PCR kits, developed for the army in Iraq, are as small as a briefcase and there is absolutely no practical reason why tests could not be done on the environment in the environment from the back of a truck in less than two hours. A well equipped laboratory could do over 1000 a day. They believe that PCR would work on material around setts. It was felt that Ben Bradshaw’s letter to me was quibbling....(US vets were) ... utterly astounded by the grotesque dimensions of the TB epidemic in the UK. .... there was clearly no doubt that we should be pressing the Government to trial PCR technology as we have already proposed. "Read in full

The great and the good gather this week to defend their budgets. Dr. Cheeseman from 'Badger Heaven' other wise known as Woodchester Park, a four year 'trial' into badger BCG (already undertaken in Ireland) and John Bourne to defend - the indefensible Krebs trial. Interestingly Krebs was described by Cheeseman this week as 'rigourous and robust'. As 57 % of the traps were 'interfered with' and 12% went AWOL, and trapping only accounted for between 30 - 60 % of the target group anyway, one may wonder just how bad it would have to get, for the good doctor to consider a 'trial' weak and flawed? But such is Defra's beneficial largesse, that it seems nobody is prepared to forge ahead with tomorrow's technology to identify infected animals and their environment. Australia used PCR in 1997, Michigan in 2001 - but the UK? Forget it, we'd rather kill 30,000 cattle a year, allow a notifiable zoonosis to devastate Britain's badgers and then spill over into - well anything that crosses its path actually.

This country will not wake up, until tuberculosis is reported in domestic pets.
But from February 20th, that will happen. Tuberculosis becomes notifiable in all mammalian species. Bring on the cats.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Devon Farmer Petitions against cull of cattle ....

Sheilagh Kremers is a Devon smallholder with a small herd of rare breed Dexter cattle which had their routine Tb test before Christmas. One 6 month old calf was a Reactor.
Mous'l Fern had shown by his skin's reaction to the test that he had had contact with m bovis, and under international animal health rules, he has to go for slaughter.

While we have every sympathy Mrs. Kremers, and can empathise with her shock, disbelief and horror at the proposed slaughter of her calf, particularly while Defra allows the likely cause of the problem to remain at liberty to infect the rest of her small herd, the 'muddying of waters' concerning diagnostic tools is disappointing.

As we have said many times on this site, the intradermal skin test is OIE / EU approved and is used by competent vets and lay testers throughout the world, with no problems at all - in the abscence of a wildlife reservoir. In Australia, New Zealand and America it is used singularly in the caudal fold, and in the UK and Ireland in tandem with a m.avium as a comparison, in the neck of the animal.

A calibrated 'gun' discharges into the skin only, the test sites being clipped to measure pre jab thickness, and also define the exact area of the test. Any reaction, that is extra thickening of the skin or actual lumps and bumps, measured 72 hours later shows the candidate animal has been in contact with m.bovis bacteria. Depending on this reaction, and comparing it with the pre jab skin thickness and any avian thickening gives a result varying from 'Clear', 'Inconclusive reaction' (which will require a retest) or 'Fail' and as the animal is now classed as a Reactor , isolation and slaughter. Measured on calipers which pinch the skin at the jab site, a rise of +5ml and above will be classed as a Reactor, but if previous postmortems and/or culture samples have shown the presence of m.bovis, this level is rolled back to +3ml on a 'severe interpretation' of the test and animals showing above that level slaughtered too.

The test does not diagnose clinical tuberculosis, and many animals will have had contact and show up as reactors, but when slaughtered (as the law demands) show no sign of disease. The point is they have had contact with a serious notifiable zoonosis, that may or may not develop into full blown tb and which has no place in the environment at all. Highly infectious it certainly is, debilitating and fatal to its hosts and a serious threat to any mammal including human beings, domestic pets, free range pigs and other wildlife that have the misfortune to fall over it.

We agree with Mrs. Kremers in that slaughter of sentinel tested cattle is obscene, while absolutely no action is taken to protect and improve the health of the maintenance reservoir badgers and prevent onward transmission of Tb to other species. In the days of the National Coal Board it would be akin to strangling the sentinel canary while exposing the coal miners to lethal fire damp.

It has not gone unnoticed by our authors that in Defra's consultation documents (Badger Management as Part of a Balanced Approach to the Control of Tb) doing the rounds at present, "cherished and valued" are terms used to describe badgers, while cattle - 27,773 slaughtered to November - are referred to in £££ terms. Monetry value only then, even for this young calf. We do not expect Mrs. Kremers would agree. In fact her stance on behalf of this animal shows that farmers can 'cherish and value' their animals too - even if Defra do not.

Mrs. Kremers the Devon farmer has sent a copy of her petition. It asks "How many more healthy animals have to be slaughtered?"

To Margaret Beckett MP. We, the undersigned, want the government to cease this senseless slaughter of British cattle until:
An accurate test is in use
New measures are introduced to combat the disease at source (e.g. wildlife)
Vaccination of domestic and farm animals is allowed. It would undoubtedly mean a lot to Sheilagh and Mark Kremers at this difficult time, if printed petition forms, duly signed, could be sent to her at New Park Farm, Rectory Road, Ogwell, Newton Abbot, TQ12 6AH

Monday, January 09, 2006

Muckspreader and HRH

Private Eye's Muckspreader points out the dottiness of a Times article by Lord Hattersley suggesting that it was solely owing to Prince Charles that DEFRA now contemplates allowing the culling of diseased badgers as a means to ending the epidemic of TB in Britain’s cattle.

"....What seems to have escaped the attention of the noble lord is, first, as the Treasury is keenly aware, that the cost to taxpayers of the TB epidemic is now rapidly heading for £2 billion..... Second, the evidence quoted to Lord Hattersley by his ‘dissidents’ was only that derived from the ministry’s own notoriously inefficient ‘Krebs trials’. Much more reliable is the Irish evidence that a properly designed cull can cut TB in cattle by as much as 96 percent. What Hatters further omitted to mention was the force of that letter signed by more than 420 vets and scientists.... Not only, they argued, was this the only way to save thousands of farmers and their cattle from disaster. It would also serve the welfare of the diseased badgers themselves, condemned otherwise to a lingering, unpleasant death...." Read in full

(Piece taken from

Muckspreader is quite correct. Defra is under increasing pressure from a Chancellor who has more black holes in his budget than 'The Sky at Night'. But his immediate February target, farmer ' compulsory purchase' monies for the 36 percent increase in cattle slaughtered to October 2005, will only stave off the inevitable for a couple of years. That is because the farmer's share of Defra's beneficial largesse is now less than one third. Testing is another third, and that will continue apace, with the remainder taken up by other totally unecessary Tb costs. Unecessary if the disease was under control, that is. We have asked before whether 600 dead cattle, less than 100 herds under restriction and our country safely able to trade as 'TB free' within OIE rules would have spawned the myriad of job opportunities that 27,700 dead cattle, and 5,300 herds under restriction have.

5.8 per cent of GB herds were under Tb restriction up to January - November 2005. The OIE and EU level for Tb free trading is 0.2 per cent, requiring 99.8 percent of registered herds and 99.9 percent of cattle to have been clear of bTb for 3 consecutive years.

OIE requirements are quoted below.
"To qualify as free from bovine tuberculosis, a country,
zone or compartment should satisfy the following requirements:
bovine tuberculosis is a
notifiable disease in the country;
regular and periodic testing of all cattle and buffalo herds has shown that at least 99.8% of the herds and 99.9% of the animals in the country,
zone or compartment have been found free from bovine tuberculosis for 3 consecutive years;

Defra's November 2005 figures show that of 90,933 herds registered on their Vetnet site, 5,296 were under restriction at some during the reporting period January - November because of a TB incident. As the UK's incidence is over 5.8 percent, and the OIE TB free trading level is 0.2 percent, I think one could confidently say, we do not qualify. In fact on the OIE statistics for TB incidence, we have the dubious honour of being top of the heap. The worst in the world. Just ripe for another Trade ban in fact.

And the beneficiaries of that burgeoning crisis will not be in any hurry to improve the situation.
Their jobs depend upon it.