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


Anonymous said...

Better if she let the calf go for slaughter, with cameras to follow its progress. Then track what happens to the rest of her herd.
The petition concentrates on cattle and does nothing to protect the badgers from tuberculosis. They'll still suffer and die, after infecting God knows what else.

Matthew said...

Yup, we'd agree with that.

Anonymous said...

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".

Matthew said...

To our last 'Anonymous' poster:
Thankyou so much for that. Agree 100% and yes, we are all incredibly frustrated.

You finished with 'Don't shoot the messenger' and you are right. That is why we used the analogy of the canary in the coal mine. Defra are piling up dead cattle (nearly 30,000 last year - a 36% increase on 2004) but not listening to their message. The environment is getting increasingly contaminated, and anything and everything that is susceptible to Tb is coming into contact with a lethal zoonosis, which the UK thought it had consigned to history.

That is why this site has concentrated on the disease 'tuberculosis' and the spillover to other species.

We are going to lift your comment to a new posting of its own. Thankyou again.

Anonymous said...

When I did my National Service all of us had a test to see if we were resistant to TB. They didn't bump us off if we failed.

Matthew said...

Would that be the BCG test? It left a ring of needle marks on your arm? If I remember rightly, anybody who came up with a reaction to that was X-rayed, and blood tested. If positive for Tb the course of antibiotics is very long - 6months? - and is a cocktail of several drugs with very nasty side effects. A nurse tells us that in several London boroughs now, the NHS is having to PAY people with confirmed tuberculosis, in the hope that they complete the course. Many do not.