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 www.warmwell.com 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