Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Poles apart.

A comment has come into the site today which we quote below:

"No one debates that badgers carry TB. However, there is no CONCLUSIVE PROOF that they are responsible for passing it to cattle and as such until this is found a cull of badgers in britain for this purpose is MORALLY and ECONOMICALLY wrong. Because it does not necessarily eliminate the problem, it is a myth it is also going to benefit the farming community. "

This from 'Emily' as a comment below our posting (see archive Nov. 2005. Dear Ben) describing the problems on the Miles' farm in the South of Cornwall. Mr. & Mrs Miles had lost half their herd to bTb, and had found several dead badgers the previous year on pasture land which the cattle grazed. Apart from one beef bull who had been on the farm and undergone regular routine tests, the herd was home bred.

Three contributers to this site are or were in the same postion. No bought in cattle for several years then a pernicious drip feed of infection into their cattle. It doesn't come with the man in the moon.

"Nobody debates that badgers carry Tb. " says 'Emily'.

And when they have been allowed to become infected with this Grade 3 pathogen (that's on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being the most virulent) what then? You think they keep it to themselves?
They spread it amongst themselves and into many other species. That is the nature of an 'infectious' disease - it infects. And tuberculosis is fatal. To anything that gets infected. Not straight away, but often many years hence. Just because the badger is such a successful host of this disease, and can survive, rear cubs and shed Tb for many years is no excuse whatsover to leave exposed to more infection, and to die a dreadful death from it, having spread it around the environment in the meantime. and if you're comfortable with 30,000 cattle slaughtered annually as Reactors to their Tb test, wait until the cat owners get fired up. Tb is now notifiable in all mammalian species.

You claim there is NO CONCLUSIVE PROOF (in capital letters so that we cannot miss your point). Well 'Emily' how much more CONCLUSIVE do you want than 100 percent?

At Thornbury, records show that after a sustained clearance of infected badgers there was 100 percent clearance of cattle tb. This was maintained over twelve years, and badger numbers by then had recovered to previous levels.

Parliamentary Questions asked the Minister what else could have affected this stunning result. They are all archived on this site by the way. They form its base in fact. And the answer from the Secretary of State to the Thornbury question was :
"no other contemporous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in Tb incidence within the area" . PQ’s (Hansard) 24th March 2004 Column 824W [157949]

Is that clear enough? Other PQ's told us that an infected badger could void 300,000 units of Tb bacteria in each 1 ml urine, if its kidneys were infected. It dribbled 30 ml in each squirt, and that only 70 units were needed to infect a cow. Also that although faeces were usually dropped in latrines, urinations took place at at pasture, in fact 30 percent of this highly infectious material was dribbled indiscriminately over grassland and cattle found that more difficult to avoid. In damp areas not exposed to the sun, this level of infection could survive for 'up to eleven months'. That last gem we believe was attributed to work done by Dr. Elaine King for her PhD at Bristol. In case you missed this, the title of the work was:
"Factors influencing the risk to cattle of infection with bovine tuberculosis (Mycobacterium bovis) from badgers (meles meles)"

You say that 'a cull of badgers is MORALLY and ECONOMICALLY wrong'

Why? Are you happy with the state of the ones we see dying of TB? If you are unfamiliar with the sight of a badger with tuberculosis, check out the posts below for some photos. They are an affront to anyone who dares to call themself an 'animal lover'. But economically, as we have said this disease has created its own momentum. A beneficial crisis, from which the main beneficiaries - and no, that is not farmers - check out the distribution of the budget - will take much levering.

The responsibilty for the clearance of any notifiable zoonosis is certainly not farmers. It is Defra's. That they have been less than enthusiastic about tackling this one - wherever it is found - is a question for them.

The losers 'Emily' are the badgers - a victim of their support group's 'success'. See below one which the RSPCA would describe as having 'a slight wheeziness'. :


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mistake, Mischievious or Misleading?

We have pointed out before on this blog, that the oft quoted 14 million animal movements alleged to be fuelling bovine Tb, is a huge exaggeration. What is 'moving' is paperwork.

When an animal leaves a holding, the owner has to lodge an 'Off' movement notification with the British Cattle movement Service (BCMS) and when the same animal arrives at its destination, the new owner fills in similar paperwork as an 'On' movement. So 2 paper movements = a single animal movement. If the animal is traded via a market then 4 'movements' are generated . One 'Off' farm, one 'On' market, then 'Off' market and 'On' to new premises.

All these paper 'movements' including those to abattoirs, either directly or via a market generate the same data, but as far as the spread of disease is concerned the numbers to slaughter can be discarded. It is the movement of bovines onto another farm, which are of interest in controlling any infectious disease. And the numbers generated by the BCMS show not 14 million of those (as stated in public most recently as the ISG meeting in January by Professor Bourne). Not even 4 million.

The figure of 14 .6 million BCMS attribute to the total 'paper' data generated by all movements, 'On' and 'Off' and including markets and slaughterhouses and showgrounds.

The actual single 'On' movement that matters is of a bovine to another farm, and that figure is somewhat more realistic. 2,718,599.

So the correct figure as far as disease control is concerned for England, Scotland and Wales is 2.7 million. Or a substantially different figure from that expounded by many 'experts' led by the diminutive John Bourne. So a mischievious mistake or a misleading statement? In any event, an unchallenged one which was made to several groups of scientific and political audiences.

Monday, February 13, 2006

An alternative offensive cartoon.

The RSPCA is spearheading its 'Back off Badgers!' campaign with a Kitchener type cartoon.

A plump black and white lookalike badger points his finger.


They have to use a cartoon? Yup. For a badger with tuberculosis at the end of its miserable infectious life, the real picture is unlikely to provoke any other reaction than absolute horror.

View on this site;

Badgers don't suffer from TB!


'A slight wheeziness'

Friday, February 10, 2006

We are puzzled.

The ISG reported to the Standing committee of the Bern convention in 2004 (based on earlier pooled data) that up to 76 per cent of badger postmortemed in the Krebs trial had proved positive for bTb. And yet John Bourne has consistently pointed his accusatory finger at cattle. Should a herd be flagged up which has taken the responsible and bio secure steps of attempting to keep itself 'closed', that is to buy in no cattle but remain self contained, a derisory snort indicates the good Professor believes not one word, either from the Bristish Cattle Movement Service or the farmer.

He is on record as saying, (with neither Trading Standards evidence nor prosecutions to confirm), that farmers are illegally moving cattle around the country.

When a veterinary practioner arrives every 60 days to Tb test cattle, he has a print out from BCMS of animals registered to the farm which are due to be tested, and if the farm is under Tb restriction, no 'new' animals may be present without a Ministry license, equally any animals not present have their whereabouts enquired into.
We find Professor Bourne's statement extraordinary, and insulting - but let that pass.

The purpose of this post is a statement made by Bourne to the Select committee this week and reported in the Western Morning News;

"Ministers were under renewed pressure to order a cull of badgers in the Westcountry last night after it emerged that as many as eight out of ten of the creatures are infected with bovine TB in some parts of the region.

The shock figures were revealed by Professor John Bourne, head of the Government's badger culling trials, who described the spread of bovine TB as being "like foot and mouth in slow motion - and not so slow in some cases either".

Giving evidence to MPs on the Commons Rural Affairs Committee, Prof Bourne said there had been a "wide variation" in the degree of badger infection in the ten trial areas, half of which were in the Westcountry.He said the proportion of badgers infected with bovine TB varied from just four per cent in some areas to as much as forty per cent in others. But he said that the "inadequacy of diagnosis" meant that both these figures should probably be doubled - with badger infection in the worst areas reaching 80 per cent.

The figures were seized on last night by the Westcountry farming community, where there is widespread support for a badger cull to help bring bovine TB under control.Ian Johnson, spokesman for the South West National Farmers' Union, described the figures as "appalling".He said: "It is incredible that ministers are even considering not having a cull when the level of infection in the wildlife is as high as this.

This is a serious disease, which causes serious welfare problems, not just for cattle and badgers, but also for other animals and potentially for humans. It is hard to believe that a responsible Government adopting a precautionary approach would be content to simply ignore a wildlife reservoir of this magnitude. This is exactly why farmers are so frustrated.

"Dan Rogerson, Lib-Dem MP for North Cornwall and a member of the Commons Rural Affairs Committee, said it was clear that the Government could no longer afford to ignore the problem of Tb in badgers."

As we said - we are puzzled.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Blind Alley?

We have referred to the constraints on badger culling under the terms of the Bern convention in previous posts. Badgers are protected under Annex 111 of Bern, which does allow for population management, or disease control but in very prescribed way.

At the moment it is reported that 'farmers' ( or rather the NFU led by government) are calling for badger culling on a massive scale, to be undertaken by farmers and using ... snares.
(Not in my name they aren't. )

But our reading of the message below received today from the European Commission, Strasberg is that under the Bern Convention (even if we wanted to, and 'we' do not) we cannot use snares. We can use "regulated exploitation" (that's culling in English) but only when it is not detrimental to the survival of populations concerned, including causing local disappearance of or serious disturbance to populations of species under Appendix III- and there is no other satisfactory solution.

To us that seems to mean, only a very targeted cull is available - if and it is a big "if" we have no other satisfactory solution available hence the big push for more cattle testing.

Have government and their 'experts' cocked this up big time? They didn't realise we couldn't do it, have done so now and are now busy promoting "other" options to escape from the problem with out admitting the cock up? It wouldn't be the first time. It's called covering your back.

The only other explanation is the contrived vilification of cattle farmers on the altar of political expediency, and major inputs into several universities to take pressure off the education budget.

Anyway, from the horse's mouth, an explanation of Bern and badger control:

"As you know, the Meles meles is listed in Appendix III of the Bern Convention and therefore do not benefit from the highest level of protection provided by the Convention (Appendix II species). Article 7 allows the 'regulated exploitation' of Appendix III species, such as Meles meles, while Article 8 of the Convention indeed bans the use of indiscriminate means of killing for Appendix III species, including those listed in Appendix IV such as snares.

These provisions must be read together with Article 9, which allows for exceptions from Articles 7 and 8 which are "not detrimental to the survival of the populations concerned" and given that "there is no other satisfactory solution".

Together with this erudite piece of information, which specifically says that 'indiscriminate means of killing such as snares' is banned, Article 9 has an absolute gem in part 2 which requires 'the Contracting Parties' to report to the Standing committee every two years. Information required must specify:

* the populations involved and when practical, numbers involved.

*the means authorised for killing or capture.

*the conditions of risk, circumstances of time and place under which exceptions were granted.

*the authority empowered to declare these conditions have been fulfilled, ... their limits and the persons instructed to carry them out.

*the controls involved.

Are you getting the picture here? 'Farmers' will cull badgers using snares? We don't think so.

Our contact in Strasberg finished by saying he hoped we found the information useful.
Perhaps Defra may find it even more useful.

From a Wildlife team operative...

We are most grateful to receive practical comments and proposals from people actually involved in the field of wildlife management, rather than 'intructions from on high', from those involved in skewed desk work, and a comment posted to the site today, we are raising in profile to a posting.

"As somebody who has worked on various culling methods/strategies over the past 13 years or so, including the Krebs Trial,I feel qualified to add to this debate. Krebs has proven one thing, and one thing only- that there is a proven link between the spread of TB in cattle and that in badgers.

If you accept the theory that the Reactive culling operations caused the perturbation(dispersal) of badgers, which made the TB situation even worse elsewhere, you have to accept that the link does indeed exist. We have over 100 staff with literally a thousand years of hands on experience between them, who have a clear view on what must happen to reduce/eradicate the disease- that is, break the cycle by slaughtering the infected cattle and do the same in the wildlife population. It might be unacceptable for the general public to accept that 1000s of badgers might die in the process, but that will have to be the bitter pill to swallow !

All of the fieldstaff working on Krebs have felt the frustrations of having to carry out their operations to a very prescriptive method. It does not allow for any common sense approach to what is often a practical problem that could be easily solved if only.......common sense could be used !!

The way forward now, is to try to get ahead of the disease. Playing catch up has never worked, due mainly to the red tape and bureaucracy attached to the policies that were in force at the time. There were/are some utterly ridiculous restrictions/limitations on what is allowed or not allowed when catching infected badgers.This has frustrated the hell out of who are/were( they are now being made redundant) very willing and able field staff.

PCR machines, on the face of it, could prove to be very usefull. Testing setts, determining the TB status of it, as a precursor to a removal licence being issued is surely an acceptable way to move forward ?

If common sense is allowed to rule, we have a chance to move ahead with the battle against this disease. If we leave it to those who think they know the best way forward, we had just as well give up on the whole thing right now and allow nature to ruin the cattle industry totally. Financing trial after trial, review after ereview, is wasting valuable time. Cull infected badgers, close down their infected setts, slaughter infected cattle, use pre/post-movement testing and the answer is theer for all to see- a clear way forward that will soon produce acceptable results. Why are we waiting ?? "

There is nothing we could add to that, except to remind readers that our Minister for Conservation and Fisheries has introduced one very good measure this month.

He has made mycobacterium bovis - bTb notifiable in all mammalian species. Up to now any cat, dog or pet pig which has succombed has cost its owner something over £100 for a SVS postmortem. And still we have in excess of 25 (non - farm) cats positive for bTb in the last couple of years - and no doubt some very distressed owners.

Thankyou again for the post.

Monday, February 06, 2006

'A slight wheeziness'.

Hard on the heels of its 'Back off Badgers' campaign, where instead of putting its not inconsiderable weight behind persuading government to use the technology already existing to effectively diagnose and eradicate Tb in both cattle and badgers (and anything else into which it has now spilled) the RSPCA has produced its own Enid Blyton 'factfile' on bTB. Their fact sheet (Know Your Facts! pdf) includes statements such as:

"In the few badgers that do have symptoms, they are wheeziness and loss of weight and condition. There may be some skin ulceration."

When postmortemed badgers reveal lungs and vital organs a mass of abscesses and lesions, one could be forgiven for pointing out that that the terms 'wheeziness' and 'loss of weight' may be a tad understated. The pictures provided to this site show these animals have died in agony. Emaciated, battle scarred, abscessed and starving. One would presume that the RSPCA would not hesitate to prosecute should a dog, cat or any other domesticated animal be allowed to deteriorate into such condition, so what's so special about badgers? What sort of animal welfare is it that ignores or denies a highly infectious zoonosis, endemic in some badger populations and leaves them to die like this?

As for 'wheeziness', we would (with respect of course) point out that lungs affected by tuberculosis - it used to be called consumption- mean that the host sufferer eventually drowns in a haemorrhage of blood and pus as lesions burst. (see horrendous photo on link)

In the light of our photographs, the society may like to reconsider its title.
Royal Society for Promotion of Cruelty to Animals may be more apt. Or are some animals more equal than others?

Pictorial and horrific evidence that badgers do indeed suffer when TB is left within the wildlife reservoir - as it is in parts of the UK. The RSPCA - for reasons one finds hard to understand - play down the effects of TB in badgers. This postmortem was carried out by veterinary personnel; the lesions were ripe and the liquid is pus, which gushed out as they cut. This is what happens to a tuberculous lesion.

Warning: The following photo should offend.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

New Technology

We are grateful for the following post from www.warmwell.com

"With the urgent need to develop more sensitive, rapid, and cost-effective means of diagnosing M. bovis infection in cattle and badgers, the EN approach described here offers considerable potential
The method is not only easy to perform, and therefore does not require a specifically trained technician, but is also cost- and time-effective, since, once validated, it would dispense with the need for the isolation of M. bovis by culture (which is protracted and costly) or repeated visits to the farm (in the case of the cattle skin test). Furthermore, the technology is amenable to automation and/or condensation into a portable device that could eventually permit the rapid testing of large numbers of animals in situ." From Use of an Electronic Nose To Diagnose Mycobacterium bovis Infection in Badgers and Cattle Journal of Clinical Microbiology, April 2005, p. 1745-1751, Vol. 43, No. 4 This was work funded partly by DEFRA. Any information about what happened to it would be gratefully received.


A comment on the posting below asked how the farmers hosting this site would deal with the problem of bTb.

We answered that for cattle, the intradermal skin test + slaughter of reactors was the preferred control of bTb world wide, and satisfied global trading conditions. However action had to be taken on any other source of tb, and for that we favoured RT-PCR technology combined with management of any populations which haboured it. That for their own sakes as well as the inevitable spillover. Our commentator posted thus:

"Thank you - your summary of how you would tackle TB is very informative. Who do you propose should pay for all these measures, they sound very expensive. Surely not us tax payers? We already contribute £100m plus per year. All the messages I see coming out of DEFRA is that they have less money to spend, not more, so it looks like if you want to clear up this disease it will have to be financed by farmers. My prediction, which you might want to archive along with all your parliamentary questions, is that government will impose a TB levy on the whole cattle industry, with farmers contributing on a sliding scale depending on their parish testing frequency. "

We would agree in principle that the taxpayer should not have fund this, and if the level of tb achieved 20 years ago ( less than 100 herds affected and 686 cattle slaughtered) I suspect we would not be having this discussion at all. Nor in the 21st century, should we be.

The £100 million ' year is weighted heavily in favour of the beneficiaries' of the crisis as we have explained many times. Farmer compulsory purchase monies form under one third and with the tabular valuation, will drop even more - for a while. Testing costs attract another third of the budget with samples, haulage, slaughter, postmortems and endless 'experimental' work taking the rest. A compound had been built at Weybridge to test badgers. Its walls extend 15 feet into the Surrey soil. How does that square with Bradshaw's 'bio security is farmers' responsibility'? If Weybridge needs £500,000 worth of concrete, 15 feet deep to keep them inside, surely the same must apply to exclude them from grassland? This facility remains unused by the way. Another Defra playground.

Bradshaw is ahead of you on a levy. We understand that he's also approached the insurance loss adjusters to underwrite a 50:50 scheme. Their reply was 'exposure to risk is too high', that was when they'd finished laughing. In many areas, farmers are no longer able to obtain new cover Tb insurance. And if they are still insured, the premium has increased 10 fold and cover halved.

If such a levy were introduced then it would be for all animal diseases, not just Tb and I suspect farmers would then cancel their individual cover with their insurers for brucellosis, Fmd, swine fever etc.

Defra is a hole of their own making with this one, and they are not concerned as to who digs them out - or how. As long as they are not involved.
You make an interesting point on a 'sliding scale for parish testing frequencies'.
I feel that tabular valuations will squeeze farmers into a financial corner with this disease, and should your suggestion be implemented, then the 221 day latency of exposure from the UK strains of Tb to its provoking a skin reaction, (PQ's) could (in theory) mean that the whole country is on 4 year testing inside 7 months.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Badgers don't suffer from TB!

A nice healthy Mr Brock... Ah! Isn't he just lovely... Or is he?

Look a little bit closer and you might see that he's not that steady on his pins. Not quite that sleek furry animal. Possibly a bit on the thin side. But, of course, you can't tell a diseased badger, just by looking at it, can you? And, in any case, badgers don't suffer from TB, do they...? We all know that.

Mind you, this one don't look so hot. Might have something to do with the fact that he's dead.

But what did he die of? Couldn't have anything to do with TB could it? Badgers don't suffer from TB... we all know that. And, as we all know, you couldn't possibly tell from just looking at it, could we. How do you spell that? Emaciation? And what does that mean, I wonder. Put the little darling off its food did it? Never mind, they say dieting is good for you.

So what about this little darling? Shrunken eyes... dear, dear! And that word again, emaciation...! Nothing a few square meals wouldn't put right... unless he's got TB of course. But then, badgers don't suffer from TB do they? Everybody knows that!

Can't be much wrong with him... look, he's smiling!

How's this for a "claws 4" moment, then - just what Mr Cameron needs. But not what this little poppet needs. Weakened by TB, he can't dig, so he doesn't wear down his claws.

Surely that cannot be right? Badgers don't suffer from TB. Everybody knows that. And you can't possibly tell a badger has TB just by looking at it... can you? Everybody knows that.

And here's another handsome specimen. How could you possibly have killed such a fine animal like that? That's really shocking, even thinking of killing.

Oh! You didn't kill it? It died of bite wounds, after it was driven out by other badgers because it had TB? Don't be silly! Everybody knows that badgers don't suffer from TB. How would other badgers know? Are they vets? (Is there a difference?)

Urgh! How dare you show me that! That's not a badger. Badgers are nice, cuddly creatures with sleek fur. Don't they look lovely!. That can't be a badger. It looks horrid.

Bite wound and ulcerations? Who would be so nasty. Aren't people cruel! Badgers? Other badgers did it? There should be a law against it. The poor thing should be put down. There's a law against that? How silly!! That's barbaric!

Ohh.. the poor thing! I can hardly bear to look. Those are TB infected absesses? Yuk!!! You mean that poor thing was wandering around with all that inside it? Didn't it suffer?

Oh! I forgot. Badgers don't suffer from TB! Everbody knows that! Who's this "everybody", you ask? National Federation of Badger Groups, I think. They know everything ther is to know about badgers, and they say badgers don't suffer from TB. So it must be right. And then there's the RSPCA. They could't possibly get something like that wrong, could they! Could they?

What did you say they were again? Abcesses? Mmmm.