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.


George said...

I understand that years before the Krebs trial it was well known, from badgers caught in removal operations, that the proportion of infected badgers in a sett could be as high as 100%. Infection was very patchy and nearby setts could be quite a lot lower. If there was a reliable test (like the one used for cattle – which is pretty good) for the badgers it would make life a lot easier. Life is never simple, and this is a exceptionally knotty problem. Simplistic statements (by both sides – and the media) are not particularly helpful. I hope that the Government will listen to any contributions from its own people at the sharp end that are made in the consultation.

Matthew said...

Thanks George. Yes we agree that a 'targetted' cull is the answer both to satisfy the conditions of the Bern convention, and to allay fears of a FMD type wipe out - of badgers. Bourne now seems to be saying yes its badgers, but the spread of tb is now too big and any cull needed will have to be so drastic that financially and politically 'we' can't do it. So concentrate on cattle and keep him in clover a little longer.

As you say, simplistic statements only serve to muddy the waters.

One contributer to this site has pointed out that in a pro active Krebs area, 'his' 2 year figures
were pooled by Bourne to give a 27 per cent incidence of tb in postmortemed badgers. In fact the first clearance found 40 out 47 taken were infected / infectious (over 80%) and the second year none of nearly 100. He would have preferred to leave that lot alone.

Then at the BCVA conference contradictory statements from Richard Delahay, 1) that badgers do not 'suffer' from Tb but 2) that the disease acts as a population regulator on them !

Exactly how both can be the case, (see our photos), I cannot imagine.

Can government's 'own people' at the sharp end make submissions? We hope so.

Ours is that Defra make use of the RT-PCR machines it has purchased for other animal diseases and get cracking with a 'trial' for tb in the environment, that starts at Lands End, Barnstaple and Brighten, Leek, Dovedale Fishguard and Skegness, moving inwards to Hereford / Worcester.

Sheeesh, we've erected an Offa's dyke - forget Wales !