Friday, March 31, 2006

The ' robust' basis of Krebs.

Over the last months we have sought to inform our readers what actually happened on the farms involved in the RBCT. Matt 5, under restriction when the trial started with his organic Anguses, excluded to fester in his own little mini hotspot. Never mind the 50 per cent of land from which the teams were banned, the ISG's interpretation created their own exclusions as well.

Matt 3 in a Reactive area, where the Wildlife Unit took nearly 3 years to react to Matt's cattle. And on some farms didn't come at all. Matt 6 was in a Proactive in the far North. That fared a bit better, but Police action was more robust than some other areas and he did get 'Krebbed' every year. Once only for about a week, and not at all of course in 2001, because of FMD.

But it is on the basis of the first year's number crunching from all this chaos that so much of the 'Back off Badgers' polemic is based. And don't forget those traps. 69 percent trashed or interfered with. That combined with the 50 percent of land 'unavailable' to the team meant that in some areas they only accounted for 20 percent of their target. VLA said that - not us by the way.

But one splendid submission to the EFRA committee deserves our attention. That the Committee should have issued such a woolly and vaccuous statement after reading this is unbelievable. No it's not, these are politicians.

BTB 33 was submitted by a senior member of the Wildlife team with over 12 years experience who operated the RBCT and he says:

1. BRO's(Badger removals) worked well when the land being culled was made fully available. (We would guess he is referring to the drastic reduction made to areas avaible for BRO's from 7km down to 1 km and then only on land cattle had grazed)

2. Where (problem) badgers were totally removed from a farm, that farm after reactor cattle had been culled, often stayed clear of Tb for up to 10 years.

3. We stayed on farms for up to three months to ensure ALL badgers were caught - unlike the Krebs 8 days per year trapping regime.

4. You do not need large scale trapping for it to be effective, if the culling is robust from the start.

5. Krebs had too many anomolies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activists, to be able to trap badgers anywhere, in order to eliminate them. That was only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

6. Limited trapping - eight days per year with Krebbs - has little effect if carried out late in the year. The effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull. (In some cases three, or not at all)

7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. [ snipped ]
Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.

8. ...... 'Professionals' should remain involved [ snipped ] to ensure that animal welfare and humaneness remain number one priority.

9. Compulsory entry onto farms is a must. Krebs has proven that wide scale non co operation does make it nigh on impossible to operate effectively.

10. The Krebs Reactive strategy ended prematurely in my opinion. The results used also showed us that in areas we had never operated in (J2 and H1 which had a very limited cull) also displayed the same increase in bTb outside of the areas. That has to be another logical reason for the increase, as it is clearly not badger- culling related. This point has yet to be satisfactorily answered.

11. The combined knowledge of the staff involved in all the previous culling strategies has never been utilised or sought when putting togather a Policy.

.............. Scientists do not have all the answers and most certainly Krebs doesn't. The Trial has far too many flaws in it to be trusted to produce meaningful evidence. I know what happened on the ground - the scientists only have the results which we provided them with to work with. I know that those results could and should have been much better and useful than they currently are.

Nobody - and I do mean nobody, working on the Trial at grass roots level has ever believed that operating under the too strict and inflexible regime that Krebs put in place could work successfully. All common sense answers to everyday problems were too often ignored because "things had to carried out scientifically" to mean anything. The whole basis of Krebs was to remove badgers off the ground. For the first four years, that effort was farcical due to restrictions placed upon us. Repeated requests to change operating methods were ignored. With that in mind, how much weight do we give the ISG report, detailing their 'robust' findings to the Minister? If it were down to me and my staff, very little."

There is little we can add to that, except to agree with every word, and point out that the 'magic circle' of the ISG is led and the Krebs Trial overseen by a 'scientist' who has spent the last three years chasing 14 million postcards , thinking they were cattle.

Leading the Horse to Water ..

.... or in this case the Minister for Animal Health, Ben Bradshaw MP, to the 'silver bullet' which can, and will identify which groups of 'wildlife' are providing the environment with enough mycobacterium bovis, to infect a small army.

Reported in this week's Farmers Guardian, PCR technology is described as:

* Developed by the US military to detect biological warfare agents.
* Used in the US to test cattle lesions for Tb
* Portable 'mini lab' has been developed in UK by Enigma diagnostics, an offshoot of the MoD.
* PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) works by using an enzyme and a cycle of heating and cooling to generate billions of copies of a cell's DNA. Using florescent light, and in the field not a laboratory, the system can then identify bTb - or any other bacteria or virus - by comparing it with a known sample.
*The system developed by Enigma gives an on-the-spot diagnosis within 30 minutes.

An earlier variant of this the American 'smart cycler' was recommended and offered to the UK government in 2001, to help detect FMD. It was refused.

Now this stunning technology has been trialled in Glos. and Oxfordshire to see how it performed in the field.
Researchers from Warwick university inserted soil from potentially infected badger setts, and faeces from their latrines found on farms in an endemically infected area into the box. The results indicated the extent to which the infected badgers are at large in 'hotspot' areas, with evidence of bTb found in 78 percent of the 60 farms sampled. 56 percent of the latrines on nine farms proved positive for m.bovis. On farms where infection was found, an average of 43 percent of setts, and 29 percent of latrines were positive. Using this technology, no 'wipe out' then and the almost 60 percent of healthy badger groups left in peace. Good stuff?

More extensive research showed that in Glos. bTB hotspots, 100 percent of setts and latrines were positive, while in Oxfordshire where there is little or no bTb flagging up in the cattle, the results were all negative.

A paper in the Royal Society's Biology Letters journal, said that the results of this work showed that the technology can differentiate 'clean setts' from the 'problem setts', containing infected badgers.

Mr. Bradshaw, our Ben described this as " A potentially important development" and said that he had " asked government scientists for an urgent review of the work".

We would prefer him to ask Warwick's researchers. Not that we are cynical, you understand but each little PCR box may just negate the need for one 'government scientist', and do turkeys vote for Christmas?

See link for The University of Warwick's department of Biological Sciences press release which describes its research using PCR diagnosis to differentiate between bTb 'infected' setts, and 'clean' ones.

More from Wales - and a name they dare not speak..

In our posting You'll find a Welcome in the Hillsides...: , we told you of problems on the playing fields of two small schools in Wales, Dolfur and Kerry. Badgers were digging up the areas where the children played and Tb levels among the Welsh school children were rising, in this area and in the Rhonda.

This week local newspaper, The County Times reported further developments in the ongoing saga:

"THE mother of a young TB victim is angry over the lack of information available to her about the source of her daughter’s illness. Donna Jones’ four year old daughter was diagnosed last year with Atypical TB. She has since been unable to find out anything more about the likely cause than it has an ‘environmental source’.

This news comes in the same week the Government announced the number of TB cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had risen to over 7,000 a year - the highest since the 1980s.

In October 2005 Donna Jones’ daughter Emma developed two lumps on her neck which on first examination doctors believed were caused by a glandular problem. The lumps on Emma’s neck later burst and a consultant paediatrician from the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital diagnosed her as suffering from Atypical TB.

Emma was prescribed a course of two separate antibiotics to take for six months. Donna’s distress over her daughter’s illness is borne out of her frustration at not being able to find what causes the illness, and how and why her daughter contracted it when her three other children have remained unaffected.“All anyone will tell us is that she may have caught it from wildlife, I’ve asked the local vets and they say they don’t know anything about it but I want to know where, how and what she has caught it from,” said Donna, who lives in Kerry.“I’m annoyed I cannot find the information I want. I want to know where she has caught it from and how come my three other children haven’t been affected,” she said.“There is no information saying if she should be in school, there is no information on how she can contract it, I want the truth and some honest answers.”

Donna quizzed Emma’s consultant paediatrician and local GPs on the infection but says they only confirm the illness has an environmental source. A spokesman for the National Public Health Service said: “There is no such condition as Atypical TB, it is a mycobacterial infection which can cause a whole range of infections some of which are TB.” He said that mycobacterial infections are usually acquired from the environment but transmission can occur from animals to humans although it is not common."

County Times 30 March 2006

This child developed lumps on her neck, which later burst, and were described as "Atypical Tuberculosis, which she may have contracted from wildlife". Sounds fairly 'typical' to us. Lumps / lesions in neck or throat glands which then burst? Something like this then.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Tb spillover - sheep.

That can't be right. In 1997, John Bourne told a questioner on the subject that sheep do not get Tb. He's quite wrong on that - as with many other pronouncements, but we won't dwell on that - and the disease has been found in New Zealand sheep. And now in Worcestershire. But in which sheep, lamb or ewe, and from where is not yet clear.

After FMD, body piercing for sheep became mandatory, with a tag inserted in very small fragile ears at birth, and then every time it changed home. So when it finally made it to the abattoir, the last tag it carried should have enabled Defra to trace it from the unique holding number on its eartag. Immediately. And certainly before any disease spread. A mound of movement forms accompany all consignments of sheep and the top copies are lodged with Trading standards departments of the local councils. All done in the name of tracebility. Simple. Well that's the theory.

So why are Worcs. SVS contacting consignees of the almost 20 batches of sheep sold through Worcester cattle market three months ago, trying to identify the owner of just one sheep which turned up at an abattoir with 'something' looking a tad suspicious, so that a test can arranged for any cattle they may have?

Duty vets at the abattoir sent this 'something' off to VLA, presumably labelled 'something odd from a Worcester sheep' but somewhere along the line the sheep's identity was - errr lost. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this case and assume it actually was from a sheep, and that they originally did label its identity. (Remember the 3 year fiasco into sheep BSE that turned out to be experiments on cattle brains? We haven't.) Anyway, the sample was positive for m.bovis and now the fun and games start as a notifiable zoonosis has to be traced to source.

A couple of points here. Firstly the sheep identity tracking system, involving a new ear ring every time it blinks and a mound of paper work, has not exactly covered itself in glory. And secondly, when John Bourne noted in his report to Bern 2004 that 76 percent of badgers culled in Hereford / Worcs area during the last few years of the Interim strategy were confirmed with clinical tuberculosis, that this should spill into anything else which had the misfortune to fall over it should not come as any great surprise to anyone. Even if the good Professor assured his audience during that question and answer session that "Sheep do not get Tb".

Then again the sample could have been from a cow.......

Monday, March 27, 2006


We are quite 'peturbed' to find that much information on bTb which has been peer reviewed and well publicised is subject to 'airbrushing' by organisations who really ought to know better.

This site has been provided with a reply from the RSPCA concerning a letter which they received querying their support for the 'Back off Badgers Campaign'.

We quote from it below;

"You state that the RSPCA is a political organisation. I can confirm that charities may seek changes in government policy. In fact, this is one of the ways charities are able to meet their aims and secure public benefit. Indeed, the RSPCA was set up in 1824 to help not only those animals that had already suffered, but to bring about lasting change by lobbying parliament on aspects affecting the welfare of all animals. Such work by the Society's founding fathers led, for example, to a ban on cruel dog fighting in 1835, and the Protection of Animals Act in 1911 * which is soon to be replaced with the long-awaited Animal Welfare Bill.

All of the Society's political and campaigning activities, including the current battle to stop the unnecessary slaughter and inevitable suffering of thousands of badgers, takes careful account of Charity Law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission.

They want to stop the suffering of badgers? Not enough to accept that tuberculosis is a wicked, delibilitating and fatal condidtion in any species and not enough to print pictures like this:

They continue:
"The government set up an eight-year trial to study the impact of badger culling on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. The recently published results showed that badger culling actually increases TB infection in cattle in surrounding areas and achieves only a limited reduction within the areas targeted. The chairman of the Independent Scientific Group, responsible for overseeing the culling trials, has warned that the Government ignored the scientific advice provided and misinterpreted the results of the trials. He has stated that a badger cull will almost certainly make the situation worse and that it would be better to focus on cattle controls.

Given the RSPCA's raison d'ĂȘtre is to prevent cruelty and promote kindness to animals, our opposition to a proposed cull of a protected species which goes against sound science should need no further explanation."

And needless to say, it does not get one either (explanation) Well there isn't one really is there? Previous trials have shown that if the infected badgers are removed, Tb in cattle just - disappears. But the RSPCA's flat earth world obviously begins in 1997, with the diminutive figure of John Bourne. Nothing prior to that then? No Thornbury, East Offaly or even the 4 county trials? No cattle to cattle trials in Ireland and no earlier attempts at pre movement testing? And 30,000 dead cattle are just fine with the Royal Society for their Protection.

No attempt either to establish the extraordinarily weak basis for the Krebs' RBCT in that its whole basis to 'cull badgers' in two comparative areas in the first couple of years at least, were so badly carried out that in some instances it only accounted for 20% of its target, leaving 80 % shaken, stirred and stressed - and that is VLA's conclusion. John Bourne doesn't need one. A conclusion that is. Peer review the work? You have to be joking.
"We are the experts" he told his audience at the last ISG meeting. In what he did not say.

The RSPCA continues:
"With regard to the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, where possible, every effort was made to address potential animal welfare problems before they happened. Pressure was put on the Government from the start to ensure that animals were not slaughtered inhumanely and to allow the RSPCA to monitor the slaughtering. This took almost six weeks of liaison before DEFRA agreed that Society staff should be allowed onto specific slaughter sites. We continued to voice our concerns, but I must point out that when the RSPCA did voice its concerns in a press release, which was nearly always preceded by a letter to the Minister, the press had no obligation to print our concerns. We could not insist that they carried our story. "

Now hang on a minute. "We could not insist that they (the press) carried our story".
So in this instance you printed your own? I don't remember any adverts during FMD protesting at the totally needless slaughter of 12 million animals? But hell, they were farmed animals so who cares. Well the RSPCA should care. Animals are animals, and many of us did care and care a lot that 'valued and cherished' flocks and herds were shot and piled high, when PCR technology was available to identify and vaccination was available to ring fence. But the RSPCA were content to "monitor the slaughtering". So that's alright then. They must have missed the 'cowboys' on the quadbikes aiming rifles at terrified cows and calves, and the lorries of dead sheep - but some not so dead - arriving for burial.

"The RSPCA made numerous approaches to the Government from the start of the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease relating to a number of aspects of the outbreak which directly impinged upon animal welfare. The Society issued over 20 foot-and-mouth related press releases, circulated our views to hundreds of national and regional newspapers as well as conducted a substantial number of television and radio interviews. The Government, like everybody else, could choose not to act on our recommendations. The Society reacted in a number of ways to try and alleviate the suffering of the animals involved. Members of the organisation met the Ministers from both the Commons and the Lords directly involved with the management of the crisis and senior DEFRA officials in order to express our concerns about the welfare aspects involved with the cull and other issues. The RSPCA's Director General and the Chief Veterinary Officer were regular correspondents with the various Ministers involved."

But not to the extent of taking out an advert at their expense to oppose 'government' policy?

Keeping their powder dry then. And their cheque book handy? What will this one be called if not 'donation' or 'loan'?

"Any solution - as long as it's free....."

With apologies to Henry Ford, that was the message from Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett MP at the launch today of Defra's pre movement testing regime. But then again Mrs. Beckett is used to 'freebies' at the taxpayers' expense, the Mail on Sunday reporting that she was one of three Cabinet ministers claiming £70K each for 'mortgage benefit payments' on properties which either did not have a mortgage, or had a smaller one than was being claimed for. Now ain't that a surprise?

For Mrs. Beckett the figure quoted was £69,757 on a mortgage of .... nil.

We will look( the lady said) at any solution 'farmers' propose - as long as it does not involve Defra in any more costs. Anything? Ahh, you want us to cull those pesky tuberculous badgers and get you off the hook do you? Gorrrdon Brown getting short of the readies is he? No more pension funds to raid? Defra under pressure from the Treasury then?
Sorry readers - between non existant mortgages and Treasury rip offs, we digress.

We have explained our opposition to pre movement testing many times on this site. Not because the intradermal skin test is rubbish. It is not. But because of a) the false sense of security it may give to cattle buyers who do not fully understand its latency - including the 8 week post test exposure period and the most curious exclusion of cattle under 15 months for this year - and b) without action on the maintenance reservoir of bTb, it will have minimal effect at all on bTb, but will cost the industry a packet. Been there, done that.

see :

and :

We also described for our readers the previous attempts by Ireland and Cornwall to control bTb with only this spanner in the toolbox. It didn't work then, and it will not work now. But hey, it's the farmers who are paying - so what the heck....


And the coverage of cattle "pre movement tested, to prevent the spread of bovine TB" on breakfast TV was very convincing. Naive, ill informed if not downright misleading maybe .... but convincing nontheless. And not even the vet (Andrew Biggs) happily jabbing cattle, brought up the instances of farmers like our Matthew 1 (below) and others on this site who have 'No bought in cattle' to blame for ongoing, pernicious, stressful and expensive breakdowns.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Matthew 1 is under restriction - again.

In September 2004, we introduced ourselves in a thumbnail sketch of each of the contributers in the posts Matthew Comes Out...:

"This site is managed by half a dozen farmers from Cornwall to Carlisle. Most have had their cattle herds under restriction - 2 are still in that position, and 2 reckon they soon will be. We're genuine carrot crunchers - not an 'ology amongst us - that's Richard's department!'

Matthew 1 moved a herd from Cornwall to the Midlands, sucklers and dairy. It was both pre and post movement tested, and was clear at the routine test a couple of years later. This nucleus was then moved back to Cornwall in September 1992, and joined by a small dairy herd from Derbyshire, which was 'closed' and had had no problems with Tb since accredition in the 1950's. A post movement test in Cornwall was all clear, but 4 neighbours were under restriction. At the annual test in late 1993, this herd had 2 Reactors and a dozen or more Inconclusives.

The farm had no cattle to cattle contact with neighbours, being in a triangle with woods and a main road as boundaries. There were a few deer, and several 'shared' badger setts with much field damage to crops. Over the next 18 months the herd had tests every 60 days which revealed a 'drip feed' of Inconclusives with a few being taken as 3x IR. During this time a BRO (Badger Removal Operation) was applied for by MAFF, and although granted, animal activists caused problems for the wildlife operatives and it took a long time to complete.

Cages were trashed or removed, and Matthew 1 was shown (by the wildlife team) where a cage had had a badger in it, and been moved to a field gateway, put down, and then removed towards tyre tracks of a 'vehicle' which was not in the ownership of either the team or Matthew. Did we say Tb takeaways?

Five farms were under restriction here, and the badgers were moved on. Where did they end up? Your place or mine?

After the BRO was finally completed, all 5 farms went clear within 2 or 3 tests. The farmers tried to keep the infected setts clear for at least 12 months, then slowly allowed badgers to restock, keeping a close eye on their cattle herd tests.

Currently the area is rumbling again, and Matthew 1 has had IR's at the last test. Something is stirring in the woods - and it's not bambi."

To bring you up to date with our SW Matthew's problems, the IR's 18 months ago went clear but as all his neighbours were under restriction again, Matthew was not hopeful that this situation would continue. And last summer he found a dessicated carcass of a badger behind some wood in a barn. That was not good news. A routine test in November revealed several inconclusives, all of whom were retested at 60 days. In January most were clear, but four were not and these were retested again last week. This test showed one animal completely clear, but 2 were 3 x IR and will be slaughtered. The fourth was a full blown reactor.

Matthew has maintained a 'closed' herd, - that is he has bought in no cattle - since early 1999. The farm is on annual testing and because of problems on neighbouring farms, Matthew has tested a couple of times at 6 months. So in seven years, the herd has had eight or nine tests.

The taxpayer deserves an explanation as to where this breakdown has come from methinks.

Our Ben, Rear Admiral Bradshaw may have slashed the farmer's share of the Tb budget, but Matthew's 3 cows are only the start of the gravy train. They will be transported to slaughter. Shot and postmortemed. Samples will be dispatched to VLA Weybridge for culturing. Paperwork will be generated to put a restriction order on the farm, and to give the result of the postmortems. If lesions are found, then the Public Health department clanks into action with dire warnings of infectious disease status, and offering visits from the Tb liason team, for X rays, tests and counselling. So many people employed you see. Local SVS office will then advise Matthew that his next test is due in May, and in 60 days time the whole rigmarole starts again. Matthew's herd is gathered up for another two days of jabs and readings by a Defra vet, or an LVI practitioner.

And unless and until the culprits have expired, that is the depressing merry go round Matthew faces for the forseeable future. And his cattle? It's Russian roulette for them.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

RSPCA "under investigation"

The RSPCA posterFrom the Sunday Telegraph today.

RSPCA investigated over 'political' badgers campaign
By Jasper Copping

The RSPCA is being investigated over claims that it has abused its charitable status with a controversial 'political' campaign against a proposed badger cull. The Charity Commission, which regulates charities, is looking into allegations that the society has breached guidelines by getting too involved in political activities.

The inquiry comes as a leading landowner and lawyer is considering mounting a legal challenge to the RSPCA's status.

The furore has flared up over the organisation's "Back off Badgers" campaign against Government proposals to cull the animal over fears that it spreads tuberculosis among cattle. The charity disputes this and has run a high-profile marketing drive, encouraging people to write to the Government before the consultation period on the cull ended last week.

More than 25,000 people responded, but the campaign - which is thought to have cost several thousand pounds - has angered critics who say that it is not the role of a charity to lobby in this way.

Stanley Brodie QC, a landowner in Ayrshire, Scotland, said: "For a long time, the RSPCA have been doing things which don't fit with their charitable status and I got very angry when I saw this latest campaign."

The commission says charities are permitted to engage in political campaigning only if it "furthers the purposes of the charity" and only to the extent that it is "justified by the resources applied".

But Mr Brodie said: "The guidelines are misleading and give far too much latitude to charities. "It makes it seem like any political activity is acceptable as long as it can be said to be ancillary to the organisation's charitable aims and that is not right at all. "The RSPCA are seeking to reverse Government policy and their activities cannot be said to be ancillary to their aims. They are objectives in themselves."

Since taking up the issue, Mr Brodie has attracted dozens of supporters angered by the political tone of the campaign and who believe that the RSPCA has ignored the welfare of cattle in trying to protect badgers.

Bovine TB kills 23,000 cattle each year and costs the taxpayer an annual £90 million. "There is a lot of animosity towards the RSPCA at the moment," he added. "People are fed up with their activities. It has been taken over by individuals with a political agenda and is being used as a pressure group. "It is perfectly at liberty to engage in political campaigning but if it does it should not maintain its tax-free status."

Becky Hawkes, an RSPCA spokesman, said the charity took "careful account of charity law and the guidance issued by the Charity Commission". But Nick Herbert, the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs, said: "There's a fine line between legitimate campaigning for charitable objects and seeking to get involved in politics and I think the RSPCA has been crossing that line."

John Gallagher, a former Government vet, has also voiced concerns over the campaign. "I've been extremely disappointed by it. It has been political rather than based on animal welfare."

Tim Bonner, of the Countryside Alliance, said: "They have wasted a vast amount of money on campaigns which are, in part, motivated by political as well as animal welfare factors." He added: "Their agenda has become more of an animal rights one than an animal welfare one."

In 2004, the RSPCA was cleared of similar allegations of political campaigning over its support for a fox hunting ban. This time, however, the allegations have been given extra weight by Mr Brodie's threatened legal action.

Meanwhile, Sir David Attenborough, the prominent wildlife broadcaster, has spoken out against the cull, saying it would not halt an epidemic of tuberculosis in cattle. "There will be at best little benefit," he said. "It is unlikely to decrease significantly the incidence of TB in cattle and it may make it worse - at a great cost, financially, in public discord and to badgers."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Clarification & 'Basic points'.

We have received a very useful comment from 'A. Ross' on the site which we post in full below.

"I sympathise with all of the farmers who have lost well-loved animals to bTB, or the ineffective test we are lumbered with.
While I agree that there is likely to be some infection from badgers to cattle, and that this should be prevented, I think there are some basic points which need to be addressed.The results of the study by the ISG clearly show that unless badgers are exterminated across very large areas of the country, the 'edge effect' will likely cause an increase in bTB. Obviously nobody wants that. To avoid it, ALL badgers in a very large area would need to be killed. This is simply not possible. Therefore, a wholesale badger cull is unworkable as a cure for the problem. What is needed is a decent test for bTB in both badgers and cattle, which does not give the high rate of error of the current test. Once bTB is detected or suspected in an area, all cattle and all badgers would be tested, and only those with the disease would be killed, leaving the healthy animals alive. This would not only minimise the number of cattle which would need to be killed, but would also reduce the 'perturbation' of the badgers' territories. As most of us farmers/landowners are unwilling/unable to catch and kill badgers, this should be done by Defra, and supervised by badger experts. Using this system, in conjunction with a vastly improved movement testing regime (using the new improved test), should quickly reduce the incidence of bTB over large areas, and avoid many of the problems associated with a wholesale cull of wildlife.Initially, the movement testing regime should be stepped up, at Defra's expense, to prevent any movement of infected cattle to new areas. After all, this is how bTB spread to many areas after Foot & Mouth. "

Having experienced the intradermal test for the last - too many - years, we have no problems with it. Neither in fact does the rest of the world who use it as a primary diagnostic tool. That it shows what are referred to as 'false positives' is a measure of its success, in that it measures the immune response in skin of an animal which has had contact withor exposure to m.bovis, and in at least two thirds of the cattle slaughtered, before lesions have been developed or any infectivety established.

You say "there is likely to be some infection from badgers to cattle, and that this should be prevented". On this site we have told how Defra's bio security advice is as much use a wet paper bag in the face of a determined badger. That they can climb up to 16 feet, excavate to 15 feet, slide under sheeted gates only 4 inches off the ground and easily access feed troughs 4 feet off the ground, which Defra admit is "too high for cattle to use" is all known. That their latrines are fencable, but 30 percent of urinations occur at pasture is also logged. And that in that highly infectious dribble, a badger with kidney lesions can void up to 30ml at a time of a liquid containing 300,000 ml of colony forming units of bTb in each single 1 ml.,and just 70 cfu's are needed to infect a cow. Under those circumstances, bio security is impossible. Cheeseman was asked in Shropshire many years ago how to keep infected badgers and cattle apart, and his reply to his horrified audience was " You can't. You get rid of your cattle".

So we are full circle back to dear old John Bourne and the ISG. The 'edge' effect and the need to 'exteriminate, exterminate, exterminate', all the goddam badgers from Cornwall to Hadrians Wall. Absolutely wrong. Emotive claptrap. But it's done its job and widened the opinion gap between people who genuinely want the problem solved for the benefit of all. That way pseudo science can comfortably benefit from more cash in an attempt to fill it. Cynical aren't we? You bet.

We opposed Krebs from day one on the very points that we refer to above. That a raft of epidemiological information was already known and that 'postulating' such information under the gold standard for such excercises (Evans Postulates) made Krebs totally unecessary. A worthless excercise. That 'perturbation' would make things a whole lot worse, and that the way Bourne was going to implement Krebs' proposals would lead to chaos. Why the surprise? But even worse, why believe it?

We quote below from this weeks' Vet. Record where we believe the points you make re. the ISG work are covered admirably.

"The huge scale of the exercise, requirement to train large numbers of trapping staff, interference by animal rights activists, intimidation of landowners and lack of co operation of many of them, all presented problems. (and hotspots left within the Krebs circles of farms under restriction at the time the trial started, and who did not 'qualify')
Now the trial has ended, the interim results (1st and second years only) show that while the ISG claim that 'on farms where trapping was allowed' , the efficiency was 60 - 80 per cent, the overall efficiency of trapping throughout the trial areas was remarkably poor at between 20 -60 percent. (As we have quoted PQ's many times that in 2003, the tally of trashed traps and traps stolen intact, was 69 percent of the ISG target)

In the trials, the trapping of only 20 percent of the badgers implies disturbance and likely disposal of many of the remaining 80 percent of the population of infected badgers. Even a trapping rate of 60 percent would be disastrous, but removal of such a small number of infected animals as 20 per cent is obviously likely to have caused enormous disruption.

However the trials do provide a valuable cautionary tale. They have shown that if the task of culling is done ineffectively for long enough and over a large area, it can produce catastrophic problems. The approach used would have spread Tb amongst the badgers, This would occur not only by causing diseased animals to move outside their territories, but by stressing those latently infected cases to develop, fulminating infection leading to disease. "

This erudite over view of Krebs shows just why the ISG are saying that huge areas need to be culled to have any effect, and to minimise the 'edge' effect. The report concludes:

Having first hand experience of Tb in badgers and cattle and attempts at its control, we strongly caution against any more 'quasi -control ' methods. We fully endorse the ISG's stated opinion that piecemeal snaring or trapping will make matters considerably worse. Despite the misery and disruption farmers have had to endure, and the carnage of their stock, it is unrealistic to expect farmers to carry out an effective cull and nor should they be pushed into doing so. The eradication of Tb, a notifiable disease, is entirely the responsibility of the Government. That also includes controlling its reservoir host the badger. Also, it should not be forgotten that Tb maims and kills badgers and is a welfare problem for them as well.
We disagree with the ISG's assertion that culling would need to be carried out over huge areas to avoid the 'edge effect'. and consider this effect to be the consequence of the very poor trpping efficiency causing the dispersal of infected badgers. This assertion is thus unessessarily alarmist".

That bTb moved to Cumbria and the north in cattle after FMD is well logged. That when the testing regime eventually caught up with these very few cattle, and they were destroyed leaving no residual infection within the herd is not so widely explained. A post movement test of breeding cattle would have found them, and hopefully may still do so. That they failed to transmit within the host herd is noteworthy I think and mirrors Irish cattle- cattle trials.

The vets from whom we quote, are in agreement that carbon monoxide gassing of setts in daylight would prevent any such peturbation, would be efficacious and humane. We favour leaving strong main setts preferably identified by RT-PCR technology as 'biological buffers' to prevent any territorial fighting of 'disperers'. We would keep monitoring 'off sets' that had been gassed, to mop up the badgers that their own social group had excluded.

A mass cull of badgers is emotive rubbish. It is not necessary, counterproductive, unachievable but designed to keep the people who propose it and oppose it, in the manner to which they've become accustomed. The beneficial crisis goes on, and as ever the losers are the badgers and the cattle.

Friday, March 10, 2006

"We can't cull any badgers - we have no staff".....

Staff from Defra's Wildlife Unit who have been on the sharp end of controlling badgers for many years, and in more recent times have been part of the Krebs team are under notice to quit.

Their knowledge and skills were somewhat underused in the RBCT. PQ's suggested that far from setting traps and catching tuberculous badgers for John Bourne they actually spent 5 hours per day - each - on the motorways - but let that pass.

Around 100 skilled men, with intimate knowledge of countryside, farms and woodland were under notice to quit from the end of March, and even up to last week their redundancy notices were not to be confirmed until the result of the current 'consultation' on badger culling was announced. This they felt was 'sensible'.

But we hear today that these excellent and skilled staff have been offered 'cash in lieu of notice'. Effective - any time soon. Next week?

Clearly Defra are sticking to the line of the 'consultation' that they will have absolutely nothing to do with controlling this Group 3 pathogen, which is in fact 100 per cent their responsibility and absolutely not, ' farmers'. But more to the point, why have Defra instigated a phoney 'consultation excercise' which was ever going to polarise entrenched opinions even more?

Wild statements are being issued from the RSPCA, Badger Trust and others, based on misleading information or downright lies. But all this was predictable. So why do it? Was it necessary at all? We do not think so. Both sides in this debate (and if honesty was to the fore, there should be only one side - the eradication of tuberculosis) have been manouvred and used. Farmers have been handed a poisoned chalice by Defra, "You sort it out" with the stick of tabular valuations and pre movement testing used to beat them. The carrot we suspect will be that Defra agree to pay for the latter. And the animal charities? Most of their web sites have a button every half an inch marked 'Donate'. And that they will do, straight into government coffers. We have the best administration money can buy.

Meanwhile the men who could oversee, spearhead and train up a co-ordinated control strategy, will be .... not there. We can just see the headlines "Defra has no staff to offer help in this".
Well they wouldn't have if they'd just been paid off, would they?

But none of this bitter polemic answers the question, "From where, when bought in cattle are excluded does this most infectious zoonsis come from?" The man in the moon? With 2 cows to go to slaughter, our SW 'Matthew' would like an answer.

'Fern' to join an increasing heap of dead cattle..

After a second test, Sheilagh Kremers' young Dexter calf Mous'l Fern proved positive for exposure to m.bovis and next week this bouncy young animal will take his final journey - to slaughter. Mrs. Kremers has reluctantly and very sadly agreed that Fern be slaughtered. She told the BBC that this test had been carried out in accordance with prescribed protocol, and that she had no choice but to let Fern go now. With any humanity, Mrs. Kremers will not have to witness the deed, as did our commentator Andrew from West Wales. (see comment below the story of a closed herd in the Principality)

Mrs. Kremers now faces the 'Russian roulette' of 60 day testing her other cattle - all eleven of them. All have names, all are 'cherished' and any one of them may meet the same fate as Fern.

But young Fern is is good company. One of this site's contributers, our SW 'mole' has had reactors this week and will lose two cows. It was back in 1999 that the last purchased animal joined his herd which is on at least annual testing. In fact a couple of times, 'problems' on neighbouring farms meant that our Matthew had to test every 6 months. So all clear for 7 years, and then two reactors. Where did that come from?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Devastated and bloody Angry"

The words of a Welsh farmer who in 1973 bought 18 foundation cows to start his dairy herd.

Since then he has purchased - nothing. All his cattle are bred from those original cattle. But he is now experiencing the misery of a Tb breakdown, about which he can do absolutely nothing.
We know the feeling.

Full story:

Tb Sorted - Grow a Hedge.

"Hedges keep cattle away from badgers - which carry Tb."

Research costing £12,000 and (partially) completed - but not concluded - by Dr. Fiona Williams has discovered a correlation between hedges and the presence of bTb in cattle herds - maybe.

Sorted then? We are not informed whether hawthorn, hornbeam and beech or surburban box, privet or leylandii is the preferred barrier. Neither is it is explained just why a hedge, in whose bowels badgers may create their setts, should be a barrier at all to their foraging in its adjacent pastures.

The first rule of any research project is to fail to reach a substansive conclusion.
The second is to request more money to achieve this.
And the third is to disguise or deny the first two, and on that Dr. Fiona Williams has failed dismally. For more on this story see here:

And the Earth is Flat.......

As the bitter polemic develops over whether or not to control tuberculosis in wildlife in general and badgers in particular - statements are flying which can only be described as 'fanciful'. Science they are not.

We quote an extract from the Gwent Badger Group's meeting with John Bourne:

27 Feb 2006

"Gwent Badger Group Organises Talk by Top TB Scientist
On Friday 24 February at University of Wales, Caerleon Campus, badger groups, farmers, conservationists and other interested parties gathered for a presentation by Professor John Bourne, the highly respected Chairman of the Government’s Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). The event was organised and funded by the Gwent Badger Group.

Professor Bourne stood at the lectern for over two hours, firstly delivering the detailed findings of the ISG’s in depth research and then taking questions from the floor.

Although he acknowledged that badgers are clearly involved in the transmission of bTB, he also stressed that cattle to cattle transmission is a prominent factor in the spread of the disease and suggested that a neighbouring farm is more of a threat to the average farmer than badgers are. “Problem herds are contributing massively to the TB problem” he added. With around 13 million cattle movements a year, stricter controls on this infectious disease were vital he argued, including pre-movement testing. “There are far too many infected animals in the national herd which transmit the disease nationally and locally” said Professor Bourne.

One of the main problems of bTB persisting in herds is that the widely used Tuberculin skin test failed to detect many infected animals. Large numbers of skin test negative, yet visible TB lesion positive, cattle can be detected by the improved gamma interferon (g-IFN) test. The g-IFN test can detect infected animals earlier than tuberculin test and despite the pleas of the ISG the government refuses to sanction its widespread use. Computer modelling of the infection rate of the disease has suggested that even a modest improvement in diagnosis would bring the epidemic under better control.

There was no solace for those still under the misapprehension that a widespread badger cull would be a straightforward, simple solution to the bTB issue.

Firstly, he explained “If you disrupt badgers by culling them they range further afield.” This effect was clearly demonstrated in collected data given to Government Ministers in September 2005, which showed that during badger culling trials there was a 19 per cent decrease in cattle TB incidence in the culled areas but outside the culled areas there was an increase. It was 29 per cent higher up to two kilometres outside.

Secondly, Professor Bourne concluded that widespread culling would have some impact on bTB but it would be logistically difficult and hugely expensive to carry it out and maintain it and he would only expect a twenty per cent reduction in bTB by eliminating badgers over huge areas of the countryside. When questioned on whether areas needing to be culled would be as large as 300 – 400 km2, he replied that badgers would need to be removed areas the size of the South West of England.

There are and probably always will be pockets of unculled land which greatly reduce the effectiveness of any cull. This can be, for example from farmers or other landowners unwilling to have badgers culled on their land.
It all adds up to evidence, if it is needed, that culling is not the quick fix, foolproof solution some pretend it to be, quite apart from the unacceptable end result of practically decimating one of the best loved species of British mammal which already has a sad and sorry history of persecution"

Reading that from the standpoint of the Badger Groups would be manna from heaven. The fact that it is factually inaccurate, ignores herds to which his hypothesis does not apply and has a scaremongering skew on any possible solution, is a sad reflection on Bourne's idea of 'science'.

* The "13 million cattle movements a year ", we have clarified below as movements of data - at least two, and up to four per bovine trip. The figure for bovines moving 'On' to another farm is 2.7 million. (and the number of cattle in the UK is just over 10 million - not the 3.2 )

*The perturbation found in Krebs' data was predicted by Professor Stephen Harris ( amongst others) It was inevitable given the constraints of cage trapping and using 'map' and not 'badger' or clinical bTb boundaries. The quote is applicable to only the first year's data. The second year achieved a quite different balance, which Bourne (or the report?) fails to highlight.

*The intradermal skin test is the primary diagnostic tool worldwide. It's limitations are a latancy 30 - 50 days before the actual test as the body mounts the 'immune response' which it measures in the skin. And if that body is overwhelmed by Tb and has no immune response, that too will fail to show. Such cases in a herd test, are very rare and only 288 animals tested positive for Tb after being flagged up at slaughter (not by the test) last year out of a kill number of +/- 4 million cattle.

*In the absence of a wildlife reservoir, gamma interferon blood testing will show incubating cases earlier and it is used in other countries to that end. But if the drip feed of infection is from a wildlife source, what is the point? It may also take out cattle with an immunity to m.bovis, having had slight exposure and developed the anti bodies that this blood test measures. Arguably the very animals which should be kept.

*The only badger cull which would be effective is an area the size of SW England, in blocks 300 - 400 sq km. Sheesh, when Bourne couldn't cope with 100 sq. km? So make it bigger?

No - make it different. Using the information available from herds testing clear, only target the setts harbouring Tb, and leave healthy groups intact to prevent peturbation. Monitor the off sets carefully, and action again when they become inhabited. The badgers causing the most havoc, are the individuals that their own group have excluded. The super excreters, dispersers - they have acquired all sorts of names but the pictures we have shown are all of badgers in the latter stages of this dreadful disease. Talk of 'wipe out' is emotive and destructive. It is unacceptable, counter productive and takes the emphhasis away from the disease itself. But as we've said before the polemic which has developed on its back, is keeping several 'beneficiaries' in - the manner to which they have become accustomed.

But the main problem with Bourne's 'science', is its flat, blanket, computer driven assumptions.

This site was started by 6 farmers and a microbiologist, whose PhD was developed in the field of epidemiology and the postulates needed for the spread of disease. Four of the farmers had cattle who had been on the receiving end of long periods of Tb restriction, and to whom none of Bourne's statements apply. That he still announces them with such vigour, is of no value whatsoever if they are ... wrong.

And it is under those circumstances (no bought in cattle and no cattle contact) that we remind our readers :

"the onus must be on those disputing the role of the badger as a signifiant reservoir of infection to hypothesise other sources of infection for such herds, especially where when investigated, the majority of badger populations in the area have been found to be infected".

This last snippet, we quote from Dr. Clifton-Hadley's most excellent paper, 'Badgers, Bovine Tuberculosis and the Age of Reason". (British Veterinary Journal - Guest Editorial 1996)

We find it quite bizarre that Professor Bourne can make such generalised and factually incorrect statements which are gathered and recycled unquestioningly, ignoring the (many) herds which do not fit his hypothesis or computer model, and still call it 'science'.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Reprieve for Fern?

Defra today announced that due to 'irregularities' in the execution of the previous skin test, Dexter calf Mous'l Fern, belonging to Devon smallholder Sheilaigh Kremers was entitled to a second test to confirm his bTb status.

We told the story of Fern here:

We are delighted to hear this result, and congratulate Mrs. Kremers on her stance. Fern became a symbol of many other farmer's frustration at seeing their own cattle hauled off to slaughter, with no option but to let them go. And before anyone says: "Oh yes you had", may we point out that intense pressure has been applied in the past by Defra, to the buyers of milk and meat produced by farmers who tried to adopt Mrs. Kremers' postion. In other words, their buyers refused to buy. Latterly, we hear pressure via the Single Farm Payment has been applied as well - this from an Irish contact. Quite uniquely, Mrs. Kremers had no leverage along those lines, which Defra could apply and Fern was granted his second test.

BBC Spotlight carries the story here:

Mrs. Kremers accepts that if this second test is conducted in the correct manner and her calf fails, then she has no option but to let him go for slaughter. We wish her well.