Sunday, April 09, 2006

End of the line for 'Fern'.

Last Friday, 7th April 'Mous'el Fern', the little Dexter calf at the centre of Shelaigh Kremer's fight against the bureaucracy, arrogance and downright stupidity of Defra's one sided 'fight' against bTb, - which seems to involve killing off as many of the country's cattle as possible, without looking out of their respective boxes at wildlife - finally reached the end of (his) road.

Western Morning News reports:

"The tiny bull looked up at the young woman expectantly, as if she might be about to give him a treat - she stroked him and slowly lifted the thing that looked like a gun to his head.
"Phut!" The tiny bull's big wide innocent eyes rolled heavenwards, he grunted once, and it was all over.

So ended the saga of Fern, the ninth-month-old Dexter bull calf, which had tested positively as a reactor to TB. A small crowd had gathered to witness his passing: government vets who appeared to look somewhat apologetic about the whole thing; press photographers whose flash bulbs cast an eerie strobe as the diminutive bovine keeled over; even a BBC camerawoman who said: "They won't use it, but I'm going to film it anyway."

Just about the only person with a key interest in the whole debacle who wasn't there was the bull-calf's owner, Sheilagh Kremers. She stood at the top of her South Devon field with a face like thunder. Sheilagh couldn't face seeing the death of her beloved bull.

Britain's best known TB protester went on to say she wouldn't accept a penny short of £1,000 as compensation, so when valuer Derek Biss, from Greenslade, Taylor, Hunt eventually gave her a price of £2,100 after inspecting Fern and the rest of the herd, an almost imperceptible expression of puzzlement flitted across Sheilagh's face. With a sigh that spoke a million words about wearied inevitability, the retired schoolteacher looked at no one in particular and said: "Yes, do it."

"All I want to do is enjoy my retirement," said the woman who first fell in love with animals when she was teaching special-needs children in a London school. "My dream was to come somewhere like this and live the good life. But the good life has turned into a nightmare. I can't live with this - they (the state vets) will come every 60 days to test the rest of my cattle and my heart is going to be in my mouth every time. Is it Daisy this time, or is it Buttercup?"

In another section, Western Morning News explains:

"A four-month battle to spare the valuable calf at the centre of a bovine TB testing row ended yesterday with his slaughter. Fern, a Dexter bull calf, was shot dead with a bolt after his owner Sheilagh Kremers accepted an independent valuation of the animal's worth. She said she had no choice but to sign the form to allow the animal, which had registered positive in a bovine TB test, to be killed. It was the final defeat in her battle to prevent her nine-month pedigree bull from falling victim to the Government's strategy for controlling TB in cattle.

The slaughter was carried out in the stall at New Park Farm in East Ogwell, South Devon where Fern has been isolated from the rest of Mrs Kremer's 12-strong herd of rare-breed Dexters. She did not watch the procedure, which was carried out by a skilled markswoman from the local abattoir, but did witness her pedigree pride and joy being brought lifeless up towards the farm buildings in a tractor trailer.

Mrs Kremers, who is 63, now has to wait for several days for the results of a post-mortem which will establish whether Fern actually had TB.She said: "I just think it is absolutely horrendous, outrageous. If they had a test that could prove he had TB I would be in agreement that he had to go, but this test doesn't prove it."He may have tested positive because he is immune to it, and if we kill our immune cattle we kill our strongest."

I'm not happy that he goes but he has to, according to the rules."

She said the Government's policy on slaughtering all cattle which were shown as "reactors" in TB tests was wrong, because only about 30 per cent testing positive actually proved to have TB. This would only be established with a post-mortem."It is a farce from beginning to end," she said. "This testing and slaughtering isn't stopping the disease at all, in fact it has increased tenfold in ten years."

She will now receive £2,100 from the Government, several times what she had been expecting. However, she says that Fern, who comes from brindled stock, is probably irreplaceable. "At the end of the day I still would rather have him than the cheque," she said." I was hoping it would be less and then I could have turned it down and taken it to court. It is not just about my cattle. Something has to come out of this."Mrs Kremers secured a Government apology that the first test carried out on Fern in December, which was positive, was flawed. However, a second test in early March was also positive, meaning it was only a matter of time before Fern would be destroyed.

Mrs Kremers is urging the Government to cull of badgers, which many farmers believe are the root cause of the explosion of the disease among cattle.

Richard Haddock, chairman of the regional board of the National Farmers' Union, said he applauded what Mrs Kremers had done in refusing to sign the valuation form until she knew what value she would get for her calf. Mr Haddock, who has one of the largest herds in the Westcountry, near Kingswear in South Devon, said: "We would advise every farmer not to sign a valuation form until they know what they are going to get for the animal."

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is deciding whether to go ahead with a badger cull.

A spokesman defended the use of the current bovine TB test. He said: "The skin test has a high degree of accuracy -- 75-95 per cent. It is scientifically, legally and internationally recognised as an effective diagnostic test."

And at least on that bit of this whole shoddy episode, the 'governmennt spokesman' was absolutely right. The skin test shows exposure to m.bovis. A deadly group 3 zoonotic pathogen which has no business being at anywhere at all near either cattle, badgers or anything else which is susceptible, including human beings.

Fern now joins almost 30,000 cattle culled as reactors in the last 12 months. We've said it before and we'll say it again; too many bTb parasites are in a feeding frenzy on this part of the Defra budget to let go. It is a beneficial crisis that is fuelling itself. The use of rt-PCR can and will identify infected areas, whether these are badger sets and latrines or capable of onward transmission from cattle, deer, feral cats or the man-in-the-moon. But will our Minister for Fisheries use it? We doubt it. Too many of his 'advisors' would be on the scrap heap if he did.

Oh and the chances are it could identify H5N1 bird flu too - which would save an 8 day wait as VLA bugger off for the weekend instead of testing material from that dead Scottish swan.

" Dr Roger Breeze patiently points out below, if the existing technology were used
"we are actually talking about moving Scotland to the head of Europe for about £350,000 "In addition, it would cost perhaps £12,000 a year for new test kits. The RAPID RT-PCR replaces procedures that require high containment laboratories with enormous fixed operating costs. With RT-PCR costs are low because you already have all the other infrastructure and the trained people. And far from waiting for a week for results, you can test accurately for positive infection, pinpoint it, report on it and respond to it within hours.

Exactly. More on this at

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