Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wildlife Unit field staff - sacked.

Anyone hoping that our wonderfully 'responsible' Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would take its responsibilities seriously and use the expertise of its highly trained staff to control an extremely pathogenic (grade 3 on a scale of 1 to 4), invariably fatal zoonosis for which Defra and Defra alone has responsibility, will be disappointed to hear that considerable redundancies are forecast among the Wildlife Unit fieldstaff.

Rumours circulated in February, and early March we understand that many staff were offered cash in lieu of notice. Over 100 operatives are involved, many with up to 20 years experience of field work with badgers, and considerable expertise in the habits of sick ones. How to recognise a vibrant and healthy sett etc. (Or even - we kid you not - how to recognise a badger sett, and not confuse it with rabbit holes or a fox's earth - many of which were happily mapped by Chris Cheeseman's rosy cheeked graduates in the early days of Krebs. Well it was a 'hole' - what did you expect? But the down side of their reigned in exuberance was that we had 3 single hole 'hospital setts' which were completely missed by the mappers, and their very sick occupants left to wreak their havoc for several years.)

"The cost of sacking the wildlife officers, some of whom have been with the department for more than 20 years, has been put at between £2 million and £3 million and is covered in a story by the Western Morning News "

The redundancies have been attacked as an attempt by ministers to shift responsibility for the handling of the bovine TB crisis on to farmers while allowing Defra to meet Treasury budget targets. ... comments on the story:

" It continues to amaze that we hear nothing at all from DEFRA about the technology that can make real progress in the eradication of bovine TB in wildlife. Is there no one with any scientific or veterinary knowledge able to talk to the policy makers? Policy, it appears, must always be driven by bureaucracy and budgets instead of by (sound-ed) science, technology and veterinary skill. And more and more is it to be paid for by the hapless farmers.

The government does not really want an untargetted mass cull of badgers - fearing, as it did not in 2001, a horrified urban outcry. (Farmers don't want that either. It is only the shrill shrieks of the diminutive professor Bourne, echoed by the sound of rattling money boxes from the Badger Trusts and RSPCA that are flagging it up, based on the 'results' not of culling badgers in the Krebs' RBCT, but of stirring up the social groups and dispersing the whole goddamned lot of them over a very wide area.)

When will the government recognise that the tools to avoid such a politically unpopular, ethically questionable and scientifically unnecessary move are ready and available?An article in the Veterinary Times back in 2004 concluded that the attraction of using rapid real-time PCR is that it may be "accurate enough to distinguish the TB status of individual badgers within a sett. If a half hour test can reveal this, then the targeted cull of badgers that we propose might be refined even further. " While the research below using UK built rapid RT-PCR diagnosis in badger setts and latrines shows that we have now, at this moment, the technology that can show which badgers are infected. "we would prefer that culling is targeted at diseased and infectious animals" said the researchers - and this would indeed be possible. See also bovine TB page and the abstract of the Warwick RT-PCR work in the Royal Society "Biology Letters" in March this year."

The technology is there. It's been there for years. It's British. It's trialled and proven to work. But for every real-time PCR machine specifically targetting any disease problem - a quasi-scientist / researcher loses his job. No more trials = no more cash. Simple really.

And as we said, do turkeys vote for Christmas? The Defra Wildlife unit staff, whose wide ranging expertise backed with this stunning technology ( which can target any bacteria where they occur, could have delivered a closely targetted cull to comply with Bern convention, public sensitivities and the taxpayer - are under notice to quit. The Flat Earth society has spoken.


Anonymous said...

. . . ."use the expertise of its highly trained staff to control an extremely pathogenic (grade 3 on a scale of 1 to 4), invariably fatal zoonosis" . . .

That should read RARELY fatal zoonosis!

This from

"The course of treatment for humans with bovine TB takes 6 to 9 months, and the success rate following treatment is more than 95 percent."

And from
"The current risk posed by M. bovis to human health in the UK is considered negligible"

Matthew said...

Successful treatment depends on a) early and accurate diagnosis, and b)that prolonged course up to 9 months of a cocktail of antibiotics which have nasty side effects.. With bite wounds and entry of m.bovis bacteria into the bloodstream via scratches, the prognosis is grim.
more below:

MYCOBACTERIUM BOVIS Infection in Animals and Humans Published 1995 by Iowa State University Press
Edited by Charles O. Thoen, DVM, PhD
James H Steele, DVM,MPH

There is a great need to focus on the continuing problem of Mycobacterium Bovis infection in both humans and animals. For those in human medicine, this is not just a disease in cattle that will be looked after by the veterinary profession. For those in developed countries, this is not just a disease of the past that affects people who drink unpasteurised milk .And for those struggling with the problems created by this disease, there are solutions and a worldwide network of veterinary and human medical specialists who can help to provide answers.

When considering TB caused by M.bovis, one must recognise that, although the problem comes in many forms and affects many species, it is first and foremost a human problem. We do not know the true extent of M.bovis infection in humans. We may tend to underestimate the ability of M.bovis to produce TB or to assume that it has been totally eliminated and that no exposure is possible. Unfortunately, many labs. Do not use cultural techniques that differentiate M.bovis from M.tuberculosis. Others may even use procedures that inhibit the growth of M.bovis.There is evidence that M.bovis may persist in the human population of a country even though it has been irradicated from their food producing animals. Reactivation of such chronic lesions is very possible with advanced age or as a result of depression of the immune system through suppressive drugs or diseases that result in immune deficiency.

Evidence is presented that HIV infection can not only predispose to M.bovis infection but may also increase the possibility of M.bovis transmission between humans.

The greatest threat to human health by M.bovis continues to be from infection of food producing animals, especially in developing countries.However, ther is also the recognition that we may have failed to consider the importance of M.bovis infection in wild species. This is important for infection in wild animals can provide a source for reinfection of food producing animals such as cattle.

All of us must recognise that M.bovis continues to pose a serious public health threat. The insidious nature of the disease requires not only that we maintain continued vigilance, but that we cooperate with our colleagues in searching for innovative solutions.
(John Stevens, DVM,PhD Chairman, scientific committee onTB in Animals International Union Against Tb and Lung Disease)

TB is the leading infectious killer of adults in the world, it accounts for more than 3 million deaths per year. It should be noted that the extent to which M.bovis contributes to the number of clinical cases of TB in developing countries is not known.

Reports of M.bovis in wild animals including badgers widen the ecological niche of M.bovis in nature.

Reports to date clearly indicate that M.bovis is pathogenic for humans.It is certainly capable of producing cases of pulmonary TB that are sputum smear positive and, therefore, potentially infectious to other humans. The infectivity of such cases and the person to person spread of such disease has been recorded.

TB is still the single greatest cause of human morbidity and mortality in many developing countries. The forcast of TB morbidity and mortality up to the year 2000 has been evaluated as follows: during the decade 1990-1999, an estimated 88.2 million new cases of TB will occur in the world, of which 8.0 millon will be attributable to HIV infection. 30 million people are predicted to die of Tb during the decade, including 2.9 million Tb deaths in those also infected with HIV. M.tuberculosis is the most frequent cause of human Tb, but M.bovis has also been isolated from Tb patients.

Countries which allow reservoirs of m.bovis to flourish in their wildlife, run the risk longterm of unravelling decades of its eradication in the human population.

“If TB is eradicated from the minds of Dr’s, if only for a short time, its eradication from the bodies of their patients will be deplorably postponed”

(Extracts from various health journals)

Anonymous said...

Some recently published opinions:

The Mammal Society
“On balance, there is insufficient evidence on which to base a bTB control policy involving badger culling and sufficient evidence to advise against one.”

Professor David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society
”The case for badger culling is not clear cut. The introduction of
culling could result in an increase or a decrease of bTB.”

Sir David Attenborough, Professor Aubrey Manning and Professor David Macdonald,
”The evidence is that a badger cull on a scale or level of efficiency
that seems feasible will not solve cattle farmers' problem - that
problem is truly serious. Understandably, the feeling is that something
must be done, but the evidence is that it should not be a badger cull.”

University of Oxford
”Cattle movements ‘substantially and consistently outweigh’ all other
factors for predicting TB”

The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG)
”a) there is compelling scientific evidence that two of the proposed
culling strategies, i.e. individual licensing and targeted culling, will
increase rather than decrease TB incidence in cattle. The consultation
document fails to make this finding clear;

b) the remaining strategy, culling over a large area and over an
extended time period, could in principle reduce cattle TB incidence, but
presents substantial logistical and other difficulties in its
implementation that relate to its effectiveness and sustainability;

c) a strategy of culling over a large area and over an extended time
period should be considered only in the context of a properly conducted
and informed cost benefit analysis, which also takes account of the
potential contribution of other approaches such as improved diagnosis
and surveillance of the disease in cattle and enhanced on-farm, cattle
and wildlife biosecurity.”

Chief Scientific Advisor's Science Advisory Council (SAC)
”Cattle to cattle transmission is the dominant transmission factor
regarding bovine TB (bTB) in Great Britain and that culling badgers is
unlikely to be an effective control measure unless and until further
cattle based measures have been implemented successfully.”

Dr Arthur Lindley, RSPCA director of science
”On the basis of current science, any decision to cull badgers would be
totally unacceptable to the RSPCA.”

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation at The National Trust
”The National Trust recognises the importance of reducing bovine TB, but
it is vital the right approach is adopted. Current science indicates
that the culling of badgers being proposed by Defra will at best be
ineffective and at worst counterproductive. The Trust believes that
Defra's efforts should focus instead on improved testing and health
measures to control the transmission of the disease between cattle.”

Matthew said...

And all this hot air is based on Krebs since 1998 or computer modelling using cattle movements compared with - not a lot. From Paul Carauna, a Wildlife operative working on Krebs, the advice re the RBCT is: "don't believe a ***** word of it". (see his post below.)

Cattle to cattle transmission sounds compelling, but when farmers have done the biosecurity bit, have no bought in cattle on which to lay blame and still seen herds devastated or in some cases completely slaughtered out, it is very hollow indeed.

Anonymous said...

This 'hot air' is based on science that has been carried out by eminent people at the cost of millions of £ to the taxpayer.

The low readership of this Blog (particularly return visitors)perhaps indicates that people are not fooled by your outdated thinking.

Anonymous said...

A north Devon farmer has been banned from keeping livestock for the next decade after admitting more than 20 charges of causing unnecessary suffering to sheep. RSPCA inspectors and a vet from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found a catalogue of animal welfare problems in sheep owned by Joe Taylor, 26, of East Down, near Barnstaple.

The inspectors and the vet visited two parcels of land at Bratton Fleming and Combe Martin where Taylor kept sheep and at both sites found sheep in such poor condition that some of them had to be put down. They also found a number of sheep carcasses. Sheep were found to be suffering from infected foot rot, fly strike, in which maggots hatch out in the flesh of the animal, scour, which is an intestinal complaint, and emaciation.

Some of the animals were in such a poor state that their condition rating was only 0.5 on a scale in which 5 is the best and 0 is emaciated. The court was told that the acceptable range was 2 to 3.

Yesterday at North Devon Magistrates' Court at Barnstaple, Taylor pleaded guilty to a total of 21 charges of causing unnecessary suffering and two charges of failing to care for sheep. As well as being banned from keeping farm animals for ten years, Taylor was conditionally discharged for two years. Magistrates made no order for costs.

The charges arose from visits by the RSPCA inspectors and a Defra vet last September. They inspected the sheep after receiving a complaint that some of them were in a bad condition.

John Smith, prosecuting, said: "What we are saying is that these sheep were suffering from a number of conditions that to a reasonably competent stockman who is seeing his sheep regularly should have been obvious. If you do not then seek veterinary care for them they suffer unnecessarily."

Peter Woodley, representing Taylor, said that his client had suffered an unfortunate set of circumstances that had led to his court appearance.

Mr Woodley said that Taylor had been in farming all his life and had initially started breeding cattle at which he had been successful.

But foot and mouth disease led to his cattle having to be destroyed so he embarked upon sheep farming. Mr Woodley said that Taylor's mother died of cancer and he became very depressed for which he was given medication, although he later stopped taking that.

Then his partner suffered a nervous breakdown and rather than see their two children taken into care, Taylor became responsible for looking after them and maintaining his farming business.

The children eventually went back to their mother's care, but she suffered another breakdown in 2004 so Taylor took over again.

"It was after this that the problems came with the sheep. My client just had too much to do. He was coping as well as he could, but during lambing he was working a 20-hour day, seven days a week," Mr Woodley said.

He added that Taylor's stock was spread over a number of holdings, which meant he had a 20-mile round trip to examine all his animals.

Mr Woodley said that since the problems came to light, Taylor had sold off all his stock and declared himself bankrupt. He had left farming and become a gardener.

RSPCA Chief Insp Neil Thomas said after the hearing: "This is a sad example of where matters got completely out of hand."

Matthew said...

Anonymous said: "This 'hot air' is based on science that has been carried out by eminent people at the cost of millions of £ to the taxpayer.

The low readership of this Blog (particularly return visitors)perhaps indicates that people are not fooled by your outdated thinking".

...and several hundred years ago, a similar group of 'eminent scientists' told a King, and his parliament that the earth was flat.

Anonymous said...

...and several hundred years ago, a similar group of 'eminent scientists' told a King, and his parliament that the earth was flat.

And then the world moved on, leaving only people like Matthew and John Gallagher clinging to outdated thinking.

That's why not many 'readers' bother to return to this Blog

Anonymous said...

Farmer at heart of badger battle says Hands off Brock (27 Apr)
A farmer whose cattle were the first in Britain to be linked to the theory that bovine tuberculosis comes from badgers has rubbished the connection – and declared his land a "no-kill zone".

A government announcement – and a green light for the biggest cull of Britain's half-million badgers – is expected shortly, but Gloucestershire farmer Len Ballinger is vowing to keep the killers off his land.

"I'm standing up for Brock - they've been before and wiped out every badger, yet the disease has continued. Brock's a soft target and he's clearly no more than a bystander in this growing problem of bovine TB."

Len grazed beef cattle on land adjoining Alderley Farm near Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire when, back in 1971, Ministry of Agriculture vets investigating positive TB readings in his cattle discovered a dead badger. Subsequent tests detected TB and spawned the theory that cattle might catch the disease from badgers.

But 35 years later and with £43m spent on an extensive badger-culling trail, no scientific evidence has successfully proved the link. Indeed, the government's own scientists have now indicated that the way to address the disease is to reapply the strict TB testing and movement controls in cattle which were disrupted by the recent BSE and foot and mouth epidemics. Nevertheless, to assuage hardline anti-badger factions in the National Farmers Union and the Countryside Alliance, which represents anti-badger, shooting interests, the cull is likely to be sanctioned.

Len is adamant that badgers are being scapegoated: "My own suspicion even in 1971 was that intensification was to blame. My cattle grazed on land next to a highly intensive dairy unit, where the cows were kept indoors permanently and the slurry was pumped out onto surrounding fields. I was convinced my own cattle had caught the TB via that route - and in all likelihood, so had the badger - they love rooting through cattle manure for beetles and worms."

Mr Ballinger joins a growing list of farmers refusing to participate in the cull. In Devon, dairy farmers David and Patsy Mallet, who have a herd of 80 milkers on 200 acres of Dartmoor, say the move will wreak untold damage on consumer relations: "This isn’t a case of sentimentality over fluffy badgers," says David, "Something is deeply wrong with our agriculture if we are resorting to wiping out whole species. If farmers allow this, there will be a massive public backlash – basically, consumers will think ‘stuff you’!"

Badger expert Martin Hancox, who sat on the government's Badgers and Bovine TB panel, says any cull would be pointless: "Tuberculosis in cattle is caught from other cattle," he says, pointing to the fact that the disease is now appearing in areas of the UK, such as Cumbria, which had been TB-free for 10 years – and sometimes even longer. "The badgers were there all the time, so are they supposed to have sat around for a decade and then one day decided to infect cows?" he says.

"Since the chaos inflicted on the industry by BSE and then Foot and Mouth, TB controls and movement restrictions on cattle, which controlled the disease so well in the past - with no killing of badgers - have become a farce. Badgers don’t travel up the M5, but cattle do."

The answer is staring everybody in the face, but the fixation with badgers is blinding them to it."