Sunday, May 21, 2006

'Failure' redefined ?

This week's Veterinary Times, after leading with Paul Carunana's attack on the Krebs RBCT last week, gives the ISG and John Bourne centre stage and the right to reply.

"The comments from Paul Caruana to the EFRA committee criticised the handling of the trial by the ISG and dismissed the labelling of the trial as "robust".

John Bourne replied to this :
"The explicit scientific approach taken by the ISG in designing the randomised badger culling trial was crucial, as was its implementation, to ensure that appropriate scientific information was collected". He said it was unfortunate that Paul Caruana had failed to grasp the necessity of imposing such scientific discipline to the field work of the WLU when conducting a scientific study. He branded suggestions that the WLU staff and operatives were not consulted as 'utterly false'.

The ISG said that its plan was never to remove all badgers from culled areas and rebutted Mr. Caruana's comment that interference by animal rights activists had affected the trials outcome. He (Professor Bourne) was unequivocal in his opinion of the views of Dr. Gallagher, Dr. Thomas and John Daykin: "The continued dogmatic belief by scientifically uninformed veterinary opinion that failed past bovine Tb control policies should continue to be more vigourously pursued must be challenged by available scientific understanding".

Well that's told 'em then. More on that ISG 'science' later....

Dr. Lewis Thomas said of the ISG's reponse "To embark on a large scale culling trial knowing that 'culling was never expected or designed to remove all badgers from culled areas' is positively breathtaking". Dr. Gallagher and John Daykin added " A salient point of the ISG's response concerns 'failure' of the culling policies of the 1970's and 1980's. They should have better informed themselves on this subject - in fact the original gassing policy was extremely effective in reducing outbreaks more than threefold in just over five years to a national total of 88 confirmed outbreaks in 1981.

The 'Clean Ring' trapping policy which followed was less effective, but maintained some progress until it was halted in 1986 when the total number of outbreaks was 86.

Now under the 'robust' stewardship of the ISG, there were 1,922 new confirmed herd outbreaks during 2005 and a total of 5,539 herds under Tb restriction. So is failure being redefined as well as science?".

With respect (of course) to all parties in this debate, the only people who can give an 'informed' view of the RBCT are the farmers who took part. It was our fences trashed, and our woods invaded by 'activists' intent on letting out their little furry friends. Paul Caruana was spot on, when he stated that 'it took the teams 4 years to learn how to catch badgers' and avoid such interference. That was assuming that his masters at the ISG directed their little green landrovers in our direction at all. On one of our contributer's farms the 'gap' between any semblance of 'clearance' - which now Bourne says was not not going to happen anyway - was three long years. So much for the ISG acetates in 1997, explaining to participating farmers that the ISG were going to 'Cull ALL Badgers' in the proactive areas, and 'Cull ALL badgers' following a Tb breakdown in the reactive zones. (He lied, Matt, he lied.)

We have quoted PQ's many times as to the level of interference with the Krebs traps:
"57% were 'interfered with, and 12% disappeared" as at October 2003. So of 100% set, 69% were absolutely useless. Defra have estimated the ISG 'badger bag' as somewhere between 20 - 60 percent'. This we suspect is on land made available to the trial teams, and does not take into account the trapping problems. And to compound the problems, as Mr. Caruana stated, the trapping was limited to less than 2 weeks before the team moved on. Sometimes for good. And in Matt 5's case for a good 3 years.

It may be worth recording here the effect on the farm of this totally inadequate attempt to 'cull all badgers'. In the wake of the first foray in 2000, a huge amount of activity was generated among the remaining badgers. Farms became 'motorways' as the groups which had been 'shredded' dispersed, fought and regrouped. And the following disease was devastating, some farms losing 30 animals at a time. And it was three years until the teams returned, and again only for 8 nights. So on balance we would agree with Mr. Caruana and those veterinary practitioners who see the results of Defra's prevarication on a daily basis. Krebs wasn't a trial into the effects of culling badgers at all, it proved to be an excercise in badger dispersal. But hey, what do we know, a Professor calls it 'available scientific understanding' .

Would that be the same Professor who chased 14 million postcards convinced that they were cattle? Yup, it would. And the very same who told farmers in 1997, that he was going to 'Cull all badgers', and now writes that this was never the intention at all. Try, cull as many as we can trap, stir up the rest then - just disappear. That'd be right then. And that's the level of 'available scientific understanding', in dealing with a very serious zoonotic pathogen.

I'm glad I'm not a 'scientist'.

No comments: