Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Pre movement testing Survey

The National Farmers Union are trying to assess the costs to farmers of Pre Movement testing cattle over 15 months old, prior to sale out of annual / 2 year testing areas. This is to try and get some idea of cost v. benefit, ahead of the proposed roll down of the animal age cut off to 42 days next March. Farmers who have pre movement tested cattle since March 2006, are asked to contact the NFU with details of the test results and the costs incurred, both directly ( to veterinary surgeons) and indirectly to their businesses of extra labour etc.,
Press release with contact details is below;

"The NFU is collecting information to support its lobbying activity on TB. We are trying to establish the costs associated with, and the effectiveness of, pre-movement testing as a means of controlling TB.

We are asking all members to input information relating to their own experiences. This information will be crucial in strengthening our argument for improving the viability and effectiveness of control measures.
The survey can be filled out online by NFU members (
http://www.nfuonline.com/x5162.xml ).

Non members can fill out a paper copy or an excel version. (Contact details below)

We ask them for their holding number so that we can be sure that they are genuine farmers, the validity factor is important! If any farmers have any queries about the questionnaire or would like an Excel version or paper copy sent out, please tell them to contact Nancy Fuller on 024 7685 8540 or nancy.fuller@nfu.org.uk.
Thank you.’

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Blame Cattle (and the Man in the Moon?) ....

....but not badgers.

From the rural heartlands of deepest London, Ms. Jenny Barsby, writing on behalf of the League Against Cruel Sports has this week bombarded the farming press and many rural newspapers, if not national ones, with a letter which she hopes will draw her readers attention to 'new research' on the spread of bTb. This opines Ms. Barsby, snugly tucked up in SE1, "should finally bring to an end the continuing myth surrounding badgers and the spread of bovine Tb"

We would challenge the ' myth' bit of that, but the lady will certainly be responsible for serious indigestion among her farmer readers, especially those under bTb restriction, who have the dubious honour of testing every 60 days, loading up good cattle for premature slaughter, and have had no bought in cattle on which to blame their plight - but we digress.

The letter is superficially persuasive, with Ms. Barsby purring gently : "I'd like to draw readers attention to new research which should finally end to the continuing myth surrounding badgers and the spread of Bovine Tb".

It isn't new, it's ISG Krebs data, recycled from Rosie Woodroffe's perch in sunny California which we covered http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2006/10/ring-ring-rosies.html; it's own operatives described it as "rubbish"and thus any data flow flow from it should carry a health warning, but let that pass. The lady continues"The NFU has long been propelling the view that badgers spread Tb to cattle".

Only the NFU? What about 450 members of the RCVS including pathologists, epidemiologists and practising veterinary surgeons? Sheesh, this woman really should get out more.

"New findings (No - recycled maybe but not new) by top researchers (Errr yes. 'Top' of what she doesn't explain, but we can visualise, I'm sure) commissioned by Government (Yup. No need to do that old badger dispersal trial at all, but never underestimate a bureaucrat's ability to waste your money) "show that the route of infection lies much more with cattle than badgers."

Well that's fine and dandy then. And having read that superficial bit of fluff, all those of us who have done the biosecurity bit, and got the closed herd T shirt can now unpeel ourselves from our respective ceilings. It was cattle after all.

The lady blathers on about the need, as expressed by the ISG and recycled by little Rosie's paper, that what is needed is better cattle controls.

And when you've done that Ms. Barsby? Nailed home bred cattle to the floor, and still had years of continuous bTb herd restriction and seen infectious, overpopulated badgers, dying around the farms? What's the excuse this time? The man in the *!!!** moon?

If the League Against Cruel Sports wants to retain any credibility whatsoever- and we still remember its conspicuous absence during the FMD carnage - then the 'sport' of killing up to 30,000 cattle per year, and leaving bTb to infect more and more badgers - which end up like this ('A slight wheeziness') should be uppermost on its agenda.

That said, for all its victims, bTb is a very cruel 'sport' indeed.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

PreM.testing - 6 months on.

Defra have just released the figures from the pre-movement testing of cattle to be moved within or out of, annual or two year testing regimes; this can be viewed:


As we have pointed out in previous postings, pre-movement testing is only of value as part of a package, and while the theory of 'preventing spread of bTb' from cattle movements is a heroic gesture, a line on a map - in this case an annual or 2 year testing parish boundary - is not respected by wildlife who have tendency not to read the 'Keep Out' notices.

Our Ben, the minister for Animal Health, carefully cherry picked two of the items in the Industry package earlier this year, while impaling himself firmly on the fence over the third.

So what are the results of the costly and time consuming effort, farmers have put in? Well not surprisingly, they bear little resemblence to the predicted figures, contained in the policy documents drawn up by the pre movement testing group. Bill Madders, its chairman admitted that the exercise had picked up less infection than it was originally anticipated by the group. Which just goes to show, you can do anything with figures. Mr. Madders accepted that data flow from this will no doubt show less than the 700 'new cases' (indicating confirmed infection) predicted in Defra's Regulatory Impact Assessment. In fact at 176 cases, a number of which are almost certainly to show NVL (no visible Lesions) in just 6 months, it has a way to go. But as it is farmers who are paying, there is no pressure on Defra to look at the system at all. Neither does it have a 'sunset clause'. That is to say, as with the post FMD 6 day shut down, pre movement testing has no 'end date'. It stays despite its inability to predict infection, industry costs v. benefit or the level of bTb in GB's cattle herds. More in Farmers Guardian;


Meanwhile, information about the spread of bTb, as shown by the spoligotypes in slaughtered reactor cattle, compared with indigenous badgers has been undertaken, but rarely used.
We have pointed out before that if cattle to cattle transmission was a serious contender for bTb spread, then the cattle spoligotype map of GB would look like a child's kaleidoscope. Different colours all over the country. But this is not the case, and work done is available at;


The report (a SID 5 / Project code SE3020) which delved into the spoligotype map of GB, describes its results thus:
"In general the spoligotype and VNTR patterns obtained from badger isolates 1972 -1976 were the same as those observed in the same geographical areas toady. This suggests that the geographical clustering of strains has not changed since the first isolation of M.bovis from badgers over thirty years ago."

The authors describe this data "as in sharp contrast to the rapid movement of strains " observed in positive post movement tests on re-stocked herds after FMD. Exactly. These were found by the skin test and slaughtered out; end of story.

The eleven main spoligotypes which have remained "in their geographical areas" we summarise below, adding geographical areas i.e 'shared border' counties together.

Type 9 isolated in 44% Cornwall/Devon 20% Dyfed
Type 17 " 66% Here /Worcs / Glos.
Type 21 " 74% Somerset / Avon
Type 35 " 77% Here / Worcs /Shrops.
Type 10 " 79% Glos.
Type 25 " 79% Staffs / Derbys.
Type 22 " 84% Gwent / Here / Worcs
Type 15 " 89% Cornwall
Type 11 " 93% Devon / Somerset
Type 12 " 94% Cornwall
Type 20 " 95% Cornwall

Thus up to 95 percent of slaughtered reactor cattle were subsequently found to have contracted a strain of bTb of the spoligotype indigenous to its badgery home.

Well, well, well.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Much has been made of the so called 'edge' effect of the Krebs badger dispersal exercise and the resulting 'peturbation' of badgers. Personally speaking, I'm not too bothered about John Bourne's 'edges' - or any other part of his anatomy for that matter - it was what did not happen in the middle of the Krebs' areas which should be of concern. Peturbation, or put simply and not so anthropomorphically, the mixing up of badger social groups thus encouraging territorial scrapping, bite wounding and spread of bTb, is said by some to be the trigger for bTb in cattle.

The answer from the Badger Groups, is to leave well alone. Leave the badgers to their own devices, even letting Tb act as a population depressor and all will be well. This of course is absolute rubbish, as experienced by three of our contributers, all of whom did exactly that, and whose cattle paid the ultimate price. 'All was not well' at all. But Bryan Hill's letter (post below) and our observations of the effect of FMD on the badger (and other wildlife) populations, got us thinking that this 'golden goose' term, 'peturbation', about which many speak, but few understand is a natural phenomenon anyway.

When Dr. Tim Roper, formerly of Sussex University, put night vision cameras into farm buildings in Glos., he found that the badgers were using them as a local Macdonalds. Not one but three 'social groups' were regularly feeding there and sharing feed with cattle. Likewise the experience of Staffordshire farmers, unable to grow or harvest crops on a field adjacent to a wildlife park, sat up one night and watched to see why their grass was flat, and nothing was growing. They counted over eighty badgers trundling along to be fed shed loads of peanuts, for the 'benefit' of a paying public. Eighty ? That's a damn big 'social group'. Prof. Harris from Bristol reckoned about eight was stable, then updated this figure to ten a few years later. Pity nobody told the badgers.

So what of 'peturbation', and what is its effect on bTb?

Logically, even without the 2005 / 2006 drought stress as described by Bryan Hill (below), and depopulation of cattle from thousands of acres in the time of peak feeding for badgers which happened during FMD (see our posts on Rosie Woodroffe's 'Letter from America', below), movement of the population is inevitable. Old badgers will fight with younger males, lose the battle and be turfed out, and younger animals have to find their own 'group' structure to survive. Nothing is set in stone. That combined with very large territories in parts of the UK, and simply not enough pee for the alpha male to scent mark 6 sq. miles every week or so, means overlapping of territories will occur. Likewise feeding opportunities seem to indicate that groups will intermingle if a large and regular food source is available.

So is food source the key? With bTb 'endemic' in UK badgers (thank you Mr. Bradshaw) for sure anything that stirs up and stresses the population forcing movement is bound to have a dramatic effect on the diease, primarily in the badgers, but then spilling out into sentinel cattle and other mammals.

But this is where Trevor Lawson, Bourne, Woodroffe et al differ from the farmers who contribute to this site. Leaving an endemically infected population to fester,in our experience, is not an option. Our cattle are victims of that - even, or especially, within Krebs' areas. But neither is causing the territorial scrapping stress (as we prefer to call 'peturbation') as did the Krebs' badger dispersal trial, cage trapping in general and activist 'opportunities' for release or Tb-takeaways in particular.

Which is why, from the early days of this site we have been pushing for whole sett gassing, to reduce population stress, this preferably with the help of Warick University's PCR to identify badly infected setts, followed by continued removal of 'dispersers' or super excreters, living alone in single hole setts or farm buildings.

That Mr. Hill has described his own 'population mangagement' of a heavily infected area, with such stunning success is a victory for common sense, and the result is a healthy badger population living alongside clean testing cattle. But more importantly, the opportunities for territorial scrapping are gone. There is no perturbation if the whole group is dispatched underground. No 'peturbed' animals searching for lost relatives, and instead encountering vicious opposition.

There is no territorial scrapping, bite wounding and stress induced Tb because the main groups which are left, just quietly spread out.

The problem of Tb infected setts reinfecting incomers is solved too - at least for a time, as decomposing carcasses in a sett appear to prevent immediate recolonisation. But what do we know? Probably not a lot. But certainly more than Bourne and Co. - and we're still learning - mainly because we are prepared to listen.

"Nature is having its own unofficial cull"

Last year we told how farmer Bryan Hill of mid Devon, had 'managed' his badger population to exclude the sick and suffering individuals which the groups had turfed out, and thus had gradually kept a very large area bTb free - but with healthy, stable groups of badgers living alongside the cattle.

Mr. Hill, has written of this year's extraordinary weather conditions and their relation to bTb in cattle, in the Western Morning News : http://tinyurl.com/y963jq
where he points out that the very hot dry summers of 2005 and 2006, have had a huge effect on badger behaviour:

"....this summer, 95 per cent of the badgers' natural food sources vanished in the drought. Water supply, streams, ditches and puddles all dried up, causing the biggest natural 'peturbation' of infected badgers since foot and mouth."

Mr. Hill points out that under these circumstances, baked earth with worms deep underground, and a very limited natural water supply, the badgers had two choices: "Stay and starve, or move and fight" [for territory already occupied by other groups of badgers] ..... or they had a third option.." to drink, eat and hide in barns, sheds or under stacks of bales ; spreading bTb to cattle. "

It is this close contact, often within farm buildings and involving 'shared' water and feed sources that, in our experience is the cause of btb cattle breakdowns which are depressingly long, bitterly persistant and difficult - though not impossible - to control. The main sett and its group are not the problem, it is the badgers which they have turfed out that will lurk around farm buildings - as Bryan Hill says. But this hot dry weather has forced even established groups to either move, and then fight for territory, or stay, sharing feed and water with the cattle.

"The same thing happened with foot and mouth, only it wasn't drought that caused the mass badger movement, but the slaughter of cattle on hundreds of farms .... [ ] .. no cattle, no muck, no worms; just long grass, covering thousands of acres." And then as now, Mr. Hill points out the badgers left to search for food, a situation he has been told by farmers all over the SW this summer, which is happening again.

"...starving badgers in sheds and barns, carcasses going through balers and forage harvesters; nature is having its own unofficial cull this summer".

Mr. Hill's letter is addressed mainly to Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, vociforously defending all badgers - especially the sick ones - which Bryan Hill has made a point of putting out of there misery, to protect the rest of the group, and the cattle. He concludes;

"..... I've never made any secret that if there are any sick badgers in this area, for their own welfare and to protect the healthy badgers and the cattle, they will be killed. I'm proud that I didn't just sit waiting for my cattle to be tested, killing the reactors, then on the same day turning what was left of the herd out with infected wildlife. Proud that I didn't leave sick badgers to nature's long merciless cull, freely spreading infection as they die a long, slow death. "

"If he (Mr. Lawson) thinks that by changing the cattle tests without removing wildlife infection, just killing ever more cattle in the hope that bTb will be contained, then his head is in the clouds with the flawed science..."

Mr. Lawson's job, as did his predecessor's, the fragrant Elaine, depends totally on 'defending' badgers. But it does not go as far to defend them from Tb:
see our posts: Badgers don't suffer from TB!and'A slight wheeziness'

The cynical amongst us may point out that if the problem of Tb in badgers was solved, as Bryan Hill has solved it in his patch of Devon, then Mr. Lawson and many more bTb 'beneficiaries' would not have a job at all.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Using you, using me.. ?

In a stance reminiscent of the General Sir Richard Dannatt's statement on Iraq, its relationship to government policy and the media, which our sister site has flagged up:

http://www.eureferendum.blogspot.com/#116073935786440875 ,

Western Morning News yesterday placed the head of the 'Sustainable Food and Farming Delivery Group, Sir Don Curry, squarely in the frame over the politically thorny issue of bovine tb.

For the full article, see link at: http://tinyurl.com/vqrko

"Bovine Tb is a barrier to progress for so many livestock farmers in the region", said Sir Don, while on a visit to the Westcountry. And he continued "Until we recognise the source of the infection in wildlife, we shan't make the progress that is so vital. There are many of us who have believed for a long time that we need a comprehensive campaign to beat bovine Tb."

Quite. And the key word here is 'us', in fact the 'many of us' Sir Don is reported as saying.

Your cynical contributers believe that Sir Don's timely statement is a smaller echo of the situation we see with General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Daily Mail (and others) and the British army's presence in Iraq, still under scrutiny at; http://www.eureferendum.blogspot.com/#116084217396013090.

Government knows what it needs to do, but for reasons of perceived 'popular support' either in the form of votes, donations or inter country links, is reluctant to step into the frame and so spins up a heavyweight 'outsider' to the media, who then spearheads the unsavoury decision for them. That it was the decision which government wanted to make anyway is thus removed from their responsibility and media reporting attributes the idea to an independent source.

More in Western Morning News' editorial: http://tinyurl.com/sogsw which concludes:

"No one relishes the prospect of a badger cull, but those who oppose it need to recognise that there are animal welfare issues involved that transcend their routine arguments. There is the welfare of the wildlife afflicted with this spreading disease; there is the welfare of the cattle [ .. ]and there is the welfare too of the farming economy that is vital to the life of the countryside and the nation as a whole."

Government recognise this; of course they do. But the RSPCA's / Badger Trust's recent campaign only shows that with skewed information, there are more votes in dead badger than a dead cow. Coupled with an administration which has handed responsibility for the security and safety of British food production to the supermarkets, government desperately need a figurehead to extract them from the ever deeper hole (of bTb) which they have excavated for themselves over the last almost ten years.

In Sir Don Curry they may just have found one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ignorance or Arrogance ?

Our postings below which outline Rosie Woodroffe's 'Letter From America', and blame cattle untested for twelve months for the increase of infectivety found in the RBCT badgers, has provoked a response on the ProMed website from a person involved with bTb 'at the sharp end'. That is, in the field as opposed to behind a computer with a crystal ball and a wish list.

From ProMed:
Date: Tue 10 Oct 2006From: Roy Fey <Roy.Fey@hpa-em.nhs.uk>re: posting 20061005.2857 Tuberculosis, bovine, badgers - UK

"I read the posting and found some of the claims a bit difficult. I am a consultant in communicable disease control (CCDC) with the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK. Part of my training was in Gloucester, which has been a hot-spot for TB (both in cattle and badgers) for many years. Indeed, one might say that the largely successful programs to control TB in cattle after World War II failed in that area (or were never successfully concluded). I recall a vet from the (now) State Veterinary Service (SVS) office in Gloucester explaining that the major differences between the TB they were seeing in badgers and in cattle were:

1) Cattle were captive and being checked regularly, with the result that the reactors were being detected at an early stage of the disease and very few had "open" lung lesions that are necessary for airborne transmission (and none had udder lesions necessary for transmission through unpasteurized milk);

2) Badgers were free ranging and not being checked, with the result that the disease progressed in the badgers to the stage where an infected animal was excreting (in various body secretions, excretions and fluids) vast quantities of bacilli onto the ground/pasture, in their setts, etc;

3) As a consequence, an infected badger was the source for both other sett mates (and other badgers in the area and other animals) and for cattle [A badger sett is a deep burrow that they dig, share with other badgers, and raise young. - Mod.MHJ]. The cattle picked up the germs as they grazed on the infected pasture (and also inhaled germs from the pasture).

Badgers [and possibly other infected wild and domesticated animals: posting 20061009.2896 records "Although called bovine tuberculosis, the bacillus has a broad host range, including cattle, pigs, goats, cats, dogs, badgers, foxes, marsupials, rabbits, sheep, horses and deer. - Mod.LL] also possibly raided stores of feedstuff and contaminated the feedstuff, increasing transmission. In contrast, because most of the cattle were not "open" cases, they were only very rarely transmitting the germ to other animals (including man or badgers).

Clearly, there will be the occasional "open" TB case in cattle, but I must say that, in the past 8 years I have been in my present post, I have only seen one report from the SVS to me in which there have been macroscopic lung lesions (as a proxy, not perfect, I agree, for "open" pulmonary TB) and many hundreds where the skin testing has detected an earlier stage of disease, principally retropharyngeal and mediastinal lymph nodes without lung lesions or even no visible lesions.
[ ................................... snipped]

The conclusions of the report from Dr Woodroffe, that the results clearly show "that there is substantial transmission of TB from cattle to badgers", and "no other explanation fits the data [of an increase in the prevalence of TB in badgers in areas that were left alone during the FMD restrictions]" are not the only logical possibilities and I would contend are not even the most likely explanations."

And with that, we would agree.

A Wake Up Call.

The reporting this week from New Scientist, ProMed and the BBC Midlands website, of a human to human spread of tuberculosis, strain mycobacterium bovis, between 6 young people, one of whom has died, is a timely reminder that bTb, is not confined to cattle, and affects other mammals uncluding human beings.

We have variously reported spillovers not only into the tested 'canaries' - cattle - from the maintenance reservoir of disease in badgers, but into cats, free range pigs and deer. Camelids, such as alpacas are said to be very susceptible as well, but are rarely tested unless for export. Once infected and left to fester, any animal with bTb lesions carrying bacteria capable of onward transmission of the disease is a walking time bomb - to anything that crosses its path.
See some bTb time bombs :

The seriousness with which this disease should be taken, cannot be overstated. And the cavaliar attitude of government towards its eradication is a gross abdication of their responsibilty. After the 'Attested Herd' scheme for cattle in the 1950's, and the pasteurisation of milk, this disease was so nearly eradicated. Almost. This outbreak which spread laterally from one or two indivuduals, is a reminder that bTb kills. Period.

The article on ProMed website, and taken from the New Scientist report [edited]

"Six people who spent a night clubbing near Birmingham, in the English Midlands, in late 2004 have contracted bovine tuberculosis (TB). One man has been identified as the source of the outbreak, and one woman who was infected has died.

This is the 1st time in decades that human-to-human transmission of bovine TB has been documented in the United Kingdom and coincides with a steady increase in the rate of infection in cattle. Nearly one per cent of the British herd is now thought to carry the disease. (And how many badgers? - 28 percent in Monmouthshire - ed)

In the 1930s, around 40 per cent of cattle in the UK were infected with TB, and around 2000 people a year died from the disease, mostly as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk or coming into close contact with the animals. Pasteurization and the introduction of routine TB testing in cattle brought this under control but, in recent years, bovine TB has been on the rise, a trend that some farmers blame on badgers spreading the infection.

Peter Hawkey of the University of Birmingham, who presented findings on the human outbreak last week at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco, says that all the evidence suggests it was an isolated incident. "The increase of infections in cattle may increase the opportunity for human infection, but nothing has changed about virulence or transmission from cattle," he says.
(By that we assume he means that cattle are regularly tested, and slaughtered if they show contact with the bacteruium. Milk is pasteurised and so very little opportunity arises in the UK for onward transmission from cattle)

Hawkey says the outbreak was caused by a confluence of rare circumstances and should therefore not cause undue alarm. Some of the people affected had underlying medical conditions such as being HIV positive, or were using anabolic steroids, both of which would make them more susceptible to infection. The average age of the people affected by the outbreak was 32, whereas those who catch the disease from cattle are usually much older.
(bTb can have a long incubation period and contact in early years may not be apparent until late adulthood - although not in this case)
[byline: Michael Reilly and Linda Geddes]- -- ProMED-mail<promed@promedmail.org>


Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rosie's 2 + 2

In our posting below we gave links to the a paper described both as 'American', and 'New', which amongst other more sensible conclusions, like tackling Tb in all species, hypothesised that cattle could give Tb to badgers. As we pointed out, the chief contributer was none other than our own Rosie Woodroffe, now perching in Californian sunshine, and various members of the UK Tb 'magic circle'. But as its main conclusions were drawn from UK Rosie's RBCT dispersal exercise, then it was neither 'American' nor 'New'.

Dr. Woodroffe said;
"Repeated badger culling (this would be in the RBCT badger dispersal exercise) in an area, is associated with increasingly prevalence of M bovis infection in badgers."

If, as with RBCT cage trapping on 8 nights only, a badger group is fractured, then territorial scrapping occurs as they regroup. So nothing new there, except that our Rosie appears to think she and the ISG have discovered something novel.

She continues:
"Additionally, we show that suspension of cattle Tb controls during the nationwide epidemic of FMD which substantially delayed the removal of Tb infected cattle, was associated with a widespread increase in the prevalence of M. bovis infection in badgers".

This was the sentence onto which Trevor Lawson and the Badger Trust hooked their tentacles.

But the BBC website went further:

"Culling badgers should be a low priority for curbing cattle tuberculosis", according to a scientist advising the British government. New research by Dr Rosie Woodroffe and colleagues suggests that culling raises the rate of TB infection in badgers. It also demonstrates that cattle infect badgers with the bacterium.

"This research has 2 important conclusions," said Dr Woodroffe, a researcher at the University of California in Davis and a member of the UK government's Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB."The first is that it shows for the first time that there is substantial transmission of TB from cattle to badgers, whereas in the past it's been assumed that didn't happen," she told the BBC News website. "The 2nd conclusion is that repeated culling increases the prevalence in badgers -- each time you cull, it goes up and up."

After a suspension of culling in the Krebs areas during the FMD outbreak of 2001, Tb infection in cattle went up, and that was expected due to lack of routine testing, but also a rise was recorded in tb infection in badgers. And that, according to Rosie Woodroffe, was most definitely not expect. Why, one wonders when with incomplete culling over 8 nights with cage traps, that very scenario was predicted by badger experts prior to the start of Krebs is hard to understand - but we digress:

"We saw across seven study areas a rise in the badger TB prevalence -- almost a doubling," said Dr Woodroffe. "No other explanation fits the data."

"Across the 8 years of analysis, culling was also associated with increased TB in the badgers; areas which had received 4 culls saw a doubling of the rate. What appears to be happening is that badgers move more freely and more widely in culled areas, increasing contact with each other and with cattle." Not really. It was the ones left behind by the RBCT, you remember, the up to 80 percent not trapped, or released by activists, that were on the move.

Predictably, animal welfare (sic) groups greeted the study enthusiastically. "This research confirms beyond doubt that cattle are the main vectors of bovine TB, readily infecting badgers and other cattle," said Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust. "
Source: BBC, 2 Oct 2006 [edited]<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5401266.stm>

Hmmm. "No other explanation fits the data" the lady said.

Our Rosie seems to have ignored all evidence to the contrary, and assumed that the RBCT actually culled badgers. All of them. And more than that, they stayed culled. And by that I mean, the farms 'Krebbed ' on those 8 nights, once a year (if they were lucky) remained a badger-free zone. The reality is far from that as we have pointed out. The last thing the RBCT did was a clean sweep of its target animals. So why should anyone - except Dr. Woodroffe it seems - be surprised if "everytime you cull, it [Tb infection in badgers] goes up and up.."

No it does not. If a whole social group is taken out at the same time, then social disruption or peturbation as it is known, is nil. But do a half cocked job as described by the leader of one of the Wildlife Teams undertaking the work, .http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2006/03/robust-basis-of-krebs.html, and of course the infection 'goes up and up.' Badgers that are left, up to 80 percent of the target, are frantically travelling to locate missing relatives and territorial scrapping spreads Tb. The result on cattle herds, even ones with no bought in cattle, was reported here http://www.farmersguardian.com/story.asp?storycode=4294.

But as well as the total shambles of the RBCT in practise, the Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001 should not be assumed to be limited in its effect, to 11 million dead animals - or as Dr. Woodroffe would have it, the lack of tb testing of remaining cattle..

It is impossible to remove 11 million mainly grazing animals out of their environment, very quickly and at a time of premium activity and growth (February - August) when their dung, placentas and even stilborn offspring were then unavailable for use by other animals and insects within the wider ecology. And to put the agricultural practises which supported those 11 million dead cattle, sheep and pigs into a state of suspended animation for over 12 months, and expect the ecological balance of thousands of acres to remain constant.

Well if the good doctor has missed the point, at least English Nature recognised it, producing a 100 page pdf file: http://www.english-nature.org.uk/pubs/publication/PDF/enrr430.pdf in which even half way through the carnage, they try to assess the effects of the lack of grazing livestock, coupled with over- grazing and poaching in other areas, on the British country side.

They comment:
"Changes in the structure of livestock farming, for instance changes in stocking levels or type of livestock, and changes in land use where livestock farming ceases as a result of the FMD outbreak are likely to be the major long term and most complex influences on biodiversity"

Their map chart on page 12, shows that loss of livestock, change in livestock farming and/or a change of land use where livestock farming ceases post-FMD as impacting every type of habitat listed. Their cover sheet FMD map shows that outbreaks were concentrated in areas now covered by red Tb parishes on Defra's latestTb incidence map - which in itself is an amplification of the original 7 or 9 hotspots, described by Prof. Steve Harris, ten long years ago.

Without livestock, and in particular cattle dung pats, the whole pyramid of 'ecological life' changes. Beetles, flies and worms are not there, so their predators including bats, songbirds and badgers, have nothing to eat, and are forced to forage elsewhere - or die.

A double whammy occurred where animals on short term grazing were impounded, and their pasture land became overgrazed at best, and a mud bath at worst. This too affected the insect life, and thus levels of wildlife predatory on 'normal' farming practise, and over a wider area.

But Rosie's 'no other explanation fits the data" totally ignores the thousands of acres of livestock free land, abandoned to rank long grasses, no corn crops and no agricultural practise at all, and conversely, areas so heavily stocked as to be unavaibale for predatory use by any other species, and their unfortunate occupants subsequently offered a 'welfare cull'.

Rosie's observation of the increase of infection after suspension of RBCT culling during FMD within the badgers was correct - her conclusion as to its cause, in the opinion of the Wildlife teams and farmers unfortunate enough to have taken part, was not. Perturbation was the result of that shambles, and the same scenario was repeated as Britain's countryside was systamatically de-populated of the very animals on which badgers are parasitic for their survival. Cattle and sheep, and the husbandry which surrounds them.The influence of FMD is certainly important, but the assumption that the suspension of some cattle testing during it, led to 'infected cattle giving Tb to badgers' is lightweight shot in the dark. Adding 2 + 2 and making 8.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Weasel Words and the Sins of Omission.

The 'weasel words' are described by a contributer to Western Morning News - who roundly takes to task the spokesman for the Badger Trust, Trevor Lawson, suggesting that he is "straw clutching against the possibility that maybe, just maybe, the government could be at last reaching the obvious conclusion - on the basis of cost if nothing else - that the vicious circle of bovine Tb infection between badgers and cattle, or as Trevor Lawson would have it, cattle and badgers, is broken."

The writer then describes a visit to an Exmoor farm, slaughtered out (or 'depopulated' as Defra likes to sanitise the procedure of culling a whole herd) after a devastating outbreak of Tb. The report issued by SVS confirmed "the cattle had become infected with tuberculosis from a non-bovine source - a politically correct "code" for ... badgers. Devastatingly for the farmer, his family and his business, the SVS report went further, suggesting that restocking would be futile because any cattle brought in, however "clean" (free of disease) would soon be stricken by the disease (bTb) from the same "non-bovine source".

The piece concludes: "Nobody is "waging war" on badgers, Mr. Lawson. We like them, but we would like them to be healthy.......[ ].......It is not the badger's fault any more than it is the cattle's , farmer's or anyone else's - it is a fact of life, an intractable disease which can ONLY be tackled in the round of its vicious circle.
See the full piece ; http://tinyurl.com/gpzx4

The 'Sins of Omission' are to be found quietly buried, and certainly are only selectively used by the vociferous Mr. Lawson in Recycled-Rosie's-paper, a link to which may be found ; http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0606251103

"Although the suspension of cattle testing during the FMD epidemic was associated with increased M.bovis infection prevalence in badgers, (It was? who said? Did you know that the badgers moved house when the cattle were slaughtered out over hundreds of acres? No, I thought not. Sorry, readers we digress.) .. this increase would not be expected to undermine the beneficial effects of badger culling on cattle Tb incidence. Indeed, because high prevalence was recorded after FMD in both culled and unculled badger populations, the expected benefit of removing badgers by culling could, if anything, have been increased."

The paper continues that their results illustrate the need to consider all transmission routes in planning control policies for multihost pathogens.

Err yes. It is also necessary to have a culling procedure which actually achieves something other than the dispersal of its target - but let that pass. Trevor Lawson certainly missed out that bit in his high profile rant, didn't he?

Meanwhile, our Midlands Matthew has suggested a novel way of bringing the Badger Trust into the loop of responsibility for disease control. Anytime now we as farmers expect to get landed with a 'disease levy', reportedly set at around £3.45 per animal traded. This is Defra's weasely attempt at the much vaunted 'partnership' and 'shared responsibility' it keeps banging on about. But in the last couple of posts, the level of infection of a highly dangerous pathogen, is variously set at up to '28 percent' of road kill badgers found in the Monmouthshire.

So, how about, our colleague suggests, a devolved and shared responsibility on levies too? We aren't greedy, so how about £1 head on every badger resident in the UK? Annually. Yup, that would be 'shared responsibility' - in the round.

Ring 'a ring a' "Rosies"...

..in this case our own Rosie Woodroffe, late of the unlamented RBCT, and now perching in the USA. Dr, or now Prof. Woodroffe has headed a team of recycled and predominantly British acedemics who have taken the first year results of Krebs together with the computerised and entirely preventable carnage of FMD and added them up to produce - well not a lot really.

But true to form, the Badger Trust has stormed into the fray asserting that 'New American Research' shows cattle gave Tb to badgers.

Covered at length in the Western Morning News, (link: http://tinyurl.com/fvlpj) we would point out (with respect of course) that this paper is not 'new', neither is it 'research' and it most certainly is not 'American'. (That is 'paper' as in Rosie Woodroofe et al's latest offering from the scientific TB magic circle - not the Western Morning News)

The full text of the paper is at: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0606251103

Briefly, the contributers have taken 2001 as a year in which little TB testing was carried out, added some extraordinarily vague figures on badger infection before and after that year, and using the computer modelling now famous for removing 11 million animals completely unecessarily in FMD, assumed that cattle passed Tb to badgers. Simple really.

That the removal of those 11 million animals, mainly cattle and sheep, caused total disruption to the ecology of badger habitat as well - seems to have escaped their limited vision. Or maybe it was not computer compatible, and so didn't happen.

We have pointed out before, and parliamentary questions confirmed that badgers are totally dependent on the 'habitat richness' provided by - cattle. The dungpats, placentas, still born (and not so stillborn) lambs and the the crops grown to support them, are the equivalent of 'Badger Macdonalds to meles meles. And for sure, when those 11 million animals were slaughtered, badger habitat changed. No maize crops, long grass, no dung pats to encourgae worms to the surface and shed loads of disinfectant. In fact very little farming at all took place in the areas badly hit by FMD, as shell shocked farmers struggled with teams of white coated Defra 'inspectors' to cleanse and disinfect their farms and rebuild their shattered lives.

So what of the wildlife, and in particular the badgers at this time? Farmers involved in the carnage tell us that their farms became 'death valley'. No wildlife except a very few deer remained, and certainly no badgers. They moved. They trundled off to find the nearest cattle. And the food and dungpats and everything else they were used to predating on for their survival. But when they arrived at the 'D' notice farms on the edge of culled areas, resident badgers were already there, thus the territorial fighting associated with Bourne's now infamous 'edge effect' in the RBCT took place here as well.

Any increase in Tb in badgers after FMD was nothing whatsoever to do with cattle, and everything to do with badger behaviour, which seems to have escaped everyone's notice especially the Badger Trust spokesman. And coming just hours after the ASA supported a claim by the FUW against its sister charity, the RSPCA, for 'unsubstantiated and untruthful' advertising campaigns, (see our post below) using the same information from the same clique of 'scientists', the timing of this 'paper' originally published in July, is slick unadulterated spin.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Welsh RTA badgers - up to 28 percent infected.

The results of the Welsh road kill badger survey were published last week, and showed an infection rate of up to 28 percent. Counties differed, with the highest proportion of infected carcasses found in Monmouthshire. Overall the figure was around 12 percent for the 459 found-dead badgers collected and submitted for sampling. And this small number were road side kills, not ex farm, ex farm buildings or anywhere else tb infected badgers crawl off to die.

We covered the collection of this small number of carcasses in the second part of our posting;
http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2006/05/update-on-wales.html - and sure enough, on September 28th., the results were made available. Although not the spoligotypes. That will drag it out a little longer, and they and the full reports are expected early in 2007. NFU Wales president, Dai Davies said of the initial results: "The results not only vindicate the long held view that TB is present in the wildlife, but that it is there at epidemic levels" and FUW spokesman, Evan Thomas pointed out that if that level of disease was found in children, "it would be the worst disease epidemic in centuries".

Predictably the Badger Trust urged the Welsh Assembly to concentrate on cattle based Tb control measures. Now there's a surprise. But if you think about it, sort out Tb in the badgers, and not only the polemic between so-called conservationists and farmers, but the raison d'etre for the Badger Trust - just disappears...

Full story from