Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dear Mr. Brown..........

As Chancellor of the Exchequer and a canny Scot - who are usually noted to be particularly parsimonious - we feel you are under pressure this week, so we offer a crumb of hope (with the greatest respect of course).

The national press has put you on the spot by trashing your figures for the national debt. You have they say, ignored the pensions' black hole and the debt of certain flagship projects when calculating your own figures. And that adds up to ......... negative equity. Or put simply, debt outstrips the country's assets and at £1.3 trillion is now 103.5 percent of the country's wealth. We're broke.

And what, we hear you ask has this to do with bovine Tb?

We have spoken on this site of the 'beneficial crisis' which this totally avoidable situation has created. The governmental largesse divided variously between researchers, 'scientists', focus groups and protectionists and vets, laboratories, hauliers, abattoirs and farmers. Could it be shaved? Could this phenomenal and exponential growth of 20 percent per year (Defra figures) be cut, and thus the expenditure?

Yes it could, and Ireland is leading the way.

A closer look at the Republic shows that they are using the results of previous 'trials' to eradicate bTb from the cattle herds, by a combination of skin testing and yup .......... badger culling. They say that by reducing the level of infection in the badgers, they can not only apply meaningful animal welfare to this popular wild mammal, but prevent bTb spill over into the country's cattle herds.

And dear Gordon, in five years they have halved the expenditure on bTb in the country. Think about that. Almost 50 percent less cash going out of the Treasury's piggy bank. Think of all the other things you could do with those £millions. No, perhaps not.
But we digress. You would like figures?

In 1999 the gross expenditure on bTb in the Republic of Ireland was 88 million euros. Levies and EU cash reduced this to 66.6 million euros, net. But in 2005, just 35.6 million euros was the net expenditure on bTb! In fact Gordon, so successful has the Tb eradication been that the government have been able to reduce - actually reduce by half - the animal disease levy paid by farmers! How about that, a government that is popular with its electorate! And the Irish government is popular with the its European masters too, with bTb incidence being described as 'under control and decreasing', while the UK is ..... well let's just say we're in a mess. The only country in the Community to have an 'increasing incidence'.

So, how have they done it? They have used their research (East Offaly 1989 - 1994) and the Four Counties Trial (1998 - 2002) and applied it to Tb hotspots as shown by the sentinel cattle. They realised that nailing the cattle to floor and ignoring wildlife, as done in the Downie Era (http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2005/04/anything-you-can-do.html) didn't work and they acted on both sources simultaneously, just as Professor Stephen Harris suggested to your predecessors in 1997 in fact, and which we covered in our posting: http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2004/07/krebs-there-was-another-way.html. But your lot preferred the prevarication and repetition of the Krebs 'badger dispersal' trial - and £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby. Value for money was it?

The decision to act on the results of the Four Counties trial was taken against a background of increasing Tb incidence and was probably influenced by the EU veterinary certificate issued in Sept. 2004, which we covered in several postings including: http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2004/09/from-russia-with-love.html .
A ban on exports would have seriously dented Ireland's GDP. The problem was thus taken out of the political arena, and placed firmly where it belonged - in the hands of veterinary scientists, well versed in epidemiological matters and out of the hands of focus groups, the public and most of all - politicians.

James O'Keefe from the Dept. of Agriculture and Food says quite bluntly, "If you don't like the plan, give me an alternative.... My primary concern is eliminating Tb in the cattle, but until we eliminate it in the badgers we can't do that".

So Gordon (may we call you that?) you are a canny Scotsman, but a canny Scot with a cash problem at the moment. How do you save some money? Your junior Minister, Baby Ben Bradshaw, has cut farmer compensation, but that has only made a small dent in the Tb budget as it accounted for less than a third of the Tb expenditure. And all the other little Tb hamsters are busily trundling around their respective wheels, linked firmly to the Defra cash machine which is tied to the Treasury and which we covered here: http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2004/08/tb-beneficiaries.html.
So what can you do? Well look west to Ireland where they have returned to almost a 'clean ring' policy which operated here in the UK in the early 1980's and when this country boasted less than 100 herds under restriction and 686 cattle slaughtered. (Now it is 4797 herds under restriction to Sept, and 16,000 cattle dead. And with 3 months still to go, incidence is rising sharply again - but your muppets in Page St. say "that doesn't change anything". Really? Change 'anything' they may not want to do, but buying votes with misinformation costs. And Gordon, you have books to balance.

Anyway, to explain the Irish approach. When a farm in Ireland goes under restriction and fast track veterinary investigation has ruled out infection from bought in cattle, the area up to 2km from the farm is 'ringed' and the badgers culled. This continues annually for four years. But in the only two years that it has been operative it has had a phenomenal effect on the incidence of Tb in the cattle herds - and associated costs to the taxpayer. The reduction in cattle reactors has been equally stunning, from 44,903 in 1998, to 25,884 in 2005. This Gordon, has a knock on effect for the costs of 60 day testing, vets, bTb antigens, hauliers, abattoirs and other assorted beneficiaries. You get the picture? Oh and the reaction from Ireland's badger groups, as the cattle figures tumble is described as 'muted', while here in the UK the 'cattle-to-cattle' chant has been adopted as a national anthem. But Ireland has proved that the circle of infection needs to be closed and when it is, bTb in the cattle just disappears, and with it all the associated costs.
More on this from Tom Levitt in Farmers Guardian: http://www.farmersguardian.com/story.asp?sectioncode=24&storycode=5975

So Gordon, there is a way to control bTb. In the UK, we do not have a different strain of Tb bacteria, as implied by John Bourne - we have a strain of misinformation and interference which is costing the Treasury £millions, the badgers their health and the country possibly its trading status. And it is as expensive as it is totally and utterly avoidable.

We wish you a Happy Hogmanay.
from Matthew 1, 2, 3 and 4.

ps. Trevor Lawson has still not explained to us how bTb arrives in
herds with 'No Bought in Cattle'.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Tb Spillover - Another Cat

The single thing which our Minister for Animal Health and Welfare, baby Ben Bradshaw did this year, and on which we congratulated him - never failing to give praise when it is due - was to make tuberculosis notifiable in all mammals.

We have already mentioned in our postings
http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2004/10/tb-spill-over-cats-out-of-bag.html and http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2005/02/what-about-cats.html the susceptibility of cats (among many mammals) to bTB. And from a Midlands contributer, comes the sad tale of a ginger tom called errr - 'Ginger'.

Briefly, this puss was a family pet, a neutered male aged three and half, sharing his domicile with another cat, two young children and his owners whose house was on the edge of a development overloking fields. This summer, Ginger began to lose weight and looked ill, so he was taken to the local vet. Initial examinations showed 'a slight wheeziness' (where have we heard that before ?) and antibiotics were prescribed. The cat did not respond and began coughing. Much further investigative work was done on said cat, involving blood tests and X rays finally resulting in his demise a week later on 'welfare' grounds.

Postmortem indicated major lung damage, enlarged lymph nodes, pneumonia and emaciation. Cultures confirmed bTb.

In the immediate local area, no cattle have grazed the fields nearest to the house in which this cat lived for many years. But to the south of the area in 2005 a dead RTA badger tested positive for bTb, and this year, three farms are experiencing what Defra define as 'emerging new cases' in their cattle, involving multiple reactors. As we have said many times, and no doubt will continue to say, it is absolutely no use shooting the messenger - in this case the tested cattle - and leaving the other half (or even threequarters) of the circle, to wander about infecting anything that crosses its miserable path.

The ususal suspects clanked into action within this shocked family's household, with visits from the Communicable diseases section of the local council, TB tests for the children, monitoring of the remaining cat and advice on the symptoms they must look out for in themselves and neighbours and susceptible pets.

The source of this strain (17 spoligotype) of bTb in a domestic, non feral family pet is not linked to infection from either human beings or other local 'pets'. Cattle herds are to be tested within a 3km area. And the badgers, one of which expired locally and tested positive for the same strain of bTb? Sssshhhhhhh ... Defra may not speak its name.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Update: A voice of sanity.....

Earlier this year, the site received a comment which we felt worthy of hoisting into a posting. This posting has now received extra comments, and we feel it worth reminding readers of its content. It can be found:


Trevor Lawson's latest comment, (below on the post re. Gamma interferon) we will attend to as time permits. Or perhaps we should just say "look at the archives, and in particular the answers to PQ' s", which are seriously adrift of the points you are attempting to make - with no references or context.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mr. Miliband - "the figures are dropping".

Defra have posted the bTb stats for the period Jan - September and as we predicted, the 'trend' is now firmly .... up.

For the next month only they can be viewed at; http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/stats/latest.htm

Our new, upwardly mobile and agressively ambitious minister, David Miliband (already spoken of in hushed tones as a possible replacement for Towny Bliar) has been firmly stating that while " the bTb statistics were dropping", he would not consider any action on wildlife reservoirs. And while his future promotional prospects are described in such hallowed terms, he is unlikely to do so at all, we might add. The fact that his CVO's report had such half-hidden gems describing the performance of Lelystatd tuberculin antigen, as "less effective because of failing to pick up NVLs (Non Visible Lesion reactors) " which would " result in under dectection of cases, resulting in a transient decline in cases reported, despite there being no true decline in cases" he has of course, ignored - even if we have not. We explored this in August:

Lelystatd tuberculin antigen has now been use for over twelve months and these September stats will see the first lot of testing with this slightly different product, drop off the radar so to speak. The very big drop which caught even (especially?) Defra by surprise occurred in the months to March / April, but from then on there has been an inexorable rise in new breakdowns. They are up 13 percent to August and 16 percent to September, which now records a drop on 2005 of 11.3 percent, compared with 27.5 to March.

But even these headline 'Confirmed New Incidence' figures tend to confuse, as the number of herds under bTb restriction "because of a Tb incident" (i.e a bTb breakdown as opposed to delayed test or delayed test results) is up on 2005, showing 4,797 in 2006 to September, compared with 4,785 in 2005. This is 5.31 percent of herds registered on Vetnet, compared with 5.21 percent in 2005.

And as two of your contributers have recorded 'new breakdowns' (not yet confirmed) during November, and the 'Lelystad effect' continues to fall off the testing radar, we predict the autumn figures going higher. More on Defra's September figures from Alistair Driver in Farmers Guardian:

The regional figures are a disgrace. The 'West' region now stretches from Cornwall to Shropshire and the county figures are as follows:

Glos. had 20 per cent of herds under restriction because of a bTb 'incident, in the period to September, Hereford / Worcs. 18 percent, Devon 17.8 per cent and Cornwall 15 percent. The counties of Avon and Wiltshire had 10 percent of their herds under restriction, and Somerset, Dorset and Shropshire 6 - 7 percent.

Defra's 'North' region recorded all three Staffordshire offices with up to 8 percent of herds affected and South and West Wales areas had between 10 - 13 percent of their cattle herds under restriction Jan - September. And even our Midlands Matthew is twitchy, with parts of the East showing a persistant and 'amplifying' (Defra speak for increasing) problem and 2 percent of its herds under restriction; 20 years there was a big fat zero. None at all, in fact only 86 herds across the whole of GB were recorded as being under restriction, and less that 700 cattle slaughtered in 7 or 8 'hotspots'.

So as the figures are definitely on the up, and the statistical shield behind which our new minister has slunk since March is getting thinner by the month, what will he do about tackling the disease 'in the round'? Or are we still on track for Defra's predicted 20 percent / per annum rise in incidence, if the maintenance reservoir in wildlife is not tackled?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A new leaflet - farmers would prefer not to have...

... has been issued by Defra - don't they just love those fat green booklets? - printed on recycled paper of course. This one brings all the small pamphlets together in one 44 page A 4 issue entitled "Dealing with Tb in your Herd" - or something like that. Available in pdf format:

(Sorry folks, just checked this direct link, and it won't flag up this file. Go to Defra home page, type ' gamma-interferon' into the search box, and the file is near the bottom of first page of publication options. Best we can do until they get their 'link fairy' operative.)

Meanwhile as a top up to our posting ;
on the proposed introduction of gamma interferon, the Veterinary Times reports unamimous welcome from industry spokesman on its introduction - but with reservations as to specifics.

Its use will mainly be limited to new outbreaks in 3 or 4 year testing parishes, on skin test- negative animals, and with that we would agree. As would Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, and under those circumstances, many veterinary organisations and farming groups.

The test as envisaged for herds in annual and 2 year parishes is of more concern. In those areas Defra say they plan to use it :

*On inconclusive reactors that fail to resove their first tuberculin re test.

* On tuberculin-test negative animals in severe TB incidents to inform decisions on whole or partial herd slaughter.

*On tuberculin test-negative animals in herds with persistant, confirmed infection that fail to resolve through repeated short-interval tuberculin tests and have taken the basic herd biosecurity precautions.

Those criteria could apply to most of our contributers. IR's are historically given two chances to pass the skin re-test, which will now be reduced to a single strike. And Matt 5 lost over 40 animals through a 4 year breakdown, of which only three proved to have culturable confirmed disease. A g-IFN test at the height of this outbreak would no doubt have enabled Defra's best to "de-populate" Matt's herd, but it would not have addressed the source.

BCVA president Andrew Biggs is quoted in the Vet Times article :

"We have to remember that the RBCT showed, if nothing else that badgers give Tb to cattle. If we don't address that, I don't see any future for closed herds that go down with TB, when cattle movements onto the farm or even nose-to-nose contact [with neighbouring herds] are not significant factors".

Meurig Raymond, deputy president of the NFU supported the announcement of the introduction of another diagnostic tool aid "as far it goes". But he said that it still did not get to the root of the problem:

"The increased use of the gamma-interferon blood test will make it easier to stamp out isolated outbreaks of disease away from the main hotspot areas, - but additional testing will be of little value to the thousands of farmers whose herds are constantly exposed to infection from wildlife as a result of the Government's refusal, so far, to deal with the disease in badgers ... ..... Until we get to grips with that, Tb will remain a scourge to cattle, badgers and farmers alike".

We confidently expect Matt 5 to receive his own copy of Defra's new booklet any time soon. Yup, after eighteen months of freedom, the routine test revealed one reactor and 4 Inconclusives.

So our Matt is under restriction again. And this is where pre movement testing is such a comfort blanket. Not. Matt has tested 15 animals this year - and sold them. He has also purchased ( for the first time in 13 years) pre movement tested pedigree bloodstock to establish a new herd of beef cattle. In Spetember the herd consigning the new cows and their calves, went under restriction, involving Matt in cattle tracing and retests, and now all 15 animals sold from Matt's farm this year may have to be traced and tested. Defra don't have too much faith in the preMT do they?
And neither of course, do we. All Matt's new ladies passed their post movement re-test by the way, and that is a far better indication of their disease status.

Matt's Reactor is a cheeky angus yearling which tested clear last year after her purchase as a 3 week old calf. The inconclusives are home bred incalf heifers, both beef and dairy. The source is - well we'll leave that for you to fill in, but I think Defra would describe it as "non-bovine".

More on the gamma interferon blood test on the Defra website:

Thursday, November 02, 2006


The map of GB bTB outbreaks, as determined by the spoligotyping ferrets at VLA, is not - as one would expect if cattle to cattle transmission and cattle movements were the primary cause of the disease, - like a kaleidoscope of scattered strains. We have updated the post below:

http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2006/10/premtesting-6-months-on.html to show the results of a thirty year survey which concludes:

"In general the spoligotype and VNTR patterns obtained from badger isolates between 1972 - 1976 were the same as those observed in the same geographical areas today. 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 results of the geographic spoligotyping excercise on reactor cattle is below:

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

So, up to 95% of m.bovis isolates identified from reactor cattle, are identical to the strains identified and persisting for over thirty years in ....... badgers indigenous to the same geographical area? Yup, they are.

We accept that the 5 - 25 per cent of isolates identified outside their indigenous home deserve attention, but what about the cause of up to 95 percent - which is getting absolutely none?