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'.