Saturday, January 27, 2007

Trust in 'The Trust'?

Last week, one of our contributers bought a copy of weekly rural glossy 'Country Life'. This contained a lightweight piece on badgers and bTb written by freelance 'journalist', David Tomlinson. Now, the easiest way to produce copy, is to take swathes of scribe from somebody else - and to protect the 'author', ascribe anything controversial or even downright wrong, in their names. And so it is in this piece.

Much space is given to Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust, who is attributed with the following:

"The Badger Trust estimates that [a culling programme] would result in a third of Britain's badgers being killed, a great many of them healthy individuals".

Not if PCR technology was used to identify infected setts Trevor. See our posting below.

And this little gem " According to the Trust, TB is spread by 14 million animal movements of cattle in Britian each year.."

Now this is really bad. Over a year ago, Trevor Lawson was told (and had, we understand, the paperwork placed in his sticky paw to prove the point) that the 14 million esposed by the diminutive John Bourne et al, mantra faithfully repeated by the Trust, was a movement of DATA - not hooves. What bit of 'On' and 'Off' = 2 movements, to each staging post, including markets( = 4 movements) and abattoirs did he not understand?

The figure for movements of live cattle ON to other farms is (or was in 2005) 2.7 million, including 401,000 very young calves under 42 days. So, around 2.2 million. Not 14 million at all. But it makes good copy, and lazy journalists obviously don't check. It is far easier to repeat dogma, than to 'investigate'.

And Bradshaw's "80 percent of Tb cases are spread from cattle to cattle" came up again, with no clarification of its context. These were the very few infected cattle which spiked short outbreaks in Cumbria after FMD restocks - all found, slaughtered and sorted. No, it should not have happened. With post movement tests which this site favours it would not have and Defra's testing programme for 'new and re formed herds' will prevent it happening again.

Then our Trevor endeared himself to his members by reiterating that cattle are giving Tb to badgers, "so it makes sense to focus on the cattle". That sounds good, and Defra are listening. Unfortunately with ears firmly shut, especially to experience of the past when the 'Downie Era ' in the Republic of Ireland did precisely this but with a burgeoning wildlife reservoir, failed totally to control bTb. Likewise a Cornish DVO in the 70's invented the word 'cohort', slaughtered many hundreds of cattle, implemented pre and post movement testing but totally failed to make a dent in the wildlife-borne infection cycle.

"Government received 47,000 responses from the public about the proposed badger cull - 96 per cent against it."
No mention there of the Advertising Standards Agency's damning censorship of this campaign. "Unsubstantiated and untruthful", the ASA found, but those words are missing from this piece.

The red corner is defended by the NFU and this in itself is 'unfortunate'.
Why not a vet? Especially a bTb expert ; someone from the State Veterinary Service for example, with years of experience under his or her belt - and also years of seeing first hand the devastating results of various political interventions and prevarications in a serious zoonotic disease prevention situation.

Why no 'google' into Bovine Tb, and all the parliamentary questions which form the basis of this site? A wildly out of date figure for badger numbers, (privately now thought to exceed 1 million) but no mention of the infectious load carried by a badger suffering the latter stages of bTb. This can be up to 300,000 units of bacteria in just 1 ml of urine. And that skittered across grassland and feed troughs at the rate of 30 ml in each void. And just 70 ml needed to provoke a 'positive' skin reaction in a cow. Not a squeak about that transmission opportunity.

No mention of the RBCT badger dispersal excercise, as described so devastatingly (and all in the public domain ) by Paul Caruana, one of its field managers.

No mention of the Thornbury exercise, where a complete clearance of badgers over several months was followed by a total clearance for 12 years of cattle Tb in the area. And the badger numbers recovered to their pre cull numbers. No other contemporous reason for this was found, other than the clearance of infected badgers, confirmed parliamentary questions.

And absolutely no mention of the diagnostics of PCR, which would answer many of the publication's readers' more anthropomorphic sensibilities.

And no mention of course, of the many herds who are under continuous bTb restriction, or who have had to give up cattle farming altogether but who have no bought in cattle or cattle to cattle contact. That would spoil a very good myth.

All in all, a very lazy and lightweight piece; Trevor Lawson managed to cover his badgers in inaccurate misleading propaganda while the villain of the piece, a highly infectious zoonotic bacteria lives on to kill more cattle and many more badgers, cats, dogs, free range pigs, alpacas ....... and human beings?


Anonymous said...

Bradshaw's "80% of TB is spread by cattle" comment was an off the cuff remark - he corrected it in a statement just a few weeks later and gave a far more honest picture of the answer. Lawson knows this, and so must be deliberately using Bradshaw's untrue mistake and portraying it as the truth. What an honest fellow; should have been a politician.

Matthew said...

"What an honest fellow; should have been a politician"

We like that. What do they say about such 'spinning' politicians?
If their lips are moving, they're lying.

Anonymous said...

From Trevor Lawson, Badger Trust

Matt: much as I enjoy reading your increasingly irate and unreferenced rambles, I do feel the need to respond when you effectively accuse me of lying. The Badger Trust's figure of 14 million cattle movements is sound and, if anything, an underestimate of the number of cattle movements that – please note – pose a risk of disease transmission.

The 14 million figure was originally based on 2002 data in a National Audit Office report (Identifying and Tracking Livestock in England. November 2003). It was subsequently supported by 2003 data: 9,493,000 cattle movements off premises and 9,316,000 movements onto premises, including farms, livestock markets, slaughterhouses and show grounds (See Appendix C, Defra (2005) Government strategic framework for the sustainable control of bovine TB in Great Britain.)

These figures were all detailed in our Breakfast Briefing in July 2005 and in several of our press releases. All of our reports are fully referenced and available online. We have never tried to hide the substance of the data.

From the above, we excluded 3,140,000 movements directly to abbatoirs since these posed no obvious risk of disease transmission to other livestock. The result is 15,669,000 cattle movements. I think your point about the 400,000 calves under 45 days old is probably a fair one, so let’s cut the final figure to 15,269,000 movements.

For now, let’s accept accept that the data appears to double the number of movements, by counting one for off and one for one. Dividing by two still leaves us with 7,634,500 movements in 2003.

Now, fast forward to your data for 2005, allegedly from the BCMS. Sadly, these data not supported by a reference and BCMS does not provide such figures online, so they cannot be verified.

However, we have been acquiring quarterly reports from the Delivery Partners Coordination Unit (DPCU) which records trading standards enforcement action (DPCU, 2005). These reports document on / off movements for England and Wales only. In 2005, there were 5,971,591 off and 5,793,235 on. Add in movements for Scotland and, I would guess, we will not be far from the 14 million figure for 2003.

So far, so good. So what? Here’s the problem. In your ramble, you suggest that your figure of 2,718,599 cattle movements onto farms is the only relevant one. Wrong. In arguing over the definition of a "movement", you miss the key point. Each movement, whether on or off, presents a potential risk of infection to an individual cow and its contacts. Every potential contact between cattle is relevant when modelling the disease; the number of movements is the only large-scale tool that we have for measuring those contacts.

In a perfect world, cattle from different herds would not be mixed in the same vehicle when moving off a farm, but we know it happens. At markets and showgrounds, which you seem to discount, livestock have ample opportunity for nose to nose contact. Cattle moving onto farms are rarely isolated effectively. And so on. That’s why the cattle movements are so significant.

You allege that I was handed “the paperwork” over a year ago, disputing the figure. I am, you say, “really bad”. In fact, no-one has ever produced a referenced paper contesting our figure. The NFU has disputed our figure verbally at public meetings, but did not produce any printed material to support its claim. So before you accuse me of lying, please check your facts first. You are happy to hide behind a hidden identity. Have the decency to show some respect for those of us prepared to stand up and be counted.

Matthew said...

We did not accuse you of 'lying' Trevor, effectively or otherwise, and it is the peddling of misleading data which is 'really bad', not you personally. We do not know you, how could we possibly judge?.
Misinterpreting data? maybe.

Our figures and information were requested directly from BCMS, who are charged with recording all cattle movements, both 'On' and 'Off' various registered premises. They are for Great Britain, so there is no need for you to 'guess' at Scotland, which recorded 510,000 movements 'On' to its registered farms in 2005..

We also showed a message received from BCMS, explaining quite clearly how a movement via a market would generate four movements of data, so we will stick with BCMS's very helpful sheet, to which we understood you were alerted and its figure of 2,718,599 movements 'On' to farms in England, Scotland and Wales.

Should you wish a copy, feel free to request one - BCMS are most helpful, but we cannot oblige you with a direct scan. You'll have to take our word for it. The DCPU figures for 'On' and 'Off' movements which you have kindly quoted, mirrors BCMS for England and Wales, but includes movements to abattoirs and via markets, thus doubling up data.

As an opportunity for tb transmission cattle to cattle, firstly a cow must be in an infectious state and even then, a period of up to twelve months was needed in Ireland (Costello et al )- not a few minutes on a lorry or a an hour in a market. Easy it is not. But if any bovine subsequently succombs to tb and is found either on culture or postmortem to be infectious (VL) then back tracing of all contacts is carried out by SVS. We would prefer epidemiologists to track disease opportunity - not computer modellers. We do not subscribe to 'carnage by computer' either for cattle - or badgers.