Sunday, February 11, 2007

Herding Cats ..... again

In just over two weeks, the cattle industry faces another tranche of controls when pre Movement Testing (preMT) is rolled back to include all cattle over the age of 6 weeks if sold out of annual or two year testing parishes. The 'industry' led by the NFU have challenged both the basis of preMT, its cost and its ‘benefit’. They argue that the policy is disproportionate, with costs to farms far greater than the £7 per head predicted in the original data, and benefits (reactors found) smaller than was envisaged when the scheme was set up last year.

Chairman of the original preMT testing group Bill Madders, said that his group had argued for a proper analysis of the first year’s testing (in which only animals over 15 months were tested) before the age limit was rolled back and the policy extended. He also commented that the policy on its own was pointless … "fiddling while Rome burnt" ... , if no action was to be taken with the reservoir of disease in the badgers.

And there we have a problem. Leader of the new Tb advisory group Peter Jinman is all for extending preMT, with or without a wildlife management strategy. As is the BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association) - who are at least consistent in grabbing with both hands veterinary opportunities like …er testing cattle.

So once again the ‘Industry’ has split. And the cats are scattering in all directions, as shown at the TB stakeholders meeting in London last week, when CEO of the National Beef Association, Robert Forster argued vehemently for the extension. He is quoted as saying that to continue to fight against the March 1st. extended preMT regime, would "jeopardise the prospects of a badger cull", and he refused to sign the stakeholder statement. As did the BCVA, who as we said, are at least consistent in their search for veterinary opportunities.

One may ask what makes Mr. Forster so sure that Defra will deliver their part of the industry package this time round? This is a game where the industry is playing football, but Defra holds a cricket bat. Different game, different agenda. To survive in this murky world, honesty and straight talking are probably the best tools in the bag. Certainly not the spin and wheeler dealing we have come to expect and with which our 'industry' leaders cannot hope to compete.

The latest package to which the BCVA and NBA could not put their names, we show below;


"The meeting was deeply concerned at a further deterioration of the TB situation, which had resulted in a higher proportion of herds in England and Wales being under TB restriction during 2006 than in any other year in modern times.
It reiterated its view that TB will only be brought under control by a concerted programme of action embracing all aspects of the origination and spread of the disease and put into effect through a genuine partnership between the industry and Government.
With that in mind, it agreed the following points as being supplementary to the seven point programme of action agreed at the meeting on August 20, 2006:

* The Defra Secretary of State should be invited to visit farms in a TB hotspot area at the earliest opportunity in order to gain a full understanding of the dislocation, cost and suffering to people and animals alike being caused by TB and the measures associated with it.

* The meeting took due note of the very strong feelings expressed by farmers from the TB hotspot areas at the disproportionate and unfair additional burdens that would be imposed by the extension of pre-movement testing to younger animals and the likely consequences for the critical mass of the dairy and beef sectors in the areas concerned. The majority view was that the NFU should make a last ditch attempt to have the extension of PrMT to younger animals postponed until measures to address the wildlife reservoir of disease were introduced. In the meantime, it was agreed that farmers should be encouraged to provide as much factual information as possible on the cost, business disruption and accidents to people or cattle caused by the extension of pre-movement testing to younger cattle, so as to inform the Government’s ongoing review of the policy.

* The rules governing exempt markets and exempt fattening units to be reviewed urgently so as to make them easier to operate and thus ease the burden on farmers and markets in TB hotspot areas.

* Tabular valuation having been shown to be manifestly unfair, the Government should reintroduce individual valuation without delay.

* The TB Advisory Group and other Government advisers to be strongly recommended to visit the Irish Republic, so as to learn from the apparently highly successful anti-TB strategy that has been implemented in that country."

It was 18 months ago when the ‘Industry’ presented government with a three part ‘package’. Then, the whole industry agreed (reluctantly) that cattle controls and tabular valuation should be introduced – but that to be concurrent with badger culling if Tb infection proved to be from a wildlife source.

Well, we know what happened then don’t we? Quid pro quo? Not a bit of it. Defra took the quid, (farmers paying for preMT and getting rubbish money for some seriously undervalued cattle) but did not deliver their ‘pro quo’. Instead we had that infamous consultation document, which had the RSPCA and the Badger Trust in overdrive, the former later being found guilty by the Advertising Standards Authority of running a campaign which was described a "unsubstantiated and untruthful". The latter still twittering on about 14 million animal movements, and shadowing the ISG’s badger dispersal trial reports like glue, even though the one of the trials’ managers is on record as saying what those of us unfortunate to have been involved knew – it was rubbish. And all the data arising from rubbish, is just that. Rubbish.

see our postings on the RSPCA's master of understatement:
on the Krebs 'badger dispersal trial:
and Paul Caruana's statement to the EFRA committee:

But what is so disappointing is that far from uniting, the ‘industry’ has as many egos to support as ever, and while that continues, absolutely nothing will be done to control infection in the badgers. The Minister is not going to look in Appendix D, p.78 of John Bourne’s 138 page Fourth report to the Bern Convention, which put figures on the level of infection in badgers prior to Krebs in 1997… but we’ll give them to you here.

According the ISG report, in the years 1986 -1997, when the ‘Interim’ strategy was operating – or not, depending on one’s point of view – the level of infection found in badgers cage-trapped during the fraught and difficult badger removal operations in response to confirmed outbreaks of Tb in cattle were:

Up to 21 % in the West Cornwall triplet, 24% in East Cornwall, 25% in Devon, 37% in Cornwall/ Devon and the Devon / Somerset triplet. In North Wilts, up to 40 % of trapped badgers were found to be infected, in Hereford 51% and in Gloucestershire, the figure was up to 57% with Broadway (Glos) topping the league table with 76% of badgers found to be infected with Tb.

An infection level of up to 76 per cent? And that was in the period 1986 – 1997. Ten years ago and before the badger dispersal trial had a chance to ‘peturbate’ the problem. And John Bourne still wants to prove Tb transmission is cattle to cattle? And some stakeholders relish more cattle controls, when they know that up to 76% of the badgers are infected with Tb? Words fail us.

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