Friday, March 23, 2007

...and now Scotland.

We are always grateful for new material, and this comment appeared after the 'So to Wales' posting;

Girvan TB outbreak 'No Cause for Alarm'

"The Scottish Executive yesterday confirmed a significant outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (TB)on a farm near Girvan in Ayrshire, but joined forces with NFU Scotland in stating that there was no need for widespread concern for the overall health of Scotland's cattle herd.

On 25 January the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland informed the Scottish Executive's Environment and Rural Affairs Department that a cow that had been "exported" from Scotland had shown some symptoms of TB when slaughtered. The State Veterinary Service office in Ayr then traced the animal back to Enoch farm, near Girvan. Movement restrictions were imposed on 26 January and the suspect was confirmed TB positive on 23 February.

Further tests were carried out on the Ayrshire farm, resulting this week in the slaughter of 46 animals. The farmer will receive the full rate of compensation.

All cattle previously moved from the farm have been traced and are now subject to restrictions, isolation and further testing.

A spokesman for NFU Scotland said: "The incidence of cases of TB in Scotland remains extremely low. We had only 11 cases last year and 13 in 2005. That compares very favourably with the almost 2,000 in England and Wales in 2006, and even more the previous year.

"There has been a close working relationship between the Executive and the industry, and that explains why we have kept Scotland almost totally clear of TB." The thrust of that policy is that any animals moved from so-called hot-spots south of the Border must be subject to pre- and post-movement testing. Most of the Scottish outbreaks have been traced back to restocking programmes undertaken by farmers in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001.

The NFU Scotland spokesman added: "We have to stress that there is absolutely no risk to human health, but farmers must remain vigilant."

We are however a tad confused by the Scotish NFU's figures quoted in the piece above: "11 cases last year and 13 in 2005" the man said. Er - yes. But Ayr AHO reported 27 farms under Tb restrictions in 2006, 18 of which were CHI (Confirmed new Tb herd incidents) and these accounted for almost half of Scotland's total breakdowns. That total - from Defra's Tb statistics pages - was 58 herds under restriction, 44 confirmed and 277 herds under restriction due to Tb incident, overdue test etc.

And that is a long way adrift from 11.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

And so to Wales

The Wesh Assembly is contemplating action on wildlife reservoirs of bovineTB after digesting the contents of the recent Welsh 'found dead' survey, which indicated that over a quarter of the badger carcasses presented, were displaying - er, bovine TB. Further to that, the spoligotypes found in the badger carcasses were the same as in slaughtered cattle within the same area.

The number of candidate carcasses does not include those who died underground out of sight and thus out of 'survey', but we will not be picky over that.

FARMERS WEEKLY reports a 'Complete change' as Welsh Assembly ponders badger cull to combat Bovine TB - but after the May elections you understand.

"The Welsh Assembly has taken a major step towards ordering local badger culls to combat bovine tuberculosis ..." Why now, may one ask?

"Wales' chief vet Christianne Glossop said it could not be determined whether the disease had originated with the cattle or the badgers, but Dr Glossop said diseased badgers were raising as many as four disease-carrying litters before the dams eventually died underground".

Actually, in many instances, it can be determined 'whether the disease has originated in cattle or badgers'. If no cattle movements 50 days prior to the previous Tb test have been recorded by the CTS (Cattle Tracing System) then by default, infection from cattle it is not.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"One cannot tell a sick badger....."

The following comment appeared on the site, after our posting "Survey after survey..." which we quote in full:

The Badger Trust has welcomed the admission by animal health and welfare Minister, Ben Bradshaw, that a cull of "sick" badgers is impossible.

Speaking in yesterday's debate on the dairy industry [1], Mr Bradshaw said:

"We are well aware that TB is a difficult problem. However, we also want to be careful to ensure that any decision on badger culling is guided by the science. We do not want to initiate any sort of action that could be counter-productive.

"As he [Mr Geoffrey Cox, Conservative, Torridge and West Devon] well knows, one of the things that all the science says is that a piecemeal, patchy culling regime for badgers could make matters worse. One of the other myths that a number of people still repeat and that it is worth exploding while we are on the subject is that it would be possible to have a cull of sick badgers. That is not possible. One cannot tell whether a live badger has TB. One can tell only through a blood test. Any badger cull would have to include healthy badgers, as well as sick badgers."

Responding, Trevor Lawson, public affairs advisor to the Badger Trust, said:

"The vast majority of badgers, even in bovine TB hotspots, are not infected with bovine TB. Of the minority that are infected, most are not even 'sick' - long term studies at Woodchester Park show that most badgers with bovine TB show no adverse symptoms and go on to live and breed normally for many years. Bovine TB is not even an important cause of death in badgers [2].

"Mr Bradshaw's admission that countless healthy badgers would be slaughtered in a badger killing strategy is welcome. It explodes the myth, repeated by the farming lobby, that only sick badgers would be killed whilst healthy badgers would be protected [3]. The grim reality is that a badger cull would be a grotesque slaughter on a massive scale that will irrevocably damage public support for farmers."


1. See Hansard, 8 March 2007, Column 1657.
2. Cheeseman, C., 16 January 2006, Farming Today, BBC Radio 4. Dr Chris Cheeseman is the outgoing director of the Central Science Laboratory's research facility at Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire.
3. On 31 January 2007, the NFU used an opinion poll to claim that 74 per cent of the public supported a cull of sick badgers. The NFU did not report that the 38 people questioned in the poll had been told that the NFU wanted the "culling of infected badgers and protecting healthy ones, in much the same way as diseased cattle are dealt with at the moment". The panellists were not told that no such mechanism exists for killing the minority of infected badgers. On 13 February 2007, NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond admitted that "any badger culling strategy would need to be intensive and thorough". On 28 February, NFU spokesman Anthony Gibson admitted that virtually 100 per cent of the badgers in a culling area would need to be killed.

So despite all the cash, all the 'science', 'one ' may not be able to identify a sick badger? Not true. Another badger can and PCR could - given the political will to use the goddam thing. And that 'vast majority' of badgers which are not infected? Just how vast is a 76 percent infection rate in badgers trapped in Broadway Glos. 1986 - 97? (Bourne's 4th report to Bern Convention) Sheesh, talk about standing figures upside down.

It is absolutely no use the Badger Trust rubbing their hands in glee at these inane comments from a politically engineered spin doctor, which prevaricate the situation to an even worse level than now. We have said many times on this site that a blanket cull of badgers is as obnoxious and counter productive to us, as Defra's carnage was to most sane people during FMD. There is another way, and we are getting seriously fed up of repeating ourselves.

We have described the 'management' of large and mainly healthy badger populations in mid Devon, by man who lets the badgers decide who is sick. When they do and exclude it from the group, he will put this loner, this disperser out of its misery before it can infect anything else. That Tb is endemic in the badger population is not something of which the Badger Trust should be proud, nevertheless as this is the reality of several years of complete protection for the species, it is with this that we all have to deal.

Trevor Lawson is correct in quoting Woodchester's research on the length of time a badger can sustain itself, have cubs, and yet show no ill effects from Tb. That does not mean that it it is not infectious. In fact that is why a badger is such a successful maintenance host. It is not killed by Tb straight away and it can do all these things quite comfortably for several years - while shedding, and infecting everything it comes into contact with. However when the disease does start to debilitate a badger, the remainder of the group will oust it. And it it this 'badger' selection process which has been so successful in mid Devon, clearing a ' hotspot' of Tb in the cattle while maintaining the social structure of healthy badgers.

See BRYAN HILL'S story, which we covered in 2005. Thirty two farms in this 'managed' patch of Devon are still clear of bTb after 8 years.

For boys who like toys, rt-PCR does work on sett materials to identify those inmates capable of onward transmission of the disease, and leave behind the groups not transmitting and healthy. Warwick have had good results, others trying to replicate (repeat?) less so we understand. More recent work is encouraging - but again no fine tuning yet. No urgency there then? Personally we would lock all the researchers into rt-PCR and bTb in a windowless room; no coffee, no toilet - until they had sorted out a viable assay, and set a timetable for validating it. And we would have far more success if the Badger Trust would accept that there are people like us about, who have had no cattle to blame for extensive breakdowns, but who still only want to cull out the infectious badgers.

As farmer Malcolm Light from Hatherleigh, Devon at the recent NFU conference said to David Miliband:

"As farmers and stockbreeders we have been accused of spreading bovine Tb throughout the cattle and wildlife populations. We have been accused of making a profit from the disease compensation - and then complaining to government that it's all their fault. Tell that to the organic dairy farmer with a closed herd, who has never bought a cow in his life, lost half his herd to Tb infection [received 'compensation'] at a fraction of their market value, lost his milk contract, sacked half his staff, and couldn't replace these cattle even if he could find them, because there is no place for 'organic' cattle in the tabular valuation".

It will happen folks. It has to. The technology is there. It is the political will to use it that is missing and the result is 'A slight wheeziness' - or so the RSPCA would have us believe. The pictures tell a different story. And it is with this 'result' - the reality of endemic tb in the badger population - that the Badger Trust is 'delighted'.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Survey after survey after...

..survey. On what? How the public would react if a cull of infectious badgers is mentioned in the same breath as bTb.

After government's altruistic 'consultation' excercise of twelve months ago on this subject - despite being presented with an industry package, two parts of which the 'industry' has delivered - the NFU commissioned their own survey, and reported its findings a couple of weeks ago. After a favourable result, the organisation is said to be shifting all its lobbying efforts to that end rather than fight on the preMT issue.

FARMERS GUARDIAN carried the story a couple of weeks ago, describing the results of a poll carried out randomly by England Marketing. It showed that 74 percent of recipients supported a legal cull of badgers to prevent the spread of Tb.

And this week, another one. This time a survey into "Public Opinions on Badger Populations and the Control of Tuberculosis in Cattle", (sorry - no link) which was undertaken at the taxpayer's expense, by the Universities of Reading and Newcastle.

Their results mirrored the NFU poll. A combined telephone and postal poll of randomly selected recipients found that:

* 71 percent thought that management of badger populations is sometimes necessary.

* 92 percent agreed with the statement 'controlling bTb in cattle is important'.

But when asked whether bTb control should involve the management of badger populations, respondents were much more in favour of SVS / Defra influence than farmer licences.

* 49 percent agreed with farmer licences, compared with 36 per cent who disagreed.
* 68 percent agreed with the statement 'If badger populations are to be controlled, the Government should be responsible for it'.

And leaves the Right Honourable gentleman quoted in our post below, Lord Rooker, a tad adrift in his support of 'farmer licenses'. Not only do the contributers to this site feel Tb is a governmental responsibility, but the public appear to think it is too. While Defra ministers scatter weasel words like 'partnerships' around, what part of 'shared responsibility' does this administration not understand?

And how many 'surveys' will there be, one asks? As many as it takes to get the answer government wants to hear, one suspects.

(Survey published in full in Veterinary Record 24th. Feb. Authors R. Bennett and K.Willis. The study funded by Defra.
[No it wasn't, 'Defra' has no money. The long suffering taxpayer paid to support this 'beneficial crisis'- ed])

Farmers get the nod...

.. and depending on your point of view, Government shafts responsibility.

THE NFU on line site reports Lord 're-cycled' Rooker's speech to their conference as giving

"the clearest indication yet of how government intends to deal with the reservoir of bovine TB in badgers".

Having read Lord Rooker's speech, it is fair to say that 'government' does not intend to deal with it at all - it wants farmers to do the job. And to facilitate this, the 1997 moratorium on badger culling will be lifted after the final report of the ISG in June, (Do us all a favour John, collect your gong and just go. Now.)
We have described before the cavaliar application of law as far as the licence issue is concerned. And PQ's described the Minister's answer perfectly;

"It is current policy NOT to issue any licenses under sub-section 10(2) (a) to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, except for animals held in captivity".

(18th March 2004: col 431W [158605]

But no discussion had taken place, no Statutory Instruments laid and in effect, British Law had been 'set aside' courtesy of the ISG. But we digress, that was then and Lord Rooker is now. But has anything changed? Not really. That goverment want rid of bovine TB is a constant, as is the fact that they still are unwilling to take seriously their own responsibilities in its clearance. And Lord Rooker's speech is the clearest indication yet that farmers will be given the green light after the ISG report - whenever that may be - to apply for licenses under Sub Section 10(2)(a)- to prevent the spread of tuberculosis.

While the NFU welcomed the news, they cautioned that any culls must be carried out in the context of a strategy drawn up with the full co-operation of the SVS. And the wildlife teams who advised and carried out such operations?? Err no, they've gone. Defra sacked them - or most of them - last year. Stood down, was the expression used. So 'farmers' are on their own with this one. But possibly clutching a licence to get Defra off a very sharp and costly hook, and to clear a disease which is 100 per cent Defra's responsibility. A disease which has severe implications short term for the country's trading status and long term for the health of all 'mammalian species' - including human beings.