Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tabular Valuation to face a High Court challenge

Farmers Guardian reports this week that Defra’s controversial tabular valuation system is to face a High Court challenge later this year.

An unnamed Devon farmer, whose pedigree cattle were culled in a TB outbreak has won the right to institute a Judicial Review of the system, which is due to be held later this year.

Prior to February 2006, these animals would have been individually valued, but Defra’s ‘market average’ has replaced this system with a ‘one size fits none’ table reflecting previous month’s auction values. No leeway is granted for the age of the animal, her breed or quality. Thus a young pedigree Holstein is rated the same – in Defra’s eyes – as an aged Jersey. Both pedigree, both over 36 months, but a world of difference in valuation.

The NFU are backing the challenge which is expected to be heard in the High court later this year, and also backing it - should Ecstacy Jounalist Roxy fail a TB test again - will be Worcestershire farmer Richard Bown, whose story we told
in February

Under tabular valuation this young animal would have been ‘valued’ by Defra’s tabular system at just £855, this despite being officially and independently valued at between £85,000 and £115,000. Mr. Bown challenged the protocol of the original test and has won the right to a retrial for Roxy. We will report the result of this re-test when we have it.

Cattle 28 : Badgers 0?

A row between a member of the new TB Advisory Group, dairy farmer Bill Madders and the Badger Trust has erupted over the source of Mr.Madder's ongoing TB breakdown.

The Badger Trust, no doubt with irrefutable evidence to support their claim, assert that Mr. Madders’ 28 very dead dairy cows, were exposed to infection from the movement of “untested, TB infected cattle, into south Staffordshire, following FMD”.

Mr. Madders refuted the Trusts’ claims and said that his local SVS office were 99 – 100 percent certain that his cattle had been subject to infection from the local badger population. He also pointed out that his farm was surrounded by roads or arable land, and that his cattle had no contact with any neighbouring herds.

The fact that south Staffordshire had not been a major FMD area and was not subject to significant ‘re stocking’, seems to escaped our Trevor. As has the six years which have elapsed since any FMD restocks, time in which Mr. Madders’ cattle have presumably tested clear - several times. That neither he nor SVS have claimed any purchased cattle is also noteworthy, but let that pass.

Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust said that local veterinary officers could not claim with any certainty to know the cause, as “they did not have enough familiarity with what goes on at farm level”.

They’re going to love that little gem aren’t they? Access to CTS records, printed off and produced for every TB test – individual cattle identification for Mr. Madder’s herd, which will now be approaching four 60 day short interval whole herd tests since the beginning of his breakdown at a routine test last autumn. So what is our Trevor saying? That CTS is wrong, and cattle moved onto this farm quietly and in the night, anonymously and with no one knowing? Wow, that’s a big statement. Libellous too I suspect. But clutching at straws non the less.

Of course SVS are sure by now of the cause. If no bought in cattle can be targetted, which in this case appears to be the case, and no cattle to cattle contact is possible, then it’s down to a 'non-bovine' source. And in Defra speak, that means badgers. The spoligotype from any lesions found in Mr. Madder’s dead cattle, will confirm the geographic origin of the strain responsible – and if SVS are saying they are 99 – 100 per cent sure it is badgers, then they know for certain cattle restocks, it ain’t.

We have heard since posting this story that the spoligotype isolated from lesions taken from reactor cattle on Mr. Madder's farm is Type 25. And according to the ferrets at VLA who know about these things, outbreaks in cattle mirror the spoligotype which is indigenous to the little furry stripey thing, co-habiting in a certain area. We listed the main types in our november posting:

And where do we find Type 25 mycobacterium bovis? Staffs / Derbys. Just where Mr. Madder's (now very dead) cattle lived - and where 79 percent of the cattle outbreaks feature this strain - which was originally isolated and mapped over the last 30 years - in badgers.

Ed's note: Most of this cattle / cattle clackety clack is coming from the recently published Warwick Uni.paper on incidence of Tb following FMD restocks. A small cohort study using skin testing data (skewed by FMD delays, and which Defra warned was not to relied on for statistical purposes)was added to cattle movement data - (and not much else) and shredded through a series of mathematical models to come up with - not a lot. We will post this one when we've number crunched it a bit more. But as usual, our Trevor has assumed that "Only 16 - 28 per cent of cattle are ever tested for TB". That is not what this lightweight piece said at all. In the study, that percentage were found to be dead before they could undertake a skin test. These were most likely 2 year beef animals, and as Andrew Proud said, it must be realised that MHS postmortem inspection is as much a part of TB surveillance as the skin test.

We find it very strange that dear old Defra refuse to consider PCR as its use has not been 'validated'; but has the use of mathematical / computer modelling to track infectious disease ever been 'validated'? And more important, is it an accurate reflection of its input data? Remember BSE / CJD?
The word 'validation' seems to us to be an excuse for doing nothing, any time soon.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Feb 2007 Stats

Defra have posted the Tb statistics for January and February 2007. Until the page is updated, they can be viewed
on the DEFRA website

After a couple of baking earth summers, we were very pessimistic of a downturn in figures as we told you in previous postings here

And the CVO told us in her statement last year discussing the alleged 'drop' in cases, that cattle with very early NVL reactions to Weybridge tuberculin, were likely to "be found a later stage of the disease" after the swop to the Lelystadt antigen. This combined with dry weather food shortages last summer, unavailable to a burgeoning population of badgers was a recipe for what we are experiencing now. Which is a 21.5 per cent increase in New Herd Incidents during Jan - Feb 2007 over the same period last year.

Worse than that - if anything could be - is a comparison of these two months NHI outbreaks to those recorded in the whole of last year.

Wales recorded 722 NHI in 2006, but has had 189 in the first two months of 2007 and the West region, 2140 NHI in 2006, and 489 in Jan / Feb 2007. These outbreaks are up to 26 per cent of the whole of 2007's tally. Defra's 'Northern' region, mainly Staffs / Derbys, had 413 NHI logged in 2006 and 75 in the first 2 months of 2007.

Many farmers have slightly delayed their routine tests during Jan / Feb, to enable them to sell cattle in the Spring without the extra cost and hassle of preMT. The March stats we are told, are more than interesting. SVS tell us they were 'busy'.

And predictably if not consistantly, Mr. Miliband has said that he cannot formulate policy on a short term 'blip'. Well, isn't that exactly what he said (and did) last year when the figures plummeted in the spring? He trod water on taking action with Defra's much vaunted 'partnership' policy of a 3 pronged attack on bovine TB even though his own published papers put the root cause of last year's blip, on the use of Dutch tuberculin antigen which would not find the early NVL cases but would pick them up at a later stage of the disease cycle. Which is exactly what has happened. The farmers delivered. Defra did not, and this is the result.

Friday, April 20, 2007

ASBO's for Badgers??

The good folks of Gleadless, a village near Sheffield have had enough. They are now at their wits end with damage and trespass. Trees uprooted, property and personal damage, gardens wrecked and fences destroyed. The culprits? Badgers.

The DAILY MAIL tells the tale. This is a mirror image of Saltdean near Brighton where a colony of badgers caused / are still causing?? similar havoc. We described some of the damgage in our Dec 2004 posting:

For seven years the people of Gleadless have had to put up with this situation, and the colony responsible is now estimated to be around 100 badgers. That's big. A stable social group, we are told by Prof. Harris, (and the ISG, when it was out counting holes in the badger dispersal trial) is 8/10 individuals.

The only advise the residents can get is "Don't touch and don't interfere" ... and a reminder of fines per badger if they do. And from the S. Yorkshire Badger Group: "Employ a consultant, and install one way gates after the breeding season", this to encourage all the occupants of the setts to pack their respective bags and move. Where to? The very fact that they living so close to habitation, means that they are getting short of space. So is it acceptable to translocate 100 individuals onto someone elses' patch?

After years of similar problems in Saltdean, The Ministry raided its Tb budget coffers to provide the badgers with a concrete equivalent of the 'dome', and spent £500,000 on an artificial sett, in which to house them.

We find the comments interesting too. Naive but interesting. There is the old chestnut (and assumption in this case, because the article does not describe the age of the properties) that the badgers were there first. Now it has been against the law since the Badger Protection Act of the 1970's to interfere with a badger sett, so I very much doubt if the houses of Gleadless were built on top of one. More likely, as 'a stream' is mentioned, is that a colony has expanded from its ancestral home near this water source, upwards and outwards as numbers increased.

But mainly the comments concentrate on "fence 'em out". These correspondents really have no idea at all of the capabilities of an adult badger who wishes to get somewhere perhaps he should not. We have told you of schools who have spent thousands of pounds extending wire mesh fences 10 feet underground to try and keep badgers off their playing fields, and Defra'a 'badger proof' compound in Surrey has underground security to 15 feet. And it is reinforced concrete. This is a tad beyond the average resident of Gleadless we think. There's a pretty library picture of a couple of badgers in the article, so enjoy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Is that all?

Last month, Defra published figures for the source of the various outbreaks of bTb and this seems to have upset the Badger Trust somewhat, who then used it as a stick with which to beat the intradermal skin test. But a letter in this week's Veterinary Times - the sight of which we are most grateful - puts an entirely different interpretation on the figures.

Andrew Proud, BVSc, DVSM, MRCVS writes:

It is clear that the Badger Trust thinks we should all be horrified by the figures [....] but any informed veterinary surgeon who pauses to think, will respond otherwise. Twelve percent of new herd incidents were disclosed by a combination of routine meat inspection, and tracing from other herd incidents: my first response is so what?
My second is .. only twelve per cent?

When I read on (from our Trevor's outraged outpourings) and found that "the situation in three and four year parishes is even more serious, with 18 percent of new incidents..." detected at MHO inspection, I responded "No more than 18 percent? What a striking vindication of Government policy!"

This represents no inadequacy in the tuberculin test; clearly, the Badger Trust does not know that in three and four year testing areas, only adult breeding animals are (skin) tested. Cattle being reared for slaughter are screened for Tb only by meat inspection unless they are in a herd in which reactors have been disclosed in breeding animals.

But my third reaction, following some crude arithmetic, is to observe that the Badger Trust has, unwittingly, produced powerful evidence against one of its favourite theses. If the 87 new herd incidents detected at meat inspection, and the 33 detected following tracing from reactor herds represent 12 percent, then the latter category accounts for only 3.3 percent of new incidents.

What the Badger Trust does not seem to understand is that tracing of animals moved off is a key part of the investigation of all herd incidents. A little allowance must be made for the recording periods, but essentially these figures suggest that tracing from the 96 percent of herds where reactors were found not to have been purchased in animals, disclosed reactors in no more than five percent of herds to which these cattle had been moved.

Even ignoring the fact that in most cases where the traced animals react, all other animals in the recipient herd test clear and continue to do so. This is powerful evidence that the spread of bovine tuberculosis by cattle movement is not significant."

The Badger Trust seem to have got in a pretty froth about these figures, but by disecting them in rather more detail and with an overview of the testing / surveillance situation as it exists, Andrew Proud's reaction (and ours) is "Is that all?"

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Any advice as long as it's...

..from the ISG?

A new TB Advisory Group was set up last year, its remit to report directly to the secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That remit however appears to have been watered down somewhat in a snippet found on the Defra website, when the group reported on 'bio security' and bovine Tb. We are most grateful to eagle eyed site watchers for the following gem found on the
Defra website

"They were concerned that farmers would be less likely to follow the advice if it was then contradicted by findings from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG). The Group advised that the Husbandry Working Group's advice needs to be consistent with the ISG’s final report due later this year. The Group therefore recommends that before publication the husbandry advice is sent to the ISG for their views and to confirm there is nothing in the advice that would be contradicted by the ISG at a later date"

The Chairman of the TB Advisory Group was appointed by Ministers in July 2006. Members were then appointed and the Group was established in October 2006. It is a remunerated stakeholder forum, meaning that taxpayers fund it to no mean degree. That being the case, and bearing in mind the Groups' self proclaimed status described above, which may be described - quite politely - as eunochs on the ISG gravy train which it does not wish to contradict in any way at all, would it not be cheaper all round just to ask John Bourne?

Then again, maybe not.
As we reported here , Bourne's own managers of the ill conceived and sloppily executed 'badger dispersal trial' warned Ministers not to take a blind bit of notice of its results. However this newly formed "Tb Advisory Group" feel obliged to offer their expensive and much cogitated 'advice' first to the ISG, in order that it it is not "contradicted by the ISG at a later date.."

What on earth is the use of a group like this, if they are so afraid to present their recommendations to the Minister, that they have to get approval first from the another group who have caused absolute carnage in the areas where they have 'operated'.? And what happens to these very woolly and half hearted 'recommendations' when the ISG presents its final chapters, in a couple of months' time?