Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Define 'failure'?

In an amzing bit of number crunching, this week our Trevor, he of the Badger Trust, put out a press release on the apparent failure of badger culling in the Republic of Ireland in their fight to eradicate bTb.

We find his conclusions strange to say the least, as did the Minister of State for Agriculture in the Republic who offered this Rejection of Trevor's mathmatics.

Following various successful trials initially in East Offally, followed by the four county Trial, the Republic concluded that while a reservoir of bTb remained in the badgers, they were not going to make much headway in clearing it in the cattle - no matter how many cattle measures they put into place.

The Republic tried pre movement testing (preMT) but abandoned that in 1996, in favour of annual testing for all herds, combined with badger removal under Ministry license where they were implicated in an outbreak of bTb. The agreement with the Dept. of Environment does not allow for 'elimination' of the species, as so grahically painted by Trevor. The Republic had concluded after all its trials, that:

Cattle to cattle transmission is not a major factor in the spread of TB as evidenced by the fact that, on average, 38% herd breakdown episodes involve just one standard reactor and, even in larger breakdowns, epidemiological investigations do not frequently implicate infection spread via this route. In addition, in breakdowns triggered by a single lesion at slaughter, no reactors are identified in approximately 85% of herds during subsequent herd testing. Furthermore, investigations of disease episodes in Ireland have shown that a relatively small % of all outbreaks were purchased animals positively identified as being the source of the infection. Ms Coughlan also said that research shows that the proportion of badgers that are infected with TB in the vicinity of TB infected herds is at least 40% and that infection by badgers was the single most important source of infection of cattle. In addition, contrary to what is stated in the report, badgers and cattle do share the same strains of TB locally with different strains dominating in both species within the same geographic area when compared with different areas. In view of these findings, her Department had concluded that pre-movement testing of cattle on a widespread basis was not cost effective."

The minister, Mary Coughlan also went on the point out that the 'success' of any change in bTb tests would in the short term be likely to increase rather than decrease the number of reactors found. She pointed out that since 1998 (after preMT was abandoned in favour of annual testing of all cattle herds) and following concerted efforts to reduce the level of infection in badgers by a robust culling strategy where they were implicated, incidence of bTb in the Republic had fallen by 46%.

The number of reactors has declined substantially since 1998 from 45,000 to just under 24,200 in 2006 (46% decrease). The number of reactors removed last year was the second lowest in the last twenty years. Ms Coughlan said that, while there were a number of factors involved, her Department was satisfied that the badger removal policy made a significant contribution to the improvement in the situation. Her Department is satisfied that its current badger removal programme is justified and has contributed to the decline in the number of TB reactors and the costs associated with bovine TB. Ms Coughlan said that her Department rejected the finding in the Report that the reduction in the incidence of TB was due to the introduction of new TB tests. Such tests would in fact increase rather than reduce the number of reactors in the short term."

Ms. Cloghlan concluded that the policy would remain in place for some time and certainly while a recognised wildlife reservoir remained to infect cattle.

One of the recognised requirements for the eradication of a disease is that there is a single host species with no external reservoir species at present. The wildlife reservoir is recognised as a major impediment to the eradication of tuberculosis in cattle in states such as New Zealand and Michigan State and to ignore this is tantamount to dismissing one of the basic tenets of eradication. The hope of developing an oral delivery system of BCG that will reduce the impact of tuberculosis in badgers is a realistic one. Confining capturing of badgers to areas where herds must first be identified with proven tuberculosis that was not caused by infected cattle is a further safeguard against unnecessary removal of badgers. Removing heavily infected badgers from localities where cattle breakdowns have been identified can only but benefit the surviving test negative cattle as well as the badgers in the wider area surrounding the removal zones."

A 46 per cent drop in ten years. And our Trevor defines that as a failure in policy? We should be so lucky, or should we say our cattle should be so lucky. With no action on our 'sacred' wildlife reservoir, Defra have confirmed many times that GB is looking at a 20 per cent increase year on year.

The BBC's highly selective and totally (almost) unopposed version of the Badger Trust statement of 'failure' can be viewed

We note that the BBC have chosen not to offer the Minister for Agriculture in the Republic, the right to reply - which is why we have offered her statement.

Another result of the 46 percent drop in reactor cattle in the Republic, (which our Trevor defines as a 'failure' of policy) is the subsequent drop in expenditure on bTB. A salient point of which we reminded Chancellor Gordon Brown in our November posting.


Anonymous said...

From Trevor Lawson
Badger Trust

The Badger Trust's report is available to all on our website at

It is fully referenced and closely argued.

In contrast to agriculture minister Mary Coughlan and the NFU, we look at the entire badger culling era. In particular, we show how, when pre-movement testing was abandoned in 1996, the number of reactors rose to more than 45,000 in 1999 - the highest level ever recorded. Yet throughout that period, badgers were being culled every year. It's not surprising to learn that both Ms Coughlan and the NFU ignore this significant time window.

There has been a recent decline in reactors in Ireland, but the number of reactors as a proportion of the national herd in Ireland is still twice that in Britain. The Government sets 1.3 million snares a year in Ireland but catches less than 6,000 badgers a year. With ten snares on every sett across vast areas, that strongly suggests that there are not many badgers left to catch. The last population survey in Ireland was done in 1995 - not, as the NFU claims, in 2004 - when it was estimated at 200,000.

It is impossible to determine whether the recent decline is the product of badger culling or the host of other, cattle-based measures that have been implemented. We cite EU evidence that the cattle-based measures have been implemented shoddily. That, along with the highest number of prosecutions for breaches of regulations by farmers ever this year, along with illegal cross-border movements of cattle under TB restriction, explains why the disease is still so rampant. Oddly, this too is not something the Minister and the NFU have dwelt on.

Most of the claims made by Mary Coughlan are already dealt with in our report, but we've issued another press release highlighting how the percentage of bovine TB in badgers around farms has been variously reported as: 12.8% (vets in 2006, from an analysis of 25,000 killed badgers); 16-25% (Mary Coughlan in December); and "at least 40%" (Mary Coughlan on Monday).

Regarding the criticisms of the BBC, I am happy to confirm the following:
- the BBC asked the Dept for Agriculture if pre-movement testing had been abandoned. It was told by the press office that it was still being carried out;
- the BBC consequently challenged us over our claim. We directed the BBC to Ireland's senior civil servant responsible for bovine TB control who, said the BBC, "confirmed the material facts of [your] report". She did, apparently, say that Irish badgers were different from British badgers - a claim that we have not yet been able to challenge;
- the Department for Agriculture did not issue a response to our report until around 5pm on Monday, four days after the embargoed report had actually been supplied to it.

We agree, however, that the BBC is not perfect in investigating the facts of every story. For example, to the best of our knowledge it has never checked whether a claim by a farmer that his herd is a "closed herd" has ever been confirmed by a detailed inspection of his/her cattle records...

Matthew said...

Morning Trevor.
No comment on our posting below "Spot the difference"?

We are sure your press release was fully researched and referenced' Aren't they all? It's what you are paid to do, is it not?

Accuracy of the bigger picture is another matter. As is your appreciation that most journalists are lazy and will recyle press releases without question, or more importantly, without giving the person / organisation the right to reply.

Ireland has been so successful in controlling bTb, as explained by our posting in November, primarily because the veterinarians removed the debate from focus groups and politicians and concentrated on the disease.

You may scitter bits and pieces of info about as much as you like, but Ireland's result is a halving of cases of bTb in cattle - and thus a reduction in bTb expenditure, filtering down to a halving of farmer levy. A result overall, described by the EU as "having the disease under control" and "decreasing in incidence".

Can't speak for others, but from BCMS after 4 years of bTb restriction: "We confirm that you have no bought in cattle on the database".

That do?

Anonymous said...

Mathew said:
"Can't speak for others, but from BCMS after 4 years of bTb restriction: "We confirm that you have no bought in cattle on the database".

That do?"

Sorry mate, no it won't.
You have illustrated by that statement that 'farmers' have no idea what a 'closed herd' is.

Matthew said...

Anon 5.39.
If 'No Bought-In Cattle' on BCMS (and thus CTS) database doesn't do it for you, what does - err, mate?

Polite note: 'Bought In' = purchased, donated or acquired / not home bred / originating on another holding and not wearing your eartags. By definition, therefore if all cattle on BCMS database originate on the holding, then the herd is effectively 'closed' to other cattle. Doubly so if the farm boundaries comprise rivers, roads or arable / sheep holdings.
What an extraordinary comment!

Anonymous said...

To anonymous who says
Sorry mate, no it won't.
You have illustrated by that statement that 'farmers' have no idea what a 'closed herd' is.
Can you explain what you mean as far as I understand it a closed herd is a herd with no bought in cattle and in this case it is confirmed by BCMS as being the case.
Or are you implying that we are moving cattle without recording the movement on the BCMS database?
If so were is your evidence to make such a claim and can you also explain the point of making such movements?

George said...

In the UK investigations are carried out to discover the origin of the TB when reactors are found. I understand that movement of infected cattle is very seldom found to be the reason for new disease outbreaks. Often herds are closed - as defined above. Movements of cattle that could have brought infection in have just not happened.

Matthew said...

To both Anon 10.38, and George who answered the 'closed herd' comment, thankyou. But what is being implied here? If 'No bought in Cattle' doesn't do it for you, then it must be that farmers (that's all of us) are shifting cattle around without BCMS's knowledge? Is that what you're saying Anon 5.39? Sheesh.

The situation is that many agencies have right of access to check farm records, including Trading Standards at no notice whatsoever. When a veterinary practitioner arrives to do a Tb test, he comes clutching a print out from the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) All animals registered on BCMS's database are there and must be accounted for.

With trading standards inpspections, passports are checked against physical inspection of the animal's identity, and this too must tie in with the BCMS data. Compliance with various EU tracing regs. being the driver.

If animals are moved as you imply -if that is what you ARE implying -then they are of absolutely no value. They cannot be traded - no passports, they cannot be bred from - no identity plus no dam identity and they cannot even be sent for direct slaughter without the appropriate identification which ties into those databases.

An inconvenient truth it may be, but most of us do try to comply. And as far as I'm aware, for the most part we succeed. If that collides with your prejudices, then that is unfortunate; nevertheless, when bought in cattle are excluded, (as per above) where does bTb come from into a herd?

Anonymous said...

An inconvenient truth it may be, but most of us do try to comply.

Most try - what about the others?

And as far as I'm aware, for the most part we succeed

Of those that try - they mostly succeed

Some don't succeed

Some don't even try

What a shambles!

Matthew said...

Anon. 12.27
So my colleagues are correct; you are implying that we (i.e farmers in general) are shifting cattle willy nilly all over the place illegally. Is that what you're saying?

We have - with the greatest patience - explained why this is a fruitless excercise and thus not widespread - if happening at all. But obviously that still has to make a dent in the depth of your prejudices / beliefs.

Try starting from the following point:
If we have not shafted cattle around illegally and if the herd is 'closed'- as per description. And if we still have a pernicious and ongoing problem with Tb. What then? How does that square with your beliefs?
We stand by what we said in the previous answer:

"An inconvenient truth it may be, but most of us do try to comply. And as far as I'm aware, for the most part we succeed. If that collides with your prejudices, then that is unfortunate; nevertheless, when bought in cattle are excluded, (as per above) where does bTb come from into a herd?"

We cannot, nor would not speak for the 'industry', (hence the assumed 'most') but the contributers to this site are not in the habit of driving coach and horses through Defra regs and neither are we in the habit of telling porkies.

Where did our Tb come from?