Saturday, June 30, 2007

Dear Minister.....

A group of veterinary scientists and former MAFF /Defra senior officers who were successful in so very nearly eradicating bTb from the cattle herds of Great Britain over the last decades, have written an open letter to the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, voicing their concern over the RBCT trial, and ISG's subsequent report.

We are grateful for the opportunity to publish it in full:

TB policy and the ISG findings

We are a group of former veterinary officers from the State Veterinary Service who have specialised in the investigation and control of bovine tuberculosis over many years. We have previously expressed our serious concerns to the Minister for Animal Health and Welfare about the poor conduct of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials but following the publication of the ISG’s final report we are writing to caution you against serious misinformation given in this report that may lead to an erroneous policy judgement.

As a consequence of the many problems encountered the interim DEFRA report concluded that the efficiency of the culling operation in the proactive culling areas was from 20% to 60% . These figures imply a social disruption and dispersal of 80% to 40% of infected communities ensuring an outward spread of infection. Following the many adverse comments over this poor culling rate the ISG have since adjusted their efficiency as being from 32% to 77%.

Perusal of the ISG’s final report shows that five of the ten initial culls were carried out in mid Winter (4 in Dec/Jan, 1 in Nov to Jan) which is well known to be the least successful time for trapping. Also the mean number of trapping days was only eight per annum. Consciously choosing such a course of action ensured this first cull removed minimal numbers of badgers and maximised social disruption and subsequent dispersal. At site B, Putford, Devon the second cull was also in the Winter exacerbating the disruption. Overall 16 of the 51 culls were conducted at this time.

We have long known that poor culling rates can spread infection and the initial cull must always attempt to maximise the removal of as many sett inmates as possible to avert this problem. It must be remembered that the last large cull, using the same cage trapping method, which was at Hartland, Devon, in 1984 resulted in a fall in confirmed herd outbreaks of TB in cattle from 15% of herds to 4% in 1985. Thereafter annual incidence declined and held at around 1%. In excess of 80% to almost 90% of badgers were removed which required protracted trapping efforts in some of the area. No so called edge effect was found.

The decision by the ISG not to completely remove badgers from the proactive cull areas as recommended in the Krebs report so as to “quantify the contribution made by badgers to the cattle problem” was clearly an error of judgement. The decision rather to reduce the number of badgers and “maintain this population suppression” was scientifically unsound leaving too many variables. This approach would have been expected to induce widespread social disruption.

The ISG have not used good scientific method in their culling approach and the results obtained reflect this. All the assumptions with regard to culling in the RBCT are thus based on flawed data.

We have found no evidence in the ISG report of the “huge reservoir of undiagnosed infectious cases of TB in the cattle population” to which Prof Bourne alluded to repeatedly at the final ISG Open Meeting in London. We consider this assertion to be unfounded.

We wish to caution you about the over statements by the ISG regarding cattle to cattle transmission and poor performance of the tuberculin test. Historically in Ireland and in West Cornwall during the early 1970s draconian testing and slaughter approaches alone made no effect on the incidence of new herd outbreaks. Also this test has facilitated official eradication of TB from all the EEC Member States except UK and Ireland. While the situation in Ireland has greatly improved, with a combined policy of testing and slaughter of reactor cattle and removal of infected badgers, the UK is alone in having a deteriorating problem.

If you follow the ISG recommendations regarding this approach without addressing the primary badger reservoir of infection increasing numbers of cattle will continue to be slaughtered as the TB epidemic continues to escalate. Also more badgers will become infected and the situation in other animals sharing the same habitat will worsen. Currently these include deer, alpacas, lamas, sheep, pigs and domestic cats and ferrets. The possibility of spread to man from some of these animals is real.

Regrettably no significant progress will be made unless effective culling of infected communities of badgers is initiated and rigorously applied.

Yours faithfully

Dr J Gallagher, former Senior Veterinary Investigation Officer, Devon and Cornwall, former Independent Consultant to DEFRA TB Research Division.

R.M.Q.Sainsbury, former Specialist TB Veterinary Officer, Truro.

W.G.A.Ashton OBE, former Divisional Veterinary Officer, Truro.

J.Cohen, former Specialist TB Veterinary Officer, Taunton.

J. I. Davies, former Regional Veterinary Officer, South West.

R.H. Muirhead MBE, former Specialist TB Veterinary Officer, Gloucester.

A.J.Proud,. former Specialist TB Veterinary Officer, Gloucester.

Dr J. A. Smith, former Specialist TB Veterinary Officer, Gloucester.

A. T. Turnbull, former Head Notifiable Diseases Section, Tolworth, former Veterinary Advisor to Krebs TB Review Group.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Are cattle really the cause ...

.. of bTB spreading across the country?

For sure, if a cow is carrying Tb when she is loaded onto a cattle lorry, she is unlikely to have miraculous cure on the journey to her new home. But of what long term significance, that is cattle movement and the opportunity to entrench disease in new areas, is this?

The ISG report having heavily loaded their Microsoft software with cattle data, concluded that it was significant - (but then again if badger data was weighted against this by a large degree, it would be) But over the last thirty years, microbiolgists at VLA, Weybridge have been analysing and logging spoligotypes from badgers taken in removal operations or road kill up to 1997, and mapping their results.

As we explained in our posting here , those patterns have not changed over time, despite millions of cattle movements, some of which may have been cattle carrying infection.

Farmers Guardian ,as part of an ongoing exploration of bTb research done prior to the ISG report and the way forward after it, this week has comments on this work from ex Divisional Veterinary Officer, Roger Sainsbury, and epidemiologist Dr. Richard North.

Having seen the VLA maps, now published in the ISG final report, and in the case of Mr. Sainsbury, been instrumental been instrumental in creating his own, both conclude that the geographical clustering of strains seen, is not compatible with the theory of cattle to cattle spread.

Footnote to this posting:
Four of us who began this site operated cattle herds with minimal if any 'on' movements of bought in cattle. Two contributers had a purchased bull, every ten years or so. Matt 3's dairy herd had 'No bought in Cattle' confirmed by BCMS on their database. All of us have suffered ongoing and prolonged Tb breakdowns.

Information now to hand, confirms that the spoligotype found in Matt 3's cattle was a single unique strain, and that was matched exactly by the spoligotypes found in 3 postmortemed badgers taken on his land by the RBCT team.

More on 'Shambo'

We explored the ins and outs of the problems facing the Welsh Assembly when a hindu 'sacred' bullock tested positive for TB here

But time and TB tests move on, and as 'Shambo' the bullock awaits his fate in his straw 'shrine', "two more animals at the centre have also proved positive, and five others returning 'inconclusive' results."
So said a spokes person from the Welsh Assembly. But we are happy to draw your attention to an edit below:

Update Please see comment on posting below, where the Skanda Vale community have pointed out that the '2 more reactors and 5 inconclusives' referred to in the FG report are hypothetical at the moment, as without the slaughter and postmortem of Shambo, bTb has yet to be officially 'confirmed' on the premises. Thus the 'severe interpretation' of the early June test is, they point out, premature.

In the absence of postmortem confirmation of disease, the inference is that the Welsh Assembly has 'assumed' positive Tb in Shambo, thus involving 7 more animals, or a typo missed out a vital 'if' from the positive disease status in the news release.

Confrontation looks on the cards for newly appointed Welsh Assembly minister, Jane Davidson. Full story here

"not a lot of bloody help to us..."

... was how the now recycled (again) Lord Rooker described what wasn't made clear after ten years and several £million, in the ISG 280 page report.

(From PQ's archived on this site, we are certain that the epidemiological information which his Lordship sought is within his department - ed)

Speaking at Derbyshire county show last week, Lord Rooker - at the time of his interview, Food and Farming Minister - confirmed that cabinet opinion after receipt of draft chapters of the document, had been on the verge of instigating the go ahead for action to be resumed where wildlife were implicated in herd breakdowns. The final unequivocal conclusions of the ISG, contained in a letter from its chairman, and presumably based on these 'draft chapters' "took a lot of people by surprise". Lord Rooker also criticised the ISG for going beyond its remit, and "deviating off into practical and financial issues, which was not really what they were asked to deal with".

Describing his contact with owners of herds 'closed' to incoming cattle for 30 years, now under restriction, an exasperated Lord Rooker asked the question we have posed "how did that come from cattle-to-cattle transmission?".

Lord Rooker confirmed that a cull of wildlife reservoirs of Tb was still on the agenda. "It does mean to say it should not be part of the armoury."

Full report in Farmers Guardian

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

'The use and abuse of mathematical models..

We are grateful for a comment on the site which explores the contents of the ISG report, and compares to the ISG conclusions. We have said often, and will continue to say that computer modelling of infectious disease progression is an unproven sport. Certainly, its benefit during FMD were debatable. And after that debacle, several eminent scientists explored the procedure

That such methodology may be 'peer reviewed' is not in question, but its content may be lacking, weak, assumed or 'tortured' to fit the model. We quote from our contributer's view on just this type of prediction, and its subsequent conclusions which have been described by some as 'coherent argument' offered by the ISG to support their unequivocal conclusions.

To quote F J Bourne:
'Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.' (ref. his letter to Miliband).

‘The ISG also conclude that rigidly applied control measures targeted at cattle can reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical spread……….Having shown that the main approach to cattle TB control should be rigorously targeted to cattle, we hope that the overwhelming scientific evidence we have provided to support this view……..’(ref. the ISG press release of 18th June 2007.)

‘Our modelling work indicates that implementation of cattle control measures outlined in this report are, in the absence of badger culling, likely to reverse the increasing trend in cattle disease incidence that has been a feature in GB for decades. It is also possible that more effective cattle controls will lead to a decline of the disease in badgers, although the timescale for this is likely to be slow.’ (ref. Chairman’s overview, section 12.)

‘ Analysis of a simple mathematical model suggests that rigorously enforced movement testing would halt the epidemic and indeed produce some steady decline in incidence…..’(ref. Recommendations and Conclusions. Section 31.)

The comment continues, emphasising that the above quotes were read before reading the main body of the report. The writer admits surprise at these conclusions, but asserts the report was read with an open mind, the reader ready to be reluctantly convinced. What the reader was not expecting was such a lack of scientific rigour in the arguments. As a full analysis is not possible here, the writer concentrates on the mathematical modelling that seems to be the basis of the ISG’s ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ as follows:

7.24 The effect of changes cannot be assessed directly from available data but simple mathematical models, combined with the large amount of data now assembled, do allow some very tentative predictions. The infection rate concerns all sources of infection for cattle, local infection for example across farm boundaries, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas, and infection from wildlife, especially badgers. All these are important but their relative importance, and that of cattle-to-badger transmission, cannot be estimated directly’ .

"So far, so good. The predictions are tentative, indeed, very tentative, and the relative importance of the most important data is unknown. So what scientific or even logical explanation can there be for the next sentence?"

’In the following calculations we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important.’

"If there is available evidence to show that that assumption is a reasonable one what is it? We know that Bourne does not believe there to be such a thing as a closed herd".

‘People claim to have a closed herd, but they simply do not exist’ (Bovine TB seminar for MPs September 14th 2004).

"There is overwhelming evidence that closed herds do exist, so there is one piece of evidence that he is not taking into account at all". (This site was set up by four owners of such herds, precisely for that reason - ed)

"From section 7.19 there is some discussion of the mathematical model , and towards the end of that section the report says":

7.29 These conclusions are subject to substantial uncertainty and should be taken as broad guidance only.

The comment continues: "That is the conclusion I would expect a reputable scientist to come to. There are too many uncertainties and unknowns, and the model is too simple. Substantial uncertainty is not overwhelming scientific evidence".

Kitching et al say in their paper "The Use and Abuse of Mathematical models": …, 000-000)

It is not necessary to be mathematically literate to appreciate that no model will produce the right output, when fed the wrong input. In the future, care should be taken to ensure that lessons are learned – a bad model is like a bad x-ray because it invariably results in erroneous conclusions and a wrong course of action

(Incidentally, I would very much recommend reading the whole article. There is much more that is very relevant.)

The writer concludes: "So how can such vague inputs into the ISG model come to such a concrete conclusion as this":

‘Analysis of a simple mathematical model suggests that rigorously enforced movement testing would halt the epidemic and indeed produce some steady decline in incidence…..’(ref. Recommendations and Conclusions. Section 31)

The writer also notes that Christl Donnelly, vice-chairman of the ISG, worked on the mathematical model for FMD, which was the basis of the paper published by Kitching et al and entitled "The Use and Abuse of Mathematical Models".

From the outside, looking in

It is enlightening to see an overview of how others see our efforts to eradicate bTb, and their reaction to the flood of papers and research generated. Did we say 'beneficial crisis'? Yes, we did.

An insight from New Zealand microbiologist, J M O'Donnell, working in the field of immunology we post below, particularly in the light of the ISG's conclusion that bearing down on the disease only in cattle, will have a disproportionate effect on overall disease incidence if the wildlife reservoir left.

Commenting on the Gilbert study of cattle movements, Mr. O'Donnell says:

This study could also be interesting to contrast with the known spread of BTB in general regions. As it predicts BTB spread based on cattle movements, it does immediately present a means to experimentally verify it on the ground (so to speak). Given their model, it should be expected that movements from areas with BTB should be associated with the detection of certain Mycobacterium bovis spooligotypes (basically strains). This is because the imported infected cattle should bring with them their M. bovis types and therefore spread that to the uninfected herd. Over time, based on what cattle movements went into a region and what spooligotypes infected cattle bought with them, you would expect to see those spooligotypes in subsequent herd breakdowns.

Here is where I become somewhat skeptical. It’s known from previous experiments which have analysed the spooligotypes of M. bovis from badgers and cattle that these tend to be shared between the two species (see part III). This also tends to be isolated by geographical regions, with a mixture of spooligotypes but only a few ‘oddball’ ones that aren’t shared between badgers and cattle. In the model predicted by Gilbert et al., 2004, where cattle movement is the primary motivator for BTB spread it also implies cattle to cattle spread. The lack of spooligotype mixing between regions from studies conducted in Ireland (for example) have shown spooligotypes of M. bovis tend to be similar in a region but not between them, raises concerns over cattle movement as a predictor of M. bovis. It may be likely that cattle movement helps to spread the infection to a new region, but is not sufficient to determine if the disease will be able to establish in the new region.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More response to the ISG report

We are pleased to post the latest response to the ISG report on badgers and bovine Tb, received from VAWM. (Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management)

In a slick, 7 hour, well orchestrated performance in London on Tuesday, June 19, members of the Independent Scientific Group, chaired by Professor John Bourne, told an audience of vets, scientists, farmers and other interested parties what would be the effect of carrying out a nationwide cull of badgers using the methodology of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials. However what they neglected to say was, in contrast to all previous trials in England and Ireland over the last 3 decades, the culling rates in the proactive zones (recently upgraded as 32-77%) were hopelessly inadequate. And it came as no surprise therefore that only a modest reduction in cattle TB was recorded in the proactive zones and badgers that were missed migrated into surrounding areas to infect more badgers and more cattle. Ten years and £45m later we’ve learnt nothing significant we didn’t know already.

There are a number of reasons why the culling rates were so poor – inadequate number of days trapping per year, wrong time of year, non consent areas of land in the proactive zones, inconsistent farm participation and the method of culling, which allowed significant interference by saboteurs, all of which would have to be overcome in any nationwide culling programme. But although bovine TB may now be the most difficult animal health problem we face in Britain today it has only been made difficult by two decades of neglect. The disease was practically brought under control in the mid 1980s by a systematic programme of testing and slaughtering of cattle reactors and strategic culling of badgers in endemically infected areas. And the badger is probably one of the easiest species of wildlife to cull if done properly, since it lives underground by day in identifiable setts (compare this to the problem in New Zealand, which they have tackled, where the possum is the wildlife reservoir).

Professor Ivan Morrison vividly illustrated how the problem has escalated in England from some 400 cattle reactors slaughtered in 1984 to just over 30,000 in 2005. He also provided evidence that cattle are highly susceptible to TB and may shed infectious tubercle bacilli in the early preclinical phase of the disease. But what he could not say was how significant this may be in the epidemiology of the disease. The ISG believe it to be highly significant but this ignores how effective control measures were up to the mid 1980s and it is worth noting that the CVO in 1995 wrote that 90% of all cattle outbreaks were badger related and less than 10% due to cattle sources. It seems hardly credible that this situation will have changed in the intervening decade.

Professor Morrison also told us what many in the audience already knew that the tuberculin skin test does not pick up all infected animals in a herd. But whilst this may be so it is the tool that has worked in the past. And it may be added it is the test that has been successfully used world wide to eradicate the disease in cattle. Professor Morrison went on to recommend that the gamma interferon test should be developed and used in conjunction with the tuberculin test. But considerable doubt was cast on the benefit that this might bring.

There can be little doubt that the recommendations of the ISG, based on the findings of the RBCTs, are sound. And if such a trial were to be used as the basis of a nationwide cull it could be disastrous. But the recommendation to bear down more and more on the disease in cattle, whilst ignoring the huge reservoir of infection in badgers, defies all logic. It also ignores the chronic welfare problem for the badger.

Professor Bourne’s valedictory hope was that the weighty 290 page report generated by the ISG, now sitting on the Secretary of State’s desk, should “endure”. It is fervently to be hoped that it does not provide the same 10 year excuse for inaction as did the Kreb’s report in 1997.

Any comments direct to VAWM please, and not to the blog.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stitch-up, revisited

A comment on our posting a year ago, where a Somerset landowner, who is also a MRVS veterinary surgeon gave his views on the execution of the RBCT dispersal trial, made us sit back and think.

Not ususally supporters of 'conspiracy' theories - we tend to err on the side of egos and their associated and inevitable cock-ups - but could the RBCT been done any differently? Why was it so designed to inflict on groups of badger the very methods which would give a known result? It was certainly not as Krebs originally intended. But now, a convenient airbrush has diluted that all important 'Cull all badgers' in a Proactive area, and 'Cull all badgers in response to confirmed Tb in cattle' to a mere 'population reduction'.

We re-post both the article from John Cohen, BVetMed, MRCVS and today's comment on it.

"As a landowner in one of the 'trial' areas, I had the dubious pleasure of being invited and attending Professor Bourne's meeting to explain the aims and implementation of the Krebs trial to landowners. His presentation was fluent, forceful and full of spin. During the presentation, he pontificated on some events in the history of badger / bovine TB in Dorset. Unbeknown to him, these were events that I had been personally involved with and knew full details of.
It was very educational to me.

I realised that he was describing the facts in a strictly accurate - yet totally misleading - way, so the impression given was the opposite to the truth."

That the trial is severely flawed - in my opinion, fatally so - is self evident to any objective scientist. A sound experiment, for that is what the 'trial' purported to be, depends on knowledge of, and control of, all the variables. This trial had no control.

In the 'proactive' areas no culling took place during the lactating periods, and 20 percent of the babgers were left behind. It would seem that there was, effectively, not a great deal of difference between proactive and reactive areas.If one allows for the unofficial culling that took place in the no treatment areas, these results are skewed. No matter how the statistics are applied the conclusions drawn can be challenged by a competent sixth former.

Over the past 25 years or more, many veterinary officers have diligently collected masses of data on thousands of breakdowns, and have had their work scrutinised by a sceptical mini panel. All that work, together with that of the veterinary investigation officers, has been effectively been ignored by both Krebs and Bourne. The results of the inquiry and the trial appear to have more to do with egos of eminent men, than science or truth. Bourne's insulting personal response to the points raised by Paul Caruana is no less than I expected from this most arrogant of men."

That broadside, with which we fully agree, was launched by John Cohen, BVetMed, MRCVS of Chard, Somerset, and printed in Veterinary Times, June 12th. 2006

And a comment on this from one of the Wildlife team operatives (we guess) working with The RBCT, came the following insight :

"Well, you've really been stitched up by John Bourne and his scientific report this time !

As one of the staff working on the Krebs Trial, we all knew John's views before the trial really got underway. He had always said, as he does now, that the problem lies with cattle. "It is a cattle disease and it has to be treated this way" is what he has always subscribed to. Both he and Chris Cheeseman clearly wanted the result that they have now delivered - kill infected cattle, leave infected badgers alone !

Were the results made to fit their theories? It does make you think !

How can that possibly be a way forward ? The source has to be removed, or we had all just as well give up cattle farming once and for all ! The article written by Paul Caruana, one of the Wildlife Unit's more sensible and realistic field officers, said it all- but where did it get him? ( he was disciplined for those who didn't know) before he left Defra last year. After he submitted his article, both he and the majority of the wild life Unit's managers were summoned to meet with Ben Bradshaw. They unanimously agreed what a waste of time the trial had been, and that things should have been done much more efficiently and effectively. None of them gave credence to the results that came out of the trial. If that doesn't tell you what a farce the Krebs Trial was, nothing will.

There is a way forward for all concerned. PCR technology, coupled with Government paid pre/post movement testing will do the trick. Target sick badgers, sick cattle, have the reassurance of the gamma interferon test behind you and , hey presto, things will surely improve ?! Clearly, to all of us, there is no political will to get on top of this disease, as has been shown by the sacking of all of the Wildlife Unit staff before Krebs was even finally reported. They do not want any part in the culling of sick badgers, and that is unlikely to change without some fierce and voiciferous lobbying from the farming community, the NFU and all other interested parties.

Something has to happen, and soon. Ten years have been wasted on the Krebs trial, with outcomes that have affected us all. More badgers, more TB, more financial hardship, worse morale in the whole of the farming community- what has to happen before somebody in Government has the guts to make the decision that is needed ?
I am in total despair over it".

This comment rang some disturbing bells. In 1997 one of our contributers heard Dr. Cheeseman of CSL's Woodchester Park, tell shell shocked cattle farmers at a Cheshire meeting that they could not separate Tb infected badgers from the cattle herds on which they depended. "Where you are farming cattle, you are essentially farming badgers; they predate on cattle habitat." And answering the question of biosecurity, Dr. Cheeseman delivered the bombshell: "You can't " he said, "you get rid of your cattle".

That was after describing the effects of peturbation on diseased communities of badgers, the levels of infection they carried and possible transmission opportunities. Which is why we say the RBCT told us nothing we didn't (or Cheeseman et al didn't, know before). We are told that Dr. Cheeseman repeated his "Get rid of cattle" blast at an October meeting in 2006.

And that is a most extraordinary statement for a government advisor to make.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Robust science - or political science?

"The shock waves created by the release of the final report by the so-called Independent Scientific Group on TB (ISG) have left many bewildered as to how on earth the current TB epidemic is to be controlled.

The ISG is unequivocal that culling of badgers will cause the epidemic to worsen. They consider culling likely to spread infection by causing social disruption leading to a dispersal of infected badgers that would result in the problem spreading to neighbouring areas.

They refer to this as the “perturbation effect” and consider it almost an insuperable problem. While this must be music to the ears of Ministers, getting them off the hook yet again, is this really a valid reason – or is it more of the political science we have already heard from the ISG ?"

In a focus article for Farmers Guardian , Dr. John Gallagher, former head of MAFF Veterinary Investigation Services for Devon and Cornwall, and former Independent Advisor to MAFF's Chief Scientist Group, questions the 'robust' basis of the RBCT.

"... from 80 per cent to 40 per cent of infected badgers were dispersed to spread their infection, making this more a study in dispersal of TB rather than a culling trial to control it. "


"In the MAFF annual report of 1995, the chief veterinary officer stated that 90 per cent of outbreaks were considered due to infected badgers and this was also affirmed by MAFF’s senior TB epidemiologist. Indeed, in the two gassing trial areas the complete cessation of TB in cattle following removal of the badgers indicated that they were the sole source of infection. Thus there, and throughout the areas where TB infection is endemic in badgers, cattle have been acting as sentinels of active disease in the badger. But the ISG say they have been unable to quantify the role of badgers in cattle outbreaks, although they do admit they can be a source of infection for cattle."

and concludes:

"...the one unequivocal finding from the ISG is that if culling is not done completely disruption of badger groups and their dispersal will result.

But it makes you wonder whether this is really robust science or political science?"

Those of us suffering prolonged bTb breakdowns, with no bought in cattle to blame, no cattle contact via other contiguous herds (and accused on this site of shunting cattle around illegally), are considering the report carefully - as we suspect are the people who have the political clout to challenge it. All we will say at this stage, is what we have said throughout this long debate, that those of us involved with the 'trial' agree with every word Dr. Gallagher has said.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Drafts and leaks

We were as puzzled by the swings and roundabouts of media leaks which accompanied the ISG's final report, as much we suspect, as were our readers..

In our post of last week, we described a media feeding frenzy, but saying totally the opposite of the previous week's press. The Sunday Times on June 10th had Defra all geared up, apparently with Cabinet approval, to sanction a cull of badgers. But one week later, a further flurry of weekend paperwork lobbed in the direction of the Telegraph and the Observer, said 'No way, no time, no cull'.

Both media leaks were attributed to the ISG report, and a Parliamentary question answered by the Right Honorable Barry Gardiner, may shed light on this extraordinary process of 'briefing the press'.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Notwithstanding the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), Professor Bourne has said that the Government ruled out a widespread badger cull from the outset of the study by the Independent Scientific Group. Does that
21 Jun 2007 : Column 1504
not prove that the consultation that took place more than a year ago was a complete waste of time? We know that the final report was on the Minister of State’s desk a month ago

Barry Gardiner: That is not true.

Mr. Paice: The Minister should read the ISG report, which clearly identifies the date on which the Minister of State received the final report. Ministers had a month in which to come up with conclusions, yet all that they have announced is further deliberation and delay. Moreover, it is four years since the Conservative party advocated the polymerase chain reaction test. It has taken four years—until next month—for research to begin on that.

Is not the record of the last 10 years one of constant delay and prevarication in dealing with TB, while taxpayers, farmers and cattle have had to suffer? When will the Department make some real decisions, and get a grip on this dreadful disease?

Barry Gardiner: I find it difficult to respond to that, because it was not really a question. It was a rant, and uncharacteristically ill-judged on the part of the hon. Gentleman—in stark contrast to the contribution of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack).

I am well aware, as is the whole House, of the cost of bovine TB to farmers and, indeed, the taxpayer. It is absolutely right that we should look at the ISG report. The hon. Gentleman made some remarks about the timing of the report. He will know that draft chapters are very different from a final report complete with recommendations and conclusions. That certainly did not arrive at the time that he suggested.

We will consider the report carefully, and will give it due importance in policy making. We will listen to the industry and take account of the Select Committee report, and we will make our policy decisions in due course.

So what is Mr. Gardiner saying to the less than unruffled Jim Paice?
We read his reply, that government received certain draft parts of the 280 page ISG tome, and this before bits were added or subtracted. The addition (or subtraction) which appeared in the final analysis was not available to Ministers before June 10th, but it was, in all its glory afterwards. And it contradicted the draft.

The intriguing question is who passed those drafts to government, which clearly indicated that a cull would be effective? And what was added / subtracted after June 10th to turn that completely on its head?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Cash v. science

A critical review of the current situation relating to funding of universities, funding of political parties and 'scientific' projects comes at a timely moment from Dr. James Irvine who says of the ISG report:

"It would be easy to get a peer review of an article that was in favour of badgers, rather than cattle. Anyway, what scientist is going to stick his neck out to criticise a government appointed committee that has been deliberating for 10 years? He would have to live on Mars".

Members of the ISG 'magic circle' have been active too, in resurrecting 'badger set-aside'. Dr. Irvine quotes Prof. John McInerney at a Tb conference at the Moredun Institute in 2006 who suggested:

" .. that perhaps we should just accept the disease and not farm in these “hotspot” areas - a truly extraordinary thing to say, especially within the precincts of the Moredun Research Institute. But, in the event, this is maybe what the ISG is advising Government in its final report, although not explicitly saying so. Professor McInerney claimed that the ISG trials have been the most detailed ever carried out in the UK. It is just a pity that they have been so fundamentally flawed".

Dr. Irvine's highly perceptive article with useful links to previous Tb reports can be found on his Land-care website.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"What have I done wrong?"

A comment on a previous posting alerted us to the case of a sad Tb breakdown in an East Devon herd, which again we will quote in full:

In response to the article written by Trevor Lawson from the Badger Trust (WMN, June 5), I had to write in disgust. I ask Mr Lawson: What have I done so wrong?

I am the fourth generation to run our family dairy farm which started at the turn of the 19th century. During those years we have established our own closed herd of cows; we breed entirely from our own livestock, with the exception of purchasing two cows from my uncle when he retired from milk production in the late 1980s.

Until this day, no other livestock has been introduced to our herd of approximately 150 cows. We are passionate about our livestock and the countryside and were among the few to avoid the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and have never had a case of a cow with a TB reaction to any of the routine TB checks that have taken place annually for longer than I have been running our farm.

Mr Lawson, our boundaries are well kept and, because of the demise of the dairy industry where ten years ago there were 14 dairy farms in the Sidbury Valley, East Devon, now there are only three and none of these border our farm.

Can you imagine my shock and horror to discover that on June 6 three of our cows reacted to the TB test and had to be humanely killed immediately, plus, 21 inconclusively confirmed, to be rechecked in 40 days.

It is my understanding that this particular strain of TB is only carried by cows, deer and badgers. I am not a scientist and as the deer population is controlled in our valley, this leads me to believe that this outbreak can only have been introduced by one source, the roaming wild badger.

Mr Lawson, I would never want to see our badger population decimated by either man or TB, but we have to work together. Is there any way that representatives from DEFRA, NFU and the Badger Trust can meet to discuss a positive way forward to deal with this problem?

Mike Coles


Over to you Trevor. Another closed herd, now with a bTb problem that if our contributer's experiences are anything to go by, will not go away any time soon. Mike Coles is in there for the duration. Five years, six or longer of 60 day testing and slaughter. And that will continue until the non-bovine source of his problem is taken out of circulation. Or are you going to suggest, as has been suggested to us, that his CTS / BCMS records are 'incomplete' and that Mr. Coles has been engaging in 'moonlighting' cattle with unrecorded movements? We really hope not.....

Letter published in the Western Morning News 19th. June.

Bourne and the ISG - "An Instant Response"

The single most important thing to come out of the RBCT dispersal trials is that the transmission of bTb from badgers to cattle appears at last to be accepted. That John Bourne has very effectively illustrated how not to cull the badgers responsible, is the point from which the debate must move on.

Lines on a map indicating cattle testing areas may be a heroic gesture, but ten years ago, the RBCT was centred on bTb hotspots. Unless the ISG's much publicised 'edge' effect extended 100 miles, the incidence where no badger control was undertaken - that is the rest of the country except Krebs' Proactive and for a short time Reactive - is now at least as bad , if not worse than those original 'hotspots'.

To walk away, is not an option. Another reason why walking away is not an option, we explored in our posting of September 2004. Lurking in an EU drawer, somewhere in the bowels of the European Commission is this veterinary certificate which no doubt, Defra would like to forget. Nevertheless, it exists already. Poised for action.

We are grateful for his instant response to the 'findings' of the RBCT sent to us by Andrew Proud, BVSc, MRCVS, DVSM which we quote in full:

An Instant Response to the ISG
Everyone now knows what the ISG has decided although practically nobody has yet had time to read its final report, let alone ponder it. I shall be attempting that exercise shortly but by the time I have done so it will no longer be news so an instant comment is indicated
Cabinet ministers have said that they will be guided by the science but there is a very real danger that they will be blinded by the science unless certain obvious facts are considered.
A generation of Government Veterinary Scientists, now largely retired, assembled evidence over many years with even leaner resources than have been accorded to Prof. Bourne and his colleagues, put their evidence to the Krebs Committee. They argued that a reservoir of disease in badgers was the major, probably the only, reason why bovine tuberculosis was persisting in British cattle, that the measures taken up to 1986 had been highly effective and that the measures permitted since the Dunnett Report of 1986, although far from ineffective, were insufficient to control the disease.
Those measures were:
1. (From 1974 to 1981) Gassing of badger setts where there was good evidence that cattle were being infected by badgers.
2. (1981-1986) The “Clean Ring” policy, where, instead of gassing setts, all social groups of badgers using the infected farm were identified and as many as possible (in a prolonged operation) were trapped, shot, and examined post mortem. Subsequently, any social groups of badgers contiguous to groups in which tuberculous badgers were found were subjected to the same treatment until a clean ring of uninfected social groups had been removed around the infected farm.
3. (1986-1998) Trapping badgers only on land which had been grazed by confirmed reactors where there was good reason to believe that the reactors had been infected by cattle.
It was argued that the dramatic disappearance of disease from three large scale operations, most notably that around Thornbury between 1975 and 1980, was proof that removal of badgers was effective in preventing disease in cattle.
Critics of the policy argued that this evidence was inadmissible because no controls had been included in the experiment, conveniently ignoring numerous unofficial controls, as for example on the border of the M5 East of the Thornbury experimental area.
The Krebs Committee described the evidence as “compelling,” but recommended that a new experiment should be undertaken which included a control.

It has already been pointed out that the post Krebs experiment was fatally flawed; there is no comparison between the Thornbury 5 year gassing programme and the feeble attempts at trapping in the Krebs trial. Even in the years of trapping between 1981 and 1998 the trapping operations were prolonged, intensive, and, where necessary repeated. Eight days of trapping, followed by a year’s absence in the Krebs trial was hopelessly inadequate. The year’s interruption during the Foot and Mouth epidemic was most damaging.
If the Krebs trial tells us very little about the validity of the large scale proactive operations, it tells us even less about the huge number of lesser, reactive operations which took place between 1986 and 1998 and nothing at all about the clean ring operations of 1981-6. The Krebs trial included nothing remotely resembling the latter.

A moment’s thought will be sufficient to show that an actively pursued clean ring operation would greatly limit the perturbation effect which the Krebs trial demonstrated in its short-lived reactive area studies.

But there is another consideration which has been totally ignored: the Krebs trial was confined to the worst TB “hotspots” in the country. Perversely, the word “hotspot” is now being used with a meaning far removed from that which it carried in 1998. Then it referred to the areas of highest concentration of herds with confirmed reactors to the tuberculin test. Three factors would have contributed to an area being a “hotspot.”
1. Density of cattle population
2. Density of badger population
3. Proportion of badgers which were tuberculous.
Even if the Krebs trial tells us anything meaningful about the effect of removing badgers in areas where those factors combined to make that area a “hotspot,” it tells us nothing about the effect of badger removal in areas where disease has only recently entered the badger population, where the cattle herds are widely separated by land not occupied by cattle, or where the badger population is thin and/or minimally infected.
It was in such areas, where disease in cattle was newly being identified (now misleadingly being called “hotspots”) that the old (1986-1998) badger removal operations seemed to be most effective; in the 10 years since such operations ceased there has been the most dramatic increase in the spread of disease in new areas.

It is possible that the ISG is right and that, in the areas where the density of reactors to the tuberculin test is highest, badger removal will not be a cost effective answer to the problem (although it has yet to be proved that vigorous, intensive and prolonged badger removal operations would not be dramatically effective). That does not mean that it would not be cost-effective to prevent the establishment of disease in new areas by immediate action to eliminate infected social groups of badgers.

Whether or not it is cost effective to control the disease by removing the most heavily infected populations of badgers, the Government needs to face another question: is it cost effective to control bovine tuberculosis by constantly testing cattle and removing reactors while cattle cannot be protected from infection from a reservoir of disease in an ever increasing population of a protected species?
The cost is easy enough to calculate, but what is the benefit? There is no Public Health benefit: pasteurisation of milk and cooking of beef and venison (even without meat inspection) are sufficient measures to prevent human infection (1)

Is there an Animal Health cost? I strongly doubt it. Not only are there compelling reasons for believing that the disease only spreads with difficulty between cattle (2), but I am now (after over 30 years close involvement with the subject) being forced to the conclusion that most reactors, if left, would either recover, or contain the disease without showing any symptoms at all for the rest of their working lives.
Few, if any, animals being raised for slaughter would develop clinical disease; the only benefit in testing them is to disclose the presence of infected badgers.
Undoubtedly, among breeding animals, a small proportion of reactors would become clinical cases if left, but historical evidence strongly suggests that the mere culling of clinically diseased animals is a remarkably effective control measure(3).

Andrew J Proud BVSc MRCVS DVSM
June 2007

1. I am aware of one recent case of farming people being infected; had the Public Health Laboratory Service staff who wrote up the incident discussed the case with the SVS staff who dealt with the case they might well have concluded that the infected humans had been infected by badgers, not by cattle, but the Official Secrets Act precludes me from explaining why!

2. The need for brevity prohibits me including these reasons here but I am preparing another document that sets them out.

3. My scrutiny of historic government reports is not yet complete but I already have enough evidence to support this claim and intend to publish in due course.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hedgehogs - again.

Just in case our Trevor, Mr. Lawson of the Badger Trust failed to get the message, or, as in the case of the last CSL badger / hedgehog census, did a crafty spot of grammatical gymnastics on his press release , Defra have released another part of their head count.

In a a paper now available on the Defra website, they say;

....In particular, hedgehogs are thought to be particularly vulnerable. Research by CSL in conjunction with the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) revealed that hedgehog abundance and distribution were negatively correlated with indices of badger density. Even in suburban habitats the abundance and probability of occurrence of hedgehogs declined rapidly as indices of badger density increased in the surrounding areas

Got that? In plain English, too many badgers = no hedgehogs. They eat them like an orange we are told. Roll the little poppets on their backs, spread out their legs and peel them like a Jaffa, leaving just the skin behind. Nice.

After 'Leak' - ..... Weak

In a press release hurried out today, H.M Opposition spokesman on animal health, the Right Honourable Jim Paice MP, used quite a lot of space and not a little paper to say two words. Well, one actually, but with 3 letters. PCR.

It was so short, that to save time fiddling around with the 'link fairy' we will cut / paste it in full.


Paice: Farmers forced to shoulder burden of more Government inaction

Commenting on the report, published by the Government today, into Bovine TB in cattle, Shadow Agriculture Minister, Jim Paice said:

"Once again the Government has left farmers with little reassurance that this problem will be resolved any time soon. Farmers have waited for 10 years for action, but still, after numerous reports and consultations, the Government is unable to commit to the package of measures which we have constantly advocated. The problem of Bovine TB will continue to escalate while the Government drag their feet and farmers will be forced to shoulder the burden of yet more Government inaction."

He added:

"The economic assessment of badger control appears to be entirely based on the cage system used in the trial which we already know was woefully inadequate."

"No-one wants to see large scale culling of badgers, which is why we have been pressing the Government for four years to carry out field trials of the PCR test. If successful, these tests would radically alter the form of a cull allowing only infected badger families to be culled.

"Sadly only now have ministers agreed to such research, which starts next month. Unless there is a significant reduction in incidence in the next year or two, which is unlikely, the whole issue will return and the last ten years will have been wasted."


Notes to Editors

The Conservative Party has consistently said that eradication of TB requires a package of measures, including greater efficiency in tracing and testing cattle, more widespread use of the gamma-interferon test, the urgent trialling of vaccines and the PCR test (to establish which setts are infected), and targeted culling to deal with the reservoir of infection in wildlife.

The PCR test would enable only infected badger families to be culled thus reducing the numbers making it more acceptable to the public and to reluctant landowners whilst significantly reducing the effects of perturbation.

Sir John Bourne, the auditor general at the National Audit Office, has himself said that Bovine TB will not be eliminated unless the effect of the infection in wildlife is addressed.

Now it may be politically incorrect to remind Mr. Paice that it was a Conservative administration which instigated the RBCT, together with cage trapping after their prolonged prevarication during the progressively sanitised 'Interim strategy'. Nevertheless we will remind him.

It may also not sit terribly well with the current Shadow Minister to remind him that it was his energetic predecessor who jacked PCR up the political agenda, visiting other countries to see it in action. And this may not be the place to remind Mr. Paice that actually the taxpayer has already funded highly successful trials on badger setts using PCR last year. The current proposals to which he refers, are a re-run - or maybe a 'validation'?

Until Ministers show that they are capable of joining the dots, and picking up portfolio information left by their predecessors, (in this case Owen Paterson's tranch of PQ's which form the basis of this site - and his work on PCR) then they are not a solution to the problem, they are the problem.

More than that, they are collecting payment as 'Her Majesty's Opposition' under a very flimsy label.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Predictably, this week has seen the media attempt to prejudge the RBCT (dispersal trial) results. Last week the Sunday Times offered an enticing snippet which indicated a 'cull was ON'. This week, the opposite view from both the Observer ;
Proposals for a widespread cull of badgers to limit the spread of bovine tuberculosis have been ruled out by the government's Independent Scientific Group, which argues that culling cannot make any meaningful contribution.

Environment Secretary David Miliband is expected to accept the recommendations, and make it clear that culling will not be reintroduced into Britain. Culling was banned in 1998 after doubts about its effectiveness. Animal protection groups which have campaigned against the measure say that it is cruel and unnecessary. The National Farmers' Union, however, is expected to challenge the decision.

The ISG's findings, based on trials over a 10-year period, show that when badgers are disturbed by a cull the survivors move farther afield, spreading the disease to cattle and to other badgers. Bovine TB costs around £80million a year, in compensation paid to farmers whose herds have to be put under movement restrictions. It says farmers can do more to detect the disease early in cattle, by using a new blood test.

and an identical 'leak' can be found in the Telegraph

The £80 million by the way, is not pocketed by 'farmers' at all. Compulsory purchase payments make up but one third of the bTb budget - but it sounds good, and usually goes unchallenged. The Telegraph article also refers to Prof. Bourne as 'Sir John'.
A bit premature, we would say, but nevertheless a possibilty.

We had doubts - big ones - as the wisdom of hanging on to anything at all that came out the RBCT after its chaotic progress and in particular, the damning critique by one of its own managers. Nevertheless, the main farming unions grabbed John Bourne's assertion that a "300 block" offered the best hope of dealing with the disease in wldlife. It wasn't, as we have said before this so called 'edge effect' of the RBCT efforts which so devastated and disappointed us, it what what they failed to achieve in the middle of their playgrounds. And to extend the area, using the same tools, in our opinion, merely amplifies the chaos.

We will not pre judge this weeks' press releases. But to sum up:

Since 1997, when all badger culling in response to outbreaks of wildlife driven bTb was halted for the duration of this 'trial', at the direction not of parliament but the chairman of the group leading the RBCT, the number of herds under bTb restriction now approaches 7 per cent.
That total includes, as it always has, herds which had bought in no cattle and whose owners are feeling pretty sore at being accused of 'sins and ommissions' which they have not committed.
In response, the EU has a veterinary certificate already drafted for use to ban UK products across the community.
The Badger Trust has seen a parallel growth to bTb, in its full time employees.
The use of PCR is still barely scratching the surface of a disparate, demoralised and now re-branded State Veterinary Service,
and members of the badger groups still think that all farmers want to exterimnate all badgers.

No group has 'won' here. Tuberculosis has.

On-site rapid diagnosis, such as that given proper trials by Warwick , allowing any necessary euthanasia to be both humane and targeted, could defuse the whole, horrible, polarised "debate" between those who want to save their cattle and those who want to protect badgers. Both sides speak from the best of motives. But we have the technology to deal with bovine TB without a mass cull

And with that conclusion we agree, absolutely.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Brock v. Bambi

Over the last six years or so, while the ISG have been trying to catch badgers, Defra have been looking at transmission opportunities for the infection of cattle with bTb by wildlife and have now published their results. It is also of note, that they have used several pieces of research, produced over a long time. It's good to see them joining up the dots.

They say:
"Feeding cattle at pasture may be particularly risky (Christiansen & Clifton-Hadley 2000), possibly since many modern cattle feeds are particularly palatable to badgers (Benham 1985; Garnett et al. 2002). Indeed, badgers utilised a feed trough at pasture in Gloucestershire so regularly that they established a latrine within it (Garnett et al. 2003). Feed in the trough may also have been exposed to contamination from urine and sputum whilst the badgers fed.

Deer have not been recorded feeding from troughs or feed placed on the ground for cattle in the UK."

We also learnt from PQ's that the biosecurity advice offered to farmers as to the height of cattle feeding troughs, to prevent badger access, was not a deal of use, as they had subsequently been filmed in troughs up to 4'3" off the ground. Which, as Defra quite rightly observed "is too high for cattle to use". And they didn't have to climb on each others shoulders to get in either; it was the lightest (most emaciated?) individuals who jumped up, hooked long front claws over the rim edge and then swung their backsides in. Job done.

Defra point out that problems in Michigan, USA with the white tailed deer, were made worse by the supplementary feeding of the deer, to encourage population growth for sport. All such supplementary feeding of deer with its associated cattle contact, is now banned.

The paper continues:

"Cattle may also come into contact with potentially infectious material when investigating badger setts at pasture or within woodlands to which they have access. Cattle routinely head-rub at badger setts and will investigate discarded bedding, which may pose a transmission risk (Phillips et al. 2003). In addition, badger latrines at setts often accumulate large amounts of faeces from several individuals, which may pose a significant transmission risk to cattle. Badgers may die above or below ground and may subsequently be excavated from the sett by other badgers. Investigation of infected carcasses by cattle may also pose a transmission
risk as it does with possums in New Zealand (Nugent 2005)."

On transmission risks within farm buildings (3.1.5) the paper describes:

"Cheeseman & Mallinson (1981) recorded that between 1972 and 1980, 64% of badgers found dead or in extremis in farm buildings in Gloucestershire and Avon were infected with M. bovis in comparison to 21% of badgers killed in RTAs in the same area. Also in Gloucestershire badgers regularly visited farmyards and buildings to utilise a diversity of resources, including many (such as cattle feed) that would subsequently be used by cattle (Garnett et al. 2002). More recently, badger visits to farm buildings have been estimated as a common and widespread phenomenon across the southwest of England (CSL 2006). During these visits badgers were observed making direct contact with cattle and excreting in buildings and farmyards. Thus badger visits to farm buildings may pose a significant risk of M. bovis transmission to cattle if direct contact is made between the two species or if badgers contaminate resources that cattle may subsequently consume (CSL 2006; Tolhurst 2006)."

With that we would agree. But keeping them out? Easy it is not.

In direct contrast to these badger visits to farm buildings, Defra point out that during 2112 hours of direct observation and 9360 camera hours of indirect surveillance of wildlife activity around 18 farms in southwest England (CSL 2006; Tolhurst 2006) and 1779 hours of direct observation of wildlife activity around 212 farms in Michigan, USA (Hill 2005) no deer of any species were observed entering farmyards, instead restricting their activity to woods and fields around the study farms.

And they conclude:
"Thus it is likely that both direct and indirect transmission risks posed by wild deer to cattle are likely to be very low to zero within farmyards and buildings.

The paper describes populations of several different species of deer all of which have 'spread their ranges' considerably over the last 30 years. (Ward 2005)

3.1.6 Distribution of deer and badgers
From the maps presented distribution throughout the southwest of England can be described. Roe deer are present within nearly every 10km square in the southwest, absent only from the Midlands in the north, the far west of Cornwall and a few
scattered squares throughout Devon and Somerset. Red deer are widely distributed throughout Cornwall and Devon, particularly the north but were largely absent elsewhere in the southwest. Large herds of red deer are known from Exmoor and the Quantock hills (Langbein 1997). As with their distribution throughout the rest of Britain, fallow deer are widely but patchily distributed in the southwest, being absent from large areas of northern Cornwall and Somerset. Japanese sika populations are rare in southwest England, being mainly focussed around the Purbeck hills and Poole basin, although there have been scattered observations mainly in Cornwall,
Devon and Dorset. Reeves’ muntjac are also patchily distributed in the southwest, with a better defined range in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire than more southerly counties, despite scattered reports from Devon and Cornwall. Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) were largely absent from the southwest, the only known (small) breeding population existing in the Mendip hills. TB has not been recorded in Chinese water deer in the UK, so this species will not be considered further within this study."

and on badgers?
Wilson et al. (1997) recorded 143 badger setts within 205 10km squares in southwest England during the 1990s, an increase of 23% since the previous decade. In addition, estimated badger densities in this region were the highest in the whole of Britain. Hence, it can be concluded that badgers are widespread and abundant in the southwest.

Several contributers to this site have been offered 'deer management' in the last few years, with qualified gamekeepers holding a special licence responsible for controlling deer numbers over a wide area and encompassing many farms.

See more of this paper on the Defra website

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Cattle get killed anyway.."

We are most grateful for a comment on the posting below, from an eagle eared (is that right? - well near enough) listener to Radio 4's Farming Today programme 9th June.
Describing his reaction to badgers and bovine tb, Trevor Lawson, excused the transmission from badgers to cattle in the following way:

"Cattle get killed anyway - that's what happens to them ultimately"

As the listener said, "he was sickened" to hear Trevor Lawson say this. Us too, and yes you are right, we are all reminded of the inaction and intransigence of the so-called 'animal rights' supporters, including agencies such as the RSPCA, during Defra's FMD culling spree. Their silence was deafening.

It is just not good enough to say cattle do not matter "because they will ultimately end up in an abattoir". Yesterday - Sunday afternoon I spent calving a cow whose presentation was a breech birth. With skill and a lot of care, both cow and calf are well. It does matter. Of course it does. But Lawson's words about the transmission opportunities of bTb are telling too. In answer to the point that the Badger Trust are only interested in badgers and no other species:

“Culling tends to make things worse – the more you cull badgers the more the disease spreads among badgers and that increases the negative feedback to cattle."

Now that dear readers, seems to us to say if we may paraphrase Trevor's words, that if you do a rotten job and disperse badger social groups, (just like John Bourne did?) then they not only infect each other but they infect cattle. "Increase negative feedback to cattle" the man said. Badger speak for giving them Tb then. Yes?

Trevor continues :

"But also lets remember two key things. First of all cattle get culled anyway - that’s what happens to them ultimately. Secondly badgers are a protected species as well and, if they’re getting the disease as a protected species from cattle then the onus is on us, particularly because people value badgers and they’re protected for a very good reason, the onus is on us as a society to focus on the key source of this disease and that is cattle.”

But Trevor, Trevor your little furry friends are not 'getting the disease from cattle': you said it yourself "they [not only] infect each other". For sure they do. And PQ's archived on this site provided us several ways in which this happens, without shaking and stirring the groups up. Transmission from sow to her cubs in the confines of the sett; transmission within the occupants of the group sett, as Tb survives for up to 2 years in dark, damp places : bite wounding and social 'grooming'. All transmission opportunities for badgers to infect other badgers. And you are comfortable with that? But then you do not see the results of these transmission opportunities do you?

And then there are the microbiologists at VLA, beavering (or should we say badgering?) away, clocking badger spoligotypes for 30 years. And guess what? They haven't budged. Not a bit. (That's the spoligotypes not the VLA people) And furthermore, the overlay of cattle Tb matches the spoligotypes in an area's indigenous badgers in up to 95 per cent. of cases. Now for sure, this isn't 'science', we didn't say it was. That's the ISG's domain. Lousy science with a moth eaten base, tortured through computer models, but 'science' non the less. These spoligotype data are a 'correlation', but one that we are very happy to live with.

The less savoury results of letting badgers infect themselves with a serious, debilitating zoonsis like Tb, while airbrushed out by those who say they 'love' badgers, are evident from the post mortem pics which we showed again in our
March posting .

It may suit the executives of the Badger Trust to assert that "badgers do not suffer from Tb", but that it not the reality of this disease's progression.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

We've been here before...

The Badger Trust letter to David Miliband, (see posting below) imploring him to use 'science' (aka the ISG? - wow) and not to listen to his own Animal Health employees, or even the people at VLA come to that, is only the latest in a depressing line of prevarication over the role which badgers play in the bTb cycle.

During the 'clean ring' strategy of the 1980's, GB did have a policy of squaring the circle, and if badgers were implicated (and that was decided not by SVS but by a panel of badger 'experts' who met quarterly), then setts local to the outbreak were gassed. In 1986 less than 100 herds were under restriction and only 686 cattle slaughtered and GB complied with EU and OIE Tb free trading status.

Over the next 20 years, Professors Zucherman and Dunnett issued long reports - but policy was still progressively 'sanitised'. Trapping replaced gassing, and land available for control was reduced from 7km down to 1km and then "only on land cattle had grazed". Thus badger setts on arable land or neighbouring farms were excluded. In 1997, all badger control ceased, except of course where John Bourne was enacting his badger dispersal excercise. All these good people concluded that badgers were a part of the bTb transmission cycle. Krebs and John Bourne, Bradshaw and Miliband have said the same.
And without exception, all have bottled doing anything at all about it.

The taxpayer has funded clearances in Steeple Leaze, Hartland and Thornbury, East Offaly and the Four County trial in Ireland and of course Krebs' RBCT. Without exception all have resulted in a reduction of tb in cattle. Thornbury being the most successful, which 100 per cent. clearance for the next (at least) 12 years. And the important thing with Thornbury is during that time, the badger numbers returned to 'pre trial levels'. Tb was eliminated, the badger population was not.

So dear readers, we've been here before. Politicians faced with their own veterinary experience (now derided by the Badger Trust) and the recommendations of various well paid professors have all concluded that to control Tb in cattle, Tb in badgers must be tackled as well. And to date they have flunked it. Bottled out, in the face of the shrill voices of 'animal rights' activists, for whom some animals have more 'rights' than others, and copious donations to party coffers.

It may be different this time. Time (and an elongated 'government response' to Krebs plus a reshuffle into a less vulnerable position for David Miliband) will tell.

"Over confident - under resourced"

The Badger Trust has issued a press release (yup, another one) roundly attacking the SVS (State Veterinary Service) now rebranded as Animal Health. It accuses them of "making critical decisions on bovine Tb management on the baisis of anecdote, supposition and insufficient evidence".

In short, the Badger Trust is accusing officers and employees of the former SVS, farmers and accumulated agencies which support animal tracing, of lying. Telling porkies folks.

"They are often responsible for disease management in thousands of herds, yet at best have a very blurred snapshot of on-farm activity."
Government vets when faced with a bTb breakdown do not pluck supposition out of the air. They go back to two months before the last clear bTb test and monitor through BCMS / CTS any 'On' movements of bought in cattle. If there are none, then the source of the outbreak is unlikely to be bovine. Yes? No? Or are all the agencies they use for support 'blurred' too? Using EU comments from a report issued in 2005, the Trust uses a broad brush and assumes that all farmers are using 'linked' holdings and moving cattle between blocks of land miles apart. No we are not. We are not. Our land is in one block, ring fenced by woodland, roads and a river. Only one field even touces another holding, and that has no cattle. Our vet knows this. SVS vets have maps where land ownership / occupation is identified. They know that. It may not fit with the Badger Trust's prejudicial wish-list, but nevertheless it is true.

State veterinary officers and vets working with LVI status are all local and they know their clients - including the cattle. The vets conducting the tests are often on farm in an advisory 'animal health plan' capacity monthly. Local AHOs are aware of the situation on the ground and if they say with certainty 'No bought in cattle' are implicated in the disease breakdown, then that is the case. The fact that David Williams, Trevor Lawson Dr. Yarnley and all, have thrown the balls up in the air and they have landed a little haphazardly, is unfortunate - for the Badger Trust, and even more so for the badgers. But as that roll-call illustrates, the phenomenal growth in bTb does have some beneficiaries, albeit Badger Trust employees.

Farmers Guardian has the story, and the Badger Trust has provided a link to their paper in a comment below.

Bear in mind though, that clicking onto the Badger Trust website generates cash for them. Save a badger or create another job? Your choice.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Shambo - still in the 'too difficult' file?

The Welsh Assembly, after its recent elections has appointed an Agriculture minister (which it must be said, is more than England has, but let that pass). The lady in the hot seat is Jane Davidson.

The BBC reports that she faces a united front from all three parties in the Assembly to comply with the slaughter notice issued to the monks of the Skanda Vale 'temple' and under EU and OIE legislation, slaughter the bull(ock) known as Shambo, who has given a positive reading to his second bTb test.

The Welsh Assembly say:
"There is currently no timetable for the slaughter of the bullock, although the slaughter notice remains in force"

As we said in our previous posting about this, we either have a policy for screening bTb with which we agree, support and comply, or we do not. Broadly speaking and with a very few exceptions the skin test has proved a reliable international tool. In the absence of a wildlife reservoir, several countries have completely eradicated bTb from their cattle herds using just the intradermal skin test and now rely on slaughterhouse surveillance only. At standard UK interpretation, the comparative skin test "provides sensitivety in the range of 68 per cent. to 95 per cent. and specificity in the range of 96 per cent. to 99 per cent." (That from PQs for which, as ever, we thank Baby Ben Bradshaw) The 68 per cent, by the way, is for a single animal tested once. The intradermal test is designed as a herd test (not as a tool for preMT) and when used over a large group of animals, particularly 60 days consecutively, is as good as it gets. Exceptions could occur in the event of veterinary failures, tuberculin antigen failures or other micobacterial influences on the results. They are few. High profile but very few.

Shambo has had, we understand, two bites of the cherry. At the routine test for these 52 cattle he gave an inconclusive result. At his second test, 60 days later the reading was higher, and he was deemed a 'reactor'.

It was at that point that the straw 'temple' was constructed; the bullock was isolated and became subject to a media feeding frenzy. Leaving aside the sensibilities of the rest of Wales' farmers who have patiently and obediently gone along with slaughter notices and who are now feeling pretty sore, the treatment of this animal appears to break a number of welfare code regulations.

He is 'isolated', and that in itself is a breach. Cattle are herd animals and must be able to see and interact with other bovines.
He has been identified as having reacted to an international test for exposure to a notifiable zoonosis. At present he may not have developed lesions, let alone infectious lesions but at some stage, he may. And that poses a threat to all those around him, human and animal.
'Treatment' of a bovine with tb is forbidden (we are told). The cocktail of drugs needed, belong to the very small category specifically and uniquely reserved for human beings.

The BBC report that while Shambo awaits his fate, the herd has had a further test, and two more animals have given an inconclusive result, so the 'isolation facility' at Skanda Vale may get a tad more full.

So all in all a difficult one for Jane Davidson, which looks as if it may hinge on the 'Human Rights' of a the hindu religious community, not to comply with any of the above at all.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

"nothing is being done to eradicate the spread

...of bTb from wildlife to cattle".

We are grateful to the ever vigilant for the following piece;

Shropshire dairy farmers Stuart and Jenny Jones, describe their dismay and frustration, after 51 years clear of bTb, to find the scourge has caught up with their closed herd. "While we do everything to minimise the risk on our farm from cattle-to-cattle contamination, nothing is being done to eradicate the spread from wildlife to cattle.."

Yesterday's STACKYARD article describes the harrowing round of testing; stressed cattle, abortions, and more slaughtering. And warmwell has received an email from yet another closed herd farm: "....We've just gone down with TB which we are disputing after 2 inconclusives followed by a positive blood test. ... If we do turn out to have TB then this will be yet another case of a closed herd coming into contact with badgers." The Stackyard article emphasises the suffering incurred by the whole herd -and by the badgers themselves.
(Harrowing pictures not for the faint hearted, also show the real misery of TB in badgers.)

Warmwell continues;
"On the subject of recent badger vaccine trials, we are left once again wondering why - if the trials are successful and the vaccine found to be safe and effective - it has to "take at least 5 years before the vaccine could be administered to the general badger population outside the lab through microcapsules mixed with peanuts." Why so long when the situation is so desperate? (More on warmwell's bovine TB page)

Meanwhile, the voices raised from justifiably angry farmers for the death of the bullock Shambo might be more usefully raised in demands for a humane UK animal health policy - one that stops dragging its feet over available vaccination and, in the case of TB, the accurate testing of badger setts with PCR so that a solution need not involve the random killing of healthy animals".

Miliband, badgers and bTb.

We are grateful for a link to an article published in today's Sunday Times which came in as a comment on a posting below.

In a governmental bout of 'testing the water', Environment minister David Miliband is said to be about to "endorse an independent study to be published next week, which concludes that large-scale culling would help stem the spread of tuberculosis in cattle."

The Times reports Miliband as saying:
"In areas where bovine Tb is endemic, it is clear that badgers play a key role in transmitting disease"

Government knew that when they endorsed the RBCT. In fact not only Krebs, but all previous reports on badgers / bTb have said it, so the point is...?

The final report of the ISG, due out mid June is expected (the Times predicts) to suggest that "large scale culling, involving many farmers could be beneficial", although "organisationally challenging and [would] involve significant cost to the farming industry".

The end of the badger 'dispersal trial' would also remove the need for the diminutive John Bourne's hissy fits over tuberculous badger control outside his 'dispersal trial' areas, thus leaving the way open for the Protection of Badgers Act to operate as parliament intended, and not at the whim of the chairman of the ISG.

South West newspaper, Western Morning News carries the same piece but with added wrappings. Quotes from farmers whose herds have been affected by bTb, the NFU and veterinary scientists.

Farmer Richard Haddock commented, "David Miliband and the scientists ( 'Scientists' the ISG?? err, yes if you say so - ed) behind this report are now recognising that the only way to stop bTb spreading is to take out sick setts of badgers. We have worked hard to explain to the public that we don't want to kill healthy animals, but also we don't want to se more badgers die a slow and painful death. We want the cull to be supervised by the government so the general public know that we are doing it correctly".

And thereby hangs the problem. "Government supervision". Not from that pointy place on the Thames, nor from the civil service Tb hamsters trundling away in the bowels of Defra's London headquarters. Realistic 'supervision' can only come from the experienced Wildlife team operatives, operating out of Aston Down in Glos., and Polwhele in Cornwall and under direction from local AHO offices.

That Defra need such overall control of any policy on bTb,is obvious. But as we reported here last spring they sacked most of the Wildlife teams capable of operating or even overseeing such a policy. Hence the veiled comment in the Times report, (aka John Bourne?) that any such policy would "involve significant cost to the farming industry".

We read this that 'farmers' are on their own. And if they succeed then government will say it was preMT wot did it. But if they fail ... well it'll be all our fault. Either way 'government' look to be on the point of handing over to individual farmers via a licensing system, control of a serious, notifiable zoonotic disease - the first country in the western world to do so.

And we call that a shameful abdication of responsibility.