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.


Jo said...

The welfare code regulations are broken every time a single animal has an inconclusive test. She is isolated for 60 days, and then 60 days more if inconclusive again. I've never heard of DEFRA being concerned about it.

urs said...

Please go to or go to and follow the link to the interview, where you will see David Taylor examining Shambo. He is a world renowned vet who established the “International zoo veterinary group”. He confirms that the skin test that rendered Shambo bTb positive is subjective and open to errors, that more accurate diagnostics exist. Also that Shambo is in perfect condition, and if in the unlikely event that he has bTb, yes he can be treated. The health hazard to animals and humans is confirmed to be, ”less than zero”
I find it very hard to understand that “intelligent” professionals continue to reiterate this absurd policy.

Matthew said...

URS. Thanks for the link.
'More accurate diagnostics' exist?
Gamma interferon is likely to scupper him (Shambo)so PCR? Very good, but only if the holders of the assay material allow it out to fuel the magic box.

The intradermal skin test indicates 'exposure' to m.bovis. It does not say that the animal has full blown infectious disease, capable of onward transmission.

Our point is that as farmers, we have to abide by the policies put in place for farm animals. And that is the intradermal skin test, followed by automatic, unequivacal slaughter, should the test prove positive. That they (farmed cattle) should be seen as less 'valued' than Shambo is debateable. Tb is affecting smallholders with just few companion Dexters and they are just as upset and angry, if not as high profile as the temple folk of South Wales.

By allowing one set of rules for high profile objectors, the Welsh Assembly or Defra make it very difficult to enforce animal health policy on the rest of us. From this impasse may come some progress for diagnostics such as PCR, and of course we would welcome that. Nevertheless, short term, this is a problem that could be very divisive for those attempting to enforce EU / OIE bTb policy.

Matthew said...

Jo. Yup, you're quite correct. All isolation facities must have at least 3m of clear airspace between them and other cattle. But at least with that, the occupant can see other members of the herd, if not interact.