Saturday, July 28, 2007

£2.8 million - The Pathman project.

In October 2000 Defra instigated a project to investigate the 'Pathogenisis and diagnosis of tuberculosis in cattle - complementary field studies". Known as the 'Pathman project', this work was designed to investigate the undiscovered reservoir of cattle Tb missed by the skin test - or so it seems to us. The correct term, is " to advance the understanding of cattle-to cattle transmission of bovine tuberculosis in Great Britian'. But its core result seems to have escaped notice.

200 tuberculin reactor cattle at standard interpretation of the skin test, were collected ex farm and paired with 200 in contact animals. Blood samples were drawn and nasal mucous samples were collected; then the animals were slaughtered and subject to a two hour (at least) thorough postmortem examination. The bloods were sent for trace element testing, as were liver samples which are much more accurate, and also immunological assays to check past disease exposure.

The in-contact animals were kept on farm at the Boxworth research establishment for seven weeks, in isolation. During this time several bloods were drawn, and up to seven nasal swabs taken to "detect early stage disease and m.bovis excretion". At the end of the holding period, another skin test was performed and then the animals slaughtered under the same procedure as the reactors.

(3.4 TB50)The results were only slightly better than those performed in 8 minutes by SVS postmortems, in that just over half the reactors had VL (55 per cent) and thus half did not and would record NVL. The in-contacts recorded 14 per cent macrospopic lesions and on the 7 week skin retest, 15 of these 200 animals had become reactors at standard interpretation. The site of lesions most commonly found were in the thorax of the cattle, with head lesions second. Very few were found in the abdominal cavity, (3.2) and even less if lesions were not apparent elsewhere.

32 animals in the study were found to have lung lesions, and the range of postmortem VLs was much higher (89 per cent) in yearlings and calves than in other classes. Dairy cattle had the lowest confirmation rate at 34 per cent, a point noted by the investigative team. (Table 5)

Investigation into other inputs such as vaccinations or exposure to other diseases gave mixed results. (table 10) Having antibodies to Johnes disease (m.avium paratuberculosis) was associated with confirmed bTb in both dairy and non dairy reactors but in the in contact animals it was thought to be "not statistically significant". Antibodies to Leptospira, were strongly associated with bTb in in-contact dairy cattle - but the opposite in non dairy contacts. In reactors there was no association. Having antibodies to liver fluke was associated with lower risk in all categories.

Selenium and copper were investigated and it was found that levels of selenium tended to be higher in dairy animals than non-dairy. The conclusion was that a lower liver level was associated with an increased risk of bTb, but that the association 'was not statistically significant'. (table 12) Other categories found a slight correlation. Dairy animals were significantly and consistently "less likely to have bTb confirmed by culture, than beef or other production classes" involved in the study. (4.8)

Considering the amount of emphasis placed on cattle to cattle transmission by the ISG, it is interesting to note that in the Pathman project, not a single one of the 1543 nasal mucosal samples of which 1006 proved clear of contamination - including those from the 32 reactors found to have lung lesions - proved positive for m.bovis, a point missed by the ISG when describing the project in their final report. How could John Bourne have missed that, one might ask? It was mentioned at least four times (4.6) (3.6)the executive summary and the conclusion.

"M.bovis was not detected by bacterial culture in any of the nasal mucus samples." and "The results suggest that large concentrations of M.bovis are not present in the nasal passages, and the shedding of M.bovis, if it occurs, is rare in naturally infected GB cattle."

To be fair (and why should we be?) the paper points out that the researchers 'have not looked at transmission through mouth respiration and coughing', and they conclude, rather strangely we think, 'that these could remain potential sources of disease transmission'. We think they would like to do another trial; but think about it. Cattle graze and eat with their heads lower than their gut, thus any mucous in the lungs passes towards the exit - which in all the cattle we've known is the nose and not the mouth. Cattle with pneumonia will pant for sure, but any discharge from an excess of mucous in the lungs exits from the nose and not the mouth. Hence, as cattle keepers, not scientists, our cryptic comments.

But also making a cryptic observation in this week's Veterinary Record, are R.M.Q.Sainsbury and Dr. John Gallagher, both remarking on the lack of onward transmission from these 1006 samples, and others in a complimentray study not noted by the ISG. They point out that the final report of the ISG "used data somewhat inconsistent with those in the recently published 'Pathogenisis and diagnosis of tuberculosis in cattle - complementary field studies'".

"In total over 1500 nasal mucus samples were taken in order to ascertain whether tuberculosis (bTB) was passed from cattle to cattle via the respiratory tract. Micobacterium bovis was not isolated from any of these samples despite lesions being found in the lungs of 32 of the cattle. Also quoted in the study are the results of an ongoing, separate longitudinal study of reactor animals [SE3033]where no bacilli have been detected in approximately 1000 nasal mucus samples from a further 40 reactors [ taken at varying time intervals]"

Returning to the ISG final report, the letter continues:
"In appendix 1, the ISG report does mention the pathogenisis and longitudinal studies, but appears to play down the significance of their results despite the fact that both studies confirmed 'on the ground' experience of many working in this field, that is, that cattle-to-cattle spread is uncommon on infected farms."

The writers emphasise their point thus;
"This point is crucial. In the ISG report it is stressed that infected cattle have 'serious implications for the maintenance and persistence of the disease in infected herds, and for the spread of the disease to neighbouring herds and to other parts of the country'. This is used to justify the recommended further rigorous movement controls and additional testing (recommendations 21 - 29) and would inevitably lead to the slaughter of many more cattle."

And they conclude:
"The overall conclusions of this Defra published report have increased our grave concerns regarding the ISG recommendation that controls on cattle alone would be relied upon to reduce the incidence and the spread of bovine Tb. We believe the ISG has seriously overstressed the importance of cattle-to-cattle spread, and the adoption of this recommendation will not control the disease. Progress will only be made when the original source of cattle infections is addressed and that means facing the reality of the large reservoir of Tb in wild badgers."

We agree with that conclusion, and have already pointed out the crass futility of repeating such cattle-only measures, attempted by greater men than John Bourne and with such stunning success

And after £2.8 million, Professor Bourne missed the histology conclusion on those mucus samples completely. They were all negative. Every one.

It may be churlish to point out the obvious, but we will point it out nevertheless; that is, if micobacterium bovis wasn't plastering the pastures and cattle feed troughs of GB, then the disease status of those cattle unfortunate enough to fall over it would not be called into question. But as it has been, surely the negative-for-onward-transmission results of every mucosal sample taken, deserves a higher profile?
See SE3013 here

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Lesions typical of bTb"

That was the post mortem report on the bullock Shambo, slaughtered last night after a three month standoff at the Skandavale sanctuary in SW Wales.

We have deliberately kept a low profile on this issue. Emotions running high do not a good posting make. That said, having religiously (if you'll pardon the pun) offered up cattle every 60 days for testing, enduring the stress, abortions, bruises and loss of milk yield / growth associated with this, had sleepless nights imagining lumps and bumps where there were none - and missing the vital couple which condemned another good cow to the skip - we realise only too well the anguish of the monks of Skandavale. As do the owners of the 11,860 cattle slaughtered in GB to May this year; which correlate neatly with government predictions of a 20 per cent annual rise in Tb incidence in the absence of any 'new dynamics' to control the disease - it's 21.6 per cent actually, but let that pass.

This point was well made in a letter to farming press from a beef breeder this week, who pointed out that the emotional, spiritual and added financial costs have never been taken into account when so-called commercial cattle are taken for slaughter after a positive bTb test. The writer, a farmer from Gwent explained;
A routine test a few years ago found three reactors and an inconclusive in our herd. A few months before our bins had been tipped over nightly and we had seen badgers hobbling away.

We had been led to believe from Defra that having a sett on our land would protect us from bTB from roaming badgers. However, on examination, this sett and all the badgers in it had died out.

What had they 'died out' with, one wonders? Was the farm open to allcomers, or were the badgers she saw raiding dustbins, the remnants of the original group? Not good news anyway. She continues:
I am also extremely angry that badger trusts have been trying to make out it is a lack of hygiene/good husbandry. At least Shambo reacting positive disproves this nonsense.

This is a very good point. So many times those of us who 'farm' animals, are the butt of ignorance and prejudice concerning the conditions in which they are alleged to have been kept. The contributers to this site range from keepers of just 20 organic angus cattle roaming 80 acres to several hundred cattle on several thousand acres. Shambo fitted none of these boxes - but bTb did not make the distinction either.
Our animals were all from the same family, so I suspect a genetic tendency to be more susceptible to the disease, but they were all summer calvers and had not been housed or fed. Our herd is closed, we use AI and they had no contact with other cattle. What was worse was that a Belgian Blue in-calf heifer that was inconclusive was also slaughtered. Tests came back negative for her – so she had to die to prove she did not have the disease.

When an animal proves postive for bTb on standard interpretation of the test, results are automatically rolled back to a severe interpretation which may scoop up those who would otherwise have been inconclusives and subject to retest. Regularly testing, in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, will pick up any cattle who may be incubating bTb, ahead of lesions, which is the case with this heifer. (And 42 of ours as it happens. About half of all the cattle slaughtered prove both NVL and culture negative.)
The monks of Skandavale face that situation now, with animals which tested inconclusive ratcheted down to a more severe interpretation after Shambo's positive results.

And no less distressing is it to those of us faced with a cattle lorry on a one-way-trip. At least Shambo wasn't pregnant:
It was one of the saddest days of my life when I saw them go on the lorry – we had ridden the BSE and foot-and-mouth fiascos only to be brought to our knees financially by bTB. What is not taken into account is the ongoing financial loss, the loss of their calves the next year, the fact that their calves did not thrive as well as if they had been on their mothers milk (and their grieving, looking for mum), and the strain of subjecting suckler cattle to continual testing.
.... our stress, labour and devotion to our cattle is as nothing, not even considered by Defra and the Government.

the writer concludes:
If Shambo has highlighted these facts then this high profile case has been worth it. We must never again allow our feelings to be swept aside and must be vociferous in our efforts to cull infected badgers and make the Government see sense.
We have already determined that we will not be prepared to go through such a harrowing experience again. Our herd has a healthy profile, age and health wise, again but we would sell up rather than rebuild a second time.

Elizabeth Smith, Llan Farm, Goytre, near Usk, Gwent.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Peturbation - update

Following on from our posting below where we explored Professor, Sir John Kreb's proposals for his trial in 1997, and the reality of what the ISG delivered, a dialogue on 'peturbation' and its effect of the ISG results ensued, the basics of which we post below.

We wondered why previous clearances had been so successful and the RBCT so dramatically the opposite. What was this so-called 'edge effect' of Bourne's trial and why was it not apparent in previous clearences - or if it was, why not a problem?

We were accused of naivity in 'ignoring the results of the trial', to which we replied:
Which trial?
This posting explored the protocol proposed by Professor, Sir John Krebs in 1997 for the latest effort by the ISG. It is quite clear from his recommendations that to avoid peturbation (and thus increased spread of disease), many things should be done and conversely, other things should not.
It is equally clear that these recommendations were not followed by the ISG in the current trial, with entirely predictable consequences.

Smaller, more targetted but intense clearances over a longer (than 8 nights) time frame would appear from past policies to have a far better effect as Professor Krebs explained in 1997. A policy which was supported by Professor Steven Harris in his

"alternative to the RBCT" which we explained in July 2004.

We pointed out that the The RBCT showed how NOT to carry out a cull, from information which was known already : not that it should not happen at all, a point with which our questioner agreed - with reservations.

You're right when you say that it showed how not to carry out a cull - an experiment isn't always there to show how to do something but also that something isn't the right thing to do. But you miss my point which is: more intense culling would not have prevented the perturbation which caused the rises in incidence that were seen. Therefore your constant harping about how they should have culled more intensively is completely irrelevant as it wouldn't have actually improved the result in terms of lower cattle incidence.

We had not missed the point at all, but it was a point with which we did not agree, for the following reasons:
The results from Thornbury, the 'Clean ring' strategy and Professor Harris' proposed alternative to the Krebs RBCT do not support your conclusion. And from our posting here, even Professor Krebs realised how not to do his trial.

You are saying that peturbation occurs if any or all of a group are removed, I think.
We agree that of course another group would gradually expand territory to fill that gap, but we also pointed out from a badger expert's extensive research, that the first dominant scent marker to define that new territory would prevent territorial scrapping and bite wounding.

We then explored what we have learned as cattle farmers about badger behaviour in this situation.

Is it possible that when an entire social group is removed then the next badgers moving quickly into the area may be diseased 'dispersers' from neighbouring groups? Is that why a more prolonged culling stratgy, even on a small scale worked? And after this, the inevitable recolonisation is from a healthier, more stable group?

In other words, it is not the first foray into an infected population (especially with cage traps) which is important, it the the second one which mops up dispersers and those missed the first time around? Thus to prevent the spread of disease, that second or even third clearance should be within a very short period of time and certainly not the years the ISG took.

We pointed out that past policies of large scale of intensive clearance (Thornbury) worked extremely well with "no other contemporaneous change identified that could have accounted for the reduction in [cattle] Tb incidence within the area” [Hansard 24thMarch 2004 Col 824W [157949]. The Thornbury clearance, (begun when cattle incidence reached 5.4 percent) was not so very long term either, starting in December 1975, and ending in August 1976. After which badgers were able to recolonise clean ground, their numbers recovering to pre cull levels, but the area remained clear of Tb in cattle for in excess of 10 years.

Smaller clearances in response to Tb breakdowns, which targetted setts (and groups) implicated in a farm or group of farms breakdown during the ‘clean ring’ strategy were also successful, and from contributers to the site who were involved, lasted about 6 / 8 weeks.

And we agreed with the questioner's point of leaving the social group intact, while querying the peturbation effect of this:

We do wonder if provided the group is left intact, or conversely removed completely the ‘peturbation’ effect is overstated? When a food source is available, Prof. Roper's research showed up to three groups sharing feed during night filming in Glos. cattle sheds. And we have told on this site of 84 badgers crossing a small field nightly, on their way to be served peanuts for the benefit of paying viewers in a Staffordshire wildlife park. That would be around 8 groups on Harris methodology, would it not?

CSL’s hand fed Woodchester badgers often make forays into adjacent territory: “Temporary and permanent dispersal from one group to another occurs regularly” Hansard: 17th March 2004. Col 274W [157988].

The point we were trying to make here is NOT to remove the strongest, leaving the sick, old and weak behind as the RBCT did – at least for its first 4 years. WLU operatives have commented on this site that after that the ISG did listen – a little bit – and refined trapping protocol accordingly, with better results.
Thus we cannot agree your conclusion that better culling would have made no difference to the results of the RBCT. That’s hypothetical and not born out by the examples above.

Experience has shown that even smaller clearances are successful if carried out thoroughly. And last years’ PCR trial from Warwick found about 64 per cent of the setts in the Glos. hotspots showed negative for Tb, so any movement of badgers from these would be without immediate risk to cattle, or to other badgers.

Our questioner thought we had made two opposing answers to badger clearances but we had not:

We have not altered tack at all on this site. We do not favour wipe out - of any species, just tuberculosis.

But we cannot see the sense in criticising the basis or conclusions of the RBCT, and then trying to cherry pick bits of it, while expecting government to ignore its less palatible proposals. In the interim and final ISG reports, Bourne intimated that a bigger cull with 'hard' boundaries would be more successful. It would, but the boundaries and scale would be so big as to be unworkable - in our opinion. That is not to say that some groups / politicians may not grab this as a possibility.

What they ignore is the ISG's seductive prediction of a drop in cattle Tb of 15 percent if more cattle measures are adopted, over and above preMT, now into its second year.

The only way this will happen is if gamma and more frequent testing (difficult if you are aleady doing it every 60 days) takes out 15 percent more cattle. How killing more cattle but faster can answer the problem, while leaving a reservoir behind in badgers, we explored in our post here.

And we are aware that any such proposal on badger control could inevitably have extra cattle controls bolted on, despite the past futile experience which we have described above: from past (bitter) experience, government have a nasty habit of dividing their agreement 'packages', prior to implementation.

We think what this boils down to, is to understand how badger ecology - away from the well drained, well fed population at Woodchester - operates, and use this to 'manage' a now widely infected population in areas of endemic tb. And for several years now, that is what the authors have tried to do (understand that is - it is government's responsibity to control bTb, not farmers.)

Cattle testing on a regular (annual) basis of course is part of this, but in isolation from clearing infection from wildlife reservoirs, it has been shown to be totally ineffective.

It is futile to repeat past mistakes; but we must learn from them, including the latest debacle and move on from strategies which proved succesful, using up to date technology as back up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"A Landmark judgement.."

".. in the history of religious worship in the UK".

So said the Hindu forum of Britain's spokesman, Ramesh Kallidai after the ruling by the High Court in Cardiff yesterday, which quashed the slaughter notice issued by the Welsh Assembly on 'Shambo' the bullock who tested positive for bTb.

Tuberculosis is very serious zoonosis, unmoved by religious derogations, Hindu or otherwise. And from the viewpoint of those of us who have religiously (forgive the pun) obeyed OIE and European health directives, rigorously implemented by our own Ministry, yesterday's verdict was a slap in the face - if not a bullet - for every Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist or Non-conformist cow slaughtered on the alter of political expediency over the last several years.

The verdict appears to have hinged on the Hindu right to 'manifest' its religious beliefs under the European Convention of Human rights. The Welsh Assembly have launched an appeal and the case will be heard in London on Friday.

Story here

A comment from virologist Dr. Ruth Watkins, herself a farmer in a Tb hotspot, originally posted on we add below:

The option Skanda Vale have chosen is the difficult long and expensive path. This is in contrast to culling and taking the money.
Further testing for infection in Shambo, and perhaps in some at least of the other bovines, must be done in the USA if not also in the UK, and paid for. Treatment will cost at least £5000 (treating an elephant was $40000 in 2005) Treatment will require the supervision of experienced vets, perhaps distantly from the elephant and other zoo treatment schemes, as well as a vet in the UK.

Selection of drugs (at least three different antibiotics) will need to be carefully made and Shambo monitored for drug toxicity and drug levels. Treatment will probably have to be for 9 months.

It is our understanding that the cocktail of drugs for the synergistic treatment of Tb are among the very few not licensed for animal use - or not in the UK. The side effects of the human antibiotics are so severe that we have been told patients are encouraged to complete their long course by payments. If further testing involves the use of PCR, American or otherwise, that is the least of Skanda Vale's worries. More urgent is the need to persuade Defra / Welsh Assembly / Imperial College to release the assay needed to fuel the thing.
We too wondered about the elephant. Diagnosis? How? Treatment?

Shambo will be kept in isolation, more remote than his current temple, and require the attention of the monks every day for drug dosing, and general care.

After treatment he should be able to rejoin his herd fellows, the bachelor group. What is the source of his infection? Are there other cases in the cattle herd at the monastery? These questions may need an answer.

It is our understanding that a further herd test revealed 5 more animals with inconclusive test results. However, in a press release last week, the Welsh Assembly intimated that IF severe interpretation had been applied to this test, that would ratchet up to 2 more reactors and another bunch of inconclusives. After contact from the Skandavale community, we were happy to put the record straight. See here .
From personal experience, the disease situation at Skandavale appears to 'amplifying' (in Defra speak) rather than resolving. Further tests will confirm.

Provided testing does not harm Shambo the monks I understand would be willing to allow testing to benefit science, and continue testing for TB on Shambo throughout his treatment which is likely to be recommended anyway based on the model of treating elephants.

Human patients of the prolonged and particularly nasty cocktail of antibiotics, often do not complete their courses, as we have said before, and have to be 'encouraged' with cash. This prolonged course of treatment may benefit science - or not - but at what cost to Shambo? It is our understanding of the disease, that provided lesions have not formed, then a prolonged antibiotic regime may work. However if they have formed, only surgery will remove them. Otherwise the nature of tuberculosis is that such lesions 'wall up', lying dormant often for decades, but breaking down into full blown disease when the body is subject to stress or other disease challenges. All this is known and acted on already.

I believe finally whenever Shambo dies a detailed post mortem and specimens for culture should be done, as on elephants, to determine the success of treatment.

Dr. Watkins concludes:

As a small farmer myself on annual TB skin testing in my parish (the occurrence of TB in this part of Carmarthenshire is recent in the last few years) if my favourite and glorious bull Arthur was skin test positive I could not afford or accomplish the above. He would have to be culled. Indeed as a trading farmer and one who receives the single farm payment (unlike the monks who have never received any state payments) I must abide by the current rules even if I think the policy could and should be improved (as most other farmers feel as well) Reprieving Shambo does not give a licence for treating commercial farm animals. Really the monastery is a hospice for animals, just as it provides hospice care for humans. Any animal on the monastery is not in contact with other farm animals ever again and no animal products are given or sold to the public.

Fair point, but where did the original m.bovis infection come from? Shambo was Inconclusive last year, but resolved on a retest. This year he did not, and now a further 5 - 7 animals are invloved.

The risk of being infected from bovine TB being shed on the breath of an infected and shedding bovine is very small- exactly how small is not known.

This is absolutely true, and the recently published pathogenisis report SE3013 confirms it. Of 1006 mucosal samples taken from 200 reactor animals and 200 'in contact' animals from farms suffering prolonged Tb breakdowns, and this after a 2 hour postmortem on each, ALL were negative. The ISG report refers to the 32 animals found to have visible lung lesions, but omits to point out that samples taken from them and the other 358, were negative for onward transmission.

Removing Shambo will have no impact on bovine TB infection. Indeed the infected badgers, deer, other animals and undisclosed bovine animals on farms continue to live, move about freely - or not quite so freely if farm animals. Our problem with bovine TB in the UK remains as bad as ever despite our testing and culling of cattle (largely by the skin test). We need some fresh thinking on the issue and a more holistic solution.

With thanks to


The appeal against the Wesh Assembly's notice of slaughter on this animal was held in London on Friday, and Monday the court delivered their

Monday, July 16, 2007

Krebs v. RBCT

It has become apparent through comments posted to the site that our criticism of the RBCT, (which we reserve the right to refer to as a 'badger dispersal trial'), has rattled not a few cages. But it is only in latter years that the trial has been referred to as the 'RBCT' in total, rather than the 'Krebs Trial' or the 'Krebs RBCT'. The author of the trial has just melted away, and we wondered why this should be.

One of our contributers met Professor Krebs some time ago, when he expressed concern at the way 'his' trial was being carried out. Contributers to this site saw first hand what happened on farms within the trial areas, and operatives and managers concerned in its implementation have also voiced concerns. But how does that compare with the recommendation protocols offered in 1997 by Professor, Sir John Krebs?

We have now obtained sight of a copy of the proposals from the trial's originators, and in them, Professor Krebs explains why they were important to his trial's outcome.

P126 In explaining the efficacy of previous policies:

7.8.3 The gassing and clean ring strategies, in effect, eliminated or severely reduced badger populations from an area and appear to have had the effect of reducing or eliminating TB in local cattle populations. The effect lasted for many years after the cessation of culling, but eventually TB returned.

7.8.4 The interim strategy, introduced following the Dunnet report, is not likely to be effective in reducing badger-related incidence of TB in cattle for the following reasons:

(i) The policy involves removing badgers from a limited area (the reactor land or the entire farm suffering the herd breakdown if the former cannot be identified) ; but social groups of badgers may occupy several setts covering more than one farm.

(ii) Partial removal of groups could exacerbate the spread of TB by peturbation of the social scructure and increased movement of badgers.

(iii) There is no attempt to prevent recolonisation by badgers of potentially infected setts; even if infectivety in the setts is not a problem, immigrant badgers may bring new infection.

In addition, the current operation of the interim strategy involves a delay (27 weeks in 1995) to the start of the removal. The average period from the herd breakdown to the completion of the removal was 41 weeks in 1995.

7.8.5 In common with the clean ring strategy and the live test trial, the effectiveness of the interim strategy is further underminedf by the failure to remove lactating sows which may also be infected. We recognise that culling lactating sows has a welfare cost in terms of cubs left in setts, but this needs to be balanced against wider animal health and welfare considerations for both cattle and badgers.

So, the originators of the Krebs trial protocol recognised that gassing and clean ring strategies worked for several years by reducing or eliminating Tb in cattle, and conversely they considered the 'interim' strategy to be ineffective for the following reasons: that it split social groups of badgers, thus exacerbating peturbation and territorial social structure. It also 'failed to prevent recolonisation of potentially infected setts'- (except by placing 3 sticks across the entrance) - and it allowed lactating sows to offer transmission of Tb to their cubs. It was also very slow in delivering follow up action to a herd breakdown.

In another part of the proposals (7.8.9) Professor Krebs reiterates some key features which he said were likely to influence the effectiveness of any reactive strategy:

(i) The size of the area cleared, (including the extent to which this takes into account badger territory)

(ii) The efficiency of the badger removal operation (to ensure all infected badgers are removed and minimise any problem of peturbation associated with partial removal of social groups)

(iii) The prevention of recolonisation for a sufficient period.

One would assume from that critique that all these failures of the interim strategy and recommendations for the efficacy of a new ££multi million trial would be taken note of by the operators of the RBCT. But in that assumption, one would be quite wrong. Wildlife Manager , Paul Caruana's experience of working under ISG instructions gives a vastly different picture of the methodology employed. And this is backed up by comments on the site from others involved in trial operations.

The original Krebs methodology:

7.8.14 We suggest that the most appropriate Reactive strategy would be to target culling at social groups where a badger-attributed breakdown has been identified. This would involve removing all badgers, including lactating sows, from all social groups with territories including the breakdown farm (or reactor land if this can be rigorously identified). There should be sufficient follow up to ensure that every member of every social group which could have caused the initial breakdown has been removed.

7.8.15 Ideally recolonisation of setts should be prevented for a period of time under the reactive strategy. This would be costly. We therefore consider that costs should be balanced against potential benefits in deciding whether this should be included in the detailed experimental design. In any event given the lack of data on recolonisation times, we recommend that further research should be done on this in areas subject to both reactive and proactive control strategies.

7.8.17 The Proactive strategy would involve total removal of complete badger social groups from localised areas at high risk of breakdown, before breakdowns. This strategy would require regular monitoring and also revisiting after two or three years to deal with renewed badger populations.

Other proposals explored in the Krebs document include stop-snaring as as alternative to trapping, taking into account efficacy, cost and welfare considerations. Farmer particiaption and MAFF involvement in the trial is proposed and Krebs predicted a 20 per cent reduction in Tb over five years.

To reiterate what actually happened:

* That the RBCT attempted badger removal operations using cage trapping for 8 nights only, during their infrequent visits. There was significant interference, particularly during the first 4 years of operations, and many removals were attempted during winter months, when little badger activity above ground is expected.

* No follow up occurred at all. No checks on setts and no confirmation of complete clearance of a social group. No culling at all took place in 2001, because of biosecurity imposed by FMD. Thus all areas within the trial, both reactive and proactive went at least 2 years between these incomplete removals. Some, including our contributers, experienced 3 years of such peturbation chaos.

* Badger social groups were split, and during later years boundaries of trial areas were changed to accomodate this.

* No action was taken at all to prevent recolonisation of setts thought to be cleared.

* A closed season operated from February to May to allow lactating sows to rear cubs.

* There was absolutely no involvement with participating farmers, or local MAFF officers.

As well as a rebranding of the 'Krebs' RBCT, the ISG are at pains to point out that their aim was never to 'cull all the badgers' as proposed by Professor Sir John Krebs. This particular protocol is now downgraded to a mere 'population reduction'. And then there is the ISG's unique and notorious 'edge effect'; a phenomenon which if the original methodology proposed by Professor Krebs had been observed, may not have been evident at all.

The original Krebs' prediction of a 20 percent reduction in incidence was correct, but unfortunately by not following Professor Kreb's protocol with regard to implementation of the trial, the trial operators achieved exactly the results that Krebs described as 'unlikely to be effective' during the interim strategy in his report of 1997.

A 280 per cent rise ...

We are grateful for sight of a press release from the office of Daniel Kawczynski, the member of parliament for Shrewsbury, who has seen an 'amplifying' problem with bovine tb in his constituency. In 2000 the area revealed 39 new herd incidents among its cattle herds. But a parliamentary question answered this week shows that there were 149 NHIs during 2006. And that is just over the 20 per cent per annum rise in incidence predicted by Defra - which would produced a figure of 140 herds.


Shrewsbury & Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski, and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Dairy Group will this week announce plans for the All Party Group to assess the difficulties faced by farmers over Bovine Tuberculosis.

The renewed efforts on this front come after the recent government report that was less conclusive in its prescription over how to deal with badgers in the spread of bTB than had been expected, and puts much of the onus on farmers to act. In addition Mr Kawczynski recently tabled a question over bTB in his own constituency county of Shropshire. The results where startling.

The Parliamentary Question answered that in 2006 there where 149 new herd bTB incidents, compared to only 39 in 2000. This is over a 280% increase in new incidents. Mr Kawczynski MP commented ‘this is not a sign that the governments current policy is working. Further more it is of great concern that over these last six years the incidents have increased so dramatically, this cannot be due to farmers alone, as they are complying with the strict DEFRA regulations.’

He continued ‘It is my understanding that Shropshire, and the South West are hardest hit by the bTB outbreaks, but increasing like this how long is it before it spreads further? A solution has to be sought, and soon, that is more than just further regulations on the cattle industry. As a result I will be looking into bTB over the summer recess, and the APPG on Dairy Farming will be taking a further look into the matter in the Autumn in direct relation to the dairy industry, and lobbying the Government for action.’


The PQ in question can be found through Hansard at, reference number [147671] answered on the 12th of July 2007.

This is a successor to PQs asked during 2004, which invited the previous Minister of State to assess the incidence of TB in cattle in 2008, assuming no increase in activity by her department and the continuance of Defra's current (non) measures.
The answer then was:
"With no new changes in policy, or disease dynamics, we would theoretically expect a 20 percent year on year increase in the compensation bill."

That PQ answer went on to describe measures to reduce compensation paid for slaughtered cattle, with 'rationalised compensation payments', without actually spelling out that the numbers of cattle slaughtered would not alter, only the amount for which Defra were prepared to compulsorily purchase them. Neither did the answer satisfactorily address the cost of that 20 percent year on year increase of extra testing, tuberculin antigen, transport, slaughter, post mortems, samples, tracing and associated paperwork. All of which would very quickly eat up any saving in the one third of the Tb budget aimed at 'compensation'.

PQ 26th Jan 2004 Col 3W [148657]

Friday, July 06, 2007

A tale of two countries

At the ISG meeting on June 19th., John Bourne gave a petulant and derisory thumbs down to the results achieved by the Republic of Ireland in their struggle to control bTb in the country. Irrelevant, he said.

Different country. Different countryside. Different objectives, Bourne intimated. But not it has to be said, different badgers, different strain of micobacterium bovis or different cattle. Different politicians with different paymasters? - maybe.

In an in depth interview with Irish farming minister Mary Coughlan, and an overview of the Irish policies by veterinarians in charge, Farmers Guardian analyses strategy and results. Two countries. Two similar problems. Two very different approaches. And two very different outcomes.

A decade ago, the UK and the Republic of Ireland both had tough decisions to make about how to deal with rising incidences of bovine TB in cattle, and the potential role played by badgers in spreading it. The UK set up the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) in 1998 to gauge the impact of badger culling on bTB incidence.

During the 10 years it was taking to find no solutions to the problem, a ban was imposed on badger controls outside the trial areas.
Meanwhile, bTB incidence was trebling from just over 700 confirmed herd outbreaks in 1998 to around 2,000 in 2005 and 2006.

Ireland took a different approach. Shorter and more straightforward trials between 1997 and 2002 convinced the Government that the only way it was going to get on top of the bTB problem was to tackle both sources of infection.

Since 1998, the number of cattle bTB reactors in Ireland has fallen by 46 per cent.

While acknowledging that the badger culling is only one of a number of contributing factors, Irish Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan said recently she was ‘satisfied that the badger removal policy had made a significant contribution to the improvement of the situation’.

Not so, says the Independent Scientific Group on bovine TB, which has gone out of its way to stress that the Irish experience is not relevant to the UK.

Presenting his report at an open meeting in London, ISG chairman John Bourne played down the success of badger culling in Ireland, suggesting it was not having the impact the figures coming out of there suggested.

More importantly, differences in badger populations, environmental conditions, farming practises, trial design, capture methods and social attitudes add up to make the Irish trial and policy irrelevant to the UK, he said. Plus, he said, the current Irish badger culling policy ‘seeks to eliminate badgers from 30 per cent of the land mass’, a situation that would be ‘politically unacceptable’ in the UK.

(This is point which has come up in comments on the site; more on its context and accuracy later from the Irish deputy veterinary officer)

Michael Sheridan, deputy chief veterinary officer explained how the approaches differed from the start. “While the RBCT was comparing policy options, we had a very simple experiment to assess whether the disease in badgers was a constraint to making progress on the bovine side. In the Four Area trials (1997-2002), we took badgers out of an area as far as possible and it showed clearly that if you do, that you make significant progress on the bovine side. Existing measures begin to work and you go well beyond where you are.”

While the RBCT showed only marginal benefits from culling, in the Irish Four Areas trial, it was associated with a 60 per cent drop in bTB in cattle herds under restriction. Mr Sheridan said this was hardly surprising, given the way the trials were set up. The four areas chosen in Ireland were much larger than the 100sq km RBCT areas and, unlike the RBCT, were specifically designed to prevent the so-called ‘edge effect’.

Having established that the presence of bTB in badgers was a major constraint to eradicating from cattle, the Irish Government was then able to set about solving the problem.

“The trials showed if you succeed in taking badgers out of the equation you make progress with eradicating the disease. The next logical step was to invest in the only long-term solution that is allowable and feasible – vaccination. So have put our efforts into that,” Mr Sheridan said, “But that is still a few years away, so in the meantime we have introduced an interim culling policy. The trials showed if you succeed in taking badgers out of the equation you make progress with eradicating the disease.”.

This approach enabled the Government to gain the support of farmers and the acceptance, at least, of the public and Irish animal welfare groups, who, he said, appreciate that culling is a ‘necessary’ medium-term measure while a more ‘environmentally acceptable’ one is developed.

Mr Sheridan refuted Prof Bourne’s claims, also spelled out in the ISG report, about the scale of the culling policy.

“It’s wrong to say we are doing it over 30 per cent of the country – that is an upper limit and it is not a target. Currently 11 per cent of the land mass is subject to culling controls,” he said. It is also not eradication. It is a reactive cull that takes place where there is clear epidemiological evidence badgers have caused major breakdowns. We do not see it as a long-term solution, but it is necessary until we get a vaccination policy in place. John Bourne may have misinterpreted what he was told, but I am not saying he has said anything wrong. He can say whatever he wants.”

The contrast with the UK is stark.
But what the Irish policy (at least they have one - ed) demonstrates, is that where there is a will there is a way. The Irish approach has been geared to finding solutions, backed by common sense, science and political consensus – from the way the trials were set up, to the decision-making process and the development of practical policies.

While UK has waited and waited for a trial, that cynics say appears designed only to prolong the wait further and still cannot find the political will to move forward, Ireland has been acting. And bTB incidence is falling.

Mr Sheridan said Ireland now had a ‘road map’. The reactive culling policy was moving it ‘in the right direction’ until a more sustainable long-term solution is found. He was adamant, too, that the Irish approach was cost-effective when placed against the ‘to do nothing’ approach that would see disease incidence continue to rise in cattle.

"Our policy all along has been to deal with diseases in both species,” he said. “Addressing the disease in cattle on its own won’t work – you have to deal with the badger issue in parallel. You can’t remove a herd of cattle and leave a sett of diseased badgers behind. You have to act realistically and deal with both sides of the problem. It is worth putting proper effort and resource into having a healthy badger population and a healthy cattle population.”

"Addressing the disease in cattle on its own, won't work", Mr. Sheridan said.
And he should know. Ireland tried it in the late 1980's as described in our posting below. And it definitely did not work. Why on earth would it? It is like leaving one side of hospital ward with patients suffering endemic infectious disease, while removing patients from the other side to the mortuary; drawing a heroic line down the middle and expecting new patients on the other side not to succomb to infection. And yet by ignoring the reservoir of infection in badgers and proposing extra cattle controls, this is precisely what John Bourne has promised ministers will reduce cattle tb in the UK by around 15 per cent per year. A 'virtual line' in the sand.

Can we really afford to ignore what is happening just across the Irish Sea? asks the Farmers Guardian's Alistair Driver. Full story here

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Condemned to repeat past mistakes?

The ISG report very confidently asserted that cattle controls alone would reduce bTb in the herds of Great Britian by around 15 per cent a year. Convincing stuff. But does it stand up to scrutiny?

We have already referred to the utter futility of nailing cattle firmly to the floor, while allowing an infected wildlife reservoir to flourish around them in our posting here During what became known as the the 'Downie era', the Republic of Ireland operated cattle controls along the lines of those proposed by the ISG.

At the beginning of these, reactors numbered approx 30,000. And at the end? 35,000.

But in England too, these same measures were tried, and we are grateful for the diligence of those who operated them, for their archive trawls to support their memories of the regime.

In Great Britain after 15 years of a voluntary Attested Herds Scheme, the first Compulsory Eradication Areas were announced. Between 1952 and 1960, more and more CERs were announced until the whole country was covered. By the end of 1960 eradication was deemed complete. Reactor prevalence was reduced from an original estimate of 40% in 1934 to 0.04% in 1965. It was expected that the disease would continue to occur sporadically until the end of the century as a result of animals with walled off lesions developing clinical disease in old age or as a result of stress, but in a few areas, the number of reactors exceeded expectations.

One such was in West Cornwall and a Scottish DVM was parachuted into the Duchy in the early 1970’s, to lance this “ boil” of infection which was blighting the Ministry of Agriculture’s Tb clearance maps.

Much like Professor Bourne, the late William Tait was determined to wipe out the elusive cattle reservoir of bTb. To this end he instigated synchronised Tb testing, more regular testing (see below), applied severe interpretation to all Tb tests, cohort slaughter of a group of cattle if one reactor was found and whole herd de-population. Cattle movements were limited to licensed markets only. He also attempted to ‘disinfect’ farms under his surveillance, and was probably responsible for the demolition of more 'cob' cattle byres in west Cornwall, than anything before or since. Up with steam cleaning, they could not put and collapsed around his ears.

Some of these measures are documented in reports from the CVO 1972 - 1976 as follows:

From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1972
“During the year, a departmental team conducted an enquiry into the persistent bovine tuberculosis problem in the West Penwith area of Cornwall. The report on the team’s findings and recommendations was published in July.”

and from 1973

From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1973
“The recommendations by the departmental team of enquiry into the persistent bovine tuberculosis problem in the West Penwith area of Cornwall were accepted and implemented whenever possible. Thus the discriminating standard of tuberculin test interpretation was continued in West Cornwall and synchronised testing at 3 months intervals was introduced in those areas having the highest reactor incidence in the previous 3 years. Intensive investigations into the incidence of tuberculosis in wildlife, and in particular the badger, continued.”

In the CVL section of the same report:

“…bovine tuberculosis remains a problem in some clearly defined areas in the South West Region. Various investigations of the commonly recognised sources of infection failed to reveal a possible origin and a wild life reservoir of infection was considered to be a possible explanation for its persistence.”

and 1974

From The Report of the Chief Veterinary Office 1974
Records that the Penzance area was on 6 month testing and that there was a continuing problem in the SW region with a reactor prevalence of 0.891% compared with the rest of the country’s 0.015%

So, no dramatic fall in cattle reactors to show for the cattle carnage then?

It goes on to refer to:

“relatively high incidence in young stock that had been turned out to grass while housed calves on the same premises which had not been out remained free

The reports for 1976 and 7 make no mention of special measures in SW Cornwall but refer increasingly to badger gassing in the SW and a reduction in reactor prevalence.

From their extensive memories of this 'test, condemn and slaughter cattle' spree of the late William Tait, officers who operated the cattle controls say he was 'very fierce' over their implementation. As we see from the CVO reports, 3 month testing in some areas, 6 monthly in others and absolute condemnation if reactors were found.
But no reduction in reactors. For that we have to look to the reports for 1976, which make no mention of any 'special cattle measures' for west Cornwall, but they do report progress and a 'reduction in cattle reactor prevalence' after gassing of badger setts was introduced.

Many of these cattle controls are proposals now resurrected by the ISG. But what has been forgotten, say current and ex DVM’s who operated them three decades ago, is that all these measures, while costing the taxpayers and the cattle industry dearly and severely denting confidence in the Ministry responsible, “had no effect whatsover on the incidence of Tb in cattle, when it came from a wildlife source”.

By 'condemning' the cattle, and ignoring these past cattle-only policy failures, history suggests that those operating the measures proposed by the ISG are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past.