Thursday, August 02, 2007

News from Gloucestershire

On a visit to flood-hit Gloucestershire this week, farming minister, Lord Rooker was told in no uncertain terms that although the floods were devastating, they would recede. Bovine tb, without Government intervention would not.
Farmers Guardian reports that Lord Rooker asked affected farmers what help they needed from the Government, only to be told that their main concern, despite the devastation, was not the floods but bovine TB.
"The disease was rife in the area and the resultant movement restrictions were destroying livestock units by preventing farmers from buying and selling cattle, NFU Tewkesbury chairman Carl Gray told him.

“We will recover from the floods but what we really need help with is TB,” said Mr Gray, who questioned whether the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bovine TB was either ‘scientific’ or ‘independent’"

And adding his considerable experience to the debate is Gloucester veterinary surgeon, Roger Blowey who, in a letter to the Vet. Record (July 14th) queried the difference between past policies and present, and more importantly their results.

Mr. Blowey outlined the remit of the ISG and quoted from its most recent report:
"First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle Tb, careful evaluation of our own and others' data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle Tb control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better".

With the ISG's initial conclusion we would agree, and with the latter comment, especially if John Bourne's observations encompass the RBCT's 'policy' of badger dispersal. with that we would wholeheartedly agree.
With the middle bit, we do not.

Mr. Blowey continues to quote the ISG report;
"Second, weaknesses in the cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where Tb occurs, and in some areas of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geopgraphical spread contained, by rigid application of cattle-based measures alone".

Now those are strong words from a 'scientist', and from one who has obviously not read or understood the excellent spoligotype work or even the previous carnage wreaked on cattle nailed firmly to the floor by his predecessors; one William Tait and in the Republic of Ireland, the Downie era. Both of these government veterinary officials were equally certain that they too could "reverse rising incidence of TB", and "prevent geographical spread", and they killed a lot of cattle in their single minded pursuit. Both spectacularly failed. But how piling more dead cattle higher and faster, can mitigate the transmission of m.bovis from even Bourne's, now acknowledged, source of the disease in badgers, Professor Bourne does not explain; he merely throws a safety net to a gullible government.

After listing the Tb eradication strategy in GB from 1900 -1970, Mr. Blowey brings us up to the present day thus:
1975 - Strategic control of infected badger communities. Gassing of setts began, that is elimination of whole setts, thus avoiding the 'peturbation' effect.
1980 - Almost four fold drop in confirmed outbreaks down to about 60 herds nationwide, mainly in the south west.
1981 - Gassing stopped due to concerns about the use of cyanide and badger welfare.
1984 - Reactors still down at 400 hundred cattle slaughtered per year.
1985 - Dunnet committee on TB reports (para 56) "We believe that it is not necessary, and indeed would be a waste of resources, to seek further confirmation for the transmission of tuberculosis from badgers to cattle" - but badger culling was reduced.
1986 - Intensive and prolonged cage trapping was stopped as considered too expensive. Number of confirmed outbreaks now increased to 84. Minimal trapping policy started, restricted to within farm boundaries, but cattle tb is increasing.
(The land available for trapping was reduced from 7 km down to 1km and limited to the farm concerned, within its boundaries and preferably on land grazed by the reactor - ed)
1990s - Badger control shown to effective in reducing the incidence of TB (Clifton-Hadley and others, 1995 [ Thornbury, Hartland, Steeple Leez, East Offally etc.- ed])
1997 - All badger trapping stopped during ISG trial: from then on Tb increases dramatically.
2005 - Massive increase in TB reactor cattle culled. from 400 a year in 1980s to 30,000 in 2005.
2006 - Triplet badger cull trial finishes. interim report by Defra states that the sucess in removal of badgers was only 20 - 60 percent. TB culls reduced to 23,000.
2007 - Published papers confirm that the ISG trial only culled between 32 per cent to a maximum of 77 per cent of badgers in the control areas. (Smith and Cheeseman 2007)

The culling trial has now been described or re-titled by the ISG as merely a 'population reduction'. Well they did that for sure. Culled on 8 nights only, trapped the main group leaders of what was assumed to be an infected population, and then disappeared. Sometimes for years, but with the interruption of FMD, certainly for two years in every triplet, to leave a fractured and highly infectious population to scrap and fight as it regrouped. Pretty smart that was, given the warnings issued by Professor Krebs when he set up the methodology in 1997, its carnage confirmed by their own WLU manager.

But we digress: the letter from Roger Blowey concludes with a question:
"Very little has changed with the TB testing. We are using essentially the same skin test that brought Tb under control in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (and in my case, the same vet!), and it is the same skin test that has been successfully used in other countries in the EU and throughout the world. So, could someone please explain to me why, in the UK, the disease is spiralling out of control? This despite the introduction of premovement testing and ever more stringent restrictions imposed on cattle movements. Some of us might just think that there could be an external source of infection leading to these increased breakdowns. If this is true, what other disease is there where we have attempted control by culling test positives without tackling the reservoir of infection?"

Also writing from the swamplands of Gloucestershire, is ex member of the old Badger panel, Martin Hancox of Stroud. (in the Vet. Times).
Having roundly castigated the 'farcical Tb debate' by denying that badgers are anything at all to do with Tb, and that cattle are the only true cause, Hancox continues:
"Annual testing is so effective in cattle that it reduces cattle to cattle spread so that nearly half of herd breakdowns comprise only a single reactor. Putting herds under immediate movement restriction stops the export of latent TB carriers which would otherwise go off and cause further herd breakdowns. The third result of intensive cattle controls is that some two thirds of cases are caught so early that it is not possible to confirm that they do, in fact have TB (NVL and few m.bovis presents so hard to confirm, PCR would help)"

With that we have no quarrel at all. Good stuff. "Annual testing is so effective [] that it reduces cattle to cattle spread" But has it been so long since the Badger Panel sat, that Mr. Hancox didn't realise that annual testing is the norm now from Cheshire to Cornwall? And that movement restrictions are slapped on by the disclosing veterinary surgeon, at the time of reading the test? And that subsequently 60 day tests are conducted ad infinitum until at least one reveals the herd is clear - two if lesions and / or culture confirms disease? And that after that clear test a 6 month check test is completed to confirm no latent infection? (This because the GB strains of tb have a maximum incubation period of exposure to skin test flag up of 221 days) And if under all those circumstances and no bought in cattle are implicated - where does Mr. Hancox assume infection is coming from? And coming from? And coming from?

He continues:
"It is important to realise that untraced movements of such unconfirmed and undetected true Tb cases is why Tb persists both here and in Ireland."

Not if there are no bought in cattle it isn't. And movement restrictions imediately stop any ongoing cattle sales except direct slaughter, and traces follow up everything sold from 2 months prior to the last clear test. Sheeesh.
And Mr. Hancox concludes;
"The Badger Trust is misguided in pushing so hard for IFN blood tests .... yes, they do pick up early NVL cases, but miss later skin test positive ones, which is why EU rules are only for IFN as a back up test."

Yes. But the ISG recommend it. Your point?

The other observation we would offer from Gloucestershire - and all other areas experiencing such devastating floods - is what do our readers think is happening to the badgers? Householders were reporting seeing stranded rabbits and foxes in their gardens and if the badgers haven't drowned, then survivors will have packed their water wings and struggled to higher, drier ground. And what will they find there, already occupying the territory? Other social groups. So, a peturbation opportunity in the making, just as FMD was and just as the last two summer's extraordinarily dry conditions made food sources more scarce, these floods will have a dramatic effect of badger habitat, and thus movement of 'peturbed', and in Glos. highly infectious, badgers.


Anonymous said...

You state that "Mr. Hancox didn't realise that annual testing is the norm now from Cheshire to Cornwall"

Perhaps this is because annual testing is widespread, but hardly the norm as you suggest.

See DEFRA map at

You are always accusing others of 'bending the truth' - so why do it yourselves?

Jo said...

What does anonymous think 'the norm' means? Look at the map that you've sent a link for, draw a line from Cheshire to Cornwall, and to the West of that line you will see that 'the norm' (dictionary definition 'the usual or standard thing.') is annual testing. To the East it is 4 year testing. How is that 'bending the truth?'.

Once again, many thanks, Matthew, for your calm and clear reporting of the facts.

Matthew said...

Anon 9.23.
Thankyou for the map link. We've used a link in a posting above.

SW of Defra's 'maginot' line which is being considered for zoning is from Cheshire to Cornwall, the map shows red on the majority of parishes. And that means annual testing. Areas still in the West region, and the Staffs / Derbys part of the North area are split between annual and two year testing.

Ten years ago, the Defra parish map of GB showed about 8 red hotspots only, with a scattering of other pockets. Now, it is an expensive and amplifying disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Not having my own aircraft, I would travel through Somerset to get to Cornwall from Cheshire.

Matthew said...

Anon 5.08
And if you did, you'd fly over an 'amplifying' situation - in Defra speak.
Last year, Jan - April 2006, Somerset had 5 per cent of its herds under restriction.
Jan - May 2007 there were 6.5 per cent.
And in the year to Dec 2006 Somerset recorded 8.3 per cent.(In the year 2005 it was 7.6 per cent.)

Jim said...

For heaven's sake, Anon, "the norm" does not mean "the rule without exception" - see Jo's earlier comment with the dictionary definition. Look at the map - a journey from Cornwall to Cheshire will take you through parishes the bulk of which are on annual testing. For me, and the OED, that is "the norm". Stop your car, or land your plane, in any particular parish, ask a local farmer if they are on annual testing, and the likelihood is that the answer will be yes. It won't be the answer in every case but it will be the usual or standard answer - in other words, the norm. Enough semantics...