Thursday, October 04, 2007

West meets East. Zones.

In his final report of the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, Professor Bourne gave a list of 'must haves' to Government. Although these included absolutely no badger culling "in the way in which the trial was conducted" (a point with which we would not argue) the cattle measures which were predicted to solve the bTb problem were given a wide airing.

We have of course pointed out that others before John Bourne had, with equal certainty, attempted this avenue of control, but as their target was not the primary host of the disease,they failed to make a dent in the cattle casualty figures.

This has not prevented the ISG from proposing ever more stringent cattle controls for all areas on annual and two year testing. We explored Bourne's proposals in our posting here And alongside more testing and whole herd slaughter (applied with rigour, the man said), Professor Bourne proposed 'zoning' areas with high incidence of bTb, an exercise on which the CVO is said to be 'very keen'.

* Strict animal movement control (zoning) of animals from high risk areas into low risk, and even between farms of the same status within a zone.(10.64)

* Severe animal movement controls and only licensed to farms of the same status(10.71)
Crouching down behind disinfectant barriers, it occurred to us, that Defra are having a slight problem with their zones. At the time of scribbling these thoughts, we have 4 outbreaks of BTV (bluetongue virus) - a nasty little number which kills about 40 per cent of sheep that it infects. Not that sheep need much excuse to roll over and turn up their toes, but let that pass.

It is 'quieter' in cattle, but is also notifiable and its presence invokes OIE trading restrictions and 'zoning'. That no one has informed the midge carrying his lethal load of this, is beside the point. He bites (and infects)the animal, has his breakfast and continues on his way to his next meal. Defra are doing a 'King Canute' at present, arguing that BTV affecting 3 farms, some 50 miles apart is 'not an outbreak'.

Their hope is that this is the work of a single, long distance 'foreign' midge, which will be exterminated by a sudden frost. More likely is that the insect will bury itself in the warm fleece of its after dinner armchair, not commit insect hari kari by exposing itself to low temperatures and appear alive and kicking in the spring.

The appearance of BTV has ensured that GB now has an exclusion zone out of which which no cattle, sheep or other ruminants may move, stretching 150km inland from Suffolk to the borders of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire in the East Midlands.

Before this latest bombshell, farmers were already experiencing considerable problems with the fallout from, err- Pirbright's fallout. Defra's flagship Institute of Animal Health, shared a site (and a communal drain) with Merial, a laboratory facility producing FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) vaccine. They managed to have a squabble over the maintenance of the drain and the biosecurity of builders working on the site. That, coupled with a slow drip feed of available funding plus a 20 per cent reduction in cash during cuts to Pirbright IAH in 2005, has conspired to make the liklihood of the current FMD problems in Surrey a direct result of this very un-biosecure spat.

So zoning is alive and well in Defra's armoury against disease. From West Wales to the West Midlands, Bourne recommends that to control bTB, we operate farm to farm trade only and only to farms of the same disease status. A bit like being under bTb restriction then? That means, as in the present disease outbreaks, no markets. And of course, no possibility of taking animals home if the price is bad. So how is life without livestock markets and trading of all types of cattle and sheep in GB disease 'zones' right now?

In a word - awful. Buyers have a stranglehold and are using it with devastating results. The meat trade is making the most of their opportunities, and some cattle (and sheep) are realising about half their value before the restrictions were applied. Breeding stock are on the wrong farm, at the wrong time and that will impact on trade next year. Trading farm to farm is unsatisfactory, in that it is a 'buyer's market' for any class of breeding or store stock, and realistic values are unlikely to be achieved.

Farmers do not enjoy having their livlihoods screwed to the floor, while midges (and badgers) and half attenuated escapees from goverments labs move around them But that is exactly what zoning means. It will finish off livestock farming as we know it, if it continues. But government want it for bTb, and have to do it for BTV and FMD, ahead of any vaccination programme.

Any line on a map is transient. It cannot relate to a nomadic host spreading disease. Midges can't read, and neither can badgers. And Pirbright's attenuated, half-dead virus appears so quiet, that its spread is now only tracked by antibodies to its previously infectious life. This is death by 1000 cuts.

Defra's zoning maps are a triumph. From the West are Bourne's proposed bTB standstill zones, meeting the East's BTV 'Temporary Control Areas', and in the middle the culling grounds of leafy Surrey. Anybody got a plough?


Anonymous said...

Hello to you all, please can some one out there tell me how many calfs have been found with T.B when tested at the new age of 42 days! it seems to be an unanswerable question at DEFRA! The statistics are on their web site I am told. The cost of testing these calfs is a huge burden when perhaps they need not be tested in the first place,
anon fed up with all the rules.

DJBD said...

Anon 1.16
I've tested hundreds of calves this age and have found no reactors. Skin test has a latency of 30 - 50 days from exposure to infection, and calf's immune system is not fully developed to give a reaction to the jab.
It's a paper excercise, and a lucrative one at that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks djbd, its as I thought testing for the sake of keeping someone in a job! It just has to be one of the most stupidist rules that the brainless DEFRA vets and the equally brainless so called advisers that sit on these meetings to come up with. The same applies to the spokes person who has said we need to put up sticky papers around the boundry fences to catch the midges regarding the Blue Tongue outbreak or to bring in the stock.I would just love to see these spinless gormless lot fetching in several thousand sheep every day from the hills and mountains as was suggested to prevent the spread. Something that my grandmother said which I now think she was right about, she said that the midwife used to 'sort' out the child at birth if she thought that they were born without a brain, shame we havnt kept this up then perhaps we wouldnt have these halfwits and their bird brained ideas to contend with who all seem to work at Defra or within the badger trust.