Thursday, November 29, 2007

Defra - Achieving its predictions

In many articles during 2003 and 2004 (and in the PQs archived on this site) Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) predicted a 20% year on year increase in bovine Tb. And if they are failing in the management of skools 'n 'ospitals, getting tangled up in dodgy party donations, sending clapped out kit into war zones and busy bailing out bankrupt banks, at least they got that bit right. Figures released this week show Defra on target for a rise of about 20% (over 2006) in herds under restriction due a 'TB incident'.

That's Defraspeak for cattle shot and the herd at a standstill: under indefinite movement restriction and 60 day tests ad infinitum - or at least until the infected wildlife responsible, expire voluntarily or compulsorily.

England's total of such herds, from Defra figures compiled to September is 6.8 per cent (up from 6.1 last year in the same 9 month period), Wales has recorded 9 per cent, (up from almost 7.0 last year) and even Scotland does not qualify for TB free trading, recording 0.5 per cent of its herds under restriction compared with 0.3 last year. Tb free trading is achieved with up to 0.01 per cent of herds affected, 0.02 per cent of cattle and a credible policy for eradication of the disease. We doubt an annual cull of cattle sentinels complies.

One casualty in the West region, (which has 15 per cent of its herds under restriction ) is breeder of pedigree South Devon cattle, Gordon Tully who has lost a valuable core of his breeding herd. Western Morning News carries the story with the headline "Brown Snub on Badger Cull".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday dodged repeated questions about his plans to tackle TB in cattle as it emerged that a leading Westcountry farm has been struck down by the disease. Mr Brown simply said it was an "issue that has got to be addressed from time to time". He added that he was doing his best to help the farming community

South Devon farmer Gordon Tully is only the latest in a long line of Westcountry farmers whose herds have been hit by bTb.He said watching the slaughter of his TB-hit livestock was like "having my own heart ripped out". He said the "cause is clear" and that a badger cull was the only way of stopping other farmers having to live under the "black cloud" of movement restrictions and slaughter. The report continues:
Mr Tully, from Waddeton, near Brixham, has already seen nine of his beef cattle killed, with a further 12 expected to be culled today. And it has cast a huge shadow over the remainder of his once 230-strong herd. In a heartfelt letter to his MP, Anthony Steen, urging him to raise his plight with ministers, he said: "I am in a state of shock and am very, very upset and totally lost. I am unable to see what to do now. I am having the heart ripped out of my herd and feel I am having my own heart ripped out as well."

Gordon Brown fended the questions - as only practised politicians can. He admitted there "have been problems" which have beset rural communities but "we have tried our best working with the farming community to make possible more successful farming in the future".

What the hell did that mean? (Answers on a postcard.)

Brown then referred to recent "difficulties" the farming community had faced, including foot and mouth disease and bluetongue. Difficulties? Trade bans, movement restrictions, lock down, bankruptcy? Yes, you could say we have 'difficulties'. But whose fault was the un-repaired leaky drain at the Pirbright IAH site? Who kept the State Veterinary Service, of which this facility was the flagship, so starved of funds that basic maintenance within a Grade 4 bio security level facility was compromised? And who, having seen the devastation wrought across Europe this year with bluetongue virus, advised the erection of 'sticky midge nets' instead of an all out commitment to vaccination? And who has counted more votes in dead badger than a dead cow, and still thinks he can buy his food supplies from abroad?

Former keeper of HMG's beans, and now Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who told reporters: "We have tried to do our best to give support financially."

How, he did not elaborate. The WMN report continues:
The far South West is one of the hardest-hit parts of the country. Between January and August this year alone, there were 468 confirmed cases of TB in cattle across Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. That compares with 697 in the whole of 2006, sparking fears that another record could be set by the end of the year. Mr Tully said the outbreak on his farm was proof that action needed to be taken soon: "Until they address the rest of the equation they are never going to solve it."

Gordon Tully's herd now faces regular tests until the cattle are given the all-clear on two successive occasions. Until then he cannot move any of his herd except to send for slaughter. But if the collective brain cell known as T-BAG (TB Advisory Group) get their way, after those two consecutive clear 60 day tests, Mr. Tulley faces several more years under effective 'restriction' - unable to trade his cattle in the market place under a daft idea of zoning dressed up as 'Risk Based Trading'

The background and 'pedigree' of Gordon Tully's cattle can be read in Farmers Guardian this week, under a piece which describes the farmer's devastation at losing them - and more importantly not being able to do a damned thing about it.
It [Mr. Tully's pedigree herd] is one of 10 foundation herds for the South Devon breed, with bloodlines dating back to 1891. It has provided the breed champion and reserve breed champion at the last two Royal Shows and, before that, the winner of the prestigious Queen Mother’s Cup at the Smithfield show. The successful herd has been built up through skillful breeding over six decades by two generations of the Tully family. But now the family could potentially lose everything.

After a clear test in the spring, Mr Tully's cattle had a devastating result at the end of October, when a herd test revealed 31 animals to be either reactors or inconclusives.

Twenty-one have been slaughtered over the past two weeks, leaving six calves under three months without mothers. With tests on a further 25 ‘inconclusives’ scheduled for January, the final toll could be much higher. “I fear for what is coming. How many more are they going to take?” an emotional Mr Tully said.

But the greatest frustration, he said, was knowing he was powerless to prevent the outbreak - or to stop it continuing to rip through his herd. “I am just so despondent. If I could say they were going for the benefit of other cattle and something good would come of it, that would be something. But it clearly isn’t as it is painfully obvious the disease is being spread by badgers – we had a clear test in April and no cattle have come on the farm since".
“I just feel I am a sitting duck here now. I backed down from refusing entry to take my cattle after the divisional veterinary manager said: ‘You don’t want diseased cattle on you farm, do you?’ I said: ‘No, and I don’t want diseased badgers, either. The badgers are dying slow and painful deaths. Who is looking out for them?”

Mr. Tully has written to Lord Rooker asking: “I cannot understand why the Government is more concerned about badgers than cattle. Are you going to introduce a badger cull in Devon?” He may also have asked, as a comment on this posting has suggested, enquiring why so-called animal lovers are totally opposed to culling diseased badgers, while content to see them die like THIS.

The usual suspects expressed sympathy and anger in equal measures.

A Defra spokesman said:
"The Government will only consider introducing a policy which would allow the culling of badgers to control and reduce bovine TB if the available evidence suggests that it would it be successful in the long term, and that a cost-effective, practical, sustainable and humane policy could be developed and implemented. The evidence base on this issue is complex and there are no simple answers.".

The Badger Trust claimed: "Killing badgers is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut - doing far more harm than good."

A 20 per cent increase in Tb restricted herds predicted - and achieved - annually?
7 per cent of England's herds under Tb restriction in the 9 months to September?
Devon, Glos and Hereford / Worcs recording over 20 per cent of their herds affected.
And herds like Gordon Tully's - condemned by infectious wildlife?

Some sledgehammer. Some nut.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Playing politics

Two stories hit the farming press this week which illustrate the total futility of farmers trying to play politics. Market prices, that is prices achieved in an auction, and on which a vendor can turn his back and take stock home, are the benchmark for most livestock trade - and for Defra's infamous tabular valuations. So what happens if the rug is pulled on the system?

Howard Walsh writing in Farmers Guardian, entitles his piece Movement Restrictions Strangling Trade and pulls no punches when he reports an auctioneer in the SE as saying:
Bluetongue (BTV) and foot-and-mouth rules and regulations will kill the UK livestock industry before the diseases do.

The piece explains the stranglehold such restrictions have on a livestock farm's ability to trade its stock at the 'market price', if that market is no longer there. Downward pressure feeds onto deadweight retailer prices, and as auctioneers all over the country are finding, the consequences are devastating. Current movement restrictions also threaten the markets’ longer term viability.

While attention is concentrated on the markets of the SE, the zoning of the area means that up to 150 km inland, markets are affected, with regular trade stifled.
Vendors are worried not only that they would not be able take stock home in the event of prices falling short of expectations, but that buyers are restricted anyway by the same boundary and movement controls.

York Livestock Centre is in this position and according to principle James Stephenson the fact that the Murton centre is just inside the zone, is decimating trade, particular store stock.
“The cattle finishers are being starved of store stock and this part of the country is, you could say a meat basket but the abattoirs will find next year that the stock are just not there. We are really concerned about the situation and if something is not done soon, then we will lose some auction marts

Livestock Auctioneers Association executive secretary Chris Dodds was not optimistic about the situation, describing a two tier market which has developed either side of the zoning line:
“There is a massive difference in livestock values being achieved either side of the line.”

We have touched on the problem of zoning risk-based trading for TB before in this post and this week, ironically on the same page as the piece above, Farmers Guardian reports that Farmers have requested just such movement restrictions for Tb.

Have they? We haven't. In fact we have pointed out many times the futility of such measures, all of which have been tried before - and all of which have failed. But the TB Advisory Group, our old friend T-Bag, in the shape of chairman Peter Jinman have proposed zoning risk based trading for farms who have had a confirmed breakdown in the previous - well they aren't quite sure, 2, 3 or 4 years? Maybe.

These farms will only be able to sell stock to consenting farms of similar status. No markets. In fact a buyers' market - if you can find a buyer. Zoning per se may find itself on the back burner if rumours of the whole of England adopting a more regular testing regime, rather than the 3/4 year testing areas which operate now, are correct. This would be sensible, as would post movement tests - but we've said this before as well. It is this fixation with extra non-productive cattle controls, offered as a sop to HMG that is worrying.

In a letter to Lord Rooker, Peter Jinman, outlined the groups' proposals and said that he was struck:
".. by the industry’s willingness to consider additional cattle controls’.
Who is this 'industry'? Has anybody told the farmers what you guys are offering on their behalf? Yes? No?

No, we didn't think so.

Mr. Jinman said representatives had made it clear that going down this route without parallel wildlife controls would ‘not be acceptable’. Right. That's OK then. Which tree did these people fall out of? We've been here before in fact almost two years to the day, the 'industry' rolled out a three part plan. Defra got its tabular valuations and preMT - and delivered a new group (T-BAG) and a 'consultation'.

Defra's track record on farmer 'deals' is not good. Duplicitous, mendacious and slippery, it's usually a case of Defra saying jump and a very few egotistical lightweights saying 'how high'? Or in this case 'on who'?

And in this case, the 'who' are livestock farmers who have had the misfortune to have had Tb confirmed on their farms in the last 2, 3 or 4 years. They been under restriction during the outbreak and felt the impact on their businesses, but this bolts on a whole new layer of problems for another 2, 3 or 4 years. (Mr. Jinman's group Defra haven't decided yet)

T- BAG kindly explain the bones of what they have offered to Government on your behalf:
* Restricting farmers with a recent history of the disease to moving their cattle only to other ‘high risk’ farmers.

* Examining the costs and benefits of increasing routine surveillance.

* Looking at the costs and benefits of greater use of the gamma interferon test.

* Exploring the scope for introducing a risk-based trading, and how it could work.

* Targeted use of post-movement testing.

Mr Jinman said there was no support for ‘zoning’, banning the movement of cattle out of high risk areas, as this would have an ‘unacceptable economic impact’ and would not reflect risk accurately for those farmers who had stayed disease-free.

But there was, he said,
A ‘willingness’ to consider other options, such as risk-based trading. While the details still have to be fleshed out, the broad principle is that farmers would be categorised according to risk, with those that have experienced breakdowns in the past two to four years, for example, categorised as ‘high risk’.
They would be allowed to move cattle to other high risk farms but not to farms deemed lower risk.

So, we have a story that livestock farms in the as the SE, NE and Midlands are described as 'Strangled by the movement restrictions", which they say will destroy more businesses than the diease. But on behalf of every farm which has had a confirmed outbreak of TB in the last 2, 3 or 4 years (Defra haven't decided yet), a small 'stakeholder' group, has offered - " willingly" the man said, er, more movement restrictions, and a two tier market - if any market for such stock can be found at all.

One could say that such ideas show a distinct 'lemming' gene to be prevalent amongst the group.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Red Herring?

Researchers at the Institute of Animal Health's Compton laboratory have been awarded a commendation described as "Outstanding Contribution by an Academic or Scientific Institution", at the Animal Health Awards, for their work in developing a diagnostic test for cattle which have been "vaccinated against bovine tb".

But is the vaccination of cattle for Tb a viable solution to a problem which is endemic in wildlife?

The test as Farmers Weekly reports, is said to differentiate between cattle 'vaccinated against bTb' and those infected with the disease.

TB is on the increase in the UK cattle herd, costing more than £90m a year and vaccination is under "active consideration", say the Institute of Animal Health. This would involve using the same vaccination used to immunise humans against the disease, BCG.

However, BCG-vaccinated cattle test positive using the tuberculin skin test. Before a bovine TB vaccination strategy can be implemented, a method of distinguishing between vaccinated and infected animals has to be established.
With all due respect to the researchers at Compton, Tb vaccine has been "under consideration" for as many years as I can remember. On other forums, vaccination of cattle for various disease is under active discussion. Vaccination is used worldwide for some notifiable dieases as an anti- marketing tool, and should countries adopt it, their produce is automatically disqualified from entry into other trading blocs.

The current discussions centre on the midge bourne BTV (bluetongue virus) which had not been reported in the UK before this year. We therefore qualified for "BTV free status zoning". And for years this country excluded exports of breeding stock, embryos, semen etc from parts of the world whose geographic location encouraged BTV midges and whose stock were vaccinated. Vaccination across Europe is now on the cards, but as a compulsory trading bloc, which will probably mean in due course that BTV is "de-listed" from its current notifiable status.

FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) has similar trading restrictions under OIE and EU trading rules, and the inevitable two tier markets develop between countries with endemic disease and vaccination policies, and those without either.

So why should a cattle Tb vaccine even be considered other than as a reserach project? It's use is strictly limited, and its disadvantages many.

We asked several epidemiologists and also industry leaders who have connections with export markets, and the replies were unequivocal. Unworkable, unnecessary and commercial suicide.

..I doubt very much that this is the prelude to a vaccination programme for cattle. For a start there is currently no effective vaccine for cattle and I rather doubt there will be. Secondly the idea of vaccinating cattle in the face of massive challenge in the field from infected badgers is daft. Yes, vaccination against brucellosis was successful but there was no wildlife reservoir to break down resistance (and the S19 vaccine was a good one) ...
So, if cattle are the only candidate and there is no wildlife reservoir to break down resistance to a vaccine, it would work. But vaccination minimises an immune response to bacterial challenge: it does not stop it altogether. Thus cattle vaccination in the face of exposure from disease endemic elsewhere would be pointless.

And on trade, as we have said an immediate ban would come from the EU - that's if any pharmaceutical company decided with such a limited market, to produce a vaccine at all. Only countries with an uncontrolled wildlife reservoir of Tb would be remotely interested. Manufacturers are demanding a 100 million dose underwrite across the EU for BTV-8 vaccine, before they'll think of applying for market authorisation, so how viable is a Tb vaccine for the West of GB and Wales?

Another quote on this subject:

If we vaccinated cattle there would be an immediate trade embargo with the rest of the EEC. In fact I reckon they are almost waiting for it! Vaccination for badgers is a long term approach which Ireland are currently trialling (or will very soon be ). But no vaccine can cope with the current weight of infection in the badger population at the moment and strategic culling will be an essential pre requisite.
Now that is interesting. We have expressed support for vaccination for badgers, if only to protect them from their infected sett mates, but vaccination + disease = death, was always the mantra. And it would appear that for any vaccination programme to succeed, the candidate must be uninfected at the time of vaccination. So how would the Badger Trust sell the concept of a badger cull as a prerequisite of a badger vaccination programme to its members?

But we digress. The test which IAH Compton have developed, relies on the information that immune cells of cattle previously infected with TB contain more of the protein gamma interferon than those vaccinated for TB. They describe the test as able to provide:

.. same day, on farm diagnosis of TB and identify which are vaccinated and which are infected.
That sounds suspiciously like PCR. And if it is, good. Especially if it is rt-PCR and we're not still lagging 6 years behind the plot on this stunning technology. Next step, use it to identify bTb in the environment and that is progress.

The researchers at Compton comment: "The ultimate benefit of accurate diagnosis of disease, in the light of vaccination, would be a reduction in the incidence of TB with associated improvements in animal health and welfare, and the livelihood of farmers."

Don't think so. Vaccination in the face of an endemically infected wildlife, would be ineffective and vaccination per se would destroy the livlihoods of all cattle producers, by creating a two tier market - or even no market, for their goods. Archaic, that may seem but it is the reality of global trading.

And what about the cats? And llamas? And free range pigs? ...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Spill over - now llamas...

Several be-suited members of the EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) committee donned wellies and perched on straw bales for a trailer ride tour, to see for themselves the interaction between livestock and wildlife on SW farms affected by bTb. Member of the committee, Geoffrey Cox, MP said:

"I believe that my colleagues were deeply impressed with the dignified eloquence of those who spoke to us about their experiences and shocked by the destructiveness of the disease on herds and on farming livelihoods".
Mr. Cox, whose constituency is one of the most badly affected in the country, had urged his committee colleagues to see for themselves, the devastation caused by the disease, Western Morning News reports.

The committee visited a farm in Shebbear which has been under restrictions for several years, learning first hand from farmers and local vets of the impact the disease has had, and is continuing to have, on farming families and businesses.
Mr. Cox was one of the main badgerers questioners of Prof. Bourne when EFRAcom examined the ISG final report into the 10 year antics of the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. The committee will, in due course prepare a report for government, and Mr. Cox continued:

"The message that must come out of our report is that the Government can no longer postpone the urgently needed action to control the disease in wildlife, which Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - accepts is an important factor in the spread of infection here in Torridge, by a locally targeted, humane cull in heavily infected areas."
We have spoken many times on this blog, of the inevitable spill over casualties of this debacle. Shooting the messenger does not get rid of the problem. And following the Torridge visit, the EFRA committee members moved on to a llama farm in Mid Devon where half of this unique breeding herd of animals has been wiped out by Bovine TB.

This is breeding herd of llamas, selling valuable stock for export which have to be TB tested before they can travel. A 'closed herd', it has over the course of a very few months, lost half its stock to bTb.

Crucially, the committee members heard at each farm visited, that not only had the farmers operated bio secure 'closed herd' policies,

"...they had found sick or dying badgers on their farm before the outbreak of infection."
And this is the bit that our friends in the animal protection charities do not like. Up with pictures of the reality of tuberculosis in their chosen species, they will not put. But as the disease runs riot through the wildlife, more and more spillover becomes inevitable. As the llamas found, to their cost.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mass cull? - it won't happen.

Farmer Ian Pettyfer from Devon echoes our thoughts in an opinion piece in this week's Western Morning News. Forget pythagorus and huge cull areas aka John Bourne. They may work in a hypothetical, mathematical modeling situation but are a bloody disaster in any other.

Mr. Pettyfer welcomes Sir David King's overview of the Bourne report, pointing out that the ISG only considered one form of culling. (And accomplished that with total arrogance and aplomb, ignoring both the advice from their WLU managers and the recommendations of Professor Krebs)

[Sir David King] correctly, in the opinion of farmers, disputes the conclusion of the Bourne Report that any cull will merely exacerbate the problem, since Professor Bourne was only looking at one form of culling - cage trapping. However, King, in proposing a cull, goes on to agree with Bourne that, for this to be effective, it needs to be over a very wide area, a minimum of 100 square kilometres at least, but fails to consider any evidence to show that a different form of culling could succeed in much smaller areas, involving the deaths of far fewer badgers, and only in the diseased setts.
It is unfortunate that Sir David did not go further back than AB (After Bourne). In fact it is quite remarkable that (scientific) life began with Bourne and the ISG. No research, trials, cattle controls - nothing to do with controlling bTb happened BB (Before Bourne) it would seem. At least nothing that isn't ridiculed and pilloried into submission by a new 'modeling' exercise. Forget if you will, that 20 years ago GB achieved Tb free trading status. The last time we able to say that. And certainly ignore the advice of the people who fought so hard to gain that status. They were BB. But we digress. Mr. Pettyfer doesn't like the idea of huge area culls any more than we do - or the Bern Convention would.

Forget a massive cull - it is simply never going to happen. For a start, many landowners and farmers, let alone the general public, will never tolerate it. Where are the natural barriers, which are necessary for it to succeed in Devon and Cornwall - the M5, the English and Bristol Channels? Attempting to slaughter 80 per cent of the badgers in such a huge area is a preposterous idea.
Quite right. It is a red herring designed to prevaricate even more on the contentious subject of culling selective wildlife reservoirs of tuberculosis. Mr. Pettyfer concludes that he is "inclined to believe that Sir David intended to stir up controversy by suggesting it, knowing that the adverse public reaction would allow the Government to stall for the remainder of this parliament."

The sooner we start doing what we did successfully 40 years ago, and should have been doing for the past 20 years, the sooner we shall beat this heartbreaking and costly disease. Farms where TB keeps recurring and where cattle are not being introduced from other herds, should be licensed to take out the badgers, using carbon monoxide gas under veterinary supervision, and kept free of badgers until the herd goes clear. That is what farmers and vets have been advocating for years. It will eventually happen, and the public will tolerate it.
They'll tolerate it even more when their pet cats, dogs and free range companion animals start coughing. Spill over has already decimated a llama farm in East Devon which operated a 'closed herd' policy. We will post more on that in due course.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Manx mischief

We are used to the politics of 'spin' from government. But we are becoming increasingly weary of the same misinformation spin, churned out via press releases from various prominent animal charities and unquestioningly regurgitated by lazy media hacks.

In our posting Spot-the-difference we showed a master in action. Our Trevor, Mr. Lawson, media advisor to the Badger Trust, carefully snipped a vital piece of English grammar - the subject no less - from a sentence and turned scientific fact into Badger Trust fiction.

That was after both he and the ISG spent more than a few years chasing postcards, in the mistaken belief that the 14 million animal movements logged by the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) were individual bovine hoofprints. They were not. They were data, often quadrupled, generated by just 2.2 million cattle movements and 400,000 calf hops.

And now they have turned their attention to the Isle of Man. An island enjoying similar climate and geographic features to both Ireland and West Wales, it has cattle herds (large, small, organic and conventional, beef and dairy) - but no badgers. And the clarion call has gone up that TB is 'rife' on the island and as badgers are in no way implicated - well it's gotta be cattle.

First of all Tb is not 'rife'. The Isle of Man logged just five cases from 2001 - 2003 as described in the Department of Agriculture's newsletter of 2003:
Bovine tuberculosis was discovered on the Island in October 2001, the first outbreak since 1971. The affected milking herd on the initial farm had to be destroyed because of clear evidence of rapid spread of the disease within the adult cattle. Four other locations had only one affected animal each. No evidence of spread from any of the five locations has been found. Laboratory tests conclusively demonstrated that at least four, if not all five, of these outbreaks were unrelated to each other.

The last confirmed case was in April 2002. All herds that had confirmed cases have been subjected to further testing with negative results.

Government and private practice vets, have worked together to deliver the increased level of testing required. The 2003/4 programme has been completed with no herd under restriction for failing a tuberculosis test.
The Manx government take bovine Tb very seriously. Cattle imported on to the island are subject to strict veterinary controls, which the Department describes thus:

All imported cattle are subject to -
* testing prior to importation;
* movement restriction following importation; and
* post-import testing.
We are grateful for information direct from the Manx veterinary authorities for the following up-to-date quote:

...Other advances in genetic testing have permitted the Animal Health Division to specifically identify the bacteria isolated from each of the Island’s outbreaks (12 since 2000) and determine whether they may be related. These investigations, together with movement analyses, have shown that many of the outbreaks are unrelated and are likely to have been the result of importation. ...
There is two year testing on most herds on the island, but much more important, as described above, they post movement test imported cattle at 60 days plus.

If a cow is carrying Tb when she jumps into a lorry, it his highly unlikely that the journey to the Isle of Man will produce a miracle cure. And it is this vital post movement skin test, we are told, that is finding the occasional reactor,(12 in 7 years) described as "unrelated" and "likely to be the result of importation".

And this is the crucial 'snip' that escaped the press releases.

The Isle of Man is also looking at its own particular 'wildlife' in case a reservoir is building. They are mindful of problems not a million miles away from their shores. They may not have badgers - they do have feral ferrets, wallabies and polecats. If an outbreak cannot be traced to imports the IOM authorities comment:
We can clear up our outbreaks without further breakdown because we don’t have a large reservoir of infected badgers.
We think it may be circulating to a minor extent outside cattle and are looking for a wildlife reservoir – suspects at the moment are feral wallabies, feral cats, polecats and rats.
If and when we find proof of an infected wildlife reservoir, we will take action to control/eradicate.
If any badgers were to be imported and released illegally, we would take immediate steps to eradicate on the grounds that they are non-indigenous species and a threat to our national herd.
All of which sounds extremely sensible. The Department of Agriculture is aware that the threat of Tb is always present. Particularly as TB incidence in the nearest exporting country (that's us) has risen from under 100 herds affected in the mid 1980s to 5,787 (in 2006)and thus the odds that the IOM will import problems have increased considerably. The authorities, by using a post movement test are determined that Tb will not be imported and they add that although TB is present on the island, it is definitely not 'rife'.

GammaIFN has been used in one herd, as was described here and the Isle of Man's Animal Health Division co-ordinates the periodic testing for Tuberculosis of all the Island's cattle. All herds are currently tested within a two-year cycle. The period of testing will be reduced to an annual basis if the herd is deemed a high-risk herd, if the herd has imported any cattle or if the herd sells retail milk. Link to that information.

So is TB 'rife' on the Isle of Man? Official Manx documents from the Department of Agriculture (at least they still have a Department which even mentions 'Agriculture') describe 5 cases 2001 - 2003 and a total 12 cases from 2000 - 2007 - all of which proved to be 'unrelated' after culture spoligotypes were received, and most were 'likely to be the result of importation'. Result: less than two cases annually over the last seven years and all found by post-movement skin tests?

The Isles of Scilly off SW Cornwall enjoys similar status - or its cattle do.

We should be so lucky.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Political pressure v. science

The editorial of the scientific magazine 'Nature' has a hard hitting attack on Sir David King, chief scientific adviser to the H.M Government, commenting on his recently released critique of the ISG final report. They accuse him of bowing to 'political pressure'.
The question of whether British farmers should be allowed to cull badgers, on the basis that the animals may help spread tuberculosis (TB) among cattle, is perhaps not the most momentous matter on which a government has sought scientific advice. But the mishandling of the issue by David King, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, is an example to governments of how not deal with such advice, once it has been solicited and received.

Mishandling? That 'government' had had its sticky paws in this most unholy of messes from day one of the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, appears to have escaped the editors of Nature. But not of course, the diminutive professor who orchestrated the trial. If you remember (and Nature obviously does not) he was most forthcoming, in fact inordinately proud of this political skew - as we reported here In fact Profesor Bourne was quite open with the EFRAcom, as to who steered his 'trial' and how:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."

"At the end of the day I think you have to accept that it is the price society puts on a badger. [ ] In this country there is a price on a badger and on badger welfare".

"Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report".

That the man even mentioned the word 'science' in the same sentence as the political steer to this 'trial', is breathtakingly arrogant. That Nature have not picked up on his assertions, is worse.

We re-run a comment from CLA representative Mr. Rooney, himself a scientist, who expressed his displeasure at Bourne's discription of 'political science' most forcefully:
Perhaps I might preface my remarks by saying that I was brought up as a scientist; it was not in this discipline, but scientific principles hold, whatever the discipline. One of the things that I was taught was that, in designing an experiment to try to address an issue or a problem, you may not like the results, but you accept them. I find it deeply shocking that responsible scientists should have been prepared to undertake a research study having been told at the outset that there is a conclusion that they are not allowed to reach. I find that utterly disgraceful".

It is noteworthy that Sir David King vehemently denied any such political skew, when he appeared before the EFRAcom last week. Speaking before his appearance, Professor Bourne claimed Sir David’s report was politically motivated.
Sir David refuted the claim. “I would never give advice based on pressure from politicians,” he said.

Which is more than can be said for the author of the ISG's final report, and its chairman.