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.


sandyrham said...

Maybe the farming community is missing a trick here.
A big public awareness campaign should have at the top
Don't Cull Badgers
then as horrible a picture of a TBed badger as you dare (I know you've got some shockers). Then..

Brits, being what they are, would work themselves into a frenzy to vaccinate the badgers.

Certainly that badger-man needs a rude shock as to what awaits unculled badgers.

Matthew said...

You're absolutely right. But first find an editor brave enough to publish.

That's why we started the blog.

As you say, the reality of Tb in badgers is an affront to so-called animal lovers. But then policy making from a distance is always easier. For sure, not much cash would be collected if tuberculous
reality decorated those boxes -instead of a shiny black and white specimen.

NoGoodAtSums said...

matthew said: "Figures released this week show Defra on target for a rise of about 20% (over 2006) in herds under restriction due a 'TB incident'."

and "A 20 per cent increase in Tb restricted herds predicted - and achieved - annually?"

DEFRA figures for cattle "under TB2 restrictions because of a TB incident at some time during the reporting period":

2006 4,871

2007 5,331

That's a 9.4% increase isn't it? NOT 20%

(5331 minus 4871 gives 460, divide by 4871, times that by 100 -how do you work out 20%?)

2manyDead said...

Some are more concerned at the number of animals 'lost'

Looking at the figures there's a total 19,947 bTB 'victims out of 4,203,698 cattle tested.

That's less than half of one per cent isn't it?

Ok any loss is regrettable, but this number is small when looked at in the context of the overall survival rates for livestock.

Matthew said...

4.27 nogoodat...
Key words missed are ....'on target'.

As in, not completed.

Stats are to Jan - September.

See post quoting Daniel Kawczynski in July:

"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."

Which equates to just over 20 per cent per year.

4.38 2many...

Too bloody right. That is too many. Almost 20,000 too many for Tb free trading, which requires a failure rate of 0.02 percent of cattle tested.

Movement and trading restrictions and the cost of extra 60 day tests apply to all the animals tied up in the breakdowns of herds associated with those almost 20,000casualties. And that multiplies up to a whole lot of wasted cash - both farmers' and taxpayers'.

No comments on the devastation caused to Gordon Tully's wonderful, old established herd?

No, we thought not.

Anonymous said...

I don't think sandyrham appreciates quite how difficult it is to get any mention of bovine TB in the national press. A recent Daily Telegraph editorial entitled 'Misery on our Farms' mentioned Foot and Mouth, Blue Tongue, Bird Flu etc but not bTB. I sent the following letter for publication -
Sir, In your editorial 'Misery on our Farms'(15 November) you make no mention of bovine tuberculosis, at present responsible for the unnecessary slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle and reported to cost the country £90 million a year. The effect of bTB on farming can be just as damaging as any of the diseases you mention. The stringent testing and slaughter of cattle without tackling the disease in badgers which share the same pastures, has resulted in a catastrophic spread of the disease throughout great swathes of the country side. We can certainly blame the Government for their failure to act in eradicating this deadly disease which can affect humans, and is found in an increasing number of other species including domestic pets.'
Was it published? No! Neither were other letters I have written on the subject in the recent past. Bovine TB and its connection with badgers appears to be taboo - a subject that 'dare not speak its name'- too much for the DT's urban/suburban readership. I wonder how long before someone makes the connection between rising food prices and lack of meaningful disease control.
We were sorry to hear of Gordon Tully's herd - know just what he is going through. Equally sorry to hear that our neighbour has just had several reactors for the first time. It was only a matter of time as we share the same badgers.

Matthew said...

Anon. 12.27

A very good letter. Thank you for sharing it.

We have spoken to several newspapers, and with only one exception, they balked at printing the reality of tuberulosis and its ultimate effect on the badger.

Two of our contributors are in the same position as your herd; with their neighbours suffering big breakdowns and awaiting tests to see if the problem has been 'shared'.
(Needless to say, cattle and the boundaries have not been shared, - just the badger runs.)