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 Manx government take bovine Tb very seriously. Cattle imported on to the island are subject to strict veterinary controls, which the Department describes thus:
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.
All imported cattle are subject to -We are grateful for information direct from the Manx veterinary authorities for the following up-to-date quote:
* testing prior to importation;
* movement restriction following importation; and
* post-import testing.
...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.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'.
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.
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.