Monday, December 15, 2008

It is 'apocryphal evidence' - ignore it.

Just occasionally something comes under our radar which lifts the spirits. And before our readers think that from this post's title, we have ventured into the realms of Greek mythology, we will explain.

Last week's Farmers Guardian carried a scathing, sarcastic but totally delicious letter from David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, attacking Lord Rooker. There is no web-link, so we will quote in full:
"The Badger Trust was astonished to read Lord Rooker's claim that the RBCT results could have just as easily been used to show badger culling worked'. (FG December 4th)

We had no idea Lord Rooker was so adept at analysing complex epidemiological data. We trust he will now publish his own analysis in a peer-reviewed journal, just to show how easy such an interpretation is. We doubt that he will do so however.

Lord Rooker appears to select evidence which best suits his view, rather than evidence that is most robust. Only last year, for example, he told the EFRA Select committee '70 per cent of the breakdowns are attributable to badger to cattle transmission'.

This was a divisive claim which totally contradicted the evidence gathered by the ISG.

Using the Freedom of Information Act , we obtained the 'evidence' Animal Health used to produce the 70 per cent figure. It is a painfully simple spreadsheet, adding up how often state vets blamed badgers for an outbreak.

Lord Rooker appeared to have judged this good enough to base a policy on"

David Williams
Badger Trust.

We have spoken of this 'robust evidence' , many times, indeed many of us contributed long hours, completing under veterinary supervision, the TB99 forms which dealt with the reasons which could be responsible for our TB breakdowns. Completion of the forms for the ISG took about four hours, as they were more detailed than the usual epidemiological assessment which has been completed at every breakdown, for decades. This has a tick box list of possibilities, with bought in cattle, common boundaries and cattle contact, shared mechanical equipment etc. among the table together with badgers, other wildlife and residual infection. The possibilities are 'High', 'Low' or 'Nil'.

The personnel completing these forms, and the TB99s for the RBCT, are highly trained veterinary practitioners, with back up support for the data from government agencies such at the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), Cattle Tracing Service (CTS), Ordnance Survey office and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

So it was a wasteful, arrogant, disgrace disappointing to realise that far from actually using the 'robust, complex, epidemiological data', described by David Williams as having been 'gathered by the ISG', they chose to ignore it.

Within the section concerning the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the ISG describe their epidemiological base, stating that they included:
"........ local infection across farm borders, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas and infection from wildlife, especially badgers. [] In the following calculations, we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important." (ISG 7.24 p148)
So, far from using that robust, complex epidemiological data contained in the TB99 forms to actually see what was going on, the ISG 'roughly assumed' two parts cattle, one part badger, pumped that into a mathematical abacus and switched on.

We understand that Professor Bourne went so far as to describe such epidemiological evidence, so confidently described by David Williams as 'robust' and 'complex', as 'apocryphal' - e.g of dubious provenance, not considered genuine, or of dubious authenticity. We're sure that the government agencies who took part in its 'gathering', are going to love that.

The ISG preferred it would appear, to assume and 'roughly estimate' disease transmission opportunity, and base their calculations of its spread and control on that.

The 'Disease Investigation Reports', about which the diminutive professor was so derisory, but which David Williams assumes were the basis for the ISG report and its conclusions, are analysed by the Epidemiology Unit at VLA Weybridge. But if ploughing through many words is too onerous, the following pictures (charts) are worth a thousand of them.

They are taken from a paper presented to the BCVA Congress held in Killarney last month, whose authors describe the basis of the RBCT and compare its mathematical modelling input with the actual 'complex epidemiological data' gathered over decades and held by VLA and some Animal Health offices in the SW.

This shows that from 1986 - 1995 analyses of data held by the Epidemiology Unit, Weybridge, approximately 90% of new herd incidents were considered to be of badger origin. (MAFF 1995, Clifton-Hadley 1995), so Lord Rooker's evidence was if anything, understated.

The paper concludes:

"The apparently arbitrary assumption of origins in the ISG model, are likely to have resulted in a serious distortion of the disease model. Giving equal weighting to cattle to cattle transmission, contiguous spread, and diseased badgers as sources of outbreaks seems a remarkable and disturbing assumption which was based only on concern that the ISG was unable to determine which proportions of the outbreaks were due to which source.
We are grateful for permission to publish the charts ahead of publication of this paper.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Tightening up

As Wales pioneers a closing of its TB eradication circle, it has wildlife still firmly in the frame. But a tightening up of cattle test interpretation has begun.

After the eradication sweeps of the 50s and 60s, as herds were cleared of reactors and more importantly, remained clear, testing was relaxed to reflect risk. And from annual tests, parishes entered a bureaucratic disease lottery of testing sequence. Depending on the prevalence of cattle reactors, parish and herd testing ranged from every 60 days to once in four years.

Over the last ten years, after badger control in response to outbreaks ceased, the number of reactors has rocketed, meaning the number of parishes hoovered up into annual testing (and thus preMT) has increased dramatically. But test interpretation has not altered - until now. Wales are reducing the number of tests an animal giving an 'inconclusive' result can have. Farmers Guardian has the story.

This is falling into line with European advice. And the previous three 'inconclusive' strikes, having been reduced in England to two, becomes just a single re-test in the Principality who are undertaking an annual sweep of all herd tests.

A comment on the posting below, firmly opining that 'of course cattle give TB to badgers and other mammals', has gained credence with the chatterati (as our partner labels such empty vessels with less than a single collective brain cell between them.) Thus we remind readers of previous expensive and ineffective cattle carnage under Liam Downie in Ireland and William Tait in West Cornwall. And reiterate the minister's reply to PQs about the total success of the Thornbury badger clearance:
"No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area were disclosed by the tuberculin test the the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" [150573]
Why would that be, we asked? Anything else done? Biosecurity? Extra cattle measures? Pre movement testing? Nope. The answer:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]

Tightening up cattle controls will only work if wildlife reservoirs are addressed simultaneously, and arguably current cattle controls are more than adequate (annual testing and double fenced boundaries), provided the maintenance hosts of tuberculosis are removed.

And if they are not, then no amount of cattle testing or culling will work.
Defra have posted at new figures to August, reinforcing our point.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on Bambi

Early in 2004, we asked the Minister of State for Agriculture what assessment she had made of the influence of wild deer in the spread of TB to cattle.
The answer given on the minister's behalf by baby-Ben Bradshaw was as follows:
In Great Britain there is very limited evidence that deer have been responsible for transmitting tuberculosis to cattle. Wild deer in GB have generally been considered a sentinel or 'spill-over' host of infection in cattle and other wildlife, rather than the cause of it. (26th. Jan 2004: [148655] Column 2W)
The answer goes to say that Defra funded a survey of wildlife in the SW of England, to estimate the prevalence of m.bovis in deer.

This week, more of those results are published, with the overview similar to that expressed in the PQ above. Deer are not a cause of tuberculosis in GB, they are victim of a maintenance host, whose name Defra dare not speak.

Two reports are released from DEFRA "that build on the evidence base on bovine TB in deer". The first is the final report from the South West England and Cotswolds Survey of Tuberculosis in Deer. The second is a related quantitative risk assessment of the risk of tuberculous transmission posed to cattle by wild deer.
"The results of the deer survey show that on Forestry Commission land in the South West Peninsula, bovine TB is present at a very low level (less than 1 per cent, except in one area where it is present at 3.8 per cent in fallow deer). In the Cotswolds, high prevalences were found in two of the three areas sampled (15.9 per cent and 8.1 per cent) particularly in fallow deer. In all areas surveyed, fallow deer were the species most likely to have the highest level of infection with M. bovis.
The key results of the second report, the quantitative risk assessment, indicate that deer are likely to pose a lower TB risk to cattle than badgers throughout most of South West England and Wales."

Quote taken from DEFRA news release.

We note that Defra stated in 2004 that deer were a 'spill-over' host of tuberculosis. Defra reiterated this week that "deer are likely to pose a lower risk to cattle than badgers throughout most of the South West England and Wales".
Deer are subject to a management strategy described by Defra thus:
"In England, the government 'intervenes' in a number of ways, but most importantly through setting legal parameters for deer management. Forest Enterprise, the government agency responsible for managing the nation's forest estate, intervenes more directly [they mean a cull to control numbers and disease within populations - ed] and is actively involved in managing deer within its forests.(PQ [158002] )"

And badgers? That elephant-in-the-room, who Defra say pose more of a threat of tuberculosis transmission to cattle than deer?
22nd March 2004: Col 510W [158715] ....M. bovis is endemic in British badgers."

What about them?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Tip of the Iceberg"

Commenting on the performance which the minister of state for (some) Animal Health, Hilary Benn gave last week when he appeared before the EFRA committee, Martin Bell who lives in North Cornwall, makes a good point regarding the numbers of domestic pets being diagnosed with bovine badger TB. His letter appeared in the Western Morning News and highlights the number of pet owners, who may be on the receiving end of badger largesse.
North Cornwall Lib-Dem MP Dan Rogerson misses the point about the small number of domestic pets that are known to have contracted bovine TB.
The official numbers may be low – but to say, as he did, that they are not enough for people to worry about is incredibly complacent.

(To be fair to Mr. Rogerson, we think it was the answer to his question (53) that Mr. Bell has picked up on, and not the question itself. Both Hilary Benn and Alick Simmonds implied all the TB infected cats had been pinching green top milk, to which Mr. Rogerson replied that other free roaming animals were known to have TB - a point with which Mr. Simmonds, somewhat reluctantly we thought, agreed.) Mr. Bell continues:
If the Health Protection Agency thinks there is minimal risk to the public why is there no reference on the HPA website to the Cornwall veterinary nurse and her dog who are believed to have contracted TB from badgers' urine on her garden lawn?
The dog has been put down and top HPA scientists are investigating the case, so why hush it up?
Reported TB cases in South West pets could be the tip of an iceberg because cats and dogs, particularly older ones, are taken to the vet coughing up bloody sputum and are humanely killed without taking X-rays of their lungs or swab tests.
This was story we covered here where we made similar points to those Mr. Bell fears. 42 cats have contracted bTB in the last 3 years, all have been identified as having the spoligotype circulating within their home area.
Our six-year-old labrador developed a coughing illness and the vets assumed he had kennel cough. His breathing became laboured, finally he was hacking up mucus and, despite being given oxygen and adrenaline, he died in a Sevenoaks surgery. To this day we don't know what illness killed him as there wasn't an autopsy.
If Hilary Benn is placing pets, their owners and children at risk of contracting TB from infected badgers because he and his officials are running scared of the Badger Trust, he needs to get his political priorities sorted out pretty damn fast.

Mr. Benn hasn't that much more time in which to prevaricate - when is the next election due??
I am a Labour Party member, but I won't hesitate to give the minister large amounts of grief if he continues to block a cull of badgers because of a bad press from people in woolly hats crawling into badger setts trying to stop TB-infected animals from being gassed.
There's a rather more influential lobby that Mr Benn needs to start worrying about. Pet owners – 30 million of us.

And this splendid broadside is signed:
Martin Bell
Port Isaac

Friday, November 07, 2008

The night after bonfire night.

The day before yesterday at 4.30p.m, the vegetarian bloke called 'Hilary', allegedly in charge of Animal Health, appeared before the EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) committee to answer their criticism of his stance on badger culling in response to outbreaks of bovine badger TB.

Auspicious though the date November 5th is for Parliament, this grilling was more like a(very) slow roast of the Minister of State. The gist of his 'eradication' policy on bTB is vaccination, vaccination and vaccination. And of course, he is delighted that the deckchairs of the Titanic have been re-arranged -albeit with slightly different bums - to accommodate his wishes in the shape of T-BAG mark 2, the TB Eradication Group. He is most grateful that the 'industry', without whom no policy can proceed at all, have indulged him.... even if their formation group is a trade off for more cattle measures. Defra will chair the group.
"We will go forward together. Share the problem. Develop a partnership using what tools we have..."
The two hour long damp squib, only interrupted by signs of life from Geoffrey Cox MP, was so laid back as to be horizontal. No fire crackers to be seen, let alone Guy Fawkes' dynamite. The Minister was reminded that the incidence of TB in cattle herds had increased phenomenally over the last years, and was forecast (by Defra ) to double every 4.5 years, leading to a predicted £1 billion spend over the next 9 years with 100,000 cattle slaughtered and 16,000 herds snarled up in movement restrictions. So?

His answers to all this was to refer to conversations between himself and John Bourne in 2007, on which he made his decision - "no culling and that such action may make things worse". He was reminded (several times) of further data data from members of the former ISG, in the shape of a 60 per cent reduction in cattle TB, and a 20 something reduction in the immediate 'edges' - the very cause of his objections in 2007 - but would not budge. "John Bourne told me .....".

Now unless the diminutive Professor had access to a time travelling tardis, Rosie Woodroffe's results to 2008, (published under Jenkins et al) a were not available in 2007. But let that pass - the Minister has. He is hell bent on vaccination. Badgers first, but with the permission of our masters the organ grinder in the EU, cattle second.

And the time frame for this? At least a decade, which to be fair has been the position for the last, errr 4 decades to our knowledge. So no urgency there then. But would it work? Benn was asked what would be the effect of vaccinating already infected populations of badgers, a question answered by Gabrielle Edwards, Defra's lady-in-charge of TB policy. She indicated, quite correctly, that vaccinating against high levels of disease would take much longer to show an effect, vaccination being ineffective in an already infected candidate. So a decade to wait for a possible vaccine, and a further decade for the tuberculosis endemic in badgers to burn itself out?

The Minister came back time and again to his real log jam, or what he perceives as a log jam. Public acceptability. And it's OK to shoot 100,000 cattle a year prematurely? Sorry, we forgot, cattle get killed anyway.

There was a blast at bio-security, on the back of Gareth Enticott's little job creation exercise in Wales, but no reminder to the Minister that our very own VLA Weybridge have sunk a reinforced concrete wall, some 15 feet (we don't 'do' metres) into the Surrey subsoil, to keep their badgers in.

So if it's to be vaccination for badgers, (about which the Badger Trust are strangely silent)- are the badgers prepared to wait a decade or more for their dose?

We are most grateful to cartoon artist Ken Wignall for permission to use his delectable cartoon, first published in Farmers Guardian, illustrating Defra's addiction to taxis.

Maybe farmers could put them (taxis) to use as well, sending thousands of badgers to Defra's London headquarters, for their annual flu TB jab. Before 2014.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

T-BAG - the successor?

The NFU has announced an industry successor to the late un-lamented T-Bag, (TB Advisory Group') whose main claim to fame was the delivery of Defra's zoning lines. As we said in that post, Defra's creation of such 'groups' to rubber stamp their proposals is well documented. And it usually works. But we digress.... In a press release issued yesterday, the NFU announces;
Following detailed discussions with Defra and the European Commission the English Cattle Industry (NFU, NBA, CLA, TFA, RABDF, LAA, AIMS) has agreed with Defra that a new Bovine TB Eradication Group should be formed. The group will be a joint Defra/industry group and its remit is set out below.

Although the exact make up of the group has still to be finalised, the group title has strung the words 'TB and eradication' into one sentence, which is one samll step towards complying with EU legislation.

We explored this in a posting here in which the European Union, which creates the majority of agricultural legislation in the UK, set out the responsibities of state governments to control, and eradicate bTB.

During the summer, a group of industry representatives visited Brussels to update the Commission on their concerns about Defra's non-policies, which have resulted in the decimation of the cattle industry and culling of cattle on 'an industrial scale' in some counties. The cost is unsustainable, the outcome totally predictable. The new group for England, has the following remit:
“A new England group on eradication of TB in cattle will be set up to make recommendations to the Secretary of State on bovine TB and its eradication. The membership of the group will include representatives from Defra’s Food and Farming Group, Animal Health, the farming industry and the veterinary profession, and it will be convened and facilitated by Defra. The group may invite other experts to contribute to its work as necessary, including other industry bodies and wider interest groups. It will also draw on the advice of the Commission’s TB Task Force, which will be invited to visit GB in early 2009."

Defra have to formulate a 'plan' of eradication for bovine badger TB and submit this to the European veterinary officials by April 2009. If you remember, Lord Rooker told EFRAcom 'Defra have no policy' in his evidence last year. But Defra must have a policy, and such a strategy must involve wildlife reservoirs, if such exist. The group statement continues:
The group will review the current TB strategy and control measures and develop a plan for reducing the incidence of bovine TB from cattle in England and moving towards eventual eradication. It will also assess options to help farmers in high incidence areas maintain viable businesses when under disease restrictions. A priority output from the work of this group will be a series of measures which can be submitted to the European Commission for approval as part of a formal eradication plan. The group may wish to make recommendations on other issues as they arise, and Defra may also choose to refer specific issues to the group.

This sounds suspiciously like more farm to farm trading, and beef finishing units, all of which cope with the fall out, while doing absolutely nothing about the source of the problem. And welcome though such measures are at the time of restrictions on a herd to trade, make no mistake, any such trade is at a substantial reduction on 'market prices'. The statement concludes:
“The group will look at the options available to address infection in cattle and to reduce the risk of transmission between cattle and between cattle and wildlife, and consider costs and benefits in making recommendations for action. It will consider options for using vaccination in cattle and badgers. It will also consider any exceptional circumstances or new scientific evidence that might arise relating to the established policy on badger culling for control of TB, recognising that the terms of this policy are currently subject to judicial review.
In carrying out this work the group will have full access to information on Defra’s TB budget and be able to make recommendations on its use within Defra’s funding ceilings. It will also be able to make recommendations for additional expenditure where these can be supported by a robust business case.

For further information contact:
Peter Kendall (NFU) – 02476 85 8678
Richard Macdonald (NFU) – 02476 85 8678
Christopher Thomas-Everard (NBA) – 07970 229526
Bill Harper (NBA) – 07831 099182
Ollie Wilson (CLA Communications Director) – 020 7460 7936
Greg Bliss (TFA National Chairman) – 0118 930 6130
Lyndon Edwards (RABDF Chairman) – 0845 4582711
Chris Dodds (LAA) – 07885731502
Alistair Sneddon (LAA) - 07973982441
Norman Bagley (AIMS) - 01609 761 547

UPDATE: There was a comment posted today which alerted us to a simple word realignment between the press release which we posted above, and the notes to editors of the parallel Defra press release. Above, the industry group frames its intentions thus:
“The group will look at the options available to address infection in cattle and to reduce the risk of transmission between cattle and between cattle and wildlife....."

And while the Defra press release has parallel wording in the body of the text, the notes to editors contain a slightly different, and rather delicious difference. We do see a difference in the interpretation, and welcome Defras' clarification. The notes of which editors should take heed state:
The work of the group will include:

* Developing a plan for reducing the incidence of bovine TB from cattle in England and moving towards eventual eradication.
* Assessing options to help farmers in high incidence areas maintain viable businesses when under disease restrictions.

** Looking at the options available to address infection in cattle and to reduce the risk of transmission between cattle and between wildlife and cattle, and consider costs and benefits in making recommendations for action.

* Considering options for using vaccination in cattle and badgers.
* Considering any exceptional circumstances or new scientific evidence that might arise relating to the established policy on badger culling for control of TB.

Our commentator ask "Pedantic, or an important slip of the pen difference?"

Time will tell.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Great Expectations

In December 2006, the Welsh Assembly established the biosecurity 'Intensive Treatment Area' across an area of approx 100 sq km. with a high incidence of bTB on the Carmarthanshire / Pembrokeshire border in West Wales.

The overall aim, it stated, was to "raise awareness, understanding and ultimately, uptake of biosecurity on farms". The ITA assessments were carried out by local vets and the exercise's scoring tool had input from the Royal Veterinary College. The collator of results and author of the paper is Dr. Gareth Enticott and the beneficiary of his research funding, Cardiff University.

Much has been made of a trite, lightweight, petty and insulting quote picked up by the press, and about which the Badger Trust's have got extremely excited. This was placed in comments on our posting below and the gist of it is that a farmer in the ITA thought he had a 'closed herd', but had purchased cattle from his sister. The examining vet thought this was hilarious; the Badger Trust use the example as an example of - not really sure, but it's certainly got them excited. And Dr. Enticott? Well it appears in his paper, while an example of a genuinely closed herd, of which we are sure he is aware, where all his tick boxes on the biosecurity scores are zilch, does not. What does that tell us about the depth of this paper? The farmer in question, must be horrified. Lampooned as a fool by his vet, the vet's employer and the agricultural press. A very smart way to encourage participation in any exercise - if we may be so bold as to suggest.

But we digress. Leaving aside the implication that if all the listed biosecurity markers are followed, somehow infectious badgers will not infect cattle on participating farms. And conversely, if markers are ignored then it is the farmers' own fault if bTB strikes his herd - especially if he has purchased cattle from his sister - the opening remarks of this statistical jumble are a classic.

"The expectation was that any improvement of on-farm biosecurity would in turn help to reduce outbreaks of bovine TB."
followed closely by the caveat:
"Testing the effectiveness of particular forms of biosecurity was not the explicit aim of the project"
Well that's the triumph of hope over experience then. Especially as the government's chief badger advisor, Dr. Chris Cheeseman of Badger Heaven Woodchester Park, has opined on at least two occasions that contributors to this site have witnessed, that keeping badgers and cattle apart is impossible. "You can't" he said. "You get rid of your cattle".

So, back to Dr. Enticott's (as yet untested) expectations. This paper (pdf) we think has its roots in the Welsh Assembly's hints that it intends linking a version of 'biosecurity' to either farm payments, or to TB compulsory purchase monies - eventually. But as was pointed out by some participants in the ITA survey, most of the points apply to factors outside their control. For example a farm will be scored highly (bad) if maize is grown by neighbours. This is contained in the section 'Local herds and Land use' - which accounts for 41 per cent of the total score. Now, how may one ask, can that affect the biosecurity of the participating farm? His cattle are not going to eat a neighbour's maize are they?

A farm accrues a bad score for biosecurity because his neighbour grows maize - because that fuels up little baby badgers into butterballs during late autumn, thus ensuring more survive their first winter. And impregnated females are at a weight to ensure their pregnancies survive. And such young females achieve better condition scores, produce more cubs, and earlier. But overall, a pretty smart way to draft a scoring system which may have financial impact on a neighbour.

And another little gem; all participating vets carried out their assessments in different ways. While some walked the farms and scored using their own eyes, others sat at the kitchen table. (Table 10) So there was no overall 'standard' trial protocol used.

We particularly like the Visitors and Protective clothing section too: in two parts, contact with cattle and provision of protective clothing. A 'No Entry' sign in badgerese and provision of footbaths and protective suits for refuseniks? "What good is wellington boot dipping", suggested one farmer, "when infected wildlife free range over my grassland"? Quite. And we note (with horror) the comment of one vet in the trial ITA, that his car and boots were often " a mess " but that he hadn't had the opportunity "to wash before he arrived." Whaaaaaaaaaaat???
I have been known to kick a vet off the farm for arriving with 'someone else's' s**t on his boots, but that is common sense. Memo to vet in question; wash down before you leave the last farm.

At the moment, these proposals are voluntary, but at the risk of repeating ourselves, we would refer readers - and of course the good Dr. Enticott - to the results of when such measures - particularly those relating to double fencing, cattle contact, purchased cattle and cattle movements, were compulsory.

We have contact with two DVMs, one of whom implemented the fierce cattle measures imposed in SW Cornwall during the early 1970s by the late William Tait. And we were grateful to receive from the Republic of Ireland, figures and detail to support their efforts to control bTB by cattle measures alone during what became known as the Downie Era. It is encouraging like pushing water uphill, to see another generation of vets and 'scientists', following lemming-like in their predecessor's footsteps.

Especially illuminating gratifying is the payment structure detailed; "Vets from seven practices took part; each practice receiving a fixed payment (based on eight hours work) to cover the time costs of participating in the trial", a point not lost on one participating vet, who commented [5.2]:
"I don't think we would be chasing the work [ biosecurity advice] if we weren't getting paid"
Did we say bTB was a beneficial crisis? You bet we did. Please note, no farmer 'giving' eight hours of his time to enable Cardiff University to garner research grants received any remuneration whatsoever. And no charge was made for the tea and biscuits.

The conclusion of many participating farmers was that while biosecurity had a place in some cattle diseases, in the context of bTB it "was a non starter". They expressed frustration with the number of cattle reactors which proved on slaughter to be NVL (no visible lesions) and culture negative. Helpfully, Dr Enticott quotes :
"The majority of the farmers interviewed did not appear to accept that if no evidence of TB was found at the point of slaughter, the animals may still have the disease"
No, no , no and no. For goodness sake. One would have thought that before poking his toe into matters epidemiological, the good Dr. would have ascertained the facts of the intradermal skin test. But one would have been wrong. If the skin test shows a response, the animal in question has had exposure to m.bovis bacteria. That is all. Exposure to something that has no place plastered across England's (or Wales's) green and pleasant land at all. This exposure in any mammal, may go on the develop into full blown disease, but it may be clobbered by the subject's own immune system and cause no problems whatsoever. Occasionally, it may 'wall up' and allow the recipiant to live a totally normal life with 'closed' lesions - until they break down when the body is under stress for another reason. But cattle 'reacting' to the skin test does not indicate clinical disease - at any stage.

While the paper started by expecting the ITA to deliver an improvement in bTB, despite the admission that its point scored recommendations had not been tested, it certainly finishes with the opinion of the author that
"Potentially, the biosecurity benefits arising from the ITA may help to reduce incidents of bTB. Repeating the ITA in other areas of Wales is likely to have similar effects, depending on current levels of bTB"

As farmers we are not unaware of 'biosecurity' measures. Indeed, over a decade ago, a couple of us took specific measures to avoid purchasing disease. And that is any cattle disease, not just bTB. For us, a closed herd was just that. Our farms were in a ring fence, isolated, with any common boundaries not shared with other cattle farmers. And unlike the Welsh ITA, the contributors to this site run their own manure spreaders and as we have said, the tick boxes of this area survey would not have gone very high with us. Public footpaths and neighbours growing corn however, being two high scoring points.

So biosecurity benefits of an ITA there may be for the Welsh farmers, but for cattle diseases such as BVD, Johnnes and IBR and possibly for the security of their SFP or TB compulsory purchase monies. Unfortunately bitter experience tells us that despite Dr. Enticott's 'great expectations' (unsupported by evidence of efficacy, he says) their effect on bTB while an infected maintenance reservoir remains in badgers, is likely to be very little.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Running for cover

As government flounder under a mountain of paper debt and bankrupt banks, discussed at length on our sister site, what of the political angles on bovine badger TB? Is there cross party consensus on control / eradication of tuberculosis, or a difference of opinion?

Her Majesty’s opposition lost a valiant and under utilised shadow, when Owen Paterson MP was moved shafted, first to shadow transport and then to the political equivalent of the gulag, Northern Ireland. It was Mr. Paterson’s searching questions on the epidemiology and disease progression / transmission of the disease through both badgers and cattle which form the basis of this site.

The present shadow for the Conservatives is Jim Paice, MP who has given an over view of his party’s policies to subscription magazine, Farm Business this week. (no link ) Agricultural policy for the Conservatives (note the ‘A’ word has returned - one Brownie point for that at least) has 5 core aims, including:

* A review of the current (non) policy on control of bovine TB, and
* A review of cost-sharing agenda. (Currently causing an impasse within industry / government negotiations due to the previous line)

In an effort to put ‘clear blue water’ between his party and government, Mr. Paice accuses Hilary Benn of “abdicating responsibility” over his government’s statutory duty of tackling bTB, a claim echoed by Lord Rooker last year when he accused his own department (Defra) of ‘having no policy, and spending £1 billion to no good effect in the last decade”. Farm Business reports:
“Defra Secretary of State, Hilary Benn recently rejected the use of a selective cull of badgers in infected areas as a means of control, telling the House of Commons that while badgers are part of the problem, a cull “might work, but then again it might not work”.
To Mr. Paice this was nothing short of an “abdication of responsibility”. Tackling bovine TB will be top of the agenda, he stated unreservedly. “We will review the government’s decision along the lines of the EFRAcom report, and find a way of working with farmers, to deliver a selective cull in heavily infected areas”.

Meanwhile in Lib-Dem circles, their spokesman Norman Baker, MP is equally committed – while in opposition – and he too proposes targetted culling to ‘square the circle’ of infection.

“It is clear that the incidence of Bovine TB is increasing rapidly in certain parts of the country, most notably the South West and South Wales, but also in Sussex. It is also clear that there is a triangular infection route, namely cattle-cattle, cattle-badger, and badger-cattle. It follows therefore that any sensible policy to deal with Bovine TB has to take account of all three transmission routes.”
VLA's painstakingly assimilated Spoligotype maps do not support the two former ‘points’ of Mr. Baker’s triangle but let that pass. The man is at least interested - he supports pre and post movement testing and continues:
“In respect of badger-cattle transmissions, I am afraid that I have concluded on the evidence I have seen that this is a route for infection and action does need to be taken to tackle this arm of the triangle as well. It is unhelpful that no test exists to determine the presence of TB in live badgers and this has undoubtedly made matters worse. The absence of any vaccine for cattle is also a serious drawback and I regularly push Ministers for more work to be done on this front. In the meantime however I am afraid I have reluctantly concluded that there is a case for the removal of badgers from infected areas, providing this is done comprehensively and of course humanely.”
In fact there is a test which may help, in the shape of PCR. It is government reluctance to use the damn thing which is the problem, both in identifying environmental sources of TB and many other animal diseases - but we digress. Mr. Baker continues:
“The Krebs trials were not carried out properly and because of that, they have indeed, in my view, made matters worse. I do think there is an argument therefore for identifying particular hotspots and removing the badger population from those hotspots. Part of the reason I have concluded that this is appropriate is that without such action TB will spread more widely, and can easily cross over into other species and ultimately into humans. “

And this is a scenario which we are seeing right now with domestic pets in the front line. They, as vets warn this week in Veterinary Times, have the potential to be up close and personal with their owners in a confined space and thus provide a short hop for the bacteria to spread.

Mr Baker also points out that tuberculosis in badgers “ is not a very pleasant experience ” and “there is now a welfare issue in allowing a disease like this to grow in the wild population.” Nah, it’s ‘natural’ say the RSPCA and Badger Trust. Badgers don’t suffer from tuberculosis.
“It is not sensible to allow farmers to shoot badgers on their land. That will not eradicate the population [whole social group ? - ed] and merely allow other badgers to fill the gap. If badgers do have to be killed, then I think it is probably more humane to gas a sett than to allow random shooting. Nor would I support the use of snares.
This is a very difficult subject, therefore I find it quite distressing to reach the conclusion that some elimination of the badger population maybe necessary, but I have done so because I feel that the animal welfare implications of not doing so are probably worse.”

Well that seems pretty solid. We can’t keep culling thousands of cattle, while leaving their source of infection coughing and spluttering its way to a ‘natural’ death, especially as the level of environmental contamination is feeding upwards beyond tested cattle sentinels and into other species.

So government response to industry talks and a damning EFRAcom report this week is illuminating to say the least. Farmers Guardian reports Benn as side lining a selective and targetted cull of infected badgers because of 'fear of extremists:
.."the likelihood that public order problems” which could ‘ jeopardise the cull and contribute to making disease worse’ he also had concerns that ‘landowners would not permit culling on their land’.

Leaving aside the fact that Defra have statutory right of entry to control zoonotic disease, is it not a an incredible statement that this administration will not take action against the acknowledged reservoir, now the maintenance reservoir of tuberculosis in this country because of the liklihood of ‘public order problems’? That is taking ‘animal rights’ to the level of eco-terrorism, as described by Bill Harper, chairman of the NBA TB committee:
“If the Government gives up on a policy because of the threat of extremists it is setting a very dangerous precedent for society at large,” said Mr Harper, who discussed the VLA 9 project in Devon with Defra Secretary Hilary Benn weeks ago.

“It is weak and it is an abdication of responsibility.”

We agree. Government capitulation to any vociferous, single focus activist group with deep lobby cash pockets and nothing whatsoever to lose from their shrill shrieks, is indeed a dangerous precedent. But if government think farmers culling 40,000 cattle a year, a ban on EU exports and £ billions wasted is a push over, just wait until they have to explain this non-policy to the devastated and angry owners of pets infected with tuberculosis from a ‘non-bovine’ source. That really will see ministers running for cover - if only from litigation lawyers.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Wales starts the countdown

October 1st. saw the start of the Principality's plan to eradicate bovine badger TB from its 13,835 registered cattle herds. The three point strategy kicked off this week with a sweep of cattle testing through the entire country.
A one-off test for bovine TB of all cattle herds in Wales began on October 1. An additional 3,500 herds will be tested over the next 15 months, concluding on December 31 2009.
Wales has seen a surge of outbreaks, particularly in the South and West of the region, where 14 per cent of herds were under restriction due to 'a TB incident' during the first six months of the year.
Defra stats show 1307 herds were tied up with movement restrictions, 60 day testing and slaughter in the 6 month period up until June 30th 2008, compared with 1500 during the whole of 2007.

The timetable for Wales begins with annual cattle testing and includes
compulsory purchase adjustments. A 'tightening up' - as in reduction? - is intended to:
"bring them more into line with market prices"

and an assessed 'risk management' package has been bolted on:
the aim being to link them to good biosecurity and animal husbandry on farms in order to encourage farmers to fulfil their responsibilities.
We calculated at the outset of this plan, that little 'new' money was available for this project, so tabular valuations were on the cards to pay for the extra testing, the setting up of stakeholder groups and finally - maybe, just maybe - a pilot badger cull. As to the latter, Farmers Guardian reports:
As far as the “intensive action pilot area” was concerned, various technical experts had been commissioned with a view to authorising a badger cull in one area of Wales on the basis that certain conditions were met.This information is being collated and reviewed, and includes ecological reviews, epidemiological assessments, and ethical and practical considerations as well as the relevant legal requirements,” said the Minister “It is anticipated we will be in a position to make a decision on this in the New Year.”
England's farmers, through their respective organisations, offered pre movement testing and tabular valuations in 2006, as part of a three part 'package'. For their part, Defra delivered a 'consultation' on badger culling, and Hilary Benn still refuses to operate the law of the land, hiding behind his as yet unchallenged moratorium and quoting Bourne's final report on the RBCT badger dispersal trial. He seems completely oblivious to more recent work, by members if the ISG team ( but not including its chairman) using the same ten cull areas (not referred to by the chairman) and the same data stream collector(but not written up by the chairman).
This work, if we may remind you, allowed for cattle testing to catch up with the effects of the RBCT's 8 night hit-and-run visits with cage traps. And from the summary of their results we saw:
The estimated effects on cattle TB of culling badgers within the cull areas during the trial increased over the time frame from a modest 3.6 percent in its first year, to 31.8 percent from the 4th to final year. But two years later that effect had increased to 60.8 per cent.

Conversley the 'edge' effect, (unique to the ISG 8 night cage trap fiasco), caused 43.9 percent increase in breakdowns up to 2 km outside the triplet zone in the first year of culling, falling to 17.3 percent in the 4th - final year's scrape up.
But within two years, that negative effect had somersualted to a (minus) -30.1 percent incidence outside the proactive zones.

A 60 per cent reduction in cattle TB would be good (100 per cent would be better). And it would reduce pro rata the TB budget by a similar amount, one may assume? thus saving taxpayers some £600,000 annually.

We note that the Welsh Assembly has moved on two parts of their TB eradication 'package', but are still discussing the third.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Going up

We are not referring to nationally acquired toxic debt, although a whole new blog could be devoted to the last few years' obsessional pyramid selling of unsustainable credit to people who hadn't a cat in hell's chance of ever paying it back. With that, like the Emperor's new clothes and our own core subject, the propagators of the resulting chaos, actually believed their own guff.

So as GB's debt spirals, and politicians who last year encouraged its growth now attempt to use our money to control it, so does the incidence of bovine badger tuberculosis. And growth more than fulfills Defra's predictions of 20 per cent year on year increase - should they continue current non-policies - which they seem determined to do.

Published figures for the period January - June 2008, show a rise of 23.8 per cent in herds under TB restriction from the same period last year. Another part of the labyrinthine Defra website shows stats in a slightly different format and quotes the lower figure of 19 per cent as an increase in Confirmed herd incidents. This figure is likely to change as more culture results are collected. But the most expensive part of this carnage is cattle slaughterings, up a massive 44 per cent on last year. (20,191 in six months, compared with 13,978 a year ago)

South and West Wales are recording herds under TB restriction of 13 and 14 per cent respectively, while in the West region, Gloucestershire has 24 per cent of herds affected, Hereford / Worcs almost 23 per cent and Devon & Cornwall 18.8 per cent. each. (This compares with the same period in 2007 of 18.6 per cent for Glos. 16.4 per cent for Devon and just 12.7 per cent for Cornwall. England's West region recorded 12.9 per cent of its herds with movement restrictions Jan - June last year. That figure has risen to 16 per cent in 2008.

This is a spiralling pyramid of growth which those of us with cattle herds, do not wish to be part of. Shooting the messengers does not seem to be assisting Defra's control of the situation one bit. These appalling figures, just like the totally avoidable mountain of toxic debt which all taxpayers will have to fund, are going up.

( Note: Web links will change when later statistics are published)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

'Bovine' Tuberculosis - 'Badger' Tuberculosis?

We have been castigated on this site many times for flagging up the many victims of 'bovine' TB. "It's 'bovine' the comments shriek, and "what bit of 'cow' don't you understand?" But this clever little bacterium is able to adapt to many mammals and work published by Brosch et al tells us that from the ancient tuberculosis line, the M.bovis lineage has firmly established itself in:
".... natural host spectra as diverse as humans in Africa, voles on the Orkney Isles(UK), seals in Argentina, goats in Spain, and badgers in the UK."
No mention of cattle there - even with a tag of 'bovine'. Not one. Which brings us full circle to why 'we' - that's 'we' as in cattle farmers - are testing and slaughtering cattle. It does not explain why the other half of that 'we', Defra, presently trawling the country gleaning support for its Cost and Responsibility Sharing Levy collection exercise, are hell bent on piling costs onto farmers while accepting no responsibility whatsoever for its own part in the eradication of this multi-species zoonotic disease - but let that pass.

Molecular geneticists say that analysis of recent work suggests that true cattle TB was eliminated by the 1970s, and what we have now is badger adapted TB spreading back into the environment. So maybe it's time for a name change. 'Bovine' TB becomes 'Badger' Tb. We like mycobacterium meles

The single most important thing - one may say the only thing of merit - that baby-Ben Bradshaw accomplished during his tenure of prevarication astride Defra's fence, was to make this disease, the so called 'bovine' TB, notifiable in all mammals. The result has been a steady increase in cases of companion animals and other grazing species as Defra picked up the tab for post mortems. And of course the inevitable spill over into human beings.

For twenty years since the low point of TB eradication in the mid 1980s, when less than 100 herds were under movement restrictions, and under 700 cattle slaughtered, successive administrations have ducked and dived, sanitised eradication policy - other than that applicable to cattle - and totally ignored the message those tested sentinels were giving. This culminated with a 'moratorium' introduced in 1997, on the control of badgers allowed under Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act, in response to confirmed outbreaks of cattle TB. Last year Defra proudly announced they had killed 28,000 cattle - but ignored their message. This year will be another vintage, with numbers up a staggering 42 per cent to May and some say, heading for 40,000 by the end of the year. But while Defra may be able to ignore this farm based carnage (except for moaning about its monetary cost, said to account for 40 per cent of Animal Health's budget) they will find it increasingly difficult to ignore the steadily increasing pile of 'other species' - the result of Bradshaw's notification amendment.

Figures seen by our editors confirm that while 'passive' surveillance (as Defra quaintly describe 'not actually looking for' a disease) of the past revealed a handful of cases in other animals between 1998 and 2004, from 2005 to 2007, incidence of 'bovine' tuberculosis rose sharply. In just those three years, spillover victims include 42 domestic cats, 24 llama, 19 domestic pigs, and single figures of goats, sheep, alpaca, ferrets and a dog. The areas where these animals were found are consistent with endemic TB in wildlife and sentinel cattle casualties. The largest group of casualties - the 42 cats - had identifiable spoligotypes described as
" various spoligotypes, each one consistent with the predominant strain at the location of the infected cat"

We have touched on this in previous postings, camelids here, and domestic cats here and here But the reason for all the testing and slaughter of cattle is not about the health and welfare of animals at all. The totally mislabelled 'bovine' Tuberculosis affects people. It is a zoonosis. It's what they do.

But the most recent case in humans, that of a Cornish lady, her dog and her child has finally alerted the main-stream media to the bigger picture of the total failure of the one sided, cattle based tuberculosis eradication programme operating in this country.

Describing the re-emergence of an old zoonotic threat, an unpublished paper submitted to the BMJ journal 'Thorax', warns that the high level of bovine TB infection circulating in cattle and wildlife across parts of the country is posing an ongoing health risk to humans.

Farmers Guardian has the story;
The paper discusses the case of a former veterinary nurse and her dog, from Cornwall, who contracted the same of the strain of the disease last year. It identifies badgers known to inhabit the woman’s garden as a possible source of infection.

The woman was diagnosed with bTB in late 2007, having felt unwell and suffered from a persistent cough for some time. Her daughter was also confirmed with latent bTB infection. Both were treated with a course of drugs.

The family’s pet dog began showing symptoms two months later. It was put down and subsequently confirmed with the same strain of M Bovis, the bacteria that causes bTB, as the woman.

The strain in question is a rare one found locally in cattle and badgers in the South West, prompting five scientists examining the case to suggest the infection therefore probably originated from either badgers or cattle. .

The point here we think, is that the spoligotype of the most misleadingly labelled mycobacterium bovis - 'bovine' TB, which has killed the dog, and infected its owner(s) is a strain known to circulate within tested (and slaughtered if they react to the test) cattle and untested but highly infective badgers in the SW of Cornwall. There is also doubt as to the assertion that the lady's previous employment as a 'veterinary nurse' and thus assumed intimate contact with cattle, was relevant.
"... they question whether the nurse could have been infected through contact with infected cattle while working as a veterinary nurse. However, this is considered unlikely as she had left the job three years prior to becoming infected and there was no sign of latent infection."
But the most telling phrase of FG's report we think is 'badgers known to inhabit her garden'. Inhabit, as in live. Not passing through then? And having examined the usual suspects, including the lady's past employment, this exposure would seem to be 'possible' (most likely) source of the outbreak.
Badgers were known to inhabit her garden and the scientists conclude that this was a more likely source of infection, according to veterinary sources who have seen the paper.

The Health Protection Agency said human cases of bTB did occur ‘occasionally’ in the UK but the current risk was considered ‘negligible’. But they also confirm that not all tuberculosis cases are strain typed. They were unable to provide the editors of this site with figures for the umbrella term 'tuberculosis complex' used to describe such 'untyped' cases. Farmers Guardian quote eight cases of m. bovis type tuberculosis in humans in the South West of England in 2006 and 2007 and 20 nationally in 2005. Only five cases in dogs have been identified in the past 20 years (to 2006).

In people under the age of 40 - 50, born outside the window of transmission opportunity presented by unpasteurised milk, prior to the TB eradication programme which finished in the mid 1960s, even a single victim is one too many. But as figures in our posting above show, and the horrendous, months long drug regime and other cases of onward transmission within human beings tell us, the spillover from environmental contamination with the misleadingly labelled ' bovine' tuberculosis is rising. And inevitably it will claim more victims than 40,000 cattle.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

bTB and camelids

The popularity of camelids in GB can be seen from the estimated numbers of llamas and alpacas which are now conservatively put at 20,000 and 5,000 respectively. But recent spillover cases of "bovine" TB into this population has raised several problems. Correspondence in the Veterinary Record details a case of bTB in a commercial llama herd in Devon which resulted in the death of over half the animals.

The herd was established in Devon eight years ago with animals reared outside the county. At the time of disclosure of infection, it comprised 84 adult llamas and their crias. They graze outdoors all year round with occasional supplementary hay fed on the ground, and are only handled for routine vaccinations and worming. Water is provided in troughs, but the llamas also drink from a stream.

The authors point out "the only contiguous cattle herd has had repeated TB breakdowns since 2000 but that direct nose-to-nose contact is not possible between the llama and cattle herds along the common boundary." There have been 19 confirmed cases within a 5 km radius since 2001. Three active badger setts are located on the farm and one in immediately adjacent woodland, but no deer have been seen.

In February 2006, an adult female on the holding was euthanased on welfare grounds following chronic weight loss. Postmortem examination revealed widespread lesions in the lungs, pericardium, and bronchial and mediastinal lymph nodes and M. bovis spoligotype SB0274 (VLA type 11) was recovered. This is the spoligotype most commonly isolated from tuberculous cattle and road traffic accident survey badgers in the same part of Devon.

In May 2006, herd restrictions were applied and the outbreak reported to local consultants in communicable disease control in light of the zoonotic risk. There are no statutory requirements to register and identify South American camelids, or powers to test them for TB, but the owner agreed to have the remainder of the herd tested. But despite two clear herd skin test results, similar clinical signs to the initial case were seen in another adult female in August, which eventually required euthanasia. Lesions were found at postmortem examination and M bovis was subsequently isolated.
In light of this second clinical case and the previous negative herd test result in June, it was decided to blood sample other llamas in the herd to screen for antibodies to M bovis using a novel, non-validated in vitro lateral-flow assay, the VetTB STAT-PAK or `Rapid' test (Waters and others 2006). On the basis of either a positive sero logy result or being considered as dangerous contacts to the previous confirmed cases, 19 more adult llamas and two crias were culled and examined postmortem between August and November. TB associated with M bovis infection was confirmed in four of the adults. Two other adults and a cria also died over this period and on gross postmortem examination showed lesions typical of TB. Specific mycobacterial cultures are still in progress from these three animals.

Testing with both skin tests and bloods were continued for this herd and reactors to both tests were found.
Three tuberculin reactors and at least four seropositive llamas, one of which was a tuberculin reactor, have been identified. The results of postmortem and bacteriological examinations on all these llamas were not available at the time of writing, although one of the seropositive llamas, which had to be euthanased in extremis shortly after testing, presented with gross lesions of advanced TB.
The paper points out both the " susceptibility of llamas to M bovis infection and highlights the difficulty of making an accurate antemortem diagnosis using the tests currently available for this species." They repeat previous advice;
TB should be considered in the differential diagnosis of illthrift in llamas, with or without obvious respiratory involvement, particularly where the animals have been raised in areas of endemic TB in cattle and indigenous wildlife.

In a follow up letter to this report, the authors re-iterate the insensitivety of the intradermal skin test when used on camelids and point out other anomalies ;
Many of us working with camelids believe the test to be so poor as to be fairly meaningless. Nevertheless, this test remains the statutory DEFRA-approved method of checking for TB in camelids, both for importation, exportation, and here in the UK. Moreover, if an `infected' herd achieves two successive clear herd tests 90 days apart there is no requirement to test the herd ever again. Neither is there any requirement to keep movement records or carry out any further postmortem examinations. The `Rapid' blood test shows promise but it is not allowed to be used without the express permission of the State Veterinary Service. That permission is not always forthcoming even when clients have offered to pay privately for the test. Surely DEFRA should be furthering research by promoting blood testing, not hindering it.

They conclude that better methods of identification, surveillance and control of TB in camelids is needed, given the population of these animals within GB, and point out;
They should not be ignored in the overall campaign to eradicate bovine TB. The Devon incident may be only the tip of the iceberg.

As we posted here a similar breakdown affected a herd in Wales. We understand Welsh Assembly are currently 'consulting' on what to do about the situation of spillover bTB into camelids. And as we can find no such documents on the English side of Offa's Dyke, would that be like the 'consultation' on whether to sort out the maintenance reservoir in wildlife - a name they dare not speak - or keeping piling up dead cattle then? We won't be holding our breath.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Under discussion...

The outcome of the European Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) meeting on the export of live animals from GB, which we discussed here is outlined in more detail on the ProMed website. We are grateful for sight of this.

"The Commission gave a brief overview of the Community legislation on
bovine tuberculosis noting that calves under 42 days of age are
exempted for the requirement of the pre-movement testing and that in
this case, current EU provisions rely only on the status of the herd.
In addition, the Commission presented for discussion 4 possible
alternative provisions which could be implemented, either one at a
time or in combination, in order to prevent the spread of TB from
areas with high prevalence of the disease via intra-Community trade
in calves under 42 days of age, and in particular apart from the
mandatory officially tuberculosis-free herd origin:

1. Pre-movement test (intradermal skin test or gamma interferon test)
of individual animals concerned;
2. Low prevalence region origin (below 1 or 0,5 percent or other);
3. Recent herd test (such as, less then 6 months) with strictly
defined frequency of testing the herd (annual, twice a year, etc.);
4. Channelling procedure (post-movement test at destination or
dispatched to a holding at destination from which they can only be
moved directly to a slaughterhouse).


There was general consensus on:
- the need to ensure that the officially bovine tuberculosis-free (TB
OF) status is properly granted to the herds, as this is the basic
requirement in order to ensure safe trade;
- the pre-movement testing is not suitable for animals younger than
42 days of age due to the lack of sensitivity of the test when used
on these animals;
- there is a need to have proportionate and effective measures in
order to address the risk posed by these animals that cannot be
tested before movement.

An acceptable regime for animals below 42 days of age would be as follows:
Bovine animals for breeding and production less than 42 days old
shall only be dispatched to other Member States if they come from an
officially tuberculosis-free bovine herd as defined in Article
2(2)(d) of Directive 64/432/EEC, and:

1. The holding of origin is situated in a Member State or a region of
a Member State as defined in Article 2(2)(p) of Directive 64/432/EEC
in which on average, determined at 31 December of each year, the
annual percentages of bovine herds confirmed as infected with
tuberculosis is not more than 0.5 percent of all herds within the
Member State or region thereof, or
2. All animals in the holding of origin, with the exception of
animals under 6 weeks old, have been subjected with negative results
to the routine intradermal tuberculin test in accordance with Annex B
to Directive 64/432/EEC at an interval of more than 3 months and less
than 6 months during the last 12 months, or
3. All animals in the holding of origin, with the exception of
animals under 6 weeks old, have been subjected with negative results
to the intradermal tuberculin test in accordance with Annex B to
Directive 64/432/EEC, carried out in the 30 days prior to the
movement, or
4. The animals are consigned, through a channelling procedure under
the control of the competent authority of the place of destination,
to a holding from where they can only be removed:
a. to be transported directly to the slaughterhouse for slaughter in
accordance with the first indent of Article 7 of Directive
64/432/EEC, or
b. to be introduced not earlier than at the age of at least 42 days
into another herd in accordance with the procedure provided for in
point 1(c) of Section I of Annex A to Directive 64/432/EEC [see
commentary. - Mod.AS]

On 3 Sep 2008 the conclusions of the meeting were presented to the
Standing Committee for Food Chain and Animal Health under point 4D of
the Committee's agenda."

It is our understanding that this matter will be revisited in October.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Easily Cured" or an under-appreciated risk?

Recent media coverage of the Cornish lady (and her dog) who contracted bTB, had the glib and airy observation that "TB is easily cured", implying that an aspirin, an organic carrot and a dose of selenium would do the business. So what are the facts on 'treatment' of this ancient disease - assuming diagnosis allows time to treat at all?

Four years ago, a young man died from 'bovine' TB in the Birmingham area. Several more patients presented with symptoms 2004 - 2006 and much detective work was done to try and find a common source. The BBC carried an overview after the case was published in the Lancet last year.
Bovine TB can spread from human to human, scientists fear after a cluster of six cases, one fatal, in England. All had visited the same Birmingham bar or nightclub, yet only one of the young patients had been in contact with infected unpasteurised milk or cattle. The Health Protection Agency said although rare, the cases emphasised the need for rigorous checks and controls.

Experts told The Lancet that bovine TB was an under-appreciated cause of disease and death in humans.
This 'under-appreciation' may be because an undisclosed proportion of UK tuberculosis cases are not strain typed, but bundled under the all embracing term, 'tuberculosis complex'. And what was also not made plain was that doctor's text books have not kept up with public health measures applied on-farm in that anyone under the age of 50, (the average age of the Birmingham victims was 32)would have been drinking unpasteurised milk, from regularly tested (and slaughtered if they reacted to the test) cattle.

Certainly unpasteurised milk was the driver for transmission of bTB in the 1930s and 1940s, but during the TB eradication programme undertaken in GB, 1952 - 1960, all cattle in the country were tested and slaughtered if they reacted to the test. This brought the instance of TB reactor cattle down from 40 % of the national herd in 1934 to 0.04% in 1965. Thus strains (spoligotypes) of bTB circulating in the environment, are now limited one the one hand to tested sentinel cattle, mainly slaughtered ahead of clinical disease, and an unchallenged, uncontrolled but highly infectious wildlife reservoir of disease in badgers.

The TB infected index case went on to transmit the disease to several other people, in the confines of a Birmingham nightclub. And their treatment? Were they 'easily cured' as the recent press articles have told us? One of the cocktail of several drugs used for months to control or hopefully cure, tuberculosis is Isoniazid. This is the drug information sheet for it:
ISONIAZIDBrand names: , Nydrazid

Isoniazid is an antibiotic. It prevents tuberculous bacteria from multiplying in the body.Isoniazid is used to treat and to prevent tuberculosis (TB).

Avoid alcohol while taking isoniazid. Alcohol may increase the risk of damage to the liver during isoniazid treatment.
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or darkening of the urine. Before taking this medication, tell your doctor if you have ever had an allergic reaction to isoniazid, kidney disease, or liver disease.

It is not known whether isoniazid will be harmful to an unborn baby. Do not take this medication without first talking to your doctor if you are pregnant or could become pregnant during treatment. It is not known whether isoniazid will be harmful to a nursing baby. Do not take this medication without first talking to your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.

Your doctor may also want you to take a supplemental vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) tablet daily during treatment to prevent numbness and tingling caused by low levels of this vitamin. Your doctor may want you to have blood tests or other medical evaluations during treatment with isoniazid to monitor progress and side effects.

Seek emergency medical attention if an overdose is suspected.
Symptoms of an isoniazid overdose include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, slurring of speech, blurred vision, visual hallucinations, seizures, coma, and death.

Avoid alcohol while taking isoniazid. Alcohol will increase the risk of damage to the liver during treatment with this medication.
Use caution with the foods listed below. They can interact with isoniazid and cause a reaction that includes a severe headache, large pupils, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flushing, sweating, itching, irregular heartbeats, and chest pain. A reaction will not necessarily occur, but eat these foods with caution until you know if you will react to them. Call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

Eat the following foods with caution:

cheeses, including American, Blue, Boursault, Brick, Brie, Camembert, Cheddar, Emmenthaler, Gruyere, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Roquefort, Stilton, and Swiss;

sour cream and yogurt;

beef or chicken liver, fish, meats prepared with tenderizer, bologna, pepperoni, salami, summer sausage, game meat, meat extracts, caviar, dried fish, herring, shrimp paste, and tuna;

avocados, bananas, figs, raisins, and sauerkraut;

soy sauce, miso soup, bean curd, and fava beans;

yeast extracts;



caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, etc.); and

beer (alcoholic and nonalcoholic), red wine (especially Chianti), sherry, vermouth, and other distilled spirits.

Not just an aspirin then? The website for trainee doctors run by the BMJ also had some information on m.bovis and m.tuberculosis infections. In particular note the reference to Isonaizid resistant strains.

...a large proportion of those affected [by tuberculosis] are "young, UK born, white, and reasonably affluent. Almost half of the 7000 cases seen nationwide each year being found in the capital: 7.5% of the TB seen in London is isoniazid resistant.

The bacterium responsible for the outbreak is unusual in that it takes patients longer to recover from the illness. Nine months of antibiotic treatment is required to combat the infection, in contrast to the usual six months. Patients suffering from "normal" TB have a relapse rate of around 2-3%, but the rate is 10% in those with the drug resistant strain. [] Both the incubation period and mortality rates of the strain are similar to "normal" TB.

As a commentator in the Birmingham Post pointed out, "bTB has not gone away".

It has been pointed out that while some UK patients with tuberculosis have to be encouraged with payments to complete their course of treatment (so long and horrible it is) sufferers in the US used to have the big stick treatment. We are not sure whether this is still the case, hence the 'used to', rather than 'have'. But for sure, the seriousness with which the disease was taken was reflected in the compulsory attendance of patients to local police stations to take their medication under supervision. Should they default, then they had committed a criminal act and an arrest warrant was served.
In a part of of own 1936 Public Health Act, it is an offence to travel on public transport while infectious with a notifiable disease. Treatment of a notifiable disease is mandatory. Tuberculosis (of any strain) is a notifiable disease.

We will leave you to decide from those snippets whether bTB should be airbrushed into a politically expedient comfort zone, or treated with the seriousness we think it deserves.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

European perspective - SCFCAH

Today the European SCFCAH (Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health) met to discuss, amongst other things, an ....
"Exchange of views on measures which may be required to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis from areas with a high prevalence of the disease via intra-community trade in live cattle: outcome of the working group of 2 September.(MZ)"

They could start by making sure that a maintenance reservoir of disease is not allowed to flourish amongst the tuberculin-tested cattle sentinels in GB. That would be sensible, as they outlined in this document which we posted in July. The responsibilities of EU member state governments with regard to such reservoirs are described quite clearly. One would assume that not even Defra could misunderstand them, but on the experience of the last decade, one would be quite wrong..
... in order to address the role of infected wildlife in the persistence of TB [measures] should be implemented without any delay so as to allow the progress of the eradication programmes. Removal of wildlife, either proactively or reactively following outbreaks, has proven to be an effective ancillary, and in certain situations necessary, measure to control and eradicate TB.

and to reinforce the point:
The elimination or reduction of the risk posed by an infected wildlife reservoir enables the other measures contained in the programme to yield the expected results, whereas the persistence of TB in these wildlife populations impedes the effective elimination of the disease.

Major socio-political resistance (lobbyism) against any measure involving the removal of infected wildlife or interventions affecting the environment are to be expected. The additional costs associated with these actions are not likely to be negligible."
As we pointed out before, the costs of not removing an infected wildlife reservoir are infinitely greater, both in straight monetary terms or the long term transmission opportunities afforded to the many and increasing spillover victims. But Defra's figures for TB incidence in GB in the first five months of the year are appalling. In fact they are a damned disgrace, with cattle slaughterings up a staggering 42 per cent, and confirmed new breakdowns increasing by almost 200 herds. Herds under TB restriction due to a TB breakdown, increased from 4391 in 2007 to 5209 this year.

(Note: The link to Defra website for the May 2008 figures will automatically update when later figures are available. )


Farmers Guardian reports that early indications from the SCFSAH meeting in Brussels suggest that the European Commission has decided against adding further restrictions to UK cattle exports despite European fears that TB could be spread to the continent. But the cattle industry and Defra cannot breath easily yet, as the committee are said to be considering the risk of TB-infected exports at a meeting in October.

So while SCoFCAH monitor the situation without further sanctions at present, official trade restrictions demanded by the Dutch and Belgian veal importers, already imposing their own unofficial boycott, in the short term, have been avoided.

And 'short' is the appropriate word, as cattle slaughterings and herds under TB restriction mount. A week maybe a long time in politics, but a month is very short time span indeed in the life cycle of the bacterium quite misleadingly known as micobacterium bovis. This autumn's casualties are already in the pipeline.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The NBA (and Defra) on bTB

We are grateful for sight of the latest press release from the NBA (National Beef Association). Members of the NBA are reeling under a backdoor live-export ban, and with the minister in charge off with his bucket and spade, they pull no punches.
We quote the document in full, (with some highlights.)


"The failure of Hilary Benn to meet his legal obligation under UK and EU law [1] to have an effective policy to eradicate a major notifiable disease (affecting both animals and humans) has led to the NBA TB Committee issuing new recommendations to the beef industry.

In the light of Mr Benn’s refusal to licence the culling of the occupants of diseased badger setts, farmers are recommended to take note of Defra’s “Husbandry best practice advice” on TB control:- 16 out of 21 of these guidelines refer to badgers with TB. In addition, the TB Committee points to the words of Mr Hilary Benn on the 7th July in Parliament
We know that badgers are infected and are a source of infection — no one argues about that” and “section 6 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 allows someone to put down a badger if it is seriously injured or in such a condition that to do so would be an act of mercy. That is what the law currently says”[2] . If a diseased badger is seen, Defra advice is for it to be humanely destroyed, and only the occupier of the land is permitted to dispose of the carcase which has to be done “sensibly”.

At this time of year it is also crucial for farmers to check forage conservation areas, particularly maize, and follow Defra best practice advice. The TB Committee particularly advises farmers of the danger of maize crops. It recommends filling in any holes in the ground that might attract a passing badger. It is known that increasing badger numbers are partially attributed to badgers drawing in and living off maize cobs underground.
Defra wild-life officials have stated that underground holes can be checked as being unoccupied by placing two or more crossed sticks within the entrance to each hole and, provided these sticks are not disturbed for 21 days, the hole can be certified as not affecting wild-life. All nearby holes should be checked in the same way in the same period. Written records of daily inspections of the sticks should be kept.

If further reassurance is needed, spread sand at the entrance to such holes to ensure no animals are attempting to enter. The TB Committee further points out that an empty hole, which was occupied by diseased and dead badgers, is a hazard to any new transient healthy badgers because the carcase of diseased badgers and their bedding remains infectious underground in dark damp conditions for over twelve months. (A Defra licence is required to remove an active badger sett.)

In the Midlands, Wales and the SW over 3,500 farms are currently under TB movement restrictions. In Gloucestershire alone one in four farms are forbidden to move cattle. Because such a high proportion of parishes in these areas are one year testing parishes, any cattle picking up infection are removed and severe interpretation TB testing carried out until the whole herd passes two clear tests at 60 day intervals. The remaining healthy cattle act as sentinel animals – repeated reactors revealing that there is a source of infection in the local setts.
As TB continues to spread to fresh, healthy badger setts at over 10 miles a year, farms throughout these and adjoining regions are in two categories. They either have already shown there to be TB in their badgers, or it is heading towards them. Farmers in these and adjoining regions are urged to do everything in their power to protect their cattle and themselves from TB.

The TB Committee is also concerned at the lack of care for the badger population which is facing levels of TB at 70-80 percent in certain identifiable setts in these hot spot areas. With the rest of the industry, it will push the government hard to recognise wildlife within a TB eradication plan. The NBA TB Committee therefore strongly criticizes Defra for ignoring the main EU document [3] on TB eradication . This recommends that:-
“The reservoir of infection within wildlife populations should be effectively addressed’. (2.1.5),
‘Improved management of wildlife by strategic removal of infected wildlife’ (7e).
'It has now been reliably demonstrated that the persistence of an infected wildlife reservoir that enters into contact with cattle is a major obstacle to the eradication of TB. This obstacle should be addressed in tandem with the measures implemented in relation to the cattle population'.
'Removal of wildlife, either proactively or reactively following outbreaks, has proven to be an effective ancillary, and in certain situations necessary, measure to control and eradicate bTB'. (2.3.8)

The whole industry is devastated at the lack of care for the domestic healthy cattle population that is being newly infected and culled at a rate predicted to be 40,000 for 2008 - and rising. There also appears to be a total disregard for the welfare of badgers themselves by Defra and the rest of the government.

[1] Council Directive 78/52/EEC, Directive 82/400/EEC and Directive 87/58/EEC

[2] Hansard col. 1163 & 4 - in answer to David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): “We have a large number of badgers in Somerset, and TB is endemic among them. Is nothing to be done to rid the badger population of bovine TB? and Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): “They are suffering.” Hilary Benn: The hon. Gentleman talks about the suffering of badgers” then the quote made above.

[3] Working Document on Eradication of Bovine Tuberculosis in the EU accepted by the Bovine tuberculosis subgroup of the Task Force on monitoring animal disease eradication
- Brussels, 10/08/2006 SANCO/10200/2006 final

Today, Defra have confirmed the legal position of dispatching a sick or injured badger, as an 'Act of Mercy' under section 6 of the Protection of Badgers Act.
"The law does therefore allow individuals to take action to allow the prevention of suffering which is so severe that killing the animal would be an act of mercy, but protects badgers from wilful killing which is not justified on this ground (or one of the other grounds mentioned in section 6 of the Act)".

However, from where we sit, it appears that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wants farmers to shoulder the responsibility that is uniquely that of the department.

"Zoonosis" - define.

While many attempt to pigeonhole the disease caused by m .bovis - b.Tuberculosis, to either cattle or badgers, depending on your point of view, its significance, control and eradication should be defined by its 'zoonotic' status.

B.tuberculosis passes from animals to other animals, and to human beings. Thus it is known as a 'zoonosis'. That is what they do. So it was 'disappointing' to read in Western Morning News a story where the disease was said to 'crossed species' and infected a veterinary nurse. In a lightweight jumble of disparate quotes, farmers organisations distanced themselves from milk / meat and stressed how many cattle were being slaughtered, while Andrew Biggs speaking for veterinary organisations, suggested the infection could be linked to badgers - but that cattle may be involved too.
Fears have been raised about the spread of bovine TB after the disease crossed species and infected a Cornish woman.
The patient, who has not been identified but is believed to be a veterinary nurse, is undergoing treatment for the serious respiratory infection.

The WMN opinion column (no link) has a more coherent view. They realise that drawing attention to a 'human' case of bTB, risks suspicion falling on cattle products, but quantify their publicity thus:
".. Government does have a responsibility to tackle the problem. And that extends to dealing with the reservoir of bovine TB in wild animals, which inevitably means a cull of sick and dying badgers.
There was speculation yesterday that a badger was the more likely source of this case. Swift testing [and slaughter - ed] of cattle, means cases among domestic stock are caught early on, while the disease runs rampant among wild animals, from which domestic pets can catch the illness and pass it on. If that is the case here, it ought to make even Mr. Benn sit up and take notice.
If diseased badgers are implicated, not only in passing this illness to cattle but to at least one person as well, the excuse for failing to act with a badger cull will surely become untenable. There is no need for panic, but there is now a desparate and overwhelming need for action. "

More on this story comes from Farmers Guardian who have some delicious quotes from a Defra spokesperson:
“We are aware of a case of M. bovis infection in a human patient in South West England, and the patient's dog. The patient is receiving treatment,”
“M. bovis is a recognised zoonotic agent and that is precisely why we have a compulsory bovine TB control programme in cattle."
"Bovine TB can affect domestic pets such as dogs but the apparent incidence is low.”
On that final quote, we remind Defra to 'watch this space'. It is only two years since Hilary Benn's predecessor, another Ben - Bradshaw made bTB notifiable in 'all mammalian species'. That means that veterinary practitioners have a duty of care to forward suspect cases for full post mortems, at the taxpayers' expense. And once a problem is sought out, then it is more likely to be found as our posting below illustrates.

Playing devil's advocate here, we trust that the whole machinery of tracing has clanked into force? This unfortunate lady, (and of course her dog) will have had numerous 'dangerous contacts', which must be traced and tested. All the animals she has handled, petted, treated (?) in the veterinary practise where she worked for starters. Then her dog's contacts. Other dogs? his favourite lamp-post? fields and footpaths?

This whole scenario throws into sharp focus the utter futility of slaughtering thousands of cattle, whose test results show they have had 'exposure' to the zoonosis known as bTB, while leaving the cause of that exposure - said to be 80 - 90 percent in areas of high incidence - to mushroom out from the original 7 or 8 badger hotspots ten years ago. As seen from Defra's TB incidence maps, just like Topsy, these areas have 'amplified' (Defraspeke) into red blotches which now stretch from Lands End to Cumbria, giving users other than tested cattle, opportunity for contact and spillover transmission.

So our comment on this story is - it was inevitable. And this is not the first time it has happened And as long Defra are content to slaughter sentinel tested cattle, while leaving the source of their problems to spread rampant infection across England's green and pleasant land, the potential for transmission into human / domestic pets and all other mammals is also 'amplified'.

The inappropriately named 'bovine' Tuberculosis is a zoonosis - it's what they do.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

" I thought it was just farm animals"

A posting on a farm forum this week brought home the reality of b.tuberculosis to a member of the general public. We have stressed many times that control of this disease is not optional. There is a statutory obligation on governments to eradicate it from both farmed and wild animals, primarily to protect human health.

Letting the disease rip through the badger population while slaughtering tested cattle (and now goat) sentinels will not reduce the amount of bacteria in the environment, and neither will it reduce the potential of its exposure to domestic pets and their owners.

A cat owner - or should we say 'former' cat owner - in Bristol, took his pet to his local vet after it developed a cough. The cat did not respond to any treatment, lost weight and was euthanased. Remembering baby-Ben Bradshaw's 2006 edict to veterinary practitioners of 'check for TB' and the most important bit - 'bTB is now notifiable in all mammals, so Defra pay for surveillance', the vet offered a postmortem. The post described the result:
"She had tuberculosis and we now all have to go for some sort of skin test to see if we have caught it from the cat. We live in the middle of Bristol and the vet said he had other cases. Apparently cats are very susceptable. On the waste land about half a mile away some badgers have moved in and the vet said this is the most likely place where the cats are getting it.
The cat owner said that he had telephoned the council pest control, but was told they could not do anything. Sometimes the area of waste land is used by children and he asks:
"Will they get tuberculosis as well? This is not something I have heard about before. I thought it was just farm animals".

No, it is not 'just farm animals', or even cattle. And as this bacteria, spread across the countryside in the urine, sputum and pus falling from endemically infected badgers is offered in increasing amounts to the general public and their pets, expect to see more casualties like this and this.
Farmers are being told, they must 'live with it', but continuing exposure to increasing amounts of m.bovis by the general public and their pets, inevitably means that many will 'die from it'.

The Bristol cat owner has posted the result of the TB skin tests which he and his family have now had. (11 / 08 - page 8) While he and the two children are clear, his partner had a grade 4 reaction, and now has to go for a chest x-ray.

Thankfully caught at an early stage of possible transmission, the X-rays were clear. But sputum samples have been taken for cultures - a process which takes 6/8 weeks in cattle - and the patient started on antibiotics. The course of antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis is a mixture of several, some with particularly nasty side effects. One (Isoniazid) has a very long list of food and drink which may not be consumed while the patient is receiving treatment with it.

We wish her well.