Thursday, February 28, 2008

Defra must 'Spend to Save'

The main message from the EFRAcom final report was that government must not shirk its responsibility with regard to the control of bTb. They must, said chairman Michael Jack MP, 'spend to save'.
"Defra currently faces budgetary pressures. However, simply saying that more money cannot be found for spending on measures to control cattle Tb is not a solution. The measures we have recommended will require an increase in financial support from Defra. However, this is necessary if governemnt wants to avoid ever increasing expenditure forecast in future years, which could total £1 billion between now and 2013."
A VLA (Veterinary Laboratories Agency) forecast quoted in the report, suggests 9 million cattle tests may be carried out by 2010 (just two years hence) with the number of reactor animals rising to 66,000.

The ISG's final report into its ten year RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, after pumping data comprising 2 parts cattle to 1 part badger through a mathematical model, announced with great confidence that the problem could be attributed to - errr 40 per cent badgers and 60 per cent cattle. Furthermore, with more draconian cattle measures, the incidence of bTb could be reduced by 15 percent.

For those who may have missed the ISG proposals, we list them again - as does the EFRA report.

* High and low risk zones could be created and the movement of cattle from high risk to low risk areas should be prohibited. The ISG acknowledged that this would protect low risk areas, but could exacebate the incidence of disease in high risk areas.

* As a variation on the above, individual farms could be categorised as high or low risk (eg. disease free for three or four years and at low risk of a cattle breakdown) and movement controlled between the two categories. Thus, disease free farms in high risk areas (i.e Tb hotspots) would not be prevented from trading with farms in low risk areas.

* Pre-movement testing in high risk areas, or areas with a recent history of cattle TB, should involve the combined use of tuberculin skin testing and the gamma interferon test.

* Post movement testing should be introduced in some situations using both the tuberculin test and gamma interferon test.

* Additional measures such as the introduction of whole herd slaughter should be considered for multiple reactor herds in low risk areas.

* Surveillance testing in low risk areas should be more frequent than it is is now, with testing intervals at a maximum of three years, or even annually should no additional movement controls be introduced.

* Annual testing applied to all herds in high risk areas.

* In high risk areas, gamma interferon testing should be used in herds with one or two reactors and no previous history of breakdowns, in order to identify all infected cattle.

Efra's report concludes from that shopping list that "current cattle-based measures are strengthened if we are to stop the spread of cattle TB into low risk areas." They go on to recommend post movement testing to alleviate this - a point with which we agree. However it may be timely to point out (again) that cattle measures such as suggested by the ISG, although a seductively and persuasively easy solution, have been tried before and simply do not work.

Neither is the concept of cattle doing handstands around the country and spreading bTb, borne out by the painstaking data analysis carried out at VLA, of 30 years of spoligotyping m.bovis type strains from badgers and cattle.

So where exactly is Defra being advised to 'spend' taxpayer's cash? More gamma interferon. Why? Until infected badgers are culled there is no place for the blood test. When they have been culled there will be no need for the blood test. Efra's report quite rightly reminds Government of its responsibilities, while arguing for the greater use of a test with low specificity, of marginally less latency than the intradermal skin test and a disputed cut off point. "The wider use of gamma interferon testing is likely to increase the number of cattle slaughtered as previously undetected infected cattle are identified. We acknowledge that this will be challenging for the farming industry and for Defra."

Bourne promised a 15 percent reduction in cattle Tb with these measures - which included gamma interferon. With increased cattle slaughterings referred to by the Efra report, he may achieve his prediction - with a 15 percent reduction in cattle.

"Defra have no policy", said "Lord Rooker to the Efra committee in his last session of giving evidence, "and have spent £1 billion to no good effect in the last decade".

It would be most careless of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to repeat that most expensive mistake again.


Anonymous said...

You suggest "that cattle measures such as suggested by the ISG, although a seductively and persuasively easy solution, have been tried before and simply do not work."

Northern Ireland??

Matthew said...

Anon 1.13

Northern Ireland has been mentioned before, and we looked into it in a little more detail some months ago.

Cases peaked in 2002 at a level which ranged 4.53 per cent - 16.87 percent, giving an average of almost 10 per cent of herds under restriction.

It came as a shock to UK farmers that 'restriction' following a Tb breakdown, meant different things in different areas, and N. Ireland merely tightened existing legislation, which the UK was already following. They also introduced a faster computer system known as APHIS and annual testing of all cattle herds - something which happens most of the UK West region anyway.

As we said in answer to a previous comment, the graphs from DARDNI show a distict upturn in cases / reactors from September 2007 onwards. In other words the tightening up of cattle restrictions (to a level already operated in the UK) may have bottomed out.

It was 3 monthly / annual testing of all cattle, severe interpretation / (aka gamma?), whole herd slaughter, cohort slaughter, licensed movements only and zoning to which we were referring, when we reminded readers that Bourne's 'new' proposals had been done before. And failed to make a dent in the incidence of Tb in the cattle herds affected.

There is much more to the R of I's policy as well, which we shall post as soon as all info is to hand.

Anonymous said...

According to:

"Approximately 23,840 herds were tuberculin tested over the last 12 months
(1.67 million cattle). The herd and animal incidence of TB has shown a fall
over the last year with the current levels running at 5.2% and 0.45%,
respectively (previous 13-24 months, herd incidence = 6.8%, animal incidence
= 0.63%). Both herd and animal incidence have shown a steady decrease
over recent months. Peak incidence occurred during the spring of 2003 (herd
incidence = 10.2%; animal incidence = 0.99%)."

And . . .
"All ten DVOs demonstrated a decrease in the current annual herd incidence
compared to the previous 13-24 months."

And . . . .
"During the current quarter, there has been a 21% decrease in the number of
TB reactors (1,561 TB reactors cf. 1,976 during the same period in 2006)."

And. . . .
"The number of new TB herd breakdowns was 9% lower during the current
quarter (256 cf. 281)."

Perhaps you have more recent data?

Matthew said...

Anon 12.05

Yup, Seen it. Thanks.
The graph we used for our comment of 'plateau and upturn', was the 12 month moving average Jan 2002 - Nov 2007.

This tracks animal incidence and herd incidence from just over 6 per cent in Jan 2002 to a steep peak (no idea why - guessing FMD ? backlogged tests? ) of around 10 percent and then a slow drop of both to about 8.5 percent to 2005. This was followed by a fast drop 2005 - 2006 which is when we understand, the EU regs. regarding 'reactor status' were reinterpreted, but, and this where a longer term tracker is important (we're told) a distinct upturn can be seen during the third part of 2007. Herd incidence is turning up markedly and heading towards 6 per cent again.

As we said, we can find nothing from either farmer contact, veterinary contact or the NI website to point to anything NI are doing extra with cattle measures, to that which is being - and has been for some time - enacted here. Restriction means just that, and in NI, it is our understanding it was applied rather more loosely than in GB in the past.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you interpret the same data so differently.
Time will tell if what you are looking at is a blip or a trend.

You said: "we can find nothing from either farmer contact, veterinary contact or the NI website to point to anything NI are doing extra with cattle measures"

For starters there is a much better cattle movement tracking system

No point in going on - I know whatever is said here will be rubbished - unless it's supporting killing wildlife of course.

If you farmers get your way, I really fear for your livelehoods - unless you can export all your 'goods'.

Matthew said...

Anon 3.08
'Rubbished' ? Debated surely.

If a wildlife reservoir - in our case badgers - were not involved, then with the amount of cattle testing, GB bTb levels would (not should, definitely would) be like those of most of the rest of Europe and exporting countries. Nil.

We approached this debate from the point that in our own particular circumstances, and with documentary evidence to support, we did not fall into any of the Badger Trust's convenient excuses for cattle to cattle transmission.

Obviously that salient point has been missed.

Jim said...

Anon 3.08: If you read what is put on this site by farmers, you would see that "killing wildlife" is not what we are about. We simply want to target diseased badgers - and this in order to save the increasing numbers of our cattle that are being needlessly slaughtered. (Please don't respond with the Badger Trust line that "cattle are killed anyway". If you want me to elaborate, I'll gladly do so.)

What I find hard to understand is the inability/refusal of the badger lobby to accept that badgers are part of the bTB problem and that the wildlife reservoir of infection needs to be tackled. By refusing to accept this you/they are condemning more and more cattle to be killed. Please explain to me why cattle have to be killed in preference to (diseased) badgers. Badgers are not an endangered species in this country, and even Bourne now accepts that a badger cull would be beneficial in certain circumstances.

As regards agricultural exports, you might want to visit a thread on this site from a few weeks back which looked at what is happening with world food production - rising prices, shortages, peak oil, climate change, bio-fuels, increasing population, and so on.

Anonymous said...

Jim said...

"We simply want to target diseased badgers" and "Bourne now accepts that a badger cull would be beneficial in certain circumstances"

Jim we keep going over the same ground. It is simply not possible to somehow identify which badgers are infected with cattle TB and 'target' them.

Bourne's 'circumstances' indicate that whilst badger killing over large areas may result in a small reduction in disease but that the cost would outweigh the benefit.

And regarding world food production Jim -
Livestock farming gobbles up agricultural land, water and energy that could far more efficiently be devoted to growing food for people to eat directly. Meat, therefore, is a rich person's food and those who consume it - whether in India, Denmark or England - cause malnourishment and death among the world's poorest people.

And Matthew, when you state "If a wildlife reservoir - in our case badgers - were not involved, then with the amount of cattle testing, GB bTb levels would (not should, definitely would) be like those of most of the rest of Europe and exporting countries. Nil."

Oh dear, I thought that you would have more sense than to make a statement like that! "not should, definitely would" Well maybe. If all other factors were the same. Farming practices/herd sizes/environment/ etc etc etc. It ain't as simple as you suggest!

Matthew said...

Anon. 9.53

Re diseased badgers.
Ignoring the result of regular cattle herd tests is akin to shooting the messenger. Local AHO then do an in-depth follow-up of cattle movements to identify the source of the breakdown. And if - as in our cases - it isn't bought in cattle...?

And if you are real countryman, you will have noticed that when a diseased badger becomes a sett liability it is hoofed out. It then becomes a 'disperser', a 'super excreter' and in the latter stages of tuberculosis exhibits different behaviour from its sett mates. They know the badgers riddled with Tb, and if they don't want them - neither do we.

It isn't magic that if the source of a disease is removed, then the disease itself is not sustainable.
Parliamentary Questions - all archived - were carefully crafted to drag out of government what they knew about bTb, how other countries coped and the effect of various tests.

We will repeat :

The tuberculin skin test for cattle has been compulsory in Great Britain since 1950. This is the test prescribed by the OIE for international trade, as well as under EU Directive 64/432/EEC on animal health problems affecting intra-Community trade in bovine animals.."
(Parliamentary Questions Col218W 8/12/2003 [ 141968]

"The comparative skin test at standard interpretation, provides sensitivety in the range 68 percent to 95 percent and specificity in the range 96 per cent to 99 per cent."
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 382W 28/01/04 [ 150495])

"Any single test with imperfect sensitivety, when applied more than once to an infected animal, will cause the overall sensitivety of the pocedure to rapidly approach 100 per cent".
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 988W 25/03/04 [158720]

"All countries that have either eradicated, or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test. The Government are not aware of any country that has replaced the skin test as the primary test for bovine tuberculosis"
(Parliamentary questions. Col 540W 30/01/2004 [150492])

"Evidence from other countries has shown that in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, cattle controls based on regular testing and slaughter, inspection at slaughterhouses, and movement restrictions (including tracing and contiguous testing) can be effective at controlling Tb...)
(Parliamentary Questions: Col 989W 25/03/04 [159061]

Simple? Actually it's extremely simple. We note from the clearance of badgers out of the Thornbury peninsular in the mid 1970's that:

"No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area of the Thornbury operation were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following cessation of gassing"
28/01/04 Col 385W [150573]

By this time, and after destruction of the infected setts, badger numbers had recovered to pre cull levels. Simple? They gassed for up to 6 months, removing incomers. Not trapped for 8 nights and then run away leaving a shattered community behind.

We asked the minister what else may have contributed to this excellent result, other than a clearance of infected badgers - as indicated by the cattle tests.

His reply:
"No other species was removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area."
24/03/04 Col 824W [157949]

So although Defra love long words, they got there in the end. "No other contemporaneous change was identified". No herd slaughter, no pre or post movement testing, no cohort slaughter and no movement restrictions other than herd restrictions which applied to a breakdown herd. Nothing except a through clearance of the reservoir of Tb in the badger population, and a concerted attempt to protect incomers, by closing off infected setts.

Result? Clear cattle for ten years (at least) and a healthy population of badgers.

Vegetarianism v. the world availability of basic foodstuffs in the face of increased populations, decreased water supplies and pressure from bio-fuel crops is a whole different blog. But many livestock farms from the NW Midlands to the west of Cornwall are singularly unsuited for growing crops. With steep land, rocky outcrops, small fields and shallow soils and / or clay they are ideal for cattle and sheep, but not arable crops.

Jim said...

Anon 9.53: My reference to Bourne was to what the EFRA Committee report him as accepting. And their recommendation regarding badger culling (with Bourne and King's agreed "circumstances") is not hedged about with cost/benefit qualifications. This may have something to do with the fact that Rooker made it clear that the government is not going to pay for anything, so the cost would fall on farmers. In fact, if you look at section 9 of the ISG report and do some sums of your own (using the ISG's figures) you will see that the cost/benefit works out positive over larger areas if it's left to the farmers to pick up the bill. An earlier cost/benefit study by Defra found that "the option of licensing farmers to cull did yield a positive NPV".

On the question of land use, you say meat is a "rich person's food". You'd have to include milk and cheese in that statement if you want to be consistent as dairy cows make up something like 50% of the adult cattle in the UK. On my (not untypical) West of England lowland farm I couldn't plough up roughly half of the land for one reason or another. The other half could grow a good crop of brambles, but how many blackberries do you want to eat?

Anonymous said...

Is it really possible that farmers could somehow organise themselves to effectively kill badgers over large areas (getting on for the size of the Isle of Wight)for several years?

Those that farm pigs, subspecies flying, perhaps.

If farmers could get themselves organised they would have negotiated acceptable prices for their products.

Jim said...

Anon: I think farmers would do a lot if they could see an end to (a) the unnecessary slaughter of their animals, (b) the difficulty of living under TB restriction (extra housing, feed, straw, etc.), and (c) the stress, time and risk of injury involved in constant testing.

On your other point, it may interest you to know that the supermarkets generally refuse to deal with producer group co-ops on the livestock front (or do their level best to work round them). They prefer to pick us off one-by-one....But that would be a whole new blog.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jim

Of course we are all entitled to our opinion but their past track record does nothing to convince the public that "farmers would do a lot" other than continue to moan about one thing or another.

If the NFU (for instance) really represented most farmers the supermarkets could be held 'at gunpoint' by their suppliers.

Of course getting farmers to agree amongst themselves will only happen when the pigs start flying.

Matthew said...

Anon 8.47
Farmers have offered their land and their labour as part of a strategy to give Defra a leg up into taking responsibility for clearing this zoonotic disease.

In no other country operating OIE bTb clearance policies, are we aware that of any country's government abdicating its responsibility in the way that this country has done.

We are aware of Trevor Lawson's opinion that 'farmers can't act together' and HOHOHO - any joint effort is bound to fail. But when your back is to the wall, your buyer reluctant to take your produce and your business is making losses, about which you are told you can nothing. And all the while, Defra are stealing your stock month after month - while making mealy mouthed comments about 'taking responsibility' for diesease, then perhaps the time has come?

Several years ago, organisers of secondary picketing or 'holding a gun to the head of retailers' became liable for any losses made by said retailers. Or mines. Or anyone else subject to such co -ordinated action. Thus the NFU left this type of action to individual members. If these members could be identified as 'leaders' of such action, it is their assets and livlihoods on the line, not the organisation.

Anonymous said...

As a taxpayer I find your comments offensive.

A ten year, £multimillion, research programe is hardly "abdicating responsibility"

If farmers accepted the results we could move on.

Anonymous said...

The usual processes for negotiating prices in business do not involve secondary picketing.
Flying Pigs plc would be in a strong position if they were the sole supplier of a product that consumers desired.
At the moment (pending badger culling decision) British farm produce has a good (if underpriced) home market.
The point is that the suppliers are a fragmented unorganised lot who don't/can't work together and negotiate with the big boys (supermarkets).

NFU = no f.....g use

Matthew said...

Anon 1.25

"As a taxpayer I find your comments offensive."

As a taxpayer, and a now uninsurable (for bTB) dairy farmer who, having obeyed Defra's biosecurity advice to the letter and beyond - and still cost the taxpayer a small fortune, you should be offended.

"A ten year, £multimillion, research programe is hardly "abdicating responsibility"

The RBCT was procrastination on a huge scale. In epidemiological terms the gold standard of disease transmission opportunity and thus disease spread, the Evans postulates were fulfilled. There was no need for the RBCT. It's inevitable result was that a) badgers give cattle TB, and b) how not to deal with this.

"If farmers accepted the results we could move on."

To where? And what results would they be? John Bourne's beyond-the-call-of-duty conclusions, which are not supported by the very simplistic computer modelling of his data or the expected results of the new enquiry into the RBCT databases?

Anon 1. 33

Many farmers belong to producer groups - some of which are very large (groups not farmers) It is no protection whatsoever against rock bottom prices - hebce the pig protest in London this week. They do however provide pics for the packaging and window dressing for anything else the retailer likes to source, by association.

The only thing which will increase farm gate prices is shortage. Land and water supply is finite. Demand and population growth is not.

NFU ? - Not a member, so couldn't possibly comment.

George said...

And it's not just the farmers who feel that the disease needs to be tackled in the wildlife as well as in the cattle. Many of the scientists and most of the vets working in the field also feel that no progress will be made unless infected badger groups are removed.

Matthew said...

Not only vets and veterinary scientists, George. Politicians too.

Debate 15/12/2005. Col 1441 / 1442
Jim Paice:
"Why have the Government not published specific proposals for badger culling? Is it not clear that the low level of trapping in the triplet studies, down to 30 per cent. in some areas, has caused massive disturbance, making badgers move into adjoining areas, thus spreading the disease rather than controlling it? Does the Minister agree, therefore, that only by efficient and humane culling of whole family groups can we be certain of removing infected animals?

We agree that strict cattle controls and better testing are necessary, but alone they will not work. I believe that the Minister will have general cross-party support for a badger culling programme. Such a decision is clearly distressing and unwelcome, but it is inevitable and the further delay for another consultation is unnecessary. We do not wish, however, to create a badger-free zone, so will the Government develop a plan so that badgers from clean areas can be reintroduced once the infection has disappeared? Then we can have what we all desire: healthy cattle and healthy wildlife.

Mr. Bradshaw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and questions. He is right to stress that this is a health and welfare issue for badgers as much as for cattle. It is not quite fair of him to say that the Government have been putting off a decision for six years. After all, the Government initiated the Krebs trials. No previous trials had been conducted by Governments to get to the bottom of the role played by badgers and, indeed, the extent of that role. I think that he would be the first to acknowledge that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the science.

Far from putting anything off, we brought this announcement forward to today; a lot of people did not expect the Government to say anything until 2007—a year after the Krebs trials finish. The hon. Gentleman asked why have a delay and a consultation now, but he should accept that it would not be right to jump to conclusions less than 24 hours after we have received the results from the very long-running and important tests. I want hon. Members and other people to have the opportunity to take a careful and, I hope, calm and rational look at not just the results of the Krebs trials, but the experience gained in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere in the world. The executive summary to the document that we published today states:

"international experience indicates it is not possible to contain and eradicate bovine TB if its background presence in wildlife is left unaddressed."

We go on to say:

"The scientific evidence shows that intensive culling of badgers over large areas can be effective".

George said ....."no progress will be made until infected badger groups are removed"

We trust that includes Trevor Lawson's federation of badger groups? The Avon Wildlife Trust stated several years ago, that in seeking ultimate 'protection' for their chosen species, "these animals will suffer more, not less".
(Badgers without Bias - 1981)

Thus the crusade would in fact have the opposite effect from that intended.

Anonymous said...

You guys have been quiet for ages!

Are you OK?

Or just sulking 'cos you won't be allowed to gas or snare badgers?

Anonymous said...

'Us guys' asks anon, why have we been so quite! Most of 'us' are all to busy to even attempt or even want to answer or argue the point of who wants to kill badgers. Most folks that look after animals for a living work every day for quite long hours, we are not moaning about this, just p---ed off with the so called do gooders who do not understand the full implications of T.B in any mammal.
Perhaps you anons only work part time, 9 till 5 and not at weekends! The stance you take is I dont care about how much pain it causes any one that cares about cattle, just let this desease run on and on, 'it doesnt affect me man'.
In the next decade you will see starvation in more parts of the world, and here in Britain,so dont think you are sitting pretty cos you most certainly aint. Food production is fast becoming unworthy of growing,its easier to grow bio fuels, not so much hassle. Look at how much land has been taken out of food productionthis last year. Perhaps when your bellies are not filled with good fresh food as they are now, you may start to think rationally.
And dont think farms can be brought back into food production quickly. Look at what happened in Russia, and what is happening in China! poverty is already here, it will explode quite rapidly now with the resession just about to take off. So please start to help and not hinder for every ones sake.

Matthew said...

Anon. 10.38

Not sulking. We don't 'do' sulk. Neither do we hurl teddies out of prams. Contemplating our futures I think.

Four of us have all tb tested cattle over the winter. Two more than once. A dire job at the best of times. Stessful, dangerous and usually with a frustratingly inevitable outcome. Our northern Matthew went clear after several months under restriction. He can trade. One of our southern correspondents cannot. A single reactor and he's stuffed. Can't sell last year's store calves, his next ones are due any day, and as the sheds are still full, the sheep have nowhere to lamb. Oh, and no income. Did I mention that?

Another correspondent is snarled up in the 3 year time lag with a single inconclusive, so can't trade either. So no income for him either. And 50 extra mouths to feed - until the IR resolves.

Matt 1 is awaiting a test. As all his neighbours are under restriction, he is not hopeful.

Anon. 2.04

You're absolutely right. Only this week the major rice exporters in Asia have put a stop on exports - and the price went up 30 percent in one day. China has problems with an eyespot disease in what wheat is left after the horrendous freezing weather which has devastated both crops and livestock. But China has a budget surplus with which to trade. We do not.

So whereas votes, tuberculosis spillover into domestic and companion animals and the more recent antics of 'tomb raider' badgers excavating fresh graves has failed to dent this bought-and-paid-for government, perhaps food shortages and the resultant increase in budget deficit, just might.

Hence quiet contemplation.

We only speak when we have something to say. Sometimes we find, (to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln) it is better to be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

Anonymous said...

Hello 'you lot who say whats the matter gone quite because we (farmers) cant snare or kill badgers', we to busy looking after the exra stock on our farms because of rampant T.B!!
You stupid or some thing? Me thinks you tucked up in bed eating food that we awfull farmers produce!