Given the conflicting conclusions on how to tackle bovine TB in this country from the Independent Scientific Group and the former Chief Scientist, Sir David King it is perhaps hardly surprising that a committee of MPs has recently produced a comprehensive, 67 page report that encompasses all the options for tackling the disease (Fourth report of the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, 2007-08). However at least it brings the most important option into play – the necessity of tackling the huge reservoir of infection in the badger population. But it is a pity that it has been fogged by all the other options such as more and more cattle testing, biosecurity and vaccination, two of which together, cattle testing and biosecurity, have been shown to be wholly inadequate in tackling the disease to date. And there are good reasons set out in our last statement why vaccination of cattle is unlikely ever to be a realistic option.
We would remind readers just how
and all-been-done before cattle measures in isolation from action on the maintenance reservoir of bTb actually is. But VAWM takes no prisoners, describing bTb as "not a complex disease".
In spite of what some, including EFRACom, would have one believe, bovine TB is not a complex disease. It is caused by a single organism Mycobacterium bovis and the major wildlife reservoir of infection in this country is the badger. It was almost eradicated in the mid 80s by a sustained policy of cattle testing using the intradermal skin test and slaughter of reactors, accompanied by a policy of culling infected badger populations. And there is no reason why the same approach cannot succeed two decades later in spite of the hugely increased scale of the problem that has been allowed to develop. As the Irish have shown where there’s a will there’s a way.
We have already given our support to the 7 point plan recently set out by the NFU and other farming interests but it is now hard to envisage how this has much chance of success given all the constraints recommended by EFRACom on any badger culling and the knowledge, revealed in the report, that the Government has abdicated all responsibility for logistical support – hardly the commitment by Government to fight the disease, declared elsewhere in the report.
VAWM conclude with a point that has puzzled and astonished us in equal measure. EFRAcom has interviewed the so-called 'sides' of this debate to distraction. The Badger Trust have been wheeled out to spar with the NFU and the ISG to educate the politicians as to the difference between 'science' and 'political science'. The RSPCA make regular visits - as do representatives of numerous universities, all of whom benefit from the taxpayer's largesse. But to our knowledge, no-one with hands on experience of bTb in the field has appeared to give evidence. In fact disappointingly, EFRAcom turned down an offer from two leading scientists / epidemiologists with a wealth of experience some weeks ago seemingly preferring to listen to desk jockeys with electronic abacuses to play with.
Finally we are astonished to note that the committee does not appear to have consulted any veterinary organisation outside of DEFRA and the VLA. Instead they have sought the opinions of two non veterinary, single issue organisations the Badger Trust and RSPCA, who have no apparent concern for the insidious disease that is endemic in parts of the badger population, one of which, the RSPCA, was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority in 2006 and the Charity Commission in 2007 for publishing misleading information on the transmission of bovine TB.
For further information see: www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk
A superb overview we think. 'Conflicting' science, 'fogged' by more dead cattle and a both-hands-tied approach to controlling bTb in badgers, leading to 'constraints' designed to prolong the status quo.. And all brought about by trying to placate the people least affected by the disease and kick government responsibility for a notifiable zoonosis firmly into the long grass.