Wednesday, July 23, 2008

EFRAcom response to Benn - 'Not good enough'

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee has responded to Secretary of State, Hilary Benn's cop-out announcement, with their own verbal broadside,
We concluded that the Government's current method of controlling cattle TB, that of surveillance, testing and slaughter, was not working effectively.
... a severe understatement, we think. EFRAcom quote the government's own figures for disease incidence:
. Our Report considered that cattle TB was one of the most serious animal health problems in Great Britain today, with the number of infected cattle doubling every four and a half years. The consequential growing cost of the disease to the taxpayer and to the farming industry was unsustainable. In "hot spot" areas where the prevalence of the disease was highest, the farming industry had reached a breaking point as the disruption to business in both human and economic terms had become unacceptable. The final straw for many farmers had proved to be the introduction of a new system of valuations for their slaughtered of TB incidence cattle which had proved inequitable in many cases.
And on badger culling, in response to confirmed cattle TB outbreaks...
We also recognised that under certain well-defined circumstances it was possible that badger culling could make a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of the disease in hot spot areas. However, we acknowledged that badger culling alone would never provide a universal solution to the problem of cattle TB.
... it did at Thornbury.
"The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas in south west England, where bovine tuberculosis was a problem was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was removed. no other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area." [157949] 24th March 2004. Col. 824W

Reduction? Another understatement. NO cases of TB in cattle were found in the ten years after gassing ceased at Thornbury, and badger numbers had recovered to pre-cull levels.
6. We are extremely disappointed that the response was so tentative in many areas. It also appears to play down the serious nature of this disease, asserting that the problem is a regional one, that the Government's cattle TB policies are working effectively, and that the position is not as "bleak" as our Report suggested. We note that PSA 9 (adopted in 2004) set a target for Defra to reduce the spread of cattle TB to new parishes to below the incremental trend of 17.5 confirmed new incidents per annum by the end of 2008, but not a target for the reduction of TB in existing hot spot areas or overall. The Departmental Annual Report 2008 says that the Department is "on course" for meeting its targets for limiting the spread of cattle TB to areas currently free from the disease. Whilst this might explain the optimism contained in the Government response, the statistics for incidence of cattle TB in 2007 show that the number of herd breakdowns is still increasing.

Now, when a politician says he is 'disappointed', it is politicospeke for bloody frustrated, angry and downright disgusted that committee advice has not been heeded. In this case the adjective 'extremely' has been added, thus giving emphasis to EFRAcom's 'disappointment'.
7. The Government is unwise to have put all its eggs in one basket and to have chosen to focus its energies and funding on the long-term goal of developing cattle and badger vaccines when it is unlikely that a badger vaccine will be available before 2014 and a cattle vaccine before 2015. The response indicates that there is little in the Government's strategy, beyond the current policy of surveillance, testing and slaughter, to tackle the disease in the short-term. This is not good enough — it fails to recognise fully the seriousness of the situation.

Couldn't agree more, but for any disease 'strategy', governement requires the co-operation of its farmers. And that Defra has patently lost.
... Defra's plans for partnership with farmers on the issue of animal disease control appear to be in disarray as the farming industry has walked away from current discussions on responsibility and cost-sharing.[2] This will surely have serious consequences for the credibility of the Government's plans for a Bovine TB Partnership Group to discuss cattle-based measures with the industry.

From vaccines to bio-security, badger culling to the widespread use of gammaIFN, compensation levels and farmer co-operation, it would appear EFRAcom are far from happy with the minister's response. Having described his response variously as 'tentative', 'unwise', 'not good enough' and too reliant on woolly future events, the committee have 'invited' him to appear to give oral evidence to support his non-decisions.
We ask Defra to respond to the points raised in this report. We will also be asking the Secretary of State to give oral evidence on his response to our original Report.
While EFRAcom (and others) are making the case for 'cattle measures' we will remind readers of their total failure (and continuing failure) when used in isolation. And when politicians talk of 'reducing the spread' of TB they totally misunderstand that the disease is NOT spread by cattle movements. A point well understood, by Lord Rooker, who had taken the time to study VLA's painstakingly constructed spoligotype maps.


Anonymous said...

I don't know whether to laugh or cry - "And when politicians talk of 'reducing the spread' of TB they totally misunderstand that the disease is NOT spread by cattle movements."

And pigs CAN fly

Don't you remember post foot & mouth restocking?

Matthew said...

Certainly do Anon 12.17
Very much was made of very little.

Of course if a cow has latent disease when she boards a lorry, then she is unlikely to have a 'Damoscene' moment on the way, and become miraculously healed.
That is why we are so much against the comfort blanket of preMT, and in favour of annual testing, or at the very least post-movement tests of breeding cattle going into areas on different testing regimes.

The very few cattle which tested positive in re-stocked FMD herds were tested and slaughtered and that was the end of the story. They did not cause an ongoing problem, and some, although you may not have realised this, were not carrying the spoligotype of TB unique to their herd of origin. In some of the Cumbrian cases, TB in imported cattle, was entirely home grown.

So cry if you like - for the badgers, lying dying all over our neighbour's fields. For the waste of his dead heavily in-calf cattle, and for our own new TB reactor, soon to leave us an orphan calf and the chaos of 60 day testing. Look at the spoligotype maps - VLA's footprint of TB over the last 30 years - and weep.

Anonymous said...

In February 2007, Mr Madders advised Farmers Guardian that officers of the State Veterinary Service (now Animal Health) had blamed badgers for an outbreak of bovine TB on his farm in the parish of Coppenhall, Staffordshire [2]. The pyramid-shaped parish is bounded to the east and to the west by Castlechurch and Bradley respectively, and by the parish of Dunston to the south. Bradley and Dunston hold the majority of herds. Mr Madders reported that his herd is 'self- contained' and that 'the only way in is through wildlife'.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Badger Trust secured details of herds and bovine TB outbreaks in all four parishes, from
1995 to 2006. The total number of herds registered on VetNet in all four parishes declined from 67 to 49 over that time. The bulk of the decline occurred in the wake of foot and mouth disease (FMD). The Stafford disease control centre dealt with 72 FMD incidents during the outbreak and for some farmers it prompted retirement from the industry.
The data obtained by the Badger Trust reveal that TB was virtually unknown in the four parishes between 1995 and 2002. Only a single herd, in the parish of Bradley, went under TB restriction, and then only from 1998 to 1999. Thereafter, there was no evidence of bovine TB until 2003.
In 2003, in the wake of FMD, three herds went under restriction, one in each of the three parishes surrounding Coppenhall, followed by a fourth in 2004 in Bradley. The number under restriction dropped to three again in 2005 and the outbreak on Mr Madders' farm took the number back up to four in 2006.
This sudden upsurge in 2003 mirrors that which occurred all over the country in the wake of FMD. This followed Defra's stupendously foolish decision to allow the movement of untested livestock for restocking, which the NFU claimed as a "victory". The buying-in of TB infected cattle led to a huge rise in the distribution of TB infection right across Britain and an explosion of new cases. For thousands of farmers, it proved to be a pyrrhic victory.
"The unavoidable fact is that Mr Madders' TB outbreak would never have occurred were it not for the movement of untested, TB-infected cattle to South Staffordshire," commented Trevor Lawson. "The
disease was virtually unknown in the four parishes for at least eight years. There is no evidence explaining the final route of the disease to Mr Madders' farm. Officers of Animal Health cannot claim, with any shred of certainty, to know the cause.
"If free-roaming badgers were the TB vector for Mr Madders' farm, it does not explain why the three other herds in his parish have escaped the disease. Indeed, 92 per cent of the herds in the four parishes are currently TB-free. Infected badgers, surely, would cause a "clumping" of infection and cannot explain this scattered distribution. Officers of Animal Health cannot possibly claim that badgers are the index source of this infection. Clearly, cattle are the index source of this disease. Animal Health should publicly apologise to Mr Madders for misleading him in this way."
For further comment, please contact Trevor Lawson on 07976 262388.
1. Bill Madders was appointed to Defra's TB Advisory Group by the chief vet, Debby Reynolds, in 2006.
2. Levitt, T. (2007) TB outbreak at farm of Defra adviser, Farmers Guardian, 16 February 2007. Mr Madders was reported as saying: "The local SVS view is that it is almost certainly badger contamination of the pasture last spring ... The consistent view coming out of the State Veterinary Service is that until we do something about the disease in the wildlife it will get worse. It is the politicians that we’re up against."

Matthew said...

Anon 9.12

Spoligotypes will show whether a bought in cow was responsible for Mr. Madders' outbreak, or whether it was 'home-grown'.
Given SVS comments, they must be pretty sure it is the latter.

George said...

A scatter of infected herds in an area is exactly what is seen in the TB endemic areas - which this area has been for some time. If this herd is self-contained and neighbouring herds have not been infected then, obviously, the disease must have come from a non-bovine source. Also, don't forget that less testing was carried out while the SVS were dealing with FMD. If you don't test you don't find reactors.

Anonymous said...

Another blow against badger 'control'?:

Badger culling not possible, Defra reveals

A huge body of research just published by Defra has failed to find any humane or practical methods for the large scale culling of badgers [1].

The research reveals that:

- one in three badgers caught in "body snares" suffered "severe" injuries which breached the criteria for humaneness" [2];

- a "high level of competence ... taught in established training schemes ... and demonstrated through the DSC Level 1 and 2 qualifications" is required to shoot free-running badgers, along with "further specialist knowledge" and the development of a "safety protocol" [3];

- shooting would mean "an anti-social work regime that is unlikely to fit well with farming or husbandry activities" [3];

- the report on shooting failed to show whether a sufficient number
of suitably qualified and available operators exists, failed to include a risk assessment and failed to include a cost-benefit analysis [3];

- it was impossible to develop a reliable model for predicting whether humane concentrations of carbon monoxide gas could be achieved in a badger sett [4].

Trevor Lawson, for the Badger Trust, commented: "These reports confirm that Hilary Benn was right to reject badger culling as a means to control bovine TB. Despite spending a small fortune of tax payers' money in seeking out ways to exterminate 170,000 badgers, Defra has failed to find any feasible options.

"We were aware that Defra had given serious consideration to allowing farmers to shoot free-running badgers. Yet although the Game Conservancy Trust claimed that 'shooting with rifles had the potential to contribute significantly to control', it failed to
provide the key information on public safety, cost effectiveness and
availability of personnel that would be needed to justify such a policy.

"Businesses in the south west will heave a huge sigh of relief that Mr Benn has not sanctioned a dramatic escalation in the use of terrifyingly dangerous weapons, across millions of square kilometres,
in one of Britain's most popular tourism regions."


For further comment, contact Trevor Lawson on 07976 262388.

1. The research is available online at


2. Anon (2007), Trials of a body snare designed to catch and hold

badgers, A Report to the Wildlife Species Conservation Division,

Defra, 19 June 2007.

3. Game Conservancy Trust (2006) Shooting as a potential tool in

badger population control.

4. Anon (2008), Further development and validation of a CFD model of

gas diffusion within a soil tunnel, A report to Defra, 25 June 2008.

Anonymous said...

Given a hole in the ground how long does take two men with a detuned petrol engine to kill the diseased badgers therein?
Not as long as it took in the 1980’s and the Thornbury model worked very well!

Defra very recently published all of this stuff on its website – much of it dated back to 2005

The fact that an expensive mathematician hasn’t been able to model the efficiency of in-sett gassing of is of no significance. – nor are the comments regarding shooting and snaring. I repeat - Gassed badgers don’t perturbate.

Incidentally - I thought DEFRA was issuing 'Badger Culling Guidelines' for a job that it doesn’t want to do itself and doesn’t want to pay for it to be done BUT knows it needs to be done by someone soon.

Perhaps Defra is waiting to be told to get it done by the EU?

Peter Brady

Anonymous said...

What absolute balderdash! I couldn’t stop laughing!

I had to go back to the documents published on DEFRA’s website

People – including Badger Trust reps and DEFRA ministers actually think this stuff is scientifically relevant.

It really is difficult to believe the Nation has very recently paid for the following Defra-sponsored piece of Harry Potter nonsense. I detail below extract of DEFRA report:-

© Crown copyright

Further development and validation of a CFD model of gas diffusion within a soil tunnel A report to Defra 25 June 2008

9. CFD modelling predictions of CO concentrations in an approximately 1/5th scale model of a simple, natural tunnel system surrounded by real soil showed inconsistencies with the experimental data, with the model predicting higher concentrations in the surrounding soil than were observed experimentally. There were also discrepancies between results obtained from the different experimental runs under nominally the same conditions.
10. A number of possible issues contributing to these discrepancies were highlighted at an expert working group meeting, and a modified experiment was carried out using more soil, that was air-dried and sieved through a 2mm sieve.
11. Despite this the modelling still showed poor agreement, in particular predicting a continuous increase of CO concentration after 60 minutes, whereas experimentally concentrations generally levelled off after 40 minutes.
12. This led to the conclusion that based on the comparison of the experimental results with the CFD, the current understanding of the physical processes for the dispersion of CO in soil is insufficient for modelling the dispersion of the gas. This may be due to the deviation of real soil from the assumption in the CFD software that it is a uniform substrate.
13. Validation of the model in natural tunnel systems (phase 2) was thus abandoned. However, four scenarios were identified as potential ways of collecting data from physical systems for validation of predictions made by any future model.

Really – what has this got to do with ‘reality’ – someone creates a fantasy world – says something can’t be ‘modelled’ and those that wish to - conclude that – in this instance – the in-sett gassing of badgers doesn’t work and won’t work!

But we know it does – don’t we?


….the Thornbury badger clearance has been quoted as irrefutable evidence for-badger to-cattle transmission. 1975-1981 badgers were totally cleared from 104 sq kilometres centred on Thornbury, Avon. Setts were gassed with hydrocyanic acid and recolonisation prevented by further gassing until 1981, after which it was allowed to proceed. The 104 herds in the area were thereafter free of TB until 1992. The decline of the disease, in step with badger clearance was studied by Clifton-Hadley et al from detailed records of reactor numbers, false positives and false negatives. The authors concluded that "eradication of tuberculous badgers resolves the cattle problem for at least 10 years."

As they say - watch my lips!




Anonymous said...

Peter you need to compare 'like with like'

Thornbury setts were gassed with hydrocyanic acid not CO

Are you proposing using cyanide?

Anonymous said...

I am not proposing using HCN Hydrocyanic Acid as used at Thornbury

Experts have assessed Carbon Monoxide to be today’s best application. Certainly if we are looking to the farmer to ‘do-it-himself’ rather than utilise Ministry manpower / resources CO is no doubt a more usable gas.

The point is that the already proved-to-be-useless theoretical approach should have been replaced with practical tests with variables such as 1 – 2 petrol engines, 1 – 2 hours, vented / non-vented chambers, controlled exit (none, one, two) and gas flow measurement / monitoring with visible coloured gases – etc etc. Not beyond the wit of mankind – even for Defra folk!

However – if either Ministry men and / or the Army were to be deployed then I would not hesitate to use proven HCN technology (again), I have previously proposed that the size and nature of the bTB debacle is such that it warrants the skills of the army (a la FMD)

One wonders incidentally how MAFF / Porton Down assessed the efficacy of HCN when it was decided that it may not be / was not humane bearing in mind that Hydrogen Cyanide is also used for capital punishment in gas chambers in six states of the USA!

I have had direct experience of dealing with MAFF when I was worked for a molecular modelling pharmaceutical PLC on, amongst other things, its BSE (and CJD & Scrapie) project.. We discovered and developed a compound to accurately identify BSE (CJD / Scrapie) (post mortem). MAFF was just as useless then as DEFRA is today – but once again Ireland assisted with the real world testing whilst MAFF just shredded 17 vital files (of documentary evidence) prior to the official inquiry.


Matthew said...

We've just blogged the 2005/2006 papers on gassing with CO, having read them all. Defra's 2008 conclusion differs significantly and substantially from Trevor's statement.
Peter. Yup we couldn't stop laughing either. Especially how blocking up the entrance around the inlet pipe, achieved such staggeringly better results. Well, it would wouldn't it? Loved the description (detailed) of the old Rangy too.