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.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Defra to appeal Tabular Valuation ruling

Yesterday (August 4th.) Defra announced that it would appeal the decision of Lord Justice Stanley Burnton in the case brought by David Partridge. The case, heard on July 14, ruled that applying table values to high value cattle ‘offends the principle of equality’ as it discriminates against their owners without sufficient justification.

We covered the Partridge Farms case here. Cash strapped and under pressure to 'save money' this is a case Defra cannot afford to lose. Equally, the breeders of high genetic pedigree cattle cannot be expected to surrender high value animals to the altar of political expediency for a handful of what they are worth.

In an ideal world, cattle farmers should be able to obtain top-up insurance for such animals but the situation with this politically motivated plague is such that the insurance underwriters have withdrawn cover. Exposure to risk is too high the man-from-the-Pru said. And in a world where only the short term is 'valued' at all, it was ever going to be the case that while farmers were screwed had their compulsory purchase monies reduced, the bTB bandwagon would roll on with the majority - two thirds - of its budget increasing at 20 per cent annually to cope with increasing Tb 'incidents'.

In a bizarre twist to this story, we have been alerted to another anomaly within the compulsory purchase maze. While camelids, those long necked fashion-statement lawnmowers such as alpacas and llamas receive full valuations from Defra, as the spillover into other species continues, goat keepers receive nothing at all. This we are told, is the result of deals done (fishing quotas?) when the UK joined the EEC (European Economic Community). In 1972, Government undertook to exclude goats as agricultural animals and therefore any part of our agricultural economy. So when goats are found to be infected with TB, or fail an owner funded skin test there is no compensation whatsoever for reactors.