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
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
"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.