Sunday, October 25, 2009

TB and alpacas - advice update.

After a concerted effort, the owners of TB affected alpacas, if not some of their breeders, have achieved not a little success in raising awareness of the susceptibility of these delightful animals to TB.

The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has produced a TB question and answer file on its website, which highlights some problems with alpacas and TB.

As we pointed out in this posting, having made TB notifiable in 'all mammalian species' in early 2006, Defra failed to provide its AHOs with the tools to finish the tracing, restriction and testing part of TB control. The result is a mish mash of voluntary compliance with regulations which are limited in statute to 'bovine species and farmed deer'.
The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has warned its members ignoring bovine TB (bTB) could have dire consequences for the species. The society has set up a TB Action Group and is also raising awareness of the issue on its website and in its membership magazine.

Farmers Guardian has more.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


This week a new survey was published entitled "Scientific review on Tuberculosis in wildlife in the EU1". This 117 page pdf, gives a thumbnail sketch on the eradication problems in European member states (and other parts of the world) where wildlife reservoirs of TB are proving to be maintenance reservoirs.
"The evidence that badgers transmit bTB to cattle is compelling. Associative evidence includes descriptions of bTB in badger carcases, isolation of the causative organism, surveys where the badger was the only or the principal infected species, road traffic accident (RTA) surveys and statutory badger removal operations.
Laboratory transmission experiments have confirmed that badgers can infect cattle, and badgers are known to excrete M. bovis in faeces, sputum, urine and from open abscesses.
Molecular typing results have demonstrated that badgers and cattle generally share the same spoligotypes in the same geographical locations.
Intervention studies have provided stronger evidence of the direction of transmission between the two species.
Where badgers have been largely removed from areas of persistent cattle bTB infections, the cattle reactor rate has been markedly reduced for a sustained period subsequent to culling.
In recent, scientifically controlled trials, cattle incidence declined in areas where badgers were removed relative to comparable unculled areas.

All very true: this and much more can be downloaded here. We have not ploughed through too much of this because having said badgers are the acknowledged maintenance reservoir of TB in GB and RoI, the authors, many of whom are familiar names on the beneficial gravy train which services bTB, then spend an inordinate amount of time seeking cash for further studies to find out what to do about it. Some things are more than fudged. For instance there is the following all encompassing overview of past culling:
The Eurasian badger has long been implicated as the main wildlife reservoir of bTB in the UK and RoI, and their lethal control has formed an integral part of strategies to reduce bTB in cattle.
So, "lethal control has formed an integral part of strategy" to reduce TB in cattle? That is a remarkable simplification of what has actually happened. and the entirely predictable results of allowing it to happen.

From 1974 there was badger control in response to TB outbreaks in cattle, which could not be attributed to cattle movements. And very successful it was too, bringing the national tally down to less than 100 herds under restriction, and 638 cattle slaughtered in 1986.

But then vote begging politicians, animal lobbyists and other assorted hangers on made their strident voices felt, and policy was loosened to a point where any 'lethal control' was extremely limited and fraught with difficulty. With gassing now replaced by trapping and land available reduced from 7km, to just 1km of land which cattle had grazed, then a rise in cattle sentinels was inevitable. Especially as the authors of the paper observe:
Badger abundance in the UK tends to be relatively high in areas where bTB in cattle is a problem. National badger sett surveys suggested that in some parts of the UK there was a substantial increase in badger abundance between the 1980s and 1990s.
We get the picture - lots of badgers. Thousands of them. A very successful campaign. And dear readers, that 'substantial increase', upon which the authors of the paper have not put a figure, was 77 per cent. Despite this, and despite advice from the old Badger Panel, in 1997 after a £1million bung from the Political Animal Lobby, a moratorium was put on any badger control whatsoever. At that time the number of cattle slaughtered in GB was 3760. The resulting carnage hoovered up 40,000 cattle sentinels a decade later, and we have documented overspill to many other species, some of which are more than capable of sustaining infection within their populations and transmitting it onwards.

Although they have a convoluted way of putting things, the authors of this tome do recognise the dangers:
Research has revealed considerable detail about the ecology, behaviour and population demographics of badgers. Elsewhere in Europe where badger population densities are considered to be generally lower than those in the bTB affected parts of the UK and Republic of Ireland, there have been few confirmed reports of bTB in badgers. Hence, although the risks badgers may pose for onward transmission of bTB to domestic animals elsewhere in Europe are unknown, the evidence to date suggests that they are likely to be lower than in the UK or Republic of Ireland.

Quite. And you propose to reduce this risk, how?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

EU Cash - for what?

This week, the European Union has agreed in principle to fund the testing and slaughter of more British cattle.
"THE UK’s bovine TB eradication plan has been given the green light by the EU’s animal health committee, which agreed a €10 million funding package to help implement the plan.The funding will be available to contribute to the costs of TB testing and compensation for cattle slaughtered."

Farmers Guardian has the story.

It is not clear from the news dripping out of the European Commission, just what sort of 'eradication' package the UK presented.
Scotland, having decided to 'go it alone', is not included, but the title not only implies a bit of serious dot-joining, the documentation issued by the DG SANCO (Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs) authorities in the EU, spells out governmental responsibilities quite clearly.
The elimination or reduction of the risk posed by an infected wildlife reservoir enables the other measures contained in the programme to yield the expected results, whereas the persistence of TB in these wildlife populations impedes the effective elimination of the disease.

Major socio-political resistance (lobbyism) against any measure involving the removal of infected wildlife or interventions affecting the environment are to be expected. The additional costs associated with these actions are not likely to be negligible."
As we have said many times, a one sided non-policy such has been foisted on this country since a £1 million bung in 1997, is totally responsible for the unholy mess our cattle industry now finds itself in.
But spillover of bTB into numerous other mammalian species in happening in increasing numbers, with alpacas leading the field in numbers. And for them, inter herd spread appears a big problem. It would appear that once an alpaca or llama becomes infected, bTB spreads through these delightful animals very quickly, swiping them one after another.

So what of this 10 million euro cash pot, that will arrive from the UK and German taxpayers via the auspices of the 'European Union', presumably to implement T-Beggar's recommendations of more testing, more slaughter of cattle, and more ways to live with this (increasing) level of bTB? As the SANCO document says (in more than one place) unless parallel measures are taken to eliminate the risk from wildlife reservoirs, in tandem (that means ' at the same time'), any cattle measures and thus any amount of cash poured in to facilitate them, is destined for the same black hole which Lord Rooker so eloquently described in 2007 when he told the ERRA committee,
"Defra have no policy, and have spent £1 billion to no good effect in the last decade.

And now they have 10 million more euros to play with.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A square a very round hole.

The more we look at responses to our postings and those on other sites, the more we think that although baby-Ben Bradshaw was quite correct in making suspected bTB notifiable in 'any mammalian species', it would have been sensible to put a safety net of statute under such reports.

The minister for (some) Animal's Health made this amendment in 2006, which meant that Defra picked up the tab for postmortems, cultures etc. on any mammal suspected of having bTB. But there the joining of departmental dots gets disjointed, with AHO only having legislature over bTB in 'Bovine species and farmed deer'.

We have mentioned, some cases of domestic pets, and given camelids several mentions, not least because they appear not only to be highly susceptible to bTB, but also highly infectious when they do get the disease. And therein lies a problem. Defra may have post-mortemed a cat, dog, sheep, pig, goat, alpaca or llama - and this is a cursory look, not a full pm, we understand - but there the story ends. A movement restriction may be issued. Or it may not. It may apply to certain groups of animals on the holding, but not to the whole area. Testing may be offered, or it may not; or it may be refused as may entry to the holding. Owners may be given permission to use supplementary tests but if these prove positive, whether or not they are 'validated' or accurate is dismissed out of hand, as positive candidates must be slaughtered before any further testing continues, or restrictions which have been accepted, lifted. Compulsory purchase of these 'other species' is discretionary, and owes more to 'who you know' than a genuine attempt to clear disease. We are aware of some eyewatering amounts paid for camelids, but the ex gratia figure, if owners follow what little protocol applies, is said to be around £750 / head.

In all this is a dog's breakfast of policies which individual veterinary practitioners, AHOs, VI centres, VLA and even (or especially) Health Protection Agencies seem reluctant or unable to coalesce. AHOs particularly, are caught between (B)rock and a hard place trying to shoehorn Bradshaw's 'other mammalian species' into statutory cattle regulations for bTB, while the various bodies charged with screening their human contacts for bTB are still locked into text books, decades out of date, looking for 'unpasteurised milk' from a 'cow with udder lesions'.

None of this non-policy fits, any which way you twist it. Like our square peg: into a round hole, it will not go.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Eradication - 20 / 30 years

The report of T-BAG's (TB Advisory Group) successor, T-Beggars (TB Eradication Group) is published today on the Defra website.

Foremost amongst its recommendations is a consolidation of 'parish' testing intervals to reflect risk. The maps (on P.21) in the report show how gaps will be filled in from next year (2010) to give annual testing for all the west / south west area, with a 10km two year testing buffer along the eastern edge. It is estimated that an extra 4000 herds will be pulled into this regime. We have no problem with testing cattle, or slaughtering reactors. Our 'problem' is with leaving the source of the outbreaks intact. The cynical among us may speculate on just how long this 'Maginot line' will stay in its allotted place, before it migrates eastwards at the rate a badger can travel in a year ?

Other proposals which have been widely speculated upon, involve advice on biosecurity (which will help, how?) and a handful of changes designed to make bTB more easy to live with. Or in the case of our cattle, to die from. And this will happen more frequently as inconclusives are given the chop at their second test, not third. Thus, as the boss says, leaving an increasingly 'naive' population of cattle, at increasing risk from an untapped wildlife source of endemic disease.

A change in definition of TB within herds is on the the cards too, from the misleading 'unconfirmed' breakdown, where neither lesions nor culture have been able to 'confirm' infection, to just a 'restriction'. This is academic to farmers, the ravages of herd restriction being no different whether TB is confirmed or not, (merely slightly longer if TB is confirmed, or infinite until the source is sorted out.) But it will make the picture clearer to our European masters, who may be under the impression that GB's TB incidence, based on a figure of New Confirmed Incidents only, is under 4%. It is not, it is rapidly approaching 10% as herds are under constant test and slaughter regimes, but are not cleared thus not shown as 'NHIs'. This method (NHIs) of tracking the spread of disease is excellent, provided there is a single source - which is being successfully tackled. But in this case, an increasing rump of herds are languishing under almost constant reinfection from 'wildlife' and are under restriction, incurring testing costs and slaughter but do not appear as headline figures.

But isn't T-Beggar's comparison with the Australian experience of 20 - 30 years to eradicate this disease, stretching the imagination somewhat? For a start, Australia is a slightly larger land mass than GB and it's wildlife reservoir, wider ranging with eradication involving 'Judas cattle', helicopters and a mass shootings. But the main difference is that Australia realised a while ago that they had to act on their wildlife reservoir to ensure TB cattle, and thus a TB free country. A fact which still appears to have escaped the current administration somewhat. And until that happens, making finishing units more accessible, and calf slaughter away from farms is - er, admirable. But livestock markets depend on throughput and set Defra's tabular valuations, while supermarkets want vertical integration of their supply chain, and will exert any pressure they can, to achieve this. But a dead calf is still dead, even if the farmer doesn't have to shoot it himself. And in the absence of any action on wildlife sources (we do not consider vaccinating endemically infected badgers 'action') the trend line for cattle slaughterings, predicts over 70,000 annually by 2014.

The NFU are said to be 'disappointed' that more emphasis was not given to the reservoir of disease in badgers, but accepted that the group had a tight remit. A remit that goes right back to reflect Hilary Benn's elation that his coup of changing of just one word, 'advisory' to 'eradication' could have been believed by so many. And he still does not have to accept a single word of the many that any such group is obliged to offer.

Depending of course on when 'eradication' of TB in badgers is started, we think 20 - 30 years is a gross overstatement. Thornbury achieved clean cattle in under a year, and kept them clear for a decade or more. But 'hard boundaries' to badger control are not necessary. A healthy badger group will do the job cheaper and quicker.

And in 30 years time, by 2040, these bloggers will be pushing up the proverbial daisies - as will most of the politicians, pseudo scientists and assorted hangers on, who have got us into this mess in the first place. So quite frankly, my dears.....

Just to remind readers, this map was the situation 30 years ago, in 1986. And before the aforementioned groups set about dismantling any semblance of badger control in response to confirmed cattle TB, which could not be traced to cattle movements. In that year GB reported less than 100 herds with breakdowns, and 638 cattle were slaughtered.

Such is progress.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tories would bring camelids under TB umbrella

At the Tory party conference this week, Shadow Minister Jim Paice MP gave the clearest commitment yet to a bTB eradication policy which hoovers up all its susceptible victims, including camelids.

Farmers Weekly has the story.
Camelids and alpacas could be brought into the testing regime for TB under a Conservative government, shadow farm minister Jim Paice has said.

Speaking exclusively to Farmers Weekly at the Tory party conference in Manchester, Mr Paice said he realised concern was growing about the reported reservoir of disease in the animals.

And he said the presence of TB in camelids needed tackling, even though many owners were against TB tests being carried out.
We have touched on this subject before, with a story from a Devon breeder here and an ongoing Cornish breakdown here. Several more breakdowns in alpaca and llama herds are coming to our attention, and to Defra's as well. At present any testing, slaughter, pioneering of new ante mortem tests or anything else to do with camelids, is up to owners of these animals. And Defra. But ultimately, Defra have a boss too. And it is not that vegetarian bloke called Hillary, who flatly refuses to act on any reservoir of this pernicious zoonotic disease except tested sentinel cattle, culled because of their exposure to the bacteria which causes it.

Overseeing Defra's non-policies on (some) Animals Health, is the OIE (Office des International Epizooties) to whom Hilary Benn is responsible for control and eradication of bTB. Wherever that may be.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Party Political Animals

As preparations get underway for the third of the party conferences, here are a couple of links to show the great divide between the current government and any future one.

This pic is of Hillary Wedgewood-Benn, MP our Minister for (some) Animal's Health, when he addressed the NFU conference a year ago.
Despite continuing carnage, his prevarication has not altered one iota, his stance rigidly against a policy which involves tackling badgerTB in its host species. This week's Farmers Guardian offers a thumbnail sketch of the current government's track record on disease control, tracing its cattle casualties of consistant non-policy from 6000 to 40,000 slaughtered per year, over the last decade.

"If there is a single issue that has defined farming’s uneasy relationship with the current Government, it is badgers and bovine TB."

But what of junior Ministerial colleagues, many of whom have openly disagreed with Benn and his numerous predecessors?

The political equivalent of a gulag in outer Siberia awaits dissenters:
"Ministers who felt differently either got nowhere while in office, in the case of Jeff Rooker, or only felt able to speak out afterwards, in the cases of Nick Brown or Jane Kennedy".
What a crazy, expensive, reckless and futile waste of time. But would any other administration be any different? This site was started with the posting of 500 PQs, which were lobbed in the direction of the ever obedient MP for Exeter, and then junior Minister of (some) Animal's Health, baby-Ben Bradshaw, who followed his masters voice, to the letter. And is now Minister for something else.

Many farmers are hanging their hats on the words of Benn's shadow minister in the Conservative party, Jim Paice, MP.

At least Mr. Paice was prepared to forsake the Westminister bubble, and get his wellies muddy. He explored some Benn badgerTB hotspots, as we posted here.
Unusually for a politician, there have been some recent clear, unambiguous statements by senior Tory figures, including leader David Cameron and Shadow Defra Secretary Nick Herbert, committing the party to a badger cull.

Farmers Guardian takes up the story:
In a sign of how seriously the party is now taking the issue, veteran Shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice has been given the task of developing a detailed badger culling policy for England, so a new Tory Government can hit the ground running.

“We would hopefully get on with it almost immediately,” Mr Paice says. “I really do not want this hanging about any longer. Twelve years ago, 3,000 animals were being culled. It has now rocketed to over 40,000 and the Government has just sat idly by and done nothing."

And in this pledge, he is backed by the Liberal Democrats who accuse Defra of shamelessly 'ducking the issue' and say;
A limited badger cull is necessary and the science does justify it. The reality is badgers are reservoirs of TB, we need to tackle them and the way is through a targeted cull in south west England.

We have been heard to remark that if a politician's lips are moving, he is lying. But, and it's a big but, the recent love affair this country has had with its financial services industry, which has now landed any administration with huge debts as this sector is bailed out, will inevitably mean some serious pruning of costs. And the sheer weight of unecessary cattle slaughter and it's knock effect on imports, and thus the balance of payments deficit, may just ring a few bells - somewhere. Maybe. Or, an MP's constituent may bang on his office door with a wake up call about a dead cat, dog, or alpaca. And demand some answers as to just where their pet acquired this disease from, and what is he / she going to do about it?