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.