Tuesday, December 21, 2010

ASA uphold (another) complaint by FUW.

Once again, the Advertising Standards Authority have upheld complaints against misleading statements issued by the so-called protectors of badgers. This time the 'Save the Badger' campaign, operating from the address of 'Secret World Wildlife Rescue' in Somerset, has had the majority of its claims ruled as being 'untrue and unsubstantiated' by the ASA, say the Farmers Union of Wales.

Following a complaint by the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales), the ASA ruled that claims made in advertisements placed by the 'Save the Badger' charity and published in May this year, repeatedly breached Truthfulness, Substantiation, and Matters of Opinion codes. Welcome though this ruling is, it is too late. The 'Save the Badger' campaign encouraged members of the general public to oppose badger culling, and called on them to write to the Welsh Assembly Government and the Rural Affairs Minister opposing plans to cull badgers in north Pembrokeshire. And it used advertisements which repeatedly made statements which the ASA now say breached their standards of 'Truthfulness, Substantiation and 'Matters of Opinion' codes.

Following the ASA’s ruling, the advertisements must not appear again in their current form, and the ASA has written to the operators of 'Save the Badger' instructing them to ensure in future that claims which are not clearly an expression of their view, can be substantiated.

In 2006, publication of unsubstantiated claims by the RSPCA and others, once again brought by the FUW, provoked a similar response from the ASA, as we reported at the time. But the damage - and it is considerable - is done. People are misled, many animals suffer and the only winner is tuberculosis.

We note that similar emotive and misleading generalisations which are today condemned as 'matters of opinion which were untrue and unsubstantiated' by the ASA can still be found on Brian May's 'Save the Badger' website. Including, amusingly, irritatingly, the old assumption that mycobacterium bovis, is a virus. Dr. May's website has the following introductory paragraph:
The disease at the centre of this appalling tragedy is called Bovine TB. The history of the establishment of this virus in populations of Cattle in the British Isles is well documented. It did NOT, of course come from Badgers (or it would presumably have been called "Badger TB") - it was allowed to flourish because of intensive farming methods, and was spread around the UK by farmers moving cattle around to maximise the profit that could be made from them when they were slaughtered. Badgers were infected by the cattle, entirely innocent of any wrong-doing except being in the vicinity of these diseased farm animals.

And that from a superannuated, former pop star with a newly acquired 'ology?

Corrections to all Dr. May's erroneous assumptions may be found in this post and the PQ answer below. We do not intend to go through them again.

But we also note that pictures of badgers adorning his site, do not reflect the true result of tuberculosis on badgers. Emaciation, exclusion from the social group, starvation and finally death? Very nice. Disease in the badger on the right, had developed as tuberculous pleurisy and when the animal was caught, it was emaciated to the point that its death was imminent.

And this badger, weighing a fraction of its optimum weight had starved to death. A postmortem showed that it too, had generalised tuberculosis, the bacteria from which were available to any mammal which crossed its miserable path.

Finally, we would remind readers of the answer to our Parliamentary Questions as to the likely reason for the total and complete clearance of 'bovine' TB from the cattle herds at Thornbury, after a short period of badger clearance. The effect lasted for over a decade:
No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area of the Thornbury operation were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" Hansard: 28th Jan 2004 col 385W [150573]
So, what was the cause of the Thornbury success? Whole herd slaughter? Cohort slaughter? Zoning and movement restrictions, licensing and more cattle measures? Biosecurity and stricter testing? Change in the weather? All measures offered today by the Badger Trust, discussed ad infinitum by the T-Beggars ( T-BAG's successor around Defra's TB round table ) - and tried in the past by others, with humiliatingly expensive and ignominious results.

However, we did ask. And remembering that it is a hanging offence to mislead a minister in written parliamentary questions, his answer was thus:

The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas in the south west of England, where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" (Hansard 24th March 2004: Col 824W [157949]

Congratulations, once again to FUW.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deadline for the Welsh consultation.

Just a day to go before the closing of the Welsh Assembly Government's consultation on culling badgers infected with tuberculosis.

Details can be found on the FUW website, which has online links to submit replies.

The deadline for replies to this consultation, is midnight on Friday, December 17th.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

24 hours to go.

The consultation on whether or not to control infectious badgers to prevent the spread of tuberculosis closes on the 8th. December.

Farmers Guardian has a timely reminder.

Responses can be sent via email to: tbbc@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Monday, December 06, 2010

Professionals comment on that 74%

When we put up a brief glimpse of the source of Defra's '800 badgers, vaccination and 74% efficacy assumption' posting, it attracted the attention of several biologists, veterinary pathologists and other suitably qualified people.

Their somewhat explosive response, we did not expect.

A protocol designed to do one thing cannot and should not be tweaked to fit another scenario, and assumptions made without postmortems to support. That is 'outrageous' was one comment offered. The following snips are from a comment of the efficacy of BCG posting (below) with which we absolutely agree.
"As a biologist, I find these results rather perturbing. I know that BCG isn't all that effective, but results such as this demonstrate that it is so ineffective as to be near-useless, especially given the stress and disruption of vaccinating wild badgers ."

As cattle farmers, the results that even badgers receiving a very high dose of BCG, still developed lesions and still shed m.bovis was not good news to us either. As was the postmortem result for badger D313, (1 of the 9 given high dose BCG after a clear pre-jab screen) and for whom BCG gave no protection at all. The comment continues:
This is worthy of much wider publicity, since the general public seem to think that one dose of vaccine gives immediate, 100% effective, lifelong protection from a disease. This simplistic notion needs to be corrected; people need telling that BGC isn't all that effective, and that M bovis is definitely not a disease only of cows and badgers, but one which can readily spread to people.

We are trying, but when faced with a brick wall of vested interests, lobby money and index linked pensions, a TB riddled badger supports a huge industry on its back. Pushing water uphill may be easier.
This is, I think, a matter of some urgency since if this isn't done then the usual myths and magical thinking regarding vaccination will persist (i.e. the disease isn't a problem for people, and vaccination is a cure) and the necessary widespread badger cull will be that much more difficult to achieve

We think that as soon as Defra delivered this skewed piece of non-science to the Badger Trust, the general media and various assorted celebrities in need of a cause, it was game over.

And you are absolutely correct in thinking that the public and many animal activists genuinely believe that BCG will protect the badger, completely and indefinitely, whatever its current disease status. And yes, the label 'bovine' TB implies the only victims are cattle.
As to what can be done, well we've tried. Lord knows we've tried. But battling against arrogance and vested interests, who are in an armlock with government is a thankless task and one which we are afraid we have lost. The winner is the bacterium known as m.bovis, which will continue to infect any mammal unfortunate enough to fall over it.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

BCG efficacy - does it work?

We have so far concentrated on ploughing through the reams of paper and annexes associated with the 800 badger project, the results of which we explored below. But VLA / FERA have had several goes at vaccinating badgers with BCG, and then chopping them up to see the result.
With nothing better to do on a snowy Sunday afternoon, we trawled a couple of recent documents, where VLA / FERA checked their results with recognised efficacy protocol of a measured challenge and a postmortem of their results.

Briefly, 23 badgers were captured in Suffolk, where cattle sentinels are testing clear, and pre screened them to check they were clear of TB at the time of vaccination.

They were then allocated into three groups. VES1 which received a normal (low) dose of BCG vaccine, VES2 which received a higher dose (10 x higher) and a Control. Interestingly, the measured dose of m.bovis was inconsistent, with low dose vaccinates (VES1) receiving a higher dose of bacteria than the VES2 group.(Table 1, p.5 in the first link)

Of the these 23 animals, 5 were controls with exposure to m.bovis but no BCG, 8 had a low dose vaccine and 9 a high dose. All had m.bovis introduced by measured dose. All were euthanized 29 weeks after vaccination, and 12 weeks after experimental introduction of m.bovis.

The postmortems showed all badgers to have visible lesions in several parts, including lungs, lymph nodes etc. varying in severity. and m.bovis of the spoligotype introduced experimentally (VLA 9 - 8 5 5 5 *3 3 3 ) was recovered from all 23 animals in the trial.

In one test used (Dunns) a statistically significant reduction was found in the high dose animals compared to control. But using another test (Tukey's) all tests revealed 'no statistical significance' between the groups.

Below a couple of quotes from the postmortem reports:
Distribution of infection.
As there was some discordance between culture positive and histologically positive tissues, to describe the dissemination of infection an affected site was defined as either culture positive or histologically positive or both.
The median number of tissues affected by M. bovis was nine in the non-vaccinated group, five in the HD BCG group and eight in the LD BCG group. These differences were not significant.
However, the authors conclude that there was a reduction in excretion of bacteria of 13 per cent (compared with the control animals ) in the low dose VES1 group, twelve weeks after challenge. And a higher reduction of 67 per cent in the VES2 high dose BCG group - with the exception of one animal ( D313) , who was badly affected with tuberculosis and whose protective vaccine, even at high dose, had failed completely. It is not clear from the paper whether this animal was included in the results - or not.

After ploughing through all this, it appears that at twelve weeks after challenge and twenty nine weeks after vaccination, using a dose of BCG ten times 'normal' may reduce bacteria shed, although there is still a measurable quantity. All the vaccinated badgers had lesions and all were shedding bacteria to some degree.

Twenty nine weeks is just over six months, and no animals were kept longer than the three months post vaccination to see if their ability to shed m.bovis remained low, after high dose BCG or increased parallel with their level of disease progression.

More postmortem reports:
Summary of gross and histopathological findings in Vaccine Efficacy Studies VES1 and VES2
Macroscopic visible lesions were observed in the lungs, particularly in the right middle (inoculation point) and other lung lobes. Lesions were typically multifocal to coalescent tuberculous granulomas, variable in size and were found within the lung parenchyma and often protruding to the visceral pleura (Figure A8.1). Multifocal to coalescent granulomas were also frequently observed within the mediastinum The right bronchial lymph node was the most affected (Figure A8.3), but other lymph nodes within the thoracic cavity (posterior mediastinal and left bronchial) showed also visible lesions. The typical observed gross lesion was a multifocal to coalescent granulomatous lymphadenitis, affecting occasionally more than half of the lymph node section.
TB-like lesions were observed in spleen, liver and extrathoracic lymph nodes, and most of them were confirmed caused by M. bovis by culture.

The rest of this pathological description and illustrations can be found on p71 of the second paper to which we linked, but the authors say:
Briefly, the main differences were a higher severity of gross and histopathological lesions in the “most severely diseased” lung lobe and the draining lymph nodes (right bronchial and posterior mediastinal) in the control badgers compared with the vaccinated badgers with the High Dose BCG. In addition, the higher average score of the granulomatous lesions and the presence of more collagen in the non-vaccinated control group, together with a higher number of AFBs, are indicative of more severe/advanced lesions in this group in comparison with the High BCG dose.

Within the Low BCG vaccinated animals, many individual differences have been found, showing features similar to those of the non-vaccinated control group, and on the other hand, some animals showed similar results to those of the High BCG dose.,
In the real world, at twelve months post the first jab, the animal would need another booster jab. And by then it may be clinically infected. All the badgers in this trial, whether vaccinated at high rate BCG or low, had lesions and all were shedding m.bovis Thus the success rate of BCG, in an environment now so contaminated (remember the background level of the 800 captured badgers in the posting below? 43 per cent positive to at least one of the pre screening tests?) may be over estimated.

Friday, December 03, 2010

... and more

In our posting below we explored in a little more detail, Defra's headline grabbing claim:
A key finding of the field study, conducted over four years in a naturally infected population of more than 800 wild badgers in Gloucestershire, was that vaccination resulted in a 74 per cent reduction in the proportion of wild badgers testing positive to the antibody blood test for TB in badgers.
Further explanations have been passed to us which confirm that of the 844 badgers trapped in this project, after the prescreening with three different tests, just 262 were negative to at least one test. We questioned that background level of TB in the posting below, but now we have the words of the author himself which confirm:
"We worked in a high density population of naturally infected badgers, in what was the largest clinical trial in wildlife of its kind. Studies of vaccination are always focused on evaluating the prevention of new incident cases, so our analysis is based on 262 animals in 64 social groups that were test negative when they "entered" the study and which we caught a second time so that we could see how the vaccine had affected them. However, the total population size we report of 844 badgers is important, since it correctly includes all the animals that were already infected and gives an indication of the typical force of infection present in badgers in a TB problem area."
It most certainly does. 69 per cent of the badgers captured presented a result which would have guaranteed the death of a similarly tested bovine, and gives an indication why 34.9 per cent of herds in Glos had TB breakdowns in 2009. And 844 trapped over 55 sqkm gives a captured population density of 15.3 badgers per sq km. which is higher on both counts than the Consultation assumptions and which the Defra press release omitted to mention. But we digress...

In the posting, we quoted work done by Chambers et al, on the sensitivity (ability to detect disease) of the Statpak rapid blood assay. This work was published in 2008, and involved the postmorteming of almost 1500 badgers to more accurately validate this diagnostic test.

The Statpak achieved a very variable sensitivity ranging from 33 - 78 percent, the latter in grossly infected, super excreter badgers. Its average was a published 49.2 per cent only, which we compared with the much rubbished Brock test. If you remember, this is one Prof Bourne described this as 'poorer than hoped' as it 'only' detected about 40 per cent of infected badgers.
And Statpak starts life at 33 per cent? And averages 49 per cent? Do the maths.

But we are now even more puzzled by the Defra headline and inevitable media fest on this '74 per cent reduction' in the same breath as 'tuberculosis' and '800 badgers'.

The lead author on the Statpak validation we quoted in the paper below as 'Chambers et al., 2008, and is none other than Dr. Mark A.Chambers, who was lead author on the Vaccine project running at the same time. As were a number of the et als.

So let's get this right.
* While validating the Statpak blood test at an extremely low sensitivity in 2008, in the paper just published, the same authors attempt to morph their project to assess whether BCG is safe for badgers, into an efficacy test of BCG - even though they say it should not be taken as such?
* From an original trapping of 844 badgers, they then shake out the positives (582) leaving 262 testing negative of which around 160 are vaccinated. (60 percent of the 262, leaving 40 percent as controls ?) So it was not 844 trapped badgers which formed part of this 'efficacy' bit, (that should not be counted as efficacy) but 160?
* Having turned the badgers loose after their annual vaccination, the authors have no knowledge of what (or even if) any challenge from m.bovis has been faced. But they assess the results of the BCG vaccination on approximately 160 naive candidates, with gammaIFN (sensitivity 80.9 percent) and achieve a benefit of 19% to this unknown challenge ?
* Similarly with Statpak, which their own validation procedures give only a 49 percent sensitivity to, and they achieve 74 per cent benefit, again on an unknown, unquantified challenge ?

Having been questioned as more of this comes to light, the authors are keen to stress that :
"It's important to realise that the 74% (73.8%) figure represents a reduction in incidence of positive antibody tests brought about by vaccination and should not be equated to a vaccine efficacy of 74% "
And they do say that in the paper. But it is a pity Defra (or whoever wrote the press release) didn't realise that. Or the media or anyone else similarly taken in mislead by the headlines which followed the press release.

Dr. Chambers is also keen to stress that Statpak is very sensitive when faced with grossly infected badgers. Sure it is, but in this project the badgers were not post mortemed. So was it the 33 percent end of Stakpak's very variable sensitivity which it was flagging up? Or the 'more sensitive' 78 per cent? They don't know because they didn't look.

And then the inevitable wriggle. That annexes may be overlooked,(nope, read those too) and possibly not immediately explicit to 'lay-persons'. ( A wild assumption there.) And the fact that the main paper was prepared for submission to a regulatory authority as a 'health and welfare' issue for badgers. But presumably not submission to the VMD as an indication of efficacy, as the previous Statpak validation paper would have already covered that bit?
Nothing like telling you, you're stooopid is there? And of course cannot be expected to understand papers of this ilk.

And then the nitty gritty (that's not a very 'scientific' term, but hey, we'll live with it):
"...the decision was only taken subsequently by Defra to make the data widely available as part of the public consultation."

Well, well well. Impeccable timing with a startling, if misleading headline. So it was Defra who decided to publish. So that's all right then. And the media fest, headline grabbing, 800 badgers, 74 per cent reduction in TB? Which most of Defra's 'lay readership' swallowed hook, line and sinker? Is that all right too ?

Of course it is. And not a hair of a single badger will be harmed. Even the hairs on the heads of the 43% blood assay positive ones, roaming the Gloucestershire countryside and still available for more research.

Things are never what they seem.

(We have updated the headcount of blood assay positive rejects to this research, after contact from the authors. They offer around '43 per cent' of the 844, a figure which they describe as a 'typical force of infection present in badgers in problem areas'. The remaining 26 per cent comprised badgers which were only trapped once and those which expired during the research.)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

More on that 74 percent.

We touched the surface of the most recent headline grabber from Defra in the posting below, but having had a trawl through the project again, we think we have sorted where the 74% comes from.
How accurate is its reporting, is quite another matter. But it was not only the Badger Trust and media which ran with it, Defra issued the original high profile press release on November 8th, stating that :
A key finding of the field study, conducted over four years in a naturally infected population of more than 800 wild badgers in Gloucestershire, was that vaccination resulted in a 74 per cent reduction in the proportion of wild badgers testing positive to the antibody blood test for TB in badgers.
As we said in the posting below, if that was true, when do we start?

But as usual, the devil is in the detail. This project was not ever about efficacy of BCG. It was to study the health and welfare of badgers vaccinated with BCG. Thus no postmortems were done to support the blood assays, assertions or conclusions. And the project morphed into an 'estimated efficacy' on blood assays and cultures alone.

Blood assays are notorious for giving less than optimum results. Results are measured by 'sensitivity' or the ability to diagnose disease or antibodies associated with that particular disease. The lower the sensitivity, the less confidence can be placed in it.

For example, the opinion of the ISG contained in their Final Report
on the old 'Brock' test:
1.7 [] ... A live test for badgers had been developed and subject to trial from 1994-96, but its sensitivity was much poorer than had been hoped, successfully detecting only about 40% of infected badgers (Clifton-Hadley et al., 1995-a,Woodroffe et al., 1999)
Thus the 'sensitivity' of this Brock blood test test, (which our PQ answers also put at 'very low' and other research at around 47%) was described as 'much poorer than was hoped" by the ISG and hovers around the 47% mark, at which point the live test trial was abandoned. Bookmark that sensitivity rating and the ISG comment on it.

So back to this paper on the Health and Welfare of badgers vaccinated with BCG.

As we pointed out, the original 844 badgers were taken back to secure laboratory facilities and screened using GammaIFN / Elisa and Statpak Rapid blood assays. Out of the headline 844 badgers trapped, 265 took part in the annual research. Does that mean that at the first screening test, and before vaccination, almost 70% had TB antibodies? But we digress. Efficacy of BCG is the subject.

Much if not all, depends on the sensitivity of the test applied, and as we pointed out above, the old 'Brock' test was roundly condemned for a low sensitivity. So what of the blood assays used to estimate BCG efficacy here? The project cites work done on assays which was supported by postmortems, by Chambers et al, in 2008:
4.7 Immunology Results
Two immunological tests were applied in this study: the IFN EIA and the Brock TB Stat-Pak Test (Chembio Diagnostic Systems, Inc.).
The first test [GammaIFN/EIA] measures the production of IFN following stimulation of whole heparinised blood with bovine and avian tuberculins and has an estimated sensitivity of 80.9% and an estimated specificity of 93.6% (Dalley et al., 2008).

So the gamma IFN / Elisa test has a sensitivity of 80.9% and vaccinated badgers in this project had a protection level of - what?
19% according to the results.

And the second blood assay :
The Brock TB Stat-Pak is a lateral flow assay to test for the presence of antibodies in serum to M. bovis antigen MPB83. It has an estimated sensitivity of 49.2% and an estimated specificity of 93.1% based on a study of 1464 badgers naturally infected with M. bovis as determined by culture (Chambers et al., 2008). Sensitivity of the Stat-Pak varies according to disease severity, such that sensitivity was found to be 34.4% in infected badgers with no visible lesions at post mortem, 66.1% in infected badgers with visible lesions at post mortem, 41.7% in infected badgers that excrete M. bovis; rising to 78.1% in so-called "Super-Excretor‟ badgers (Chambers et al., 2008).
From that we see that Chambers postmortemed his badgers to qualify sensitivity, and found the StatPak test variable, with a combined sensitivity of 49.2% , including super excreters and 'badgers which excrete m.bovis'.

So what criteria have the authors of this project used?

"Here an “all test” exclusion criterion was used such that any badger positive by any of the three tests at T1 or at the time of first capture/vaccination (T2 onwards) was excluded from the analysis. This analysis addresses more directly the prophylactic effect of BCG vaccination since the effect of vaccination is measured in badgers considered to be free of TB by virtue of negative results in all three tests. Whilst this does not rule out infection completely, it is the best measure of TB status in the live animal. As the combination of all three tests would not be 100% sensitive, some badgers regarded as TB-free by this criterion would actually harbour infection."

The authors observe that should badgers actually be already infected with TB when vaccinated, "This would have the effect of reducing the measure of vaccine efficacy."

Quite. So, having excluded from the modeling any badger pre screened as positive at the time of vaccination, the results for gammaIFN / Elisa were?

Against this background, the incidence of IFNγ EIA positivity was reduced by vaccination from 35.0% cases (95% confidence interval: 23.0%, 49.3%) to 28.5% cases (95% confidence interval: 20.8%, 37.7%) but it was not significant at the 5% level. The analysis presented currently for the IFNγ EIA test alone provided no conclusive (P < 0.05) evidence that BCG vaccination was able to prevent infection with M. bovis, although the trend was in that direction.

And the modelled result was the '19 percent' reduction contained in the phrase 'Between 19 and 74%'. Gamma has a sensitivity described in this paper of 80.9%

And the StatPak results about which the headlines are so enthusiastic?
In contrast, vaccination was found to have a significant effect on reducing the incidence of positivity for both Stat-Pak or Stat-Pak and culture combined. The incidence of Stat-Pak positivity was reduced by vaccination from 17.1% cases (95% confidence interval: 10.8%, 25.9%) to 4.4% cases (95% confidence interval: 2.4%, 8.2%), which was significant statistically (P < 0.001). [that is the 74% - ed]
The incidence of Stat-Pak and culture combined positivity was reduced by vaccination from 21.7% cases (95% confidence interval: 13.5%, 32.9%) to 8.3% cases (95% confidence interval: 4.9%, 13.9%), which was also significant statistically (P = 0.008). As the likelihood of a positive Stat-Pak result or excretion of M. bovis increases with disease progression/severity (Chambers et al., 2008; Gallagher & Clifton-Hadley 2000) this study provides evidence consistent with the progression/severity of TB being significantly reduced in BCG vaccinated badgers after they become infected.

It does? With a sensitivity very similar to Brock test, abandoned and severly trashed by the ISG? A sensitivity averaging 49.2 per cent, and with no postmortems to confirm?

Monday, November 22, 2010

'A Way Forward' - new download.

A new on-line download version of Chris Chapman's film is now available.
We introduced the film in this posting and the top quality DVD is still available from Mr. Chapman direct, or via Mole Valley Farmers.

With thanks to Clearstats.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vaccination myths

We should be used to the grammatical gymnastics of the Badger Trust by now, so many may be blown out of the water by a simple read through of the paperwork they love to misquote.

We saw it here and here and posted the correct information so that our readers could make up their own minds. So when a 'proper' journalist starts throwing his teddies with a polemic rant about 'controlling landowners', and vaccinating badgers it is, er disappointing.

After his rant about cattle farmers, whom he seems to hate as much, or more than the badgers he claims to want to protect, George Monbiot the Graudian's Great Moonbat offers this gem:
As for the badgers, they should continue to be trapped in cages, but vaccinated and then released, as this prevents their social structures from being disrupted. By 2015 an oral vaccine for badgers could be ready to roll, which will be far cheaper than the current options.

This is straight of the Badger Trust website where they offer a press release claiming:
Laboratory studies showed that injections of BCG significantly reduced the progression, severity of cattle TB and excretion of bacilli. A key finding of a four-year field study in more than 800 wild badgers in Gloucestershire was a 74 per cent reduction in the proportion of wild badgers giving positive results to TB tests.
Well that's fine then. A jab of BCG and a 74 percent reduction in badger TB? Excellent. What's to misunderstand?

A lot. A great big, huge lot. As is explained in the operating procedure for all these vaccine trials, released with impeccable timing by Defra last week. The one which should be of interest to cattle farmers is use of BCG on a headline figure '800wild badgers', in this paper. But these badgers were screened. Not 'wild' as in of unknown disease status. They were trapped, then subject to three tranches of blood assays to try and ascertain disease status prior to vaccination. That is a far cry from launching into the TB hotspots of the UK with hope, and a long needle, on two night forays.

So what was the result? The Badger trustsays 74 percent. Er, no. At least not until a huge proportion of the candidates were shaken out of the selection process by our old friends the mathematical modellers. On page 33 of the Appendix which readers may have missed, the text tells us:
"However, the numbers of animals eligible for analysis was sometimes very small, although larger than in the interim analysis as a result of the additional observations from two further trapping campaigns in 2009. For instance, for the StatPak test, 47% of the groups analysed have three or fewer individuals. This was 45% for the Gamma and Culture test individually and for StatPak and Culture tests and all three tests combined. As a result, the scale for proportions is very coarse (e.g. 0%, 33%, 66%, 100% for n=3) and this leads to very high variability where group size is small. "
This additional analysis has shown that there were differences in the proportions of cases of new incidences between groups A and B (treatment A showed a reduction of between 19% and 74% in the proportion of cases of new incidences, depending on the outcome of interest). Two of these differences were found to be statistically significant at the 5% level (StatPak on its own and StatPak and Culture combined.)
Never miss an opportunity to grab a headline, do they? Nobody mentioned the mathematical modelling, the pre screening, the shakeout to a small 'high variability' group using all three blood assays, or the need for annual vaccination. And no-one mentioned the crucial "between 19%", which preceeded the 74% mis quote.

The actual figures of pre-screened, annually vaccinated badgers showing a possible reduction in TB at subsequent blood screening was around 25%, with 41.5 per cent of non vaccinated badgers proving positive to a dose of m.bovis on all the blood screens and 31.1 percent of the vaccinated badgers.
For all three tests combined (total number = 262), there was a reduction from 41.5% cases (95% confidence interval: [28.0%, 56.3%]) of new incidence in group B down to 31.1% cases (95% confidence interval: [22.7%, 41.0%]) of new incidence in group A
But the crucial postmortems have not been done, to check for transmission opportunities.
Vaccine efficacy in the context of BCG vaccination of badgers may be defined either as a reduction in the incidence of uninfected badgers becoming infected with M. bovis or a reduction in the progression/severity of TB in badgers that do. The effect of vaccination is measured with reference to a non-vaccinated control group. According to this definition it was not possible to estimate the efficacy of BCG vaccination in this study as the decision was taken not to subject study badgers to post-mortem determination of infection. However, it was possible to use the tests employed in this study (IFNγ EIA, Stat-Pak, culture) in live animals as surrogate measures of vaccine efficiency

So far from that gallopingly wild headline, adopted by all and sundry - and Moonbat - of a 74 per cent reduction in TB of the 800 wild vaccinated badger trial group, the conclusion on p 9 of the Appendix, opines that
"it is not possible to to estimate efficacy of BCG vaccination, in this study"
And by that, the researchers, whose names have been blanked out of the paper, indicate that they would like more cash to do it all again.

No badgers were injured during this trial.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Consultation responses

The latest Defra Consultation on controlling badgers to prevent the spread of TB, (as opposed to the previous one) offers a monumental pile of dead trees and several Annexes. And not unreasonably, farmers are asking 'how do we respond?'. Their main representative bodies, the NFU and the NBA are keen that farmers do respond, but appear to give them little help to do just that.

In the previous 2006 consultation, the RSPCA and the Badger Trust used a flood of postcards to give a huge and overwhelming block vote against any action, driven on a wave of rhetoric and misinformation, from people who had absolutely nothing to lose. This was widely criticised and the current consultation has a preferred format of 8 questions. The difficulty is, finding this template.

The NFU website expresses the opinion that replies do not have to be the 8 answer format. (Click pdf link in the right hand box for finer details) While the National Beef Association have an out of date and limited list of meeting venues, and little else that we could find.

So we are most grateful to Dr. Brian May, for a clear template on how best to respond to Defra's latest effort.

A postcard from 'a farmer' saying yes, we must cull badgers, is not good enough.

Meanwhile with impeccable timing, yesterday Defra announced that BCG injectable vaccine could reduce TB levels in badgers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Farmers' representatives ..

... tried to play politics, only to find the politicians were better at it".

The last line of a Badger Trust press release, issued last week, which describes the coalition government's preferred Option 6 as a 'futile jumble'.
The Badger Trust appeals in a new leaflet for the public to respond to the Coalition Government’s consultation on its pointless plans to license farmers to kill badgers in parts of England, its preferred option after setting out a futile muddle of assertions in its official consultation document. It is vital for those concerned about the welfare of this indigenous species to respond not least because the National Farmers’ Union – a far larger and wealthier organisation – is staging briefing meetings countrywide to encourage its members to support the killing of badgers – at their own expense.
We gave links to the consultation documents in this posting. But the one which farmers should read and inwardly digest is Annex F, (number 8 on our list) entitled 'Impact assessment', which describes in detail the impact of an RBCT type area cull on the pockets of participating farmers.

The Badger Trust's reply to the consultation is predictable, and can be found here.

The Badger Trust press release also contains a delicious example of John Bourne misquoting, er, John Bourne:
The consultation document contains inconsistencies, confusing statements and omissions at various points throughout its great length. It is cynically slanted against the badger and fails to quote fairly the principal scientific finding which it buries in an annex 134 pages down. This states:
“First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.
That 'principal scientific finding' would be the oft (mis)quoted Professor John Bourne, when describing his ten year prevarication. A single decade amongst many where the epidemiology of TB in badgers and cattle has been cogitated and investigated, published - and ignored.
(**See later edit, for the source of that misquote)

However on many occasions, including in oral evidence to
The Welsh Assembly Government in July 2007, this truncated version of what Bourne said is expanded thus:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."
So, what do we have? Badgers are 'clearly a source of cattle TB, but culling them 'as conducted in the trial' ... can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain".

We knew that, and so did Bourne at the beginning of his RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. And as our chart shows, it is evident what happens to tested, slaughtered sentinels when TB infected badgers are progressively left to share their infectious load over a series of sanitised strategies, culminating in a moratorium on any control of badgers 'for the purposes of disease', in 1997. And inevitable, as levels of environmental contamination rise, despite Defra's extreme reluctance to publish the true totals of other spillover victims of badger TB, they will continue to die.

And sooner or later, someone is going to hold government accountable for this.

Meanwhile, we have to agree with the Badger Trusts' final line.

Edit 5/11 : The Badger Trust press release clearly states Bourne's statement : " It (the consultation document) is cynically slanted against the badger and fails to quote fairly the principal scientific finding which it buries in an annex 134 pages down."

As we are easily bored at blogger HQ, but also a tad pedantic about such sources, we trawled 'it' - as in the consultation document and its various annexes. The document itself comprises 53 pages, and each annex between 6 and 40 pages. Even with a calculator to add these together, arriving at the appropriate '134 pages down' or thereabouts, we were unable to locate such a quote. Had a grammatical nicety got in the way? Was this gem to be found 134 pages into the Final Report of the ISG ?

Nope. We have marked p.134 of that document, but not because of this statement. It deals with biosecurity, badgers and cattle. And the ISG conclusion is that "It is not possible to identify particular risk factors which can be adopted across all regions with the expectation of ensuring reduced transmission of disease to and from cattle." That will not stop Defra trying to link pseudo and obscure biosecurity advice to farmer payments however, but we digress...

Where did that quote come from?
From what we can see, it is not in the Consultation documents at all, on page 134 of various annexes or anywhere else: neither is it in the ISG Final Report at the reference given. We found it in Bourne's letter to the then Secretary of State, elder brother to small pretender Ed, the Right Honourable David Milliband, MP .... right at the start of the ISG Final Report of 2007, on page 5.

While on our trawl of the consultation stuff, we did find another quote which the Badger Trust obviously missed. This one is on page 17 of Annex F of the package, and states that the policy to cull is to "address the reservoir of the disease in wildlife." Page 18 gives the options but page 16 [1.4] states that the key element not currently deployed is badger control. It continues:
"Scientific evidence indicates that in areas with high TB incidence in cattle, it will not be possible to eliminate the disease in cattle without addressing the transmission from badgers."
Furthermore the document asserts:
" No other country in the world has successfully tackled bTB in cattle without addressing any wildlife reservoir involved in maintaining and transmitting infection to cattle. We therefore regard this as the most pressing issue if we are to make progress on tackling the disease in cattle."

Precisely. And while 'we' are making such statements, perhaps as well as cattle, 'we' should mention the other bTB overspill victims of an unfettered wildlife reservoir of disease. The now hundreds of other mammals which we have highlighted on this site, but which 'we' still seem keen to ignore.

We are most grateful for the opportunity to correctly quote a Badger Trust mis-reference.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Inevitable overspill - pigs.

We have spoken many times of the inevitable overspill of 'bovine' TB from its tested, slaughtered sentinels into any other mammal which happens to cross its path.

We have given mileage and support to the owners of alpacas, reeling as their animals die from a dangerous zoonosis which many of them had never associated with their particular group. So seriously do they take the risk to their animals, that they have set up this new website (on the link and the sidebar) to inform and support owners.

However, we still get the age old comment it's "bovine" TB - so it's carried by cattle, spread by cattle and only affects cattle. The posting below, a gem of a comment from the Viva! organisation actually states just that. Stop cattle farming everything will be fine. Except that the environmental contamination from the primary wildlife host of m.bovis, has already affected several other species, and continues to do so.

Last week, we were alerted to a new leaflet issued by BPEX, the pig industry support body. This describes bTB as in pigs as 'a spillover' problem, as opposed to maintenance host of the disease:
"bTB is a mycobacterial disease and its ability to infect many species, makes it a very problematic disease. As well as cattle, some of the species bTB can infect include camelids, horses, badgers, cats, sheep, humans, wild boar, pigs and deer. Pigs are classed as a spill-over host. This means when levels of bTB circulating among wildlife and cattle in the local environment become very high, it literally spills over into other species, which are not usually infected with bTB. This situation is most likely to occur in bTB hot spots such as the South West and the Midlands but it is essential that all producers are vigilant due to ‘off-site’ and contract growing and finishing, and also pigs being moved between regions for finishing.

To produce such a bulletin, which is fairly long and detailed, and to combine its launch with area meetings, one would assume that the numbers of pigs found with TB at slaughter are likely to be significantly more than the 13 shown on Defra's 'other species' TB statistics show? These figures relate to positive cultures only, and then only one or two of the beginning of an outbreak, and are many months out of date. But a BPEX a spokes-person has confirmed a figure of 40 pigs (in the last eighteen months)to Farmers Guardian, who have the story.
National Pig Association regions manager Zoe Davies said, while the increase might be partially down to an increase in reporting, it is also being driven by high levels of infection in the environment, with pigs picking it up from badgers.
No cattle mentioned then? No unpasteurised milk? At least someone has their brain cells in gear. Dr. Davies continued on the subject of free range, outdoor pigs:
Dr Davies said free range units were particularly susceptible. Owners of rare breed and pedigree pigs tended to be worse hit as these animals were generally kept for longer than commercial pigs.

The NPA and BPEX have put together an advice leaflet [link above] on how to minimise the risk of infection that has been distributed to most major pig keepers in the country.

Along with the British Pig Association they have also met with Defra’s TB policy team to seek to develop a proper policy to deal with the problem.

“Our big issue is that Defra don’t have a policy for how to deal with TB in pigs. It is vaguely based on what they have for cattle, which doesn’t really work [for pigs]." she said.

We have been told of pig TB cases in closed indoor units, carried in on badger-contaminated feed and also the more worrying instances of very rare breed pigs, particularly at risk in a hotspot area. More TB casualties are inevitable, as the scale of bacterial contamination in the environment rises. There will come a time when Tuberculosis infection in all these animals (and their in-contact owners ) cannot be excused by visits to foreign shores, or drinking unpasteurised milk.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

'We should stop farming cattle'

.. and then 'bovine' TB would disappear. So says a grammatically challenged, totally naive but absolutely priceless rant from a long term opponent of livestock farming, Viva!
The missive airily dismisses the badgers' role in transmission, pointing out that:
" ... other species will transport Tb to neighbouring herds of animals. These species may not necessarily be badgers. Minks, Deers, Foxes, Moles, Rats and Ferrets are examples of other species of wildlife that have been positively tested for bovine Tb."
"Minks" and "deers"? Sheesh. But we digress. Smaller species may contract m.bovis, as any mammal can. The important difference between them and badgers is the progression of disease (does it kill them quickly?) and the amount of bacteria they are able to share shed in that time. In badgers, the answer to the former is no, they are able to live for years while intermittently shedding the bacteria which causes bTB. But the amount shed, both in the confines of a badger sett, and plastered over grassland, corn/root/vegetable crops and cattle feed, is phenomenal, thus they are the most successful 'host' species of bTB in this country. The writer continues:
It is important to bear in mind that the main vector for bovine Tb are found in cattle, not badgers – hence the name bovine Tb ! If it weren’t for the farming of cattle, bovine Tb wouldn’t exist and other animals wouldn’t suffer – including wildlife.
Unfortunately this type of simplistic claptrap is spouted all too frequently, and is gobbled up by the young (and the not-so-young) idealists who do not so much 'lurve' badgers - as hate farmers. And especially livestock farmers.

But studiously ignoring the continuing and growing overspill into other group mammals, some of which we reported here and here, and the many
companion animals does not make it disappear. Despite the position being reinforced by Defra's strangely dumbed down accounting system for such 'other species' TB casualties, which only counts positive culture samples submitted to VLA - and nothing else. Of these, there may be only a single one to log in, but many deaths in a continuing tested or untested, outbreak. (We note with not a little amusement, that the table of exclusions from these statistics, is now longer than the table itself.)

The Viva! piece predictably refers to 'the science'. The ten year farce 'trial' between 1997 and 2006, which blots out all other 'science' from 1895 onwards; and from 2008 to the present day. This 'political' science which appears to have the added benefit of numbing the power of common sense in its groupies, and which Canute like, continues to haunt this country.

However, the Viva! spokes-person has the answer:
Therefore the answer is quite clear. If the objective really is to prevent the spreading of bovine Tb for future generations of humans and animals, we should stop farming cattle.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

New website

We have added a new link ( on the left hand bar) to a site dedicated to TB in alpacas.
From the press release:
"Dianne Summers, Dr Gina Bromage MA,Vet MB,DVM,MRVCS, and recently resigned B.A.S. Chair Mike Birch have developed a new website dedicated to the subject of bTB in Camelids.

The purpose of the website is two-fold – first and foremost is to help camelid herds who come down to Tb and secondly to educate camelid owners on the serious issue of bTB with the hope it will reduce the risk of it happening to them."

The pic is Dianne Summers with one of her alpacas. Dianne explains:
"The site is dedicated to the 320 plus alpacas and llamas lost to members of the TB Support Group and their owners. This website is dedicated to all of them - gone but not forgotten".
And for anyone still hooked on a badgers v. cattle polemic, and thinking b.tuberculosis doesn't affect them - please click on this link.
Should any pig, goat, sheep or any other groups decide to create their own support network we will be pleased to offer a similar link.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Good timing

Just as the Con-Dem coalition launch their 'consultation' document on possible ways out of the mire of their own making - bTB , further mileage is provided by farmers co-operative Mole Valley Farmers, who have sponsered distribution of Chris Chapman's beautifully made, sensitive film about bTB.

We spoke of this almost a year ago. In the October edition of Mole Valley's magazine a download of the film is available. Or a telephone contact number for a free copy of the DVD. This is available both to members or non members of the co operative.

Contact Vicky Hosegood on 01769 576433

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The cost of 25 years of fluff.

The progressive sanitisation of TB policy by successive governments of both colours, which we described here combined with a £ multi billion (or is it trillion?) bale out to bankers, GB plc is broke. The cupboard is bare and the thought of stumping up more cash for continually testing and killing cattle, and now alpacas, sheep, goats and pigs is finally being questioned.
That's 'questioned' as in putting veterinary TB testing out to tender, and bringing more herds under former-desk-jockey AHO control. And 'questioned' as in shafting the ultimate cost of dealing with the problem in wildlife to farmers.

The Consultation Document produced by Defra, is high on rhetoric but lean on exactly what farmers will be expected to cough up and for what. But having explained in the Final Report of the ISG that culling badgers 'in the way it was done in the RBCT' was expensive and inefficient, a very similar scenario is proposed for a farmer controlled cull. Only this time, it will be the owners of cattle, alpacas, sheep, goats and outdoor pigs, who pick up the tab and not the taxpayer.

Farmers Guardian has the breakdown and further explanations can be found in the quaintly entitled Annex F - Impact Assessment, where farmers may have missed the mention of the £1.6 million they are expected to stump up for each 150 sq km, controlled under Defra's favoured Option 6.

That figure is made up with £.7 million for cage trapping and free shooting about half the badgers in 150 sq km patch.(70% of badgers in 75% of the land area) Numbers offered by Defra to support these cost estimates are less than 2 badgers culled per 1 sq/km. Further costs include surveying regularly and the use of fragmenting shot at £4 per bullet. Disposal will be at least £20 per carcase.
£.9 million is added to that for the vaccination in option 6, which Defra want to run parallel with any cull, both inside the area and on any exposed boundary.

This document does have one redeeming point. It categorically states that:
Badgers are known to harbour bTB and without addressing TB in badgers, it will not be possible to eliminate the disease in cattle.
And with that, our new Minister of State for the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs the Right Honourable Caroline Spelmanperson, MP, becomes the only Minister in the world,( of whom we are aware ), to throw control of the zoonotic disease known as 'bovine' Tuberculosis back to farmers, with her department and her employees taking no active part whatsoever, other than monitoring cattle breakdowns.

For this reason, (and several others, not least a potential block vote by the RSPCA and the Badger Trust) we think it is important that everyone directly involved with this: cattle farmers, owners of other herd or flock mammals, owners of dogs and cats, many of which have succumbed to 'badger' TB, veterinarians and supporters of healthy British wildlife reply to this consultation paper in a sensible and coherent manner.

More on the reasons to complete this Consultation, from NFU president, Peter Kendall.

Mail to : TBBC mailbox
Address: Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR

Email: tbbc@defra.gsi.gov.uk

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summing up

While the tabloid press and the farming press are chock full of 'farmers to cull badgers' stories, a comment from a Devon farmer [see comments section, below article] summed up for us, exactly how most farmers want this to proceed."
I'm writing ahead of what will be the usual barrage by the pro-badger lobby. I am a dairy farmer from Devon that operates a closed herd (that is for those that don't know - we don't introduce any animals on to the farm) We also have excellent boundary fences and high hedges which very much limits interaction between our stock and that of our neighbours.

In the past we suffered badly with TB and had multiple breakdowns over a period of time. This was during a period when MAFF were trapping and culling badgers on infected farms. 80 percent of the badgers trapped on our farm where diagnosed with TB at post mortem, once they had been removed - big surprise, so was our TB problem.

We currently have badgers on the farm and they have been there for a number of years now. I have no doubt that they are free from TB and therefore would have no plans to cull them. "
So this farm had enduring TB problems, regular 60 day tests, cattle reactors slaughtered and finally a badger removal. And that was the end of the story. The badgers repopulating this farm were not diseased, the cattle in Devon are tested annually, and this farm can trade with confidence. Neither is it a 'badger free' zone. The comment concludes:
"Those that live and work in the countryside know that wildlife along with all the other factors has an important role to play in the spread of this terrible disease, and whilst successive ministers have passed rules and regulations that address cattle to cattle transfer, at last we have one with the balls to address the wildlife problem. Congratulations to Jim Paice for a bit of common sense, it's a rare quality in a politician."

We started this site after being in exactly the same position as this Devon dairy farmer, but without the benefit of a badger removal operation. Three of us also had the misfortune to be included in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, which certainly confirmed its orchestrator's words of wisdom that culling badgers " the way it was carried out in the RBCT" was inefficient and expensive.

The RBCT certainly showed anyone who was listening, how not to cull badgers. And like the tightly targetted clearance described by the Devon farmer, the only driver of culling should be the presence of disease.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A survey for alpaca owners..

It has been brought to our attention that a student at Nottingham University is requesting help in writing up bTB problems in alpacas.

In July, she asked the B.A.S. if they would kindly email her short survey to all their members, or put a contact within the magazine which is circulated to members.
She offered B.A S. the results of the survey.
After some considerable delay, the B.A.S. declined her offer, politely offering their “regret” that they were “not able to circulate this for you."
The full letter, with the views of some alpaca owners, and BAS members can be viewed here.

Their reply could be summarised as follows:

“No. We do not want to know about bTB in alpacas. We are trying to run a business here.”

Undaunted, this young lady gathered names and addresses of alpaca breeders from the BAS website which were local to her own address, and at her own expense mailed them, together with a stamped addressed envelope for their replies – should they wish to participate. As her survey would be more robust if it reached BAS members over a wider area, we are happy to post it for her and hope alpaca owners will circulate it further.

One would think the B.A.S. would welcome an independent study into the increasing problems of bTB within alpacas, carried out at no cost to the B.A.S and with its results then able to inform the Board of its member’s attitude to this disease. Obviously we were quite wrong.

To download a copy of the survey form, please access this link. [click reload option, if an error box appears, or delete the error box on the X in the right hand corner]

We offer Ysella Woods every good wish with her project.

Possibly her next one should be on ostriches.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PCR - The HPA take an interest

UK scientists say they have developed a 'one hour test' for diagnosing TB.
"We’re confident that it will pick up very small amounts and tests so far have show that it seems to be as sensitive as the gold standard of using culture, but there are various aspects which we need to develop further before we can offer it as an off-the-shelf product.”
Details of the work are being presented at the HPA’s annual conference at the University of Warwick.

Story is here.

New consultation

Today the Con-Dem coalition government announced a TB strategy for England, which involves a consultation on culling badgers.

The documents can be accessed on the following links:

1. Defra's overview.

2.The Consultation document

3. History of badger control (And for a Defra document, this is quite good. Not as good as ours, but good enough)

4. The scientific argument for Culling

5. Vaccination (We note that the paper does not inform that vaccination of badgers is an annual event.)

6. Veterinary Assessment of badger vaccination.

7. Veterinary Assessment of badger culling

8. Impact assessment

The Defra consulatation document contains the following gem:
"A decision on this policy will be made early in 2011, taking into account
views provided during this consultation, the available scientific and
economic evidence, and the results of the spending review".
An admirable wish list, of which we suspect the latter may play a dominant part.

With grateful thanks to our Staffordshire contributer, for the bedtime reading links.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

TB tests and Cross Compliance.

As part of cross compliance for EU payments, all UK farmers must TB test cattle when Defra instruct them to. If they fail to comply, then initially herd restrictions are invoked, preventing any movements on or off the holding. Animal Health officers may also go in and test the cattle themselves, and could possibly invoice the farmer for the test.

Penalties may be applied to any EU environmental payments due, as a breach of 'cross compliance'.

Today the Welsh Assembly Government enforced an overdue test on a farm in Chirk, near Wrexham, NE Wales. And in an ugly outcome to this, three cattle were shot.

Full report is in the Wrexham Leader, which describes:
One woman, who did not want to be identified, said: “It was a big operation with police and other official looking people taking part. There were two to three quad bikes and several Land Rovers around.”

A spokesman for North Wales Police said: “We attended on the execution of a warrant. Officers were working with trading standards.”
With rifles?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The 'disappeared'.

The posts below and here highlighted the difference between the figures which Defra produce to illustrate tuberculosis overspill into other species, and the grim reality of just how many animals are now dying.

We collect paper at blogger headquarters and in a trawl through various print-offs from Defra's 'other species' website over the last year, we note that the explanatory notes for these tables are getting longer - in direct proportion to the number of animals reported, which is shrinking.

A year ago the explanatory notes were as follows:
* Infected = positive for m.bovis on culture

** All data for 2009 is provisional and subject to change as more data becomes available. Current data has been collected during the period Jan-July 2009

Note: We can only provide data on the number of m.bovis isolations from notified clinical and postmortem cases of TB arising in some non bovine species.

Data to be updated on a quarterly basis - last updated 11 August 2009.
This is when the figure of 17 dead alpacas was challenged by vets running the TB in Alpacas roadshows, who had collected members' data which totalled, anecdotally of course, around 200 dead.

So fast forward to earlier this year, when these figures had not moved from Defra's November posting of 68 dead alpacas. The note adds that:

Data for 2009 is provisional and subject to change.
NB Current data has been collected during the period Jan-Dec 2009 but some culture results are still pending.

Note 1: We can only provide data on the number of M. bovis isolations from notified suspect clinical and post-mortem cases of TB arising in some non bovine species.

Note 2: Cultures and post mortem examination may not be carried out at the VLA on every animal removed from a herd once TB has been confirmed.
Therefore not all animals removed for TB disease control purposes will be reported above.
And one assumes that they are still 'pending' as the figure of 68 has not been upgraded. Or perhaps the samples were all negative. But it is clearer that when a group of animals are still having fatalities, only the first couple of samples are counted in these tables.
So we started asking a few pertinent questions as both pigs and camelids from personal communications, were just not showing the full extent of TB 'spillover' deaths.

And the new tables have an even fuller explanation of just what Defra are not counting. And it isn't dead 'other species' TB victims. The charts in August came with the following health warning:
Veterinary Laboratories Agency TB Culture database
* Infected = positive for M.bovis on culture

** Data provided for 2010 is for the period 1 January - 30 June 2010.
All data provided for 2010 is provisional and subject to change as more data becomes available.

Note 1: We can only provide data on the number of M. bovis isolations from notified suspect clinical and post-mortem cases of TB arising in some non bovine species.

Note 2: Cultures and post mortem examination may not be carried out at the VLA on every animal removed from a herd once TB has been confirmed.
Therefore not all animals removed for TB disease control purposes will be reported above. i.e., where multiple skin or blood test reactors are identified in an infected herd undergoing TB testing.

Note 3: The figures represent submissions from individual animals, not premises i.e. Several submissions may be from the same premises.

Data to be updated on a quarterly basis - last updated August 2010
So, when one looks for figures of 'other species' TB casualties on Defra's website, it is probably more informative to read the notes and see what isn't being counted, especially those detailed in Note 2.
Note 2: Cultures and post mortem examination may not be carried out at the VLA on every animal removed from a herd once TB has been confirmed. Therefore not all animals removed for TB disease control purposes will be reported above. i.e., where multiple skin or blood test reactors are identified in an infected herd undergoing TB testing.
Skin and blood test failures? Not counted. Deaths where no cultures have been collected, but gross pathology has indicated TB? Not counted.

These animals are dead. They have contracted tuberculosis, which is usually identified as the spoliogotype 'indigenous to the area'.

They have 'disappeared' from Defra's radar. And that is by no means good enough.

The cynical amongst us would perhaps comment that by shrinking the TB overspill problem to just a few culture samples, even with increasingly convoluted explanations of how this is done, the problem will, er shrink away. Don't count the bodies, so the bodies do not exist. They are the 'disappeared'. Simples.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How will Defra count ... bison?

A herd of 30 bison at a tourist attraction in South Gloucestershire is under TB restriction, after 5 of the animals at "Cattle Country Adventure Park" near Berkely, failed the TB test.

The story is here. Owner, Tony Cullimore commented on the outbreak:
We are only the second bison herd in the country to get it, but bison are cattle, so there is no reason why they can't.
Tuberculosis is a zoonosis, and there is 'no reason' why any mammal should not 'get it' - but let that pass.
"But it's more of a heartbreak when it's bison. They will have to be slaughtered."
As 40,000 cattle were in 2008 / 09 ? And several hundred alpacas? Why should an owner's 'heartbreak' over bison be any different at all? Losing any animal to tuberculosis is 'heartbreaking'. And stressful and bloody unecessary.

The bison are likely to be slaughtered over the next few days.
Mr Cullimore said three Highland cattle at the attraction also tested positive, which prompted tests on the bison. The Highland cattle will have to be slaughtered and the number of bison lost to the disease comes to six – one died after another knocked it down during the testing process, which bison find particularly stressful.
Most animals find testing 'stressful'. Early abortions in cattle are frequent and calves may get crushed and damaged as their mothers 'stress' in confined situations, leading to broken bones. We note that without access to the highland cattle for routine testing under TB regulations, Defra would not have found these bison.

And we also note that the previous outbreak in bison, to which Mr. Cullimore refers does not yet appear in Defra's 'other species' statistics. We await with interest to see if his animals are ever logged.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Number crunching

We have brought up the subject of Defra's statistics with regard to numbers of 'other species' which have succumbed to tuberculosis, on several occasions.

We will continue to do so, until they realistically and accurately reflect the correct numbers of deaths, and not a mere thumbnail snapshot of positive culture samples.

Today Farmers Guardian have picked up on the vast difference between positive deaths from tuberculosis which a small group of alpaca owners are reporting to their TB Support group, and the meagre figures of culture samples which Defra publish, occasionally.

Having done a bit of detective work into the various layers of Defra officials charged with reporting this Grade 3 zoonosis in line with the Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007 (as amended in 2006 to include 'all mammalian species') we have the following guidance on notification:

Para 6
Notification of disease in carcases :
(1) Any person who—
(a) has in his possession or under his charge any carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis;
(b) in the course of his practice as a veterinary surgeon, examines a carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis; or
(c) in the course of his duties, inspects, for any purpose, a carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis,
must, immediately he suspects the carcase may be affected with tuberculosis, notify the Divisional Veterinary Manager.

(2) A person who has in his possession or under his charge a carcase mentioned in paragraph (1) must detain it on the premises where it then is until it has been examined by a veterinary inspector.
(3) In this article, “carcase” means the carcase of any bovine animal or other farmed or pet mammal.

Para 18
Control of infection from other animals
18.—(1) Where a veterinary inspector reasonably believes that an animal kept on any premises is or may be affected with tuberculosis, he may by notice served on the occupier of such premises—
(a) require him to keep the animal under control in such manner as may be specified in the notice or to confine it to such part of the premises as may be specified; and
(b) prohibit the movement of animals on to or off such premises, except under the authority of a licence issued by an inspector.

(2) In paragraph (1), “animal” means any kind of mammal except a bovine animal or man.

Para 20
Isolation of M. bovis in a laboratory
(1) Where the presence of the organism M. bovis is identified by a laboratory examination of a sample taken from any mammal (except man) or from the carcase, products or surroundings of any such mammal, the person in charge of that laboratory must immediately notify the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

Pretty clear, we think. Except that there are fudges here. Where tuberculosis is already confirmed in a group of animals, then samples of every carcase could be said to be a waste of resources. And in cattle only samples from the first couple of a TB breakdown are strain (spoligotype) sampled. With cattle identification now robust, further deaths or test failure slaughterings are logged. But with 'other species', particularly larger groups of pigs and alpacas, then culture samples are the only thing which Defra are counting - as they explain on their chart. And as with cattle, due to 'cost constraints' only a couple from the first casualties are taken. We are assured by vets and AHO staff further down the ladder that they are reporting positive pm's to the local VI centre, who in turn confirm their reports to Defra, London. But there the logs appear to jam. Although the lift goes to the top floor, the figures appear not to be passed to the people in FFG who collate those statistics.

Furthermore, again due to cost constraints, unexplained 'other species' deaths are now being refused postmortems, even if the herds are under TB restriction, and the owner, complying with the above Act 6 (1) reports such a suspicious death as possible tuberculosis.
Farmers Guardian:
This was confirmed by an irate owner of a heavily infected alpaca herd, from Devon, who told Farmers Guardian he had recently reported a dead animal to Animal Health to be told he would have to organise and pay for any post mortem, himself.

It is our understanding that the animal in question ended up at the local knacker yard, and was not examined, even cursorily, by any Veterinary Inspector as defined in the Order.

The lack of right of entry to premises, any statutory movement records or publicly available identification is thought to have led to delays in tracing many cases of onwards transmission of TB among purchased alpacas. And has not helped those deaths associated with movements to agisted matings.

We wrote about this lack of joined up thinking in this posting last October. And apart from a change of heads in Westminister and great deal more anguish for owners of pets and companion animals, which have died from TB - not to mention the risk of onwards transmission to these owners - absolutely nothing has changed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An anniversary

One of our contributors has forwarded the following text:
"And now we are fortunate enough to possess a method that enables us to recognise very early if an animal is infected with Tb or not, viz the tuberculin test.

Tuberculin is an extract of tubercle bacilli cultivated in bouillon with glycerine. The bacilliare killed so that the fluid cannot infect, but it has, when injected under the skin of an animal, the marvellous property of producing a typical fever, which appears after some hours and lasts about 12 – 16 hours – so called reaction – if the animal is affected with tuberculosis even in the slightest degree, while a healthy animal is not at all influenced by the injection. Tuberculin was for the first time prepared by Koch in 1890.

He hoped to have found a remedy to cure tuberculosis, and tuberculin seems indeed to have some curative influence, though not as much as hoped. But its diagnostic property is recognised by all, and the tuberculin test is used on a very large scale.

It is true that tuberculin is not absolutely infallible. Very old small tubercular deposits enclosed in a thick layer of fibrous tissue sometimes fail to call forth a reaction, but it is of no practical consequence, because such deposits will as a rule do no harm. A worse thing is that animals suffering from TB in a very high degree sometimes cease to react. This fact has done much harm, because such animals will usually have open tuberculosis, and their presence in a healthy herd may therefore occasion much contamination, but when the person in charge is aware of the danger, it will as a rule not be difficult to recognise the disease by clinical examination.

It is still worth mentioning that repeated injection of tuberculin may in some animals provoke immunity to the test, which may be used by a cattle dealer with intent to defraud."

Several pages are devoted to the development and use of the 'Tuberculin Test', which originally used m.tuberculosis as its base. Later this was changed to a derivative of m.bovis (AN5 strain) and in the UK, an m.avian comparative jab was added.

The reference to old walled up lesions from previous exposures is also mentioned in the CVO reports after the eradication sweeps of the 1950s and 60s., where it was expected that some cattle would present at slaughter with such scars, over the next decade. After which time, the cattle herds of the UK, in parallel with many other countries (and in the absence of a wildlife reservoir) would have eradicated Tuberculosis.

The quote is taken from ‘The Standard Cyclopedia of Modern Agriculture’ vol X11 TRI – Z , which was published in 1911 - a century ago.

Happy Anniversary.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Camelid consultation

Today, the Welsh Assembly Government have launched a consultation document, aimed at bringing camelids, goats and deer under the statutory regulations to control bTB. They say:
The arrangements proposed in the consultation would impose duties, obligations and responsibilities on the keepers of these animals. This would be done by largely replicating the arrangements already in place for bovine animals through secondary legislation. The proposed policy will be delivered by means of the draft Order annexed to the consultation entitled the Tuberculosis (No 2) (Wales) Order 2010.The measures provided for by the Order are consistent with the objective of the Wales TB Eradication Programme which aims to address all sources of infection, including in non-bovine animals.

Meanwhile, Defra has resurrected the 'other species' TB stats which appeared to have stuck in departmental groove last November. But as we have pointed out before, these are numbers of culture positive animals only, and are not representative of total deaths which are reported to and postmortemed by, VI centres. And running in just about a parallel time frame with the figure of 28 alpacas in the stats, other
information from Defra indicates a total of at least 35 herds under TB restriction, with 3 more notified at the end of last week.

So of the 28 alpacas identified on the stats, each of the almost 40 holdings presented an arm and a leg, presumably ?

For comparison, this time last year (July 2009), 11 camelid herds were under TB restriction. And to illustrate the yawning gap between Defra's stats and reality, members of the alpaca TB Support group have reported 155 deaths up until the end of July 2010. At least 19 herds under restriction are not members of this group, thus their casualties (apart from animals culture sampled) are not publicly logged anywhere at all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Update - Alpaca side effects thread.

Since posting of the video clip of the alpaca suffering an anaphylactic type reaction to the skin test, Dianne Summers has told us that she has been contacted by two owners of alpacas, whose animals had exactly this type of reaction when veterinary drugs were administered for possibly pneumonia.

Although initially appearing to recover from this distressing reaction, the animals concerned subsequently died. And on postmortem, were found to have generalised tuberculosis.

A veterinary pathologist, after seeing this video clip, remarked that regardless of the result of the skin test, (or apparent short term efficacy of anti-pneumonia drugs [ Nuflor and Metacam have been mentioned]) this reaction appears to be a good indication of generalised TB in any alpaca suffering it..

Sunday, August 01, 2010

How high is your dustbin?

We have mentioned many times the value of Defra advice on bio security, and in particular, the recommended height of cattle troughs. Now Defra will say 30 inches, while our parliamentary questions very helpfully pointed out that badgers had been filmed accessing troughs at over 40 inches, "at which height cattle could not feed". Quite.


So if you are offered this gem of advice, please remember this dustbin.
Our dustbins are about 28 inches high - and the one in the video clip was secured on both sides, yet accessed with ease, several times .... no contest was it?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tuberculosis - as it is.

Further to the Side effects - A request thread which we posted in May, one alpaca owner filmed the side effect of the skin test, which appeared within a couple of hours of the tuberculin antigen jab on an alpaca subsequently found to have generalised TB. The video shows this side effect.
This animal is gasping for breath, its lungs already destroyed by this disease, are now seriously compromised. This is not pretty.

This is the reality of tuberculosis - speeded up to 'end stage'.


Prior to the tuberculin antigen skin test jab, this alpaca appeared perfectly healthy. She was euthanased and found to have generalised TB. Dianne Summers tells us that she too had an alpaca react in this way:
"I had this happen on one of my animals and it is horrific when you experience it. He recovered fully the next day BUT as with all the others was found at postmortem to be riddled with TB".
NB: Dianne also explains that on the video, when the owner describes an 'injection' he means the tuberculin antigen jab, given on day 1 of the intradermal skin test.

Dianne's small group of 28 alpaca owners who have experienced this in their animals, report 22 instances. In four cases, the animal either died or was euthanased on welfare grounds before the reading of the skin test, 72 hours later. All the animals in this group had appeared, as we described the animal on the video clip, perfectly healthy prior to the jab. All of the animals who experienced this reaction were subsequently found at post mortem, to have generalised tuberculosis. Of the 22, only 3 had failed the skin test. Most passed - if they were alive for it to be read. Of the animals remaining, some subsequently failed a blood test, some died and others were volunteered to AHO after showing signs of TB.

We are grateful to the the Alpaca TB Support group, for this information, and to Di Summers for patiently collating it. Ms. Summers would like us to add, that the importance of monitoring alpacas after a skin test should not be underestimated.
She strongly recommends that owners isolate (with a companion) any animals showing this type of reaction - even if they appear to have recovered. The data gathered thus far would indicate that this 'reaction' to an introduction of tuberculin antigen in the skin test, is far more accurate than the test itself. All the animals affected have proved to be riddled with tuberculosis, regardless of the measured result of the test.

The effect of Tuberculosis on lungs tissue is illustrated in this pm slide of alpaca lungs. Very little of the lung remains able to function: the examining veterinary pathologist estimated only about 20 per cent.

If you remember - and we do - the RSPCA, in a considerable underestimate of its descriptive powers, described tuberculosis in badgers as 'A slight wheeziness' helpfully adding that:
"In the few badgers that do have symptoms, they are wheeziness and loss of weight and condition. There may be some skin ulceration."

So that's OK then? OK for badgers to die, drowning in their own body fluids, - as long as that death is unseen and its route progress airbrushed?

Anyone still under the impression that tuberculosis - or consumption as it used to be called in human beings - is a small inconvenient blip, or that any mammal suffering its end stages is not actually 'suffering', needs a reality check.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

'Healthy wildlife - a prerequisite for healthy humans'.

The latest newsletter issued by Florida based 'One Health', opens with an observation on the interaction between human beings, animals and the environment.
It describes two basic types of 'intrusions':
The first involves the intrusion of new and expanding human communities into uninhabited areas utilized by free-ranging wildlife. The second type of intrusion involves the colonization and/or seasonal uses of these communities by free-ranging wildlife. Both situations will continue to increase in association with the increasing human population and landscape changes that displace wildlife from their historic habitat.
While pointing out that in general, this interaction is not a cause for concern, nevertheless, with some diseases caution is needed. The author points out that this is because:
"In general, there is an absence of any coordinated approach for disease detection and reporting for many of the species groups beyond that independently carried out by specific interests. When infectious disease emergence is detected, timely response often is impeded by jurisdictional and social issues that serve to advance disease spread and establishment."
He continues,
"The wildlife ingredients within this “mixing bowl” are the most difficult to address because, unlike human and domestic animal health programs, there is no formal wildlife health infrastructure that links regulatory authorities, responsibilities for wildlife wellbeing, and disease reporting with dedicated agency programs for combating disease occurring among various wildlife populations. Instead collaborative efforts involving an informal coalition of various agencies, and interests, may become involved in any specific event. For example, it is common for the public to submit impaired wildlife to private sector wildlife rehabilitators. These individuals and programs have varying capacity to determine if infectious disease is involved or to prevent disease spread within their facilities."
Here, the author was talking about the USA, but he could just as easily have referred to the UK and bTB. With Defra, VLA, AHOs and veterinary surgeons operating independently of each other, and selectively from doctors and the HPA.

Another quote points out that pathogens do not indulge in specific species preference, and might be able to circulate in and between different animal populations, including wildlife, and people. The conclusion, is that
... healthy wildlife is a prerequisite for healthy humans.

Appearing in this medico/veterinary/environmental publication One Health is an update on the badger 'management' initiative which we posted here. (See p.7 of the 'One Health' pdf)
Author Richard Gard, describes the operating protocol:

"Working in areas of ten square miles, the activity of the badgers, their territories and the location of unhealthy or ‘skanky’ badgers are assessed and their location matched on a map with the location of the cattle. The farm boundaries and land ownership cease to be important. Many farms have parcels of land separated from one another. The picture that this provides is extremely interesting to the farmers and their veterinary surgeons and offers a means of reducing the transfer of infection. The planned programme is to achieve Healthy Badgers and Healthy Cattle."
This initiative involves not only farmers, but their vets, maps of farms and detail of land where reactor cattle have grazed. An overlay of badger setts and territories is then applied to this data. Cattle testing clear, and the badgers associated with their grazing areas are seen as as important as the TB reactor areas.

This postmortem pic is of a hugely emaciated badger with tuberculous pleurisy. Did it 'suffer'? A veterinary pathologist wryly points out that "it would be naive to assume that it did not". It is also naive to assume that prior to a very painful death, this badger did not share its burden of disease.

Mr. Gard's article continues on the theme of protecting healthy badgers:
Our observations show that the herds in areas with healthy badgers do not have the problem of repeated bovine TB. Farmers do need healthy badgers and by participating in the work cattlemen have shown a willingness to co-operate in this, even if in nothing else. The badgers also need help to prevent the spread of TB within their population. In many TB hotspot areas healthy badgers are in decline.
Further information on this project are available from Mr. Gard. Contact details at www.agmed.org.uk/projects.htm.

Copies of a film showing the basics of this initiative, can be obtained from :
www.chrischapmanphotography.com at £4.99 inc postage.

Another bTB article in One Health, appearing just below that written by Richard Gard, explains the problems of wild boar as wildlife vectors of bTB in North America. The author warns of the folly of letting bTB establish in feral swine populations :
"At the strategic level, federal and state officials have called for the establishment of a coordinated, comprehensive feral swine control program. To succeed, such a program would likely require legislation and regulatory changes,
coupled with a sustained multidimensional effort involving public education, law enforcement, and feral swine population suppression.
Current efforts to control feral swine, which differ widely among states, are fragmented and only marginally effective.

He concludes with an observation that is is equally valid in the UK:
History has shown that once bovine TB becomes established in a wildlife population, it is very difficult to eradicate the disease. "

One could add that as the longer bTB is allowed to establish, the more difficult and expensive it becomes to eradicate, the sooner we start, the better.