Sunday, January 10, 2010

" DEFRA policy is essentially doing nothing."

Following our posting summarising the opinions of Dr. Ueli Zellweger on the current one sided bTB non-policy operated with such devastating results by Defra, has received an email from Dr Paul Gillett, M.B, Ch.B, MRCP, FRCPath., which we have permission to post.

Dr. Gillett is a hospital medical consultant with 35 years experience specialising in microbial diseases and infection control, and he supports the remarks made by Dr. Zellweger, a Swiss vet with over 30 years experience.

Dr. Gillett explains that
The decline of tuberculosis in humans in this country owes more to improvements in living conditions, better nutrition, less overcrowding and the pasteurisation of milk than it does to the introduction of BCG.

Studies on BCG vaccination in man show an efficacy of between 0% and 70% and appear to depend on country, nutrition and the prevalence of other mycobacterial infections in the population immunised. Thus a policy to control bovine tuberculosis based almost entirely on the use of currently available vaccines is unlikely to be successful even if one could achieve 100% uptake. Trials on new vaccines will take several years to complete given the chronic nature of the disease in both man and animals, and the outcome far from certain. In the short, and probably medium term this means the DEFRA policy is essentially do[ing] nothing.
(We assume here that Dr Gillett is talking about Defra's Badger BCG vaccination project, rather than a mass BCG vaccination programme across the country to mitigate spillover from TB infected badgers into humans, alpacas, cats, dogs free-range pigs, sheep, goats and cattle.)

Dr. Gillett continues: "It has to be understood that the current policy of testing and slaughtering infected cattle is aimed at preventing the acquisition of bovine TB by humans not cattle. As Dr Zellweger indicates in his letter, to control bTB in cattle, one should be looking to prevent the transmission between and to animals in the herd. This would involve detecting and eliminating sources that pose a threat to cattle and unfortunately the badger is the most important wildlife reservoir that has close contact."
I find it inconceivable that two species of animal that are susceptible to the disease and have proven close contact are not transmitting the disease to each other. Introducing proper control measures is therefore to the benefit of cattle, badger, farmer and the exchequer.
Why then are such measures not instituted?
He continues with the observation that "Some would advocate the mass culling of badgers and one must suspect that it is fear of the political implications of public reaction to such a policy which bolsters DEFRA’s inactivity."
( One may also consider that it suits Defra to keep a wedge driven between those farmers and vets who want a cohesive policy to eradicate bTB from wherever it may be found, and the beneficiaries of the current polemic, in whose interest it remains to keep the gravy-train cash rolling. And 'eradication' of badgers rather than 'eradication' of bTB within their population, is just the word to do it with every trick in the book used to achieve this. - ed)

Dr. Gillett appears to have caught up with the targeted 'management' strategy for wildlife which we mentioned here, and he comments:
There is an intermediate and more appropriate strategy. I am reliably informed by countrymen that it is possible to detect diseased badger sets by inspection of the runs and other signs. Thus it is possible to avoid mass culling - which may actually be counter-productive - in favour of selective elimination of diseased animals. A measure which is to the benefit of the badger population as a whole and the cattle. A group of concerned West Country farmers and vets have recently produced a DVD outlining the present problems and the potential for training others in the recognition of diseased sets. It is to be hoped that a coherent policy may be formulated about such an approach.
Dr. Gillett concludes, "Should an effective vaccine and delivery system become available in due course, then it would be (as in humans) an adjunct to rather than a replacement for effective infection control measures."

(Note: More of this discussion on and 'Bovine TB – A Way Forward', the film by Chris Chapman, which describes a management policy, will be released at the end of January. For details go to the homepage and click on FILM )


Anonymous said...

I worked for MAFF and Defra on the badger culling job for over 30 years. I worked on the gassing strategy, clean ring, live testing, badger removals and the very questionable Krebs trial. I can say with some authority and confidence that there isn't a sole out there that can tell when a sett is infected or a badger is infected with bTB just by looking at the runs, latrines, claw marks and spoil heaps. The only steady indicator of a diseased badger is when they occupy single hole setts, and even then it doesn't mean it has bTB, it could just be old or ill. I know the person who perports to have this unique knowledge and is currently advising farmers on what to do and he plays on their fears and desperation. Ask any farmer what he wants done when he has TB restrictions and he will say - kill the badgers ! Whilst I don't disagree with targetted culling, I do disagree with the advice this man is giving to the farmning community. He is playing on their fears, making false promises and giving them false hope. He is also suggesting, off the record of course, that they should take actions into their own hands by "removing " their badgers. This advice is dangerous, unproven and could never be acceptable to anybody with a shred of knowledge on badger ecology or habits. Removing badgers on a local scale will never work because you will always leave a vacuum, allowing other badgers to fill it, perhaps more infectious ones ! Targetted, large scale culling with maybe vaccination of the surrounding areas should be the way forward, not isolated, illegal removal as is happening now. This has been happening in Cornwall for years on a small scale and what good has it done ? Made it worse I can tell you !! Will nobody ever learn from the mistakes of others ?

Matthew said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon 12.22

We can't say whether one 'strategy' works better than another. What GB is facing after years of prevarication, is a huge task of clearing out infection from the badger population, on a much wider scale than has been attempted before.
From the cattle testing data, it would appear that the Clean Ring (which you mentioned) worked extremely well, as did the complete clearance of badgers from Thornbury.
But everything started to crumble as successive sanitisation of what MAFF / DEFRA were allowed to do in response to confirmed TB outbreaks which did not involve cattle, was insidiously introduced from 1986 onwards - culminating in the moratorium of 1997 - 13 years ago.

It is our understanding that (in the conspicuous absence of PCR) the identification of the location of these 'single hole setts', which you described, is proving useful. The main social group of badgers are perfectly capable of identifying and excluding one of their number who is either ill or old or both. All animals do it. And it is these 'dispersers' which the badgers themselves do not want, that often cause problems huge with the cattle.

The key word which all politicians and thus Defra, will want to clutch, is 'tagetted'. Any policy which involves culling badgers has to 'targetted'. How do we do it?
Defra are hell bent on ignoring the cattle testing results, which are a pretty good indicator of where clean badgers reside, and they are dragging their collective feet on PCR.

We agree re the removal of small groups of badgers. The RBCT did that with ours in 2000, in response to our neighbour's problems. This left us wide open to allcomers; the old the sick and the TB ridden, with the result that we went under restriction in 2001, and are still there.

Anonymous said...

Given that the badger is so common, and that badgers are by far the main source of the problem (otherwise the skin test would not have been so successful in eradicating bTB in the UK and elsewhere in the past) a hard nosed Government strategy that deals with the bTB problem is straightforward:
Change the Badger Act to allow control of badgers with certain rifles (as applies to deer), with an assurance of a future review - we don't want to eradicate badgers, and simultaneously get rid of (or gradually scale down) bTB compensation.
The result would be farmers taking responsibility for the financial impact of their own disease problems (including wildlife). Badgers on the land of uncooperative landowners could be culled by DEFRA officials, but on the whole the job would be done by farmers looking after their own financial interests.