Saturday, February 20, 2010

Policy on the hoof

We have become used to our department's habit of altering policy on a whim, or making it up as they go along. And that evolutionary process is arguably better than the 'cognitive dissonance' which affected them over FMD.

However, not to acknowledge such departmental developments is stooping very low indeed.

A letter from Mr. D. Denny, B.Vet., MRCVS published in Farmers Guardian Feb 12th., pointed out that there were many sticks with which to beat farmers but few incentives in government's handling of TB.
"The handling of the TB crisis is typical of the micro management of farmers by politicians with their own agendas. Instead of giving farmers incentives, the Eradication Group recommends more superfluous, petty and expensive impositions on farmers, none of which will have any significant impact in controlling TB."
A longstanding critic of 'vaccinating ' badgers already endemically infected with TB, Mr. Denny then remarked on the protocol of the vaccine scoping trial, pointing out that having to purchase their own vaccine was "hardly an incentive" to its success.

We covered Defra's on-the-hoof developing protocol for their latest prevarication wheeze, here. And in mid-December, such a purchase was on the cards.
These people are being asked to tender to trap and vaccinate 'x' number of badgers in an area of land, not yet decided? And the badger surveying, we understand, will not be in the hands of the contractors tendering for the job, but 'someone else'. Someone who may assess numbers correctly, but may not. And if they do not, then tough.

Both vaccines and cages are to be the responsibility of the contractor, and their purchase, storage and maintenance, together with assessed labour and area to be covered will be the basis of the quotation offered. This is so vague as to be like catching smoke. Especially as by the date tenders have to be submitted, the majority (80 per cent)of surveying will not have been completed.
As this project unravelled, potential contractors trying to get to grips with exactly what it was they were tendering for, apparently pointed out the vagaries of this smoke and mirrors idea and along with Santa's little helpers, and after the inevitable departmental New Year jollies, came the clarity of a rethink on some of the cost sharing. Particularly those on the purchase of vaccines for an unknown number of badgers, on an unsurveyed patch of land of indeterminate size.

Thus in this week's Farmers Guardian, and curt note appears from a representative of our beloved Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, stating that Mr. Denny is incorrect in his statement that 'contractors would have to buy their own BCG vaccine'.
"That is not the case. The cost of the vaccine used in the BVDP will be funded by Defra".
We are delighted of course, to give our readers an update of Defra policy, even as it evolves. But not so delighted that they omit to mention that it had been updated, implying errors on the part of a comment made ahead of the now acknowledged policy change.

We also note no mention was made of the meat of Mr. Denny's letter which concluded "demoralised farmers must be given incentives, not petty reforms".
"Nothing short of a targeted cull of infected badgers will result in any improvement in the TB crisis".
Thus in the absence of howls of derision, we assume that with that final statement, Defra's representatives must agree.


Anonymous said...

I am confused on the Vaccination issue. This is the policy recommended by badger groups and defra. Perhaps someone can better inform me.

1. Vaccinating already infected Badger will not “cure” them from TB. Is it hoped they will die from the disease? Thus when the rest of the Vaccinated badgers survive they will eventually become TB free?
2. Does the Vaccination give life time immunity from one hit? I am told that badgers will need Vaccinating several times.
3. If the Vaccination is going to be administered by cadge trapping what happens to the 20% or more that are cage shy?? [RBCT states 20% and over.]
4. defra states it needs to target infected badgers. Is their plan to TB test all badgers? Does such a test exist.

One point, all this fuss about badgers is that it is costing the tax payer millions upon millions of pounds. Why should money need for NHS operations, Education, and other public services be diverted to protect a badger population that has an infectious disease. In my previous posts I have stated that famers and landowners including Forestry Commission, National Trust and Wildlife trusts should be made responsible for culling badgers. Some coordinating and surveying would need to be done by defra, but the cost of culling should be carried out by landowners under licence. If badger groups disagree with this policy they let THEM come up with the millions of ponds needed for other methods which cost the tax payer. I am not advocating going back to before 1992 when the badger population was not such a problem, but using that legislation to let the people effected sort out the problem.

David Thomas

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately David, who presumably farms flying pigs somewhere in cloud cuckoo land, understands little of the complexity of disease control clearly proven by his closing words "let the people effected sort out the problem".

What nonsense!

Anonymous said...

How astute you are, notice you could not address the issues though. How ever our time will inevitably come.

David Thomas

Matthew said...

Not sure if we are qualified to answer your questions re vax, but we'll give it a go, from what we have gleaned.

1. Vaccination of an already infected candidate will not give them immunity. How could it? Defra are on record as saying they hope 'they will not make matters worse'.
BCG works in some species, not all by stopping tb lesions shedding. It does not prevent disease but it may help prevent onwards transmission. It is by no means a sure thing.

2. No. 20 months is said to be the maximum, so badger vax would be an annual occurrence.

3. We covered this with the aid of a calculator in our post on vax ,(mid January - scroll down) which appear to be many more than the headline implies and thus area covered and badgers covered much less. Roll out may now be delayed until at least August, we hear.

4. A live test was trialled a few years ago, the 'Brock test' which involved trapping badgers, taking bloods, assaying bloods and then pm any positives. On a positive result the result was good, but it was dangerously bad on a negative - only 47 % accurate and so was abandoned. Again, trap shy wild animals were a problem. Defra may state 'it needs to target infected badgers'. One may ask, why?
Would you offer vaccination for measles to a class of children already spotty with the disease? What would be the point.
Better ( we think) to concentrate on vaccinating badgers in areas where cattle sentinels are testing clear. That would have some merit in protecting the badger population from this insidious zoonotic disease.

'The people affected', are growing. As well as cattle farmers, now camelid and pet owners are having to face the ravages of TB in their animals. And happy they are not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Matthew for taking the time to reply to my post.

DAvid Thomas