Friday, June 25, 2010

Badger vaccine project scrapped

News today that the badger vaccine project, of which we have been less than enthusiastic in the areas and with the operating procedure proposed, is to be scrapped. One pilot will go ahead near Cheltenham.

Details here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The silent killer

These videos (click left hand arrow to view) were kindly sent by one of the members of the Camelid TB Support Group. We have permission to use them. Their purpose is not to break your heart (and it will) but to show you how perfectly healthy a young alpaca can look (this cria was under a year old) - and yet be riddled with TB having PASSED a skin test.

The first clip was taken an hour before he was put down. He was in his pen - alone, waiting to be culled. He wasn't showing ANY signs of ANY illness let alone TB. He had passed the skin test twice, but failed the blood test. He is eating, inquisitive, bright and has no weight loss. No outward signs at all.

This alpaca was culled one hour after the footage was taken. He had TB lesions throughout his entire organs. This is the silent killer known as TB. Alpaca owners cannot rely on the skin test alone to detect TB infected animals. They cannot trade with any confidence when out of restriction having only used the skin test.

Advice from alpaca vet, Gina Bromage is to not consider selling, showing or moving alpacas around for a minimum of one year (possibly longer) - on the back of a negative skin test. As the video clip clearly shows , a negative skin test in alpacas does not mean a lot and stresses the importance of the blood tests and the current research into the gamma interferon validation project and the hope of a reliable ante-mortem TB test.

(This posting from Dianne Summers, who runs the Camelid TB Support Group)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Biocsecurity cash snatch ?

... and it is likely to be ours.
We have been uneasy for several months now with the recurring mention of 'bio-security' (whatever that might mean in the context of bTB ) in the same breath as tabular compulsory purchase monies, or cross compliance with the SFP.

Our co-editor gave his unique overview of Defra's 'fence 'em out' big idea, in a previous post. But like a bad smell, it keeps recurring. In fact researchers have had taxpayer's cash to further line their pockets in a couple of reports, produced for Defra where they explore 'bio-security' in no particular depth, and little background certainty that their 'big ideas' will yield anything at all.

Farmers deserve better. But at the moment it looks as if, once again, we may be led up a garden path on a journey based more on hope than experience.

In January, we posted the job opportunity advertised by the NFU, paid for with European Union UK taxpayers' cash. This team has now been interviewed and appointed and can be contacted on email to and a new website ( under construction) at

While many farmers will welcome dedicated support as described in the flyer leaflet from the SW TB Advisory service, most of us would prefer it was not necessary. And some of us, seeing that one part of the package involves 'Disease Risk management' are wondering how long it will be before such ideas as explained in Defra's advice booklet (Number 10) become part of compulsory action with cash penalties for alleged breaches?

Defra have abandoned their single booklet which was given to farmers at the time of a TB breakdown, in favour of 15 separate leaflets, heavy on pictures but short on information. Or information of any value. If this (or the SW TB Advisory Service's) advice is followed, then farmers are entitled to expect results. And from what we have seen of the basic list, that will not happen.

A decade ago, 'keep a closed herd' was the mantra. That didn't work for some of our contributers and now all manner of bolt-ons have appeared in the form of 'shared slurry spreaders' and access. (Our contributers have neither but still have TB) And Defra are still banging on about feed troughs 'at least 75cm ( that's 30 inches in old money) off the ground'. This despite having added to Prof. Tim Roper's pension pot, by commissioning research in 2001 which saw badgers easily accessing troughs at 43 inches. They didn't have to stand on each others shoulders either. And it was the lightweight ones with overgrown claws, which then hooked these over the edge of the trough, then swung up and in. Simple. PQs confirmed this research, adding the proviso that "at this height, cattle would not be able to access". Quite.

What we did like about Defra's No 10 leaflet entitled 'Dealing with TB in your Herd', was the pretty pictures of badgers all over it - although why not pics like this we really cannot imagine. The leaflet tells us (so it must be true):
"Badgers present a particular challenge to all cattle farmers who want to keep their herd bovine TB free"
Strictly speaking that is not true. Defra's intransigence and decades of prevarication over what action to direct at TB infected badgers is the challenge cattle farmers face. But we digress. The blurb continues:
"Badgers in particular, suffer from TB and are able to transmit the disease to cattle causing a breakdown in a herd that will result in movement restrictions and slaughter of affected cattle".

Yes. Of that we are only too well aware. But what are Defra going to do about it as these animals have acquired cult status and their ancestral homes a Grade 1 listing?
"This leaflet provides some guidance on what you can do to reduce the risk of transmission to your cattle".

Troughs at 30 inches? Not according to that Defra funded film.
Sheeted gates 4 inches off the ground? Nope, they can slither under those.
And whaddya do about the grass? That isn't mentioned.
Oh, and for goodness sake don't leave a ladder about.
Seen in a Kitchen Garden magazine this month, the following gem as an answer to a gardener wanting to harvest carrots for himself and seeking advice on how to exclude vermin badgers:
"I do know of an allotment holder who built a 6 foot high fence around his land to protect his sweetcorn, with access via a ladder which he left at one side for him to get into the enclosure"

You know what's coming next, don't you?
"He left the ladder up against the fence one night, and the badgers got in."

We reiterate what we said in the posting which advertised the SW Advisory team jobs.
Someones idea of 'bio-security' may have a profound effect on any compensation monies due, however unproven, ineffective, impractical or costly such measures may be.
We are also reminded of the words spoken at least twice in our hearing, by the former chief at Woodchester Park's Badger Heaven, Dr. Chris Cheeseman. When asked how to keep badgers and cattle apart, his reply was unequivocal:
"You can't. You get rid of your cattle".

Cattle farmers, you have been warned.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The maiden speech of the new MP for Totnes, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, contained the following observation.
In the South Hams, we also have some of the most spectacular countryside, but I have to inform Members that that countryside is in crisis. We are fast losing our sustainability as more and more dairy farms in particular go out of business because of the problems of bovine tuberculosis. Devon is, in fact, at the very heart of the bovine TB epidemic.

As a doctor, I have to tell Members that we cannot treat infected badgers by vaccination. Vaccination can only hope to prevent the disease in unaffected individuals.

I have been teaching junior doctors evidence-based medicine for 11 years, and I can say that one of the problems we face is that the randomised badger culling trial has for years wrongly been used to justify a policy of inaction.

Unless we do something about bovine TB, more and more of our farmers will go out of business. We need to recognise the effect on them and their families, and the very real distress bovine TB causes them.

With that we would agree. Vaccinating endemically infected badgers with a BCG type jab, and that only for a couple of nights and only 3 hours daylight per night trapping, is about as daft as it gets. On the other hand, is has been suggested that the effect of this extra stress on an infected (or infectious) badger, plus a top up BCG jab, may cause an anaphylactic type reaction, seen in alpacas, which could lead to death.

Other farmers have told us that they only signed up for the proposed Vaccine Deployment Project, in the hope of getting their land surveyed early, ahead of any targetted cull. If that was implied by Defra or Fera at the VDP launch meetings, it is a pretty shoddy way to deliver their next prevarication 'Big Idea', piggy backing a £20million scam onto hope value.