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.


Anonymous said...

Probably a really stupid question but why isn't anyone warning people that they and their pets too can catch badgerTB from places where badgers dribble?

Matthew said...

Anon 10.41

That isn't a 'really stupid queston' at all. The reason for all bTB eradication schemes is to protect public health. Nothing whatsoever to do with badger health and welfare, or cattle.

Several years ago now, a colleague printed and erected warning signs which were pinned up in the Peak District National Park, a TB hotspot. They were removed, but made the point that visitors and their children were at risk, in the same way as farmers mending stone stiles were. The latter had received warnings to wear protective clothing while they worked.

We are sure that the spillover into species such as alpacas and domestic companion animals will give impetus to efforts to eradicate TB. This despite Defra's valiant efforts to play down numbers affected by producing out of date stats, based on culture samples only. The owners of dozens of dead animals are certainly not taking this lightly, and the teddies thrown high out of Defra prams when they are reminded of such inaccuracies, shows we are on the right track..

mrsjohn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


• is a strategic and integrated approach that encompasses the policy and regulatory frameworks (including instruments and activities) that analyse and manage risks in the sectors of food safety, animal life and health, and plant life and health, including associated environmental risk.
• covers the introduction of plant pests, animal pests and diseases, and zoonoses, and the introduction and management of invasive alien species and genotypes.
• is a holistic concept of direct relevance to the sustainability of agriculture, food safety, and the protection of the environment, including biodiversity.
• is a set of preventive measures designed to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases, quarantined pests, invasive alien species, living modified organisms.

Animal biosecurity

• is the product of all actions undertaken by an entity to prevent introduction of disease agents into a specific area.
• is a comprehensive approach, encompassing different means of prevention and containment. A critical element in animal biosecurity – biocontainment - is the control of disease agents already present in a particular area, and works to prevent novel transmissions.
• may protect organisms from infectious agents or non-infectious agents such as toxins or pollutants, and can be executed in areas as large as a nation or as small as a local farm
• takes into account the epidemiological triad for disease occurrence: the individual host, the disease, and the environment in contributing to disease susceptibility.


The outgoing New Labour Government and its so-called professional advisors have - like it has in so many other spheres – been totally, knowingly, deliberately and criminally irresponsible – an irresponsibility verging on bio-vandalism at its best and ‘bio-terrorism’ at its worst..

During the whole of its 13 years’ regime the New Labour government has done nothing to stop bTB in wildlife infecting the national cattle herd.

The New Labour regime is over; bTB in badgers and cattle is not.

We must all now work to urge the current Coalition Government to implement its promised solution in a timely fashion.

Matthew said...

Anon 2.59

Very well put.
Couldn't agree more.
Our PQs were phrased to draw out of a reluctant Defra much valuable information on exactly what they did know about badger-TB, transmission opportunities and all the rest. But 6 years on, we are still faced with this tinkering around the edge, using mealy mouthed platitudes which previous research has shown to as useful as wet paper bag.

Farmers, their cattle, badgers and their overspill victims deserve better.

Matthew said...

(8.38 post deleted - spam.)