Saturday, July 10, 2010

Simplifications debunked.

During these last weeks, several publications have carried some very simplistic comments on past strategies to control bTB in this country. Mainly they are along the lines of this rant by superannuated pop star and newly qualified stargazer, Dr. Brian May.

We have aired this chart before but it is important to see (we think) how, as badger control was progressively sanitised over time, cattle TB increased. Indeed, we are now told that was 'expected'. Well nice of the vets and MAFF to alert cattle farmers to this wasn't it? Cattle testing did not change over this time, in fact it increased as more herds went under restriction and needed six tests annually instead of one, and more parishes came under the annual testing net. England has always had a strict 'lock down' of herds revealing reactors. But Dr. May, following the lead from the Badger Trust's various spokes-persons argues that 'history shows badger culling does not work as a method for controlling bTB'.

We would say that our chart, together with explanations for ongoing 'badger friendly' exceptions to culling, shows that it did. From the early 1970s, when stringent cattle only measures in Glos and Cornwall were failing, badger setts close to persistently affected farms were gassed. No exceptions. No 'closed season' so that a sow could infect her cubs, and no waiting around for permission from various focus groups.
The CVO reports from the mid 70's finally recorded a drop in cattle slaughterings.

The number of cattle slaughtered in GB during 1982 was 605.

The Clean Ring strategy (1982 - 86) used the information from the cattle tests and gassed badgers in rough circle up to 7km from the outbreak, until badgers postmortemed clear of TB. The change to cage traps during this period showed a slight increase in cattle TB but was still workable - although fraught with opportunities for interference such as the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial suffered. And the relocation of 'rescued' TB-takeaways didn't help disease control, but obviously gave the rescuers a warm glow.

In 1987, the number of cattle slaughtered in GB was 1183.

But in that year (1987) the most significant sanitisation occurred when the Interim Strategy reduced the land available to the WLUs for trapping to just 1km, and then only on land grazed by cattle. So if the sett was in an arable field, fenced woodland or on a neighbouring farm, the WLU couldn't touch it. Finally after £1 million bung from the PAL in 1997, gov'ment introduced the moratorium on Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act and MAFF / Defra refused to issue licenses to control disease.

In 1997 GB slaughtered 3760 cattle, and one year after the moratorium 6083.

Our chart uses MAFF / Defra cattle slaughter figures to log the difference these sanitising tweaks to badger control made to the disease in cattle. And Dr. May is mistaken if he genuinely believes that cattle testing and movement restrictions over this time were in any way loosened. They have progressively tightened as hotspots expanded.

And of course his (and the Badger Trust's) wide generalisations fall apart when the same TB testing of cattle in other countries which either do not support a wildlife reservoir of disease, or take parallel measures to control it, have cleared their cattle herds completely. The number of cattle found with TB by slaughterhouse inspections do not support this assumption of a huge hidden reservoir either.

Then there are Defra's carefully crafted spoligotype maps showing a consistent strain in one area. Not a hotchpotch which there would be, if cattle continually and over the decades this data has been collated, had moved TB around the country.

Dr. May is quoted in FG article as "citing the Independent Scientific Group’s (ISG) 2008 report and subsequent updates based on continuing monitoring of the cull areas as the scientific proof."

Now that is interesting. Just this week we hear from the lead ex ISG mathematical modeller that although her electronic abacus is showing sustained reductions in TB across all the proactive areas of the RBCT, her input data (details of which was not shouted loud enough for us to hear) indicate that although a badger cull reduces cattle TB, it would be too expensive. In fact Christl Donnelly went so far as to say it would take "12 years to recoup the cost". This was on Sky News (no link)
And with that we would agree. Culling badgers as done in the RBCT showed us exactly how not to do it. Launching into a highly infectious population for just 8 nights, using cage traps just once a year - if you were lucky. Ridiculous - as key bits of this EFRAcom submission from a trial manager explain:
5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activists, to be able to trap badgers anywhere, in order to eliminate them. That was only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

6. Limited trapping - eight days per year with Krebbs - has little effect if carried out late in the year. The effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull.

7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. [ snipped ]
Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.

But as we have said before when we explored the original Krebs' protocol and compared to the the 'political science' John Bourne was sooooooooo proud to deliver, this exercise was designed to fail.

At its outset, both vets and trial managers say they were told by the diminutive professor, "this is a cattle disease, and will be treated as such". End of story.

But a change came in 2004, with a new trial manager appointed, protocol loosened (as explained above), traps laid on badger trails and more diseased ones were caught.

Thus the 2008 update report from Jenkins et al, after cattle tests caught up with this change, saw a reversal of Bourne's unique 'halo' effect - his reason for dismissing badger culling in the 2007 report - and that improvement in cattle TB both within the proactive areas and around them was intensified and sustained in Donnelly's publication of 2010.

Can you see their little brains ticking ? ... "Good grief, this wasn't meant to happen ...."

Cattle slaughterings have dropped a little in the first couple of months of this year, compared with 2009's figure of 36,322. And inevitably this is used as an excuse to say 'cattle measures must be working'. But the only 'cattle measure' which is newish, preMT, was introduced in 2006, and that would (should?) find more reactors, not less. So what is happening?

1. Across all ten RBCT proactive areas, incidence of cattle TB has dropped. And much to the chagrin of the ISG team, that drop is continuing.

2. We've had a lot of UV sunlight this spring, which is death for m.bovis deposited on pasture in a short period of time. Dull, wet weather extends its survival.

3. Imported Dutch tuberculin antigen was introduced for testing in June/July 2009. And the last time this happened, in 2006, the cattle slaughterings similarly dropped, with the CVO's report of that year explaining:
"The comparison of the tuberculin data, indicates to date that a proportion of VL animals [ ] differs significantly between Weybridge and Dutch PPD batches, with the Weybridge results having a smaller % of VLs.

The authors of the report say that there are two ways of interpreting this, but conclude that the following is most likely:
"The sensitivity of the combined Dutch PPDs is less, because of failing to pick up NVLs (animals which could be in the early stages of disease) which may or may not be confirmed with culture, to the same extent as Weybridge PPDs. This would result in under detection of cases, resulting in a transient decline in cases reported, despite there being no true decline in cases."
Thus the incidence of bTb may not be dropping significantly, but the incidence of its detection, especially in the early pre visible lesion stages, was.
If this is the case again, then we will see a greater number of lesioned reactors this summer and later.

4. Areas of the country with deep, entrenched TB problems are said to be exploring a management plan.

5. Defra tweaked the interpretation of IRs on severe on January 1st this year, with a new test chart, leading to less severe interpretation IRs slaughtered..

All will have had an impact on numbers of reactors.

And so to the latest money spinner. Biosecurity.

Despite Dr. May's and the Badger Trusts' outraged howls that bTB is all about cattle, Defra and others have spent an inordinate amount of effort printing guidelines of how to keep badgers away from cattle. Much is as useful as a wet paper bag, and is contradicted by research which Defra the taxpayer has funded.

The big one is trough height. Still the figure of 30 inches is quoted. Why? Defra know full well from Dr. Tim Roper's reserach that badgers can easily access cattle feed in troughs over 4 feet high. And at that height, our PQs kindly tell us, 'cattle cannot reach to eat'. Quite.

Our PQs also told us that while cattle will avoid faeces on their grazing ground, they cannot avoid the yard long trails of urine voided by incontinent wandering badgers.

And then there is electric fencing. Fence 'em out - that'll sort it. But in their evidence to EFRAcom, the Wildlife Trusts explained that badgers are the main predator of bees' and wasps' nests. So, if thousands of angry bees stinging their nose didn't put them off - what chance electric fences?

This was such a nest - which became badger MacDonalds. All that is left are two pieces of honeycomb - and some seriously angry occupants. So before anyone launches into this sort of advice, they had better be sure that it will work.

And they would do well to remember the words of the retired director of Woodchester Park, Dr. Chris Cheeseman, who, when asked how to keep badgers and cattle apart, replied "You can't, you get rid of your cattle".


Anonymous said...

Today’s Guardian –
If they did this with the Iraq War – Kicking bTB into the long grass and pressurizing scientists is no problem

Dr Kelly's death(?) is the 'saddest' example

Carne Ross, a Foreign Office 'whistleblower' who resigned after speaking out about the war, gives evidence to the Chilcot panel

Some main points in Carne Ross's witness statement.

• He accuses the government of lying about Iraq's WMD. In paragraphs 21 and 22, he provides examples of the way he thinks claims about Iraq's WMD were exaggerated. Talking about the September dossiser and other documents, he says:

“This process of exaggeration was gradual, and proceeded by accretion and editing from document to document, in a way that allowed those participating to convince themselves that they were not engaged in blatant dishonesty. But this process led to highly misleading statements about the UK assessment of the Iraqi threat that were, in their totality, lies.

• He says the civil service was politicised under Labour.

“The culture of questioning, of debate, was little in evidence in the years and months leading up to the Iraq war. There was in effect a deep politicisation of the civil service; contrary opinion was suppressed.

• He accuses some (unnamed) witnesses of not telling the truth to the inquiry. And he implies that Chilcot and his team have allowed themselves to be misled.

“It is striking that in my preparations for this testimony; I found several documents germane to the inquiry whose existence was not revealed by earlier witnesses, including those who authored them. Other documents by certain officials contradicted the testimony they have given at this inquiry and yet these witnesses were not questioned about these contradictions.

Hexe Froschbein said...

But but but... I thought that Dr. May solved the cause of bTB problem?

He says: "The modern, intensive farming of cows, with hundreds (and soon thousands) bred and corralled in a small area, fed the same feed, attracts parasites and diseases. They have to be pumped with antibiotics and hormones to keep the diseases in check. This is why bovine TB became a problem in the UK"

I thought of something witty to say here, but really all I want to know is how he could ever earn a PhD in Astrophysics without having a basic idea of propositional calculus or the scientific method?
(OMFG. What other handwaving 'artists' does his alma mater produce???)

Btw, does it occur to the badger 'friends' that tolerating bTB in our wildlife is actually animal abuse?

Even though the animals are wild we still have a duty of care for them, which includes treating them when possible and dispatching humanely when nothing else works.

Maybe we should show those animal 'friends' a film of a badger dying in agony of bTB and have a vet explain at length what it actually means for the animal to die this way.

Anonymous said...

Spot on Hexe Froschbein!

The man’s a tosser of the first order – an intellectually and academically naive, embarrassing and undisciplined thicko!

Put your hands together for Dr who?

Matthew said...

Anon 3.38.

Our co-editor has uncovered another 'long grass' cover up, well layered by proponents and oft repeated.

Nothing changes.

Hexe. F 8.15

Some amusing generalisations paticularly as hormones are banned in UK and have been for years.
The US and the Middle East have cattle housed all year in groups of several thousand, yet don't have a TB problem.
And how does the good Doc square his convenient theory with Shambo, or other high profile companion cattle? Cats? Dogs? Alpacas?


Anonymous said...

Why not publish a graph starting twenty years earlier?

Anonymous said...

Readers of this blog are expected to swallow some stuff, but do you really believe that bee stings and electric shocks are the same thing???

You are losing any hint of credibility

Anonymous said...

Readers of this blog are expected to swallow some stuff, but do you really believe that bee stings and electric shocks are the same thing???

You are losing any hint of credibility [/quote]

You've obviously never upset a bees or wasp nest!!!!
I know which I'd rather deal with.

Anonymous said...

Re:"You've obviously never upset a bees or wasp nest!!!!
I know which I'd rather deal with."

Are you a badger?

Perhaps not.

So how are you an expert on how they percieve?

Matthew said...

Anon 11.32
There is a longer time frame graph on the VAWM site, showing what we suspect you are implying.
After the countrywide sweep in the 50s and 60s, TB in cattle reached a low point in most of the country. But in a few pockets, it persisted.
It is not true for Dr. May to state that not a single badger was killed prior to 1970s either.
The population was legally controlled prior to 1972, and from personal experience, if constant testing was not clearing cattle herds in the mid 1950s, Irish vets (in particular) advised disposing on any on farm badger setts. So a link was known earlier than Roger Muirhead's Glos. works, if not published.

Matthew said...

Anon 11.36 - and later.

It was not us who pointed out the futility of using some types of electric fences as badger barriers, but the Wildlife Trusts in their evidence to EFRAcom.

There is a 6000 volt difference between a fencer attached to the National Grid, and a box operated cattle fence attached to a battery. With much in between.

Low, mains operated fences sited over concrete may help, but one of our contributers uses three boxes on 3 separate strands of wire as lamb fencing in front of hedges. Badgers regularly breech that.

Small areas of land with adjacent mains electricity supply may be able to utilise fiercer mains fencing, assuming that they have no public rights of way crossing the area, and not forgetting the entrance gate. But for most cattle farms it is out of the question, and battery operated fencers are certainly not powerful enough.