Thursday, August 26, 2010

Number crunching

We have brought up the subject of Defra's statistics with regard to numbers of 'other species' which have succumbed to tuberculosis, on several occasions.

We will continue to do so, until they realistically and accurately reflect the correct numbers of deaths, and not a mere thumbnail snapshot of positive culture samples.

Today Farmers Guardian have picked up on the vast difference between positive deaths from tuberculosis which a small group of alpaca owners are reporting to their TB Support group, and the meagre figures of culture samples which Defra publish, occasionally.

Having done a bit of detective work into the various layers of Defra officials charged with reporting this Grade 3 zoonosis in line with the Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007 (as amended in 2006 to include 'all mammalian species') we have the following guidance on notification:

Para 6
Notification of disease in carcases :
(1) Any person who—
(a) has in his possession or under his charge any carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis;
(b) in the course of his practice as a veterinary surgeon, examines a carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis; or
(c) in the course of his duties, inspects, for any purpose, a carcase that is affected with or suspected of being affected with tuberculosis,
must, immediately he suspects the carcase may be affected with tuberculosis, notify the Divisional Veterinary Manager.

(2) A person who has in his possession or under his charge a carcase mentioned in paragraph (1) must detain it on the premises where it then is until it has been examined by a veterinary inspector.
(3) In this article, “carcase” means the carcase of any bovine animal or other farmed or pet mammal.

Para 18
Control of infection from other animals
18.—(1) Where a veterinary inspector reasonably believes that an animal kept on any premises is or may be affected with tuberculosis, he may by notice served on the occupier of such premises—
(a) require him to keep the animal under control in such manner as may be specified in the notice or to confine it to such part of the premises as may be specified; and
(b) prohibit the movement of animals on to or off such premises, except under the authority of a licence issued by an inspector.

(2) In paragraph (1), “animal” means any kind of mammal except a bovine animal or man.

Para 20
Isolation of M. bovis in a laboratory
(1) Where the presence of the organism M. bovis is identified by a laboratory examination of a sample taken from any mammal (except man) or from the carcase, products or surroundings of any such mammal, the person in charge of that laboratory must immediately notify the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

Pretty clear, we think. Except that there are fudges here. Where tuberculosis is already confirmed in a group of animals, then samples of every carcase could be said to be a waste of resources. And in cattle only samples from the first couple of a TB breakdown are strain (spoligotype) sampled. With cattle identification now robust, further deaths or test failure slaughterings are logged. But with 'other species', particularly larger groups of pigs and alpacas, then culture samples are the only thing which Defra are counting - as they explain on their chart. And as with cattle, due to 'cost constraints' only a couple from the first casualties are taken. We are assured by vets and AHO staff further down the ladder that they are reporting positive pm's to the local VI centre, who in turn confirm their reports to Defra, London. But there the logs appear to jam. Although the lift goes to the top floor, the figures appear not to be passed to the people in FFG who collate those statistics.

Furthermore, again due to cost constraints, unexplained 'other species' deaths are now being refused postmortems, even if the herds are under TB restriction, and the owner, complying with the above Act 6 (1) reports such a suspicious death as possible tuberculosis.
Farmers Guardian:
This was confirmed by an irate owner of a heavily infected alpaca herd, from Devon, who told Farmers Guardian he had recently reported a dead animal to Animal Health to be told he would have to organise and pay for any post mortem, himself.

It is our understanding that the animal in question ended up at the local knacker yard, and was not examined, even cursorily, by any Veterinary Inspector as defined in the Order.

The lack of right of entry to premises, any statutory movement records or publicly available identification is thought to have led to delays in tracing many cases of onwards transmission of TB among purchased alpacas. And has not helped those deaths associated with movements to agisted matings.

We wrote about this lack of joined up thinking in this posting last October. And apart from a change of heads in Westminister and great deal more anguish for owners of pets and companion animals, which have died from TB - not to mention the risk of onwards transmission to these owners - absolutely nothing has changed.


Anonymous said...


Have you considered sending Defra a carefully worded FOI request?

Matthew said...

Anon 8.37

Yes. But a trawl through the various printoffs from the Defra site has thrown up some interesting explanations for their ommissions. See new posting.

Frankly we are not interested in why Defra seem soooooo reluctant to add these animals to the totals; we just want them added. And 'somebody' knows how many there are - apart from their distraught owners.