Monday, November 22, 2010

'A Way Forward' - new download.

A new on-line download version of Chris Chapman's film is now available.
We introduced the film in this posting and the top quality DVD is still available from Mr. Chapman direct, or via Mole Valley Farmers.

With thanks to Clearstats.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vaccination myths

We should be used to the grammatical gymnastics of the Badger Trust by now, so many may be blown out of the water by a simple read through of the paperwork they love to misquote.

We saw it here and here and posted the correct information so that our readers could make up their own minds. So when a 'proper' journalist starts throwing his teddies with a polemic rant about 'controlling landowners', and vaccinating badgers it is, er disappointing.

After his rant about cattle farmers, whom he seems to hate as much, or more than the badgers he claims to want to protect, George Monbiot the Graudian's Great Moonbat offers this gem:
As for the badgers, they should continue to be trapped in cages, but vaccinated and then released, as this prevents their social structures from being disrupted. By 2015 an oral vaccine for badgers could be ready to roll, which will be far cheaper than the current options.

This is straight of the Badger Trust website where they offer a press release claiming:
Laboratory studies showed that injections of BCG significantly reduced the progression, severity of cattle TB and excretion of bacilli. A key finding of a four-year field study in more than 800 wild badgers in Gloucestershire was a 74 per cent reduction in the proportion of wild badgers giving positive results to TB tests.
Well that's fine then. A jab of BCG and a 74 percent reduction in badger TB? Excellent. What's to misunderstand?

A lot. A great big, huge lot. As is explained in the operating procedure for all these vaccine trials, released with impeccable timing by Defra last week. The one which should be of interest to cattle farmers is use of BCG on a headline figure '800wild badgers', in this paper. But these badgers were screened. Not 'wild' as in of unknown disease status. They were trapped, then subject to three tranches of blood assays to try and ascertain disease status prior to vaccination. That is a far cry from launching into the TB hotspots of the UK with hope, and a long needle, on two night forays.

So what was the result? The Badger trustsays 74 percent. Er, no. At least not until a huge proportion of the candidates were shaken out of the selection process by our old friends the mathematical modellers. On page 33 of the Appendix which readers may have missed, the text tells us:
"However, the numbers of animals eligible for analysis was sometimes very small, although larger than in the interim analysis as a result of the additional observations from two further trapping campaigns in 2009. For instance, for the StatPak test, 47% of the groups analysed have three or fewer individuals. This was 45% for the Gamma and Culture test individually and for StatPak and Culture tests and all three tests combined. As a result, the scale for proportions is very coarse (e.g. 0%, 33%, 66%, 100% for n=3) and this leads to very high variability where group size is small. "
This additional analysis has shown that there were differences in the proportions of cases of new incidences between groups A and B (treatment A showed a reduction of between 19% and 74% in the proportion of cases of new incidences, depending on the outcome of interest). Two of these differences were found to be statistically significant at the 5% level (StatPak on its own and StatPak and Culture combined.)
Never miss an opportunity to grab a headline, do they? Nobody mentioned the mathematical modelling, the pre screening, the shakeout to a small 'high variability' group using all three blood assays, or the need for annual vaccination. And no-one mentioned the crucial "between 19%", which preceeded the 74% mis quote.

The actual figures of pre-screened, annually vaccinated badgers showing a possible reduction in TB at subsequent blood screening was around 25%, with 41.5 per cent of non vaccinated badgers proving positive to a dose of m.bovis on all the blood screens and 31.1 percent of the vaccinated badgers.
For all three tests combined (total number = 262), there was a reduction from 41.5% cases (95% confidence interval: [28.0%, 56.3%]) of new incidence in group B down to 31.1% cases (95% confidence interval: [22.7%, 41.0%]) of new incidence in group A
But the crucial postmortems have not been done, to check for transmission opportunities.
Vaccine efficacy in the context of BCG vaccination of badgers may be defined either as a reduction in the incidence of uninfected badgers becoming infected with M. bovis or a reduction in the progression/severity of TB in badgers that do. The effect of vaccination is measured with reference to a non-vaccinated control group. According to this definition it was not possible to estimate the efficacy of BCG vaccination in this study as the decision was taken not to subject study badgers to post-mortem determination of infection. However, it was possible to use the tests employed in this study (IFN╬│ EIA, Stat-Pak, culture) in live animals as surrogate measures of vaccine efficiency

So far from that gallopingly wild headline, adopted by all and sundry - and Moonbat - of a 74 per cent reduction in TB of the 800 wild vaccinated badger trial group, the conclusion on p 9 of the Appendix, opines that
"it is not possible to to estimate efficacy of BCG vaccination, in this study"
And by that, the researchers, whose names have been blanked out of the paper, indicate that they would like more cash to do it all again.

No badgers were injured during this trial.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Consultation responses

The latest Defra Consultation on controlling badgers to prevent the spread of TB, (as opposed to the previous one) offers a monumental pile of dead trees and several Annexes. And not unreasonably, farmers are asking 'how do we respond?'. Their main representative bodies, the NFU and the NBA are keen that farmers do respond, but appear to give them little help to do just that.

In the previous 2006 consultation, the RSPCA and the Badger Trust used a flood of postcards to give a huge and overwhelming block vote against any action, driven on a wave of rhetoric and misinformation, from people who had absolutely nothing to lose. This was widely criticised and the current consultation has a preferred format of 8 questions. The difficulty is, finding this template.

The NFU website expresses the opinion that replies do not have to be the 8 answer format. (Click pdf link in the right hand box for finer details) While the National Beef Association have an out of date and limited list of meeting venues, and little else that we could find.

So we are most grateful to Dr. Brian May, for a clear template on how best to respond to Defra's latest effort.

A postcard from 'a farmer' saying yes, we must cull badgers, is not good enough.

Meanwhile with impeccable timing, yesterday Defra announced that BCG injectable vaccine could reduce TB levels in badgers.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"Farmers' representatives ..

... tried to play politics, only to find the politicians were better at it".

The last line of a Badger Trust press release, issued last week, which describes the coalition government's preferred Option 6 as a 'futile jumble'.
The Badger Trust appeals in a new leaflet for the public to respond to the Coalition Government’s consultation on its pointless plans to license farmers to kill badgers in parts of England, its preferred option after setting out a futile muddle of assertions in its official consultation document. It is vital for those concerned about the welfare of this indigenous species to respond not least because the National Farmers’ Union – a far larger and wealthier organisation – is staging briefing meetings countrywide to encourage its members to support the killing of badgers – at their own expense.
We gave links to the consultation documents in this posting. But the one which farmers should read and inwardly digest is Annex F, (number 8 on our list) entitled 'Impact assessment', which describes in detail the impact of an RBCT type area cull on the pockets of participating farmers.

The Badger Trust's reply to the consultation is predictable, and can be found here.

The Badger Trust press release also contains a delicious example of John Bourne misquoting, er, John Bourne:
The consultation document contains inconsistencies, confusing statements and omissions at various points throughout its great length. It is cynically slanted against the badger and fails to quote fairly the principal scientific finding which it buries in an annex 134 pages down. This states:
“First, while badgers are clearly a source of cattle TB, careful evaluation of our own and others’ data indicates that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.
That 'principal scientific finding' would be the oft (mis)quoted Professor John Bourne, when describing his ten year prevarication. A single decade amongst many where the epidemiology of TB in badgers and cattle has been cogitated and investigated, published - and ignored.
(**See later edit, for the source of that misquote)

However on many occasions, including in oral evidence to
The Welsh Assembly Government in July 2007, this truncated version of what Bourne said is expanded thus:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."
So, what do we have? Badgers are 'clearly a source of cattle TB, but culling them 'as conducted in the trial' ... can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain".

We knew that, and so did Bourne at the beginning of his RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. And as our chart shows, it is evident what happens to tested, slaughtered sentinels when TB infected badgers are progressively left to share their infectious load over a series of sanitised strategies, culminating in a moratorium on any control of badgers 'for the purposes of disease', in 1997. And inevitable, as levels of environmental contamination rise, despite Defra's extreme reluctance to publish the true totals of other spillover victims of badger TB, they will continue to die.

And sooner or later, someone is going to hold government accountable for this.

Meanwhile, we have to agree with the Badger Trusts' final line.

Edit 5/11 : The Badger Trust press release clearly states Bourne's statement : " It (the consultation document) is cynically slanted against the badger and fails to quote fairly the principal scientific finding which it buries in an annex 134 pages down."

As we are easily bored at blogger HQ, but also a tad pedantic about such sources, we trawled 'it' - as in the consultation document and its various annexes. The document itself comprises 53 pages, and each annex between 6 and 40 pages. Even with a calculator to add these together, arriving at the appropriate '134 pages down' or thereabouts, we were unable to locate such a quote. Had a grammatical nicety got in the way? Was this gem to be found 134 pages into the Final Report of the ISG ?

Nope. We have marked p.134 of that document, but not because of this statement. It deals with biosecurity, badgers and cattle. And the ISG conclusion is that "It is not possible to identify particular risk factors which can be adopted across all regions with the expectation of ensuring reduced transmission of disease to and from cattle." That will not stop Defra trying to link pseudo and obscure biosecurity advice to farmer payments however, but we digress...

Where did that quote come from?
From what we can see, it is not in the Consultation documents at all, on page 134 of various annexes or anywhere else: neither is it in the ISG Final Report at the reference given. We found it in Bourne's letter to the then Secretary of State, elder brother to small pretender Ed, the Right Honourable David Milliband, MP .... right at the start of the ISG Final Report of 2007, on page 5.

While on our trawl of the consultation stuff, we did find another quote which the Badger Trust obviously missed. This one is on page 17 of Annex F of the package, and states that the policy to cull is to "address the reservoir of the disease in wildlife." Page 18 gives the options but page 16 [1.4] states that the key element not currently deployed is badger control. It continues:
"Scientific evidence indicates that in areas with high TB incidence in cattle, it will not be possible to eliminate the disease in cattle without addressing the transmission from badgers."
Furthermore the document asserts:
" No other country in the world has successfully tackled bTB in cattle without addressing any wildlife reservoir involved in maintaining and transmitting infection to cattle. We therefore regard this as the most pressing issue if we are to make progress on tackling the disease in cattle."

Precisely. And while 'we' are making such statements, perhaps as well as cattle, 'we' should mention the other bTB overspill victims of an unfettered wildlife reservoir of disease. The now hundreds of other mammals which we have highlighted on this site, but which 'we' still seem keen to ignore.

We are most grateful for the opportunity to correctly quote a Badger Trust mis-reference.