Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quotes of the year

As 2011 draws to a close, several people have had their say about badgers, TB the proposed cull and much more. Below are a few snippets.

From Jeremy Clarkson in the The Sun [sorry, no online link] a comment on the cost of Jim Paice's proposed cull, using a protocol described by Natural England. While he admits it is 'safer' not to get bogged down on rights or wrongs of culling badgers, Mr. Clarkson explains that he doesn't understand the numbers being bandied about...
" It's been suggested that the cost of culling 100,000 badgers over the next eight years will be £92m. That works out at £920 per badger. I'm sorry but what are they going to use? Golden bullet? Hellfire missiles? Apache gunships? That's the trouble with modern government. It trots out these big numbers without ever pausing for rational thought".
You get to that figure quite easily on the 150 sq km blocks as well Mr. Clarkson. Divide Mr. Paice's £1.38m per patch by Natural England's maximum number of badgers culled of 1500 - and bingo. That £920 pops up again. But if only 1000 (NE's lower figure) are culled, the per head cost rises to £1,380. The NFU are quoting a few £ per head at meetings to drum up support - but the distance between the two is enormous and deserves further exploration.

Still on the subject of cost, in The Daily Wail last Saturday was a comment on the cost of moving a badger sett. It was pointed out that the animal in question could dig another home quite quickly and the quoted figure of £180,000 would fund the creature a council flat. Quite so.

When the proposals outlined by Natural England were published in August, we drew your attention to the main document and its many annexes in this post. Later that week, former SW regional director of the NFU, Anthony Gibson published his overview of the proposals in the Western Morning News. With a strapline "Badger cull rules must change to be workable," Mr. Gibson commented :
It is hard to say whether it is the cost of what is proposed, or the regulatory burden which it will involve, which evokes the greater degree of concern. But if you put one together with the other, it will be a very brave and very determined group of farmers which signs a "TB Management Agreement" with Natural England.

The bureaucracy associated with such agreements will be formidable, if anything like the measures proposed in the consultation are finally agreed. I don't have the space to go into any great detail, but you will find it all at which should be required reading – including the annexes – for anyone planning to get involved.
In this piece, Anthony went on to say that:
Unless these proposals are radically altered in the consultation process – particularly in terms of reducing the financial and other risks to participants – I find it hard to envisage a badger-culling licence ever being issued.
and he concluded
The only consolations I can offer are, first, that the principle of a badger cull has been conceded, and that could be crucial to TB control when sanity is restored; and second, that a bad cull could very easily be worse in all sorts of ways than no cull at all.
So have the costs been reduced? Bureaucracy loosened or protocol simplified? We don't think so, but others are now starting to question whether this is yet another 'designed to fail' exercise.

In Farmers Guardian last week, Jim Paice explained why a cull was necessary.
“The science is not simple. But scientists agree that, if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified through the randomised badger culling trial, we can expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years, relative to a similar unculled area. That was based on trapping and shooting. Our judgement is that farmers can be trusted to deliver a similar result by controlled shooting
Our judgement is that Animal Health have abandoned their responsibility on this issue, preferring to dumb down overspill, test cattle to distraction yet still hang on to the coat tails of the worst bit of 'science' we have had the misfortune to be caught up in.

Predictably the Badger Trust, RSPCA and assorted followers are frothing at the mouth, with the Humane Society launching a broadside at the Bern convention on the following grounds :
The Government claims a badger slaughter will prevent livestock damage by reducing the spread of bTB. However, the proportion of cases of bTB in cattle attributable to badgers is very small and the Government itself admits that the slaughter is likely only to achieve a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB cases in cattle after 9 years.
The Government has given insufficient consideration to alternative non-lethal solutions including cattle movement/testing controls and the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle. The Convention should not allow a slaughter of badgers in preference to alternative options such as stricter cattle movement controls, which have a potentially greater chance of reducing the spread of bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
Amazing how they talk of a 'massacre' of tuberculous badgers, but imply 'damage' to cattle and 'inconvenience' to farmers? Can't really get our collective heads around that one.

We do however see a distinct stumbling block in that mathematically modelled 12 - 16 per cent alleged benefit. It is farcical and Defra know it. Thornbury achieved 100 percent and even Professor Krebbs when he formulated his original protocol for the RBCT (before it became politicised ) had this to say about past culling strategies and their results : (p126)
7.8.3 The gassing and clean ring strategies, in effect, eliminated or severely reduced badger populations from an area and appear to have had the effect of reducing or eliminating TB in local cattle populations. The effect lasted for many years after the cessation of culling, but eventually TB returned.

7.8.4 The interim strategy, introduced following the Dunnet report, is not likely to be effective in reducing badger-related incidence of TB in cattle for the following reasons:

i) The policy involves removing badgers from a limited area (the reactor land or the entire farm suffering the herd breakdown if the former cannot be identified) ; but social groups of badgers may occupy several setts covering more than one farm.

(ii) Partial removal of groups could exacerbate the spread of TB by peturbation of the social structure and increased movement of badgers.

(iii) There is no attempt to prevent recolonisation by badgers of potentially infected setts; even if infectivety in the setts is not a problem, immigrant badgers may bring new infection.

In addition, the current operation of the interim strategy involves a delay (27 weeks in 1995) to the start of the removal. The average period from the herd breakdown to the completion of the removal was 41 weeks in 1995.

7.8.5 In common with the clean ring strategy and the live test trial, the effectiveness of the interim strategy is further undermined by the failure to remove lactating sows which may also be infected. We recognise that culling lactating sows has a welfare cost in terms of cubs left in setts, but this needs to be balanced against wider animal health and welfare considerations for both cattle and badgers.
All the great and the good who pontificate from a distance on the insidious spread of this disease, and the many who glean employment from it, know what Krebbs knew in 1996 and what his predecessors Professors Dunnet and Zucherman knew.

They knew it then, they know it now and yet they will do nothing to address the situation at all except cook up the most complicated divisive strategy imaginable - and expect farmers to carry the cost.

A Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

After the Olympics...

.. our Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is 'minded' to allow two pilot badger culls to go ahead, each lasting 6 weeks, in the autumn of 2012. The Defra statement can be viewed here (pdf) - note section 5 for the cull protocol which participating farmers will have to abide by.

More on the official press release, from Farmers Weekly, Farmers Guardian and the Western Morning News.

We'll revisit this later in the week, as the dust settles around various reactions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

1, 2, 3, 4 ... Brocks.

Still in the spirit of our Happy Brocklemas posting below we see from the Defra website that dear old FERA (Food Food and Environment Research Agency (UK)) have a received an early Christmas present in the form of a new project to keep them in the manner to which they have become accustomed handbags for the next couple of years.

Known as SE 3129, an estimated £870,984 will be spent enabling FERA to count badgers in 1700 x 1 km squares. They explain:
"Obtaining an up-to-date estimate of the current size of the badger population will help inform policy on badgers and will assist the UK in addressing its obligations under the Bern Convention. The last National Badger Survey of Great Britain was completed in 1997 and was a follow-up to the original survey carried out in the mid 1980s. The 1990s survey revealed that badger numbers had increased substantially in the intervening decade."
Although the Defra report appears somewhat reluctant to put a figure on that increase, members of the Mammal Society who carried out that survey revealed an increase in population of 77 percent in the decade to 1997. (Ref: "Changes in the British badger population, 1988 to 1997" (1997). G. Wilson, S. Harris and G. McLaren. People's Trust for Endangered Species (ISBN 1 85580 018 7))

The objective of the new study will be:
1. To conduct a repeat field survey of badger setts in approximately 1700 1km squares that were surveyed in the 1980s and 90s
2. To produce estimates of the number of badger social groups in 2011-2013
3. To assess change in the number of social groups since the 1980s and the 1990s, if any
4. To produce estimates of the badger population of England and Wales, and of the UK.
5. To build and make accessible a GIS for the estimation of badger populations at a regional scale
The Project will run from 2011 - 2013 with taxpayers coughing up £870,984 to fund it. Most of us trying to farm cattle, would say there are too many badgers (and thus a paucity of hedgehogs and ground nesting birds) and suggest that unless the badgers are sitting on each others' shoulders, density of the 1700 original 1 km squares may be similar, but their occupants are likely to have spread out a tad ?

And keeping within the spirit of Christmas Brocklemas, we wonder, will this poor old chap be counted ?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy Brocklemas

Isn't he a cutey? And now we can reveal that you are able to buy bags of - Badger Food on which to feed him.
Searching amongst the shelves of a local pet superstore on a Saturday morning is not for the faint hearted, but occasionally it turns up something which may be a shock to some - particularly cattle farmers south / south west of Lancashire.
But such goodies would be viewed with delight by others of the Bill Oddie fraternity.

A quick 'google' turned up two brands of badger bait food. One is a formed biscuit of meat concentrate, oils and other stuff which should, say the instructions, be left out at dusk. On this link it was also marked 'out of stock', which is somewhat depressing.
The other one which we found was a coarse peanut based mix
which has secret ingredient, and comes in packs up to 52kg. And that's an awful lot of badger food.

In this instance and as it's Christmas, we won't mention the ethical arguments of encouraging an already top heavy badger population to increase by artificial supplementary feeding, purely for public gratification. And we will ignore the very real danger of badgers encouraged to feed up close and personal, bringing a highly infectious zoonosis into your front garden, and thus directly to your cat, dog or child.

From our parliamentary questions, we are already quite well aware of Defra's attitude to the translocation of badgers, sick, mended or disease status unknown and thus would presume that this intransigence extends to artificial feeding too.

The answers to our Questions confirmed that :
"as native species, there are no specific restrictions under current law regulating where badgers can be released once they have recovered". [ 6th Jan 2004: Col 249W 144446]

Although the use of the old Brock test (which boasts just 47 percent sensitivity) is encouraged and is mandatory if a license is applied for, relocations undertaken by so called 'animal hospitals' have more leeway and our Question revealed that:
" testing guidelines are not mandatory, but are set down in a voluntary code of practise". 31th Jan 2004: col 543W [ 1500609]

And finally on this thorny subject of these 'rescues', answers to our Questions confirmed that :
"this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra". 6th Feb 2004; Col 1109W [150583]".

So, you may release him anywhere at all. Your place or mine? Nobody really cares. And he now has a purpose built feed to sustain him too. But the result of this crazy over protection of a species in which Defra state "Tuberculosis is endemic" is no less distressing for old Brock himself. It may be called 'conservation' but under no circumstrances can it be deemed 'welfare'.

The badger is a victim of his protector's success.

Happy Brocklemas.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More chaos

.. but don't mention that computer.

Last week, Farmers Weekly reported again on the slow down with data input to Defra's new computer system, and its consequences both to farmers, staff and taxpayers. Warmwell reports :
Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency's system has broken down and vital paperwork approving the movement of cattle has not been sent. Although applications for export health certificates are now being processed and consignments of calves in low TB incidence areas being able to move, calf exports from high TB incidence regions are not being processed. The AHVLA is an executive agency of DEFRA.

As cattle, including TB reactors, stack up farms while a couple of stiff fingers type test charts in, one laborious line at a time, AHVLA explain that they have "drafted extra staff in to input data manually". It would be churlish of us to point out that it may have helped if they had not sacked experienced admin staff to save on pensions, replacing them with untrained agency staff with little knowledge of veterinary terminology and even less interest. It would also have helped if the much vaunted SAM system could be directly accessed by LVI vets, instead of the 'manual input' referred to above. And it would have been really good if the original helpline number for vets using the system had connected with AHVLA, instead of a solicitor's office in Pall Mall.

Earlier reports on SAM from Farmers Weekly and Western Morning News are on these links. And we offer another glimpse at WMN's most excellent Comment which describes the reply from AHVLA to newspaper's point of frantic concerns of farmers snarled up in this unholy mess as :
"....anodyne and jargon-spattered response from the department, which talks about 'new functionality' [ snip] and seeks to paper over cracks rather than come clean about its shortcomings."

Farmers, AHVLA staff and taxpayers deserve better.

Progress? ...

.. or a very un-holy alliance?
Time will tell, but news last week of a joint initiative between the NFU and the Badger Trust was announced.
NFU chief farm policy adviser John Royle and Badger Trust director Simon Boulter have agreed a joint project in which the badgers will be vaccinated on two farms owned by NFU members. In addition, the Badger Trust has identified five other landowners around the UK wishing to vaccinate badgers and is working independently with them as part of the initial trial project.

Vaccination on all seven farms started in October after surveys were carried out to identify active badger setts and licences have been granted by Natural England. The vaccination project will run until the end of November 2011 and resume in May 2012
And then what?
Badgers have been vaccinated on seven farms, and this helps how?
What is the aim here?

Are we looking at NFU saying it's too expensive, cumbersome and won't work and actually we weren't really planning to do it as part of Option 6 of any badger cull?
And conversely, Badger Trust saying no it's not and yes you must?

In Parliamentary questions last week, Jim Paice seems to sticking to his original £1.4 million price tag on each 350 sq km cull area and much of that cost was ring vaccination - however much his own department knows that the PR surrounding last autumn's mishmash of 'scientific' trials on vaccinating wild badgers was a huge con. And the NFU are said to have told its members vaccination is too costly, impractical and they can ignore it.

But we digress.

We are a cynical lot at blogger HQ and do not believe for one moment that the NFU and Badger Trust, holding hands with Defra / FERA and Natural England actually want to break the polemic log jam or stop the beneficial gravy train of bTB. However the members of both the alliance members do want action - but from different directions.

So, who is paying for this project? NFU members? Badger Trust? Defra? or could it be the first 'cost sharing' exercise via the proposed Cost and Responsibility levy?
FERA already know the cost of vaccinating badgers from several previous forays. And most importantly, they knew the TB status of the farm's cattle (if indeed there were any cattle on the land) at the start of the project. How will success or failure be calculated in this short time scale? Or is this merely the practicalities of vaccination which are being considered - again? Are the badgers in question screened for TB ahead of their annual jab (or peanut fest) as they were in previous 'trials'? If you remember this excluded all but 262 of that headline grabbing 844. The remainder showing TB positive to at least one of three tests.

And finally, what chance of any discussion on a selective cull going ahead while this latest prevarication project is in progress, or being digested?

The press release indicates that:

It is hoped that the two programmes, although small in scale, will help to identify whether the injectable vaccination of badgers is practical and cost effective.
... with, as we have pointed out, one organisation possibly trying to prove the opposite of it's partner?

Over years, the NFU and Badger Trust have repeatedly clashed on the relative merits of badger culling and badger vaccination as approaches to controlling bTB in wildlife and cattle. John Royle said:
“We are pleased that the NFU and the Badger Trust have successfully liaised to facilitate this joint project, sharing equipment and resources as necessary, despite having differing views on the degree to which badgers are implicated in the transmission of bovine Tuberculosis.”
Editor's note: As 99 percent of biosecurity advice involves keeping badgers away from cattle, that 'implication' is somewhat outdated we think.

The Government is expected to make a final announcement before Christmas on whether to give the go ahead to two proposed pilot badger culls next year.

And we confidently predict that the NFU's latest stroll down the corridors of power will have a disproportionate effect on its members ability to deal with the source of bTB in their cattle herds.

Farmers Weekly report today that a decision on any pilot culls is likely before Christmas. In the same report,
police officers warn of increased problems with 'activists' should any cull go ahead which may impact on the policing of the 2012 Olympics.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Success v Failure

New Zealand has produced a combined report of its progress in eradicating bTB. The documents report good progress in what they describe as 'an exceptional year':
"It gives me great pleasure to report on what has been an exceptional year for protecting the country from bovine tuberculosis (TB)," said Mr McCook.

The drop in infected herd numbers to around 80 in 2010/11 is the lowest recorded total since the TB control programme was conceived.
We covered their progress last in 2009, in this posting. And Christiane Glossop, in a paper written for the NZ Animal Health Board, also congratulated them on such stunning progress.
"We slaughtered 12,000 cattle infected with tuberculosis in Wales last year. In some areas of Wales, the infection rates are as high as 15%.

In contrast, New Zealand has an infection rate of 0.35% and it’s going down. You have nearly wiped this disease out through rigorous pursuit of pest management, stock movement controls and robust government policies built on co-operation between farmers, local councils and government."

So how are we getting on in GB? The latest figures produced by our Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DEFRA to July 2011 show a somewhat different trend.
Herds under TB restriction in the seven months to July, are UP and number almost 8 percent of our cattle herds, with 18 per cent of the West region's herds caught up in restructuins.
New herd breakdowns are UP by 5.4 per cent on the figure for 2010.
And cattle slaughtered fed into Defra's mincing machine, are UP by 6.1 percent on last year.

So what are New Zealand doing differently. That was a rhetorical question by the way, but they describe their strategy thus:
Introduction to the revised National Pest Management Strategy
In September 2009, the AHB presented a proposal to Agriculture and Forestry Minister David Carter to amend the National Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) Pest Management Strategy. The strategy amendment was duly approved and the revised strategy came into effect on 1 July 2011. This strategy will guide the TB control programme through to 2026, subject to five yearly reviews.

Over the next 15 years, the strategy aims to achieve the following primary objectives. These include:

The eradication of TB from wild animals over at least 2.5 million hectares of Vector Risk Area (VRA), including two extensive forest areas representing relatively difficult operational terrain from which to eradicate the disease
Continued freedom from infection in wild animals (vectors) in existing Vector Free Areas (VFAs) and areas where eradication is considered to have been achieved
A secondary objective is to maintain the national infected herd period prevalence level (the number of herds with TB during a period of time) below 0.4 per cent during the term of the strategy. The amended strategy gives priority to wildlife TB eradication and allows the AHB to prioritise operations and resource allocation for this purpose.

The TB control programme has made significant gains over the past decade, especially in reducing the number of infected cattle and deer herds. However, TB-infected possums continue to be a source of livestock infection across some 10 million hectares of New Zealand’s TB Vector Risk Area. The revised strategy sets out to address this underlying problem by aiming to eradicate TB from possum populations in selected areas. These areas make up 25 per cent, or 2.5 million hectares, of the total area of New Zealand known to contain infected wild animals. Achieving this objective will also confirm that TB can be eradicated from possums and other wild animals across large forest tracts where possum control is most challenging.

Eradicating TB from the possum population across one quarter of the total area known to be at risk from TB-infected wild animals would also from a basis for extending the eradication approach to further large areas of New Zealand.

The revised strategy will continue to protect the reputation and value of New Zealand’s dairy, beef and deer exports by ensuring infected herd numbers remain below a 0.4 per cent period prevalence. To achieve the objectives of the revised strategy, the AHB will vigorously pursue improvements in the cost-effectiveness of possum control. Herd testing and movement control policies will also be adjusted to reduce the risk of herd-to-herd TB transmission and, over time, reduce the need for herd TB testing in areas of low disease risk.

With a TB incidence of below 0.4 percent, NZ is intending to eradicate the disease risk from their wildlife reservoir, from 2.5 million hectares. 25 per cent of the total area of NZ.

And us? With a TB incidence of almost 8 percent in the first half of 2011, Defra is 'mindful' of setting up a couple of pilot 150 sq km plots for a four year badger culling 'trial'. But using a published operating protocol which should guarantee the outcome of this plan is similar to that of its previous exercise in prevarication, the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial.

These are outrageous figures by any standards. This country, its cattle, badgers and all the overspill victims of bTB deserve better. Much better.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


The Daily Mail reports that tunnelling badgers have caused huge problems to the safety of school buildings in Somerset. Click link for full story.

A primary school is under threat of collapse after badgers tunnelled underneath it and shifted 7.5 tonnes of soil. The school, which teaches 420 pupils, has been blighted by the badgers - leaving deep gaps in the foundations underneath two main classrooms. Parents and governors now fear buildings could cave in at Ashcombe Primary School, Western-Super-Mare, Somerset.

A spokesman person explained:
Our major concern is the fact that badgers have built or excavated under one of the buildings, which contains two classrooms. "These are elderly pre-fabricated buildings which need constant repair. The excavations by the badgers will have had some effect on the foundations.

"We worry that the buildings will collapse into the holes that have been left.

"Another problem is that the animals have brought their kill under the buildings, which of course we can't get to, so they decompose. All you can do is open the windows" ......
Read more of the antics of these weapons of mass destruction in this 2004 posting. We reported increases in tuberculosis in this posting and the predictable consequences for anyone getting up close and personal with diseased badgers, here.

The comments to this story are depressingly predictable. Forget the enormous damage to property and definitely air brush the risk to persons of discarded bedding, latrines or urine. You know, all those areas we farmers are supposed to fence off to protect our cattle from tuberculosis? Everybody just lurves badgers.... from a very safe distance which usually involves four walls and a settee.

Edit. The boss has sent his favourite pic of the appropriate 'earthmover' to illustrate this post. We are happy to oblige. 7.5 tonnes is a lot, after all.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

More on SAM

Following the Farmers Weekly report on Defra's new computer system 'SAM', which we posted here, another raft of problems appear to have surfaced. And the backlog of test charts awaiting input (and action), has reportedly increased to 1000.

Yesterday's Western Morning News, had the front page, an inside page and an opinion on all this. And the paper's 'Opinion' piece was not impressed by the mealy mouthed platitudes offered by a Defra spokesperson, which they describe as an:
"anodyne and jargon-spattered response from the department, which talks about 'new functionality' [ snip] and seeks to paper over cracks rather than come clean about its shortcomings."
The comment we note, is read from the same hymn sheet as that given to the FW, three weeks ago.

More of the problems with SAM are described in Farmers Guardian this week in a small snippet entitled 'IT Problems Hit Calf Exports. ' There is no online link, but the piece is as follows:
"Computer problems at the AHVLA Central Operations for Exports in Carlisle have seriously disrupted calf exports and it could be weeks before the backlog is cleared.
Exports were suspended on September 28th. and a statement sent to Farmers Guardian by the AHVLA said a new computer system was being developed to improve customer services, but problems in a new part of the system meant the agency was unable to establish the disease status of the some cattle prior to their planned export.
Although the article specifically mentions calf exports, this problem would affect all cattle exports, with breeding stock also snarled up. The window for exporting after a clear TB test is just 28 days from jab day, substantially less that the 60 day home market timeline, and export office vets at Carlisle would need to check the status of the consigning herd, as well as the log jammed test charts for these animals. And that apparently, they cannot do.

AHVLA problems with SAM are only one in a series of governmental cockups introducing new IT systems. The Telegraph describes a £12 billion bungle with NHS systems, following hard on the heels of the Fire Service's abandoned flagship which ratcheted up costs of £469 million of taxpayers' (borrowed) cash before being moth balled. The Telegraph piece on the NHS system notes that:
".. last month, the MPs on the Public Accounts Committee described the system (cost: £12 billion to date) as “unworkable”."
They haven't met SAM yet.

But all is not lost. While angry farmers were quick to point out on a BBC TV report, their own particular problems, snarl ups and confusing paperwork, ROD (perleese don't say Rod Who?) - Defra's acronym 'ROD' is the Regional Operations Director - a very nice man called Mark Yates appeared on camera to say that if farmers are experiencing any problems with SAM, they should report them directly to him.

According to his CV, Mr. Yates has been ROD for the South West for 2 years after a nine year stint in 'the army'. Now that could mean he was used to giving orders - or conversely, more used to taking them. But we digress:

Mark Yates, the South West's very own ROD is based at Exeter, and can be contacted on 01392 266373 - if the phones are turned on.

For readers in other areas of the UK, every AHVLA region has its very own ROD and they can be contacted from this list.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't mention the ....

... war computer. And in particular, Defra's new toy, SAM. This system was due on stream in July, but three months on is apparently causing havoc. Farmers Weekly reported this snippet last week. (sorry, no online link)

Under the strapline 'Computer Problems Jeopardise TB processing', the FW report describes:
".. how problems with the new [SAM] computer system and the loss of experienced administrative staff, have combined to create severe difficulties in dealing with TB paperwork."
While inexperienced and agency staff struggle to input TB test results, the report highlights a log jam
"..... of over 700 TB test charts for the SW region ( to the end of September) which have to be inputted manually."
The piece describes the morale of staff expected to 'lie to farmers' and the 'extra stress caused to lower grade staff'.
The report also describes problems with TB licensing experienced by one farmer, who having applied to move 20 animals, was given a licence for 23 including three breeding bulls, two of which had been sold. The final license sheet listed just 18 animals. So it would appear that manual overrides could be difficult, if not impossible too.

But with a unique piece of airbrushing, an AHVLA spokesperson gave the following comment to FW about Defra's new all singing, all dancing SAM computer system.
"This will improve the level of service provided to customers"
Not if the goddamn test charts aren't inputted on time, it won't. The main frame computer will generate a bloody shut down notice. Been there. Done that.
" ..... minor issues have been identified, and have now been fixed"
Really? How minor? And that backlog has decreased then? Yes? No?
No. Our information is that it has increased. The purring continues:
"During this time, additional manual checks have been implemented on all TB test charts and associated processes to ensure AHVLA is able to identify and remove reactor animals from farms as quickly as possible."
Additional manual checks? Why? So there is no backlog of reactors or test charts then?
According to many farmers we speak to, yes, there is. Mind, if the source was dealt with there wouldn't be any need for pernicious 60 day testing, abattoir slots, transport, or unskilled agency staff trying to log a million unique eartag numbers into a new computer system. But let that pass.

Sadly, all this sounds a tad familiar. Remember the phrase 'don't mention the war' ? We see a distinct parallel, and having been on the receiving end of a syrupy recorded message (twice) recently when trying to contact AHVLA, have a sneaking suspicion they may be turning the phones off. For hours at a time.
Nah, they wouldn't do that would they? What bit of 'Animal Health' is by passing the radar of Defra's top brass?

Of course they would. But don't forget, the AHVLA lady said it will " improve the level of service..."

What she did not say was when.

Monday, October 10, 2011

'white coat syndrome'

.. is a well known cause of blood pressure when patients visit a doctor's surgery; the sight of pristine, dazzling white attire, guaranteed to cause a flutter in most of us.

So imagine the reaction of cattle, more used to olive green - be that grass, silage or the boss's overalls - faced with the eye catching vision of a man in a white coat advancing.
Like it, they do not. As was found a decade ago during the carnage of FMD.
The picture below, is by Chris Chapman and was taken on a Dartmoor dairy farm in 2001. Even normally placid dairy cows are looking askance at the ghostly figure as they are rounded up to be shot. These cows were sedated. Cattle gathered for inspection and TB testing by AHVLA operatives are not.

Thus for general farm work, AHVLA operatives have always worn dark green or navy disposable overalls. 'Elf and safety being paramount as several tonnes of spooked bovine, attempts to flatten any stranger wearing white.

Or that was how it used to be until the arrival of Defra's new, all singing, all dancing and very streamlined central ordering system. This was designed to give economy of scale, with orders channelled through the Finance section of the regional office. We understand that since FMD, Defra staff are not allowed to use the infamous 'white overalls' in the field. This is partly to avoid media surveillance but mainly to avoid being squashed by freaked out cattle.

But guess what? Our moles tell us that what were delivered by a this new team of desk bound admin clerks (with no idea of the problems faced at the coal face and no remit to listen) were packs of tissue-paper thin, single use overalls. And they were white.

Why are we not surprised?

At blogger HQ, we are more than familiar with Defra's deskbound windowbox solutions to livestock problems, but our co-editor roared with laughter over the white coat scenario.
"Perhaps if they wore the overalls over their heads, at least they wouldn't see what is coming."
... was his erudite comment - while not identifying the 'they'.

As cattle farmers, we tend to call a spade a spade - and suggested the correct interpretation could be for AHVLA operatives to layer their 'never-to-be-used-again after the carnage of FMD', white tissue-paper overalls over the heads of the cattle. Simples.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Update - Michigan and a $200 bounty

In 2005 we posted on the newly emerged threat of bTB to Michigan's cattle herds. Politicians and veterinarians had a dilemma with the needs of hunters and livelihoods of cattle farmers with tuberculosis the bone between two dogs.

Supplementary feeding of deer to encourage bigger horns, also had the effect of bringing them out of the woods to eat from molassed corn buckets, which could be shared by cattle. A voluntary ban on this practise was in place when the then Defra shadow MP Owen Paterson visited the state in 2005, to see for himself how such disease dynamics were handled.

In an update to this story, we learn that Michigan has made supplementary feeding illegal, and has also introduced a bounty on deer found to have bTB. The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development has announced an incentives program to encourage more Michigan hunters to have their deer tested for bovine tuberculosis.
"Under this new program, if a wild free-ranging, white-tailed deer harvested during the 2011 hunt is turned in for bovine TB testing, and it cultures positive, the hunter may apply for a $200 incentive," said MDARD Director Keith Creagh.

Bovine TB is a contagious bacterial disease of cattle that can affect other mammals, including humans. In 1994, a unique strain of bovine TB was identified in Michigan's free-ranging deer.

"MDARD recently announced 57 counties in Michigan's Lower Peninsula achieved bovine TB-free status; but there is still a pocket of bovine TB in deer that can be transmitted to cattle," Creagh said. "This new incentive program is one tool in our toolbox to help refine the footprint of the disease and protect Michigan's $9.2 billion beef and dairy industries."

"Some of the best hunting in the state is in Northeastern Lower Michigan," said State Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland). "Our wildlife enthusiasts can show they care about TB eradication, and at the same time, Michigan's Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will reward them for removing disease from the landscape."

Under the Incentives Program:

Hunters must take the deer to a DNR check station.
They can have the antlers removed, but the head is submitted for testing.
DNR collects the heads from all the check stations and transports them to the Wildlife Disease Laboratory at Michigan State University's (MSU) Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.
If the deer is confirmed to be TB infected, the hunter will receive routine test notification from the DNR laboratory which will include an Incentives Program contact number.
Notified hunters should contact MDARD with their confirmation code. A form will be mailed to the hunter's address for them to fill out and mail back for payment.

Upon receipt of the completed form, hunters will be mailed $200 for each TB-positive deer harvested.

Visit the Emerging Diseases web site for an all-positives map and additional information, including an advertisement about the incentives program; or to join the Michigan Animal Health LISTSERV:

Copyright 2011 WNEM. All Rights Reserved.

Link to more information on bTB in Michigan's white tailed deer is on this site.
The picture (from the site) shows tuberculous abscesses on the lungs of a deer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

RBCT Update

Although the operatives of the Badger Dispersal Trial RBCT ended their 8 night forays (if they arrived at all) and chopped up the cage traps in 2005/06, data collection from this exercise in prevarication, continues.

We posted the first offerings from Prof. Donnelly's mathematical abacus in 2008. This was followed by a further tranche of number crunched advantages (and cost disadvantages) in 2010 which we posted here.

And last week, the modelling machinery clanked into action again with the following observations on the longer term effects of this most peculiar option of 'controlling' bTB in badgers. The paper makes the following observations:
In the time period from one year after the last proactive cull to 28 August 2011 (the post-trial period), the incidence of confirmed breakdowns in the proactive culling trial areas was 28.0% lower (95% CI: 15.0% to 39.1% lower) than in survey-only areas, and on lands up to 2km outside proactive trial areas was 4.1% lower (95% CI: 25.7% lower to 23.7% higher) than outside survey-only areas.
and continues;
Exploratory analyses stratified by 6-month periods (Table 1) are consistent with an ongoing, but diminishing (test for temporal trend p=0.008), benefit of proactive culling continuing through the latest 6-month period analysed (55 to 60 months post-trial).
The paper also observes that "the effects observed outside trial areas remained consistent with no ongoing effects of proactive culling in these areas."

Stating that their
"post-trial results must, of course, be considered in the context of the smaller reduction seen inside proactive trial areas and the increased incidence seen outside proactive trial areas in the period from the end of the initial proactive cull until one year after the last proactive cull in each triplet."
..... we can at least see where the current 'benefit' of culling modelled at a modest 16 per cent only, has come from.

But in the real world, well away from the square root of stupid, one would assume that the response to culling an infected GROUP of badgers would be somewhat different from picking off the scent markers one at a time during 8 nights annually, with time out for FMD and during hibernation periods, over six years. Thus the resulting drop in cattle TB would be more marked, as in Thornbury where a 100 percent drop in cattle TB was observed over a decade later, and more recently the RoI strategy where a more thorough and ongoing clearance is having marked and beneficial effect on cattle TB incidence.

A full analysis with graphs, of all this modelling post Badger Dispersal Trial RBCT can be seen here.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Cull management plan

After a pep talk to the troops in Exeter this week, NFU leader Peter Kendall was in 'head teacher' mode - we're told.

"It's the only game in town"
"Get on with it"
"Only chance in a generation"

You get the picture ?

But when challenged Mr. Kendall said no, he had not read Natural England's proposals.

We published these in this posting.
(Click the underlined title for a link to the post)

Unlike the NFU president, if any farmer wants to understand the commitment being asked for, and if you read nothing else from the Natural England library on 'how we don't want to cull badgers' then have a look at their costings in Annex C.

The bio security obligations intended to form part of the package, but are said to be 'not stand alone' are in in Annex D. and Annex E.

A working draft of the NE Management Agreement in Annex F.

How to shoot a badger (with illustrations -above) in Annex G.

And how to prevent impact on non-participants in
Annex H

The farming organisations who are invited to answer the consultation on these proposals have until September 20th to respond on their members' behalf.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Update on PCR technology

We have explored PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology in many previous postings. But it appears that some readers and the wider industry are falling behind in just how far these diagnostics have advanced in a few short years.

In 2003, the most usual 'primer' used for PCR was m.tuberculosis complex, an overall grouping of many bacteria, sharing some of the same genetic material. Thus the results were similar to putting lawn mower petrol in a Ferrari. It coughed and spluttered and only achieved an 86 per cent sensitivity. Compared to gammaIFN, that could be considered good - but let that pass.

Move on a few years and last week the International Society for Infectious Diseases, ProMed, reported the findings based on pathology and histology of another dead alpaca. First published in the Veterinary Record, ProMed describes the methodology of 'spoligotyping' to establish strain types of m.bovis, using PCR thus:
Spoligotyping (spacer oligonucleotide typing), a polymerase chain
reaction-based amplification of a region of the mycobacterial genome, is recognised as a rapid and reliable test for the differentiation between _M. bovis_ and other mycobacteria.

".. recognised as a rapid and reliable test, for the differentiation between m.bovis and other mycobacteria. So by amplifying part of the genome, unique to m.bovis it would appear that the Ferrari may function to expectations ?

Thus we offer our continued support to the Alpaca TB Support group for commissioning their Proof of Concept project. If this study can demonstrate that PCR technology, already widely used in VLA for other diseases including Johnnes (m.avium paratuberculosis), is useful in the diagnosis of bTB, then there is every likelihood of its being used for other species, especially cattle. For instance, PCR could avoid the long wait, sometimes of weeks, while bacterial culture is carried out to confirm that a suspected abattoir case showing visible lesions is, in fact bTB.

PCR technology detects m.bovis the bacteria: it is not fussy as to its host. So other species which vets are finding difficult to diagnose with the intradermal skin test (such as pigs), may also benefit. And ultimately, operating in 'real time' and not laboratory based, the technique may prove a vital tool in locating 'environmental' TB spilling back into domesticated species.

As an additional tool in the eradication of bTB, PCR could be extremely useful, plugging a gap in our current tests. Although commissioned and paid for by a small group of camelid owners and others, bTB (m.bovis) in camelids should not be seen in isolation from the disease in cattle or any other mammal, since the same bacteria is responsible.

Please note that any donations to this project should be made direct to the AlpacaTB Support Group who can be found on this link. For more information, see the PCR tab on the top bar, and how to contribute on the 'Donate' button.

This is bTB in an alpaca. And it is not pretty. This animal's lymphatic systemic was bursting with solid cheesy abscesses of bTB, his liver is spotted with abscesses and he was infectious with every breath he took, due to open lesions along his trachea, right up to his throat.

Now whether they are still regurgitating out of date research into PCR technology, or whether it is not in the interests of the wider alpaca sellers to confront the problem of bTB is debatable. But thus far we see no reference to this project on their websites, and certainly no information as to how camelid owners may support it, should they choose to do so.
And we are puzzled as to why this should be so.

But being a magnanimous lot at blogger HQ, we expect the main Societies representing camelid owners are waiting to contribute to some further validation projects for PCR, which could bear their unique names and affiliations.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Big Bad Wolf ?

Looking through Natural England's prematurely released consultation document, ( post below )- apart from getting the message that this is something they would rather not touch with the proverbial bargepole, we were struck by a paragraph on licensing contained on page 3:
Natural England is authorised to do so by what is known as “a Part 8 Agreement ” made in accordance with section 78 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006;
This is not just licenses to move badgers causing damage, but concerns the issue of licences under Section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) which deals with preventing the spread of disease.

It is our understanding that MAFF, the predecessor or Defra (when Agriculture still had a part to play in this department) held a general license under this section of the Act, and used it with great care and after outside scrutiny, to control badger populations where bTB outbreaks in sentinel tested cattle, proved not to be of a bovine origin.

But in 2006, along with sacking the WLU trappers, this part of the Act appears to have been thrown into the long grass to the quango known as 'Natural England'.

This agreement came into effect on 1st October 2006.
It's duration is twenty years from that date.
A review is allowed for in five years.

The clandestine transfer of responsibility is described in this document.

Five years from 01/10/2006 is 01/10/2011. In a month's time.

But, as of July 11th 2011, according to the Defra website, this agreement is currently under review. Note - none of Defra's links to their documents work.

Is it time to throw infectious disease control back to where it belongs, with AHVLA?

Or would that give Mrs Spelperson the 'get out jail free' card she's been angling for all along.

We've been sold a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Would you put a fox

... in charge of a henhouse?

A rhetorical question, but it appears that this is what Defra have done with allocating the quango known as 'Natural England' control of the two pilot badger culls, which our Secretary of State is 'strongly minded' to allow.

We explored 'Natural England's somewhat un-natural armlock over this project, with links to their various policy protocols in this post.

But today, Farmers Guardian publish an overview of this organisation's views on the concept of controlling tuberculosis in badgers by culling. And it is illuminating. NE state that it has
a ‘low level of confidence that the predicted benefits can be delivered consistently’ under the proposed policy.

“This stems from the lack of evidence that a farmer-led cull can replicate what has only previously been undertaken by government (and even then on a smaller scale) and the complexity of the regulatory regime required to ensure successful outcomes,”
But while FG's strap line illustrates a decidedly luke warm response to the idea, it fails to point out that via its overall responsibility for monitoring any cull, Natural England may dictate both its progress and outcome.

The full consultation response from Natural England can be found in this pdf.

A comment from fellow architect of this cull, NFU's Kevin Pearce on his blog;
We have known from day one that many within Natural England have strong reservations about this policy. However, what worries me more is that Natural England is an advisory body that provides advice to ministers. This submission makes public their advice to ministers before the end of the consultation period. There can be only one reason for this; Natural England is playing a political game trying to influence wider opinion before ministers have had chance to consider all the responses to the consultation.

Perhaps it’s time to recreate a wildlife unit within Defra to deal with this issue because it’s clear Natural England do not believe in the policy, don’t want to do it and will do everything it can to frustrate the proper process.

Quite. And that much has been clear to us for some considerable time.

And our opinion? Why would Defra put a fox in charge of the hen house other than have its plan 'designed to fail'?

Control of a notifiable zoonosis does not belong with Natural England. It should be returned back where it belongs, with AHVLA.

PCR Update

More details for the reasons behind the Industry funded PCR project, described in the posting below can be heard for the next 7 days on Radio 4.

Camelid vet Dr. Gina Bromage MA,Vet MB,DVM,MRVCS and Dianne Summers an alpaca owner, who produce the website speak of their experiences of bTB in alpacas.

To all our readers, we as cattle farmers support this project for its longer term potential. PCR being used to identify m.bovis is a concept we like and donations to it are most welcome. Details in the posting below.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Good news on PCR

We are delighted to read on the alpaca TB support group website that they have secured a contract with AHVLA, to conduct a study into the use of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to support TB diagnosis in camelids. The news release explains:
"Following a further meeting in July with scientists at the VLA we are pleased to announce that we have now signed contracts with AHVLA Weybridge to conduct such a study. This technique is already used successfully for other similar
diseases and the AHVLA microbiologists are hopeful that due to the advanced gross pathology often found in camelids it may be possible to detect m.bovis in faeces, nasal swabs or blood."
This project will be trialled on alpacas presented for postmortem examination to AHVLA with suspected bTB, but the report continues:
"It is common knowledge that alpacas and llamas can be heavily infected and infectious with bTB and yet show no outward signs or symptoms whatsoever. If this project is successful the simplicity of taking a faecal sample or nasal swab to be tested at your local VLA would be a huge step forward.

If successful, the test could be used:
∙ Where an alpaca or llama in a herd that was not under TB restrictions showed clinical signs that could be attributed to TB.
. In herds recently confirmed as infected with M. bovis the test could be used to remove cases which were not picked up by the other ante mortem tests or whilst waiting for culture results or waiting for skin tests and blood tests to be carried out.
∙ As a routine screening test. Testing of faeces and nasal swabs will be quick and affordable. Samples can be taken by owners and sent to the AHVLA without the need for a farm visit from their vet."
The news release also explains that as well as being commissioned by the Alpaca TB support Group, they will be funding it. Further funding would be welcomed and would be ring fenced to this project.

Details of how to support this project can be found on the ‘DONATE’ tab on the Support Group website and they can contacted at any time for camelid support, as they explain in this flyer.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tripping up

'For Immediate Release, screamed a press release from the Badger Trust, demanding an immediate investigation into parts of a BBC Report programme.

But also in the document, as it splutters in indignation over the content of the Report's assertions, is this little gem:
The Trust is also challenging the BBC over an unattributed assertion in the programme that "since badgers became protected in the ‘70s the population has surged to an estimated 300,000".

The Badger Trust's David Williams said:
"The BBC must give the references for this figure. There has been no quantified estimate of population for 14 years. It must also quote any scientific basis for the clear implication that legal protection had caused a ‘surge’.

Now there seems to be a tad of confusion here. That BBC steal is a direct quote from the Badger Trust Factsheet, where this figure and the reason for it, is clearly stated. And so that there is no confusion, we will quote it.
"However the passing of the Badger Act 1973 (and consequent amendments 1981, 1991 and 1992) has helped badger numbers to recover and today they have a total estimated population of around 300,000.”
This estimate is however, quite wrong. What did you expect?

The answer to a Parliamentary Question asked in 2003, gave a figure of 350,000 in the mid 1990s. It is now 2011. But a survey by the Mammal Society (Wilson, Harris et al [ISBN 1 85580 018 7]) from 1988 - 97 and published by the People's Trust for Endangered Species, had logged a 77% increase in badger numbers in the previous decade.

We assume that that was the study referred to as '14 years ago' by the Badger Trust, but for obvious reasons, its content not elaborated on?

What a delicious little trip.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Natural England's guidance for a badger cull

Nothing about our green and pleasant land is 'natural': its hedges and fields, spinnies, towns and villages created over thousands of years by human beings - and in the case of the field boundaries, by farmers. But we digress.

Animal Health, now joined at the hip to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, have thrown responsibility for control of a Grade 1 hazardous material - a dead badger - (or even more dangerous, a live one) direct to farmers by way of the quango known as 'Natural' England, who will oversee, monitor and control any licenses which they see fit to offer, to control TB which is endemic in the wildlife reservoir of England's badgers.

This much has been announced already, with great reluctance, by the Minister of State for DEFRA, Caroline Spel-person, MP.

But buried in the labyrinth of the Defra website, are a handful of annexes issued by Natural England on the operating procedure which they expect from any signatories to this cull.
Links to these are below, together with a couple of gems quotes from each.

This is the overview document.
14. The policy proposal has been developed further in light of the consultation responses and the draft guidance sets out in greater detail (at paragraphs 9-11) how applicants would be expected to deliver an effective cull and demonstrate their capacity to do so. The specific requirements include:

co-ordinating activity across the entire area;

sustaining culling annually for at least four years;

reducing the total badger population in the Control Area by 70% overall during a six-week intensive cull and maintaining this reduction in each subsequent year of culling; and

minimising areas of inaccessible land within the Control Area, through a requirement that 90% of land within the application area is either accessible or within 200m of accessible land.

Before a licence is granted, participants will be required to submit to Natural England a Badger Control Plan detailing how badger control activity will be co-ordinated, carried out Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and funded, as well as providing information on the biosecurity measures in place on farms. Further guidance on the information to be included in a Badger Control Plan is at Annex D and a draft of Natural England’s guidance to applicants on biosecurity measures is at Annex E.

And should farmers be unable to carry out the plan, for whatever reason - and there could be many ?:
17. We propose that all participants would be required to enter into agreements with Natural England under section 7 of the NERC Act. These ‘section 7 agreements’, called ‘TB Management Agreements’ would set out the participants’ obligations once a licence was granted, and if necessary as a last resort allow Government to intervene, access all participating land, take over responsibility for a culling operation, and recover the costs from the participants, should the participants fail to meet the conditions of the licence. In the case of a tenant farmer, the agreement would normally need to be entered into by the farmer’s landlord (to ensure that access to land is available to complete the cull if there is a change in tenancy) unless Natural England considers that the likelihood of accessible land falling below 70% as a result of the termination of any tenancy for any reason is very low. A draft TB Management Agreement accompanies the guidance at Annex F.

Participants would also be required to deposit sufficient funds to cover the total expected cost of the four-year cull (plus a contingency sum) before culling begins. Government would be able to access these funds in the event that it needed to intervene and assume responsibility for a culling operation, and be able to levy additional funds from the original participants should that be necessary. Details of the circumstances in which Government would be likely to intervene are set out in paragraph 31 of the draft guidance.

Annex A describes the part of the Protection of Badgers Act, which is still subject to a very un-parliamentary moratorium, introduced on receipt of £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL)in 1997..

The list of consultees are in Annex B together with the closing date of September 20th.

An updated cost/ benefit analysis in is Annex C.
A thumbnail sketch of Defra's rehashed figures compute to :
Cost to farmers in each cull area of £1.38m
Benefit to farmers in each cull area £1.32m
Benefit to farmers in surrounding areas £0.o4m
Benefit to Defra in avoiding cattle bTB incidents £2.94m

NE's draft guidance on their Badger Control Plan and pro forma sheet is in Annex D, which begins with a section on their compulsory bio security monitoring;
As part of the licence application you will have been asked to provide details of biosecurity training and advice that has been provided for farmers in the application area. Participating farmers/landowners must have carried out a disease-risk self-assessment questionnaire to help identify areas for improvement (see Annex E to the consultation).
This annex also comments on protecting badgers whose ancestral home happens to be on land not involved with culling by (for example) fencing them out of your land, or vaccinating them.

Biosecurity is part and parcel of this application, and more can be found in Annex E. This is the usual hopeful whitewash, which studiously ignores grassland watered with copious amounts of badger urine. NE say they may withdraw any license if, for example, they find cattle feeding troughs under 75cm are still used or there are gaps in building or feed store access which allow badger access.
Filming carried out by Professor Tim Roper in research released in 2001, showed badgers feeding from cattle troughs set at 130 cm, which is 4'3" off the ground, a height which as Defra were helpful to point out in answers to our Parliamentary Questions, is too high for cattle (or camelids) to access. Thus to comply with NE's licence conditions, may involve the modification of cattle with one of these.

NE's licence withdrawal section is phrased thus:
If Natural England considers that reasonable biosecurity measures have not been set in place then a licence may be withheld until such measures have been taken, or modifications to the application made (e.g. change of Control Area boundary), before a licence is issued, or Natural England may refuse to issue a licence for the proposed Badger Control Area. If a licence has already been issued and inadequate biosecurity measures have been found on a farm or farms then Natural England may exclude that farm or farms from the licence or, if the affected area is sufficiently large, suspend the licence until the issue is satisfactorily resolved

An example of the proposed management agreement can be found in Annex F including notes should a default occur.
6.1 A Relevant Authority shall be entitled to recover from the Licence Holder and all or any of the Land Holders all costs which it reasonably incurs if it undertakes any activities in connection with this Agreement as a result of an Event of Default occurring during the subsistence of the Land Holder’s interest in the Land, including the costs of carrying out any Licensed Activities that are required to be permitted under clause 4(1), however carried out, and whether or not those activities could have been carried out at a lower cost.
6.2 For the avoidance of doubt the Licence Holder and the Land Holders will be jointly and severally liable for any costs incurred as a result of an Event of Default

Best practise guidance for shooting or trapping badgers, "to prevent the spread of bTB in cattle" (which is at least an acknowledgement of that which has previously been vehemently denied) is in Annex G.
This is a 46 page document, dealing with closed periods, operating protocols, firearms and disposal of Class 1 hazardous waste material ( badger) Watch for little inserts like C & D of collection vehicles (already classified and licensed for Class 1 hazardous waste) between farms.

And finally, in Annex H are NE's ideas to reduce impact on non-participants, which will also be the responsibility of participating licence holders.
This includes not only 'liaising with non-participants', and protecting 'their' badgers from harm, but may involve posting intentions and map references on the parish noticeboard:
Licensees are required to liaise with local police forces in areas where badger control operations are to be carried out and follow police advice on measures to protect public and operator safety. For example, if so advised by the police it may be appropriate to post notices at relevant access points or, e.g. on parish notice boards, alerting people to the fact that shooting may take place in specified areas within a specified period.

So as proposed by Natural England, with numerous bolt ons to Class 1 Game Management licenses, this proposed cull will certainly not be.... OK lads load your shotgun, jump in the pick up and off we go culling a few badgers.

The way this reads is .. OK lads get out your cheque book, sign a couple, but leave the amount to pay blank. We ( who ever 'we' are) will fill that in later. In fact sign a direct debit with your bank, cheques are soooo outdated. But watch out for the biosecurity inspection, don't shoot too many (or too few) badgers, depending on the tally from NE's original survey and do watch your overdraft in the event of any alleged breaches. 'We' have our hand in your back pocket.
And opposition to this vital disease measure, which in our opinion is the responsibility of Animal Health/ VLA? It's effect on individual farmers?
Of course you won't be at risk because of the secret limited liability Company we have formed ...... other than the registration details of said company, the 28 day public consultation, the notice on the Parish notice board and of course any badger loving mole in Defra or NE. The provision of a 'contingency fund' to dip into for damage, court action etc., etc., should cover it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Farmers will foot the bill ...

... for culling badgers for just 6 weeks annually, after they have had a 'closed season' of 6 months in which to breed. (That's the badgers, with sows having 2- 4 cubs each - not the farmers. ) This might happen in a couple of mini pilot areas which the Secretary of State may be 'minded' to allow.

But buried in Defra's latest Eradication Plan on page 10, is this little gem:
" For some farmers and landowners, using vaccination may be the preferred option for tackling bovine TB in badgers and licences to trap and vaccinate badgers will continue to be available. Vaccination may also have a role in helping to reduce the risks from perturbation caused by culling, when no other buffers are available. To support its use in these circumstances, we propose to make available up to £250,000 a year in grant funding to help meet the costs of vaccination. Further details about how to apply for funding will be published shortly."
Excellent. Our industry leaders are quite happy to commit farmers to cough up in advance, a blank cheque for four years' worth of culling, while an annual grant of £250,000 is made available to vaccinate ? When Defra and the minister know full well that vaccination is an unknown quantity? And from that which we do know, injectible BCG would appear to be job creation for FERA and of little practical use to cattle farmers. Or the owners of alpacas, cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, bison or goats - all affected by spillover bTB.

Meanwhile a raft of new cattle measures and restrictions are to be introduced.

Very similar to those Bourne described to Efra committee in his very own version of a trojan horse.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. And even more of the same.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Don't look - won't find ?

** We have updated this posting to fully explore Defra's pdf strapline for their Table 1 totals, adding the explanatory notes which appear (apparently with great reluctance)on their website version.

( Over the last several months, or even years, we have watched as the spillover of bTB has affected more and more domestic pets and companion mammals. One such group has proved to be highly susceptible to TB, hugely infectious and possible capable of forming pockets of the disease, which could then transmit into wildlife or cattle. Or worse still, their owners. These are members of the camelid group, and in particular, alpacas.
This one (above) had advanced TB lesions right up to his throat, and was described by the VI official conducting its postmortem as "infectious with every breath he took". He showed no symptoms, had passed skin tests and was euthanased as a contact.

It was at the start of the TB Awareness roadshows in 2009, that we realised all was not well with Defra's computing of their stats for these animals. Huge gaps appeared between Defra's headline 'culture sample' table, and the reality of deaths on the ground. We explored this further in this post.

Compare this collective dragging of Defra's institutional feet, to the Welsh Assembly Government's efforts to bring camelids under the statutory umbrella of TB control. And then read Spelperson's new plans dumbing down of policy, released yesterday in this pdf - and weep.

Adding insult to injury, in this document, even the notes explaining that these figures are for (often) a single 'positive culture' are missing, with Table 1 (printed as Table 4) above this strapline;
Table 4: Incidents of confirmed M. bovis infection in non-bovine farmed animals in Great Britain since 2000

But when the same table is viewed on the Defra website the following notes appear for Table 1:
* Infected = positive for M.bovis on culture.

Note 1: We can only provide data on the number of M. bovis isolations from notified suspect clinical and post-mortem cases of TB arising in some non bovine species.
Note 2: Cultures and post mortem examination may not be carried out at the VLA on every animal removed from a herd once TB has been confirmed.
Therefore not all animals removed for TB disease control purposes may have been reported above.
Which is somewhat diffeent from the explanantion in the currect pdf.
This implies just 68 camelids dead in 2009, and 43 in 2010. Is that all ? No, it is not. And those figures and the implicatios attached to them, are a damned insult to the owners of alpacas who have lost 110 (out of a herd of 110), 52 (out of 52) and 48out of 54 animals as bTB ripped through their herds.

The table below is just a snapshot of full case histories of just 17 alpaca owners, and for those with animals remaining, TB and losses are ongoing. Just 30 members of the group - a small number of herds recorded by Defra as having TB problems - have recorded 422 of their animals removed by Defra for TB control purposes. The news release from which this information comes, issued yesterday, can be viewed on this link. (Click NEWS button.)

In their latest statement on TB in non-bovines, Defra say :
" We will be improving the current statistics collected for each non-bovine species to provide monthly statistics for the numbers of herds or flocks infected; number of animals’ skin or blood tested; number of TB test reactors and cases removed"
Having been knocking at this particular door for almost two years, and with the non-description of Table 4 in the latest statement in mind, we are not holding our breath.

And Defra's intentions regarding the ongoing and increasing TB problems in other species groups ?:
119. A more consistent approach to TB policy for non-bovine farmed species is needed, one where eventually, and through building on partnership working, the various industry groups can become self regulating without unnecessary interference from Government. We want to give livestock owners more responsibility for tackling this disease, giving them a stronger stake in managing risks and empowering them to take action. We want owners to be able to decide for themselves, within a broad framework of the Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England, July 2011 (Defra) – Pages 48-52 set by Government and the industry, how to manage their disease risks in the best interest of their businesses.

That's Defra-ese, for 'Don't phone us, we don't want to know'.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A (very) small step..

.. was announced (reluctantly?) yesterday, by Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman. Two 'pilot' culls of badgers in hotspot areas, with locations decided by the farmers concerned, under licenses issued (at some point) by Natural England and monitored on their progress.

Farmers Guardian has the story. And the ever hopeful BBC, trumpets a headline "There will be no badger cull in England this year. The time line following this shaky announcement, with the Secretary of State indicating that "she is strongly minded" to allow farmers to reduce populations, is long and vague.

Mrs. Spelman showed no enthusiasm for reducing the burden of tuberculosis either in the badger population, or the wider environment. But she intends, she says, yet another "consultation" on protocol, (taking us into 2012), then the start up of just two pilot areas, which will be closely monitored ahead of any possible roll out in 2013/14. And more cattle measures.

Meanwhile the media, when it is not obsessing about its own problems of 'news gathering', is plastered with pictures of healthy shiny badgers, gobbling peanuts. Not at all like this poor old (or not so old?) thing, suffering the final stages of tuberculosis.

Should we all beware of a Secretary of State who is "minded", strongly or otherwise? It shows little commitment, and appears a bit too woolly for us to unpick.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Oral vaccination - dead in the water?

Farmers Guardian report today that the much vaunted oral vaccine for badgers has hit several stumbling blocks. The story reports that
Defra is understood to have conceded that the vaccine may now never reach the market and is, at best, ‘many more years away’ than had been anticipated until recently.
Farmers Guardian understands that Defra will also admit that there is now no guarantee its researchers will ever be able develop an oral vaccine that works well enough to be licensed.

The full story is on this link.

Commenting on this news, peppered with phrases 'never reach the market' and 'no guarantee an oral vaccine will ever be developed', John Royle of the NFU said:
The injectable vaccine had little potential for widespread deployment due to the ‘very, very high costs and impracticality of using it’ and questions about its efficacy.

That would be the 'efficacy' which we questioned once again, in this posting would it?

Plan B anyone?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Short memories

Professor, Lord, Sir John Krebbs has popped up again. He of the original RBCT protocol in the mid 1990s. He is reported as saying that a cull of badgers'would not work' in this weeks' Farmers Guardian.
The scientist who instigated the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) has insisted that a badger cull would not be an effective way of controlling bovine TB (bTB). Professor Lord John Krebs said the results was commenting on the publication of a Defra report suggesting that, based on the findings of the trial, culling badgers would reduce bTB incidence in cattle by approximately 12-16 per cent over a nine year period.

“You cull intensively for at least four years, you will have a net benefit of reducing TB in cattle of 12 per cent to 16per cent. So you leave 85 per cent of the problem still there, having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge number of badgers. It doesn’t seem to be an effective way of controlling the disease.”
He's right of course, if the result of a cull was 16 percent or any other number dreamed up by a mathematical modeller. But that is not what the man said in his observations or report which instigated the RBCT two decades ago.

We read this report cover to cover at the time and some snippets arein this posting where Krebbs observes, quite correctly, that:
7.8.3 The gassing and clean ring strategies, in effect, eliminated or severely reduced badger populations from an area and appear to have had the effect of reducing or eliminating TB in local cattle populations. The effect lasted for many years after the cessation of culling, but eventually TB returned
That's 'eventually' as in more than a decade in most cases, by the way.

Krebbs then (in his original paperwork)went on to describe a list of dos and don'ts with regard to any cull of badgers. A sensible list which Bourne and the ISG turned completely on its head when the trial began. In 2007, Bourne gave the following reasons for this in oral evidence to the EFRA committee.

What followed was an indignant Krebbs, spitting feathers at how his trial had been tweaked for political gain, which was entertaining for a short while. But he soon saw the future prospects light, and engaged in a group hug with the ISG in general and Professor John Bourne in particular. As our co-editor wryly remarked in a joint posting at the time, Krebbs was following the cash. To the FSA, to Climate Change committees and any other lucrative rewards appointments likely to be thrown his way.

So where did that '9 -16 percent' benefit originate? What was the data input responsible? The RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, carried out by Bourne and the ISG, as later management of it showed, had an ongoing beneficial result according to Christl Donnelley's electronic abacus, of around 32 percent, and that extending beyond the cull areas, negating the wholly predictable 'perturbation' halo achieved earlier by the trial.
So 32 per cent (at least) is recorded data for culling badgers, very occasionally, for just 8 nights using cage traps, over a number of years.
At the other end of the spectrum, is Thornbury and the earlier Clean Ring clearances, where gassing took place for a few weeks. Months in the case of Thornbury (not years), and gave a 100 percent benefit to cattle herds for more than a decade.

The averaging of that actual data (not guesses, estimates or simple assumptions) and discounting the different operating procedures, would give a thumb nail benefit of 65 - 70 percent ?

But then we have no 'agenda' to follow and no 'expectations' to look forward to. Just more testing and more dead cattle.