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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Update - the laughing badger.

We are grateful to Ken Wignall for permission to use this cartoon, originally published in Farmers Guardian last week.

It should be viewed in conjunction with this posting where we listed some of the hoops farmers will be expected to jump through in order to control TB in wildlife.

The cartoon strapline, where coughing badgers splutter as they read about a proposed 'Badger cull' that they have "nothing to worry about, but our great, great grandchildren might have to watch out" hits the nail squarely on the head.

They (and Defra) are laughing at us all.

Thursday, July 07, 2011


This posting is an extension of the one below, in which we expressed our intense depression with the polarised comments following hyped up media headline grabs.

Many of these comments, after having the usual dig at cattle farmers, referred to the vaccination of badgers as an alternative to a hotspot cull.

If you remember, a tranche of vaccination papers were released in early November, with the ever predictable BBC offering the headline;
"In a four-year project, UK scientists found vaccination reduced the incidence of TB infection in wild badgers by 74%."
This is absolutely NOT what the papers showed, and no one from Defra stood tall enough to put the record straight immediately or publicly.

We added our take on the whole sorry debacle in this posting, after sight of an internal Defra memo in which they instructed;
"The data should not be used to make this claim."
Last week, Jim Paice MP, Minister of State for his Department of Evasion, Fables and Risible Arrogance, is reported as describing the press releases thus:
"... a research paper published by Defra suggesting a 74 per cent reduction in TB levels in badgers that had been vaccinated had been ‘seriously misreported and misunderstood’ and had ‘not helped’ the debate. "
This November 2010 release, as we said before, impeccably timed, has done a huge amount of damage - but that was intended. We have no illusions about the timing of these papers in the middle of a consultation on whether to cull badgers infected with TB, or the subsequent BBC press release, headlined round the world (even if it is now said to be "seriously misreported and misunderstood")
At the time it was eagerly supported with quotes from Cheeseman and MacDonald and swallowed hook, line and sinker by a gullible public and the Badger Trust.

The latest 'real' efficacy trail for BCG vaccination of badgers, even with a dose ten times normal, was done and published in 2010. We reported its findings here. And virologist Dr. Ruth Watkins explains the technical bits of BCG in an email to warmwell this week.

All the rest is pure mischief.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Don't get too excited.

Headlines this week indicate a decision on badger culling may be in the wind, ahead of parliament packing its collective bucket and spade for the long summer recess.

Farmers Guardian had the story as does the Independent. The
Mail On-line echos the Independents 'farmers in shooting free-for-all' report.

Nothing could be further from the truth.
If the policy is given the green light, culling will not start until next May or June, as there would still be a number of details to be resolved, reports Alistair Driver in Farmers Guardian. And that's ignoring any time out for a celebrity funded Judicial Review.
Following the announcement, there is expected to be a consultation on the proposed licence conditions the groups of farmers will need to abide by. It will then take time for Natural England to process any applications and for the groups of farmers to prepare for the cull. There is also the prospect of a legal challenge.
So, a consultation on a consultation ? With a dose of Natural England added to the mix? Seen as a really urgent problem then.
Culling is likely to be introduced in a phased approach, with just one or two areas sanctioned initially.
Now at blogger headquarters, we don't 'do' kilometres but 150 of 'em squared, sounds huge. It is not. In fact eighteen of these areas would fit comfortably into Cornwall and still leave room for buckets and spades, urban areas and roads.. So 'one or two areas' as a pilot, leaves an area from north Staffs, Derbyshire, Cheshire, down through Leics., Glos., Hereford and Worcs., Somerset, Devon and Wiltshire to quietly cook ? And bubbling away with big increases in incidence are counties just over Defra's ever moving Maginot line like Dorset.

But it is the comments on these stories which are really depressing. A total divide and a complete lack of knowledge or appreciation about the dangers of tuberculosis - not to cattle, but to any mammal including and especially pets and companion animals, up close and personal with their owners.

Defra do produce a few stats on these hidden casualties, and after many searching questions, we did this posting last year, which explains some of the disparities, but more have come to light since.

The link to Defra's other species stats is here. Our explanations gleaned from patiently tabled questions is below.

Table 1 is cultures only - as the notes explain. But as cattle owners may know (but the alpaca people did not) only one sample is taken. The outbreak may involve several animals - up to 108 dead is the biggest single alpaca herd loss of which we've heard - but just a single sample will be logged on Table 1. And that may not be the first death.

Table 2 is headed 'animals examined'. Now that is really woolly. Examined? All of them? And? Do they then end up in Table 1 when cultures are cooked? Or are they the negatives? They are neither and they are both. Table 2 figures are carcasses examined, which are positive for TB by postmortem at either a VI centre or by an LVI vet and which need a culture sample taken to confirm tuberculosis, and the spoligotype responsible. But if TB has already been confirmed by culture, we have a sneaking feeling that this table is not counting them.
Missing completely are deaths, voluntary euthanasia and skin or blood test failures subsequently slaughtered. Either straight to the knacker yard, or buried, they have disappeared.

In this way 2010 figures of 43 alpaca samples in Table 1, is actually a single initial sample from each breakdown. The 151 in Table 2 were examined of which 43 were confirmed as having bTB at the very beginning of a suspected outbreak. But just 30 members of the alpaca TB support group report over 400 of their animals dead, when further un-cultured deaths or skin test and gamma failures are added in.
As far as we can see, one answer to the huge divide still so evident in these depressing comments, is to remove the public's long distance comfort blanket of someone else's 'cattle' (badly farmed, dirty conditions and moved illegally of course) and substitute ' MY cat', my dog or 'MY alpaca'.

Illustrated with pics like the lungs of this one, totally destroyed by tuberculosis, he was once 'somebody's' pet.

Only then will tuberculosis in a wildlife reservoir, become their problem as much as it is for any cattle farmer.