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.