Monday, December 31, 2012

More cattle measures - that'll do it...

On January 1st  2013, more cattle measures will be heaped onto GB's long suffering cattle farmers. We described them in October, and in this article, Farmers Guardian reported the bones of what was to come. They expanded a little more last week.

The EU's cash hand out for TB eradication comes with caveats for its use, so all the tweaks that Animal Health and their predecessors, the State Veterinary Service had put in place to enable farmers to 'live with' TB restriction over the years of their badger worship, are, with indecent haste, being unravelled. But still with no strategic parallel action on this most successful  much loved, iconic assets  of wildlife reservoirs.

In brief, the New Year brings trading opportunities which are severely curtailed. The movement window after a clear test shrinks to a mythical 30 days for herds under restriction. We say 'mythical' because that particular clock starts ticking on jab day, which means the first week is lost. So in effect farmers will be lucky to move tested cattle inside 22 days: throw in a couple of bank holidays and weekends together with a ten day notice period for AHVLA licensing, and the word we are searching for is .... 'stuffed'.

 Buyers with new herd breakdowns, often desperate to keep up milk volumes or slaughter throughput, will have to run the gauntlet of at least one 60 day herd test, and then a satisfactory AHVLA risk assessment before a license to purchase in can be considered. And the lifeline of Approved Quarantine Units (AQUs) for young calves from restricted herds ends now.

How we read that is that any calves purchased from TB restricted herds have to be taken through to slaughter. We'll stand corrected if this is wrong. Historically, the Approved Finishing Units have paid reasonable money for forward stock close to slaughter weights, but absolute peanuts for anything younger. So these calves may not have a sale value at all.

Pre movement tests for shows, and linked holdings have yet to feel the full force of restrictions on their movements. 

The comment sections of the farming press are full of gleeful and frequent 'Anonymous' jibes, that 'bovine' TB is being stamped down on. This is a disease of cattle, they tweet. So these measures should stop this disease in its brutal tracks, should it not? But what these people do not realise is that all these cattle-only measures have been tried before - and failed. Spectacularly, expensively and utterly.

We discussed Ireland's Liam Downie's attempts in an earlier posting, and even earlier than this, the late William Tait had no success at all, by nailing West Cornwall's cattle to the floor. Why would they, when the problem wasn't the tested sentinel cattle at all?

 But cattle farmers will no doubt accept this latest kick in the teeth tranche of rules and regulations with their usual stoicism because if these single species commentators are correct, then vaccinating their chosen species badgers and gluing cattle in one place should stop this epidemic in its tracks, shouldn't it?

So how long do we have to wait for failure this time? We now have over 10 per cent of GB herds under TB restriction in Defra's last twelve month period to report. Appalling. The NBA (National Beef Association) report that South Africa have already issued a ban on beef from cattle herds under TB2 restriction and although this being challenged "a positive outcome could take some time".

 And remember Russia? We do. We covered an previous international skirmish in several postings made during September and October 2004.

 And we also remember the parallel actions described by the European Union's DG SANCO, in the documents which proposed these cattle measures. But for your reference we will repeat them:
"The elimination or reduction of the risk posed by an infected wildlife reservoir enables the other measures contained in the programme to yield the expected results, whereas the persistence of TB in these wildlife populations impedes the effective elimination of the disease. Major socio-political resistance (lobbyism) against any measure involving the removal of infected wildlife or interventions affecting the environment are to be expected. The additional costs associated with these actions are not likely to be negligible".
But their latest report on GB's efforts to slaughter out its cattle industry was the hardest hitting yet:
"It is however of utmost importance that there is a political consensus and commitment to long-term strategies to combat TB in badgers as well as in cattle. The Welsh eradication plan will lose some impetus as badger culling will now be replaced with badger vaccination. This was not part of the original strategy that consisted of a comprehensive plan that has now been disrupted.

There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.

UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections."

So we close 2012 with a toast to ... what? Blinkered stupidity? Government policy driven by vociferous, misinformed focus groups which has resulted in the unfettered spread to many mammalian species, including human beings, of that iron jacketed, zoonotic bacterium known as M. bovis?

Or the beginning of the end of of all that, with a balanced and tightly targeted eradication policy for Tuberculosis - wherever it is hiding.

We'll drink to that one, because despite the title of this posting, cattle measures alone will never 'do it'.

A Happy New year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

That magic roundabout again.

We have mentioned this roundabout several times. bTB has become a beneficial crisis, employing many on its tortuous and mainly circular route. But we've been here too long.

A 'new' paper published by Exeter University's Nicola Weber and others describes badger behaviour as 'correlating with bTB status. Well hallelujah for that. But here we have problem. This is not 'new'.

In 2003/2004 the then Shadow Minister at Defra, Owen Paterson MP, bombarded his counterpart at that department with the almost 600 Parliamentary Questions which form the basis of this site. We have them stored. One such, asked on 17th March 2004, asked:
".. to what extent and under what circumstances non resident badgers will visit setts inhabited by social groups to which they do not belong; and whether this represents a significant opportunity for the spread of TB between badger social groups" [ 157989]
And the answer, (almost ten long years ago)was :
"The most common reason for visits by badgers to setts within other social groups is likely to be breeding forays by males. This close contact between individuals from different groups is likely to represent an opportunity for the inter group spread of TB."
And along similar lines, Mr. Paterson also asked:
.. what is meant by a 'super-excreter' in respect of badger infected by TB and whether badgers so described exhibit atypical behavioural characteristics." [158375]
 The answer to that question was that 'super excreters' was a term given to badgers in the advanced stage of disease progression. And their behaviour, in 2004, was described thus:
"Research conducted by the Central Science Laboratory has identified behavioural differences between badgers excreting M.bovis, and uninfected animals. Badgers excreting M.bovis had larger home ranges and were more likely to inhabit farm buildings."
And so we come full circle dear readers, and many of those same old familiar names on this paper that have been making hay while Woodchester's peanut fed pets continue to cough, for decades. Not the same badgers it has to said, but their grandchildren, even great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. All merrily hoovering up taxpayer's cash, while their carers repeat previous 'work'.

The Western Morning News carries a piece about this latest paper, with Robbie MacDonald once again doing his Oliver impression:
"It would be valuable to test the relationship between behaviour and infection more thoroughly.
 No it would not. You already have the CSL research which answered that question a decade ago.
 Just Google it. You know it makes sense.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Christmas...

Last year, after finding sacks of badger feed in the aisles of some pet stores, we wished readers a very happy  Brocklemas . Not that this gave cattle farmers under TB restriction much cheer, but as FERA reminded us in spectacularly 'unscientific' language, a badger holds 'iconic' status. And we said in the post below, a badger, even or especially one with tuberculosis, is a valuable asset....

This year we have picked up a video clip from YouTube which features some very cute alpacas and is set to a poignant background song. So when the animal rights brigade start rambling on about cattle and in particular dairy cattle in the same breath a 'bovine' TB, remember these popular companion animals. They are especially susceptible to 'badger' tuberculosis, highly infectious and as the skin test is bad at detecting exposure, inter herd spread is common. They have also infected their owners.

And also please remember the ongoing and concerted effort by the head counters in all departments occupied by AHVLA and Defra as they dumb down the sheer numbers of these delightful animals who have died when compiling their statistical tables. The tables are in no way comparable to the cattle TB statistics, in that they only count the single microbial sample which confirms m.bovis. No other deaths or euthanasia, even if TB is confirmed by postmortem or are the result of any TB disclosing test appear. These animals have just 'disappeared'.

Thus the true level of such losses, Defra hide in a web of their own deceit to avoid searching Parliamentary Questions.

 We thought this year, that just maybe, with the BBC's publication of a single outbreak of 'bovine' tuberculosis in which over 400 alpacas died the Ostrich mentality of Defra's statisticians may be shamed into reality. But we were mistaken. Just 30 samples appear on their 3rd. quarter samples table. And we note that many trace herds are still 'tethered' to the index outbreak, and counted as one.

So while these collective heads remain firmly in the sand and alpacas and many other mammals are dying of 'bovine' TB, spread by an 'iconic asset' of Defra's creation, there is only one place we can perch Santa's hat....

A very Happy Christmas to you all.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

A new (old) headline.

This week, the authors of that previous outrageous mischievous vaccination headline, (74 per cent success rate for badger vaccination, in case anyone has forgotten) have revisited their work. The revamped paper was published in Plosone with a strap line claiming a 54 per cent drop in bTB in (pre screened) badgers vaccinated with BCG, by using a bank of modeled diagnostic tests. Progress of a sort, we suppose.

From the abstract:
Here we present new evidence from the same study identifying both a direct beneficial effect of vaccination in individual badgers and an indirect protective effect in unvaccinated cubs. We show that intramuscular injection of BCG reduced by 76% [] the risk of free-living vaccinated individuals testing positive to a diagnostic test combination to detect progressive infection. A more sensitive panel of tests for the detection of infection per se identified a reduction of 54% [] in the risk of a positive result following vaccination. In addition, we show the risk of unvaccinated badger cubs, but not adults, testing positive to an even more sensitive panel of diagnostic tests decreased significantly as the proportion of vaccinated individuals in their social group increased. [] When more than a third of their social group had been vaccinated, the risk to unvaccinated cubs was reduced by 79%
This sounds encouraging until we go back to the original study, which pre screened its 844 badgers with the three or four tests mentioned, and excluded any positives. This is not made particularly clear in this paper, but for clarification, we quote:
A total of 252 individuals qualified for the event history analysis, following the removal of those individuals caught only once and those that were likely to have been infected prior to vaccination.
From personal communications, the infection rate in these badgers was 43 per cent. Thus to launch, as has been done, the concept of blanket vaccination of a genuinely wild and similarly infected population is a completely different ball game which is likely to have substantially different results and possibly some unintended consequences.

We also would respectfully point out that the results of this research are described as by 'proxy'. That means a mathematical model of projected data achieved not by measured exposure and postmortem, but by random exposure and 2, 3 or 4 diagnostic tests.
The authors explain :
Vaccinating free-living wild badgers with BCG significantly reduced the risk of an individual developing a positive result to a range of diagnostic tests used as a proxy for M. bovis infection.
. They also explain this - but way beyond that attention grabbing headline:
The effect of vaccination on the triple testV outcome was to reduce the risk of a positive result by 54% in vaccinated individuals. Without post-mortem data it was not possible to ascertain what proportion of the triple testV-negative, vaccinated badgers were protected from infection and what proportion still acquired infection, but were not detected using the triple testV.
It is unsafe to assume that triple testV negativity equates to the absence of infection.
Quite.  'Unsafe' it may be, but nevertheless that headline will be used, particularly as publication of this paper, once again coincides with a Consultation on vaccination.  As ever,  FERA has shown impeccable timing and media manipulation, particularly in their use of the word 'iconic' as a description of badgers in the paper which is somewhat less than scientific.

To the Badger Trust that description would definitely apply. To the Wildlife trusts whose collecting tins bear its silhouette, probably. And as an 'asset'  to provide constant research to FERA and others, most definitely. But to most of the population, if they think about it at all, a badger is a part of the ecology. Not the part, a part. And it is neither 'iconic', 'endangered' nor about to be 'exterminated'. But we digress:

There are quite a few references to the presence of infectious adults within the social group, adding to the burden of infection within the group and negating any vaccination attempts. Common sense really and answered 6 years ago in our PQs : 
2 Feb 2004: Column 1560W
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of whether infection of M. bovis bacillus between infectious female badgers and their offspring leads to an increase over time in the incidence of infection within a social group. [153924]
Mr. Bradshaw: From research carried out by the Central Science Laboratory, it is believed that the transmission of infection from mothers to cubs may be important in the maintenance of TB infection in badger populations. There is a correlation between the presence of infectious females in a group and the proportion of TB positive cubs. No information is available as to whether this has influenced the incidence of infection within a social group over time.
This paper repeats that information thus:
"The argument that many badger cubs will become infected during this period (i.e. before they can be caught and vaccinated), has been identified as a key potential constraint on the effectiveness of badger vaccination as a management tool."

"The risk of an individual being culture-positive has been shown to be related to the presence of other culture-positive (i.e. infectious, actively excreting) animals in its social group."
Pretty obvious really. So here's a thought. Why not screen the badger populations using the same tools which we propose for targeted culling? Reactor mapping, overlaid with badger group identification and PCR for disease status confirmation? Then offer vaccination (at the Badger Trust's expense) to groups testing clean? Particularly as a cordon to act as a buffer after removal of infected groups in endemically infected areas. Simples.

But we are puzzled by an apparently contradictory observation in this paper which is explained thus:
Prevalence for the population as a whole based on the combined outcomes of the above three tests reduced from 53% in 2006 to 35% in 2009. Reductions in prevalence were observed in both vaccinate and control groups.
So at a cost of £2500 per sq/ km or around £156 per badger for an average head count, (Defra / WAG figures) did BCG work at all on these pre screened badgers - or not?  As it would seem from that paragraph, the unvaccinated control group also experienced a reduction in disease prevalence.

And we also note that the authors have used 51 points of reference in this paper and many of the named authors appeared several times. What did we say about the asset value of those 'iconic' tuberculous badgers?

Saturday, December 15, 2012


When we trawl through the numerous papers written about m.bovis, badgers, cattle and other mammals who may or may not have met this armour plated bacteria, the thing which strikes the more pedantic of us is just how much 'research' rests on a the back of a coughing, tuberculous badger.

 Take for instance that huge 450 page pdf file in which we found research confirming that there is bugger all very little bacterial spread of m.bovis into or from, anything other than badgers, (and one water vole.) Although locally, un-managed deer populations may cause a problem. Venison anyone?

 So rather than watch water running through his cattle yards this weekend, one of our contributors totted up the cost of the 49 listed research projects in that 2007 file. The total was £55.8 million paid for by the British taxpayer Defra, and £8.4 million by 'others'.

 And almost every one of those papers ask for more research to confirm, clarify, expand or repeat.

Let no one be in any doubt, a coughing badger is a very valuable asset. .

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Dear Secretary of State....

Below are the thoughts of an former Defra Wildlife Unit manager, who we have quoted before on this site. This is a copy of his recent letter to the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP,  Secretary of State, DEFRA.

As the ex-Defra Field Manager running the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) in the South West, I feel well qualified to make recommendations as to the best way forward if a cull is to be acceptable by the general public, including the Badger Trust and its many allies. Firstly, unless land owners are convinced that only, and I mean only, infected badgers are being removed from their land they will never participate in any trial willingly.

I had the task of visiting all those who refused to participate in the RBCT. The common theme was – "unless my badgers are infected you can’t touch them." No amount of cajoling would change their stance.

In February 2010, I met with a minister and other interested parties at the Enigma Diagnostics HQ in Porton Down. There we discussed the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology as a way forward in combating the disease. We were all  totally sold on the idea as it would keep all factions happy if it were introduced. Sadly, since then, the idea seems to have fizzled out for whatever reasons. It is now time to resurrect that interest and to introduce it, on a trial basis, as a way forward in combating the disease.

As an aside, we were then told that in 2010, there wasn’t enough time to undertake PCR trials as the farming industry wouldn’t entertain the idea of waiting for a solution. They were after a “quick fix”. Here we are, 30 months later, still without an effective tool to combat bovine TB !  How ironic !

I understand that Warwick University have been working on PCR technology for some time with increasingly encouraging results. Surely, by cage trapping badgers, testing their blood/sputum/urine/faeces using PCR, backed up by a blood test, we would have a viable live time, in-field test that could be rolled out fairly quickly? Reactor and field mapping, such as was used in previous culling operations could closer target the use of PCR on infected setts.

Imagine being able to identify the infected badgers and removing them from the countryside, combined with the vaccination of “clean” badgers before releasing them back into the wild – what a way forward for all concerned !

I was involved in the Live Testing trials  (of badgers) in 1994/5. The test was dropped as it wasn’t accurate enough to move forward with. When we did find infected badgers we culled them and all the occupants of the setts they came from. Using PCR would facilitate similar action being taken.

You may be aware that the  Alpaca TB Support Group  have already commissioned the trial use of PCR technology on dead alpacas, diagnosed by postmortem and culture with tuberculosis? Their results to date have been more than encouraging, with an over 80% detection rate. The second phase results on animals with less advanced lesions, are also encouraging. If this small group can do such a trial on a shoestring budget, surely a larger project, publicly funded, could be trialled using badgers instead of alpacas ?  If Public funding wasn’t available, levy a TB tax on every animal passing through our livestock markets to raise enough cash to fund it.

DEFRA will never win over the general public with a mass cull of badgers. The fact that 84% of those which we were able to trap and cull during the RBCT were on postmortem, not lesioned, is too fresh in their minds and will always be used as ammunition to fight any 'area' type cull. If you really want to win the public over, go down the PCR route combined with vaccination. Do not let FERA or DEFRA deliver the trials as they can be done more cheaply and efficiently using Contractors. To me it is a no brainer !

I am always happy to input my thoughts into any trial that may occur in the future, in the best interests of farmers, badger lovers and the general public.

Yours sincerely

Paul Caruana
Ex-Defra Field Manager (Polwhele)
Paul is now a director of Field Services South West Ltd.,

Friday, December 07, 2012

PCR for Alpacas - Looking good.

We have received news from the Alpaca TB Support Group that the second stage of their privately funded PCR Proof of concept study is now complete and has come up with some encouraging results.

 The first screen was on faeces and sputum taken from animals with gross lesions and this achieved a high sensitivity - with no false positives. This second run was on samples from animals with much less advanced pathology and the results are described on the Alpaca TB Support Group website as follows:
"AHVLA scientists have now looked at the whole spectrum of pathology from minimal to severe that is found in camelid M. bovis infections. The results are very promising and far better than we had expected.

The test was able to detect nearly all of the camelids with the most severe pathology with a falling sensitivity as pathology became less severe. They were even able to detect some camelids that had minimal pathology.

The faecal samples were marginally more sensitive than nasal swabs. Due to the difficulty in collecting blood from a dead camelid, AHVLA were not able to evaluate blood samples as they were unable to collect sufficient suitable samples for testing."
Publication of the full trial results is in preparation and this study will be peer reviewed before it is published.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

PCR - used on everything but badgers?

Two pieces of research which were completed around 2005, and published in 2006 may be of interest. They both deal with 'bovine' TB in species other than badgers, and the risk to cattle from these mammals in a farm environment.

We found these papers in a huge pdf file on the Defra website, which if nothing else shows just how much 'research' a coughing badger generates. Scroll down to P. 336 for the work on SE 3010 (The risk to cattle from Wildlife species other than Badgers, in areas of high herd breakdowns.)
The conclusion, after a £754K spend was that locally, some species of deer could prove problematic, but that common farmland wildlife, other than badgers, are relatively unimportant to the control of bTB in cattle:
Most species exhibited a relatively low risk to cattle. The highest risks were associated with fallow and red deer. Given these results, the paucity of data on interactions between deer and cattle and their rapidly expanding numbers and distribution in southern England, deer may be a potential source of infection for cattle.
But for us, more interesting was a parallel study using live sampling, costing £1.2 million and known as SE 3009 which can be found on p 324. (The risk to cattle from Mycobacterium bovis infection in Wildlife species other than Badgers.) The conclusion of this one:
The same strain of M. bovis can infect bank voles, badgers and cattle on the same farm. However, the prevalence of infectious individuals is extremely low in this, and in other abundant farmland wildlife. Mathematical modelling suggests it is unlikely that the wildlife species we studied represent a significant reservoir of infection for cattle, though occasional spill-overs from badgers and cattle may occur. Our additional case-control study supports the view that small mammals are unlikely to contribute to the risk of bTB in cattle.
So far so good. Of  4,180 samples, only badgers and single bank vole tested positive. And what method was used 10 -12 years ago to sample bits from these16 species of  mammal which  included foxes, rabbits, rats, squirrels and many varieties of mice?
Confirmatory testing of presumptive positives was by growth onto selective media by the TB Reference Laboratory, Weybridge and/or confirmation by polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
No, you did not mis-read that; the paper goes on the describe:
Four PCR-based methods were used. These were PCR for IS1081, a multi-copy element generally present in 6 copies in members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) complex; PCRs to detect and distinguish between M. microti and classical M. bovis on the basis of deletion regions (known as RD7 and RD4); and Spacer-OLIGOnucleotide TYPING – ‘spoligotyping’.

So why after a spend of £1.2m and a published paper which concluded that " the modelling of risks was not possible due to the very low infection rates found" (using PCR) is this technology, now a decade more advanced and available from AHVLA on a commercial basis for some m.tuberculosis complex bacteria, being so sidelined for badgers?

 We could say 'more research?' but we will resist the temptation. This time.

Simple squared...

.. very often equals stupid. Especially when mathematical modelers are let loose with their 'simple estimates' and 'rough assumptions', which are then tortured into some very dubious 'facts'.

 We saw it with the ISG, who pumped 2 parts cattle, one part badger into their model and then believed their own guff 'tenatative predictions' that cattle to cattle transmission of bTB was so high. (7:24 - ISG Final Report)

But now Cambridge University have geared up their models to assume a hidden reservoir of bTB missed by the skin test. But only in GB it seems?
The skin test is the primary tool for TB eradication, world wide, and yet no other country seems to have a problem using it. And GB abattoirs are not reporting thousands of cattle turning up with lesions.
 Last year, just 1013 out of a kill of several million.

So we refer back to Owen Paterson's original Parliamentary Questions on this matter, tabled in 2003/ 04.
8 Dec 2003 Col 218W (141968) Mr. Paterson: To ask how long the current Tb skin test has been in use? Mr. Bradshaw: The tuberculin skin test has been compulsory since 1950. This is the test prescribed by the OIE (Office of International Epizootics) for international trade, as well as under EU directive 64/432/EEC.
30th Jan 2004 Col 540W (150492) Mr. Paterson: How many countries use the current skin test and how many have reported problems with it? Mr. Bradshaw: All countries that have either eradicated or have programmes to control bovine tb use one or more forms of the current skin test.
.. and just as a reminder re GB's 'scientist's' current rush for more work BCG vaccination:
25th March 2004 col 989W ( 159061) Mr. Paterson: What assessment has been made of the need for a) vaccination of i) cattle and ii) badgers and b) other measures to control the incidence of Tb in cattle herds? Mr. Bradshaw: Evidence from other countries shows that in the absence of a significant wildlife reservoir, cattle controls based on regular testing and slaughter, inspection at slaughterhouses and movement restrictions can be effective at controlling bovine tb without vaccination.
Owen Paterson teased all these points out of reluctant Minister, and they are archived in our 2004 postings.  They include this gem concerning the success of the Thornbury badger clearance:
"No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area were disclosed by the tuberculin test the the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" [150573]
So not 20 years of buggering about trying to cull out infected badgers in ones and twos, very occasionally? (Or even taking pot shots at the scent markers ?) So we asked why should there have been this astonishingly quick result. Was anything else done? Biosecurity? Extra cattle measures? Pre movement testing? No cattle movements at all? Licenses? Shrink wrapped grass, raised troughs and cattle in hermetically sealed boxes?
 The answer:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]
So as all this taxpayer funded 'research' spills into the press, hang on to those basic facts. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. And sometimes, simple squared really does equal stupid. .

Friday, November 30, 2012

Spoligotyping gets headlines.

Making headlines in the Daily Telegraph today is a study by Glasgow University on the different strains or 'spoligotypes' of m.bovis circulating between tested, slaughtered sentinel cattle, and free ranging badgers in which Tuberculosis is endemic.

We have discussed this many times and quoted a previous Parliamentary question to explain what 'spoligotyping' means:
"Spoligotyping is used to determine molecular type for all isolates of the bovine tuberculosis bacillus (M. bovis) obtained from badgers and cattle. Variable Number Tandem Repeats (or VNTR), a technique able to subdivide some spoligotypes, is also used. Generally the different strain types of M. bovis that these techniques identify exhibit distinct and probably longstanding geographical clustering. Within each geographical cluster the same strains tend to be found in badgers and cattle ".

So there is nothing really 'new' in this research, which can be read on this link.

VLA have been logging the spoligotypes of bTB for decades now, and produced some very clear maps to show the spatial clustering on the twelve main strains.

And we have pointed out that if cattle were spreading TB across the country as much as some would have us believe, then these maps would be a pointillist picture of a mass of colours and not spatially distinct at all.

Farmers Guardian also covered this subject in this 2007 article, with overviews from people uniquely qualified to speak on TB, its microbiology and epidemiology.


What seems to be the core of the new research is that the VNTR (Variable Number Tandem Repeats) copies of m.bovis DNA have been found to be identical in badgers and cattle on the same farms.

 'Not unsurprisingly' they were identical on the farm of one of our contributers, one who had no bought in cattle, but let that pass.

And the same observation is made of dead cats. After a death due to 'bovine' tuberculosis, the strain type is described as being the spoligotype 'unique to the area'.

We understand that in some areas where sentinel cattle have all gone, domestic cats are now filling the gaps of VLA's spoligotype maps. They use alpacas, sheep and pigs too..... and the spoligotypes, right down to VNTR copies, are likely to be just the same: "unique to the area".

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comments from the 'qualified'.

This country appears to be giving considerable airtime to people uniquely unqualified to comment on control and eradication of possibly the biggest killer of human beings on earth. Tuberculosis. So for a change we will offer the views of people who do have the qualifications to support their points of view.

Firstly, we are grateful for sight of  two letters on vaccination using BCG, from Dr. Lewis Thomas, whose job description included the licensing of pharmaceutical drugs. Firstly a letter published in the veterinary press late last year, commenting on the vaccination of badgers:
There are a number of remarkable features concerning the proposed joint project that you report recently between the Badger Trust and the NFU (19.12.11) not least the apparent realisation by the Badger Trust that badgers are infected by and suffer from bovine TB.
Similar proposals to vaccinate badgers against bovine TB in the field have been made earlier this year by the National Trust and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust which the President of BVA, Carl Padgett, has rightly and roundly condemned as “unrealistic at best and spin at worst”.
All parties should realise that a proven vaccine against bovine TB currently does not exist for use in the field either for cattle or for badgers. Although the injectable Badger BCG vaccine (the only vaccine licensed for use in the UK) gives a measure of protection from disease in naïve badgers following experimental challenge with live tubercle bacilli it does not prevent infection or shedding of the organism. And the vaccine has not yet been properly trialled in the field.
A small scale study on 262 animals reported last December by FERA may have shown encouraging serological evidence of vaccine efficacy but this alone cannot be regarded as evidence of protection. Protection can only be assessed by comparison of disease in vaccinated as compared to control animals in a properly controlled field trial. And this does not appear to be part of the protocols proposed by the National Trust, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust or the Badger Trust/NFU projects.
Vaccination is therefore currently not a realistic strategy for controlling the disease: moreover prospects for it becoming so are not encouraging. BCG has been in existence for nearly a century and attempts to improve it over the years, particularly recently, have not met with success. But even a potent proven vaccine cannot be expected to be effective in the face of the massive burden of infection that presently exists in parts of the badger population (over 30% infected in some areas). Thus unless and until this massive reservoir of infection is removed by strategic culling of badgers little or no progress will be made in controlling the disease.
And following the BBC Panorama programme, a letter published recently in the Veterinary Times:
There is a major flaw, amongst many, in the letter from your correspondents McGill and others (24.9.12). A proven, effective vaccine either for badgers or cattle does not exist. And the chances of one becoming available are remote. Scientists have been trying without success for over a century to improve on the BCG vaccine. Professor Boyd (chief scientific adviser to DEFRA) and Nigel Gibbens (CVO) writing in the Daily Telegraph recently (letter 22.9.12) are probably right when they say that the Badger BCG vaccine will not protect infected badgers.
But what we do know for certain is that the vaccine has never been proven or tested properly in the field and that the National Trust, the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Welsh Government are embarking on a highly speculative and hugely expensive strategy with little or no prospect of success.
And what we also know for certain is that culling of badgers in endemically infected areas, as demonstrated in 5 trials in England and Ireland in the 70’s and 80’s, dramatically reduces the the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. Even the seriously flawed Randomised Badger Culling Trials realised a 23% reduction in bovine TB in associated cattle herds.
Whilst we may have reservations about the effectiveness of the method of culling chosen by DEFRA in the forthcoming trials (see our letter to Vet Record 7.1.12) the choice of strategy is a no brainer – untested vaccine against proven culling strategy. All that has been lacking for the last 30 years, as pointed out by Norman Leslie in his letter to your paper (30.7.12), is the political will to do the right thing. It is to be hoped and expected that Owen Paterson MP, the new secretary state for DEFRA is of sterner stuff.
We have quoted Dr L.H.Thomas, MA, VetMB, PhD, FRCPath, MRCVS before, in this 2009 posting, where he discussed the use of BCG on an untested badger population.

Perhaps a reason for the Badger Trust to support a PCR screen, and only jab the clean ones?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who do you think you're kidding...

A brilliant Dad's Army skit on the current crazy stand off, is given by farmer and commentator Stephen Carr in this week's Farmers Weekly.  Enjoy.
A group of late middle-aged men dressed in camouflaged combat fatigues with blackened faces and with twigs and leaves sown into their balaclavas gather in a church hall somewhere in the Forest of Dean.
Captain Paterson: Fall the men in, Sergeant Heath.
Sergeant Heath: Would you mind terribly falling in, pleeease?
Paterson: (mutters) Typical Lib Dem.
Corporal Kendall: Fall in for the Captain, on the double!
Heath: (rolling his eyes skyward) Thank you, Kendall. The men are ready, sir.
Paterson: Now, men, you've all been in training for this badger cull. You've got your deerstalker level one certificate and...
Kendall: (interrupting) Permission to speak, sir?
Paterson: (irritated) Yes, Kendall, what is it?
Kendall: (suddenly brandishing his rifle) Those furry wurry badgers - they don't like it up 'em, sir!
The comments below this FW piece are depressingly familiar. Of course it's a bloody serious subject. And we only wish that Defra would take it thus. You'd prefer we all shot each other? (Rhetorical question)
Three cattle from one of our contributors paid the ultimate price for this arrogant complacency last week, but despite this we can still appreciate the humour in this piece. As we did in a previous piece by cattle farmer Stephen Carr, who at the time of writing that article in 2009 was under continuous TB restriction but being invited to train as a badger vaccinater..

On the subject of vaccination, he concluded:
"No futile gesture is too much trouble provided it helps get a politician out of a difficulty of his own making."
And taking the lead from Mr. Carr's current article,  those of us losing sentinel, tested cattle to badger TB, can say with absolute certainty that Defra, FERA, NE, BBC, NFU  'don't like it up 'em'. Sir.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Field based tests for bTB

As we continue to stitch together a workable alternative to the now postponed Son-of- RBCT shooting parties, a solid and reliable field test for m.bovis in the field is a priority. Thus far, we would propose the following:

 Firstly, use AHVLA risk assessment TB99 reactor locations to map problems over a wide area. These are already done, thus incurring no extra cost - but they lie gathering dust, as they did in the RBCT. And any reactor would suffice - there are enough varieties now to choose from. Take your pick.

Secondly a farmer / Wildlife Unit trace to overlay a wildlife interface map with such reactor locations could involve farmer participation, thus reducing costs again.

 Thirdly the location of any wildlife sharing the location of reactors identified by steps 1 and 2, would benefit from a 'scientific' thumbs up. But that has to be through true 'science'. Not the smoke and mirrors of a simple mathematical model based on vague assumptions, which like the Emperor's new clothes, none but a very few dare question.

 And while the now validated PCR test is our favourite as a sett based screen, a close second could be an American ELISA antibody test which, it's manufacturers tell us, has gained OIE approval, and can give a result in the field in 3 hours. Although primarily their predicted use is cattle based, one assumes (perhaps wrongly ?) that this test would work for badgers too.

And another field based test is described by the University of Tennessee research team as 'giving results in 5 minutes'. It is said to work on defining markers in body fluids such as blood, milk, saliva or tears - which sounds suspiciously like PCR to us. They describe the kit thus:
With this device the incubation time is significantly reduced when compared with conventional immunoassay methods (e.g. ELISA tests) and experimental data shows the device takes less than 5 minutes to differentiate disease-positive samples from negative samples. The device does not require direct/indirect labeling of the analyte (antibody, biomarkers) and can be used with any combination of probes (e.g. antigen) and analytes (e.g. serum antibody).

The one-step method is not labor intensive, does not require a specialist to run the test and ensures consistency in results. Also, because of the small size and of the automated one-step method, the system allows on-site (bed-side, in-field) diagnosis of pathological and physiological conditions, reducing time and costs associated with remote testing in diagnostic laboratory. This device has been tested on Johne’s disease and bovine tuberculosis, and the results show a higher accuracy than currently-available diagnostic immunoassays."
UPDATE: Link added with more detail on the University of Tennessee's field based test, which they confirm would cost around $500 for the kit, with each screen (chip) costing $1.
The manufacturers of at least one of these in field tests also confirm that they are working with FERA on field trials for the product.

 The ISG mentioned an ELISA test in their Final Report - then damning it's low sensitivity:
1.7 [] ... A live test for badgers had been developed and subject to trial from 1994-96, but its sensitivity was much poorer than had been hoped, successfully detecting only about 40% of infected badgers (Clifton-Hadley et al., 1995-and Woodroffe et al., 1999)
We have no details on the sensitivity of IDEXX's blood assay, but it is to be hoped that it may be an improvement on the old 'Brock' test, as well as being faster and field based. And of course that they are able to cage trap more than a few wild badgers on which to use it. We say this guardedly having listened to a prominent farmer trialling vaccination, and describing efforts to capture his sett occupants, which resulted in just one being trapped in an operation lasting  several weeks.

It may be also prudent to point out that the Wildlife Unit personal, trying to sign up farmers for the RBCT, tell us that over half in some areas refused to take part, when they heard that healthy badgers were to be culled as well as diseased. And the badger 'Live Test Trial' ( 1994-96) experienced no problems at all as only diseased badgers were targeted.

 It is our understanding that the direct target of a positively identified reservoir of a zoonotic pathogen trumps any more emotive considerations for the continued survival of that reservoir. And once identified, should it be left to upspill disease into other mammals, then litigation is a distinct possibility. Which the cynical amongst us would say is possibly enough reason for the current political block wall against such targeted identification.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Defra's new Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, MP visited China on a trade mission last week. And in his usual acerbic and perceptive way, cartoonist Ken Wignall pictures a possible GB export, with samples to show the Chinese.

Published in the Farmers Guardian, (16th November 2012), the strap line is;

 "We're very sorry Mr Paterson, we understand your problem but you can’t leave them here!”
 That's a 'no' from the Chinese then?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Babies and bath water

In our posting below we added a little padding to how a very selective cull of badgers infected with tuberculosis might be framed. But concentrating entirely on PCR, in a can't do, won't do piece, Badger Trust person David Williams, explains why the Trust don't support question this approach.
Mr. William's points are in quote boxes, with our answers below:
Did the sample come from cattle, badgers, foxes or other wildlife that could have walked through a farmyard, field or cow pat, any of them carrying infection?
We have the 'canaries' Mr. Williams. The sentinels. Try 34,000 cattle last year, a shed load of alpacas, sheep, pigs and even domestic pets. Thus the initial Risk Assessment and field maps of reactor location (any sort) gives AHVLA case managers the location of the problem(s.) And if badger groups (the animals, not their protectors, but ... ?) were baited with small (different) coloured beads or fluoresced powder, tracking from individual setts would show which group or individual was occupying the same land.
Prof. Krebs proposed following 'badger boundaries' in 1996, and he was quite correct. Only then would this be followed up by sett test on latrines, bedding or even air from a sett so identified.
Did the sample come from a live badger or a long-dead one?
If it was a long dead badger, he would hardly be likely to be leaving fresh deposits in latrines or changing his bed regularly (unless they are ghostly deposits)
If taken from soil did it come from a badger?
Again it is not just soil, but say soil in sett entrance, fresh latrines or any material associated with the group. So cross contamination unlikely.
If a positive sample was found in a sett, would you catch and kill all the badgers in that sett?
Yes because it would show that the TB bacteria was present in the sett so even if some badgers were not yet infectious it is very likely they would become so in time. The presence of m.bovis bacteria in the sett (humid, dark and most) offers the ideal situation for survival of this bacterium, and transmission. See PQs:  

"Mr. Paterson: To ask [] what evidence there is that viable M. bovis bacilli remaining in badger setts?
Mr. Bradshaw: M. bovis survival is promoted by low levels of sunlight, low to moderate temperatures and high relative humidity. A typical badger sett experiences 100 per cent. relative humidity at all times of year, a fairly constant temperature, which is always higher than ambient temperature and almost total darkness. Hence, although no quantitative studies have been carried out, it seems possible that M. bovis bacilli could remain viable in badger setts long enough to infect badgers during recolonisation."
Would you catch and then test beside setts where an infected sample was found?
No. Testing of individual badgers (with only the positive ones culled) would cause perturbation by breaking up the social group. And see PQ answer above, the uninfected ones would become infectious via their sett or latent infection, over time.
A positive sample from inside a sett could be from a badger not normally living in that sett or a fox using it temporarily.
PCR would not be used as a stand alone tool, but in connection with tracing reactor (cattle, pig, alpaca, sheep, buffalo) movements. This after AHVLA risk assessment to rule out movement on to farm or confirm a wildlife source for the reactor. See point 1.
PCR could then pinpoint infection after the first two stages. There is no need to take samples from every sett, just those flagged up by such mapping and bait marking. If the positive samples were gathered either from a 'disperser' badger (one not normally living in that sett and excluded from its normal group) or a fox,  if they are carrying m.bovis then they are a risk to all other mammals and should be culled.
 The target of eradication is not any particular species, but b.Tuberculosis.
If you don't identify and test all the social group, a massive task, selective removal becomes impossible.
Quite. Selective removal is impractical as stated before and for the reasons given. But the same applies to the 'selective' vaccination of badgers as promoted by the Badger Trust as the way forward. By not assessing population density prior to vaccination, thus not vaccinating all the social group, makes it pointless, even without taking into consideration the weaknesses of the vaccine or pre screening badgers for existing disease status.
Infected badgers do not necessarily excrete the TB bacillus.
This may be the case in individual badgers but at some point, infected badgers will excrete TB bacillus. PCR detects the DNA of m.bovis, rather than a candidate's immune response to it, thus bacteria will have to be present for it to flag up a positive sample. It is quite likely that if the social group is infected some will be shedding bacteria while others might not be doing so at the time of testing. But any sort of stress, and that could include cage trapping to vaccinate, is likely to push those badgers 'infected' but not 'infectious' into shedding status, with inevitable results.
For a selective cull expensive trapping is going to be required unless you gas or poison the sett indiscriminately.
'Indiscriminate' in the context of an positively identified underground midden of bacteria, (see above) is not a word we would use. It is extremely 'discriminate' having undergone a three part screen. And as explained, the survival of m.bovis in the confines of a badger sett, could keep infection going for years, infecting more and more occupants.
So ideally whole sett culling using daytime anaesthesia (not poison and not a material where a sub lethal dose harms) to cull the whole social group at one go and so avoiding perturbation. And incidentally, avoiding the cost and bureaucratic trappings of disposing of Class 1 Hazardous Waste, as a 'dead' badger is classified.
 It is worth remembering that Lord Krebs proposed the use of PCR and efficient whole social group removal in his original design for the RBCT in 1996. (See our posting below) He and fellow author Dr. Rosie Woodroffe, also wanted such setts unoccupied for at least two years, to prevent onwards transmission of disease to incoming badgers. They referred to this as 'prevention of recolonisation'. So we support this; such setts should be destroyed to prevent recolonisation by other badgers, thus preventing the onward transmission of disease to healthy badgers.

Conversely, the location of the 70 per cent of cattle herd sentinels testing clear, together withe negative PCR screens, could allow a much more targeted vaccination programme, should the Badger Trust wish to pursue this?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This is encouraging..

It is always encouraging to find the opposition gathering their collective skirts and rushing headlong into a brick wall:  usually somewhat prematurely and for completely the wrong reasons.  We refer to the Badger Trust's broadside against the idea of using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to identify TB infected (or clean and healthy?) badgers. From their website:
DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson told a Commons committee that he is exploring the possibility of using PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) tests to identify infected badger setts as part of a future badger culling strategy. However the Badger Trust warns that the use of such a test to detect the presence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) cannot tell whether the infection came from cattle, badgers or any other wildlife. In addition, use of this test on its own carries with it huge risks of precipitate and counter-productive action. Finding the bTB bacillus close to a sett would not in itself prove where a particular sample had come from and localised culling also raises the risk of perturbation. Consequently the possible range of error in the field could be massive.
We think the Badger Trust would be better to grasp PCR to identify clean setts, prior to jabbing unscreened populations of badgers, but let that pass. It's Brian May's their money they're wasting.

But taking bite sized bits from a comprehensive 3 tiered plan, proposed by eminent scientists and also the European Union's DG SANCO is a tad premature we think. So we will quote what others have said.

 Firstly our Lords and Masters, the European Union. In its latest blast aimed at UK politician's non-policy for eradicating tuberculosis, DG SANCO pointed out that Defra should use the skill and knowledge accumulated by their own veterinarians. They said:
The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
So the starting point of any strategy to eradicate tuberculosis must be maps of where reactors have been found. And that is any victim of tuberculosis, whether that is a cow, badger, sheep, pig, goat, bison, alpaca or domestic pet. Lord knows there are enough to choose from now. But bearing in mind that even in the worst affected counties, around 70 - 75 percent of cattle herds are still testing clear, then this is not a big ask.

Secondly, an overlay map of badger setts and more importantly their territories. And here we are most grateful to Lord Krebs and his co authors Dr. Rosie Woodroffe and Prof. Christl Donelley for their insightful proposals in 1996 which included the following statement on key features likely to influence the effectiveness of any strategy:
(i) The size of the area cleared, (including the extent to which this takes into account badger territory)

(ii) The efficiency of the badger removal operation (to ensure all infected badgers are removed and minimise any problem of perturbation associated with partial removal of social groups)

(iii) The prevention of recolonisation for a sufficient period.
That seems pretty sensible. So when these two maps are overlaid, and bait or fluorescent marking has identified badgers sharing tuberculosis victims' territories, then PCR could be used to confirm the previous two chunks of data? Interestingly, the authors of the Krebs report proposed exactly that in 1996, and of course, we are delighted to remind them of it - even if it is some 14 years later:
7.9.5 We also recommend that the scope for using modern DNA amplification techniques, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for diagnosis should be further explored. The PCR is quicker than microbial culture and can detect the remnants of dead bacteria in addition to living organisms. If sufficiently sensitive, we see two applications for such a test.

(i) It could provide rapid screening of samples from badger carcases. We suggest MAFF should consider whether this might be an alternative to culture. We estimate that existing assays could be optimised within one to two years.

(ii) MAFF could monitor the presence and distribution of infection by environmental sampling of areas used by badgers.
Sadly, that 'two year' lead in time has stretched a bit, but so many jobs depend on keeping this polemic rolling, and so many pensions rely on not identifying infectious (or healthy) badgers. Including it would seem, the arch protectors themselves, the Badger Trust. Now why would that be?

And it not just 'us' who wanted a targeted cull, involving carefully crafted badger territories, and using cutting edge technologies. Others proposed the very same 16 long years ago, including another signatory to the recent letter condemning the  'culling as planned' Son-of-Krebs shooting party  (apart from Krebs, Woodroffe and Donelley) and that was Professor Stephen Harris.

In 1996, Prof. Harris also proposed a much more targeted cull, relying on 'hotspot' identification, using reactor maps and badger territories. We quoted it in this posting.
So far from throwing this particular baby out with the bath water, we suggest the Badger Trust make use of PCR technology. It is an arrogant presumption that its use as a stand alone is proposed, and equally arrogant that its only use would be to identify infected badgers. It is just as important, in fact more so, to find and protect clean badgers, which occupy around 70 per cent of the cattle grazing areas, before tuberculosis overwhelms them too. Why shouldn't farmers enjoy healthy shiny badgers instead of the miserable, diseased specimens we fall over in Tuberculosis hotspots?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The BBC never Disappoints..

... when it comes to supporting or promoting badgers. And true to form,  it did not disappoint this week when Panorama showed half an hour of cattle (being shot), a badger (being shot) and interviewed the usual uniquely unqualified commentators on what is a matter of Public Health.

A huge missed opportunity from a very uneasy Nigel Gibbons, as the dear old Beeb did its usual trick of isolating this bacterium to badgers or cattle. No mention of Government's statutory duty to protect public health, and no mention of overspill into hundreds of companion mammals, pets and their owners.
No mention either of the word 'Tuberculosis', which many still think can be cured with an organic carrot and  paracetamol.

 But the light has finally shone for the organisers of this proposed shooting party, as NFU leader Peter Kendall (reported in the Farmers Guardian)  suggests in the programme that Natural England may have wanted the cull to fail. Surely not?

We discussed this when NE's many annexes, choc full of tank traps for the unwary, were published in August 2011. And again in this posting, which co-incidentally mentioned a FERA / NE 'mole' which could possibly blow the whole thing to smithereens. And sure enough, in this programme, he popped up from his burrow.

 Dr. Chris Cheeseman, ex boss of Central Science Laboratory's Woodchester Park 'badger heaven' appeared quite relaxed as he explained he'd shared information, presumably gleaned from his sett mates at FERA / NE, with those intent on stopping a perfectly lawful (if daft) activity. Of course the whole thing was designed to fail.

The farmer whose cattle were filmed through the monotonous ritual of 60 day testing, followed by the slaughter of those having had exposure to m.bovis , was a tremendous figurehead for the cattle industry. His raw emotion and frustration, just below the surface as good young cattle went to be shot  was accompanied by Team Badgers's crass shrug, and throw away remark that 'they'd have been slaughtered sooner or later anyway.' 

Finally, conspicuous by their absence were clips of what tuberculosis does to badgers. These remained on the cutting room floor, as Cuddles Pauline Kidner cuddled cuddles chirping baby badger, to assorted 'ooohs and aaaahs' from her paying customers.

Rattle those tins why don't you? - no one would give a single penny to keep this poor old badger going.

Tuberculous pleurisy in any mammal is not just deadly, this type of lesion is excruciatingly painful.

There were 14 badgers in this group, all of which were in the same emaciated state and with advanced tuberculosis. Infectious to any mammal, with every step or breath they took.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Consultation on vaccination.

To jab or not to jab, that is the question.
And the EFRA Committee invite your views on whether to vaccinate badgers or cattle, or both.

On badgers,  given the dog's breakfast that arose from the 2010 'Elf and Safety trial and that mythical '74 per cent' headline success rate, most of the public (via the BBC and Dr. May) believe that an unscreened badger population can be jabbed once and protected from TB for life. Try catching the wild ones. One farm taking part in a trial, caught just a single badger in several weeks. Just one. Now that's one very expensive jab.

BCG for badgers has been awarded an 'LMA' or  Limited Marketing Authority license. Under that type of license, data on efficacy (that's whether the damn stuff works or not) was not presented and thus that thorny question is passed down the line. It becomes the 'responsibility of the end user'.

Neither do we look forward to another complete trading ban on all cattle products should we venture down the vaccinating cattle route. A revamped Beef Ban on all cattle products, annual jabs of a product with at best, 50 per cent efficacy @ £8 plus a DIVA test offering many false positives @ £26. Restriction is still restriction and the cattle are still dead. And how many other mammals will need this annual jab? Try selling this one to all the sheep farmers, goat keepers, alpaca herds and cat and dog owners.

 But the European Directives on the eradication of TB in Member States, specifically forbid treatment or vaccination for Tuberculosis. And we not aware that these have changed.
Article 13
Member States shall ensure that under a plan for the accelerated eradication of tuberculosis: (a) the presence and suspected presence of tuberculosis are compulsorily and immediately notifiable to the competent authority;
(b) the following are prohibited:

(i) any therapeutic or desensitizing treatment of tuberculosis;
(ii) anti-tuberculosis vaccination.
However a recent European Parliamentary Question to the Commission gave a fudge of an answer. Not a 'Yes' not  a 'No', but a door that opens both ways, and no answer at all.

After a recent visit by Brian May and Team Badger, who came back with the headline  'vaccination of cattle within months' and all publicity that generated, the European delegates spluttered that they had been 'misquoted' with facts taken out of context.

Well ain't that a surprise?

Friday, November 09, 2012

"Why don't they ....

.....   use the same technique for badgers that we use in hospitals, to distinguish between patients with  M .tuberculosis  and M. bovis ?" So said a TB specialist, whose expertise lies in treating human patients for tuberculosis.

And that 'technique' is what?

Er ...  PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) with a reported specificity to M. bovis of 98 per cent, and that two percent difference usually because of bad sampling techniques, the man said.

Why indeed?

It is worth noting that these samples enter the laboratory with an M. tuberculosis complex tag, thus still further underplaying the role of M. bovis in human beings. The different drug regimes for each strain, paint a different picture.

(More on this story as it pads out.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Under Defra's radar - but still dead.

We have written about Defra's extraordinary way of collating its ''other species' TB victims statistics many times now. This week, the body counters at Defra have produced another table of dead animals, but unlike their cattle statistics, these only show the single microbial sample which confirms Tuberculosis, for spoligotyping.

For sure, the outbreaks which are reported to AHVLA, do get followed up and hundreds of animals get slaughtered. But they do not get a look in on these stats. As we pointed out in 2010, in this post, they are the 'Disappeared'.

We thought this year, that just maybe, with the publication of a single outbreak of 'bovine' tuberculosis in which over 400 animals died, the Ostrich mentality of Defra's statisticians may be shamed into reality. But we were mistaken. Just 30 samples appear on their 3rd. quarter samples table. And we note that many trace herds are still 'tethered' to the index outbreak, and counted as one.

 This obfuscation is misleading and dangerous. And once again we are most grateful to the editors of the Alpaca TB support group for clearly presented facts about how this disease affects their animals, and where it is located.

So far this year, Defra's tables show that a positive Tuberculosis sample from an alpaca or llama has been identified in the counties of Carmarthanshire, Cheshire, Devon (3) Somerset, Staffordshire, Warickshire, West Midlands, West Sussex, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. But such is the urgency with with Defra have contained the known susceptibility, huge infectivity and onwards transmission of 'bovine' Tuberculosis from these delightful animals, that sales from these herds, may now involve several European countries or even 'TB free' Scotland..

In the interest of Royal relations, we are relieved for HRH that this alpaca was neither coughing  nor spitting during their face to face encounter.

But on the horizon, is a better test for camelids than the 'bovine' skin test, which has proved to be  rubbish on alpacas. And we welcome the imminent publication of the full report, following the Alpaca TB Support Group's privately funded study into cutting edge bTB diagnostics using PCR. The interim is looking promising.

Monday, November 05, 2012

So if it's not cattle .....?

Today we post the story of a closed dairy herd in Cheshire which has bought in no cattle for 16 years, has no neighbours with cattle directly contiguous but has suffered a devastatingly serious 70 cow loss at the latest TB test. Dairy farmer Philip Latham told his story in the Crewe Chronicle .

After doing the usual 'risk assessment', his AHVLA support officer has supported his assertion that badgers are to blame for the breakdown.. Having inspected Mr. Latham's livestock and maps of his farm she commented:
“He doesn’t buy in and has no contact with animals from farms around him, so the disease has to have come from wildlife and that tends to be badgers. Deer can carry TB but there aren’t deer in that area. In my opinion the information available points to badgers being the source of TB on this farm.
As a further indication of how her workload had changed over time the officer, Mrs. May (no relation, we are assured,  to the rock star leader of Team Badger) explained that :
When she first started working for the Government agency [AHVLA] only a small part of her two-day workload involved working with TB – now that is all she deals with.
What an miserable job for an AHVLA person to do, Condemning cattle to Defra's mincer on daily basis and dealing with stressed out frustrated farmers, when her own carefully crafted risk assessments show that the primary cause is wildlife, with a name most dare not speak. And they are ignored, as are her reports. This is a chart of badger related breakdowns in Devon in 2004 as produced from those AHVLA mapped risk assessments.
The source of 76 per cent of breakdowns were logged as 'Badgers', 16 per cent as 'Unknown origin' and just 8 per cent to purchased cattle.

Mr Latham is also quoted in the Farmers Weekly asking the NFU to consider an alternative to blanket and indiscriminate culling of badgers as planned in the pilot culls. Rather than culling both healthy and diseased badgers in a given area, Mr Latham said farm leaders should also consider a targeted cull involving the identification and culling of diseased badgers. A targeted cull would be more acceptable to the public, he said.
"As dairy farmers, we might be indignant that we have been badly done to this year. But we didn't manage to mobilise a fraction of the support mobilised by the 'Team Badger' brigade. We need a strategy that gets people behind us. We need to show we are willing to compromise. Many people think we want to kill badgers. But people are our consumers and we need them on side. Getting them on side would help them help us deliver what we want - which is not actually a cull of badgers but control of the disease. That is what we are after."
We are grateful to Mr. Latham for permission to tell his all too familiar story, and once again to the authors of the paper, first shown at the Killarney Conference on Epidemiology, for the use of their charts.

These risk assessments, so carefully prepared by Mrs. May and other AHVLA staff lie gathering dust, when what they should be doing is forming the first rung of data, for a management strategy to identify the location of all TB reactors. Take your pick: there are enough of them. Cattle for sure, but alpacas, pigs, sheep, deer, bison and goats are all logged now with AHVLA as are the poor old badgers. And we hear that VLA's spoligotype maps, so valuable in establishing spread (or not) of TB are now being built with the locations of several domestic cats. All the cattle have gone.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Plan B?

We posted a short series of links to various scientific papers on a previous thread, which gave an insight into the background of the non - eradication of tuberculosis in this country. Today, we'll top that up with the recommendations of both Lord Krebs in 1996 and DG SANCO in 2012.

But first a reminder that the intra-dermal skin test is the universally approved test for cattle, world wide. It is the primary choice of the OIE ( Office International des Epizooties )- an intergovernmental organisation which was actually set up in 1924. There are international rules on the eradication of infectious diseases. We expect others to obey them, and we must do so ourselves, or take the consequences. All countries use this test, most with outstanding success. The exception is the UK.

No country in the world has made a dent in eradication of TB in cattle, while leaving a wildlife reservoir to reinfect both them and other mammals. Prior to the Protection of Badgers Act 1972, farmers managed the  badger population, so it incorrect to say that 'not a badger was killed' during the cattle eradication years.  After 1972, all removals for any reason needed a license. PQs confirm that over time, demand for such licenses increased exponentially, indicating an increasing population.
Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the total population of badgers in the UK; and in which areas the population is greatest. [148650]
Mr. Bradshaw: English Nature advises that there are likely to be in the region of 300,000 to 400,000 badgers in Great Britain. This figure is derived from a National Badger Survey which took place in the mid-1990's.

The survey also reported that there had been a 77 per cent. increase in badger numbers between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. The increasing number of applications received by Defra for licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (up 50 per cent. since 1999) suggest that this trend is continuing. 
So plenty of badgers then.

We also note that the mantra of badger vaccination appears to have taken on a life of its own. It is now variously quoted by the Brian May, the Badger Trust, Wildlife Trusts, National Trusts and others, who trust that a single jab gives protection for life. It may give FERA employees a job for life, but it most certainly does not give that much protection, even on pre-screened badgers. We gave links to relevant scientific papers in this posting. And from those, anyone with half a brain can see that the jab was trialled on badgers pre-screened for tuberculosis, and it has to be repeated annually. If it has any effect at all, it may reduce lesions and thus bacterial spread over many, many generations.

Used as proposed by its followers, it is as bigger distraction as the RBCT.  But the licensing of this product may offer a clue: efficacy data were not produced. Badger BCG has a 'Limited Marketing Authority' (LMA) license. This means that any claims to its effectiveness are 'the responsibility of the end user'. They have not been independently verified. It may also be illegal under OIE rules on the eradication of tuberculosis, which forbid treatment or vaccination of any animal.

Also airbrushed are Defra's belated comment of its headline "74 per cent" efficacy for the product: 'The data should not be used to support the claim'. Former minister Jim Paice described claims for this product as: 'unhelpful' and 'misleading'. It doesn't alter the fact that a lot of people believe them.

So what have we got to work with to turn this charade around? The body which oversees the eradication of tuberculosis in the European Union is DG SANCO. Their latest blast at Defra this summer included the following statement:
The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
We would agree. Rather than being the engine drivers of the trains which feed Defra's mincing machines for tuberculosis casualties, why not use the information that AHVLA staff collect when investigating a breakdown? Each breakdown is carefully mapped as to where, when and how exposure occurred. But that information is gathering dust.

So our suggestion is to use it to map the location of all reactors over a wide area. Any variety of reactors. There are plenty to choose from now. Cattle, badgers, alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, cats and dogs. Then do a overlay field map of badger setts and their tracks, using fluorescent dust or coloured bait to track the movements over land occupied by these reactors.

Confirm the tracked locations of a) clean setts and b) infected ones by the now validated PCR test. And we do not want to hear that this technology does not work. It does and it is being used commercially for other bacteria in the M. tuberculosis complex  group by AHVLA. M. avium paratuberculosis  ( Johnes disease) samples are charged at around £26 for 5 pooled samples.

Get positive. This will work. It is already giving very encouraging interim results on alpaca samples.

But this is  Defra's dilemma; and the real stumbling block to progress. Neither Defra, FERA nor Natural England  want to cull badgers: any badgers, infected or not. Whether that is misplaced sentimentality or the worship of a particularly lucrative cash cow, is debatable. But when infected setts are identified, and litigation becomes a real threat, then action will have to be taken and taken quickly.

Professor (Lord) Krebs has been quite vocal recently, as have many more the Magic Circle involved in keeping this whole miserable shebang rolling. Their arguments echo Bourne's in 1997, 'culling badgers as done in the RBCT' is not the way forward. Krebs and co rephrased this with  'culling as planned'.

So what is the way forward? In his 1996 Plan, not only Krebs but co-authors Donelley and Woodroffe of the ISG clan, proposed and recommended the use of PCR. (p 131):
7.9.5 We also recommend that the scope for using modern DNA amplification techniques, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for diagnosis should be further explored. The PCR is quicker than microbial culture and can detect the remnants of dead bacteria in addition to living organisms. If sufficiently sensitive, we see two applications for such a test.
(i) It could provide rapid screening of samples from badger carcases. We suggest MAFF should consider whether this might be an alternative to culture. We estimate that existing assays could be optimised within one to two years.
(ii) MAFF could monitor the presence and distribution of infection by environmental sampling of areas used by badgers.
They most certainly could, but Defra have resisted this opportunity for the last 15 years, leading to a recent PCR abattoir screening of sheep picking up to 50 per cent infection. Do we really want to screw lamb exports as well as trade in all cattle products and alpacas?

With this totally predictable cock up, we have a hiatus. A chance to do a rethink of this modern day carnage by computer, which followed a politically motivated Son-of-Krebs, designed to fail from day one. Just follow the trail:

The crucial original population estimate (done by FERA) early this spring was based on the RBCT figures 16 years ago, other area densities and a small sample of the pilot areas. This amalgam figure was given to the NFU as the base line figure for the areas. And it was much too low.

From that, everything else flowed. Number of badgers, numbers of shooters and numbers of bullets, disposal and everything else. And thus cost. The cost was all to be collected from the farmers + 25 per cent contingency fund.

The culling protocol was set up by NE to be so bureaucratically complicated as to fail, thus no-one (except the NFU) expected it to get off the ground or to survive a Judicial Review. But it did, hence the frantic last minute scramble to count badgers living in Glos and Somerset instead of elsewhere, some 16 years ago.

And therein came the problem. There were up to 60 per cent more than calculated, so 60 per cent more cost, and to cap it all, Natural England announced that they wanted 80 per cent shot on 42 nights, to achieve the original target of 70 per cent. You really couldn't make it up.

So we have a toxic mix of a quango which doesn't want to cull any badgers at all, in charge of a politically driven mathematical model of Pythagorus and bingo. A PR disaster all round and the truth the biggest casualty of all.

So, to summarise: we propose a structured investigation using veterinary expertise, to locate clean setts, and protect them. This going hand in hand with seeking out infected badgers, using cutting edge technology and reactor mapping. There should be complete removal of these groups and only these, to halt the carnage ripping through our countryside. Fewer badgers would be culled and only infectious ones; clean ones protected and nurtured with more space. What's not to like?

 If we lose this opportunity, the only winner is this vicious and almost indestructible bacteria - Tuberculosis.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Brian who?

It is a sad day for our country when the national media accord such publicity to uniquely unqualified celebrities, over an issue as important and potentially dangerous as Tuberculosis. The hype seems to involve badger rescuers and sanctuaries, badger lovers, badger  photographers and badger wannabees. Pitted against that shed load of misguided emotion we may see a mathematical modeler or a farmer, but never an epidemiologist or a person qualified in communicable diseases.

No country in the world countenances setting up controls for a serious zoonotic disease in farmed animals without also including in the measures, a specific programme for eliminating disease reservoirs in the wildlife population. Except of course, the United Kingdom. And the long term effects of that, will be profound.

But as Defra appear to have handed their statutory responsibility for the eradication of a zoonotic disease to the light entertainment section of the BBC,  perhaps we should remind the followers of such celebrity hype of answers to Parliamentary Questions.
Remembering of course that while words are cheap, Parliamentary written answers are sacrosanct.

The mantra is that 'bovine' TB is a cattle disease and gave it to innocent badgers: but molecular geneticists say that the bacterium known as M. bovis developed over thousands of years and is now established in:
"... natural host spectra as diverse as humans in Africa, voles on the Orkney Isles(UK), seals in Argentina, goats in Spain, and badgers in the UK." [Brosch et al]
No mention of cattle there - even with a tag of 'bovine'. Not one. And such geneticists (not celebrity rock stars who just love badgers) say that analysis of recent work suggests that true cattle TB was eliminated by the 1970s, and what we have now is badger adapted TB spreading back into the environment.

As it seems to cause so much confusion, maybe mycobacterium meles would be a more accurate title.
But back to the 'Word', dutifully reported and frequently mis-quoted. "Managing infected badger populations has no effect on cattle TB." said the man in the video clip, and  "Bovine TB is a cattle disease".. Really?
Try these Parliamentary answers.
[148660] "All four clearances [of badgers] were followed by a reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle."
And after one particularly successful clearance, what was the result?
[150573] "No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area [] were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following.."
Why was that? any extra testing, biosecurity?
[159066] No enhanced biosecurity measures were maintained during the [] badger clearance programme."
And the conclusion of why it worked so well:
[157949] The fundamental difference [] was the systematic removal of badgers from the area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence [in cattle] within the area."
So for the benefit of the Tweeting classes, and a juvenile, celebrity obsessed media, this is the conclusions of the latest EU report on our non-eradication policy for Tuberculosis, which now uses European cash:
It is however of utmost importance that there is a political consensus and commitment to long-term strategies to combat TB in badgers as well as in cattle.
The Welsh eradication plan will lose some impetus as badger culling will now be replaced with badger vaccination. This was not part of the original strategy that consisted of a comprehensive plan that has now been disrupted.
There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle.
UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections.
And do not look to VLA's pension pot work on vaccination.  We explored that in the two posts below, and the results, are not 'encouraging' even if the OIE gave us the go ahead to play. And there is no mileage in laying this at the door of the EU. Even without the EU, we are signatories to the Office International des Epizooties - an intergovernmental organisation which was actually set up in 1924. There are international rules. We expect others to obey them, and we must do so ourselves, or take the consequences.

And finally, if the penny has not already dropped, do not look to Defra's 'other species' duplicitous statistics for guidance on the continuing up-spill of badger-tuberculosis into other mammals. Try the BBC website for a report on 400 dead alpacas - in one herd. And the BBC are never wrong. Biased maybe, but not wrong.

Followers of celebrity fashion, led by a juvenile media, all intent on 'Twittering' are being used most cynically: but as they 'Tweet' their  misinformation and prejudices, Tuberculosis wins a dangerous victory.