Sunday, April 29, 2012

Not the Final Report.

Since the Badger Dispersal Trial RBCT ended in 2006, producing its bible in 2007, we have been extremely critical of its published results. Not without cause, as many of our contributors had the misfortune to be caught up in this charade of 8 nights well publicised and vandalised cage trapping, once a year if you were lucky.

On reading the Final Report, it became apparent that far from using information contained in the painstakingly time consuming TB99 forms - each of which was a ream of paper dealing with risk, prepared by trained veterinary officers with back up from several government agencies - the ISG chose to ignore what was airily described as 'apocryphal' evidence.

The personnel completing these forms for the RBCT, are highly trained veterinary practitioners, with back up support for the data from government agencies such at the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), Cattle Tracing Service (CTS), Ordnance Survey office and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA). So it was a wasteful, arrogant, disgrace disappointing to realise that far from actually using this robust, complex, epidemiological data, the ISG chose to ignore it. But worse than that, within the section concerning the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the ISG describe their epidemiological base, stating that they included:
"........ local infection across farm borders, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas and infection from wildlife, especially badgers. [] In the following calculations, we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important." (ISG 7.24 p148)
Thus the ISG chart would appear like this .... :

... because far from using that robust, complex epidemiological data contained in these forms to actually see what was going on, the ISG 'roughly assumed' two parts cattle, one part badger, pumped that into a mathematical abacus and switched on.

Since then two further reports have been published. The first from Jenkins et al, in 2008 which found that the notorious 'edge effect' of increased TB incidence associated with the fiasco that was the first couple of years of the trial, had reversed in subsequent years. The paper looked at the trial data for each of the years in which it tried to cull badgers, and then ran the TB incidence in cattle data onwards for each of a further two years at Defra's request and taxpayer's cost. As we explained in the posting:
The estimated effects on cattle TB of culling badgers within the cull areas during the trial increased over the time frame from a modest 3.6 percent in its first year, to 31.8 percent from the 4th to final year. But two years later that effect had increased to 60.8 per cent. Conversely the 'edge' effect, unique to the ISG 8 night cage trap fiasco, caused 43.9 percent increase in breakdowns up to 2 km outside the triplet zone in the first year of culling, falling to 17.3 percent in the 4th - final year's scrape up. But within two years, that negative effect had somersaulted to a (minus) -30.1 percent incidence outside the proactive zones..
Further work from Prof. Donnelly followed in 2010 which showed that the cull areas, had maintained that benefit. That paper explained:
This updated data shows that in the period starting one year after culling stopped up until 31 January 2010 the incidence of confirmed breakdowns in the proactive culling areas was 37% lower than survey only areas (areas which were surveyed but not culled). Furthermore in the areas adjoining the culled area the incidence was 3.6% lower. This means that any initial perturbation effect has been quickly overturned and there is now a lower than previous incidence in these areas.
Now Prof. Donnelly has turned the power on again, and come up with a rather interesting conclusion using the post mortem results of the trapped trial badgers - or those they did manage to cage trap in 8 nights, very occasionally with time out for FMD:
The observed and model fitted per-herd incidence of confirmed TB herd breakdowns within each proactive trial area and the corresponding estimated proportion of confirmed TB herd breakdowns attributed to infectious badgers. The observed data related to 12 months prior to the initial proactive cull (so a different 12-month calendar period in each case). The fitted values were obtained from a model, fitted by Donnelly and Hone (2010), to the relationship between the incidence of confirmed TB herd breakdowns and the prevalence of M. bovis infection detected among badgers culled in the initial proactive culls.
Prof. Donnelly's results show that within the triplets, two areas had cattle breakdowns of up to 72.7 per cent 'attributed to infectious badgers'. A further two attributed 60.6 per cent to infectious badgers, four between 41 and 49 percent and the last two (where from bitter experience, much interference took place) 16.8 - 32 per cent.

We are grateful once again to use these images, both first shown at the Killarney Conference. But hey - 72.7 per cent of cattle breakdowns 'attributed to infectious badgers'? We note that with each publication, Prof. Donnelly's electrical abacus is catching up with the reality and effect of TB infected badgers.
Perhaps the ISG would care to redraft their 'Final Report' of 2007?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Zoonoses - they affect humans.

This week has seen a media frenzy after a Cornish alpaca owner was confirmed as suffering from ‘bovine’ tuberculosis. We have been 'banging on' about the risk of so called 'bovine' TB to other mammals for as long as this site has been online. Testing cattle and slaughtering those that react to exposure to bTB is missing the point. Where has that exposure come from, and what else may have been exposed to the same source? Animal Health Officers say that up to 90 percent of bTB breakdowns in Cornwall are caused by badgers. Even Professor Donnelly's electronic abacus is now indicating that up to 70 percent of cattle breakdowns in the RBCT proactive areas are badger related. We will blog that work later, but for now, we top up with an overview of  Dianne Summer’s news,  released last week on her website that she has contracted ‘bovine’ TB.

Over the past years, we have reported the disease in cattle herds which have not bought in animals for decades and the spill-over of bTB into other species including free range pigs, alpacas, llamas, sheep and goats. The disease has also been increasing steadily in domestic cats and dogs.

Like the small cage-birds taken by miners into coal mines last century to warn of deadly ‘firedamp’ gas, regularly tested cattle act as ‘canaries’ - sentinels of the amount of bacteria in the environment, available to infect many other mammals, including human beings. In 1986, the ministry slaughtered 700 cattle. By 2007 our ministry culled 28,000 and figures from the last couple of years have approached 40,000. The message of these sentinel ‘canaries’ is being ignored.

Spillover of bTB to other mammals is not helped by the way Defra presents its statistics either. While their figures for cattle bTB outbreaks are fairly comprehensive - as long as their new computer isn't on strike - figures for other species are presented in a totally different format, using only the (often single) confirming positive sample of what may be a much larger outbreak. A recent Parliamentary Question showed no sign that anything was about to change any time soon as to how Defra log the now hundreds of other mammals lost to bTB. This is an indication of a dangerously out of control spillback of this disease in the hands of a government department relying on its own dumbed down figures to justify its continuing inertia..

The body that oversees diseases such as TB is also out of touch with today’s risks. HPA's textbooks are stuck in the groove of exposure to TB in the early part of last century and they have not caught up with 'bovine' TB affecting companion mammals and domestic pets and thus putting their owners’ health at grave risk. Public Health officials continue to play this down but are basing their assumptions on past opportunities for transmission. Few cases are strain typed, but of those that are, official figures for bTB (m.bovis) in humans show 532 cases 1996 – 2009. As the majority of cases will initially be logged as 'm.tuberculosis complex' rather than isolated to m.bovis, this is likely to be an underestimate. Nurses and consultants working with TB patients confirm that the drug regime for the treatment of m.bovis is different and will need to be upgraded from the original m.tuberculosis regime. The original data log however, may not be altered. And liaison with VLA who strain type possible TB patients, is as rare as hens’ teeth.

HPA still quantify 'risk' to bTB by exposure to 'unpasteurised milk, foreign travel and inhabiting homeless shelters'. But exposure to the increasing amount of bacteria from ‘environmental’ sources is an unknown quantity. Neither Dianne Summers nor her alpacas have been exposed to any of HPA's ‘risk’ opportunities, but the alpacas area dead and Dianne has bTB.

Tuberculosis is a slow burn disease, often remaining dormant in unsuspecting and healthy adults for many years. Only when the body is under stress from a second challenge, can lesions break down into full-blown tuberculosis. And that is when this disease becomes a killer. Molecular geneticists say that analysis of recent work suggests that true TB in cattle was eliminated by the 1970s and what we have now, is badger-adapted TB spreading back into the environment. Perhaps mycobacterium meles would be a more accurate label?

Until the early 1980’s, culling of infected badger setts in response to cattle breakdowns continued, but despite the success of such tightly targeted clearances, government policy was progressively sanitised following pressure from animal rights organisations. And since 1997, when a moratorium was imposed on the culling of badgers under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act, ‘to prevent the spread of disease’, no action whatsoever has been taken to stop the spread of tuberculosis either within the badger population, and thus to other mammals.

Defra are not killing cattle for the benefit of the farming industry. Neither is this ultimate protection of infected wildlife anything other than a response to lobby cash. Government have a statutory duty to eradicate this disease from both cattle and wildlife under several international directives which protect human health. Killing cattle while leaving a wildlife reservoir to re-infect, is both ineffective and expensive. Sentinel cattle herd breakdowns have mushroomed from their original hotspots two decades ago, to affect up to a third of herds in much of SW England, Wales and the west Midlands. This shows a thoroughly reckless exposure to ‘environmental’ sources of bTB.

‘Bovine’ tuberculosis is not a disease of cattle; it affects many mammals and human beings. It is a zoonosis – that’s what they do. But government inertia will ensure that this ancient and deadly disease, which should have been consigned to history books, will in future affect a wide range of species – including human beings. Dianne Summers is not the first to be affected and she will not be the last.  

Short overviews written by Dianne Summers, Dr.Gina Bromage and Mike Birch can now be found on their website at:

Monday, April 23, 2012

We wish her well.

This posting is taken from the Alpaca TB website and it is one which we would rather not have written. Founder member of the team which run the website, Dianne Summers, has had confirmation that she has bTB (m.bovis )herself and has begun treatment.

Human treatment for TB takes up to nine months and consists of a cocktail of drugs with some very unpleasant side effects - it is not a quick or simple fix. We have spoken about the reckless disregard for the environmental contamination to which our animals and our population is being increasingly exposed many times.

But Dianne's case underlines the reason why bTB must be taken seriously. Regular testing of sentinel cattle while studiously ignoring their message is a dangerous exercise. The spillover into alpacas is only one example of a series of companion mammals and pets to succomb to bTB in recent years. As the AlpacaTB website says: -
"it is not just your livestock that are at risk. If it is in your herd you, your family and friends can contract TB. TB is a Zoonotic disease - to be clear that means it can be passed on to people".
Dianne has only just begun her treatment. Much more will be coming from this story, but in the meantime, we wish her a full and speedy recovery.

Friday, April 06, 2012

She couldn't see it coming.

Over the years we've told you stories of companion animals who have fallen victim to what Defra like to refer to as 'environmental TB' - or as we call it, TB infected badger pee. In 2006, we told you the story of a small herd of dexter cattle, and in particular, a young bull called Fern.
Shambo, the ''sacred bullock' made headlines and a few diplomatic incidents the following year. But today we'll tell the tale which will make no headlines, except among dairy farmers.

About 5 years ago, this young cow was born into a large SW dairy herd. One which our friends at the Badger Trust tell their members and anyone else who will listen, was all about profit.

And she was born blind.

While the media is full of pictures of shiny, cuddly badgers, Jack Reedy, at the time vice chairman of the Trust, gave his opinion of dairy farmers in a BBC interview. He said that:
".... the TB problems of such farms are like "shoe pinches" because of the "economic penalty" which a breakdown entails and not because of its impact on the animals or farmers. He went on to say in this interview that it is "very unusual for farmers to get fond of their cows" and that they are "usually very careful not to."

"Cattle are not pets", he helpfully pointed out.
This arrogant oversimplification is marginally less offensive than his predecessor's 'cattle get killed anyway' comment, but let that pass. The implication here is that if cattle farmers are paid enough, then they'll roll over and their TB problems will just disappear. Or at least farmers won't whinge about them so much. So Jack, this story is just for you.

When she was a calf, this young animal (we'll call her 'Daisy')was not destroyed, but kept in the same group of calves of similar age until she was about 18 months old. The herdsman and owner then thought long and hard what was best for her and as she was thriving - and blind or not, seemed to be coping quite well - she was put in calf with the rest of that group. The thinking was that if she had to be kept isolated, then that was what would happen. But 'Daisy' was happy with 'her' group and in 2010 calved a heifer calf. She was kept in the straw yard and walked daily into the milking parlour with no bother at all. But without her mates, she seemed unsettled and wanted to go with the main group into cubicles, and in the spring, out to grass.

As 'Daisy' knew best, she was tried with the main herd, and blind or not, she fitted in perfectly. Last summer, when she was dried off to calve again, she was put in a small field by the house, with an old 'granny cow' for company. So here dear readers, (and Jack Reedy) we have a blind milking cow and an 'old granny' companion, treated like royalty by a big commercial dairy herd. Nah, that can't be right - farmers are all about money. Reedy said so on the BBC, so it must be true.
The herdsman spoils this young cow. He told us that she knows his voice, and comes to call for food and water. As does 'granny'. He says "she is the most trusting cow I have ever known, knows my voice when I talk to her and will follow me anywhere."

And I think you can guess what we're going to say now, can't you? Last august Daisy calved again, and mothered this calf as well as she did her first.

She wintered well with the rest of her herd mates and is in calf again. But last month both she and her companion, 'granny' became TB reactors. So this week they join the other 38,000 cattle victims which Defra are happy to kill annually, on the altar of votes and lobby money badger worship. The difference being that this young cow would never have seen what will ultimately have caused her death.

Update 11/04/2012.
Daisy was shot on farm today. The herdsman held her and talked to her.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How did you get that?

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) have written to minister John Griffiths enquiring how he arrived at the conclusion that vaccinating badgers in the Pembroke IAA (with an unknown but modelled benefit of 9 percent after 5 years in the centre of the patch) is better than a cull which offers benefit of up to 100 per cent - if carried out correctly. And 30 per cent if it is not.
The Farmers' Union of Wales has demanded transparency and the release of all relevant documents by the Welsh Government after raising concerns about the legal and scientific basis for environment minister John Griffiths' decision to vaccinate rather than cull badgers in the Intensive Action Area (IAA).

The union believes that the minister may have ignored the previous findings of the Court of Appeal in making his decision, and that there is a lack of transparency because important information has been censored from Welsh Government documents placed in the public domain.

During recent meetings with ministers and officials, it was indicated the decision not to proceed with a cull was based on an anticipated reduction in confirmed incidences of 13.4%, which the minister did not believe was sufficiently “substantial” within the meaning of Section 21(2)(b) of the Animal Health Act 1981.

It is also understood that this figure was compared with the results of computer models of the impact of badger vaccination.
For all these alleged benefits of culling, politicians return like demented boomerangs to the RBCT - despite that exercise in prevarication being quite openly skewed from the beginning. Even the ISG's Final Report admitted that the patiently completed TB 99 forms which accompanied any breakdown in the trial areas were stock piled, and the computers loaded with a "roughly equally important" source of infection, modelled on the "assumption" of two parts cattle to one part badger.(Ref: 7.24 - p.148)
That produced a chart which looked like this:

But risk assessment forms from Animal Health in the SW of England told a different story. No modelling and no 'rough assumptions' just epidemiological data, which showed that up to 76 percent of herd breakdowns in Devon during 2004, were badger related. Just 8 percent were attributed to cattle and the remainder 'unknown'.

But we digress... FUW are on the trail of Mr. Griffith's figures and have demanded to see from where he obtained them. In his letter to Mr Griffiths, FUW president Emyr Jones states: “…the 13.4% figure clearly relates to an area which is larger than the IAA, and includes possible adverse impacts which would only occur if the geographic boundaries around the IAA did not reduce the negative effects seen during the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial.
" is therefore clear that any judgment you made relating to the legality of a cull under Section 21(2)(b) of the Animal Health Act 1981 should have been based upon an anticipated reduction in confirmed incidences of 25.7%, and not 13.4%."

With regard to the comparison of real culling trial results and computer models of vaccination, Mr Jones adds: “…there is currently no scientific, nor, in our opinion, legal basis for making such a direct comparison, since the scientific approaches used to produce such figures are wholly different; one is based upon a simple extrapolation of the outcomes of real badger culls, whereas the other uses a large number of complex and unproven hypotheses to model the actions of individual animals, producing estimates which cannot be compared with real data, because no vaccination field trials have been undertaken.

Mr Jones highlighted the fact that when the same computer model is used to examine culling, it predicts reductions of 30 to 40 per cent.

And if done correctly, as with Thornbury and the earlier more targeted culls, then the benefit is 100 percent.
And it is perfectly possible for 'science' (if one could bear to call the RBCT that) to show how not to do something. But of course the ISG knew that before they started.

Farmers Guardian has the story of the FUW challenge.