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. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

BCG vaccination - cattle

And now to cattle BCG vaccines: heavily promoted by guitarist, pop idol and astrophysicist Dr. Brian May as 'only months away' with no obvious road blocks from the EU and obviously the answer to all our TB problems.

But not those of increasing numbers of alpacas, domestic cats (which we understand VLA use to fill in their M. bovis spoligotype maps in some areas), sheepdogs, tourist attraction bison, rare breed goats or even a TB-riddled sacred bullock.

Earlier this year a £7m cattle TB vaccination study in the UK was completed. It was carried out by VLA at Weybridge, Surrey (which makes a change from their frequent hops to Africa) and it started in 2005. (SE3227)

In this study 60 uninfected cattle were penned with 39 skin test reactor cattle. Of these 60 uninfected cattle, 20 were left unvaccinated, 20 were vaccinated and 20 were both vaccinated and boosted. After 12 months all the cattle were slaughtered and examined for signs of TB.

Eight of the 60 cattle were found to be infected (i.e. 13 percent) of which two were un-vaccinated, four were vaccinated and two were vaccinated and boosted. So not a great result then?

VLA's Glyn Hewinson reported his heroic efforts to torture the old BCG jab into working order, in this Farmers Weekly article. But for us, that 50-60 per cent efficacy, a repeat of his efforts in Ethiopia and Botswana, just doesn't cut it.

Combined with a DIVA test with less than perfect sensitivity or specificity, we could end up with more slaughtered cattle, a reservoir of TB in cattle and an OIE (Office of International Epizootics) Produce Ban.  It is not the European Union which sets the bar for eradication of tuberculosis, it is the OIE.

So from another contributor, a scenario to ponder, assuming of course we have OIE approval to use a cattle vaccine offering 50 - 60 efficacy, and a DIVA test of dubious sensitivety. (And ignoring the overspill into other mammals.)

Herd A/B of 100 cows is in TB hotspot area. These would be vaccinated annually at a cost of £8.25 per dose with a vaccine needing a 3 or 4 day withdrawal period for milk and meat. The vaccine is, in the words of VLA, only 50 - 60 per cent effective.
  • Around this herd, live both healthy and TB infected badgers and while every effort has been made to keep badgers out of cattle sheds in the winter. In the summer out in the fields cattle to badger (or badger excretion) contact cannot be avoided. 
  • Out of 100 cows in herd AB vaccinated, Group A cows (50-60 animals) would be protected but Group B (40-50 animals ) would have no protection. So after a skin test, (still compulsory) which showed reactors, we will not know which cows are protected and which are not from this herd. Group A may react to the test because of the vaccine, group B could react to the test either because of the vaccine inefficiency but also because they could have been exposed to the bacteria itself. The vaccine should have a 'marker', so any cattle who react to the skin test will have to have a DIVA test to find out if the skin test reaction is from the BCG vaccine or exposure to disease.
  • So lets say that 10 cows react to the test: we then have to DIVA test those 10 animals.
  • However the current DIVA test is not 100% effective, far less than that. But being generous, we'll say it's 90 %. Thus the result of a blood screen will be that either 1 infected cow will be missed as a false negative, or 1 cow will be culled as a false positive. On the other hand, we may get lucky and find the infected one.
  • Any infected cows missed and remaining in the herd, become a risk to the herd before possibly being found at the next test or on slaughter. But the worst case scenario is that they are sold on and possibly take infection to another herd. Which is why Defra helpfully point out that 'A negative DIVA test does not guarantee freedom from TB'.
  • So what does all this mean for the farm, its 100 vaccinated cows and the farmer?
  • As happens now, the farm will be placed under herd movements restriction because of the 10 cows which have reacted to the test; in fact just one reactor will kick start restriction of the whole herd. So for the farmer nothing will have changed in spite of vaccinating his cattle, except he may get less reactors than if he had not vaccinated. The status of any reactors is unknown. 
  • So what will not have changed should we go down the cattle vaccination road?
  • The farm will be under restriction and subject to 60 day testing, plus DIVA blood testing until clear, but with the added risk of more false positive or false negative results from the DIVA test.
  • Cattle movement off the farm will not be allowed (except for slaughter) until the farm has had at least one  'satisfactory' skin test. Strictly licensed live movements after that, have to be within 30 days of a preMT (down from 60 days)
  • Tuberculosis in badgers will still go unchecked.
  • Tuberculosis overspill into other species like alpacas, sheep, goats, pigs and cats and dogs from wildlife will continue.
  • What will have changed if farmers accept vaccination?
  • Some cows will have protection from bovine TB, but which ones will be unknown and some (maybe as many as 50% ) will have no protection at all.
  • Someone (most likely to be the farmer as Defra are broke) will have to pay for the vaccine (£8.25) and DIVA test (£24) [ Defra figures] Vaccination is annual.
  • BCG vaccine withdrawal period is 3 to 4 days, no milk sold and possible disposal problems. Meat sale delays.
  • Undetected DIVA false negatives will/could increase hidden bovine TB within the national herd.
  • Cows will / could be culled for false positives to the DIVA test.
  • But ongoing “jobs” for those in labs doing "DIVA" tests and research?

 It is difficult to see any benefit from vaccinating cattle unless the vaccine is at least 95 percent effective in protecting cattle and unless the DIVA test is 98 / 99% effective in detecting vaccinated cattle from those with exposure to TB.

And this scenario is likely to cause even more confusion about tests for TB and if they work or not. So where is the supposed benefit to the industry or the cattle? The promotion of vaccinating cattle as "the answer" to the TB problem in the face of a known wildlife reservoir of bovine TB which can still infect the 40 to 50 percent of cattle not protected and which will probably involve GB in another Beef Ban is no "answer" at all. The European Commission are less than happy with the spin  Dr. May put on this idea as well, see their statement.

And our information is that 'in the face of the enormous challenge cattle face from infectious badgers, BCG is unlikely to work at all'. Remember, all it takes is is 1 cfu, a single Colony Forming Unit to infect a calf.

BCG - Reality (meles meles)

We've tickled this subject lightly over the past years, but as it seems to be flavour of the month with the BBC,  the media, an aged rock guitarist and assorted groupies, perhaps we better have another look.  There are several documents and links to the reality of BCG use both in badgers or cattle - or any mammal likely to come into contact with M. bovis so we'll summarise a few.

BCG vaccine for badgers has only applied for, and received what is known as 'Limited Marketing Authority' (LMA) licensing, which means its efficacy was neither shown nor needed to be shown, thus the oft' spoken claim of 74 per cent efficacy should remain moonshine.

 That 'trial' pre-secreened its badgers, catching 844, but only using 262 - an infection rate of around 43 percent we were told. They also anaesthetised those which were vaccinated. All vaccines come with instructions on administration which may include intradermal, subcutaneous, intra-muscular or oral routes. How they are given is very important, so the library pictures of a gowned and masked figure approaching a caged badger with a long hypodermic are quite farcical. But we digress.

On badger vaccination, from Dr. Ueli Zellweger, a Swiss veterinary practitioner with several years of experience dealing with  bTB,  a short paper entitled " Bovine Tuberculosis, Animal Welfare and the BCG Vaccine."
The darkness and sticky air conditions in a badger set is the ideal climate for tuberculosis bacteria to survive for months. Any cub born in a set with TB is likely to get infected in the first few weeks of his shortened and possibly very miserable life. It might be even infected by its own mother. Some will die soon and some will be carrying this Tb infection in latent form until they die. If such an already infected badger is vaccinated with BCG there is the risk that the latent infection opens up with the consequence that this badger is spreading billions of TB bacteria. Where is the animal welfare aspect?
Unlike most other common vaccines the BCG vaccine does not stimulate the huge production of specific antibodies. Therefore the BCG vaccine does not prevent an infection; the only thing it does is reducing the risk of a so called bacteriaemia, which means that the risk of TB bacteria being spread via the blood or lymph-flow is reduced ( but not eliminated ).
It is highly unlikely that the European Veterinary Commission will ever accept that England is using the BCG vaccine for cattle. Why should they expose all other European countries which had managed to eradicate bovine TB ( bTB ) to the risk of reinfection? Much more likely is sooner than later a total import ban of any English livestock, dairy and beef products.
Sure bTB is a matter to be sorted out by veterinary science and not by laymen like politicians and musicians. It is obvious that in this country the way to deal with this very long known disease has utterly failed over the last 10 or even 15 years. There certainly are highly experienced and well respected senior veterinary epidemiologists in Europe. Why not asking one or two of those for advice what to do? It should have happened 10 or more years ago.
Finally I am amazed that in all the discussions about bTB, the testing of dairy and beef herds and biosecurity on farmyards the role of pet cats is never mentioned. Cats can carry bTB and being a veterinary surgeon myself I do remember very well the one single cat we had finally sorted out in my home-country some 35 years ago to have infected and reinfected 3 different dairy herds in one bigger hamlet over almost 2 years. To diagnose TB in a cat the usual intra-dermal test is not reliable. The only way to do it is by radiography or by long lasting cultures of dubious excretions.
Dr. Ueli Zellweger, MRCVS, GST, GThT
We are grateful for Dr. Zellweger's insight.

A further comment from virolgist, Dr. Ruth Watkins can be found on www.warmwell on this link.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What now?

After today's not unexpected announcement that the proposed badger cull is to be postponed, many farmers are asking, what now? Once again a raft of cattle measures have been foisted on them - with no prospect of control of tuberculosis in wildlife any time soon.

So how we get to this crazy impasse? To answer that, we need to go back to reams of reports and epidemiological research, conducted at a time when 'political' science hadn't really got its collective feet under the table. Much of the work was done at Badger Heaven CSL's Woodchester Park, where generations of badgers have given their time and bodily secretions so that we may better understand how tuberculosis affects them and the environment they share.

 * There is a lot of information contained in this paper, jointly written by Dr. John Gallagher and Dr. Richard Clifton-Hadley, the latter a recently retired employee of VLA and signatory of a letter urging the new Secretary of State to reconsider 'culling as planned'.

 * After a decade of indecision on badger control known as the 'Interim Strategy', yet another report was commissioned, to follow Lords Zucherman and Dunnet. Professor John Krebs was invited to submit a plan. A trial to see if culling badgers really did work in reducing Tuberculosis in cattle. The fact that it had in the past was airbrushed, as was the pernicious salami slicing of how or over what area it could be carried out. Kreb's original protocol for the culling trial was pretty sound and contained explicit points to avoid perturbation, incomplete culls and the recolonisation of areas cleared. He also had no qualms about the removal of lactating sows, before they could infect their cubs and keep the whole shebang rolling.

We explained the reality of what really happened during this eight year charade in this post. and Professor Kreb's original plan can be viewed on this link. (pdf)

* So what went wrong? For that we have to listen to the lead wizard of the magic circle who carried out this plan. Professor John Bourne was quite open about how he was going to run 'his' trial, and also that he had had his instructions on its outcome from the day it started. We covered the whole appalling saga in this posting, when Bourne patiently explained to the EFRA committee his trial's political base. He said:
Let us go back to 1999 when we started our work. It was made very clear to us by ministers of the day - and they have not refuted it since - that elimination of badgers over large tracts of countryside was not an option for future policy". It was on that basis that we designed the trial. We also had to take into account welfare considerations with respect to culling used, and limitations on culling with respect that cubs were not killed or died underground [ ] Those were clear political limitations that we operated under; I have no reason to believe that those political limitations have changed".
As several shocked members tried to interject, Bourne continued;
"We repeatedly say 'culling, as conducted in the trial.' It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians. [] Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report."
Read for yourself on this link. Or listen to an interview with Professor Bourne on Dorset Farm Radio.

 The proposed (and now delayed) 300 sq km culls, using free shooting, were set up as Son-of-Krebs, despite the admissions which we describe above, but mainly we think, to defend a Judicial Review. The fact that the JR was successfully defended came as a shock to us. And many of the mathematically modeled numbers are now quoted as 'facts'.

*  But the biggest fraud of all is probably the claim of '74 per cent' efficacy for Badger vaccine. We explored this claim in this posting and links to the relevant papers are in it. Even today the claim was once again misquoted, during the Parliamentary announcement of a delayed cull. It doesn't seem to compute that very belatedly Defra issued a 'thou shalt not say that' message to its internal staff, or that Jim Paice MP described the claim as 'misleading' and 'unhelpful'. The BBC / FERA publicity machine was in top gear, and much of the general public now believe that anyone can launch into an un-prescreened, grossly infected badger population, jab them and bingo. Tuberculosis is sorted.

* What would they think if they knew that the vaccine only held a 'Limited Marketing Authority' (LMA) license, which means that data on efficacy was not submitted at all?
It wouldn't have helped this poor old chap.

This posting has turned out to be quite long, so we'll finish with a snippet on cattle vaccine, which Dr. May tells us is 'months away'. No it is not.

 * Despite years or research, the efficacy of cattle vaccines is still 50 - 60 per cent only, which means that 40 - 50 of the cattle injected in a 100 cow herd would have little or no protection. BCG doesn't pretend to stop tuberculosis. It works ( if it works at all) by reducing the size of and bacterial shed from, lesions. And recent work on cattle both in Africa and here has not been exactly promising. Unless you call killing the animal at 2 years old and NOT having the carcase condemned as a success. The test which differentiates vaccinates from infected cattle (DIVA test) is equally uninspiring with Defra explaining that a 'negative' result does not guarantee freedom from TB, and that the test is likely to throw up many false positives.
So that particular bar is set too low for us - and we assume for the OIE (office of International Epizooties) who do take tuberculosis seriously, and would invoke an immediate ban on all products from vaccinates to all countries signed up to TB eradication plans. Another Beef Ban.

 We would also point out that vaccinating cattle conveniently airbrushes overspill into many other mammals - some of which share our hearth rug. Or perhaps Dr. May has plans to vaccinate all those too.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Picture tells 1000 words.

As the dead-tree media line up with badgery stories, we thought we'd do something slightly different. We will track the disgraceful decline of this country's so-called TB eradication programme using Defra's own maps.

After the Attested herds scheme of the 1950s and 60s, we were so nearly TB free. But a couple of 'hotspots' remained, which finally responded to parallel action on badgers after the mid 1970s.

Farmers controlled badger numbers.

The Protection of Badgers Act (1972) meant that any population control, for any reason, was by license only. MAFF controlled badgers " to prevent the spread of disease".

 And in 1986,  where at least one confirmed TB reactor had triggered annual tests for the parish,  the maps looked like this.

638 cattle were slaughtered in 1986.

After 1986, the real decline began, as gassing of a complete group of badgers implicated in cattle breakdowns by MAFF, was replaced with cage traps and shooting those that hadn't been released or moved.

But the big change was the land allocated to the Ministry wildlife teams. This was reduced during the Interim Strategy  operating 1988 - 97 from 7km down to just 1km and then only on land cattle had grazed.
All arable, woodland or neighbouring land was out of bounds to the wildlife teams - if not badgers..

Over the same period badger numbers were estimated to have increased by 77 per cent.

 The 1996 map tells its own story of expanding hotspots.

3,881 cattle were slaughtered in 1996.

In 1997, the then Labour government accepted a £1m bung from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL), and a moratorium was introduced overnight on Section 10 (2) of the Protection of Badgers Act.
No licenses were issued to "prevent the spread of disease".
Two years later, the number of cattle slaughtered had doubled.

The moratorium is still in place.

 The 2006 map shows hotspots expanding like Topsy.

 MAFF was now been re invented as DEFRA.

22,282 cattle were slaughtered in 2006.

After the end of the Badger Dispersal Trial  RBCT in 2006, Defra cracked down hard on cattle movements and ramped up testing.

 Pre movement testing was introduced in a valiant attempt to find this hidden reservoir of Tuberculosis in cattle.

The 2011 map showed the annual testing area as solid red, increased by several miles from Defra's original 2010 model. As far as badger could walk?

34,617 cattle were slaughtered in 2011.

Fast forward to this weeks' announcement of several new annual testing areas.

Please excuse the home made map - but as you can see, many buffer counties and those with sporadic and expanding problems now require annual tests and preMT of their cattle.

Defra say : "The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts was 21,512 in January to July 2012, compared to 20,514 in January to July 2011."

Thus in 2012, reactors slaughtered so far, have increased by 1000 head over the Jan - July 2011 figure.


We think the new format of Defra's maps looks a tad truncated. In fact, very odd. We prefer the old format.

Wales has devolved completely - as have its figures in most of the press reports. And Scotland's head is removed.

Nevertheless the GB map, minus its top and left side, we print here - straight from Defra's new 2013 pdf file,
which explains their new cattle measures.

This whole sorry 35 year picture gallery could be entitled 'A Ministerial Victory for Tuberculosis'.


Friday, October 19, 2012

An unlevel crack down ?

Announced today is a further unraveling of many of the measures introduced over the last decade to allow cattle farmers to 'live with' TB herd restrictions. The cynical amongst us have long concluded that politicians, and through them Defra, will do anything but tackle TB in badgers, hence a raft of licensed movements to enable farming businesses to continue to trade.

But on the back of  EU cash and pressure for harmonisation of tuberculosis control across the Community, pretty well all of these opportunities have now been closed. Farmers Guardian report that the latest clamp downs include:
* Farmers who have had TB on their farm – in all cases - will not be allowed to bring new cattle in until the rest of the herd has been tested for TB and a vet has carried out an assessment.

* Farmers to have just 30 days, (down from 60) to move cattle that test negative for TB from a TB breakdown farm.

* Approved Quarantine Units (AQUs), units for calves from TB breakdown farms, will not be able to take on any more calves from the New Year.

* Conditions Approved Finishing Units (AFUs), which take clean cattle from infected farms for fattening before slaughter, to be ‘strictly monitored’, and will lose their licenses for serious breaches.
Note: The 30 day movement window may apply to all tested movements and not just from TB restricted farms. We will try to clarify this. Similarly  'orange' markets which were also under fire don't seem to be mentioned. And  we note that the closing of AQUs means many more calves will be shot at birth.

These measures will also see several more counties East and N/E of Defra's red area ,(already extended, see map below) hoovered up into an annual testing regime. These include Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and East Sussex.

The latest report from DG SANCO came to the following conclusions:
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.

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 discussed the paper in this posting, but having ramped up the EU harmonisation of cattle controls, we see no sign of a widespread, parallel targeted action taken on wildlife reservoirs, to prevent their infection in the first place.

Monday, October 15, 2012


There was a lot of froth over the week end with a letter opposing the proposed badger cull, signed by several scientists. They conclude:
We recognise the importance of eradicating bovine TB and agree that this will require tackling the disease in badgers. Unfortunately, culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication. We therefore urge the government to reconsider its strategy.
"Culling badgers as planned ... "

Planned? Planned by whom?
We would refer readers back to the Defra Consultation Document, page 43. It's conclusion and thus the spin steer was:
Our preferred approach is option 6: to issue licences under the PoBA for industry to cull badgers, subject to a specific set of licence criteria. Under existing arrangements farmers and landowners will also be able to apply for licences to vaccinate badgers either on its own or for use in combination with culling. This approach will allow farmers to manage their own situations and use all the control measures available. It also means that taxpayers will not be paying for significant additional disease control measures. We consulted further on the implementation of this option, as articulated in draft Guidance to Natural England from July-September 2011

The research published and / or establishments occupied by many of the names on this letter are mentioned in these Defra documents. They would have been instrumental in constructing the protocols, the 'preferred option' of those on offer, was the one now being roundly trashed.
And we seem to have heard something like the phraseology of the protest before.

Indeed, some of the signatories to this letter were in the magic circle which conceived the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, which cage trapped into an infected population on 8 nights only, annually if you were lucky, with a couple of years off for FMD. And about which, their chairman and lead wizard was proud to tell any audience (in this case the EFRA committee in 2007) how 'his' trial was conceived and why it was carried out in such a way.

At that meeting, Geoffrey Cox, MP asked Professor Bourne to clarify the ISG's report's conclusions in the light of his statement describing a political steer in what should have been a scientific exercise.
Professor Bourne replied thus:
"We repeatedly say "culling, as conducted in the trial." It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians."
and he concluded:
"Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report".
Fast forward and the much quoted 16 per cent success projection for the current proposal. This was culled from the RBCT data, mathematically modeled figures taken over its whole politically rigged length. Why?

But to back to this current letter, now backed up by the lead wizard, himself. Yup, the very man who gave this statement (above) to support his 'political science' to his masters.

A salient point we think, is that many of the signatories to the Observer / Guardian letter appeared more than comfortable with the RBCT, when they were employed by it. We heard no shrieks of disapproval. But this was 'the science' - or pensions? Take your pick..But the RBCT debacle, which, having been involved in it,  we have criticised, and will continue to criticise,  mapped areas one third smaller than these proposals, used a different operating protocol and had a 'limitations imposed by politicians'.

Work that one out.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Defra's Calculator

Last month, Defra produced an astonishing news release which trumpeted the following information:
There has been a notable decrease in the incidence rate over the past 6 months, mainly as a result of an increased number of tests on unrestricted herds compared to last year. The AHVLA are currently carrying out a data checking exercise to validate these test statistics.
The provisional June 2012 incidence rate is 4.2%, compared to 6.0% in June 2011. However, care needs to be taken not to read too much into short term figures, especially as this figure includes a number of unclassified incidents. As such, the incidence rates are subject to further revisions as more tests and their results for the period are input.
The number of new herd incidents during the period January to June 2012 was 2,706 compared to 2,720 for January to June 2011. The number of tests on officially TB free herds was 41,656 in January to June 2012, compared to 34,667 in January to June 2011.
The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts was 18,213 in January to June 2012, compared to 18,081 in January to June 2011.
So all good news then?
Well, that depends on who is punching the buttons. We have archived the key figures for Jan - June 2011 and guess what? They do not compute to this conclusion at all. In the same 6 months of 2011, 6073 herds were under restriction 'due to a TB incident'. And that was 7.35 per cent of the total herds registered in GB. This year, 2012  Defra's current spread sheet ( apologies -  can't get a link to stick) shows 6567 herds in that position, but with fewer herds on the database, that equates to 8.2 per cent.

Cattle slaughtered are up too. The totals being 18,082 in 2011 compared with 18,645 so far this year. An increase of 563 animals. (Defra's figure in their announcement ignored 432 IRs, but they are still dead and for accurate comparison, IRs were counted in the total last year)

New herd incidents? That is benchmark Defra usually present, as it lower by a a mile than the tail end of herds under restriction and 60 day testing for years. That figure is pretty much the same at just over 2700.

So where has this alleged drop of almost 2 percent come from?  June 2011 was the last time Defra produced its monthly stats on the old system, and then dear old SAM took over and the number of tests logged increased by 30 percent. In fact his tally is 49,528 tests for GB in just six months. In some areas more than one test per registered herd in just six months.

 Defra explained this in a previous news release, saying that they were now counting pre and post movement tests, and also removing gamma failures and slaughterhouse cases from some totals as well, so figures may not be comparable. But despite all this tinkering, the number of herds under restriction for a 'TB incident'  is up, cattle slaughterings are up, and new herd breakdowns are at best, static. And yet Defra say that as a percentage,  new herd incidence is down? Something here doesn't ring true, but hey, the computer has spoken.

Could it be that those running the SAM system are refugees from this train wreck of computer generated mathematics?

UPDATE : We see our furry little friends in the Badger Trust have issued a press statement for 'Immediate release' trumpeting that Defra report a '30 per cent drop in cattle TB' - so stop the cull.
Oh dear. Another calculator which can't add up, and an organisation which can't see beyond a skewed headline.

Further investigation into Defra's stats do not support the 'wider testing' argument - should they make it.
The West region has recorded at least one test per registered herd - in just 6 months. And it's almost the same in Wales. So, in annual testing areas, with preMT ,  yes a huge increase in tests - but as Defra say, dear old SAM is now including ALL these tests which wasn't the case before.  And they haven't discovered many more reactors than last year. But the tail on this particular dog gets longer, as herds under restriction are not cleared by removing sentinel tested cattle. So to reiterate, and just for Uncle Jack Reedy, the key figures for the 6 month period Jan- July 2012 are here:
Herds under restriction during the period  - 6567, up by 494, almost 1 per cent.

Cattle slaughtered during the period - 18,645 up by 563.

New herd breakdowns - static at just over 2700.

Tests carried out, particularly in the West and Wales - up 30 per cent.

So that's a  30 per cent drop in cattle TB? If you say so, Jack. If you say so.

We don't think so.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

He who pays the piper ..

.. calls the tune. And now the European Union is dipping into its coffers to assist Defra's so-called bTB eradication plan, then we sing to the European tune. Harmonisation of controls across the member states is also in the mix, which means that all the measures which the State Veterinary Service and now Animal Health have allowed over the 15 years to enable 8,000 cattle farmers to 'live' with herd restrictions, are being dismantled with indecent haste, and some retrospectively. These measures were there, we are sure, purely to avoid the thorny question of how to deal with tuberculous badgers. Now, thanks to our EU partners, although we still have the thorny problem, increasingly, we have no means of trading our cattle.

The pyramid of licensed movements and exemptions to herd restriction grew following the 1997 moratorium on Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act which prevented culling 'to stop the spread of disease'. This saw herd restrictions rise, sometimes continuing for years, as farmers struggled to maintain viable businesses - with no control at all on wildlife..

We referred to Jim Paice's thinly veiled hints, earlier this year in this posting. And sure enough, the threats restrictions have kept coming, compounded by a new computer system with hiccoughs which still appears unable to dispense paperwork. But whose operators follow up with promises of fines for non compliance. An excellent way to build a 'partnership'.

After their visit last September, the alleged breaches are contained in this DG SANCO paper.

Some of the tightening up measures, we have referred to already; but after reading this document, we feel sure that more may be in the pipeline. Which would be fair enough if bTB was affecting a few herds and if action was taken to clear the source of their problems. Restriction should mean precisely that. But last year, these restrictions applied to 8,108 farms. Over ten per cent of herds in GB. And some areas, despite frantic attempts to redraw borders, have up to a quarter of their herds under restriction. So if the EU imposes some of its more stringent measures, we would solve this county's unemployment problem, if not its budget deficit.

The executive summary of this SANCO paper explains:
While the approved eradication programme is broadly applied as described, the audit identified a number of potential weaknesses. These include numerous movement derogations, pre-movement test exemptions (including extended time intervals between testing and movement), the operation of "linked" holdings over large geographical areas, incomplete herd testing and the operation of specialist units under restriction, which lacked the necessary bio-security arrangements.
By this we assume the preMT exemptions for shows and the use of isolation facilities, which Paice and co have already closed down. But the 'extended time intervals' is a new one. At the moment, tested animals may be moved for up to 60 days from jab day, which in effect means about 50 - 55 days. Later in the document, SANCO mention 30 days, and we may have that to look forward to that. (p.8 5:2:3)
Incomplete herd testing, we assume is the exemption of young calves from testing. Given that the latency of the skin test is 30 days, it's pretty futile to jab anything under that age, but nevertheless, stacking up the payments, numbers, many vets do. In future they may have to. And in any testing area other than annual, yearlings may be exempt too. No doubt that too will cease.

 The summary continues;
Furthermore, despite efforts by the CA – some of their key targets could not be met in relation to the removal of reactors from breakdown herds and the instigation of epidemiological enquiries. There is a fragmented system of controls, involving a number of responsible bodies. This combined with a lack of co-ordination (particularly with Local Authorities) makes it difficult to ensure that basic practices to prevent infection/spread of disease (such as effective cleaning and disinfection of vehicles and markets) are carried out in a satisfactory way.
We have covered this fragmentation many times, and the installation of Defra's new toy, an all singing, all dancing computer system known for no particular reason as 'SAM', which is still failing farmers.

Only last week one cattle farmer was put under immediate movement restriction (by snail post) for failing to conduct a contiguous test - a test for which no notification had ever been received. Add to that a splitting up of responsibility between the various Animal Health offices, with no-one except the computer jockey in overall charge, and it is a recipe for chaos. Why should anyone be surprised?

With sporadic bTB outbreaks in the rest of the EU, a system very like FMD is in place, with a CA (Competent Authority) overseeing cleansing and disinfecting processes on farm. We suspect SANCO would like to see this too, on every one of  the 8,100 farms under bTB restriction last year. Hence our comment about halving unemployment.

 In May 2012 C&D notices were resurrected for reactors with no lesions and no culture. This even though the animals may have been slaughtered months ago. And a herd clearance form cannot be issued without it.

SANCO also mention the confiscation of passports from restricted herds and no licensed restocking until at least one 'satisfactory' whole herd test.The intensive biosecurity area of Wales is held up as pattern for the rest of GB - if it shows results.

So all in all a few more nails in the poor old cattle, and their owner's ability to trade at all. But the bit the Badger Trust and their assorted followers missed, is near the end:
Measures to prevent re-infection from other sources focus on the risk presented by wildlife (badgers). The CA maintains that the delay in implementing the proposed wildlife controls (i.e. a managed cull of badgers), which is a significant element of the approved eradication programme, remains the major obstacle to progress.