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. 

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