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.

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