Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas - Happy Anniversary.

That seems a strange title, but it is exactly ten years since the contributors to this site and our co-editor phrased up those 538 Parliamentary Questions which so rattled the fragrant Ben Bradshaw in 2003/4.
Posed by Owen Paterson, the then Shadow minister, for reference, most are on our 2004 archive.

 If anyone had told us then, we'd still be plodding away ten years later, we would have thought them stark staring mad. But here we are and we aren't mad at all. Well not in one sense. Just being proved correct in that this zoonotic disease of mammals, (not cattle) which is entrenched and endemic in the iconic and cult worshipped badger, has up-spilled into many other species and thus onwards and upwards into vets and owners. Just as we predicted it would.

So we end this year with a few snippets after the pilot shooting parties finished last month.

Lord Krebs is in the news again, describing the culls as "even crazier than I predicted" - [link]
And he should know. His 1996 trial protocol spelt out just how infectious badgers should be managed, and he was right, as we explained in this 2007 posting. [-link] The whole weighty tome of Krebs' knowledge on how to 'manage' infectious badgers can be found on this link from TB Information's archive - [link[ but what he didn't say of course, was to launch forth on 8 nights annually, using cage traps, split infectious social groups to the four winds and then bugger off walk away - often for years.

For that we have to thank (or otherwise) the political science delivered by Professor John Bourne. -[link] And it is on that basis, plus a nifty piece of Natural England -[link] footwork, that the the pilot culls were based.

So what can cattle farmers expect in 2014? For that we have to read between the lines of Chris Rundle's last article in the Western Morning News, published 18th December (sorry, no online link)
The piece describes a terse and frosty 'behind closed doors' meeting with NFU office holders - but not local delegates - to 'discuss' listen quietly and obediently to the next steps in badger control.

A less than jovial NFU director-general Andy Robertson is said to have informed the meeting that :
" ....a county wide control strategy was a non-starter and he had the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson's assurance on the matter. []And it was not up to local farmers to set the culling agenda, so they should back off, button their lips and leave it to the experts."
Chris Rundle comments that  "farmers labouring under tighter and tighter cattle controls and receiving less and less compensation for reactors, have been told that their views and wishes are pretty well irrelevant".

 We hear that the Badger Trust are seeking a new Chief Executive Officer, whose job description includes: "determining and implementing the Trust’s policy priorities and preparing a five year strategic plan."
At up to £35k per year, were there any takers? - [link] amongst our readers? Applications have now closed, but the advert stressed that the successful applicant must have "a passion for the Trust’s objectives and, preferably, an excellent grasp of the key issues currently facing the Trust."

Too many badgers? Of which, according to FERA, around 43 per cent in areas of endemic zTB already have the debilitating disease know as 'bovine' Tuberculosis? A zoonotic pathogen which they are readily spreading both amongst themselves and to many other mammals? That would be start, but is unlikely.

Sadly we note that far from adopting the Irish approach and doing a spot of re-labelling, both Defra and the farming industry seem determined to provoke a collective shudder down the spines of the general public. The 'G' word is back, as farmer's leaders call for 'Selective Underground Euthanasia' -[link] or 'SUE' as those who love acronyms, would label it.

Most accepted methods of controlling animals are banned by the Berne convention which 'protects' endangered species. But the Irish seem to manage quite well with banned snares leg restraints. So we suggest 'SUE' could be an apt substitute for 'gassing' which of course is also on Berne's hit list.
Of course, if infected setts were targeted by the reactor locations of cattle, sheep, pig or alpacas, then a whole different set of rules apply, as zoonotic Tuberculosis has to be treated with the respect this Grade 3 pathogen deserves under several existing laws to protect Public Health.
It's the 'targeting' of the disease itself which makes the difference - and much more sense.

Finally, in the posting below, a meeting - [link] between newly appointed minister George Eustice and an alpaca called 'Eddy', has bumped the recorded overspill of zoonotic Tuberculosis right up the Ministerial agenda. And substantially more accurate figures of the spread of this disease into other mammals and pets from badgers an animal which has somehow achieved the position of First Among Equals,  are now becoming public for the first time. The Alpaca TB Support Group -[link] website also mentions an internal BAS (British Alpaca Society) database, where (some) members report (some) deaths and the cause.
This snippet explains:
"In November this year The BAS (British Alpaca Society) released to the BAS National Welfare committee (though not sent directly to its membership or made available on its website) the numbers and causes of death reported to the society.

The tables included everything reported from old age, parasites (barbers pole etc) and of course bTB.

In 2012, 624 deaths were reported to the BAS for alpacas owned by its members. Of that total 533 were reported with cause of death due to bTB.

This is a staggering percentage of the national herd, especially considering that the vast majority of those bTB deaths were condensed into hotspot regions.  Not all alpaca owners are members of the BAS and this number is unlikely to include all alpacas lost to bTB.  Obviously the total does not include the number of llamas lost to bTB

The numbers demonstrate the impact of the disease and gives the lie to those who say it is not a serious threat to British alpacas and llamas."

So Defra were publishing a figure of 17 positive samples for alpacas and llamas during 2012, while the Alpaca breed society ( BAS) had collected data suggesting 533 deaths? Nice one chaps and chapesses.

But as we said at the end of the previous posting, with this publication of Defra's new and more accurate overspill table for 'other species', zoonotic Tuberculosis is not a 'bovine' problem any longer.

Happy Christmas and a big 'thank you' to all of our contributers.

Friday, December 20, 2013

One small step for George....

For several years now, we have been banging on -[link] about the way AHVLA presented their 'other species' zTB statistics. These tables consisted of the often single, microbial sample which confirmed m.bovis and only that. They did not include any previous or subsequent deaths either from 'bovine' tuberculosis, or slaughter of these animals in a government generated eradication process for this zoonotic disease.

And they were deliberately misleading as Dan Rogerson's Parliamentary Question of 2011 showed:

Dan Rogerson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many mammals other than cattle were identified with or slaughtered for bovine tuberculosis as a result of (a) microbial culture sample, (b) reports from local veterinary practitioners, (c) gross pathology examinations by veterinary investigation centres, (d) disclosing diagnostic tests including intradermal skin or blood assays and (e) reports from Meat Hygiene Service examinations at abattoirs in (i) 2006, (ii) 2007, (iii) 2008, (iv) 2009 and (v) 2010. [89799] 

 Mr Paice: The risk to non-bovine species from TB is assessed as generally low and the surveillance system is therefore proportionate to these risks.
This means figures are not collected or broken down by the specific categories the hon. Member has requested. Moreover, these scenarios are not mutually exclusive for a particular case and it would be difficult to allocate each case to one of these scenarios.
 In addition, TB in non-bovine species is not considered to have been “identified” until positive culture results are confirmed. Figures from 1997 on the annual number of total samples from non-bovine animals that are (a) processed by the AVHLA laboratories and (b) found positive for M. bovis infection, are broken down by species and are available on DEFRA's website at:
(These figures do not include the number of animals slaughtered from a herd where TB has been confirmed when M. bovis is not cultured from that animal.) 

So, like a broken record, because the 'figures are low', we are directed back to these damn duplicitous so-called statistics which only count the primary, single sample which a) confirms bTB and b) identifies the spoligotype.
We were even told the figures were not collected into the categories we had requested.

That was not true: and we thought misleading a minister was a hanging offence?

In AHVLA / Defra's previous comfort blanket highly selective statistics, no skin or blood test failures and subsequent slaughterings, no deaths with TB confirmed by pm and no knacker collections were counted. As we said in our posting of 2010, all these had disappeared. - [link]

But this week, after newly appointed minister, George Eustice MP met an alpaca called Eddy - [link] a chink in the glossy coat of this subterfuge appeared. And AHVLA's carcase counters having been dragged screaming back to their tinsel wrapped computers, stepped up to the plate and produced a completely different chart - [link] which not only includes that single confirming microbial sample but all as many deaths as they could pull out of that particular pigeonhole and herd / flock restrictions as well.

So they did have them after all, and they were available when Mr. Rogerson posed the Parliamentary question. Mmmmm.

Thus we see the original 'low' figure of 17 positive samples taken from South American camelids (alpacas and llamas) in 2012 and behind which AHVLA was crouching, was hiding almost 600 animals slaughtered on the altar of 'bovine' tuberculosis. A significant order of magnitude.
 Also jumping out of this chart is the number of new TB breakdowns in sheep and pig herds in 2012, with 6,189 ante mortem tests performed on sheep. Premises with  'other species' under restriction due to confirmed 'bovine' tuberculosis at the end of the year were into double figures for pigs and camelids.

So in just two weeks George Eustice has succeeded, where years of prolonged hand wringing by T-BAG, T-Beggars, TBEAG and many others, including ourselves,  have failed.

And zoonotic Tuberculosis is not a merely 'bovine' problem any more is it?

So well done the Alpaca TB Support Group - [link] and well done George.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

TB testing on Dartmoor

South West newspaper, the Western Morning News has some interesting columnists and one such is Dartmoor hill farmer, Anton Coaker, - [link] who breeds hardy suckler cattle, high up on the moor.

His herd is under TB restriction.

(Anton is on the left of the picture.)

Never short of comments about how bureaucracy treats his business, this is his latest offering on the process of TB testing scattered moorland suckler cows, just before Christmas.


"Once more, we’re embroiled in gathering over 300 head of cattle from sprawling miles of moorland, to shove them through the race for yet another TB test. The logistics of this operation take a lot more than the 4 days of actual testing, and are not especially welcome just now.

We’ve had to fetch cattle back from places where they were happy, and now they’re busy scalping off the last of the grass about the in-bye. The breeding ewes were forlornly hoping this bite would carry them through until they were all safely tupped- but they’re to be disappointed.

I suppose I should express my thanks to whoever it is organises these things that we had a time-served vet who didn’t miss a beat, and a dry-ish week means we might get stock sorted out again before the place goes completely pear shaped.

If all this were getting rid of TB, I’d happily oblige, but given that I can’t see any hope of things improving, you can imagine I’m a little fed up with the idea. Still, at least the AHVLA –the state vets- are right on the case. With dazzling efficiency, just as we were finishing the main lot of jabs for the 3rd time in this year, a letter arrived explaining at great length how we are in a 12 month interval testing area. The incompetence is jaw-dropping. It’s no wonder TB escalates, if this is how they run their end of things.

Would I do things differently? Well, since you ask, should I awake from this twilight loony land, where up is down, and left is right, and find myself emperor, I would take some steps.

First, and most urgent, I would draw a line across the country where the pox seems to be already in the wildlife, and take draconian steps to ensure that it didn’t continue its march up the M6. Then I’d set about locating and removing the infected wildlife.

This might be by pouring resources into testing their scat, or by buying Bryan Hill a couple of metaphoric pints and asking him to show me how to tell for myself.

While I was at it, I’d want some boffin to come up with a far better test for the cattle. Perhaps a couple of million quid bonus for whoever comes up with the goods would help em focus their minds.

Alpacas and the like would be dragged into the testing regime and put under the same movement rules as cattle with immediate effect. Anyone objecting would be nailed to the wall by their ears, alongside anyone who mentioned the word ‘vaccination’ in the presence of El Presidenti Coaker.

There. I feel better now.
More of Anton's musings can be seen on this link.

We'll post a summary of the latest  TB news next week,  but meanwhile Happy Christmas (and to Anton, whose TB test described above, was clear)
But in the spirit of clearing zTB, he'll have to repeat it all again in 60 days' time.

Monday, December 09, 2013

George meets Eddy.

Newly appointed Minister of State for Agriculture, the Right Honourable George Eustice met an alpaca this week.

 In fact he met several, and also their owner who over the last few years has been brave enough to share the story of her losses of these animals to 'bovine' zoonotic Tuberculosis, and the disease itself, which has affected her so badly.

The Alpaca TB Support website describes the meeting with Dianne Summers, head of the support group at her farm last Friday:
The meeting was to discuss bTB as it affects alpacas, llamas (as well as their keepers and handlers) and to bring Mr Eustice up to date with the current situation. Mr Eustice was interested to find out about the Support Group’s work over the past five years and about the detailed factual data that Dianne has gathered from 41 members of the Support Group.

Mr Eustice said he was grateful for her input and level of knowledge and explained that he well understood the devastation that the disease causes. He asked about Dianne’s own herd breakdown and about her personal battle with the disease having been diagnosed with the same spoligotype as her herd in 2012.
We understand that Mr. Eustice was also informed of the privately funded PCR Proof of Concept Study - [link]  and its progress so far, as well as the results of other ante mortem tests presently used for camelids - some good but many not specific or sensitive enough to be used with confidence.

Disappointingly, the policy for camelids recently unveiled by AHVLA / Defra requests movement records,  tests and TB control, but as Farmers Guardian reports, this will all be on a voluntary basis. -[link]
Which means it is unlikely to happen.

Hiding behind the blackout curtain of their own statistics [-link] AHVLA have made it quite clear that despite the deaths of thousands of camelids, the paucity of the bovine skin test on these animals and their susceptibility to z Tuberculosis with its ramifications down the line their owners, handlers and vets,  TB control will not be under departmental statute..

One would have thought that the 400 alpacas slaughtered in a single outbreak - [link] might have shamed Defra's statistical bean counters into action. But their comfort blanket tables remain, stubbornly counting the single confirming microbial sample of any reported outbreak. Which last year numbered just 17.

However, this week, our new minister George Eustice met some alpacas,  and left with a bundle of facts, figures and some pretty gory post mortem pictures of what zoonotic tuberculosis does to camelids. He also met a victim of the inevitable overspill of this zoonosis into human beings.

And he met Eddy. 

More pictures and detail on the Minister's visit can be found on the Alpaca TB Support Group website - [link] .

We are hoping that after this visit,  Mr. Eustice will lift the blanket of secrecy emanating from his department, on the true level of zTuberculosis in camelids and on how it is dealt with.

That would be a Christmas present worth sharing.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

More cattle measures for 2014.

Defra have announced yet another raft of cattle measures which will affect beleaguered cattle farmers, particularly those on depressingly regular short interval 60 day tests.

Starting on January 1st 2014, any farmer even one day late in carrying out his TB test will find a swipe taken from his SFP (Single Farm Payment)- should he claim one. And already problems are coming to light.
Farmers on short interval or needing trace tests, have very little wriggle room, and they are finding that a two week shut down for vets and AHVLA staff over the Christmas and New Year break, means they cannot get a test booked inside AHVLA's computer generated time limit.

But if these tests are not completed, data from the AHVLA computer, in theory at least, (has anyone spoken to SAM - [link] recently?) will be transferred to the RPA computer and fines levied of between 1 - 5 percent.

For more information, here is Defra's TB testing interval information for 2014. - [link] And here is the wording -[link] of the latest notification.

Sadly we note that although several 'partners' are involved in the TB testing procedure, it is all down to 'the farmer' to make sure that 'the vet' can arrive within the time scale, that no computer glitches prevent the transfer of information between the various data systems and that all runs to plan and on time.
And if it does not, then it is up to 'the farmer' to appeal.

Guilty until proven innocent then?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Another 'Consultation'

Yesterday Defra launched another Consultation document - (link) so that anyone who feels the need, could democratically comment on exemptions to TB testing UK cattle,  currently in place.

 If you remember, earlier this year another 'consultation' took place on many aspects of our non-policy towards zoonotic Tuberculosis. This was conducted under a technique known as 'Delphi' - [link] where small groups of people were herded by facilitators towards a predetermined conclusion.

And this one is little different, despite the pretense of a democratic process and opinions being sought.

 Both end game conclusions are writ large in instructions from our European masters and summarised  in a letter - [link] to Owen Paterson from Tonio Borg, a member of the European Commission in February this year.

The letter summarises the  UK bTB eradication programme to be implemented in 2013 which was approved by Commission Implementing Decision 2012/761/EU.
"This programme entails a number of commitments from your authority, in particular:

• the abolition of Approved Quarantine Units (AQUs) by the end of 2013;

* the completion and implementation of the plans for abolishing Sole Occupancy Authorities;

• a commitment to carry out in 2013 a further review of the remaining exemptions to pre-movement testing;

• a thorough review of the arrangements for the implementation in the UK of the concept "holding" as laid down in Union legislation;

• the limitation and phase out by the end of 2014 of the practice of de-restricting certain epidemiologically separate parts of bTB-affected holding."
The letter is on this link. [-link] And 'consultation' or not, several million Euros to test and slaughter more UK cattle, depend on compliance with it.

Thus we are seeing a decade or more of licensed exemptions to the old TB herd restriction rules, which while making zTB easier for farmers to live with,  did absolutely nothing to address the cause of their incarceration, unravelled in indecent haste by our paymasters.  

And no amount of 'Consultations' will alter the outcome.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

An excellent day ..

... for the zoonotic Tuberculosis bacteria, known as mycobacterium bovis everywhere. In the shape of the great badger saviour, Dr. Brian May and his extraordinarily deep pockets, all its Christmases have come together.

Yesterday, (26th November) May's 'Save Me' campaign funded an 'exceptionally urgent' High Court challenge to halt the extension to the Gloucestershire -(link) pilot badger cull.

Please note Update Farmers Weekly interactive report that the High Court challenge has failed - (link)

But from the earlier Farmers Guardian report this morning:
John Cooper QC said: “From the material I have seen already, it is clear that appropriate procedures have not been taken in relation to this action, which will inevitably lead to the destruction of more wildlife if the Government remains unchallenged.

“In all the circumstances and for the grounds we have set out, we assert that the decisions made by Defra, the Secretary of State and Natural England, separately and or cumulatively were unreasonable and should be immediately revoked.”
Other quotes in the FG piece refer to the number of badgers culled out of an uncertain and moving target within a certain time frame and the subsequent effect on zTuberculosis levels in cattle. Not forgetting of course, other mammals which May's groupies and Defra would prefer to airbrush. Which is a bit bloody rich considering the disastrous launch with cage traps into grossly infected badger populations with cage traps for just 8 nights, undertaken by the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial almost two decades ago.

And as we predicted, the polemic widens, with poor old Monty Don having to close his Twitter account - (link) after a deluge of abuse. He mentioned that control of the badger population was probably necessary.
Responding to a request to join a march against the cull, Mr Don, who succeeded Jonathan Dimbleby as President of the Soil Association in 2008, tweeted: “Not sure whether the cull is in principle a bad thing. Probably ineffective but not necessarily wrong as a trial.”

Later, as opponents of the policy questioned his comments, he added that the cull was ‘an honest attempt to control TB’.

He said: “We cull many animals – don’t know why badgers get special treatment.”
Quite. Apart from becoming a 'cult' animal for a few and a beneficial cash cow revenue stream for many, badgers are the main predator of many ground nesting birds, bees and wasps (via nests) hedgehogs and small invertebrates. And they dig up carrots. But as more land developments proceed, even if their ancestral homes are protected by statute, their grazing habitats may not be. A consequence is territorial displacement and the perturbation which then explodes the disease which is endemic in the population.

Those statements are not the fanciful wishes of your editors: they are contained in the answers to PQs archived on this site from Owen Paterson's 2003/04 questions. Scroll down to 2004 and read them.

 This is not a debate about badgers or cattle. Controlling the spread of a zoonotic Grade 3 pathogen needs no debate at all. It is by statute an undertaking Governments must adhere to, to protect human health.

 But as the rift grows between the misguided people who want to 'save' all the badgers regardless of their disease status, the ambitious and unscrupulous pseudo scientists who play the 'vaccination' card as an alternative to disease control and those who want a meaningful control of zTB, the only 'winner' is the zoonotic bacteria which infected badgers share so easily.

 This is a comment found on one of the few sites which still allow badgerists that sort of platform:
“The longer this sorry debate drags on, the weaker the democratic process looks. I don't think peaceful protest is working. The innocent are still dying. Until the badger killers are actually slaughtered on the job themselves by the same gunfire they are using against these defenceless creatures, we shall get nowhere. We need to put people off killing with a dose of their own medicine. It worked in World War 2. Democracy has to be fought for - it doesn't just happen.”
That was a comment in a Westcountry online newspaper. And from the fragrant Chris Packham, he of the BBC Badger Benefit club, comments on his Twitter account recently earned him a severe rap on the knuckles after an enquiry into his 'intemperate' comments by Lord Hall of Birkenhead. At the start of the pilot culls, Packham's Tweets included this little gem:
"Tonight could be the darkest for British wildlife that we have witnessed in our lives. [] ..that brutalist thugs, liars and frauds will destroy our wildlife and dishonour our nation's reputation as conservationists and animal lovers."
So Merry Christmas to the zoonotic Tuberculosis bacteria of Gloucestershire. Brian May and Chris Packham love you all.

Incidentally as happened in the RBCT, we're hearing from Gloucestershire of the back up cage traps trashed, intimidation, damage and trespass. In fact complete chaos in an area where FERA's Mark Chambers told us that around 43 per cent of the badgers were infected and that this was "typical of badgers in areas on endemic zTB".

 In that area (Gloucestershire) as well as sentinel tested reactor cattle, we also have reported bison, alpacas and sheep as spill over victims of this bacterium which badgerists are sooooo keen to protect.

So this latest High Court challenge proves an excellent day indeed, for zoonotic bacteria everywhere - on what should be an incontrovertible Public Health issue.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

zTuberculosis - a very personal battle.

While Brian May's groupies chitter on about 'saving' tuberculous badgers and Defra wring their collective hands while counting the exorbitant cost of slaughtering sentinel, tested reactor cattle (not to mention sheep, alpacas, goats and deer), a very poignant reminder has appeared on FACEBOOK - [link] as to why the eradication of this disease is so very necessary.

It tells the story of one person's father and his very personal battle, not with badgers, cattle, alpacas, sheep or the family cat, but with tuberculosis. A battle which inevitably, he lost.We quote it in full:
"My father, a minister in Scotland during the war, contracted TB at some point, and its effects were to be devastating to us all. At first it lay dormant, as it often does - but by the time I came along, some ten years later, it was starting to make its presence felt.

By this time he was a professor, and had had to move to the city, and a combination of winter smog and the pressures of his new job resulted in a twelve month stay in hospital. We moved to the country, where at least there was no smog, and life settled down.

As a child I simply accepted that he loved walking, but that hills defeated him; loved rugby but was never able to join in our back garden games. I can recall so well the sound of his breathing as he climbed the stairs, the noisy laboured sound so familiar and almost comforting to me, but a 'not-rightness' about it which worried me too. His coughing fits were frightening, his gasping for breath, the veins standing out on his forehead - but he was fiercely independent and we were never allowed to offer sympathy, or discuss his illness, and the TB word was never mentioned.

I was eleven years old when he collapsed again. I knew I had to be brave, but once he and Ma had gone to the hospital, I cried and cried as never before, terrified that we were losing him, my brother unable to comfort me.

He was in hospital for months again. I still have the letter he sent me for my twelfth birthday, sweet, funny and self-deprecating, it still makes me smile - and cry - when I read it now.

Eventually we were allowed to visit him, and I carefully chose a copy of 'Punch' magazine from a newsstand to take him, desperately wanting him to laugh again, for everything to be all right once more. He came home at last, and threw himself into his work.

He was hugely popular with colleagues and students alike, and he impatiently brushed aside any intrusive questions as to his health. I had my skin test at school for the BCG injection, and of course my arm blew up like a balloon - and at last my mother explained to me that he had tuberculosis, but that he didn't want anyone to know.

He wrote a brilliant but controversial book about Scotland and the terrible injustices of the Highland Clearances, drawing on the experiences of his Hebridean forbears. He was constantly in demand, at the very peak of his career - and he was failing..

He 'raged against the dying of the light', even as this awful thing was engulfing him; working feverishly, trying to finish another book, write lectures, address students, even as his hopelessly damaged lungs started to let him down. He collapsed again, but this time there was to be no recovery.

Tuberculosis finally defeated him; he was 58, and I was days away from my 18th birthday.

And within a few years of his death, we had TB virtually eradicated from the UK. We forget the awful toll it used to take on children and adults alike, and generations have grown up never having seen its effects. But we belittle it and forget it at our peril - because by allowing it to rampage unchecked through our badger population, we have put ourselves and our children, and our children's children, at risk once more, and it is stupidity beyond belief. TB is still a killer disease, and it's still there, waiting for any of us, just over the hedge."
We can add nothing to that.

What we see happening now IS stupidity beyond belief.
 Tuberculosis IS still the killer disease it always was, particularly if not diagnosed and treated early enough.
 It IS now plastered over our environment, and it IS waiting to pounce, from just over the hedge.

And in many cases, the current generation of health professionals, vets and vaccinators are unaware of the not inconsiderable risks this disease carries. 

For some [- link] the warning is too late. For others - [link] although 'treated', the disease may remain and their lung capacity and thus lifestyle, be severely impaired for the rest of their lives. We play with the bacterium which causes zTuberculosis at our population's - [link] peril.

 But by concentrating polemic surrounding zoonotic tuberculosis merely to its animal victims and tested dead sentinels, 'playing with it' - [link] is exactly what we are doing.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

BCG in Spain - a modelled scenario.

In GB, we are not alone in torturing the old BCG (Bacillus calmette-guerin)  vaccine into some sort of alternative control for  zTuberculosis in wild life reservoirs of the disease.

We understand that if it works at all, BCG is better at preventing 'extra pulmonary' lesions. Which means that lung (or pulmonary) lesions are still a problem and a source of spread of the disease - including or even especially to BCG vaccinated human contacts - [link]

Reporting earlier in August this year is a paper - (link) which discusses the modeled effectiveness of BCG, in controlling zoonotic Tuberculosis in wild boar, one of the wildlife reservoirs of the disease in southern Spain.

 The abstract is as follows:

"Bovine tuberculosis is a persistent disease of livestock in many parts of the world, especially where wildlife hosts co-exist with livestock. In south-western Spain, despite the widespread implementation of test-and-cull strategies for cattle, the herd prevalence in areas with high wild boar densities remains stable. The control of M. bovis infection in wild boar is likely to be essential for effective disease control in livestock."
The control of a zoonotic disease in any wildlife reservoir is essential, but we all know that don't 'we'? The authors of this paper, including British scientists from York University, developed an individual-based model to evaluate whether vaccinating wild boar piglets with oral BCG bait would be an effective strategy to reduce the prevalence of M. bovis infection in wild boar populations and thus the effect on farmed cattle.
The abstract explains their modelled method:
"Specifically, we quantified the proportion of piglets requiring vaccination and the number of years the vaccination programme would need to continue to eradicate bTB from wild boar within 25 years, comparing ‘managed’ populations on hunting estates where supplementary food is provided, [and populations controlled - ed] with ‘unmanaged’, free-living populations. Successful vaccination was defined as the proportion of piglets that were delivered the vaccine and were effectively protected from infection."
The key results of this exercise were as follows:
"Longer-term (25-year) vaccination strategies were more successful than short-term (5-year) strategies at either eradicating M. bovis or reducing it to below 90% of its original prevalence.

M. bovis infection could be eradicated under a 25-year vaccination strategy if 80% of piglets were vaccinated in a managed population or 70% of piglets were vaccinated in an unmanaged population. In contrast, 5-year strategies in which 80% of piglets were vaccinated reduced only by 27% or 8% in the managed and unmanaged populations, respectively."
Just so there is no misunderstanding of this result, the model showed that when oral bait was thrown at 'unmanaged'  free living, wild populations of wild boar in Spain, the take up necessary by the young piglets to give any protection again z Tuberculosis required 25 years of baiting and a coverage of 70 per cent of the population. A lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' but the gist is, coverage has to be very comprehensive and the time scale very long. And that the programme is aimed at a population whose size, health and welfare is controlled or 'managed'.

 Conversely if vaccination was offered over 5 years to an 'unmanaged' population the effect was just 8 per cent drop in disease spill over.

 Compare this more realistic (if mathematically modeled) scenario to the outrageous claims (- link) being made for a single dose, ad hoc vaccination programme on an unmanaged, wild population of grossly infected British badgers - and weep.

The paper concluded that:
"The results of our simulation model, coupled with the promising results of initial vaccine and oral bait- uptake trials in wild boar indicated that vaccination could be an effective strategy to reduce the prevalence of M. bovis infection in wild boar if used in conjunction with other disease-control measures."
Before anyone gets over excited and does an abbreviated cut/paste on that snippet, please note the end of that particular sentence:
 Vaccination of unmanaged wild boar in Spain, may have a part to play over a 25 year zTB eradication strategy, "if used in conjunction with other disease-control measures".  

Disease control measures as in 'managing' the population? And removing the grossly infected pockets?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The National Trust and its badgers.

*Please note : This post has been updated. New information has come in and sadly, blogger's calculator needed a new battery. Apologies for the previous error.

The AGM of the National Trust took place in Cardiff last week, and a motion to vaccinate badgers on NT land was defeated. Although this was possibly more on the grounds of cost than any pretence at the assumed efficacy of the procedure. To put you in the picture, we have received the following message from a farmer living near the NT's flagship project, already taking place at the Killerton Estate in the Exe valley of Devon.
"The Killerton Estate is roughly 6,500 acres, has large areas of deciduous woodland and park land. None of the farms are huge and all of them have relatively small fields with what would probably add up to thousands of miles of hedges and Devon Banks. So ideal habitat for Mr. Badger."
We understand that the area known as the 'Exe valley' is a catchment of rivers feeding into the river Exe; it is around 250 sq km and we are told, is one of the biggest TB hotpots in Devon. So with that level of infectivity in its stripey residents, and many cattle farms under restriction, possibly not the best place to launch a vaccination project?
But all in all, a pretty extensive area supporting how many badgers?

Remember, contrary to culling badgers, no contentious head count is needed by those about to vaccinate them. Grab a cage and a needle, a mask if you must ... and off you go.

So from us, a spot of fag packet maths for a badger head count on the 6,500 acres (or 26 sq km) at Killerton. The average number of badgers volunteering to be trapped in one square kilometre is said to be between 9.6 (by the RBCT in 1997) and 15/16 (FERA in their 2008/9 badger vaccination project.) So without going out  as FERA did for the pilot culls and counting heads, (and getting it wrong. Twice.) we will take 250 badgers as the lower figure and 430 as the higher, as inhabiting the NT's Killerton Estate.

And out of that lot, how many badgers did the National Trust's vaccination team manage to cage trap and jab in their night time forays?

In 2011, oral bait was deployed  skittered around, and a lot of traps set 'open' with an emphasis on finding the most suitable bait. As FERA were doing this work, one would have thought that after 50 years of trapping  Woodchesters' badgers they would have known their favourite treats - but we digress....
We are told that in 2012, the first year of vaccinating playing around in the woods, just 104 individuals had been jabbed of which about 40 were adults. In 2013, a better result and 202 were trapped. It is unknown what proportion that was of the local residents, and of those,  how many were already infected before being jabbed with a vaccine whose modeled 'efficacy' is now rolled back to 54 per cent.
The vaccination trials at Killerton started in 2011, so they have been "playing around in the woods" for over 3 years now. In that time (and a spend of £240,000)  they have managed to trap and vaccinate a total of 306 Badgers. But in the trap area, there could be up to 430 individuals.
 FERA don't know. They didn't have to count them.

And the cost of all this?  The Killerton project was predicted at £80,000 per year for four years. So, in the 3 years reported thus far (2011, 2012, 2013) this NT  'trial' has cost to date £240,000.00  with 306 badgers trapped and vaccinated in years 2 and 3. And that works out at a cost of £784.31 per Badger jabbed. 

But as we have pointed out, not all the badgers will have been trapped and of those which were,  many will already be infected. And that could be as few as 25 percent, or more likely, as in  FERA's vaccination project to test its 'Elf 'n Safety' in 2010, that figure could be 43 per cent. Which lead author Mark Chambers kindly explained at the time, was a level of infection "typically found in badgers in endemic areas" - which the Exe valley most certainly is.

So jabbing Killerton's 306 badgers has cost £784.31 per badger jabbed, so far. And an average population head count means that between 198 and 296 were not trapped. And there is of course, no indication that the badgers trapped and vaccinated in 2013, were the same badgers who volunteered in 2012. Taking this further, the modeled efficacy of the 'vaccine' plus the 'vaccinating'  of animals already infected with z tuberculosis means that of those 306, just 94 animals may have benefited from the experience.
Up to half the estimated population of badgers at Killerton have yet to be caught at all.

And that very rough calculation works out at a staggering  £2553.19  for each jab on a badger which has not yet contracted z tuberculosis.

Sheesh, the landlords could have mended a good few tenant's roofs for that money. And on tabular valuation £2553 would buy Defra a couple of cows, or 3.4 alpacas. No compensation, tabular or otherwise, is payable by AHVLA / Defra for sheep, pigs, deer or goat victims of z Tuberculosis.

As we explained, the Killerton Estate website cites a figure of around £320K for this vaccination 'work' over its four year time span. But as more badgers were trapped in 2013 than 2012, they will only be on year one of the four year jab programme will they not? Some may not be the same badgers volunteering a second time round at all. But following Saturday's AGM resolutions, we are unsure as to whether the project will continue into 2014, or even beyond that, as planned.  It is due to report its results (levels of cattle TB?) in 2015.

This is a video - (link) made at the start of the project.

But back to the National Trust's AGM. We are grateful to Dr. Lewis Thomas who attended and also noted that there was a huge amount of emotional disinformation being voiced from those lobbying for vaccination.

Dr. Thomas's presentation is below:
Chairman, there is one compelling biological and epidemiological reason to reject the resolution before the meeting today namely that: A proven vaccine against bovine TB either for badgers or cattle currently does not exist. The Badger BCG vaccine, which was granted only a Limited Marketing Authorisation in March 2010, has no proven efficacy against bovine TB in the field. And even in challenge experiments with naive, uninfected badgers in the laboratory it fails to protect solidly against infection that is vaccinated animals become infected and shed the causal organism. The LMA was granted essentially on the basis of safety data that showed the vaccine did not harm the target species although that is open to question since post mortem examinations were not carried out on the test animals. Limited efficacy data were published in a paper published in the Royal Society’s on line journal and trumpeted on BBC News on line in December 2010 claiming the vaccine afforded 74% protection to vaccinated animals in the field. This was an outrageous and totally unjustified claim, the findings merely demonstrated a 74% difference in serological response between vaccinated and control animals. This is not evidence of protection as was claimed by FERA in the BBC report.

Furthermore to expect such a vaccine to protect against the huge burden of infection currently present in large parts of the badger population can only be described as highly speculative, driven it would appear largely by public perception of vaccination rather than scientific reality."

Dr. Thomas then voiced out own views that ad hoc and indiscriminate vaccination of wild badgers, many of which will already be infected with z. tuberculosis, is being portrayed as a valid alternative to culling infected pockets of these animals. He concludes:

"We are seriously concerned that the Government and other organisations such as the NT are presenting vaccination using the BCG vaccine in badgers as a realistic option in its own right as an alternative to culling.

Vaccination is not a magic, fits-all-diseases bullet. Vaccines may provide solid immunity against some diseases for example rabies and canine distemper but it does not follow that they will be effective against TB.

BCG is not a reliable or efficacious vaccine in man and other mammals (only 70% efficacy in man) It has been in existence for nearly a century and attempts to improve it over the years, particularly recently, have not met with success.

Promotion of the Badger BCG vaccine by DEFRA and its agencies can only be described as scientific deception on a grand scale. We therefore urge the meeting to reject the proposal to widen the deployment of the Badger BCG vaccine across all National Trust properties for the sound biological reasons outlined above and not to squander valuable resources on highly speculative projects."
After the meeting, Dr. Thomas commented that the NT resolution  was defeated possibly " not for entirely the right reasons"  but he thought it significant  that the proposer conceded in her summing up that  "vaccination was an “act of faith”" .

* Biographical note: Dr Lewis Thomas joined the Institute for Research on Animal Diseases, Compton in 1968 after a short period in general veterinary practice. At Compton he worked on the pathology and immunology of large animal diseases, principally respiratory disease and mastitis of cattle. He retired in March 2000 from what by then had become the Biology and Biotechnology Research Council’s Institute for Animal Health.

More on the National Trusts' AGM is in this Farmers Guardian - link report.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Section 10 (2) (a) - Protection of Badgers Act.

Section 10 (2) (a) of the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) allows for the culling of badgers 'to prevent the spread of disease'. But a £1m bung from the Political Animal Lobby in 1997 purchased a moratorium on this part of the Act and in private correspondence, Natural England confirm that no licenses have been issued since then.

In his raft of Parliamentary Questions lobbied in 2004, Owen Paterson asked "What was the current policy on the issuing of licenses under this section of the Act, and how many the Secretary of State (then Madame Beckett) expected to issue in the next 5 years. [158605]

 The answer given on 18th March 2004, Col 431W was unequivocal;
Under section 10 (2) (a) - to prevent the spread of disease: "It is current policy not to issue any licenses under sub section 10 (2) (a) to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, except for animals held in captivity."
And as far as we were aware, that was still the situation. Until today. When we read Natural England's letter of reply to the Badger Trust's hissy fit query over the extension to the Gloucestershire pilot cull.

 These pilot culling areas were we thought, to determine whether free shooting was a humane way of dealing with badgers. And an expert group will examine the results and the protocol, when they finish.
But perhaps we were wrong? Paragraph 5 of the letter, explains:
5. But the purpose for which the licences were granted in Gloucestershire and West Somerset is disease control. Thus it is incorrect to characterise the cull as being for 6 weeks only.
So not to test the protocol at all? But for disease control? Well, well, well.

Paragraph 8 nails this further:
8. The purpose of the requirement for a 6-week limit to the licensed period of culling was to ensure that every effort would be made to achieve the objective of reaching the minimum number to be culled within the six weeks.

At no point has it been said by Defra or by the CVO that, if culling did not achieve the objective of reaching the specified minimum number within the six-week period of the annual cull, then culling would never be permitted to continue. Indeed it would be irrational to have done so, given that the purpose of granting the licence was to reduce bovine TB, if a further licence would achieve a greater reduction in bovine TB.
The letter from Natural England is on this link. And the Badger Trusts's original challenge. (- link) is here.

The original wording of the NE license for the pilots is worded as a "TB AREA CONTROL LICENSE ' which could mean controlling badgers in an area where sentinel tested cattle are flagging up TB, regardless of outcome for the cattle - as in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial. But equally, it could mean controlling badgers to prevent the spread of disease within such a TB area. Whatever NE wants it to mean, we think.

 So is the moratorium on Section 10 (2) (a) still in place - or not?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

West Penwith

West Penwith is a rocky peninsular of SW Cornwall, encompassed by sea on three sides. It also has the dubious reputation of persistent tuberculosis problems in it badger population.

Or to put that more correctly, sentinel tested cattle have continued to flag up persistent problems, most of which have been laid at the door of the area's badger population.

The entrenched disease of tuberculosis in badgers in certain areas, first came to light in the early 1970s when the nationwide TB eradication programme failed to clear the disease by testing and slaughtering cattle.

Together with parts of Gloucestershire, West Penwith was a blot on the Ministry's maps. So, William Tait, a fierce Scotsman  was dispatched to this windswept corner of England, to sort the problem out.

His cattle measures were described by those working with him, as 'brutal'. And they became even more so as he failed to stem the Ministry's emabarassingly large pile of dead  Cornish cattle.

But apart from the distinction of having demolished more cob barns in West Cornwall than had been flattened in the previous 100 years, William Tait (- link) failed to make an impact at all, as the CVO reports in the linked posting show. However  the landscape changed a quite a bit, as he tried to pressure wash and steam clean those old cob walls.

It wasn't until 1976, after a visit from Gloucester's Roger Muirhead and the introduction of badger clearances on affected farms, that the CVO reports of the time show that cattle slaughterings in West Penwith finally began to drop.

Also taking a keen interest in this picturesque part of Cornwall is Rosie Woodroffe, a mere toddler when Tait's cattle carnage was taking place, so one wouldn't expect her to know about him at all. But she should. Particularly as she, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and local MP Andrew George have lifted £2m, to vaccinate badgers (- link) in this same patch.

We note that their efforts are being described as a 'trial'. But as with all these ad hoc vaccination forays, there is no population count ahead of vaccination, so no estimate of the number of badgers vaccinated as a percentage of the total population.
Now this seems totally at odds with the present debacle of the Natural England / FERA badger head count (- link) which has so bedeviled the pilot shooting culls. Could one really imagine that these professional bean  badger counters wanted vaccination of badgers to continue their employment, but not culling any at all which would undoubtedly curtail it?
We note once again that as well as no head count, there is no screening of the health of these animals before they are caged, jabbed and released.

 But also heading for the peninsular of West Penwith is Bill Harper of the NBA, whose comments are quoted in this week's industry newsletter. He begins with a mention of  the incomplete, over budget, reportedly under manned and as yet unreported, pilot culls:
"To build on the trial cull results, Mr Harper encouraged farmers to support a professional roll out programme. It will require an experienced and professional full time manager. Funding such a move could cost as little as £2.50 per animal per year." 
Citing one area already getting ready, Mr Harper then " looks for a similar commitment from West Penwith."

West Penwith? Has he spoken to the fragrant Rosie recently? Or Andrew George, MP?
We suspect not as the report continues:
Turning to vaccination, Mr Harper was clear that the best place to deploy stocks is in an area between the Manchester Ship Canal and the Humber, a distance of only 37 miles. Creating a ‘firewall’ across this short distance can maintain the free status of the north, while farmers tackle the issue from the south upwards. (by culling)

"West Penwith is the natural starting point for such a project, and farmers will have the support of Secretary of State, Owen Paterson. Jointly working with government and Natural England, farmers can get on top of the scourge of bovine TB," concluded Mr Harper.

So, after William Tait's fruitless attempts almost 40 years ago, to eradicate zTuberculosis from cattle in West Penwith, (without touching the wildlife reservoir which was infecting them) we appear to have come come full circle.


This patch of Cornwall is attracting funding from the ZSL and lord knows who else to the tune of £2m, to vaccinate as many un screened badgers as they can catch, with a vaccine now boasting a modeled 54 per cent efficacy and no account taken of the sick ones. This project is said  to last for seven years..

While on the other hand,  Bill Harper wants the local cattle farmers to dig deep and fund a shooting party over 70 per cent  the same sq kms of West Penwith?

Both quote the geographical advantages of a coastline on three sides as a recipe for their respective project's success. Which is about the only fact in this whole damn mess with which we can agree.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Counting the cost

The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) have quietly announced a consultation on their proposal to adopt table valuations for cattle slaughtered - (link) under the zTB eradication scheme in Wales.

 The cynical might point out that if WAG hadn't spent a staggering £662 - (link) per badger, indiscriminately poking needles into an estimated proportion of the Pembrokeshire badger population, with no idea of the current health status of their catch - a policy which they plan to continue for at least 4 more years - they may have a few more pennies to compensate their long suffering farmers.

Farmers Guardian has more on this story on this link. - (link)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Approach with caution?

This last few weeks the media has been full of stories - (link) and cartoons about the numbers of badgers alleged to live in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. We have offered our collective opinion of this inherited, but extraordinarily daft idea - (link)  many times, and do not propose to comment further - other than to add that it is the health or otherwise of badgers remaining after any cull which is important.

How many were shot in a certain area, during a very short period of time by marksmen swaddled into a cats cradle of bureaucratic nonsense is immaterial to the control or prevention of disease - especially if the individuals remaining are the highly infectious 'super excreters', excluded from the clan. But we digress.....

While the polemic grows wider and people from all walks of life hold vociferous opinions about cattle and cattle farmers, many appear  to forget what should be the true target of any zTuberculosis eradication programme.

That is the bacteria known as m.bovis (left pic) which should be approached with extreme caution at all times.

This slide has been stained  pink to show clusters of it forming  lethal expanding 'colonies' or tubercles.

 Below (right) is a single rod shaped bacterium.

Although it is a heavy organism and unlike Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) virus, rarely moved on natural air currents, a cough or spit with aerosol power behind it  from an infected person or animal with open lung lesions (or urine and pus from an infected badger) can spread it readily. It can enter its next victim through inhalation ( lungs) ingestion ( mouth) or through open wounds. It has been known to enter through the skin.

 But more virulent than the bacteria lurking in these droplets are the same bugs after the sputum (or infected fresh product)  has long dried to dust.

This dust debris can be airborne and is particularly lethal: a fact discovered over 100 years ago by Professor Koch and the concept repeated at intervals since.

Apparently, a method to establish this method of spread, was for an infected person to cough over a box of guinea pigs. This resulted in very few developing disease.

But dry dust collected from areas where infected people or animals had lived, wafted over the box of guinea pigs, usually resulted in all the animals contracting tuberculosis.

When colonies of zoonotic Tuberculosis (m.bovis)  infect a  lung, it begins to look like this.
A mass of pus filled tubercles encased in thick scar tissue, which prevent air from reaching the lung.

Eventually the victim suffocates and dies.

Antibiotic treatment for humans is protracted and offers no certainty of a successful outcome, particularly if offered late in the progression of the disease.. 

So, why is Defra playing around with this zoonotic killer?  Or more to the point, allowing its various arms including quangoes Natural England, FERA and AHVLA to play?

We pointed out in this posting - (link) the extraordinarily slap happy way in which BCG vaccination for badgers was being attempted piecemeal by 'volunteers' in patches of land all over the South West.

Chief Scientist at AHVLA, Prof. Glyn Hewinson says it is to 'build farmer confidence' in it. He explains:
"In England, the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project has involved trapping and vaccinating badgers in a 100km2 area near Stroud in Gloucestershire. The primary aims of the project are to learn lessons about the practicalities of deploying an injectable vaccine; provide training for others who may wish to apply for a license to vaccinate badgers; and build farmers confidence n the use of badger vaccination.
Defra is providing funds to cover 50% of the cost of becoming an accredited and certified lay vaccinator and has extended the availability of its vaccination fund to cover 2013 training courses for members of voluntary and community sector organisations.
So far, 137 lay vaccinators have been trained on the cage trapping and vaccination of badgers."
We understand that to be effective, any vaccine needs to have high and proven efficacy, be aimed at over 80 per cent of its target population and be administered to candidates who have no underlying health problems, particularly the one being vaccinated against. Live vaccines (such as BCG ) attract special protocols, which in the EU, do not include their use by 'lay vaccinators' with a few hours training.

So what are the credentials of BCG for badgers?  The product which Prof. Hewinson is so keen to use,  to 'build farmer confidence?'

No efficacy data was submitted to (VMD) Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Thus the product was launched with a modeled benefit of 54 per cent based on blood tests (not postmortem ) after an unmonitored, uncertain exposure. Thus BCG for badgers holds a 'Limited Marketing Authority' license which means its benefits outweigh any harm.
No head or whisker count is undertaken before the start of a trap session, so no one has the slightest idea of population coverage in the 2 nights only allowed for trapping at a single site or sett..
No pre screening of trapped badgers for zTuberculosis (unlike the FERA trial) so there is no idea of the health status of the badgers being indiscriminately jabbed, or their identification for any follow up.
With no permanent identification marker of which we are aware, it is possible that the same badger may be caught and vaccinated on more than one night, further reducing the percentage vaccinated. Temporary spray markers on animal coats are just that - they can disappear quite quickly. 

And how can results of this latest charade possibly be monitored?
Is it a 'project',  a 'pilot',  a 'process' or more 'prevarication?'  At best, we see it as a dangerous prevarication which goes no way towards 'building confidence' in anything at all, but pensions for FERA / AHVLA staff.
And more dead cattle, sheep, pigs, deer, alpacas and domestic pets.

But possibly the daftest most dangerous thing we have seen so far in this rush to grab the latest comfort blanket and avoid the inevitable, is the cavalier way in which these animals (badgers of unknown disease status) are approached for treatment, collars or any other beneficial-to-the-operator projects.

Bearing in mind we are talking of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen here, eradication of which is by International statute to protect human beings and pictures of its effect shown above, one would have thought a degree of common sense would have prevailed? Not a bit of it.

Hard on the heels of a Crown Censure - (link) attracted by AHVLA laboratories operating at Starcross and Weybridge for failing to provide staff with adequate protection when dealing with items which may have been contaminated with zTuberculosis, we came across this gem, doing the rounds of Faceache .- (link)

In this short video, a fluffy little poppet from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), complete with bare knees and no gloves or face mask - the very least of which is required for protection against this pathogen - handles the cage containing a trapped wild badger on a farm in Cornwall which has had cattle reactors to zTuberculosis.

We won't point out that radio collars have already been fitted to badgers - (link) and cattle and the report published  in 2009, and that this merely repeats at least one already completed project. Yes we will.
And we'll also reiterate how very 'valuable' the poor old tuberculous badger has become, as the source of all this work these handouts.

But given the pictures in this post of a deadly zoonotic bacteria, we are absolutely staggered at the complacency with which many of these people  idiots are approaching and handling an animal which may be carrying it and which are more than prepared to share it.

In a healthy young person,  zoonotic Tuberculosis can remain walled up and hidden for decades, so they may not even realise that they have been infected for many years.......

Sunday, October 13, 2013

More models, more spin.

Still torturing the 'rough assumptions' made in the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, 1997 - 2006 another piece of information is released this week, which has the BBC Badger Benefit Corporation in its usual mode.

Spin, more spin and extraordinarily selective reporting, now doing the rounds of social media.

 Professor Christl Donnelly of Imperial College has booted up her computer (link) again and fed it various data from the RBCT, obtained prior to 2006. The extruded headline announced that around half of zTB outbreaks in cattle are directly linked to badgers. The paper comments:
There is considerable uncertainty around this estimate [of 52 per cent], but the authors say that 38 per cent is a robust minimum value for the estimate. There is no robust maximum value.
It may be pedantic to point this out but actually, there is no uncertainty at all. Solid data was available then and is still available from AHVLA (Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency)  in the form of detailed risk assessments of all new herd breakdowns. Known as TB99s these were ignored by the modelers who preferred to input their own data as described in 7:24 of the Final Report where they explain:
The infection rate concerns all sources of infection for cattle, local infection for example across farm boundaries, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas and infection from wildlife, especially badgers.

All these are important but their relative importance, and that of cattle-to-badger transmission, cannot be estimated directly. In the following calculations, we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important."
Excellent. Hours spent painstakingly filling in risk assessments and the ISG prefer to make a rough assumption of equal importance using two parts cattle to one part badger? And they call that 'science'.

This is a chart of the RBCT assumed 3 way split:

But the actual figures from parts of the South West were extrapolated by AHVLA staff at the time and they tell a different story altogether.


You'll have seen these charts but they do bear another viewing, if only to knock on the head modeled  'rough assumptions' masquerading as 'new data'.

Predictably, the media is split with this story.

Some newspapers. such as the Independent (link) quite helpfully trot out the headline of over 50 per cent responsibility attributed to badgers, as does the PubMed journal, (link) PlosOne.

But never failing to disappoint, the BBC - (link) fix on the figure of 94 per cent and just like their mythical vaccination efficacy figure of 74 percent - (link) have bounced it around the networks.

If for one second, the mathematical models are unplugged and the actual situation examined, as Owen Paterson did in 2003 /4 , a completely different picture emerges. The Parliamentary Questions on which this site rests come in useful occasionally and although they make this post a tad long, we will repeat the answers of what really happens when a wildlife reservoir in badgers is successfully removed.

Owen Paterson teased many epidemiological 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 which lasted from December 1975 to August 1976 only. Then the Ministry officials walked away and the badgers were allowed to recolonise, soon reaching pre cull levels. Owen asked for the result of Thornbury on cattle herds:
"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 as done by the RBCT? Or even taking indiscriminate pot shots at the scent markers over 42 nights, as the current pilots have attempted to do?
The question was asked, why should there have been this astonishingly quick and impressive result?

Was anything else done? Biosecurity? Extra cattle measures? Pre movement testing? No cattle movements at all? Whole herd slaughter? Zones? Licenses? Shrink wrapped grass, raised troughs and cattle in hermetically sealed boxes?

The answer from the minister was unequivocal:

 " 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] 

More on the Thornbury project, and its effect on TB in cattle in that area can be found on this excellent link (link)

So as all this taxpayer funded 'research' spills into the press, hang on to those basic facts. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. As is the assumed cattle to cattle onwards spread, when said cattle are nailed down on a regime of 60 day test and slaughter.

 A final word from Professor Donnelly, who comments on her latest models thus:

          "These findings confirm that badgers do play a large role in the spread of bovine TB.

These figures should inform the debate, even if they don’t point to a single way forward,”
Perhaps she could 'inform' the BBC of that..... ?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Yoosful site? Or not.

We linked to a useful article on this site - (link) earlier in the year. In that article, Professor Ian Boyd, Defra's current Chief Scientist, was explaining the 'regional accents' - link) of the bacterium known as m.bovis.

That article was a good one. Unfortunately a quick wander around the site, reveals - (link) that the so called and quaintly entitled 'challenge' which cattle (and now sheep, farmed deer, pig and alpaca) farmers have with this disease is not to do with the disease itself at all. It is one thousand per cent to do with how this damned department, now named Defra but formerly MAFF,  have failed to deal with it over decades.

And as the page linked to above is headed by the blandly outrageous statement which explains so much about the attitude of this dinosaur, we have no confidence, despite the appointment of the most progressive Secretary of State for years,  that anything will change anytime soon. It's title page states with utter confidence that:
Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease affecting cattle.
Really? Try telling that to the owners of the dead sheep, pigs, cats, alpacas, deer, goats and not a few dogs. - (link)  - all animals which are stacking up in their hundreds, despite all efforts by Defra to dumb down the overspill reality of this 'disease which infects cattle'.(sic)

Until the architects of this site (Defra), produce meaningful statistics - (link) on the level of overspill to other mammals, infected not by their tested-to-extinction dead cattle, but the free ranging and translocated - (link) 'wildlife' they are sooooo  keen to ignore, we don't see the situation changing any time soon. - (link)

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Numbers Game

As the Somerset badger cull draws to a close - maybe - the thorny question of how many beans make five has raised its head again. Or in this case, how many badgers there are, pottering around in any one patch at any particular time anyone chooses to try and count them.

 In the early 1970s, while advising on the first Badger Act, the late Earnest Neal described 1 per  as 'abundant' . But after forty years of ultimate, mega protection, FERA cage trapped 844 in 55 sq km during their vaccination 'Elf n' Safety' trial in 2007/8. That is over 15 per sq km. (or 15.5 if one counts half a badger). And in parts of Oxfordshire, population densities of 38 per sq km have been recorded.

Based on the charade known as the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial, which in its turn, admitted a political steer (link) from its inception, proposals for these pilot culls staggered along with cull protocol organiser, Natural England (link) putting as many obstacles in the way of their success as possible. And being so much attached to mathematical models, numbers were crucial.

And it was these numbers which have proved to be a movable feast. They were however, the key to perceived 'success' : so much so that after the first foray into how many badgers occupied 350 sq km of land, they were changed, stirred and possibly now changed again. (link)

The Independent reports this morning that cull targets have been halved after a hard winter. An announcement is imminent and that the cull has been a success.

Now bearing in mind that this exercise was to see if picking off a nocturnal, subterranean, group mammal in ones and twos over a set period of time (42 nights) in a given area ( 350 sq km) and achieving a 70 per cent cull rate over 75 per cent of the area was 'humane', its 'success' should not be measured by X per cent of Y multiplied by anything at all. Provided no badgers were wounded, free shooting could be deemed a success.

 However we know from the aforementioned Badger Dispersal Trial that occasional 8 nights forays into a population endemically infected with zoonotic tuberculosis using cage traps, was not the best way of dealing with the Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, roaming our countryside. And done haphazardly, may make things a whole lot worse for resident cattle, sheep, pigs and alpacas.

 There are many rumours flying around about these pilot culls, to which we have no intention of adding anything at all. But while we wait for official comments on this, the latest political shenanigans to avoid culling a known and acknowledged wildlife reservoir of Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, we muse on the numbers game which has bedeviled these culls. But our observations are not for culling badgers but for vaccinating them.

The accepted protocol for any vaccination programme is that to be anything close to effective, over 80 per cent of the target population must be jabbed or dosed. So one would assume that the badger population numbers would be known at the start? Yes?

No. We are not aware of any pre-vaccination population head-count attempted for this latest wheeze (link) to avoid culling badgers infected with zoonotic tuberculosis. And in fact the protocol for vaccination is just as restrictive, expensive and daft as that dreamed up by NE (Natural England) for its pilot culls.

Readers may be amazed to hear that only 2 nights' trapping is allowed, and if one badger is caught (and that has happened) out of how ever many were expected at this particular party, that's it.

 The operators vaccinating have to pack up and walk away. If none are caught, they may stay a further two nights.

Badgers certainly are not queuing up for their jabs as in Ken Wignall's wonderful cartoon.

The amount of walking involved (for that, read 'work hours') for operators is not inconsiderable too, as live BCG vaccine cannot be mixed from its refrigerated containers ahead of knowing if anything has volunteered for  their traps. So two visits are needed from vehicle and fridge to each trap site - and back. And that can be miles. But at least it's good exercise for the vaccination operators, if not particularly fruitful as no one knows if the trapped animal already has zoonotic tuberculosis, or what part of a larger group number he may constitute..

The consequence of this slap happy, comfort blanket is that  no one knows how many of the endemically infected resident badger population they have jabbed with a vaccine now boasting an assumed 54 per cent efficacy, and of those jabbed, how many were already infected (FERA's haul of 844 had a 43 per cent infection level, which was said to be 'typical of badgers in endemic areas'). They haven't a clue. Because contrary to the the X and Y multiply and divide critically modeled cull protocol, for vaccination, no population count ahead of vaccination or pre screening for existing disease was undertaken at all.

So while a cull, (in some form) which eventually will prevent the spread of zoonotic tuberculosis, is tied in a cats' cradle of red tape on numbers, before, during and after the event, vaccination of that same species appears to be so very much more relaxed.
So much so that the difference and perceived outcome, is quite astounding.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Don't use the 'G' word

News this week that SUE is to be trialled on badger setts. Defra just lurve their acronyms and the 'G' word (gassing) may have unfortunate connotations for more sensitive souls. Or those who have yet to experience of consigning home bred,  heavily pregnant cattle to premature slaughter.

So, an acronym is needed. Will Selective Underground Euthanasia or SUE  do? And if not, we're sure that our more inventive readers (or Defra's zTB team) can suggest more.

But that really depends on how committed the latter are to solving this mess without embroiling our cattle, sheep, pigs, deer and alpacas  in yet more obfuscation. (link) 
Or consigning our cattle industry  to the longest suicide note (link) in history; a process which is likely to involve all products from so-called vaccinated animals as well as the beasts themselves.  But we digress...

The product previously used for underground culls, hydrogen cyanide, and its more modern cousins are still in use for control of all subterranean mammals - except badgers. But newer and less evil substances are available, including Carbon Dioxide - used most widely as 'reacreational fog' at pop concerts. Which 'may' explain quite a lot....

Most importantly, in a sub-lethal dose, any product used must not maim.

Carbon dioxide is used widely in the selective euthanasia of pigs and chickens, death being instantaneous and carcase damage nil. Less refined anaesthetics are also a possibility.

So a new product has to be found. Why? Because taking pot shots or even indiscriminate, high profile cage trapping of just a few members of an endemically infected, subterranean, nocturnal, group mammal is just plain crackers. It ignores all we know about effects of splitting social groupings of badgers, the transmission and survival of the bacteria which causes zoonotic Tuberculosis within a badger sett and is hugely expensive to operate. It is also indiscriminate as to its targets. Some will be infected, but others not so.
And those presently uninfected groups need to be left completely alone.

The Times has a snippet about new trials to assess products which may be suitable (link) but the full article is hidden behind a pay wall, so just the introduction can be produced here:
Farmers could be allowed to gas diseased badgers in their setts, following research into alternatives to the shooting being used in the present culls.

The gassing of badgers using cyanide was banned 30 years ago because it was considered inhumane, but many farmers believe carbon monoxide poisoning would be a painless way of killing animals in setts that have been infected with tuberculosis.
Never missing a journalistic opportunity, the illustration and strapline in this article show a shiny group of badgers and refers to the 'gassing of badger families'. But then they would not like to show the reality of zTuberculosis in badgers, would they?

Pictures like this may upset people.  But here he is folks: emaciated, excluded, alone and now dead. But not before sharing his lethal burden with any mammal unfortunate enough to have crossed his highly infected, bacterial footprint path. And leaving it, in some circumstances for weeks if not months.

 More information that the removal of infected groups of badgers (as opposed to picking off one or two individuals) has on the incidence of Tuberculosis in cattle, can be found on this link to

And you will find previous work on SUE done by Defra, using Carbon monoxide (link) in our 2008 posting on the subject.