Saturday, June 15, 2013

Where did it all go wrong...... ?

Having spent the last decade collating and collecting snippets about the non-control of Bovine Zoonotic tuberculosis  in Great Britain and posting them on this site, we thought a potted history may bring our readers up to date. There are many statements flying around which are just fairy stories, and in the next few paragraphs, we will attempt to blow a few myths away.

 During the 1950s and 60s, what was known as the 'Compulsory Eradication ' process swept through the cattle herds of the country, starting at the coasts and working inwards towards the midlands. Testing cattle, and slaughtering those which reacted to the skin test was very successful leaving only a few red dots on the ministry's maps to spoil a complete clearance.

The Badgerists will claim that this clearance this was carried out without a hair of a badger's head being harmed. But that is not true. Farmers were controlling numbers right up until The Badgers Act (1973) made this illegal, hoovered up with action against the obscene 'sport' of badger baiting. Populations were 'managed' and kept stable before and during the eradication process, until 1973.
And TB incidence fell from an estimated 40 per cent of cattle affected in the 1930s to 0.04 per cent at the end of the Compulsory Eradication process.

It was around this time that an infected badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The farm was was having persistent problems getting the herd clear with testing and slaughter of its cattle. It was also noted that in West Cornwall, cattle herds went clear during winter housing, only to go under restriction again after grazing open pastures.

We explored the resulting cattle carnage in this posting, with the aid of the CVO reports from 1972 - 1976.

During the 1970s, badgers were routinely euthanased by the Ministry's wildlife teams, while underground in their social groups, if cattle breakdowns failed to clear with cattle testing and slaughter. And the incidence of Zoonotic tuberculosis dropped to a level which would have allowed TB free trading under the OIE regulations.

That level is set at less than 0.01 per cent of herds affected, and 0.02 per cent of cattle slaughtered in a three year period of surveillance by skin testing and slaughter. Remember that figure: it is important.

 This was the parish map in 1986, showing a handful of breakdowns in  a few clusters. Any population control by landowners, had been banned in 1973.

But in the early 1980s, puppet 'scientists', singing political tunes for their suppers research grants and pensions, came to the fore and veterinary experience and expertise took a back seat.

One of the first reports to cause problems,  was by Lord Zuckerman which concluded that underground euthanasia was fine for rabbits, foxes and moles - but cruel to badgers.

 And although he accepted that badgers were involved in the cycle of 'bovine' tuberculosis, he was going to make it damn difficult for MAFF to control the disease in them. Thus in 1982, gassing was replaced by cage trapping and shooting in a 'ring' of around 7km from the breakdown or until badgers postmortemed 'clean'.. Incidence bumped along at a fairly low rate, with 605 cattle slaughtered in 1982 and 843 in 1985.

 But an even more damaging tweak came in 1987, with the Dunnett report. Another 'scientist' who concluded that badgers played a significant role, but then proceeded to emasculate the Ministry's ability to control Zoonotic tuberculosis in them even more.

 Professor Dunnett's report introduced the 'Interim strategy' which ran from 1987 - 97, while politicians decided what to do about increasing numbers of reactor cattle and wrung their collective hands with the Badgerists. And the reason for this increase?

After Dunnett, the amount of land available to the Ministry of Agriculture's State Veterinary Service to trap on, was cut from 7 km to just 1 km. And then only on land which cattle had grazed. Thus if the badger's ancestral home was in forestry, an arable field or 2km from base, it was off limits. Untouchable.

And cattle slaughtering climbed from 782 in 1986 to 3,760 in 1996 - the last year of any semblance of control by the Ministry at all. A potted chronology can be seen on this link.

But the real nail in the coffin came in 1997, with a £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) and not a little influence from a diminutive Professor, leading the anything but Independent, and arguable most un-Scientific Group of all - the ISG. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial  Badger dispersal trial started in 1997 and no badgers were culled outside its triplet zones. As the RBCT wildlife teams stirred up infected populations occasionally for 8 nights, with time out for FMD, cattle reactors went through the roof.

Those of us unfortunate enough to experience these areas of carnage, were not surprised to see the initial rubbish results but we were surprised at the brazen opportunism, which drove this charade.

Professor Bourne did not say 'culling badgers' would have no place in controlling zoonotic Tuberculsosis in cattle in this country. What he said to the EFRA committee in 2007, we quote again below. Read it and weep.

"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."

Bought and paid for then?

 This is the map of GB's testing  in 2013, with around 40,000 cattle culled annually, over 10 per cent of GB's cattle herds under restriction compared with the OIE's TB free trading level which is set at  0.01 per cent.

And we now have the inevitable spillover of Zoonotic tuberculosis into many other mammals including domestic pets, companion animals and their owners.

This non-eradication policy for zoonotic tuberculosis went so very wrong over the last three decades for two very simple reasons. We have the best administration that lobby money can buy, and a raft of political scientists willing to sell their souls for an index linked pension.

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