Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The sight of a badger ...

.. now spreads fear in the countryside. So says a farmer, with her herd under TB restriction and losing cattle to zoonotic tuberculosis on her farm in Derbyshire.

An article by William Langley in the Sunday Telegraph explains that Angela Sargent, whose family have farmed the land since the 1930s, used to watch badgers play at dusk, describing them as 'magical'. But after losing her own cattle, and having the stress of imposed herd movement restrictions, that feeling is replaced by one of dread.

 The comments below this article are predictable, but Derbyshire Council, while quoted as being vehemently against culling badgers, appear to offer little alternative. This prompted a comment from one of our contributors which sums up the situation rather succinctly.

He points out that BCG is a very expensive and very ineffectual 'vaccine', especially when thrown at cage trapped, wild badgers, and that it will not prevent tuberculosis in any mammal. He suggests that unless there is an efficient, but targeted cull of the reservoir of bTB infection in the badger populations, the insidious five to ten mile annual spread of disease across the country will continue unabated.

The tested cattle are acting as the sentinels of a wider problem.This problem can now be 'targeted' very tightly:
"Using the polymerase chain reactor (PCR) technology the bTB infected setts can be identified. The dormant badgers are then fatally anaesthetised using Carbon dioxide generated from ‘dry ice’ as used for the production of artificial fog for recreational purposes.
After a few minutes the badgers would die peacefully in their slumbers. Pigs are routinely anaesthetised with Carbon dioxide, prior to stunning in slaughterhouses.
Carbon dioxide is itself an anaesthetic and being heavier than air would permeate all the chambers of the sett. A non-lethal dose would result in a full recovery within a few minutes."
Here is a link to the PCR test for badger setts, validated in three laboratories, located in two countries, which we described last year. Our contributor finishes his comment with this observation on the story:
"No reasonable, individual or group would be justified in objecting in principle to such a method of controlling the level of bTB infection in the badger populations."

Unfortunately 'reasonable' doesn't figure in badgerist's vocabulary.

We get the impression in their la la land that no badgers must be controlled. Not an infected badger, as this one with tuberculous pleurisy, emaciated beyond belief. Not any badger at all whether targeted for this evil zoonotic disease or not.

And that may be the case until such time as the chickens cats come home to roost  die, emaciated and coughing, on the family hearthrug.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

EU funding opportunity.

Two stories have passed our radar this week which we have combined, as they offer a unique opportunity which may attract anyone applying for the gravy train opportunity of EU funding.

The first is a clip from the BBC website, explaining that as Wales is pretty cash strapped at the moment, farmers will be asked to fund or co-fund a country wide vaccination programme for badgers.

Now before most farmers dip through the straw, baler cord and nails to the bottom of their deep pockets, they should be asking two questions. The first is how much will this cost? And the second, what do I get for the cash? In other words does this work?

The Welsh Assembly Government has been indiscriminately jabbing badgers in Pembroke for well over a year now, and in April, we reported the cost of the exercise, at £662 per badger. Meanwhile incidence of cattle breakdowns had rocketed. Not that we would be reckless enough to add 2 and 2 and make anything out of that at all. But cage trapping genuinely wild badgers is substantially different from cage trapping the peanut fed pets living at Woodchester Park. And badgers 'infected' with zoonotic tuberculosis can easily become 'infectious' when stressed. That means shedding copious amounts of bacteria.

The cost of cage trapping is a fixed cost involving bureaucracy (licences), labour, man (or woman) hours, vehicles, cages and peanuts, while results (number of badgers caught) appears to be very variable. And as these animals have not had the benefit of a health check, their disease status is variable too.

The second story came in a message from a contributor, describing the efforts of "two nice girls" from London Zoo, who turned up in a shiny, brand new Land Rover, to cage trap wild badgers in SE Cornwall.

This project was to fit them with transmitter collars to see how they interact with dairy cattle. Why dairy cattle and not beef cattle, sheep or alpacas is not explained. And it would be churlish to point out that like so many other badgery 'research projects', this particular exercise has been bought and paid before.  But we'll do the link anyway, as we have no doubt that it will all be repeated again.

 The story :
"Two nice girls from London Zoo (who appear to have the contract to do this) duly turned up in a brand new Land Rover back in the spring and I helped put the traps out around our (expanding) badger sett. They came every day to put peanuts down with a view to catching some badgers after a few weeks when they had got used to the traps.
I saw one of the girls again a couple of days ago (they had been accessing the sett from our neighbour's land as he is the one with the dairy cows), and she told me that they had failed to catch a single badger from our sett, and in fact had given up trying. []
The badgers had apparently gobbled up the peanuts round the sett entrances but had proved to be completely trap-shy."
So putting these two stories together, we believe more than ever, that vaccination of wild badgers is an absolute no-no, even if the vaccine was fully licensed and its efficacy proven by post mortems, (which it is not) and even if the effect on cattle breakdowns was substantial, (which it won't be because up to half the badgers caught are already infected).  But mainly because many of these damned badgers won't go into Defra's cages.

So being of a cynical nature but with a good sense of humour, we see this as an ideal opportunity for the magnet of EU funding. Training genuinely wild badgers to enter Defra's cage traps. It could take a while... 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Nothing if not persistent

We are grateful to the South West  TB advisory group, for sight of a video clip, taken at Bicton college, of their attempts to exclude badgers from grazing areas. In this case a one acre paddock containing a couple of alpacas and now occupied by goats..

Below are stills from the clip, showing this persistent creature slotting himself sideways through the 4" gap  between the netted gate and the sunken mesh fence. First he tries the conventional way...

Nope, that's no good. I'll turn sideways and try again... That's more like it.

 Bingo! That's sorted their 'badger proof' fence. Yeah!!

Now, before anyone gets too excited about the concept of badger proofing their whole farm, the cost of the donated materials used by Bicton college for the one acre paddock constructed using free student labour is quoted on the McVeigh Parker website as '£209.30 + VAT for the wire which is buried underground, and £145.60 + VAT for above ground wire.' (50m rollls)

For a comparison on prices, conventional mesh sheep wire costs between £26 and £31 + VAT for 50m.
And with posts, strainers and labour, to back fence with this product, a 10 acre field will set you back between £8 - £10,000. Badger proof fencing multiplies that cost by at least 10 - and don't forget the gates.

The surface under the gate at Bicton, was concreted at 8cm to the bottom of the gate. That's 3 inches in old money. Because, as the video clip shows, if gaps are just 4 inches, badgers can get in, under or through.

 ** Please note that the link to the Defra website showing cases of zoonotic Tuberculosis in other species, referred to in SW TB Advisory service's piece, should be viewed with extreme caution scepticism.

For sure, scant mention is made in the notes accompanying these tables that Defra are counting their single confirming microbial sample only, and not total TB casualties. There is no indication there, that deaths of other mammals, including pets and companion mammals now number thousands, not the comforting handful shown as an excuse for ignoring the increasing spillover of this disease.

Friday, July 05, 2013

(Another) Consultation

Yesterday, (July 4th) Defra launched yet another TB consultation on the way forward out of a morass of their own making.
For the last at least three decades, they have paid homage to animal rights campaigners and their assorted travelers and offered one animal such protection as to make control of the disease which is endemic within it, untouchable.

We see from this map that 'zoning' is back, with current areas of endemic zoonotic tuberculosis found in tested cattle -  liable for more testing, and cattle moving between zones, post movement tested.
Also mentioned is a link to biosecurity for any top up reactor payments and the SFP (Single Farm Payment) compliance.

Farmers Guardian has the over view.

At a cursory glance these proposals look as if cattle farmers will pick up the tab for TB testing, receive cull value only for reactors and pay a levy to (possibly) increase that compulsory purchase price.

They will also either directly or indirectly, employ overlords to check their bio security, attracting fines if in the opinion of this assessor, they haven't sheeted gates, kept badgers out of buildings or purchased an animal from a 'red' zone farm which has subsequently become a reactor.

And they will also be expected to foot the not inconsiderable bill for Natural England to license and FERA to oversee a possible shooting party of local badgers. Maybe.

From Alistair Driver's report:
 "The other key theme underpinning the strategy is the development of an ‘enhanced partnership’ in TB control where farmers are encouraged to take more responsibility for disease controls and a landed with a greater share of the costs.

The strategy document, published on Thursday and based partly on the work of Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, leans heavily on the experience of New Zealand, where control of bTB has been fully devolved to an industry-led body and the industry has co-financed the budget through levies and grants.

The strategy stresses that the current cost of TB control to taxpayers is ‘not sustainable’, highlighting a likely £20m shortfall in the estimated at £95m cost in 2014/15 and the funds allocated in the budget".

Leaving aside the observation that Defra's budget will now be spent on staff pensions and tuberculin antigen at 3p per jab, rather than any form of control of a Grade 3 pathogen, an international obligation to which this country has signed up, farmer 'co operation' is said to be vital. Particularly within this weaselly worded 'enhanced partnership'. So who's this 'we' Tonto?

After a long correspondence with the Animal Health board in New Zealand, TB Information, a brilliantly factual website explains:
 "In New Zealand, where a non-government agency known as the Animal Health Board manages their TB programme, it was found that when farmers were responsible for possum control the programme was not efficient and tended to leave holes where some farmers didn't undertake good control. In correspondence with New Zealand it is pretty obvious that you cannot leave gaps in control when you have an objective to reduce infected herd numbers or to eradicate TB from possums within a defined area of land."
"Such correspondence went on to say that if New Zealand's programme had been left to their government, then their TB programme would not have progressed to the extent it has, as politics and funding would have meant that the programme would have been conservative and have no accountability."
TB Information's editor continues:
"To me it sounds like the cull programme in England will be funded and deployed through collaboration between industry and government. Obviously circumstances in England are somewhat different to those in New Zealand but what England is planning to do, appears to be quite different from the current setup in New Zealand. In fact England's proposed strategy appears to more closely match the original strategy in New Zealand which was found to be lacking."

So Defra have looked at the New Zealand strategy, cherry picked parts (especially the cattle bits) but retain no overall control,  thrown wildlife management into the long grass and have little financial input other than fines?

 TB Information comments: "... in order to substantially reduce TB within the next 25 years, I think that one of two things needs to happen. Either the government commits and invests into addressing the badger problem. This does not appear to be happening at the moment."

( Other than the two proposed, unproven, highly controversial and high profile pilot culls, there is no back up Plan B in the current 'consultation' plan except a vague reference to PCR. And on past bitter experience of the opposition's last term of office, there does not appear to be any intention for any government to propose one in the foreseeable future - ed.) So what does that leave?

The second option (from TB Info) would be to give control of badgers back to farmers. But in order for this to happen, TB Information points out that UK legislation will need to be brought in line with the rest of the European Union.

This document has some useful snips, but in Great Britain, it would appear that meles meles is currently afforded more protection than is either desirable or healthy, both for the species itself, the slaughtered sentinel cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs and goats or the increasing overspill of its lethal cargo, to domestic pets and humans.

The cynical amongst us will also observe a pattern here. In fact with the benefit of hindsight, one could say, shaft me once, shame on you. Shaft me twice, shame on me.

Alternatively, all cattle farmers could apply for charitable status - as 'Badger Sanctuaries'.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Groundhog Day?

Hard on the heels of yesterday's 'exclusives', the red tops have had a field day, with pictures of burgers and a rehash of how Defra are selling 'diseased cattle' into the food chain.

The regulations governing meat inspection go back to 1963, and are framed around looking for bovine zoonotic tuberculosis - so this is hardly 'new' or news worthy. Nevertheless, we will cut / paste from the Defra handbook exactly what happens to cattle that have reacted to the skin test.
All animals entering the food chain are inspected by a veterinarian before they are slaughtered. Before they can be stamped as fit to eat, officials of the Meat Hygiene Service (under veterinary supervision) will carry out a post-mortem health inspection.
TB reactors, IRs and DCs are clearly identified and slaughtered separately from other cattle. They are given a more detailed inspection, and diagnostic samples are usually collected.
If an animal is healthy before it is slaughtered, and no TB lesions are identified in post-mortem inspections, the carcase is considered fit to enter the food chain regardless of whether it came from a TB reactor, IR or DC. There are no barriers to trade in this meat within Great Britain or the European Union.
If TB lesions are found in one organ or one part of the carcase of reactors, IRs or DCs, that organ or that part of the carcase is removed and condemned. If the rest of the carcase is free from TB lesions, it is considered fit to enter the food chain.
In all other cases (that is, if more than one organ or more than one part of the carcass has lesions), the whole carcase and all the offal is condemned and destroyed.
If bTB is suspected during routine meat inspections of cattle that have not been slaughtered as reactors, IRs or DCs, Meat Hygiene Service inspectors decide whether to condemn the carcase on a case-by-case basis.
And that is how it has been for the last 50 years. Despite attempts by animal rights campaigners or vegan organisations to muddy the waters. Note the date on the last link, by the way.

This particular ball was set rolling by CWI (Care for the Wild International) but only the Grocer magazine gave them a mention. As a charity, this is possibly not what they intended from their recycling of this piece of old non-news.

 But we can see this one unrolling along with the following scenario:
"If Defra are comfortable selling 39,000 cattle (in GB) which have failed a TB test into the food chain and milk is pasteurised, why bother to test cattle and more to the point, why cull wildlife reservoirs of zoonotic TB at all?"
And the answer to that, leads us neatly back to pets, companion mammals and other victims, not normally associated with bovine zoonotic tuberculosis. So back to yesterday's cat story which apart from raising some very valid questions, drew an interesting comment about the consequences of zoonotic tuberculosis in domestic cats:
"I have had a cat with bovine tuberculosis , it was treated by the Bristol University veterinary department and at home for 2 years with human antibiotics ,there are not any cat ones, she was pronounced better but after another 18 months the disease came back.
It was the most horrendous experience. The family had to be medically checked for 2 years.
It is the most horrible disease for animals and humans and a sensible path has to be taken to eradicate. vaccination for farm animals and domestic pets and wild animals where appropriate. sentimentality wont cure the disease . So its not imagination its a real threat.
An that is precisely the point of International obligations to control zoonotic tuberculosis - wherever it is found.

 We'll finish with a howler of a grammatical fault, printed in its initial publication by the Mail online (and now belatedly but sadly, corrected.)

Some very large badgers, making hooooge holes in their ancestral homes then, or very, very small cows?