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.