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.