Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015 - In Limbo

As 2014 draws to a close, cattle farmers are in limbo-land as far any meaningful control of diseased badgers is concerned. The two pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have just lurched through their second high profile year, and having adjusted their target numbers, Somerset was deemed to be a 'success'. But Gloucestershire, who did not challenge Natural England's guesstimates of badger numbers, was deemed not to have been a success.

 However, the proof of the pudding is in the number of cattle herds, previously under TB restriction, which are now trading clear. And it is reported - [link] that after a single year's culling, in Somerset, the figure of 34 per cent of herds under TB2 has fallen to just 11 per cent. A significant and substantial improvement of around 68 per cent.
And while the great and the good argue about how many beans make five, or in this case how many badgers live in the cull area of Gloucestershire, 'success' for many herds has come in the form of clear TB tests after years of restriction.

As we scribble this on New Years' Eve, more cull areas are apparently being formed to hit Natural England's collective desks for licensing, in mid January. But being a cynical lot, we see nothing at all happening in 2015 which gives us any cause for cheer. Politics will get in the way. A General Election in May, with results too close to call, will we suspect, see the current caretaker Secretary of State, Ms.Truss replaced.

And should the other party win an overall majority, the delightful Maria Eagle is already on record as saying she will 'stop the badger culls'.
She is intent on playing to gallery and in doing so, 'honouring the lie - [link] that vaccinating an infected group of badgers can somehow improve the situation. - [link]

The cost of the two pilot culls ran way beyond licensed farmer contributions and was underwritten by the NFU. But will they underwrite any more areas? Or are any newly licensed areas going to share that support pot? It has been hinted that some of the more onerous protocols, dreamed up by fully paid up member of Owen Paterson's Green Blob, Natural England - [link] may be relaxed. But should that be so, then we predict an immediate challenge by Queen May's Team Badger.

And even if Defra - if such an organisation exists any more - are successful in defending the right to control infected badgers, the opportunity for doing so in 2015 is likely to have been lost. Along with participating farmers' up-front cash, paid in advance with no security of tenure as to its eventual use.

 Meanwhile the group previously headed by Michael Seals, which was charged with 'reducing costs' within the TB budget, has been hard at work.

We've already seen heavily pregnant dairy cattle shipped from Dorset to Wales - [link] passing within 9 miles of a Somerset abattoir which takes reactors, for the sake of 2p/kg. This is neither animal nor human welfare but we can expect to see more of this desk-jockey type of juggling pennies, regardless of its animal or human consequences.

We also understand that on the table is another bright idea. That of an 'on the hook' price for any reactor, rather than even the current miserly tabular valuation. And not content with that, further deductions could be made by a shady, under the radar group, passing judgement on the affected farm's efforts at 'biosecurity'.

Are your feed stores secure from .......? Is the way you feed your cattle inaccessible to ......., are your gates sheeted and hung the regulation had height of 7.5cm (3" in old money) both off the floor (concrete) and at the sides, to prevent ingress by ......? And in all these questions, the ....... are referred to as 'wildlife'.

It would be churlish to point out that deer would have difficulty squeezing under a 3" gap, and that rats would have no trouble at all. But badgers? Even now, it's still a name they dare not even speak.

So to all our readers, whose businesses are still suffering the ravishes of an over protected animal, worth more votes to the average politician than any number of dead cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas or even pet cats, we wish you a Happy New Year.

To those personally suffering from the disease itself, we wish a speedy and satisfactory outcome to the long, hard drug regime you have had to endure, some of you with no success other than a brief respite.

To contributers across England, Wales and beyond, grateful thanks for sharing your stories and experiences.

And to the vets and professional epidemiologists who help and support the site - thankyou.

 There are no words which we could submit to print,  to describe the members of the Green blob who have, through political chicanery and self serving obfuscation, supported and encouraged the spread of mycobacterium bovis, and continue to do so.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Christmas 2014

It is now over a decade since as Shadow Minister, Owen Paterson MP, irritated the hell out of Labour's baby Ben Bradshaw with his 500 Parliamentary Questions. The answers, most of which were extremely revealing, form the 2003/4 archive on this site.

Ten long years of blogging about zoonotic tuberculosis, and have we achieved anything at all?

A coalition of greens, celebs and badgerists, aided and abetted by the BBC's PR machine and fueled by fully paid up pseudo scientists - [link] has presented a case for vaccination - [link] as an alternative to culling wildlife, both infected and infectious with z.Tuberculosis. While seemingly they are quite content to keep testing and slaughtering cattle and banging on about biosecurity.

And earlier this year, they succeeded in ousting the best Secretary of State - [link] we have ever had.

The European Union has approved funding - [link] to the tune of around £25 million for the UK, to test more cattle and offer advice. This, says Farmers Guardian is by far the largest slice of this particular pie, needed or requested by any EU member state.
"In total roughly £25m will be provided to the UK from the EU, the single largest allocation for a member state’s animal disease eradication programme. The funding received will be split between England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Defra said the funding would help it pursue elements of England’s TB strategy, including for on-farm cattle tests and laboratory work.
This is the sixth year running, that funding has been allocated, after the EU first approved the UK TB eradication programme in 2010.

We would have thought EU patience was wearing a tad thin, especially as the bottomless pit of cattle carnage while leaving a wildlife reservoir of disease to flourish, appears to be errr - bottomless, with almost 24,000 cattle slaughtered in the 9 months to September 2014. That is slightly down on 2013, but so are the number of herds registered on Defra's computer network. Thus the percentage of herds experiencing TB restrictions remains stubbornly high at around 10 per cent of all cattle herds in GB.

We note that 2014 ends with some pretty outrageous statements made by the top end staff at Defra, which in the positions which they hold, and with the qualifications they wave about, are an insult to reality.

We reported Ian Boyd's gaff at the NFU TB Conference - [link] in November, and he is not alone in using wild, computer  generated assumptions when solid data is available from his own departments.

But the word which seems to have got the great and good in such a tail spin is 'Transmission'. How it happens, by what method, why, when, how... and usually combined with the need for more 'research'.
It goes on like a broken record. And merely confirms the total lack of epidemiological credibility within the upper echelons of Defra / AHVLA.

Which brings us neatly back to those PQs of a decade ago.

For sure they were publicity for a problem which should never have been allowed to ferment, but they were much more than that. They sought to satisfy the 'gold standard' of disease transmission, by answering certain postulates originally formulated - [link] by Professor Koch for the spread of Tuberculosis, in 1884.

This is pure epidemiology, where if certain events happen, (causality)  then how transmission occurs does not need further investigation. Such transmission can be assumed.

These early postulates were upgraded by Evans in 1977 and include:
* Disease should follow exposure to the putative agent
• Exposure increases disease incidence prospectively 
* Exposure increases disease prevalence
• Exposure to the cause more common in those with the disease than those without ceteris paribus
• Dose-response relationship.
.* Experimental reproduction of the disease possible
• Measurable host response following exposure to the cause
          • Elimination of putative cause reduces incidence

          • Prevention of the host‘s response eliminates the disease

          • The whole thing should make biologic and epidemiologic sense

But how this zoonotic, bacteriological killer has been handled in this country over the last three decades make no sense whatsoever; biological, epidemiological or any other descriptive term Defra can dream up.

 As research over the last century has shown, for zoonotic Tuberculosis, the epidemiological postulates are satisfied. Thus further prevarication over its control in wildlife is purely political .

And that is a damned disgrace.

We'll end this post with a snippet which we hope you will appreciate.

You may have read the [shock, horror, how awful ] stories of how long it takes a badger, shot during the pilot culls to 'die'. But all may not be as it seems. For sure, the stopwatch starts ticking when the rifle fires.

 But then the marksman has to discharge the spent round, discard his camouflage gear, (including trousers), having removed his boots so that said trousers could be discarded. Put on bio security garb commensurate with the examination of a Category 1 waste product under EU Waste regulations, (a dead badger) and sprint across to where said badger was felled.

Now this may be 10 feet, 10 yards or 100 yards. And when he finally reaches the animal, he has to tickle its eyelid with a twig to confirm death. And it is only when he indicates a 'thumbs up' to the man with the stopwatch and a torch, does that apparatus get stopped.

So all is definitely not as it seems. And let's hope there were no chimneys involved. Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hermetically sealed boxes for dairy cows .....

... and beef cows to decorate the landscape?

A suggestion from Professor Charles Godfray, from Oxford University, who delivered the prestigious annual Bledisloe Memorial Lecture at the Royal Agricultural University, in Cirencester, last week. is that dairy cows be housed 24/7 to protect them from infected badgers, while beef cattle should graze, to add to the landscape value.

It's not April 1st. and  Farmers Guardian - [link] reports his suggestion thus:
Farmers should consider keeping more cattle indoors to protect them against bovine TB (bTB) infection where the disease is being spread by badgers, a leading academic specialising in food and farming has suggested.
That is not so daft as it sounds, as we reported last year, in this posting - [link] where a restock herd of dairy cattle were 'incarcerated' - but safe. And regularly, it is noted that cattle herds will test clear in the winter, as cattle are housed away from pasture (and providing feed stores and access points to buildings are badger proofed) only to fail skin tests after a summer of grazing, 'au naturale'.

 But now an Oxford academic, whose claim to fame in 2005 was a paper on the sex life of yeast, (Goddard, M.R., Godfray, H.C.J. & Burt, A. 2005 Sex increases the efficiency of natural selection in experimental yeast populations. Nature 434, 636-640) wants to rearrange the life of Britain's cattle herds, to suit infected badgers? Professor Godfray's  speciality appears to be the  biological control of parasites in insects. He is a parasitologist. We suppose he could broaden his scope to include other, larger parasites? 

 Seriously, have we gone stark, staring berluddy mad?
"I think there are some really interesting questions about the way we farm and the way we manage land in the west of the country,” said Professor Godfray.
Interesting maybe, but missing the point of 1:3 tractor free slopes and wonderful grassland which supports grazing animals but not machinery, he also pointed out that:
The mixture of pasture and woodland where many cattle graze in the west of England was an ideal breeding ground for worms, which in turn, creates perfect conditions for badgers.

“There are higher densities of badgers in the west country at the moment than ever before,” Prof Godfray said.

“We like to farm in a particular way. We could farm in other ways. You could bring more dairy cattle indoors in larger facilities so they can be protected from badgers. You could still have beef cattle out so the landscape would not look different.”
Obviously other grazing mammals succumbing to 'badger' tuberculosis have failed to cross the good Professor's radar. Or perhaps we should house them all? Alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, deer, bison - a modern day Noah's Ark.  And then farmers could run badger sanctuaries, as a diversification.

And when the eminent gentleman said 'housing' of dairy cattle, as Ken Wignall points out in his brilliant  cartoon to illustrate this bovine fantasia, we don't think he meant, errr ' farm house housing'.

Or perhaps he did?

(Ken Wignall's cartoon appeared in Farmers Guardian, December 5th. and we reproduce it with thanks.)  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The 'right' sort of scientific consensus? - Nudge.

In an article for the Western Morning News this week, Anthony Gibson, - [link] former SW regional director, then reincarnated as press officer for the National Farmers Union, has apparently nudged back into the NFU fold, describing a conference at which, from his dialogue, he was not present.

 Illustrated with a library picture of a shiny badger, Gibson's piece is a mass of contradictions. But given a  Nudge Farmers Under hymn sheet from which to sing, and despite a totally guesstimated model presented by Ian Boyd which we described in this post - [link] he's sung to it very obediently and in tune.

He explains:
.... we do need to achieve a scientific consensus as to how and why the infection spreads if we are ever to achieve political agreement on action to prevent it. To that extent, any consensus is better than none, even a consensus with which very many farmers might feel profoundly uncomfortable – always provided the scientists are right, of course,...[ although that is another story]."
"Any consensus is better than none?" Whaaaaat? You cannot be serious.

And if these desk jockeys are not 'right'?

And if they are completely unaware that the data they require to formulate policy given proven risk, particularly before making such wild statements, is actually collated daily within their own departments?

Who is going to tell them? Is anyone going to point that out?
Not Nudge. They can always rely on Nudge.

 The Nudge Farmers Under group will always do exactly as their masters tell them. Dissent is not permitted.

Thus we have a group of over qualified people, (but not a single epidemiologist) faithfully worshipping a model created with guesses. Estimates.

 Assumed data, not the actual figures which are  available for every new TB breakdown.

And telling us quite sincerely, that up to 94 per cent  of outbreaks are down to cattle?

Although it may be 100 per cent badger related. Wonderful. And they call that 'science' ?

Gibson continued, observing quite correctly that:
"Of course, no such official foot-dragging is evident when it comes to cattle controls. In that context, the prospect offered by the conference was of ever-more tests and ever-tighter restrictions, without anything being done – quite possibly not even the continuation of the pilot culls – to cut off the flow of disease from infected badger setts."
Quite. But in the whole disgraceful, sycophantic diatribe, that was the only bit he did get correct.

And predictably, he failed to mention documented data of those who had previously attempted these drastic 'cattle only' measures, now proposed. Thus history - [link] is likely to repeat itself on a grand scale with similarly ignominious and expensive results..

But hey,  when Government says jump, Nudge says  "how high"?

Disgracefully, what Gibson omitted to mention (while polishing some Nudge egos), is that the NFU appears to have done absolutely nothing to avail their Conference speakers of information relating to the circumstances leading to the TB breakdowns of their members, most of whom, according to recorded SVS / AH data, did not fit Boyds' model.
And that is unforgivable.

Thus there is nothing at all to prevent the scenario which we described last year - [link]

But somehow that is a good outcome?

For whom?

Not farmers, not cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, bison, deer, goats, cats and dogs. And not badgers.

If you remember, last year, Defra carried out some mind games - [link] giving them the excuse to say that they had 'consulted'. Never mind what was said at these gatherings, the end result would be a heap more dead cattle - [link] - a scenario now apparently supported by the Nudge Farmers Under group which approves a 'consensus'.

The NFU will 'nudge' those pesky farmers along as instructed, one miserable, expensive, ineffective step at a time, and hope they don't put all these miserable barbs together at the same time. That would never do at all.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Depressingly vague fluff

We have been gathering comments from attendees at the NFU Conference last Monday, which offered presentations from the great and the good, mainly involved with keeping this disgraceful charade going.

The speeches opened with Chief Scientist Ian Boyd, ignoring all the myriad of SVS /AHVLA / APHA's risk assessments on the cause of TB breakdowns, and announcing that the reason for TB problems was in the 'too difficult file', but he'd have a guess.

 Farmers Guardian's political reporter, Alistair Driver quotes him thus:
To the exasperation of many in the room, he [Prof. Boyd] said there was ‘overwhelming evidence’ most of the risk to farms ‘lies from cattle-to-cattle infection’ within herds and from the wider cattle population. He said the proportion varies significantly between areas where badgers are present and quoted a previous speaker’s assertion that the overall estimated proportion of badger transmission lies ‘between 6 and 100 per cent with 50 per cent in the middle’,

“We do not know in any specific circumstance. What we do know is there is a big range of possibilities"
What absolute rubbish. Vague, unsubstantiated, assumption modeled fluff.

No wonder his audience were left gasping. They know, as do we from bitter experience, that each and every breakdown is back traced by Animal Health officers. And has been for decades.

 The results were painstakingly tabulated a decade ago, for presentation to the Killarney Epidemiological Conference - a gathering involving real vets, real scientists and using real data. Not modeled assumptions.

And the result, for a county with one of the highest breakdown rates in the country?

Purchased cattle accounted for just 8 per cent of breakdowns, leaving 76 per cent definitely badgers and 16 per cent probably badgers. So no need for guesses. Just dust off the correct data and read it.

 And it is under those circumstances (no bought in cattle and no cattle contact) that we remind our readers of a salient quote:
"the onus must be on those disputing the role of the badger as a significant reservoir of infection to hypothesise other sources of infection for such herds, especially where when investigated, the majority of badger populations in the area have been found to be infected".
This last snippet, we quote from Dr. Richard Clifton-Hadley's most excellent paper, 'Badgers, Bovine Tuberculosis and the Age of Reason". (British Veterinary Journal - Guest Editorial 1996)

So we find it quite bizarre that Professor Boyd can make such generalised and factually incorrect statements which are gathered and recycled unquestioningly, ignoring the (many) herds which do not fit his hypothesis or computer model, and still call it 'science'.

Little discussion followed Boyd's presentation, which opened with the caveat that only pre screened questions would be allowed. Blood pressure was thus raised a tad among his audience.

As Nigel Gibbens was duck watching in Yorkshire, his colleague Malla Hovi took his slot, with the announcement that 'after consultation, 6 monthly testing would be introduced in Cheshire'.
Ms Hovi said the change, which would help pick up infection more clearly, was being made because the radial system of testing farms around breakdowns was ‘proving too difficult to do’.

She said Defra and APHA had ‘taken the [Cheshire] TB eradication board with us’, which she said had been pushing for it as well as they were prepared for ‘short-term pain for long-term gain’.

But one of the members of the group, Cheshire farmer Bill Mellor, called for better communication, claiming he was unaware of the change, at which point Ms Hovi said it ‘has not been decided yet’.

Later, however, Defra confirmed six-month testing was being introduced in the edge area only of Cheshire.
And speaker after speaker rattled on like a broken train about further cattle controls, oblivious to to the irony of their predecessors valiant attempts - [link] to nail our cattle to the floor, and the ignominious failure - [link] of it all.
And of all these speakers, not a single one was prepared to even mention the elephant in the room. Control of the wildlife reservoir which is at the root of all this country's problems. Although one did mention that Australia had no wildlife reservoir of TB.

And as with many of these unchallenged assertions, this speaker was dead wrong - [link] As our pictures show, 13,000 water buffalo and feral cattle were rounded up by helicopter, corralled and shot.
And that is pest control, big time.

Arch wizard of vaccination -  Mark Chambers gave an overview of vaccination of badgers, remarking that his forays into oral vaccination 'seemed to be safe'. Which is very reassuring given his previous attempts.

And predictably, he omitted to mention his failure, a perfectly healthy badger known as 'D313' - [link] who in a less well publicised trial, in which Chambers was involved, was rendered so infected with tuberculosis that had he been on the loose, he would have been described as a 'super excreter'.

What Chambers did confirm though, was that in this project where vaccinated badgers were exposed to m.bovis and postmortemed, all had lesions and all were shedding.
And when the product license was applied for, on the basis of 'doing no harm' rather than efficacy, we assume D313 was airbrushed? 

But no one wanted to go anywhere near the possibility that these specimens, (this badger on the left had tuberculous pleurisy) were in any way responsible for the deaths of thousands of cattle, alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, cats and dogs.

Neither did they mention that around half the badgers (43 - 52 per cent) in areas of endemic Tuberculosis were now infected with this dreadful disease.

All they wanted was more testing, more dead cattle and more controls. And we'll pay.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Peasant Farmer's guide to Anti-speke.

Badger Cull-Support our Farmers


A really helpful glossary of commonly used terms translated from the 'antidrivel' by our resident peasant for the benefit of the confused. Do please feel free to cut out and keep this useful guide.

Badger:- God's greatest creation, superior to every other creature in the entire universe. Blessed with the most adorable stripey little snub-nosed face, and believed to be entirely vegan apart from nibbling on the occasional suicidal earthworm. All badgers will eventually pass away peacefully of old age (apart from those tragically flattened by horrid cars), surrounded by their grieving families and soothed by specially composed Brian May laments.

Wildlife:- this in fact means 'badger', as in 'This government is intent on wiping out Britain's wildlife'.

Murder:- erroneously believed to mean one human unlawfully killing another, this does in fact mean cruel humans killing darling badgers.

Genocide:- see 'Murder'. And do keep up.

Pest Control:- Totally acceptable eradication of rodents from your child's school, or the supermarket, or the local chippie. This is because these creatures spread disease, do massive amounts of damage and are not adorably stripey. Any old method is fine, just get rid of the horrid feckers, now.

Biosecurity:- a lovely scientific sounding word which makes the most suburban and fluffy of anti-cullers feel as if they know what they're talking about. Apparently it's something to do with keeping nasty cattle away from darling badgers.

Anecdotal evidence:- a soothing expression conveniently used to dismiss a fact which you do not want to be true. A classic example of this is 'The latest culls have already resulted in many farms in the cull zones testing clear.'

Trophic Cascade:- no, not a heavy rock band from the seventies, but another wonderfully soothing concept which suggests that having all their eggs constantly destroyed by foraging wildlife (qv) is actually really beneficial to skylarks. Frequently used by the more pompous anti-cullers, this one can be filed under 'bullshit baffles brains'.

Tuberculosis:- A minor ailment, shamefully used as an excuse to 'murder wildlfe' (qv).

So there we have it. Never let it be said that this wonderful page is not educational.

More on Facebook on this link - [link] 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Halloween news.

A catch up of this week's news.

Announced on the 29th October,  the Court of Appeal challenge to culling badgers by shooting, launched by the Badger Trust, which we described earlier in October - [link] was unsuccessful.
As we pointed out in that posting, why the Badger Trust should be getting in such a lather about shooting a few hundred badgers in two small areas where cattle tests are indicating endemic tuberculosis in badgers, when Germany shoots 66,000 annually with apparently no problems, is a mystery.

But then if zTB was solved in their chosen species, their publicity income would dry up overnight.
Farmers Guardian - [link] reports the judgement.

And South West farmer, Anton Coaker - [link] explains in his own inimitable way, the logistics of gathering his cattle for a routine TB test.
There seems to be this assumption within Defra that it’s OK to make us run the cattle through the race again and again. After all, they’re all neatly grazing in the 10-acre paddock next to the farmstead... surely?

Well they aren’t, and it definitely not all right, buster.

Quite apart from the obvious labour and logistics, we’ve had to watch the weather forecast days in advance, with fallback plans on how to get various groups across rivers which go from “easily fordable” to “raging frothing widow-makers” in the space of about two hours.

Two groups might have had to be walked three miles around to a road bridge, which you don’t do on the morning of the test. In the event, we saw a window, got them back safely, and are holding them on the precious in-bye. While we’ve had leave to postpone the furthest forest cows for another month, everything else had to be gathered and failure would lead to the kind of Draconian fines we could scarce afford. It’s insidious State bullying.
Anton also has views on Badgerists, and also taking pot shots at badgers.

And after describing his week's work, gathering in cattle from the wilds of Dartmoor, he comes full circle to:
.... the whole can of “badger cull” worms.

Despite the ongoing misery TB is causing us, and the wildlife, the combined ranks of the badgerists are doing everything they can possibly think of to prevent anyone from prematurely killing any badgers. Clutching at straws, they pick holes in anything to do with the cull.

For my part, I strongly disagree with the method being used, preferring to see infected setts identified and gassed.

But I accept that the badgerists have driven us to this extreme place. We have to show that killing some badgers makes TB better. And by golly, they must be in a tailspin with news starting to leak out of the cull zones.

Farms which have been down for years are now testing clean again, hedgehogs are breeding successfully once more, and most embarrassing for the RSPB – which is vehemently opposed to the cull – ground-nesting birds are suddenly rearing young again.
Read the full story on the link above. Anton's article was published in the Western Morning News Oct 30th. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

New link added.

We are pleased to add a link to Gloucestershire farmer David Barton's - [link] poignant blog which tells the story of his herd, his continual testing, his cattle deaths and his frustration.

This young cow one of his latest casualties.

Meanwhile timely advice from the SW TB Advisory service - [link] to secure your buildings.

 There is a video on the link showing these vermin wonderful creatures exploring your yards, milking parlours and feed stores while you sleep.

And AHVLA, now recycled with 'Plants' added and many Veterinary Laboratories decommissioned, are known as APHA; and they  have updated their advice on gaps which badgers can slither through or under.

This is now reduced from 10cm to 7.5cm. In old money, that's from 4" down to just under 3".

 Did we say we'd need hermetically sealed boxes for TB free cattle? You bet we did. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Yes you can, no you can't?

This week, the farming industry is awaiting yet another High Court decision - [link] on whether (or not) to cull badgers to control the spread of zTuberculosis.

After winning a case in August (with no right of appeal) the Badger Trust won the right to appeal the judgement in September and the case was heard last week. No, we couldn't work that one out either.

Farmers Guardian reported it thus:
A key legal judgment that could have profound implications for the roll out of the badger cull policy in England is likely to be delivered soon.
The arguments seem to hinge on Independent assessments of the humaneness - or otherwise - of shooting this animal. And not a little input has been heard from members of last years' 'independent' panel, trying to comply with the protocol - [link] dreamed up by NE and this year overseen by them and APHA.

 To make sense of that alphabet soup, NE are Natural England, who hold the competence for licensing any badger culls and APHA are the newly formed Animal and Plant Health Agency.

So we are happy to remind readers of  a badger cull which occurs annually in Germany and which we briefly mentioned here - [link].  The screen grab below is part of a larger pdf which details the numbers of badgers shot in Germany over the last decade. 

 Between August and October, badgers may be shot in Germany if they cause damage to land, buildings property or persons.

And last year, 66, 579 were shot, without causing offence  (or employment?) to anyone at all.

pdf file shown courtesy of BovineTb Information.-[link] and the full version can be viewed here - [link]

Friday, October 03, 2014

'Honouring the lie' (2)

Edit: New link added to Labour party debate. At the moment, the new Tory Secretary of State says that she wants to continue the badger culls initiated by her predecessor. But that was this week. And by next May she may have changed her mind.

But listening to the tide of emotional claptrap - [link] coming from speakers at the recent Labour Party conference debate on zoonotic tuberculosis, one could be forgiven for thinking that the problem was farmers demanding game shooting for entertainment and not control of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, only one level below the dreaded ebola.

Dairy farmer, Phil Latham and vet, Den Leonard gave facts and were heckled. (Click on right hand side tool bar of the above video stream link to hear that) But what really grates, is the absolute faith lodged by the three speakers who opposed culling badgers - for any reason whatsoever - in what they all referred to as 'the science'.

For those of you who have not listened to or read what the arch magician of this recent £50m charade known as a 'culling trial', please refresh your collective memories on what Professor John Bourne actually told the Efra Committee on June 18th 2007 about the basis of the RBCT.

We covered it in this post - [link] at the time, but will repeat again the corrupt basis of 'the science' which the three people opposing the motion,  support: This of course is the 'political' science, bought and paid for, steered by the then Labour government, with the help of a few computer models and corrupt scientists in 1997.

Listen to what the arch magician, Prof. John Bourne, told the EFRA committee on June 18th. 2007 and weep:
"Let us go back to 1999 when we started our work. It was made very clear to us by ministers of the day - and they have not refuted it since - that elimination of badgers over large tracts of countryside was not an option for future policy"
A horrified Geoffrey Cox, MP intervened "Is it not the function of science...
"It was on that basis that we designed the trial. We also had to take into account welfare considerations with respect to culling used, and limitations on culling with respect that cubs were not killed or died underground [ ] Those were clear political limitations that we operated under; I have no reason to believe that those political limitations have changed".
Geoffrey Cox, MP then asked Bourne to clarify the report's findings and its conclusions in the light of his statement describing a political steer in what should have been a scientific exercise. Professor Bourne replied thus:
"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."
And it those same politicians, following their very own brand of 'science' who may be in charge again in 8 months time. So what's in store this time? Certainly not culling this 'iconic animal', so beloved by 'the public', many of whom Dominic Dyer confirmed have never seen a badger, but who are fired up on a wave of his misplaced and dangerous emotion to somehow 'save it'. Try telling that to the disease now endemic in it.

And on the basis of their own brand of 'political science', described above, Labour's politicians would scrap any notions of a cull of infectious badgers, and instigate more crack downs on cattle movements, and vaccination forays.

Cattle crackdowns - [link] have been tried before with predictably ignominious results - [link] but politicians of all hues are following Bourne's computer generated 'success' rate which relied on an assumed data input of 2 parts cattle to one part badger.

And the ad hoc vaccination of badgers, now in its 4th year, appears to be giving results the opposite of that which was expected, as this link - [link] shows.

So we will finish by adding a little mischief to this toxic mix of politics, political science and emotion by putting our own spin of some real science.

When Lesellier, Chambers and their pals postmortemed a few badgers in a previous vaccine trial to to see the effect of vaccine + TB - [link] these animals, the process gave one animal (D313) such a hammering that he developed tuberculosis in every labelled organ, and few which were not.

He was one of nine given the high dose vaccine now being used indiscriminately  the field. Further investigations of his miserable carcase could find no reason for his violent and lethal reaction. Thus in percentage terms, D313 becomes 11 per cent of previously clean and pathologically healthy badgers, given a 10x strength BCG jab and rendered 'super excreters' during the process of vaccination and exposure to m.bovis. And he is airbrushed. Forgotten. Dead.

And that really is honouring the lie.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October 1st: 'If it Moves, Test it.'

Today saw more of the promised restrictions come in for cattle, camelids and deer.

Alistair Driver in the Farmers Guardian - [link] has the details.

With a tad less clarity of language than the FG explanation, the full details are on this link - [link] and for the first time, camelids are mentioned - [link].

Although not covered by statute until zTuberculosis is suspected or confirmed, this is a move in the right direction to bring these susceptible 'other species' under the TB eradication umbrella.

Another step would be to adhere to the promise of quarterly updates to these tables, described here - [link] but apparently stuck in a bureaucratic log jam since September 2013.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More on Killerton

Almost a year ago, we told the tale of the National Trust badger vaccination programme on its Killerton Estate - [link] in the Exe valley.

This area was a hot spot for cattle TB anyway, and the Trust decided to spend copious amounts of funds, and gain not a few brownie points by vaccinating some of its resident badgers. How many out of the total residing in Killerton's woods, it has no idea. And for results on cattle TB incidence, we have had to rely on farmers in the area, Defra flatly refusing to release stand alone figures for these latest playgrounds.

But this weeks, Farmers Weekly reports a pedigree beef herd - [link] on the estate, as going under herd restriction. From the notice on his gate, the farmer is less than happy.

And tonight, BBC local television network interviewed a very unhappy dairy farmer in a similar position. In fact we hear of several new herd breakdowns on the estate after 4 years of playing in the woods, with infectious badgers.

But the reason for vaccinating badgers, Defra tells us,  has nothing to do with the incidence of TB in cattle. Thus to collate and publish cattle test results in those areas, would they say 'be quite wrong'.

In 2011, they produced a paper with this little gem (and have repeated the doctrine many times since):
a): Bovine tuberculosis Animal species: Badger vaccination: Description of the used vaccination, therapeutic or other scheme Badger BCG licensed in March 2010 has been used as part of the Badger Vaccine Deployment Project to build farmer confidence in vaccines as a key tool in an eradication programme.
To build farmer confidence? Not with the farmers on the Killerton Estate, that's for sure.

And as we have said before, what an extraordinary reason for promoting a vaccine which doesn't work, for a zoonotic disease which kills.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Sometimes we wonder....

If you're as thick as two short planks, (or a May Queen badgerist) possibly you could be forgiven for getting things hopelessly wrong, but this site - [link] is said, quite proudly, to be 'managed by Defra', so in theory, anything it publishes should be correct.

So why is their September 5th post, flagging up Channel 4's "First Time Farmer's" problems with the disease whose full title is 'mycobacterium bovis' calling it a goddamn virus?
(Impolite note to Defra's apparatchiks - the clue is in that title.)

They describe the programme thus:
"The deadly Bovine TB hits the young farmers’ herds with a vengeance, and first to feel the full force of the disease is 24-year-old Charlie. The brutal virus is wrecking his investment in cattle, and now that the entire herd is quarantined, his livelihood is under threat. Robbie’s herd is smaller but just as vulnerable and is also quarantined. Robbie’s built-up a side-line in farm-reared pork, and turns to selling piglets to keep the cash flowing, but will it be enough?
No wonder this country is in such a mess with this disease.

On the other hand, this 'mistake' follows so many, that we really are not surprised at all.

(Actually, reading this through, we have been quite mild in our criticism. The grammar is crap too. The piece tells us that  "24 year old Charlie is the first to feel the full force of the disease"? That's a bit old for a bull isn't it? And we assume  that the First Time Farmer has not succumbed to zoonotic tuberculosis - yet. Sheesh.

But what we really think of these Jack and Jill 'mistakes' could not possibly have a place on a family blog.) 

Saturday, September 06, 2014


It's ten long years since we started this site: mainly as a vehicle for information already collected about zoonotic tuberculosis, its effect on the wild maintenance reservoir in this country - badgers - and the epidemiological facts dragged out of Defra in the 538 Parliamentary questions which form the base.

We are now seeing projects come around again, wearing different clothes, and some extraordinary statements made which mean that current research projects have (in our humble opinions, of course) a very shaky base on which to stand.

Last week, Defra announced the rolling out of  badger vaccination - [link] in the current 'Edge' areas of England. We say 'current', because as a moving feast, what was an 'Edge' last year, could quite easily be included in high incidence this year.

For example, road kill badgers examined in Cheshire are showing a 24 per cent infection rate with farms following suit at an alarming rate.

So wherever Ken Wignall's badgers were heading, may not be an 'Edge' any longer and infection in its badgers is likely to be, as in Cheshire, considerable. Defra's data, as usual, is way behind the curve.
(Grateful thanks for permission to use the cartoon, published in Farmers Guardian 05/09/2014)

Now you know very well our take on badger vaccination - [link] , doled out indiscriminately to an unscreened population, on a very ad hoc basis. And seeing the take up of matched funding, (£20K out of £250K is a figure we've seen quoted) for these projects, maybe Queen May's badgerists know they're on a hiding to nowhere too.

But our first contradiction comes in with Defra's outright refusal to publish results of ongoing vaccination areas - and there a few now - on the cattle who share these contaminated pastures. In fact the answer to that request earlier this year was an unambiguous 'No'. We quote it below:
"You asked that we consider adding data to our monthly bovine TB statistics to separately report on the Badger Vaccination Deployment Project (BVDP) area in Gloucestershire and the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in Wales. We have no plans to do this at present.

The purpose of the BVDP is 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 farmer confidence in the use of badger vaccination.

So it would be wrong to use TB statistics for the area to assess the benefits of badger vaccination on TB in cattle."
Well pardon us for pointing out the obvious, but if not to 'assess the benefits' on cattle reactors and farm breakdowns, what are you doing this for?
 (Grateful thanks again to Ken Wignall and FG for use of the cartoon)

The second contradiction comes with a text book answer from the delectable Dr. Cheeseman, ex director of Woodchester Park badger heaven, where peanut fed pets continue to employ many of Cheeseman's successors.

'Thornbury' he snorted both on Radio 4 and Countryfile last week, when presented with the 100 per cent success that the badger clearance there had achieved in just 8 months, (not 25 years) was not a research project because it had no 'control' area.
Mmmm. And the IAA in Wales, undergoing everything but badger culling, has?

Not according to their latest report - [link] which describes on p.6 (of 56) how their Control area may not be comparable at all. In the same genre, they criticise SAM too as unable to identify 'different sorts of breakdowns'. They point out:
Limitations of the report and study design.

"In other words, the purposive selection of the IAA and the difficulty in finding a CA with equivalent bTB incidence reduces the soundness of evidence that any observed differences in bTB incidence are due to bTB control strategies, rather than other differences between the areas in the epidemiology of bTB....."
From what we can see in those long awaited (but out of date by a long mile) graphs, apart from Defra's continuing reluctance to see the difference between 'Incidence' of disease (new breakdowns) and 'Prevalence' (those which fail to clear with testing and slaughtering cattle, bio-garbage or anything other than clearing out infected badgers) the IAA has not made any headway at all.

And who's bright idea was it to lump a badger vaccination programme into the same area as intensive cattle measures? Not very sensible, but neither seem to have had the desired effect, in a realistic time scale which Thornbury most certainly did.

There is a more readable description of these IAA cattle measures and more, on this site - [link] And we will once again remind readers that these cattle measures have all been done before - [link] and ended in inevitable, ignominious and expensive failure.

Our final contradiction is the current obsession with shooting badgers, or rather the thorny question apparently irritating Defra,  'is it humane' to shoot badgers? In mainland Europe, no such sensitivities get in the way of dispatching these animals if they are causing damage to land or property, and 66,000 were shot -[link] last year, from August to October in Germany,  seemingly offending nobody at all.

So these contradictions can be dismissed as pure prevarication - a further excuse for doing nothing at all.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What now?

As MPs pack their buckets and spades and head off for the summer recess, we re-examine the posting which we did in April - [link] In that, we asked a somewhat rhetorical question:
"As Defra and its agencies are the only people who have the power to control zoonotic Tuberculosis in wildlife, but choose to exercise their right not to do that, why should cattle farmers suffer the consequences?"
And it seems those 'consequences' in the form of ever more punitive cattle measures are on their way, courtesy of AHVLA's new boss, Chris Hadkiss. The man obviously hasn't researched - [link] his new department very well at all, but we digress.

 Farmers Guardian - [link] has the story of his plans for us this autumn. But it is the comments below the article which are well worth a read. As is this little gem from career civil servant Mr. H, who after commenting on farmers 'becoming reliant on government support' made the staggering observation that:
“It does concern me – we don’t know it happens but it is quite possible – compensation is repeatedly paid with no improvement on farms."
Well hallelujah! Wake up and smell the coffee Mr. H. That is what happens with a one sided policy, as your predecessors found. Take out the cattle, even or especially those from farms with no bought in animals and no neighbouring cattle contact, but leave the source of the problem behind and you (or your department) end up shooting even more cattle.

On internet forum - TFF - [link] responding to the FG article, many comments echo those in Farmers Guardian.

 And this thread on British Farmers Forum - [link] suggested that if farmers paid to control  zTuberculosis, they would have more say in policy implementation. Again, the comments are worth a read.

Unusually for farmers, the theme through most of these comments is united.

Government introduced statutory protection for badgers, elected not to use that statute to control the disease endemic within them and now wants livestock farmers to 'take responsibility' for the inevitable mess - as in pay for two decades of political intransigence.

But until government loosens its vice- like grip on the statutory protection which surrounds this animal, and treats zoonotic Tuberculosis with the respect a grade 3 pathogen deserves, no matter how much money is poured at the problem, or by whom, it's a hiding to nowhere. 

Cattle farmers and vets will recognise the pictures which illustrate this post, and many will have a pretty good idea what they'd like to do with the equipment.

And on whose anatomy.

Without anaesthesia.

But for those readers who do not recognise this particular 'vice', a description of its capabilities is here. - [link]

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Flying under a flag of convenience?

This disease - zoonotic Tuberculosis - appears to attract the very worst in selective marketing.

From the notorious '74 per cent efficacy' - [link] attributed to BCG badger vaccine lobbed into an indiscriminately infected population, to the deliberate dumbing down - [ link] of statistics for 'other species' deaths from 'bovine' TB, we've seen many examples.

And it is to one of those 'other species' to which we return, with a very upbeat but totally misleading blurb about a a new blood test -[link] designed to seek out zTuberculosis in alpacas. And find it with 97 per cent accuaracy'.

Farmers Guardian - [ link] described the Enferplex test as needing:
"[] a single blood sample to be taken for testing from Camelids. The scheme also uses a statistical assessment to aid determination of herd infection status, pioneered by SureFarm’s Alastair Hayton. This has been approved by Defra.

The company said the scheme would enable herd level testing to confirm freedom from infection, testing of individual stock before movement or purchase and pre-export testing."
Sounds good? The National Beef Association magazine also covered the launch, which was attended by the NFU. The NBA splurge is expanded as follows:
"A £100,000K project, financed entirely by llama and alpaca owners in the UK has successfully developed a test, approved by government, which can prove at 97 per cent accuracy if an animal carries the disease [zTB] or not."
"It will give the owners of the UK's 30 - 40,000 llamas and alpacas peace of mind when exporting because it can demonstrate they are free of TB".
Well hallelujah to that. So what's wrong?

We would suggest a complete misunderstanding of the difference this test has exhibited in the trials between 'Sensitivity' - and 'Specificity'. The accuracy of any diagnostic test depends on a trade off between the two, and unfortunately, in the trials, Enferplex didn't fare too well as one of four assays trialled in terms of its ability to detect disease.

 The full results are in charts prepared by AHVLA  on this link -[link] and although in one chart, the Speciticity of Enferplex is approaching 97 per cent, the Sensitivity or ability to detect to disease is only 66 percent. Meaning that 34 per cent of candidate animals, carrying zTB may be missed.

In the third chart, the sensitivity of Enferplex is very low at 55 per cent, meaning it may miss 45 per cent of infected animals.

From the Alpaca tb website:
"The tables below show the sensitivity and specificity of the tests. The sensitivity of a test is the proportion of truly infected animals that are detected with a test - if a test has 55% Sensitivity it is missing 45% of infected animals.

The Specificity of a test is the proportion of truly uninfected animals that are correctly classified as test-negative. If a test has 99% specificity then 1% will be a false positive.

You can see that when used on their own, the Stat-Pak, IDEXX and Enferplex (2 antigen) have similar sensitivity and could miss around one third of infected camelids.

DPP and Enferplex 4 antigen could miss approaching half (45%) of infected animals."
More comment on this link - [link] and a button to direct readers to the actual paper.

Having looked at the tables, and in particular the Sensitivity or 'the ability to detect disease' in camelids, it would appear that IDEXX and STAT-PAK as a combined screen (after using a skin test primer)  give the best chance of not missing too many infected animals.

Conversely Enferplex, despite it's high profile launch, appears from these figures to be capable of missing anything from 33 - 45 percent of infected animals. As do the other blood assays as stand alone tests.

So one wonders - and not for the first time - what 'government' has to gain from its approval?

 UPDATE: The following information is from AHVLA:
The sensitivity of all the above tests is dependent on a prior skin test which boosts specific antibody responses. Without such a skin test the sensitivity of all the tests could drop by around 20% to 30%, which in the case of the high specificity options could reduce sensitivity to a level where the test is more likely to miss an infected animal than identify it.

This ability of the skin test to boost specific antibody in camelids has been published in 3 separate research papers to date:

Stevens et al., 1998, Canadian Veterinary Journal, 62:102-109 Dean et al., 2009, Veterinary Record, 12, 165(11):323-324 Bezos et al., 2013, Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 111(3-4): 304-313
So sadly it would appear that Enferplex, particularly as promoted, i.e without mention of a priming tuberculin antigen skin test, follows several other blood assay screens for zTuberculosis into a black box of hope, rather than a useful tool for any zTB eradication programme.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An epitaph to the demise of common sense.

From today's Sunday Telegraph - [link] a thoughtful piece from Owen Paterson, the former Secretary of State at Defra, whose 538 parliamentary questions on 'bovine' TB posed a decade ago, form the basis of this blog.
"I leave this post with great misgivings about the power and irresponsibility of – to coin a phrase – the Green Blob.
By this I mean the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape.
This tangled triangle of unelected busybodies claims to have the interests of the planet and the countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely."
We described much the same situation, in this post - [link] and this one, earlier this year - [link] as Defra's various quangoes accompanied by Queen May's guitar, circled for the kill.

Thanks for trying Owen, we wish you well.

Sadly, the winner of this particular battle is not David Cameron, but zoonotic Tuberculosis. And in time, that pyrrhic 'victory' will affect us all.

Photo from Sunday Telegraph article : origin AFP and The Farming Forum - [link]

Monday, July 14, 2014

From Russia with love - the saga continues.

The saga of Russia's sabre rattling allegedly because of levels of TB in cattle, continued today as the Irish Independent - [link] reports a ban from Russia on imports of beef offal:
"Suspected traces of Tuberculosis (TB) prompted Russia to impose the highly damaging blanket ban on imports of beef offal from Ireland, the Irish Independent has learned.

The discovery of characteristics of the disease is understood to have alarmed Russian authorities who have cut off the supply of offal from Irish factories.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture are now involved in negotiations aimed at getting the ban lifted.

The sanction was imposed last month following a series of visits from Russian vets to 12 food processing facilities in Ireland."
This is not the first time that Russia has rattled Ireland's cage about high levels of the disease in its cattle population: in 2004 - [link] together with Poland and the UK, The Russian sabre was raised and threats issued. And so serious was this, that the European Commission drew up an inter-community Veterinary certificate - [link] which, if implemented, was another Beef Ban.
And just because that certificate has disappeared into the labyrinth of Defra's website archive, it doesn't mean it isn't lurking in a European drawer, just waiting to be signed. And we have it.

Other postings in 2004 described the process - [link] which led up to this situation, and the frantic diplomatic cartwheels -[link] executed to avoid it. Anything really, except control of the problem in the first place.

When we were reporting this in 2004, with around 5,200 herds under restriction during the reporting period, ( 5.6 percent of the 93,489 herds registered) the UK had half the levels of TB in its cattle, which we now enjoy. And still the mandarins were blissfully unaware of the possible cascade effect - [link] of a possible ban on UK beef products.

 Roll forward ten long and, frustrating years and what have we achieved? The roll out of the new computer system (SAM) no longer gives the number of herds registered, together with the number of herds having TB problems, preferring to concentrate on new outbreaks - a substantially lower figure.

But in 2011, the number of registered herds in GB had fallen to 80,454 and of those, the number with a restriction due a 'TB incident' was 8,108. So 10.07 per cent - or almost double the figure ten years ago.

As the polemic deepens with an unhealthy concentration on cattle votes v. badger votes, and tuberculosis the disease is all but forgotten, just how long can GB keep shoving this particular problem under a diplomatic carpet?

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Figures can Lie and Liars can figure....

A swift response to the recent Cull the Cows - [link] computer generated guff, came on Thursday from farming Minister, George Eustice. Speaking at he Livestock Event, and interviewed for BBC's Farming Today - [link] programme, the Minister was pretty scathing about the modeler's efforts.

Co author, Dr. Ellen Brooks-Pollock of Cambridge University described how the team had entered data into their model of potential TB bacterial transmission of:
Cattle to cattle infection, Cattle infections into to the environment and Cattle movements.
Which is pretty amazing when you realise that up to 52 per cent of badgers in areas of endemic zTuberculosis are carrying this disease. But we digress....

 Dr. Brooks-Pollock went on to explain that her work centred around 'idealised control measures'. Not if you're a cow about going to be shot on the back of a University's half baked theory it isn't: that's not 'idealised' at all. It's terminal.

But George Eustice was having none of it. He pointed out that despite epidemiological evidence to the contrary, the model had ignored badgers completely, focusing on cattle and making many false assumptions. Including one that the disease dies out naturally in the environment in 34 days.
For the pedants, badgers can sustain this disease, maintain body weight, breed and rear cubs for up to 8 years. Reactor cattle are shot - which Dr. Brooks-Pollock had in fact noticed, pointing out that 90 per cent of 'infected farms' posed no risk whatsoever. Quite correct. They are locked down, facing daily [in some cases] visits from infected wildlife and tests every 60 days with anything reacting to such 'visits' slaughtered.

Mr. Eustice stressed that computer models were only as good as the assumptions entered into them, and if those assumptions were wrong (as in this case) then the results were flawed. He also pointed out that a team of experienced Defra vets, and the Chief Scientist - [link] were exposing these flaws and that although the aim of this model was laudable, its assumptions were wrong.

 We can't take credit for the title of this posting: it appeared here - [link] with another succinct quote:
 'correlation does not imply causation'. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Cull the Cattle - Simples

Once again we can thank mathematical modelers for some hair raising conclusions - [link] obtained from the latest load of guff data entered, together with a generous sprinkling of mathematical symbols, into their new toy. The Guardian -[link] gleefully explores the story with the headline, Mass Cull of Cattle is required to control TB.

That sort of carnage was tried in 2001 for FMD, again using a rampant computer model if we remember correctly - but let that pass.

And we do not propose to remind readers of past efforts - [link] to control zTB with cattle controls alone. Or the effect on the incidence cattle disease if the maintenance reservoir -[link] of disease is removed. Or even the amount of bacterial contamination a single badger - [link] can generate, and how little of that 'contamination' is required to provoke a skin test reaction in cattle.

 Having relied so much on the 'rough assumptions' contained in models developed by the ISG, we won't remind the authors of this work -[link] which cost an eye watering £2.8 million, but failed to get any samples from salami sliced reactor cattle to provide evidence of onwards transmission of zTB.

And we will we do no more with this paper than point to this paragraph which describes its data input - or lack of it.
The role of badgers in the maintenance and spread of bovine TB is a matter of considerable scientific, political and public interest5, 25, 26. Owing to the absence of necessary spatial and population level data on badgers, our model does not explicitly include their role in transmission. The environmental reservoirs play a comparable function, although the contribution of reservoir species and contaminated pasture cannot be separated. The environment is essential in maintaining local infection and may be implicated in up to 80% of all herd breakdowns (Fig. 2b, green hashed area).
We have no computer model set up to ignore badgers, so we will stick to the basics.  Not of mathematical models, but epidemiology and disease control.

No disease control program in a target species can be successful if a maintenance reservoir in an interacting species is left to re infect. That is indisputable. Just as the self sustaining nature of zTB in the badger is indisputable. And ignoring it does not make it disappear.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Con tosh

From the Conservative home webpage - [link] comes a rather spiteful  and loaded piece which implies that farmers want to kill badgers for fun. And because (allegedly) AHVLA's newly published partial statistics show an apparent drop in incidence, then there is really no need to as cattle controls (many yet to hit the farmers concerned) are obviously working.

 Without going too deeply into the minutiae of SAM, the new computer system which is supposed to calculate these things, suffice to say his data are not comparable with the figures of old. Neither is it reliable.

New herd breakdowns are important and for sure, figures for those were the ones which Defra lobbed periodically into Brussels. But they hid the rump of registered herds stubbornly under restriction with zTB outbreaks, which testing cattle and killing reactors failed to clear. And that was far, far higher. In fact the last time those figures were available, over 10 per cent of GB's herds had experienced TB restriction in the reporting period.

Thus the difference between cleaning up an epidemic in a single species and eradicating it in more than one is quite simple.  If you shoot one and not the other, eradication will not happen.

That is the difference between 'incidence' and 'prevalence' of disease.
 Figures for zTuberculosis can be argued ad infinitum, with each side wheeling out an 'expert' complete with his mathematical model and predictably  conflicting view. But published data, based on actual AHVLA risk assessments - [link] put TB outbreaks attributed to badgers in area of 'endemic' TB at around 80 per cent.

So read and learn Tory toddlers at ConHome. If every cow in GB was placed in a hermetically sealed box for the duration, the disease hosted by badgers would continue to upspill into other mammals, and from them to their owners -[link] and vets. As it has started to do already. - [link]

And no amount of 'managing' statistics - [link] rather than the disease, a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen which governments have a statutory duty to eradicate, will alter that.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

As easy as ABC?

We have long held the view that any sort of zoning - [link] or 'risk based trading' of cattle would be bureaucratic, divisive and always running behind the problem - especially if you were unlucky enough to farm in a 'dirty' area.

That's 'dirty' as in rampant with infected wildlife, which Defra would rather not touch with a very long pole, rather than anything whatsoever to do with cattle.

But having carved the country up into dirty, High risk, Edge and clean  Low risk areas - rather too late for some areas, it seems - [link] - we wondered if an animal based certification scheme for the whole country may not be a more workable idea.

In another life, and contributing greatly to MAFF staff pensions, many of us joined the voluntary EBL (Enzootic Bovine Leukosis) eradication scheme. The country eventually became EBL free so these schemes were no longer needed, but the way they worked was to issue the farm with a certificate of compliance which accompanied any cattle sold.

 The certificate was an official State Veterinary Service document, having the farm name and holding number on the top and then a gap for animal details.. Any animal sold from the farm was accompanied by a copy of this document, and to keep its EBL status, wherever it was, it had to be retested by the date on the paperwork which is this case was three years from it's clear blood test. In effect an MOT for cattle.

 So, would this work for TB?

The result of the last TB test is important, but the due date of the next one is crucial.

 Rather than divide up historically affected areas, assuming but not really sure that 4 year testing areas are clear of the disease, why not issue an Animal Based Certification of TB testing after a clear test, with the date of the next due test on the paperwork?

This would not penalise or stigmatise any farm unlucky enough to have experienced a breakdown, but would ensure that cattle traded into 4 year testing areas were tested on the consigning farm's regime, at least once. It would also be a reminder to people buying from farms in these so called 'clean' areas, who may be  dispersing cattle just before a herd test is due.

 The 'due date' could be flexible enough to include the animal at a routine test - within reason. But should farmers not comply with this requirement to test, then if the animal concerned was subsequently found to be a reactor, compensation could be affected.
(Steers due for slaughter could be exempt as abattoir surveillance would pick up any problems. )


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Predictable, inevitable and avoidable.

Norway is said to have been TB free in its cattle since 1963.

 The last confirmed case of 'bovine' tuberculosis was in 1986, when the disease was found in a dog.

 That is until now, when Internet site The Cattle Site -[link] report an outbreak thought to originate in alpacas imported from England.

"A shipment of British Alpacas is behind a rise in bovine tuberculosis in Norway.

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) has been spreading through Norwegian alpaca herds following the arrival of 28 Alpacas from southern England, the Norwegian Veterinary Institute has announced.

Twelve Alpaca herds are now infected with bovine TB after the batch reached Norway in the autumn.

Prior to this, Norway had been TB-free since 1986."
The Norwegian Veterinary Institute reported the 'problem' on 22nd May - [link] with added information that the animals were being subject to further serological testing after failing skin tests. Direct translation thus:

In a importisolat for alpaca in Eastern Norway is suspected of storfetuberkulose. There are positive reactions on skin test (intrakutantest) as well as complementary serological tests on several animals that are the background for suspicion.

28 Animals were imported to the appropriate isolatet from Southern England in autumn 2013.

In England is a comprehensive tuberkuloseepidemi on herds.

In addition is detected at the dozens of nysmittede alpakkabesetninger annually.

It has not been demonstrated storfetuberkulose in Norway since 1986.

This translation implies that this consignment of British alpacas at least, is held in quarantine after positive skin tests and pending further serological testing. The comment also points out that England has a comprehrensive 'tuberculosis epidemic' and detects dozens of infected alpaca herds annually.

Norway has been officially TB free since 1986. More on this, as and when we receive it.

And we won't say "we told you so".

Yes we will.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

BRAN - the tale of a 21st Century badger.

This simple cut and paste (left handed) from a Facebook page, illustrates so graphically the fate of a tuberculous badger and his trail of destruction as his life ebbs slowly away. We quote it in full with thanks to the author:

BRAN - the tale of a 21st Century badger.

 "Early spring, and life was good for Bran the badger.
 The weather was mild and food was plentiful. The cubs, his cubs, were just starting to leave the sett and explore the woodland. Bran was the strongest badger in the sett, and in his prime at three years old.

 A bright full moon illuminated the sett in the woods. Bran sniffed the air, suddenly alert - something wrong. A new smell, sour and rotten. Not the enticing scent of a dead rabbit, this was foul, repugnant, terribly wrong. He paused, puzzled, and heard a sound of pawprints, coming his way.

He tensed, hackles lifting, ready for fight or flight. And a badger appeared, a stranger, its eyes oddly piercing bright in the moonlight. Bran lifted his top lip in a snarl as the stranger came closer. It was painfully thin, its face sunken, its coat dull and dry, its breath rasping noisily. It half choked as it snarled at Bran. And in an instant he understood. That stench, that awful rancid stench - the Rotting Death, the Old Ones called it. Your insides died, turned to pulp, while the rest of you kept on living. Three moons, maybe four, till it finished you.

Bran screamed at the stranger - GO AWAY! We don't want you here, clear off! The stranger's eyes blazed with fury as it leapt at Bran. For a few minutes they fought, the stranger with surprising strength for all its emaciated condition. It bit Bran hard on the underside of his neck, and hung on. Bran squealed with rage and pain, and snapped again at the stranger's face. And suddenly the fight was over - exhausted, pus and blood soaking its dry coat, the badger turned and fled.

Another moon, and a warm early summer night. A terrible change had come over Bran - he was lean now, and his coat was dry and harsh. His joints were stiff and aching, and the wound on his neck was hard, tight and swollen, throbbing painfully with every step he took. Constant pain had made him angry - one of the cubs had jumped on him playfully, and he'd turned on it, snapped at it, cracked its skull with his powerful jaws. The other badgers, his family, were restless now.

That stench, the awful rotting death stench, was everywhere in the sett, permeating every tunnel and den.

They were waiting for him as he came home in the first light of dawn, all suddenly hostile, snarling, blocking the entrance which had always been his. Bran stepped towards his brother Jem, the ringleader, it seemed. How dare he? Jem stood his ground. Go, he said, you must go, now. Furious, Bran jumped at him and they fought bitterly. Jem grabbed Bran's neck and bit hard, bursting the painful swelling. Pus and blood shot out, spraying both badgers, and Jem jumped back in surprise. Bran bit him hard on the belly before turning and running away, heading north, away from his sett, homeless and alone now.

 Another summer moon. Bran had a new home now, a dry ditch, cool and shady. He hated being so close to the little town, but there was food there, so he had no choice. A silly terrier pup had found him in his ditch the other day and wakened him with its yapping. There was a scuffling fight and Bran bit it, sending it yelping back to its owner on the footpath.

Bran was a pitiful sight now on his moonlight travels. His eyes were sunken in his lean face and his body was emaciated and tucked up. His once-glossy coat was dull and flecked with pus from the weeping abscess. He was too weak to dig for food now, so his claws had grown long and curled over, and his breathing was shallow and noisy.

The short summer night was nearly over when he reached the gardens in search of food. He found a discarded biscuit in a child's sandpit, and ate it slowly, without pleasure. There was a toy dumper truck in the sandpit so he piddled on it, marking his territory, before lying for a few minutes on the sand, enjoying the coolness on his burning abscess, pressing it into the moist sand.

 As he headed home across a field of cows and calves, he paused again, aware that he had been spotted - the farmer, walking across the field to check on his stock, saw him and cursed, the joy all gone from his day. There had been no TB on the farm for sixty years, but he'd known it was coming ever closer. And there was a tuberculous badger - no, please God, not now, not my cows.......

 Mid morning. The terrier was in the vet's surgery, his owner concerned about the ugly puncture wound and her pup's lack of energy.

In the garden, a little boy played happily in his
sandpit, engrossed with his beloved dumper truck, making new roads in the cool moist sand.

 Back in his shady ditch, Bran slept fitfully, even in sleep tormented by the bluebottles buzzing round his oozing abscess.
The rotting death would release him, but not yet.

Not just yet"

Work at FERA confirms that the number of Britain's badgers infected with zTuberculosis, is in some areas, up to 53 per cent.