Thursday, March 27, 2014

You can lead a politician to information ....

* This post has been updated.

 This post is in direct response to the Secretary of State's reply in the House of Commons today, concerning the progress - or not - of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to identify infected badger setts.

From Roger Williams, Lib-Dem MP for Brecon and Radnor came the question:
I welcome the Secretary of State’s using all means at his disposal to control the disease. One of those is the polymerase chain reaction test, which will be able to identify infected live badgers and the setts in which they live. Will he ensure that all the available resources go into promoting that test, which could have a role in controlling bovine TB?
And the reply from Mr Paterson:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it would be a huge change if we could use PCR to analyse diseased badgers on the spot. That would change the whole debate and would be an enormous help in disease reduction. We have been working closely with the university of Warwick and are bringing in other agencies to see whether we can accelerate that work. Sadly, PCR is not yet reliable enough. If we can get a greater than 50% chance of identification, it will cause a sea change on this issue.
It may be prudent at this point to remind readers that Defra agency AHVLA are offering PCR screening - [link] as a commercial enterprise for m.avium paratuberculosis (Johnnes disease) And not to put too fine a point on it, at £27.05 + VAT for 5 pooled samples of s--t, as far as we are aware, no one is saying that the screening is less than accurate and a waste of money. (Page 15 of the pdf on the above link for the price and description)
Johnnes disease or  m.avium paratuberculosis and as m.bovis, are both members of the m.tuberculosis complex group of bacteria.

 It may also be prudent to remind that same agency that they trousered a not inconsiderable sum of taxpayers' money in 2005 / 6 for screening farmland mammals for - m.bovis. What test did they use? PCR - [link] And the published paper had no addendum that it was not worthy of the dead trees on which it was written because the test was rubbish? How very odd.

 The NHS  routinely use PCR to screen patients for m.bovis, and a privately funded study using samples from dead alpacas - [link] found that PCR was extremely accurate and very much in line with the post mortem results of the animal concerned. Importantly, there were no false positives.

So what would we have here? A badger sett with a red flag of 'scientific ID' that its occupants have given samples containing a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, the eradication of which this country is a signatory?

We can't possibly have that, Minister. Because if a group is so identified, but then (as now) left to infect other mammals and their owners, - [link] litigation is not just a possibility. It is a certainty.

It's far easier to shoot the messenger. You know it makes sense.

EDIT: ( Updated ):
Identification is key to targeted culling of infected wildlife.
We are aware that the examples of PCR in use for m.bovis screens given above, are laboratory based. 

Please, do not throw this baby out with its bath water.
If this technology is working on other samples, why not on the ones offered now?

We are also aware that in the alpaca PCR project, zTB had been confirmed by culture and /or postmortem and that samples obtained from these dead animals were carefully identified and protected from contamination.

How are any samples for badger sett PCR screens identified, and what is their source?
Is that source secure, unbiased and the samples 'uncontaminated'?
Are samples being collected on a regular basis, or is repeat screening carried out on a single sample?

All these factors may influence results of DNA type screening.

From epidemiological information gathered patiently over decades, it was found that infected badger groups are not constantly shedding m.bovis bacteria. Thus in a group of a dozen animals, all may have the disease but may not all be 'infectious' at the same time. Their tuberculous lesions wall up, and shedding from them is thus intermittent: thus faecal material collected over time, may give varying degrees of contamination when sampled..

In the latter stages of disease, PQs confirmed that a 'super excreter' badgers, with infectious tuberculous  lesions in several organs, will shed constantly in the months before it finally dies. These animals have been excluded by their peer groups, living alone and often close to farm buildings.

Cat to humans - transmission of zoonotic Tuberculosis.

AHVLA and Public Health England, today report cases of domestic cats infecting their owners with zoonotic Tuberculosis. The PHE press release is predictably dumbed down, on this link.  It explains that:
"Two people in England have developed tuberculosis after contact with a domestic cat infected with Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), Public Health England (PHE) and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) have announced.
M. bovis is the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) in cattle (bovine TB) and in other species.

Nine cases of M. bovis infection in domestic cats in Berkshire and Hampshire were investigated by AHVLA and PHE during 2013. PHE offered TB screening to 39 people identified as having had contact with the infected cats as a precautionary measure. 24 contacts accepted screening.

Following further investigations, a total of two cases of active TB and two cases of latent TB were identified. Latent TB means they had been exposed to TB at some point but they did not have active disease. Both cases of active TB disease have confirmed infection with M. bovis and are responding to treatment."

Through AHVLA's diligent spoligotyping, the strain of mycobacterium bovis identified in the people infected in this outbreak, is exactly the same as the cat(s).

Could this cluster be the one mentioned in this posting - [link] of June last year?

Quoteed in the press release is Professor Noel Smith, Head of the Bovine TB Genotyping Group at AHVLA,  who said:
“Testing of nearby herds revealed a small number of infected cattle with the same strain of M. bovis as the cats. However, direct contact of the cats with these cattle was unlikely considering their roaming ranges. The most likely source of infection is infected wildlife, but cat-to-cat transmission cannot be ruled out.”

This is not the first time we have mentioned cats - [link] in the same breath as 'bovine' tuberculosis - that name really does confuse many, hence our adoption of the bacterium's zoonotic principles.

Shed loads of sentinel dead reactor cattle are apparently acceptable - [link] (at least to the Badgerists) but it seems none too smart to shaft decades of MAAF / Defra's intransigence in dealing with wildlife reservoirs of this disease, on to the hard pressed NHS.

Not really a 'bovine' problem anymore, is it?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Below is the text of letter from Defra to cattle breed societies, sent 19th. March 2014. It is self explanatory.
Department for Environment & Rural Affairs Date: 19 March 2014

To Pedigree Herd Societies

Dear Sir or Madam

Bovine TB: Risk Based Trading(RBT) and Pedigree Herds

As you may be aware, as part of Defra's programme to eradicate bovine TB, markets are being encouraged to ask cattle sellers to provide certain historic TB information so that buyers can make better decisions on the TB risks associated with the animals they introduce into their herds.

We have been made aware that some owners of pedigree herds in the High Risk area are concerned that the approach we are taking to promoting RBT may damage their ability to sell their cattle outside that area.

We wish to establish if this a view widely held by pedigree breed societies and, if so, what steps might be taken to help your members.

One option that has been put to us is for sellers who carry out a pre-movement test and then isolate pedigree stock on their holding prior to sending them to market to make that known to the auction market and for relevant information to be displayed at market and/or in sale catalogues. We would welcome that.

What we are unsure of is whether there is any role that Defra could play in seeking to make it happen, given that we would not have the resource to assess such isolation arrangements.

If you feel we could add value to your efforts, and your members' efforts, please let us know.

Of course, isolating stock prior to sale would not work for owners of TB breakdown herds.These herds will need to continue to abide by TB breakdown controls until such time as their official TB freedom is restored.

We also want to take this opportunity to let you know about work that has started to establish an accreditation standard for TB, which we hope would be of particular benefit to pedigree herd owners.

We are in discussion with Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) about the details of such a standard. As I am sure you know, around 90% of farmers who are accredited to the CheCS standard for other diseases, such as BVD, IBR and Johne's Disease, are pedigree herd owners.

We would welcome a dialogue with breed societies on risk-based trading.

Depending on responses to this letter, we would be happy to set up a discussion with those of you who wish to work with us. A response to this letter by 28 March would therefore be appreciated.

Yours faithfully

Geoff Jasinski 

"Depending on responses to this letter, [the man said] we would be happy to set up a discussion with those of you who wish to work with us." ...
And then, having 'consulted'  we'll do it anyway? You've got a week to reply and by the way, any form of effective badger 'management' is in the long grass. And 'vaccination' has taken on a life of its own as an alternative prevarication 'strategy'.

  A point of order Mr. J:

'Accreditation' for zTB in dairy cattle started in the 1960s when the eradication of this disease began across the British isles.

Farmers thus 'accredited' received an extra 4p a gallon for their milk.

Prior to 1972, farmers managed their own populations of wildlife, and post 1973, MAFF managed infectious badgers under license.

This was the Ministry map of parishes on annual testing due a 'confirmed breakdown' in 1986. Less than 100 herds were under TB restriction, and 684 cattle were slaughtered.

Everything stalled in the mid 1980s, as parallel action on infectious wildlife in response to cattle breakdowns was progressively sanitised and land available for cage trapping was reduced from 7km to just 1km from base. And then only permitted on land cattle had grazed..

Inevitably, the red parishes spread out. And out.

And since 1997 when Defra and its agencies made a conscious decision not to issue licenses under Section 10 (2) a of the Protection of Badgers Act, to 'prevent the spread of disease' you and your cronies have all but destroyed the cattle industry in the south/ south west of these islands. And are having a damn good go at flattening the enterprises of farmed deer, milking goats, free range pigs, pedigree sheep and alpaca farmers.

Have the breed societies of these other mammals received a fast track missive on Risk based Trading? No? We thought not.

One of their latest maps, looking a tad truncated as Wales and Scotland are missing, issued by Defra in 2013.

This year, inevitably, Defra's Maginot line has moved again..

By changing a label, and resurrecting the old description 'accredited' you won't stop grossly infectious wildlife infecting other mammals, and that's any mammal whether they be the food producing kind or companion varieties. In fact you have no strategy for zTB - [ link] at all - except more pain for cattle farmers.

From The Farmers Forum posts on this subject:
To bundle zTB into a pot of diseases over which cattle farmers do have a semblance of control, is about as low as it gets.
Keeping a closed herd and secure, cattle free boundaries is fine, but if a manky badger piddles across your land, you're buggered - and so presumably would be your 'accreditation'?

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, why should farmers suffer the consequences?

Mr. Jasinski's contact is:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Hot air

If you had nothing better to do yesterday afternoon[ link] an interesting but depressing few hours could have been spent listening to a group of people, discussing with incredible certainty and many howlers, a report which they had yet to read on a subject which few had any knowledge at all.

 As the Telegraph - [link] pointed out, 'the Honourable members agreed that they did not know what they were talking about'.

 So a more pertinent debate might have been on why the Secretary of State and the Honourable members were apparently the last the read the report into the pilot badger culls, ahead of a media driven, opportunist frenzy led by the BBC?

 A couple of beacons of light in an otherwise total waste of time, were comments from David Heath and in particular, Roger Williams @ 3.12 who said: "
Continuing results from the RBCTs show continuing benefits from proactive culling many years after the conclusion of the trials. The TB situation continues to improve in New Zealand and Australia. Improvements are also evident in southern Ireland where, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge might like to note, a reactive cull has been used.

Surprisingly, those areas that used reactive culling in the RBCTs now show improvements compared with the survey areas. Perhaps we should re-examine the use of reactive culling. More support for culling could be generated if we had a better test for TB in live badgers.

The good news is that the polymerase chain reaction test is making progress and hopefully by next year we will have a conclusive test. I am sure that the culling of infected setts, as identified by PCR tests, and the protecting of healthy setts would be supported. I ask the Minister whether there is any advance on those tests.

I am told that badgers culled in the pilots vary in weight from 6.5 kg to 22 kg. Evidence of disease in the lightest badgers probably implies that they would not survive the winter and would die in considerable distress of starvation, hyperthermia and disease. I have not heard anything today that would lead me to believe that the BCG vaccine alone will lead to an elimination of disease in the wildlife reservoir. I believe a cull is also needed as part of a wide-ranging policy, and for that reason I cannot support this motion."
By concentrating on cattle and badgers, the Honourable members missed the point that control of zTuberculosis, a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen,  is a statute to which this country is a signatory.

As a footnote, if as the leaked document implied, it took a badger 5 minutes to expire after being shot, is that not more the responsibility of the trial protocol, which demanded only two shots in the rifle chamber?
It also compares very neatly to the length of time it takes an unborn calf to die, kicking in the belly of its destroyed, heavily pregnant mother when she is shot as a TB reactor.


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Long distance hikes

A new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology - [link] describes wild badgers as traveling ' great distances'. (so not the short rambles that Woodchester's peanut fed pets walk?)
A simple overview in Nature World News - [link] found that after tagging over 960 badgers in Kilkenny, the researchers noted:
"On average, the badgers were found just 2.6km from their dens, but 5 percent of those tagged were found more than 7.5km away from their dens, with the longest having made a 22.1 km journey."
In old money, that is an average of 4.6 miles for the 5 percent of the tagged animals moving away from their home base with the furthest long distance hop measured at 13.70 miles.
No mention is made of a return ticket.

And in Owen Paterson's Parliamentary written questions, tabled a decade ago now, the reason for these 'long distance' travels was described thus:
"Research conducted by the Central Science laboratory has identified behavioural differences between badgers excreting M bovis and uninfected animals. Badgers excreting M.bovis had larger home ranges and were more likely to visit farm buildings."
23rd March 2004 Column 684W [158375]

 The Irish research appears to confirm this, but goes further with some staggering statistics on infectivity:
"In lower-density populations, infection may be seeded, or disease prevalence maintained, in relatively isolated populations from dispersing badgers (Hardstaff et al. 2012). [snip]

However, this speculation must be considered against a backdrop of high bTB badger prevalence in Ireland (36%; Murphy et al. 2010) and parts of Britain (35–53%; Carter et al. 2012).

Given our findings, we would expect that 5% of badger dispersal attempts in this population would be at distances of  7·3 km over a 4-year study. This would indicate that, in the absence of physical movement barriers, buffers of ≥7·3 km may be needed to restrict inward dispersal and maintain site independence with a high degree of confidence.
We get the picture ....  which we've seen many times before.

Up to 53 per cent of GB's badgers now carry zTuberculosis. (Carter et al- 2012)
When they achieve 'super excreter' status - or even before - these highly infectious animals make long distance hops in an attempt to find sanctuary and die.(PQ 158375]
And these mobile time bombs can range an average of 'more than 7.5km from base, with the longest recorded at 22km.'
 This can 'seed' strains of M.bovis in previously uninfected areas.


Sunday, March 02, 2014

More sharks...

Following on from our posting below, another member of the voracious predators hacking away at the supposed content of a much leaked document, is the left wing Bow Group. - [link]

The group has found the time to compile a report into the as yet unpublished 'Expert' inspection report on the pilot culls, and also to publish it.

We do not propose to go through its lightweight content in any detail: suffice to say it begins and ends with the RBCT, Badger Dispersal Trial, learning nothing of any work on zTuberculosis done prior to that charade, or conclusions drawn since.

For the origins of the trial, it is useful to note the comments of the arch magician, Professor John Bourne, describing to the EFRA Committee - [link] how 'his' trial was designed with a steer not to cull badgers at the end of it. And as one member of his team, wanders through leafy glades on your television screen, explaining how any cull of badgers must be quick and complete to be successful, one may wonder how she manages to keep a straight face. Professor Rosie Woodroffe was part of the team which oversaw the 8 night annual forays with cage traps, the location of which were well publicised. That was the protocol dreamed up to capture badgers within the zones of  the RBCT.

Instead of believing her own guff, had Rosie ventured into the realms of history, she would have seen that a thorough clearance -[link] kept the area in which it took place clear of cattle TB for at least a decade.

But we digress: contrary to his instructions, John Bourne's efforts to create perturbation and stir up heavily infected populations of badgers and then bugger off  disappear for a year or more, did have an effect on cattle TB. And it wasn't the one which he expected. - [link]

And contrary to the populist green bio-garbage mantra that sentinel tested cattle are responsible for this epidemic of zTuberculosis - now affecting many other mammals and about which Defra would rather keep schtum - intense cattle measures have been attempted before. And failed completely.

But the Bow Group and their assorted followers, would very much like to see this country condemned to repeat -[link] this stamp down on cattle movements. This despite its recorded futility and despite the readily available spoligotype maps - [links] which after four decades of painstaking work, still show distinct blocks of one strain of zTB circulating between tested, slaughtered sentinel cattle - and free ranging badgers. 

Shooting the canary who brings you the message is never very smart, as the coal miners of old found out to their cost.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


This week has shown the true extent of the problems any Secretary of State faces when attempting to solve a problem which various of his un-civil servants would rather he did not.

We do not intend to comment on the unknown content of a document 'leaked' to the BBC, except to enquire, by whom and for what purpose was it leaked to this particular organisation?
As Alistair Driver comments in this report - [link] published by the Farmers Guardian:
The BBC’s report has raised questions about how the report, or parts of it, was leaked and whether the leak, if genuine, came from the panel itself, Defra or its agencies.
This comes hard on the heels of another alleged mathematical cock up - [link] by the AHVLA's amazing  new TB computer programme known as 'SAM'.

A year ago almost to the day, SAM was pronounced 'fit for purpose' - [link] when it most certainly was not, - [link] and if the latest news is to be believed, is still not up to scratch.

Meanwhile, as FERA's Mark Chambers , "Mr. 74 per-cent" encourages his followers to indiscriminately jab any badger they are able to catch, - [link] the BBC gives free rein to a consortium of opportunist Badgerists and their assorted travellers on this over loaded gravy train, while totally ignoring the increasing march of a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, zTuberculosis.

 Vital to any eradication process for zTuberculosis, is solid and current data on its progress. So may we respectfully suggest that:
1. If they have not already done so, Natural England share with AHVLA the identity of farms involved in the cull areas of both Somerset and Gloucestershire and produce cattle zTuberculosis results as stand alone figures. Statistics which are not be watered down (if you'll pardon the pun) by the rest of the county stats and attributed to cattle measures introduced in 2014.

2. That the IAA area of Wales, (where intensive cattle measures have been applied) produce monthly figures, as above and not diluted by the county stats, or, as happens at present, lagging 15 months behind the event.

3. Areas vaccinating any passing badger also produce up to date monthly statistics on the incidence of cattle zTB in those areas.
From the lack of up to date -[link] statistics from areas both vaccinating badgers and operating an Intensive Action Area for cattle, one must assume that the sharks are more than happy to continue their circling in a vacuum of silence on results of these efforts.

In this case, it is the various Agencies which together form the megalith known as 'DEFRA', holding hands with the BBC, various NGOs, the Wildlife Trusts and dancing to the tune of Brian May's guitar, who are circling for the kill around their new boss, the Right Honourable Owen Paterson MP.