Friday, April 25, 2014

TB in camelids - has BAS got the hump?

As we explained in our posting below -[link] a Defra consultation is currently circulating on statutory and voluntary TB eradication measures for deer and camelids - [link]. And the breed society concerned with the latter appear to be less than happy, offering advice to their members to reply to the consultation and 'put pressure on Defra' thus:
Dear Sirs

I/We respond to your consultation document referenced above as follows:

1. Compensation (Question 6) - The compensation currently offered does not reflect an alpaca’s value. I/We insist that you base the compensation on market values as with cattle. The average price of BAS Registered Pedigree Breeding stock we sold last year was £…………. each.

2. Tests used in a breakdown (Question 7) - I/We feel very strongly about the tests used and insist on Enferplex being one of the choices available in all testing scenarios including bTB breakdowns.

3. Prohibition on Vaccination (Question 4) - I/We insist that DEFRA do not impose a blanket prohibition on vaccination until the research results relating to badgers and cattle are published and that further consultation takes place then.
 The whole consultation document can be viewed at the bottom of the Defra sheet in  the above link.

It indicates that identification of camelids and non vaccination or 'treatment' for zTB will be statutory. The rest is apparently up for discussion.

 On BAS's short reply sheet, 'Compensation' for infected animals is always a sticky one. For example, cattle in England are on a derisory tabular valuation, goat farmers, selling valuable products into the human food chain, get none at all, deer farmers (again producing a food product) a gratuitous £650 (or a lower carcase value) and alpacas £750 - if they co-operate with the shambles that is the present zTB non statutory programme for non-bovines.

Defra appear to want a choice of ante mortem tests, and until one is validated as something like accurate for camelids, that would appear to be sensible. We hear that the screening test 'Enferplex' (which BAS seem to prefer), was recently used on a herd of alpacas, which sadly is no more. Many animals had lesions which this test failed to pick up. So apparently 'Enferplex' is not the 'Holy grail' of ante mortem tests at all - or as with the skin test, only if it fails to identify infected animals?
We would agree  that no vaccination programme of any animal should be instigated until the results of the badger vaccination programmes (BVDP)  are known. But as the first BVDP is now entering its 3rd year, and Defra / AHVLA show no inclination to publish the results of sentinel, tested cattle breakdowns in those areas which are indiscriminately jabbing badgers, don't hold your breath. The object of that particular pyramid is to train more vaccinators, and 'build farmer confidence in the concept'.
Remember that. Efficacy of the process is immaterial.

On 'treatment' (with drugs licensed for humans), whether prophylactic or used on infected animals, which is included in this section, the possibility of introducing more drug resistant strains of zTB which may go on to infect humans,  is mind blowingly stupid. Just our opinion of course.

Over the last four years we have been banging on about the numbers of alpacas falling victim to 'bovine' Tuberculosis. In many instances, whole herds have been lost. But to get Defra's statisticians to produce the correct figures for these dead animals, rather than their single confirming microbial sample, has been difficult damn nearly impossible. - [link] Pushing water uphill would have been easier.
But in January, after meeting an alpaca called 'Eddy', newly appointed Defra Minister George Eustice managed to get his department's figures a tad more accurate. And their 17 samples morphed into 592 dead alpacas.

As we remarked at the time, an increase of some magnitude - and they would be only the ones reported to AHVLA / Defra. Many would not have been.

What was even more of a shock however, was sight of tables produced regularly by the alpaca breed society, (BAS) which show the causes of death in animals reported to them. And these tables show that by far the biggest cause of death in alpacas is .... 'bovine' TB - or as we have correctly labelled it, zoonotic Tuberculosis. So despite their email fliers to members stating:
We must let DEFRA know that Alpaca owners care what happens to their animals.
... when it come to zTuberculosis, that particular water is a tad murky.

So we are grateful to the area Welfare reps who receive and have allowed us sight of these BAS figures, which can be viewed on this link - [link] We expect camelid breeders who receive these tables will be grateful for the information too, but curiously, we understand that not all the area Representatives feel able to share it.

To save time we'll paraphrase this snapshot of registered alpaca deaths reported to BAS, and from what they have apparently expired in the year ending 2012, with particular reference to zTB.

Of 1355 alpaca deaths reported to BAS in 2012, 731 (54 per cent) had no postmortem, and their cause of death was described as 'unknown' or 'no reason given'.
Of the remaining 624 deaths reported and a cause confirmed, 383 deaths were either directly from zTuberculosis or the animals were euthanized after failing screening tests on a TB restricted herd.
In their table, BAS describe that figure as '28 per cent' of the total reported deaths - which is high enough. But if those deaths from z TB are taken as a percentage of all alpacas reported dead and to which a cause of death is attributed, the figure is far higher at over 60 per cent.

And yet, this is this same Society which has consistently buried its collective head in the sand over the eradication of this disease from camelids, preferring, like Defra, to hide behind the derisory and misleading figure of the single confirming sample.

And prior to January 2013, when this table appeared - [link] that showed a figure of just 17 in 2012. Problem? What problem? We have no problem.
But judging by BAS's own figures, 383 registered animals did. But we "care what happens to our animals."

Defra's updated TB tables show almost 600 alpaca deaths in 2012. (These will include deaths of non registered animals, and deaths unreported to BAS)

As we have said in previous postings, this disease is no longer a 'bovine' problem.

 Polite Note: Defra's 'other species' figures for 2013 appear to have stalled in August / September of that year: Was it too hot for the computer? Everyone out with their buckets and spades? Easter egg hunt? Come on guys and gals, update those tables. Eight months is too long to wait.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

zTuberculosis in deer and camelids - consultation

Following growing concern about the spread of the disease, DEFRA has published consultation document - [link] on the control of zTuberculosis in deer and South American Camelids (alpacas and llamas) and is inviting comments.

The Department is proposing changes to the current arrangements for dealing with bTB in deer and camelids in England. (Wales already has its own policy in place and Scotland are considering their options).

For camelids, proposed powers include statutory removal of reactors, which will be identified prior to removal and a flat rate payment of £750 per animal.
Other proposals include introducing blood tests that can be used outside of a breakdown situation: for example as pre-movement or pre-purchase and in cases where an animal may be showing symptoms which require TB to be ruled out.

Treatment and vaccination either prophylactic, or administered to animals with clinical symptoms of zTB, will also be prohibited.

At present these proposed measures are not mandatory, but Defra have indicated that they plan to introduce statutory powers, if camelid owners are reluctant to take the disease seriously on a voluntary basis.

The cynical amongst us would say that if the Department itself had taken the spread of this disease - [link] 'seriously' then applying punitive measures to other sectors may be given more than a lukewarm welcome.

 We understand that the alpaca breed society, the BAS have contacted members with the following message on this Defra TB Consultation:

19 days to go .. 


Look out for an email in the next few days to guide you through a response to the consultation document.

"Put pressure on Defra." To do what? One hopes that it is not to bury this disease deeper than ever. And thus infect more animals,  their owners and vets? - [link]

That would be extremely irresponsible. However, as no details of  the BAS 'pressure' are presently available, we will publish the their 'response guidelines' to camelid owners, if and when we receive sight of them.

The “Consultation on Tuberculosis (TB) animal disease controls for deer and camelids” can be found at the
following link:

Further documentation and information can be found by following the above link, together with an online survey (and printable version) for your response.

Consultation responses must be received by 6th. May 2014.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Impasse or opportunity?

As the ill conceived -[link] pilot culls are inevitably thrown into Ministerial long grass, cattle farmers are left dangling from a rope of  punitive obligations which are supposed to keep their herds free of zTuberculosis.
 It has even been suggested that Herd Health schemes and pedigree societies include zTB as a 'health' brownie point.

To bundle zTuberculosis into a pot of diseases over which we 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 stuffed - 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 do that, why should cattle farmers suffer the consequences?

 So what now? As more punitive cattle measures rain down, several organisations appear to be joining us in calling for a cull of diseased badgers rather than a cull of badgers per se. These include The Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management -[link] and yesterday's press release from the SW Branch of the NFU has expressed similar sentiments. A quote from the NFU paper:
The NFU’s South West regional board has expressed its frustration that ‘politics’ have taken precedence over animal health and is compromising the welfare of all susceptible species, including domestic pets, in the battle against bovine TB. It is also calling on the NFU’s national council to ‘pursue with urgency’ other more targeted culling models for controlling the disease in the badger population.
Regional board chairman and beef farmer, Martin Howlett, whose own farm in east Cornwall has battled with the disease, has also written to HRH the Princess Royal on behalf of the board thanking her for expressing her concerns publicly over the animal welfare consequences for farm animals and wildlife of unchecked TB and contributing so compellingly to the debate about other means of controlling it amongst badgers.They point out that "Bovine TB controls which lead to the slaughter of thousands of cattle annually and the imposition of highly stressful testing regimes and restrictive movement measures upon livestock and those that farm it, are set to be ratcheted up still further."

“We know we have to do our bit to rid the countryside of this pestilence and are jumping through every hoop to do so,” says Martin Howlett. “But when we see all too frequently closed herds going down with TB, where there is no contact with other cattle, like that of our Dorset chairman, we know the disease is in the wildlife population, particularly badgers, which inhabit the same pastures and are the greatest excreters of TB bacilli via their urine, dung and sputum.

“Vets confirm our concerns, and not even the most vociferous animal rights protesters can deny that there is cross contamination between the species, so farmers think why on earth are we sacrificing all these cattle and putting them and ourselves through a huge amount of stress when we know that the disease is still out there thriving in the fields hosted unwittingly by its primary wildlife vector – badgers – for which it shows no mercy and is an incurable curse too."

“We are especially concerned because other farmed and wildlife species as well as domestic pets and even humans in direct contact with infection are susceptible as well. Anyone with a genuine interest in animal health and welfare would surely see the sense in countering the main sources of infection and, unfortunately, where the disease is acute amongst badgers, vaccination is not curative and cannot tackle it.”
The press release also has a link to this footage - [link] of a distinctly wobbly badger, rooting amongst hay bales in a farm hay barn. The video is one of many obtained with night vision cameras by the South West TB Advisory Group. What they are unable to tell farmer clients, is what to do with it.

Perhaps it should be vaccinated? That will fix it - [link] And unfortunately many Badgerists do actually believe that.

 As a PR exercise, badger vaccination is on a par with the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial for prevarication and job creation. But unfortunately, it fills a comforting PR gap for wobbling politicians. And there have been many of those over the years.

But the results for our cattle of this latest in high profile chicanery, AHVLA appear to have no intention of publishing as 'stand alone figures', it seems. The vaccination areas are still absorbed into their home county statistics, so no one has any idea of what is happening to the cattle, (or alpacas, sheep, goats or cats) inhabiting the same area - except the farmers concerned. Collect your own data?

 But slowing down the upspill of this disease into sentinel cattle herds,  is not the object of this latest wheeze exercise at all. We explored that in this posting - [link] which also had that wonderful quote from AHVLA's Prof. Glyn Hewinson who told us:
"The primary aims of the project are to learn lessons about the practicalities of deploying an injectable vaccine; provide training for others who may wish to apply for a license to vaccinate badgers; and build farmers confidence in the use of badger vaccination. "

"Defra is providing funds to cover 50% of the cost of becoming an accredited and certified lay vaccinator and has extended the availability of its vaccination fund to cover 2013 training courses for members of voluntary and community sector organisations. So far, 137 lay vaccinators have been trained on the cage trapping and vaccination of badgers."
137 vaccinators, launching into unknown numbers of badgers, with no idea of the health status of any of them and using a product offering no efficacy data at all in its VMD license?
But that is expected to 'build farmers' confidence' in the concept?? In your dreams.

Correspondence has recently been submitted to the Veterinary press, which questions how FERA's claims for badger BCG have been exploded beyond its reality. A snippet:
" Although the Badger BCG vaccine has been shown by one parameter (disease severity score) to provide significant protection against experimental challenge it fails to protect against infection and all vaccinated animals shed M.bovis post challenge.

The likelihood therefore of the vaccine giving protection in the face of the massive infection out there in the badger population is therefore highly improbable. That is even supposing enough animals can be vaccinated which is equally improbable.

[] I do not accept that the difference in serological response between vaccinated and non vaccinated animals is direct evidence of protection.

I also raise the possibility of the vaccine being actually harmful, which doesn’t seem to have been considered by proponents of the vaccine. There are interesting immunological reasons why this may be so."
When this synopsis is published in full, we will revisit.

 Over the last 20 years, as one farmer contributor to The Farmers Forum so succinctly put it, successive Emperors Ministers have been left " standing in a deep hole, stark bollock naked" by their Agencies, assorted lobbyists and their own advisors. And instead of handing them a coat with which to cover their embarrassment, the advisor's only offering has been a larger shovel.

It is time for a change.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Comfort Blanket?

As AHVLA carve up the country into areas of 'Risk' from zoonotic Tuberculosis, the comfort blanket of four year testing outside the High risk and Edge areas has once again, taken a hit.
A dispersal sale of a cattle herd from Cumbria, sold in Cheshire, has subsequently revealed several reactors. Farmers Guardian -[link] has the story.

This is not the first time that this has happened, with this sale in 2010 - [link] causing similar problems. Unfortunately farmers purchasing stock are often quite unaware that in these 4 year testing areas, no test is required before any dispersal sales and several do ask for stock to be tested prior to purchasing.

One of our veterinary sources has sent this comment:
It is also worth noting that cases of herd breakdowns are not that uncommon in Cumbria - years ago the outbreak can clearly be seen in the Dunnett Report maps.

The cluster of cattle cases was, at that time, as big as a cluster in the Midlands. Interestingly, the source was traced back to a couple of infected badgers.

Subsequently, it was found that the Cumbria area had its own TB type. The spoligotype was the same as one of the Midlands outbreaks, but the VNTR typing was different.

This type was found in badgers and cattle from the area and I believe that all the outbreaks from elsewhere with this type (that could be traced), traced back to Cumbria.

So, rather inconveniently, this is a TB endemic area. This has been known for decades.

So why is Cumbria on 4 yearly testing?

Why indeed.
Test and ye shall find.  More testing inevitably reveals more 'problems' in sentinel cattle. 

The Manchester Ship Canal and a large urban area look good on a map and are also thought to act as a badger barrier.  But that conveniently ignores the infected Cumbrian bred residents already behind it, and the untested alpacas and translocated badgers happily leaping over it.

Further speculation as the source of this outbreak is futile until AHVLA's team have done their spoligotyping of the type and VNTR responsible for this outbreak, in what, on their maps at least, should have been a clean area.
Meanwhile Defra's comfort blanket has a few more holes.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Royal approval?

As HRH the Princess Royal once again enters the fray over the control of tuberculosis in badgers, and badgers in general, by recommending gassing, we revisit an earlier comment which she made. And more importantly, a leading 'scientist's' reaction to it.  

22nd February 2003: Princess Anne commented - [link] as she left a meeting:
"If anyone tells me there is no proven link between bovine TB and badgers, I will see them outside later"

The following day, members of the EFRA Committee - [link] were giving the ISG chairman, Professor John Bourne a light toasting and here is that gentleman's answer to Princess Anne's remark:

 23rd February 2003
156: Just briefly then, we have not got much hope on the vaccination front, we have not got much hope from your report coming out in March that the Government will be able to formulate policy on this; have we got any hope to look forward to at all or is it going to turn out that Princess Anne was right?

(Professor Bourne) Princess Anne is right but what Princess Anne did not answer is the question, okay, badgers are involved, but what the hell do you do about it? We do not know.
But as we have pointed out so many times before, the diminutive professor had already had his political instructions. - [link] .

 Bourne was the leader of the RBCT, which started the 10 year prevarication trial with a political steer that no large scale culling of badgers would happen at the end of it. This is what he told the committee in 2007:
"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..." but the diminutive Prof. was in full spate. He was not to interrupted and continued:
"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."
So this eminent 'scientist' did know exactly what to 'do about it'. Prostitute his credentials following political whims and slam down hard on the cattle industry?

 And this, dear readers is the basis on which the ill fated pilot culls were founded. Tied up in so much red tape by the government agency, Natural England - [link] that the more cynical amongst us would assume that they too were 'designed to fail'.

A quote first published in the Western morning News, on Natural England's pilot cull protocol from former NFU SW director Anthony Gibson - after he had read the Annexes:
"It is hard to say whether it is the cost of what is proposed, or the regulatory burden which it will involve, which evokes the greater degree of concern. But if you put one together with the other, it will be a very brave and very determined group of farmers which signs a "TB Management Agreement" with Natural England.

The bureaucracy associated with such agreements will be formidable, if anything like the measures proposed in the consultation are finally agreed. I don't have the space to go into any great detail, but you will find it all at which should be required reading – including the annexes – for anyone planning to get involved. Unless these proposals are radically altered in the consultation process – particularly in terms of reducing the financial and other risks to participants – I find it hard to envisage a badger-culling licence ever being issued."
The cull protocols were not altered, radically or otherwise, two licences were issued and the inevitable conclusion was - they didn't work on many levels. They were never meant to.

So as the Princess Royal tells us to 'forget cattle' and concentrate on the damage badgers are doing to the ecology as a whole, and that they should be controlled preferably by underground euthanasia, we find ourselves at an impasse. Cutting through all the political guff, the Princess Royal is quite correct.
Like our contributors, she says it as it is.

But from the EU, via Defra and its agencies we have a shed load of punitive cattle measures, the likelihood of levies to fund future breakdowns and yet little or nothing on which to hang our collective hats concerning tuberculosis in wildlife.

So, a brick wall or an opportunity to change course? We'll discuss that in a later posting.