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.

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