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.)