Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas to all our readers.

We wish you all a merry Christmas and a peaceful, prosperous New Year. And we hope that none of your plans are derailed by any small, black and white critters with a persistent cough and severe incontinence.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The end of another year.

It's now 12 years since we posted most of the 538 Parliamentary questions, which formed the basis of this site in 2004. It is also over 100 years since Professor Koch did his experiments with m.bovis, and instigated the first postulates of disease transmission, which relied on a set of principles, rather than absolute proof.

In between then and now, this country had almost eradicated zTB from its cattle herds, only to see a resurgence in the mid 1980s from a wildlife reservoir it seems soooo reluctant to touch. And hasn't touched at all since a £1m bung to the Labour government in 1997.

Not unsurprisingly,  in the last couple of decades, main setts in England have increased by 103 per cent. How do we know? Because almost two years ago now, this article - [link] was published by Fera, which told us. Fera have also confirmed that in areas of endemic TB, about 50 per cent of the badgers are infected.

Apparently, we have a 25 year plan, but from where we stand, that seems long on cattle measures and short on anything to do with a wildlife reservoir of disease. But then, it's what Professor Bourne manipulated - [link] his team to deliver, almost 20 years ago. His idea was to let farmers knock off a few (a very few ) badgers to get them to accept cattle measures. Most of which, by next year, will be in place.

Meanwhile the Chinese whispers surrounding a DNA screening test for infected badgers get louder. Who has the megaphone we have yet to find out, but they are dead wrong. - [link]

Even when offered half the optimum number of samples, one tenth of the optimum number of bacteria and using a third of the background prevalence of disease, this test performed very well, meeting 4 out of 5 of Defra's criteria. The one on which it was 'borderline' was Specificity. That is the number of false positives any test gives;  which while not upsetting many people when it comes to tests used for cattle, appears to give Defra's mandarins indigestion when applied to badgers.

But how do they calculate DNA? Obviously the acronym PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) fuddles their collective brain, so we'll stick to Deoxyribonucleic Acid which is the long word for DNA. An acronym most people have heard of and trust.
Think paternity tests, forensic science, Silent Witness and TV murder mysteries.

And the only way a DNA sample (PCR is DNA fragments) can give a false positive is if the sample (or those playing with it?) is corrupt or contaminated. It's a straight 'Yes' or 'No'. But what you cannot do is 'model' it to give stupid results, if you want to trash the whole idea. Neither can you take specificity of one test on one badger and model it back to a group. Warwick's badger DNA test is a group test, relying on 20 samples taken from a group latrine - the one nearest the sett. And used as instructed and validated, it works.

So as this year draws to a close, what have we achieved? Just three small pilot cull areas with some dubious input data on existing herd breakdowns - [link] which are proving difficult to substantiate - one way or the other. Two of these pilots end next year, with nothing in place after that. Meanwhile, we have several mini cull areas awaiting Natural England's attention. They'll have to move quickly to catch up on Fera's 103 per cent increase in main sett populations.
And, we hear, possibly some mini T-Bags. Local discussion groups which are to feed 'information' - as yet unspecified - up to the big TBEAG and thus to government.Who can then file it.

 Inevitably, we also have another raft of cattle measures to look forward to. Two tests at severe interpretation for any herd in the high risk area which has a breakdown, regardless of the cattle post mortem results. And a post movement test for cattle moving out of that area and not slaughtered within 120 days.

The one good thing which happened this year, is that the daft idea of vaccinating badgers - [link] has hit the buffers. But with cynicism born of years of practice, we expect some other inventive  prevarication to replace it - bio-garbage security being one possibility.

Meanwhile zoonotic Tuberculosis marches eastwards and north on four small paws, at a rate of knots. And there is nothing at all in the way of targeted wildlife management for these areas, only a nervous wait until they achieve High Risk status. And then they can try to comply with Natural England's mathematical carnage of a 70 percent cull on 90 per cent of land, in 6 short weeks. And pay for it..

Our grateful thanks to all our contributors around the world, and a very merry Christmas from us all at blogger headquarters.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

BCG for badgers, while babies go short,

As the worldwide shortage of BCG vaccine for human beings hits the headlines, we hear that Wales has abandoned its trial of using the drug for badgers. Farmers guardian - [link] has the story of the Welsh Assembly Government's second U turn affecting the cattle farmers in this area.

Their first was to abandon plans for a cull of badgers, in favour of jabbing them.

There was no head count, no pre screening for existing health status and using a drug which had no efficacy data presented. Just trap and jab - as many as you can. And the cost? a staggering £2.8m in the first 3 years, and around 5,500 doses delivered in four years; with no certainty that they were given to the 'right' badger, or one who just put up with a needle in its bum, for the sake of a reward of peanuts.

We say this after hearing of a Devon badger which arrived on a local autopsy table, with numerous puncture wounds in its derriere. It appeared to have been 'vaccinated' numerous times.

Shortages of BCG first hit the headlines in 2012, when The Telegraph - [link] reported the closure of the plant operated by Canadian company, Sanofi Pasteur. This story was updated in 2014 by the Daily Mail - [link] which reported 'thousands of people' were left without the drug, which was now being used for bladder and bowel cancer.
Thousands of bladder cancer patients face an uncertain future because stocks of a drug that prevents the disease progressing are running perilously low.

The crisis means patients may be soon given a stark choice: surgical removal of the entire organ, or risk the cancer returning. Up to 12,000 people are to be left without the crucial medication, called BCG, as British hospitals run out of supplies.
And earlier this summer, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a rationing system for supplies of BCG. Their new recommendations are on this WHO paper [link] with their explanation for the rationing:
In 2015, 180 million doses were needed, and only 107 million were available."
That is a 30 per cent shortfall.

Just one badger vaccination offered to a candidate of unknown health status and due to be repeated for at least 5 years - if the badger volunteered for his jab, is 10x the strength of a 'normal' dose for a adult human being and 20x that needed for a baby.

Excellent PR for the farming industry isn't it? Particularly as the drug itself, as predicted, seems to be having no effect on cattle TB in the area whatsoever.

But that was never the intention. What did Defra say in 2011? "Pump-prime farmers to accept the concept of vaccination"? We discussed it in this post - [link] And it gets no more palatable with re-reading it.

Patronising guff. And if Defra want to carry on vaccinating badgers, as one veterinary pathologist wryly commented, they could " use saline: it will have just the same effect".

* Grateful thanks to Ken Wignall for the use of his cartoon, first shown in Farmers Guardian.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

"We can't tell which badgers are infected" say Defra.

That infected badgers could not be identified, has been the clarion call for as long as we have been investigating zoonotic tuberculosis (zTB) on this site. But as long ago as 1996, Professor, now Lord Krebbs, in his report to the Minister, predicted that a such method of identification would be available 'within two years'.  This is what he said:
7.9.5 We also recommend that the scope for using modern DNA amplification techniques, such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), for diagnosis should be further explored. The PCR is quicker than microbial culture and can detect the remnants of dead bacteria in addition to living organisms. If sufficiently sensitive, we see two applications for such a test.

(i) It could provide rapid screening of samples from badger carcases. We suggest MAFF should consider whether this might be an alternative to culture. We estimate that existing assays could be optimised within one to two years.

(ii) MAFF could monitor the presence and distribution of infection by environmental sampling of areas used by badgers.
It is said that a week is a long time in politics, but that 2 years to identify badgers infected with zTB has stretched to almost twenty.

 In 1996, when Lord Krebbs made that pronouncement, Great Britain slaughtered 3,776 cattle as TB reactors.

 But the work into PCR and zTB continued and in 2005 / 2006 Defra having risen from the ashes of the previous ministry label, MAFF,  screened many farmland mammals - [link] using this method. The reports were SE3009 and SE3010  and they cost £1.954 million.

 In 2006, Great Britain slaughtered 22,062 cattle as TB reactors and introduced pre movement testing and tabular valuation.

 During 2006 - 2011, Professor Elizabeth Wellington and her team from Warwick University were investigating the use of this non-invasive screening method for infected badger setts. They published their work, validated by three laboratories in two different countries, in November 2011: it can be viewed on this link - [link]

And encouraged by this work and the paucity of the skin test when used on camelids,  in 2012, a small group of alpaca owners, commissioned a qPCR screen. This used fecal and sputum samples from dead animals coming in increasing numbers to AHVLA's autopsy tables, as a Proof of Concept study. - [link]
It was to try and push forward a reliable live screen for these charming animals.

 In 2012, Great Britain slaughtered 37,735 cattle as TB reactors, Defra ratcheted down hard on cattle movements and zoned our country into areas of 'risk' for zTB. Their 'Edge' area is moving further northwards and eastwards, annually.

The then Secretary of State for Defra, Owen Paterson MP, (above)  liked the idea of a targeted cull and after learning of her previous work, commissioned Professor Wellington's team - [link] to conduct a wider field trial of their qPCR method, to see if it correlated with the known health status of badgers in Woodchester Park.
This was SE3280 which when published in 2014, also showed the most cost effective way of identifying infected groups, the number of samples needed, how they were collected and when.

At the same time,  Warwick's qPCR was and is, being used in the Republic of Ireland, comparing the findings of this test with mortem results for badgers caught in their reactive TB culls. It will report in due course, but we understand that as with the alpaca project, using correlation between visible lesioned, culture positive animals, this test is doing well.

However, after questions were tabled in the House of Commons about this method of screening, the fire blanket of  'we can't use it and it won't work' was given and yet again qPCR for identifying infected badger setts was on the back burner. Somewhat prematurely we feel.

Meanwhile, other organisations other than Warwick's team, had developed screening PCR tests which were said to be delivering wondrous results, so in June 2014 Mr. Paterson set up a comparison trial to find the best. This project was not the usual exercise in prevarication; it was a genuine attempt to seek out the best performing test, refine if necessary and to take it forward for routine use.
 It cost £360,065 and was labelled SE3289.

Samples were either 'putatively' (thought to be or assumed) positive or spiked with a known quantity of m.bovis, or 'putatively' (assumed) negative or taken from captive badgers. The samples were distributed to individual laboratories, who tested them according to six candidate's screens and then reported results to a statistician. No badgers were harmed during the trial. Or post-mortemed.

The results showed Test B (Warwick's qPCR) as the best performing of the 6 offered, having fulfilled 3 out of 5 criteria, and 4 out of  5 when spiked positive samples were substituted for those 'putatively' positive.
And the one 'borderline? That was specificity - false positives at group level on the 'putatively' negative samples offered.

Warwick's qPCR screen found by trial and error that to achieve a safe sensitivity (ability to detect disease) together with an acceptable specificity (few false positives) then certain criteria had to be followed.
1. A minimum of 20 samples, taken on non consecutive days. The blinded trial used 10 samples.
2. A minimum of 1000 units of m.bovis to work with. The blinded trial allowed 100 units many 'putative'.
3. An optimum 15 per cent background prevalence of infection. The trial used 10 per cent.

This trial could be compared to using a recipe to make a loaf of bread, and adding half the amount of yeast the recipe demands: then being surprised when your loaf doesn't rise to the occasion. But we digress.

The results are described by the trial's authors (Defra) who explain:
Test B was the best performing test overall. It meets three criteria and is on the borderline for two others: group level specificity and group level sensitivity. (It achieves the latter criterion when spiked samples are analysed but is on the borderline when putative (assumed positive) samples are analysed)
So Test B achieved 4 out of 5 of the criteria set by Defra, which considering the way in which it was watered down, is amazing. But what happens when it is reworked, using the protocols which the Warwick team have spent long years refining?

Using 20 samples (to prove a negative) 1000 units of bacteria and directed at a group of badgers with a background prevalence of disease which is in excess of 15 per cent, with samples collected spring/summer:
" the Sensitivity of Warwick's qPCR is 95.5 per cent and the Specificity 98.2 per cent."
 Having described the Warwick test's performance as 'the best performing' of  the 6 offered, and it having met 4 out of 5 criteria, using half the samples, one tenth of the bacteria it was designed for and at a lower assumed prevalence than optimum, what is its future?

The report concludes:
"The results of this inter-laboratory comparative study provide objective data on the relative performance of the diagnostic methods assessed. Only one test appears to be potentially suitable for taking forward to routine use. However, its borderline performance against some criteria highlight areas which may need further assessment and validation to fully understand the performance characteristics and utility of the test and hence determine if, and how, it could be best used practically.

The potential practical use of a badger faecal test will also depend on future Defra policy and how the use of this test would fit alongside other interventions and control policies. To support such decision making a cost benefit analysis maybe useful to provide more information on the cost of this approach relative to other options."
We would point out that three years into 25 year TB eradication plan, only three small areas have been licensed for indiscriminate culls. As far as we are aware, there is no follow up planned  for Somerset and Gloucestershire who finish their pilot culls next year. And apart from a small area of Dorset, there are no more in progress.

 Meanwhile several areas are vaccinating badgers, any badger they can trap, regardless of its health, a concept which Defra say they are keen that farmers accept and are 'pump priming' them to do so. BCG is  now is very short supply and the World Health Organisation has advised rationing its use - for human beings.

Cattle controls rain down in buckets and measures which made herd restrictions livable with, are being dismantled, brick by brick.

 Many farmers and certainly the general public are far more likely to embrace a cull of badgers which targets diseased animals, rather than a hit and miss affair, accounting for 70 per cent of animals in a given area but which might possibly fragment social groups.

The only driver for culling any animal should be the presence of disease. And this test used correctly, will show where that is in our increasingly  infected wildlife reservoir.
FERA estimate that in areas of endemic zTB, 50 per cent of badgers are now infected with this disease. 

 Bearing down with ever more stringent cattle controls has had no effect whatsoever in the past, and from 1996 when Lord Krebbs first referred to the use of PCR for this screening purpose, in almost two decades of repeating this futility, the number of cattle slaughtered has increased tenfold, from 3,776 to 37,735.

 The mantra driving this inaction, has always been "we cannot tell which badgers are infected. "

And now we can.

Monday, November 09, 2015

A sad story .....

We recently heard of this small alpaca enterprise and its struggle with biosecurity and zoonotic tuberculosis in its animals. The story also charts the added stress, anger and disbelief of the alpaca owners after their dealings with the government agency charged with eradicating zTB.
This body is now called APHA - the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

 The owners of Wellground Alpaca stud in Wiltshire, have listed on Facebook, a video diary telling the sad story of the havoc - [link] that TB can bring to any farm. When they attended the alpaca Futurity show in Coventry last March, and chose a new bloodline for their herd of animals, little did they realise the heartache this would cause. - [video link]

But added to the stress of losing this animal and its cria, was the shambles that is APHA, struggling to operate a TB eradication system which does not mention camelids, compassion or even common sense.

The Facebook diary reports that agency's communication was intermittent and often contradictory. Its stock of validated (but still poor) blood tests, patchy and the whole process of screening the remaining animals and for some, their destruction, far more prolonged, stressful and potentially dangerous, than it should have been.

From August to November 2015, the whole sad story is laid bare in this Facebook blog, ending with last week's entry from November 6th:
I have to admit now that I am struggling to keep this FB page going. It's hard to describe to anyone who has not gone through this. Those who have been through it will have a better understanding.

I have read how having bTB in a herd of alpacas has had terrible effects on people psychologically. Now I understand that. The problem is a culmination of events. It was bad at the beginning as you find out the horror of what has happened. Then that horror subsides as you become accustomed to your predicament. But the worst was yet to come.

The culling of animals that were not showing signs of illness is a terrible thing to have to do. Unlike sick animals being put out of their misery, they do not go quietly, your favourite babies fight you in trying not to die.And you don't want to be doing it anyway, you love them. It was beyond my imagination.

Now I don't sleep at night, reliving that awful day every night. Then the final insult to your sanity, the silent waiting for the next test after 90 days. It's a long wait.

Dreading the next test every day. It's the last thing you think of in bed at night and the first thing you think of if you wake from any sleep. Then I make myself write this FB page and I try to keep it all inoffensive.

Why? I must be mad. So if you don't hear from me for a while, hopefully you'll understand. Rob
For our readers, here are a few links to TB in alpacas, a subject which sadly, we have kept returning to.

A video clip of the effect of TB in alpacas - [link] which we posted in 2010, and this one, again from 5 years ago,  showing 'biosecurity' at shows. - [link]   

And then there are Defra's statistics for alpaca TB deaths, which at one point held a list of exclusions longer than the tables themselves. We highlighted some of the imaginative explanatory notes in this posting - link] and had a small success and a more realistic update when George met Eddy - [link] in 2013.

 The breed society (BAS)- [link] for alpacas has been, shall we say, less than enthusiastic, about promoting herd health of the alpacas it claims to support. Even when breeders are exporting the problem - [link] to other countries. Their fliers also seem to be much more keen on not culling animals which do not have TB (specificity of a test) than finding the ones which do (sensitivity) as we describe in this posting. - [link]

But all of this biosecurity advice is voluntary. Alpacas can and do move around not only being bought or sold, but to shows, agistments and matings with no records or tests for disease whatsoever. These are 'recommended' but not mandatory. - [link] And so often the result is a nightmare story like the one Wellground alpacas have described in their blog.

For more information on TB in alpacas, please visit the Alpaca TB website. - [link]

And please do not forget the reason why zoonotic Tuberculosis is such a dangerous killer - [link]
Two years on from that posting, we wish Diane Summers well in her continued struggle with this disease.

Alpacas are charming animals, but this type of encounter,

can so easily lead to this.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Statistical wizardry

The long awaited results on incidence of cattle TB, in the areas of the two pilot culls, or at least the first year of them, are now published. And indeed, Queen May, with guitar in one hand and badger in the other is crowing.

 "No statistical difference" he repeated, between a comparison block and the pilot cull areas in an article, published by Farmers Guardian - [link]. And everyone from Owen Paterson, who set the pilots up through the NFU who backed them, down to the farmers involved are 'lying'.

But can the farmers concerned - [link] be so wrong? And how can the drop of some 60 per cent in herds under restriction - {link] become so skewed after its journey through a computer?

In her paper - [link] reporting the methodology used for the analysis, Professor Christl Donnelly, of Imperial College explains:
"Herds under restriction for four or more months of the reporting period due to an incident that started before the reporting period were excluded from the analyses."
"Baseline date: The date on which the culling is initiated in an intervention area. Cattle bTB incidents prior to this date are not attributable to any effects of culling."
Now this lady and her electronic abacus have history. And unfortunately, many of us have had the misfortune to have lived and watched our cattle die, through all it has churned out. From BSE, to FMD the RBCT and now these pilot badger culls.

Whatever statistical wizardry has been employed, the first question asked of its results should surely be 'does it adequately reflect the situation on the ground?' Because if it does not, it is not only meaningless, it is misleading and wrong.

And it appears that as with the RBCT input data, a cut off date for inclusion of data from farms involved in these pilot culls, specifically excluded farms already under long term TB restriction and the results of culling the wildlife reservoir of infection, had on them.

Wizardry indeed. And if this really is the case, dead wrong.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

The longest of long grass?

Just as one small area of Dorset is licensed to do mathematically fraught cull of badgers this autumn, a new consultation - [link] appears from Defra. This closes on September 25th, so a short time frame, with we note, Environmental and Animal Welfare Campaigners at the top of a long list of consultees.

Tackling zoonotic Tuberculosis, a Grade 3 pathogen - where ever it is found - is not an option for Defra. They are signatories to International agreements which seek to eradicate this disease, to protect human health. And that includes wildlife, if it is found there.

Hence the deafening silence - [link] on this technology which allows the infected badger group to be identified with stunning accuracy. Far better to set Badgerists against livestock farmers, in a parody of the Roman arena and let them fight it out. This of course, after giving the former, the tools with which to find their prey - [link]

So what is asked in this latest wheeze which may invoke yet another delve into Queen May's pockets for a Judicial Review and  kick the control of badgers with zTB into the long grass?

This consultation is a short questionnaire which seeks to reduce the minimum area for a map drawn population control badger cull from 150 sq km to 100 sq km. Now that was the size of the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial zones, and one which John Bourne opined was too small. Subsequently the benefits outweighed the inevitable problems with occurred from cage trapping an infected population for 8 nights only, annually if you were lucky. Thus, hanging on these throw away remarks, the present cull areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire being three times that size and of longer duration.

 Together with a smaller minimum size, Defra also propose to increase the amount of landowner participation required to be accessible for culling to '90 per cent of land to be accessible, or within 200m of accessible land'. That is a complicated mathematical formula which takes no account of the presence of disease at all, and may in fact be more difficult to achieve in practice than the previous 70 per cent requirement. Who knows?

There is also a proposal to increase the time 'allowed' for culling but with Natural England giving itself the right to stop the cull at any time it thinks fit. They explain:
We want to know what you think about our proposed licence changes. They will provide more flexibility in the control of badger populations in areas where bovine TB is a problem and will increase the potential to achieve disease control benefits. The proposals would apply to applications to Natural England for a licence from 2016 onwards.
Of course if Defra used the research - [link] into the identification of infected setts, for which it the taxpayer has paid, then all of this long running farce would have to stop. And it would, as once an infected area and group of animals is identified, by international statute, Defra have to act on that information. They have no choice.

 On superficial examination, these proposals seek to tweak a flawed policy, which in turn was based entirely on a politically corrupt - [link] concept.  And our response will reflect that.

We would also question the roll of an environmental organisation such as Natural England in the licensing of what is ultimately an obligation to public health. And that concept could be explored further later this year.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

PCR - A Deafening Silence.

It's August and  MPs continue their annual bucket and spade jollies while farmers in areas of endemic zTB attempt to comply with some of the most ridiculous and imaginative obstacles - [link] ever dreamed up to prevent culling badgers infected with the disease.

But very quietly, and with no fanfare of which we are aware, Professor Wellington's paper on PCR is now published.

The project was set up in 2012, and some spurious results were offered to the then Secretary of State, Owen Paterson MP, which we quoted in this posting - [link]

They were premature and wrong, as the following outcome has shown. - [link}

 This project was commissioned by Defra, paid for by us, the taxpayer:  and has been met with a deafening silence. Not a peep out of the usual suspects, who are busy deepening the polemic between people running around with black and white cornflake packets on their heads, and farmers at the end of their tether trying to cope with ever increasing losses of reactor cattle (and sheep, pigs and goats)

In the first paper, Professor Wellington offered the following results of badger faecal samples taken in the summer:
* Sensitivity was 100 per cent

* Specificity 95.7 per cent
And she summed up the project, illustrating it thus:
"We suggest that a small number of social groups may be responsible for the majority of m.bovis shed in the environment and therefore present the highest risk of inward transmission".

This paper has now been accepted by and published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. It can be viewed on this link - [link] and here is its conclusion:
"In addition to being equally or more sensitive than live-trapping diagnostics, the qPCR assay with latrine samples benefits from being non-invasive and less logistically challenging than live trapping and testing.

Our study has identified the potential value of qPCR testing of fecal samples collected from latrines for monitoring M. bovis shedding in badger populations at the group level. This may prove to be a valuable adjunct to trapping and live testing in field studies to investigate the epidemiology of M. bovis spread in badger populations.

However, the approach could be implemented as an alternative to capture and testing when the cost of the latter may be prohibitive for monitoring disease risks over relatively large areas.

For example, qPCR testing of latrine fecal samples could be applied at the edges of the areas in which TB is currently endemic in the United Kingdom or throughout high risk areas, in order to provide spatial information on relative levels of environmental contamination, which may facilitate monitoring of spread and targeting of management."
So there we have it. A non invasive field test, offering 100 per cent sensitivity using latrine fecal samples taken in the summer, with which to identify those badger groups causing most of the upspill into other mammals, farmed or companions. A targeted management strategy.
The cost, Prof. Wellington puts at around £200 per sett tested (20 samples)

This is something many farmers have been pushing for, as contrary to perceived wisdom lobbed about by the badgerists, cattle farmers do welcome healthy badgers as part of the overall ecology.

We would also point out that Natural England has issued recent 007 licenses to an establishment in Somerset- [link] allowing the owner to euthanize infected badgers -[link] prior to releasing their 'rescued' companions. Is there a difference?

So, an open question to Dr. May, et al.
Now that Professor Wellington and her team have developed a non invasive field test to identify infected groups of badgers, and a test which has given such stunning results, would you oppose its use merely to keep alive such animals as this poor creature, below?

Sunday, August 09, 2015


If our Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are correct in their assertions that their latest toy, an interactive Map - [link] showing recent TB breakdown locations, was to 'prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis', how could they have presented it to those who are said to be the beneficiaries?

 There is restricted internet access known as Government Gateway - [link] which farmers and / or their agents, once verified, may enter with a Identification Number and a password. Those digits are unique to the registered user and this method of data exchange is compulsory now for many aspects of contact with Defra or its other agencies. It is secure. Vets have similar access to Animal Health sites.

 Government Gateway has a 'privacy policy'. The WorldWideWeb does not.

 So, musing on a Sunday afternoon - as one does - we wondered why this option was not considered for access to their new toy? Given that links which we have highlighted in a previous posting here - [link] and here - [link] give an insight into how the information is being used, by whom, and will, according to this man - [link] continue to be used, why was Government Gateway 'restricted access' not considered or given?

And if it was, but rejected, one can only assume that our posting below - [link] is correct and the consequences of Defra's actions, were entirely as expected.

The compilers of this data have specifically targeted farmers with the most recent TB breakdowns. The map shows no outbreak older than 5 years and has no record of TB outbreaks in llamas, alpacas, sheep, pigs, deer or goats. Thus blowing a rather large hole in Defra's weasel words explanations for its existence.

Farmers who are listed are thus sitting ducks. Cyber targets for bullying, intimidation, harassment or worse, courtesy of the Department charged with the eradication of zoonoticTuberculosis..

So does this map provide the 'biosecurity' which Defra say cattle keepers and vets want? We think not.

As we have pointed out, around a quarter of farms experiencing TB restrictions are not shown as the start of their outbreaks precede the 5 year window of this map. And no outbreaks in 'other species' are listed.

From past experience of Defra' s most extraordinary method of addition for overspill species outbreaks of TB, many in alpacas at least, will be 'tethered' to the original source and thus grossly understated.
For instance we are aware of one outbreak where over 100 alpacas were slaughtered. Animals sold, when traced had spread the disease to 8 or 9 other farms. But Defra's method of record keeping ensured just a single sample was listed which confirmed disease but also a single 'outbreak'. The other 8 or 9 were 'tethered' to the original farm. And a couple of hundred dead alpacas just 'disappeared.'

But back to our question. If restricted access by farmers and vets to this map was  considered - and rejected, who stands to gain from it? While many farmers are blissfully unaware of either its existence or the risk it poses to them and vets who have seen it are horrified, the Badgerist sites are crowing.

Comments such as 'Shining a light' on outbreaks are offered, as is the map being  'a Natural bactericide'.

We can read the runes, as can Defra. Using Badgerists to 'Stop the Cull'? Surely not.
Thus the question posed in our previous post, of consequences which were entirely intended by the Department of Food and Rural Affairs when publishing this thing, is repeated.

And once again, in our view, the inevitable outcome of its publication with unrestricted access, confirmed.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

(Un)Intended consequences?

We are still chewing the fat over Defra's publication on the WorldWideWeb, of recent bTB outbreaks (but none older than 5 years) and although usually erring on the side of cock up rather than conspiracy, we now begin to wonder.

 Today, Farmers Guardian published an article containing many quotes from people involved with the map - [link] and some from those on the receiving end.  Firstly from Defra, defending it publication:
A Defra spokesperson said: "We are not aware of any security risk to farmers as a result of and no personal information is accessible through this website."

The map complies fully with the 1998 Data Protection Act and 2014 Tuberculosis Order, Defra said.
When detailed views of your farm are plastered all over the internet, a spurious postmortem of dated outbreaks given and field owners named,  we would say 'security' was seriously breached.
And the fact that the 2014 Tuberculosis Order was amended last year to allow this, escapes no one.

The relevant addition, after warnings about the need to keep records of herd restrictions for three years, is paragraph 4 which states:
"Where a bovine herd loses its tuberculosis-free status the Secretary of State may publish information regarding that herd in any form that the Secretary of State sees fit for the purpose of helping other persons to protect against the further spread of tuberculosis."
And that sounds fairly innocuous - as many of Defra's statements do. And if it were merely to allow alerts to go out to immediate neighbours of a new breakdown, that would be sensible. But as for 'protecting against the further spread of tuberculosis', that is rubbish. And Defra know it.

Any farm with a breakdown older than Oxford University's 5 year window, is not listed. And according to Defra's own figures that amounts to around 1500 cattle farms. And if Defra are really serious about advertising their appalling record on eradicating zoonoticTuberculosis to the world, and think this map will help prevent the spread, why not add outbreaks involving llamas, alpacas, pigs, sheep, bison and goats?
Eradication of zTB is not an 'option' for Defra. It has signed International obligations to do so.

So we return to our title: (Un) Intended consequences. Following the ISG's ten year debacle on dispersing infectious badgers, known as the RBCT and where its arch magician described 'the political steer' - [link] which was followed diligently from its inception, we return to his inevitable conclusion.
Culling badgers would not happen.

But those pesky farmers would not go away and Defra had to keep culling their cattle. Shame on them.
So, using NFU as leverage,  Defra slashed cattle valuations, loaded  extra (cattle) regulations, all designed  to seriously hamper trade while actually do nothing about a wildlife reservoir whatsoever. 

Nothing if not tenacious, those stubborn cattle farmers tried so very hard - [link] to comply with the crazy protocols set out by a quango known as Natural England and a couple of areas actually managed to produce a pilot cull. More were planned to follow as the results on TB breakdowns in cattle and animals slaughtered in the first two areas, are reported to be pretty spectacular.

This despite monumental interference, harassment and intimidation by activists terrorists - [link] who continue to show no remorse whatsoever for their actions. And of course, they are reveling in the latest high resolution sat-nav routes to our farms, where they plan to repeat them. A quote in Farmers Guardian's article from Tiernan:
"From a point of view of advertising where the breakdowns are, you can see on the maps that have gone up so far it would be quite easy to say 'this farm' and you can put a crosshair on those maps and you can reproduce that.

"The maps will provide us – and have provided us - with a far better idea of where we should prioritise looking after badger setts because where there has been a breakdown those farms are far more likely to not only have signed up for a badger cull but more than likely will be out there shooting the badgers themselves.

There will be more attention paid to those that have had a TB outbreak."
The Badgerists websites are peppered with 'illuminating' comments about the effect they expect from the information Defra's map has provided for them. Phrases such as 'shining a light' on outbreaks and a 'natural bactericide', imply a more than passing interest in farms thus labelled. We can read the runes if Defra cannot.

 As former Secretary of State, Owen Paterson commented:
"The [cull] policy had been compromised all along, he added. “The antis placed so many obstacles to make it fail. I cannot tell looking back whether they were inside Government, outside or both."
And our use of the word 'terrorist' is not overstating the situation. Dictionary definition:
"The practice of using violent and intimidating methods especially to achieve political ends." 
But is not putting sensitive and personal data on a public website, which may give those intent on preventing lawful activities,  in fact aiding and abetting such 'terrorism'? We would suggest it could be.

And these were precisely the actions for which Camel Ebola (aka Jay Tiernan) was served with an injunction to prevent. But will it? Now that he and others can add cyber bullying to their list of credits, courtesy of  Defra, our Department of  Food and Rural Affairs, charged with eradicating tuberculosis. Even from badgers.

So in all seriousness we ask if the 'Stop the Cull' campaign could be run from inside Defra?

Events we have listed in a brief chronology on this link  include the political shenanigans known as the RBCT,  the cats cradle of cull protocol dreamed up by Natural England for badger culls and now that the inevitable consequences of publishing this map, would support that conclusion.

In fact as cattle farmers, everything we have experienced over the last twenty years, lead us to postulate that these consequences were exactly as intended.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Dear Sir / Madame....

We gave our opinion of the amount of personal bTB data now available courtesy of Defra, Oxford University and assorted 'consultees' (NFU) and published on the WorldWideWeb, in the posting below - [link]

We are also of the opinion that the consequences of publishing such sensitive data would be manna from heaven to the Badgerists. Sharing TB breakdown information with a neighbouring farm is sensible.
Anything else is just plain mischief.

 At no point when an APHA official obtains signatures to buy steal a reactor cow, following a TB breakdown, is there a box to explain that this individual farmer's data may now be shared with a third party. In fact up until last year, it was impossible to prise out of animal Health the location of any neighbouring breakdowns due to 'Data Protection' laws.

So when personal Data is shared without the consent of the person to whom it refers, and is used in such a way to cause harassment,  intimidation - or worse, is there anything that can be done?

The answer is yes.

 Initially, any complaint should be made to the person or organisation who has caused the alleged problem. And helpfully a 'how to make a complaint' template is shown on the Information Commissioners Office website. We post this in full below:
Dear [Sir or Madam / name of the person you have been in contact with]

Information Rights Concern [Your full name and address and any other details such as account (or holding) number to help identify you]

I am concerned that you have not handled my personal information properly. [Give details of your concern, explaining clearly and simply what has happened and, where appropriate, the effect it has had on you.]

I understand that before reporting my concern to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) I should give you the chance to deal with it. If, when I receive your response, I would still like to report my concern to the ICO, I will give them a copy of it to consider.

You can find guidance on your obligations under information rights legislation on the ICO’s website ( as well as information on their regulatory powers and the action they can take. Please send a full response within 28 calendar days. If you cannot respond within that timescale, please tell me when you will be able to respond.
If there is anything you would like to discuss, please contact me on the following number [telephone number].

Yours faithfully [Signature]
Another avenue of contact, if one wants to avoid this sort of harassment -[link -* may be broken] or this -[link] is the European Commission's site - [link] which deals with the 'Misuse of Personal Data'.

*The broken link on the BadgerKillers website had screen grab photographs of a farmer's buildings and farm, together with that of his neighbour.

Now to our cynical team, it is inconceivable that the consequences of putting this data up on the internet, was unforseen. And thanks to a joint effort by Defra and the NFU,  Camel Ebola, aka Jay Tiernan - [link] who the NFU are proud to have funded a High Court action against for harassment, intimidation and damage in the two cull areas, now has a high resolution, sat nav map to individual farms which have had a TB breakdown in the last 5 years.

Farmers Guardian have this week published a statement on Owen Paterson's - [link] time in office as Secretary of State. One paragraph stands out to us.

Speaking about the pilot culls, designed by Natural England  with their convoluted and costly protocols to be as unworkable as possible, Mr. Paterson remarked that the cull policy had been compromised all along.
“The antis placed so many obstacles to make it fail. I can’t tell looking back, whether they were inside Government or outside – or both,” he said.
Although Mr. Paterson has moved on, those 'obstacles' are still there, 'tuberculosis' being a name they never speak. But this latest bit of political chicanery, dressed as 'bio security' and delivered by a naive union,  is designed to arm their followers even more.

So to any cattle farmer unlucky enough to have become a victim of badger TB in the last 5 years (but not before) and who has not expressly given permission to the current Secretary of State via her agency, APHA to share details of a farm breakdown with the world in general, and Animal Rights activists in particular, to be picked over like vultures around carrion, maybe use the above template and make your feelings known?

Having successively removed the ability to control infectious badgers from farmers, taken licensing such an act 'in house',  and then refusing to take any action (even under license ) whatsoever, Defra have now made any cattle farmer unlucky enough, through no fault of their own, to suffer a TB breakdown, a sitting duck target for Animal Rights anarchists to shoot at and then chew over.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Has the NFU had the wool pulled over its eyes?

The title of this post is a strap line for an excellent letter in this week's Farmers Guardian, written by Worcestershire vet, David Denny B.VET.MED.M.R.C.V.S    (Sorry, no link)

Replying to Alistair Driver's piece on farmer frustration - [link] over a TB eradication policy which appears to have stalled, Mr Denny says: "
The NFU themselves must take much of the responsibility for “the anger of farmers over lack of progress with TB strategy” (Alistair Driver 03 July 2015). Instead of being myopic and having tunnel vision they should have looked at the whole scene. Typically they are concerned over the delay in the consultation and not the consultation itself. It being yet another layer of bureaucracy and inconvenience to farmers will have minimal impact on the overall bTB status of the Country. It is fiddling with trivia while the bTB crisis is allowed to escalate."
Our own opinion is that EU rules to be implemented this year equal much cost and bring no benefit. Post movement testing does not allow for isolation units of differing status on the same farm.
Explain that one to a buyer - and his neighbours within 3km.

Mr. Denny continues with a parallel of the rules of engagement for any war:
One of the principles of war in my day was “the selection and maintenance of aim”. Since only healthy badgers result in healthy cattle, the aim must be healthy badgers.
And criticising the politically corrupt RBCT - [link] he continues:
The NFU have been both naïve and gullible. They have been mushroomed and had the ‘wool pulled over their eyes’, by flawed and biased pseudo-science, by corruption, by brainwashed civil servants and deliberate political interference.

They have accepted all the evidence ‘carte blanche’ without reading the small print. It was always obvious that Natural England’s proposals for a badger cull were flawed and could only have been designed to deliberately fail or by those ignorant of badgers.

Frustrated and desperate farmers were morally and financially blackmailed into participating into virtually signing a blank cheque. It was a public relations disaster. Instead of having a targeted cull of the infected badgers, the NFU, like the British Veterinary Association (BVA), only having a second rate policy on offer, rubber stamped it. Now that the BVA have withdrawn their support a further roll out will be even more difficult to defend."
And Mr. Denny's opinions for the future of the livestock industry of this country?
"The 25 year eradication programme is ‘living in cloud cuckoo land’. As a result of negligence, corruption and political cowardice the level of bTB in the environment is now so great, that it will never ever be eradicated. It must however be controlled, by a targeted cull of the infected badgers."
And describing our own experience over the last decades, Mr Denny concludes:
The whole debacle has been fuelled and influenced by the animal rights lobby with their own cynical agenda. They are not concerned with the welfare of the terminally ill badger slowly dying from starvation and parasites with multiple abscesses in multiple organs. What is their agenda? Frustrated and desperate farmers require and deserve leadership and not a supine, submissive organisation. "
That is a pretty hard hitting letter, but events over the last decades reinforce Mr. Denny's views.

The 1972 Protection of Badgers Act took population control of this animal away from farmers and landowners and gave it to the Ministry. Anyone requiring a badger culled or moved for either disease or damage had first to jump through MAFF's hoops. The State Veterinary Service held a general license to comply with culling 'to prevent the spread of disease'. It issued these only after presenting a case to the Badger Panel, who met quarterly.
Speedy wasn't in the vocabulary and any licensed Badger Removal could be months, several 60 day tests and many more dead cattle after the original breakdown.
Did this serve the farmers or the badgers? Doubtful. Bureaucracy never does.
Who agreed it?.

In 1992 the Act was further tightened, and by now land available for Badger Removals had been ratcheted down from 7 km to just 1km and then only on land cattle had grazed. The badger population at this time was expanding - [link] at a rate of knots and was reported to have increased by 77 per cent.
Did this serve either farmers or badgers?
Who agreed it?

In 1997, in receipt of a £1m bung from the Political Animal Lobby, a moratorium was put on the section of the Act which dealt with licensed culls 'to prevent the spread of disease'. This is still in place.
Did that serve either farmers or badgers?
Who agreed it.

 In 2005 a consultation took place to introduce pre movement testing and Tabular valuation. The wording offered to Defra by the consultees was quite explicit - [link] They would reluctantly accept this, on the condition that a cull of infectious badgers was introduced at the same time.
It was not.

 In 2006 the licensing of badger removals and their house moves was passed to Natural England, under a 20 year lease. - [link] Did that move away from Animal Health to a quango intent on protection at any cost, serve badgers or this country's livestock farmers? Did anyone voice concerns on behalf of either group? Or ask for a rethink on the first available 5 year break in 2011? [ The next opportunity will be in 2016.]
They did not.

And during this last decade, after a raft of cattle measures designed to placate the ignorant and the badgerists, while doing absolutely nothing for the health and welfare of either cattle or badgers, this month Defra have surpassed themselves with the introduction of that Map - [link]

After a TB breakdown, a risk assessment form is filled out and shed load of paperwork arrives with instructions that Defra have 'purchased' the reactor animal (debatable - stolen would often be a better word, but let that pass) and that the breakdown information may be shared with your 'veterinary practitioner'. Nowhere does it say that my farm, and my location will be posted on the World Wide Web for all to see and possibly target.

Yes readers, dear old Camel Ebola, aka Gamal Eboe, described by the Daily Wail as a "convicted fraudster, the son of a wealthy Lebanese property developer who was born in the distinctly urban environs of Hammersmith in West London" and now calls himself 'Jay Tiernan' - [link] and who in later life has developed a love of all things badgery, may be poring over your farm details as we speak. And Defra have offered him a road map in high resolution of your farm.

Excellent. Thanks a bunch Defra ..... and your tame henchmen.

Leaving aside the inaccuracies and omissions in the map itself,  the 2014 Tuberculosis Order had to be changed to incorporate this little gem (Point 4): .
10 —(1) Where a skin test has been applied to a bovine animal, as soon as practicable after the results of the test have been read by an inspector or approved veterinary surgeon, the Secretary of State must give the keeper of that animal a written record of the results.

(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply to animals in respect of which movement is, or remains, prohibited under this Order following the test.

{3) The keeper of any animal to which paragraph (1) applies must— (a) retain the record of the results of the test for a period of three years and 60 days following the date bovine and avian tuberculin is injected; and (b) produce such record when requested to do so by an inspector.

(4) Where a bovine herd loses its tuberculosis-free status the Secretary of State may publish information regarding that herd in any form that the Secretary of State sees fit for the purpose of helping other persons to protect against the further spread of tuberculosis.
"Helping other persons to protect against the further spread of Tuberculosis" How so, when up to 80 per cent of TB breakdowns in endemic areas are caused by infectious wildlife?
When cattle in the increasing Red zone of a Defra map are nailed to floor with testing?
When Defra know that the problem is not in cattle?
And when this damn map doesn't even include 1500 farms shown on other Defra stats whose breakdowns precede the 5 year window?

Is this futile exercise to be like points on your driving license? A penalty for trying to farm cattle next to infectious wildlife which, having taken away farmer's rights to control, Defra now refuse to do?
Will records disappear after 5 years on the WWW?

Who exactly dared to breach my Data Protection and agree that little lot on my behalf?

Back to Mr. Denny's letter and the influence of our National Farming Union, credit for the map is described thus:
"Defra said the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England (TBEAG), the NFU and others ‘all provided positive input into the development of ibTB".
No consultation then? Keep it in the family?

NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said the new website would ‘help farmers find out about any ongoing bTB breakdowns near their farms which will help them make informed business decisions’.

No it won't. It is inaccurate and doesn't include TB breakdowns in alpacas, sheep, pigs, goats, bison or any other grazing animal. It ignores up to 1500 farms whose TB restrictions occurred prior to SAM data being lobbed to Oxford University to play with.
All that was necessary was the provision on a TB99 to inform immediate neighbours of a TB breakdown.

This high resolution map is dangerous and divisive and serves no useful purpose at all, except to advertise to the world what a weak and supine administration we have in this country when it comes to dealing with badgers infected with tuberculosis. Minette Batters added:
"However, there are genuine concerns over the fact that this information will be readily available to anyone, particularly given the problems farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset have faced, and we will continue to work with Defra on this project.”
Concerns? Concerns?? Publishing this personal and in some cases 'delicate' data on the World Wide Web? Available for anyone - [link] to read, identify and worse?
Didn't anyone put their half brain into gear and realise how this thing could be used?

The best thing the NFU could do now would be to invoke Data Protection, consider the Human Rights of its livestock members caught between Brock and a hard place, and lobby Defra to take the damn thing down.

But on past experience, Defra has spoken and we are not holding our collective breath.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Reverse gear?

After the announcement that the second and subsequent years of  Northern Ireland's  Test Vaccinate Remove (TVR) project would begin the 'R' bit - the Removal of badgers found to have tuberculosis, and the NI Badger Groups reported approval of the project, we were on the point of constructing a 'Dear Dominic' letter to our lot.

This may have been somewhat premature.

The BBC - [link] are now being accused of bias and the 'C' word is firmly out of bounds to the NI badgerists, who appear to insist that all the bacteria associated with 'bovine' TB is, er 'bovine'. And thus only in cattle. The project is primarily a 'Vaccination' exercise, they say.

But a BBC report, 'biased' ??  Surely not.

So what is the spokesman for the NI badgerists reported to have said, which has led to this about turn and his head on the proverbial?

 In the BBC report, NI's chief vet, Robert Huey explained the TVR policy thus:
"It's consistent with what we're doing in cattle," he said. "What we do with cattle is that we test and, if animals test positive, we remove. It's the exactly the same thing we're doing for the badgers. What I like is the consistency of the approach."
And in the original BBC report, Peter Clarke of the NI Badger Group was said to have backed it [the TVR project] because it is based on science rather than the "Gatling gun" approach that was taken in England.

Also mentioned was the same point made by the Chief Vet, (above), that a parallel action on tested badgers, to that of test and slaughter of reactor cattle appeared the 'proportionate approach'. But having received complaints from the NI badgerists, the BBC censored their strapline for Mr. Clarke to:

He said the scheme is "proportionate, has buy-in from everyone and at the end of the day, what we all want is healthy cattle and healthy badgers".

So what was wrong with that? According to social media - [link] and repeated on the NI Badgerist's web site, quite a lot. Primarily because originally it mentioned the 'C' word rather than the 'V'. They say:
To clarify, in light of a number of critical comments issued in the past few days, firstly the BBC has changed the caption that accompanied Pete Clarke's photo to indicate its actual context, "the TVR project was proportionate and had buy in from everyone". However, the video footage is still very much out of context. Peter Clarke talked extensively about the TVR project in terms of it primarily being a vaccination study but this footage was not included. We are very open to a debate and discussion on the right way forward in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, in terms of protecting badgers and tackling the issue of bovineTB in general. In order to do so, we would invite individuals to consider the following detailed analysis and statements contained on our website, whilst guarding against poor journalistic tactics that are fuelled by hidden agendas and/or simply sensationalistic in motive: and
We'll leave you to trawl their website, adorned with pictures of shiny individuals, all apparently free of Tuberculosis and waiting to be indiscriminately vaccinated, regardless of their health status.

Their supporters would rather not see the results of this ultimate protection so we will balance that up a bit.

This individual was grossly underweight and had open throat abscesses.

This one was one of a large group, culled in Devon.

All were described as 'grossly emaciated' and their post mortems showed advanced tuberculosis and pleurisy.


The RSPCA - [link] describes tuberculosis in badgers, as a 'slight wheeziness'.

Rather more than that, we would suggest.

So do badgers suffer? Veterinary pathologists say "It would be extremely naive to assume that with this level of disease, they did not." Sadly they remain unseen by their protectors. Victims of a flawed policy..

One can only hope that the 'proportionate response' of a targeted cull, where as well as slaughtering reactor cattle, diseased wildlife is also euthanased, put to sleep or whatever description is used, does not founder because of the anthropomorphic antics of a few.

After reading this reported response from NI's badgerists,  we were hopeful of some common ground in the eradication of this disease.  England's Live Test trial in the early 1990s, was said to be well supported and had no interference, and Secret World's Pauline Kidner makes no secret [pun] of the euthanasia of rescue badgers testing positive to tuberculosis.

But it seems that where tuberculous badgers are concerned, their most vocal supporters are not only in denial, they are firmly in reverse gear on any point of agreement. 

Sunday, July 05, 2015

We've been here before.

This week, Farmers Guardian - [link] has an article on the frustration felt by many cattle farmers 'from the tip of Cornwall to Durham' over the grinding inertia they are experiencing; always promised 'jam tomorrow', if......

And thus far, those 'ifs' have been increasingly brutal cattle measures which have have little or no effect on the wildlife source of the majority of their zTB breakdowns.

The 'ifs' have been accepted with open arms by our industry representatives, who have shoveled the dirt in spades, on anyone disagreeing with this 'quid pro quo' approach - [link]
Meanwhile, as we have experienced over the last ten long years, Defra have a nasty habit of grabbing the 'quid' which is offered, while keeping the 'pro quo' firmly in their pockets.

 The fragrant Liz Truss,  Secretary of State now in charge of this unholy mess, has thus far unveiled no new cull areas, but has revealed an open access database for her department, chirping that this will 'transform farming' - [link] (Credit: This speech is linked to The Farmers Forum posting.)

One of the first pieces of data to be shared on line, is APHA's map of TB breakdowns - [link] in England.

Governmental reliance of computers is legendary, as is their steadfast belief in the data which is emitted from them. But apart from publicising to the world, the appalling level of TB breakdowns enjoyed by England, which one wouldn't have thought was a particularly good idea, are these pretty raindrops accurate?

A quick check of the total outbreaks which this site logs in 2015 (2,525 ongoing + 131 cleared)against other Defra TB databases - [link]  shows a substantial discrepancy. Official Defra figures indicate farms with a TB2 restriction order in place January - March 2015 in England, range from 3,451 to 4,037. Which is some degree of magnitude adrift from the new map data. This may be explained in part by farms with longstanding, ongoing, uncleared outbreaks not recorded at all. And that is more than opaque. It is the obfuscation we have come to expect from this department.

So as we head into the second half of 2015, with lorry loads of cattle still heading for Defra's mincer, will anything change? We've been here before, and apart from nailing first cattle farmers, then their vets -[link] to the floor on cost, nothing, absolutely nothing appears to be moving on dealing with zTuberculosis in wildlife.

This situation has led the NFU's Minette Batters to remark:
“The NFU and the farmers on the ground (in potential new cull areas) have gone above and beyond. Prices are crashing and people have put their hand up and paid big sums of money because they know if we don’t take out this disease in badgers we are not going to get rid of it on farms,” she told Farmers Guardian.

But as England's cattle play football with a lethal type of ball, (left)and pay the ultimate price at their next TB test, Northern Ireland roll out their 5 year TVR - Test, Vaccinate, Remove (TVR) plan.

In areas of endemic TB, this may  include the 'R' bit - eventually. Currently in the name of 'research', all badgers are tested, vaccinated and released.

This BBC Report - [link] report quotes the government Chief vet, farmers and the N.I badgerists broadly in favour of a targeted approach. And much more detail on the project is in the Northern Ireland Assembly's presentation - [link]
This confirms that in year one (2014) all badgers trapped were tested, vaccinated and released.
This year (2015) after parallel tests on blood assays to validate set side tests (PCR?, any badger found to be infected will be removed by lethal injection.
Some 40 badgers are fitted with collars to check movement and ascertain any perturbation issues.

The cost is £7.5m over 5 years on a 100 sq km area and funded by Government.

Meanwhile, in England, a 25 year badger control, funded by farmers appears stalled and our representatives argue about 'further cattle measures'.

Shaft me once, shame on you. Shaft me twice, shame on me.  We've been here before. Twice.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The EU will be impressed.

As a contributor to the cost of GB's pile of dead reactor cattle, government has to submit an Annual Report - [link] on the eradication process to which they are signatories.

We note from the content that Defra are still using New Herd breakdowns as a benchmark in this paper, while conveniently airbrushing those herds still remaining under restriction firmly under the proverbial carpet.
 The incidence of herd restriction due to zTuberculosis in GB cattle herds in 2014 - [link] was 11.15 per cent of registered herds. In 2013, it was slightly higher at 11.4 per cent and significantly more than the figures submitted to the EU. But does it matter?

On 20th Nov 2003, Ben Bradshaw answered a Parliamentary Question - one of 538 posed by the then Shadow minister, Owen Paterson, MP - on this subject:
Column 1205W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the OIE limit of the incidence of TB in cattle necessary to maintain TB-free status trading for the UK, expressed as a percentage of the national herd. [140308]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Office of International des Epizooties (OIE) provides expertise for the control of animal diseases.

Article of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code states that for a Country or zone to qualify as officially free from bovine tuberculosis, shall satisfy the following requirements:

Bovine tuberculosis is notifiable in the country;

99.8 per cent. of the herds in the considered geographical area have been officially free from bovine tuberculosis for at least the past three years as disclosed by periodic testing of all cattle in the area to determine the absence of bovine tuberculosis.

Periodic testing of all cattle is not required in an area where a surveillance programme reveals that 99.9 percent of the cattle have been in herds officially free from tuberculosis for at least six years.
So, 0.2 per cent of herds to be TB free, and 0.1 percent of cattle tested.

And we dare to send this bilge Annual Report into the EU, begging for more money, when our level of disease is rumbling along at over 11 per cent of our herds?

When direct contacts are counted as well as reactors, the figure for cattle slaughtered in 2014 is 32,851 - 239 more animals than in 2013.

So when Defra illustrate the final page of this quaint package with a picture of a Hereford cow, quietly grazing the green grass of GB's pastures, and  mark it  'Thankyou',  she has nothing to thank our Ministry for.


They have it perfectly clear that they prefer one of these, (right) grossly infected and roaming her pastures, to keeping our cattle safe, and our ability to trade intact.

So it must be a 'Thankyou' to the European Union for sending more of our cash back to us, so that that we can kill more cattle - just like the one in the picture above.

The EU will be impressed  with GB's progress on badger vaccination and other prevarications, so 'Thankyou' just about sums it up.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

More on PCR

In the posting below - [link] we gave an overview of the recent Warwick University paper, SE3280, commissioned by Defra in 2012 at a cost of £467,353. We note that sadly, no mention of it or its stunning results have made it into the press.
And considering the indecent haste with which the badger vaccination mischief - [link] of 74 per cent efficacy, bounced around the airwaves, only to be retracted quietly in subsequent months, that is a damned disgrace shame.

 So we will cut and paste from the paper - link] which can be accessed by clicking on Final Report on the previous link. The study set out to explore a non invasive method of identifying diseased badger groups:
. "Controlling disease spread through UK cattle herds is a significant challenge as the European badger (Meles meles) has been highlighted as a wildlife reservoir that may be a significant source of continued re-infection. Determining the disease prevalence and TB status of badger populations is a demanding challenge and currently requires direct interaction with individual animals through expensive and labour intensive trapping and testing regimes. This report describes a robust and reliable non-invasive quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assay designed to detect the presence of M. bovis DNA in badger faecal samples."
Those samples were collected from Woodchester Park and matched with cultures and blood assays from cage trapped animals, over a long period of time.
" .. badger faecal samples were obtained from 12 social groups of badgers at Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire (the site of a long-term study on TB in badgers), with a recent history of trapped badgers having positive TB test results. Samples were taken throughout the year in a cross sectional style, contemporary with trapping efforts, while two additional intensive sampling periods were undertaken during spring and autumn. In addition, samples obtained directly from trapped badgers, were directly analysed by qPCR to compare against the culture status as a benchmark. "

The results were given in the paper as follows:
When comparing qPCR on faeces taken from trapped badgers with culture, the qPCR assay exhibited a sensitivity of 100% (95% CI: 30.8-100%) and a specificity of 95.7% (95% CI: 90.3-98.6).
"qPCR results varied by season, with spring and autumn exhibiting 100% and 80% sensitivity respectively against the combined trapped badger diagnostics for the same season. The degree of infection within a social group (trapped badger diagnostics) was strongly correlated with the degree of shedding as determined by faecal qPCR"
By taking samples over a long period of time, the Warwick team ascertained that the best results came from the most highly infected groups and that samples taken in spring gave the most robust results. They explain:
"We determined the optimum sampling strategy to be 20 samples taken over a 2 day period with a few days interval in the spring or early summer. With up to 20 samples from social groups taken across May and June, we had 100% agreement with the suite of other diagnostic tests in terms of identifying positive groups"
The paper explains that this study builds on the rigorous exploration of the contents of badger latrines in Defra project SE 3231 as a non invasive method of ascertaining infective status:
"It is a direct follow on from the rigorous ring trial (Defra project SE3231), during which Warwick University, the AHVLA and VISAVET processed faecal samples from 15 latrines from putative bTB negative badger social groups (Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire) and 15 latrines from putative positive social groups using real-time PCR (qPCR). All putative negative samples were found to be negative by all labs, two putative positive latrines were positive in all labs and one putative positive latrine was positive in one lab.

The probability of a false positive result for the two latrines detected in common is less than 3􏰄10-9. The methodology has been further optimised such that samples containing a ten-fold lower bacterial cell count can be detected as positive, resulting in considerably increased sensitivity (see Final report SE3231 Fig 11). The test that has been developed is implemented at the social group level, rather than the individual sample."
Also involved in this work, are the Republic of Ireland, which is providing post mortem samples to further quantify qPCR results. This work has found that respiratory shedding can also be identified using faecal samples.
"Other research at Warwick University, with qPCR of faeces and culture performed in parallel on samples taken from badgers in areas in the Republic of Ireland with high levels of TB breakdown in cattle, indicates that faecal shedding is a good proxy for respiratory shedding.

The qPCR test for faeces detected all badgers shown to be also shedding via the tracheal route (n=7). The qPCR and detection of M. bovis in tissue by culture were not significantly different, with a high level of correlation in detection by both methodologies in animals with severe disease progression (Travis et al. manuscript in preparation)."
The aim of the project was to enhance the detection capabilities of qPCR in the field.
"The main aim of this project was to maximise the sensitivity of the qPCR test for applied field detection of M. bovis in badger faeces through optimisation of latrine sampling strategies. A ten-fold increase in the limit of detection has been applied compared with the previous DEFRA project."
Sampling over a long period gave the following results:
The qPCR bacterial load data [] shows that particular social groups are disproportionately responsible for shedding large numbers of M. bovis bacilli into the environment.

The genome equivalents ranged from 1x103 to 4x105 per gram (N.B. 10-100s of genome equivalents are considered to represent 1 cfu)[22]. There is a variation in the cumulative load between social groups, as shown in the bubble plot; a small number of social groups appear to be responsible for most of bacteria shed and therefore potentially represent the greatest risk for onward transmission."
That mention of '1 cfu' reminded us of previous research - [link] which found just how little bacteria is needed to infect a calf.

So, the sampling:
"The state of infection in the social group affects the likelihood of detection: as expected, heavily infected social groups were identified positive with less intensive sampling regimes. The data clearly shows that by sampling in periods of peak badger activity, the chance of detecting a social group as positive with a fixed number of samples increases.

Spring is again clearly shown as the optimal sampling season, with the seven social groups with the highest prevalence of infection detected with 95% probability in 17 or less samples. In autumn 23 or less samples would detect the seven most infected social groups with 95% probability. In spring or autumn, all social groups could be detected positive with 95% certainty within 40 samples"
And the results:
"We have determined an optimal sampling strategy for latrine faecal qPCR testing, which when applied in the field demonstrated a 100% sensitivity, 100% specificity"
"Sampling should occur in the spring or early summer with up to 20 samples taken from each social group across two days with a few days interval."
"The faecal qPCR test has been shown to be robust and reliable with no significant difference observed between results obtained from two centres at the social group level."
And cost?
We would envisage the processing of the initial samples occurring in batches of five samples until either at least one sample was positive or all 20 samples were returned as negative

. To determine a sample as positive, a second and third replicate of that sample must be extracted. A social group will be considered positive if at least one sample is positive on at least one of the confirmatory re- extraction.

This gives a false positive rate of 1%.  The cost for a social group per season would range between £81.30 and £208.20 depending on when a positive sample was detected.

So, in a nutshell, Owen Paterson's qPCR project appears to be able to identify groups of infectious badgers, upspilling zTuberculosis  into the environment. Sensitivity and specificity is 100 per cent and the cost of this non-invasive technology is around £200 per group sampled.

So why no publicity?
Why were Defra giving false information to the secretary of State, about its capabilities?
And why are Defra and assorted fellow travelers so against identifying these highly infected time bombs?

The reason we think is that if a social group of badgers was so identified and APHA failed to act on that information, then as we have said many times, litigation for victims would not be a possibility but a certainty.

Far better to bury this work, and hope it stays buried. Keep killing sentinel tested cattle and ignore the message this canary is offering.