Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New for 2017

First off the post, is Dr. Brian May's March 2017  Symposium - [link] where the magic circle cogitate and invent new ways of trousering taxpayer cash, attempting to prove the earth is flat or in their communal cases, badgers infected with zoonotic Tuberculosis do not infect anything else at all.

There is a phenomenon which encompasses such groups. It is loosely described as 'Group Conformity', but it is also now recognised in the journal, Nature - [link] which offers a scientific perspective on such stupidity and intransigence in the face of bare facts. The paper deals with political conformity, but may just as easily describe the attitude of most of the high profile badgerists 'networking' under Dr. May's banner, 'Save Me'..

 Some snippets from the paper:
"... resistance to evidence may entail disengagement from external reality and increased inward focus."
and ...
"Defending one’s beliefs against challenging evidence is a form of internally directed cognition, involving both disconnection from the externally presented evidence and a search through memory for relevant counterarguments."
and ...
".... when people are confronted with challenges to their deeply held beliefs, they preferentially engage brain structures known to support stimulus-independent, internally directed cognition".
In other words, when people have settled on their particular beliefs, they shut off external stimuli and rely on an internal stock of arguments to validate them. They create their own bubble and dwell within it.

 Having witnessed this over two long decades, (twenty years in which GB slaughtered half a million sentinel reactor cattle) we'll go with that explanation from our co-editor..

And then there is, as we have pointed out before. the 'gold standard' of disease transmission, familiar to epidemiologists if not to many others with obscure degrees, or no scientific background at all. These are a short list of 'postulates' which, if fulfilled, it may be assumed disease transmission will occur to any vulnerable species. A 'scientist' does not need to observe such transmission happening or have recorded such an event.

 First described by Professor Koch in 1884, updated several times since, most notably by Evans in 1977 and then again by our co-editor a century after the initial finding.

This is pure epidemiology, where if certain events happen, (causality) then how transmission occurs does not need further investigation. Such transmission can be assumed. And searching Parliamentary questions aimed at just that conclusion, formed the anchor of this website in 2004. The answers we received showed that the postulates of zoonotic Tuberculosis transmission from badgers were fulfilled. There was no need for the £squillions spent on spurious research, which sadly still goes on. The recipients of this largesse are not any sort of solution, but the main part of the problem.

These early postulates from Koch upgraded by Evans 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 epidemiological sense.
 But as we pointed out in 2014 - [link] , how this Grade 3 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.

 And from the past history of the listed attendees at Brian May's Symposium, we do not expect any more sense to emerge. Only Oliver Twist's  begging bowl, for more research.

As one of our more acerbic contributors pointed out, the most helpful thing anyone could do to eradicate zoonotic Tuberculosis from our country's cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, cats and their owners -  and its maintenance host, badgers - was when Dr. May's badgerists were all safely in one place,  lock the door.
And throw away the key.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas thoughts 2016 - and a turkey to chew on.

As Christmas draws nearer, Defra has launched another Consultation - [link] document to stuff into your Christmas stocking. This is a proposal to continue a 'management' strategy for badger numbers in cull areas, after the initial four year blast.The document explains thus:
1:3 Licences have been issued under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to enable the culling or vaccination of badgers for the purpose of controlling the spread of TB in endemic TB areas. When successfully completed, these licensed intensive culls can be expected to reduce cattle TB breakdowns (see paragraph 3.2) in an area for around seven and a half years. To prolong the disease control benefits it is necessary to maintain a steady badger population at the level achieved at the end of the licensed culls.
Now that would seem to indicate that the moratorium on section 10 (2) a of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, bought and paid for with £1m bung in 1997, has been quietly lifted?
But we digress. The consultation document continues:
1:4 Natural England (NE) would need to licence a supplementary form of culling to achieve this.[ Ed- the disease control benefits of a smaller number of badgers] Continuing with badger control in this way is consistent with the TB Strategy’s adaptive, evidence-based, long-term approach to disease control and would complement the other measures within the Strategy.
The paper explains that two such farmer-led operations have now completed successfully their fourth and final year, eight areas have two or three years to run and more than 30 other areas have expressed interest in starting operations.

And then possibly the most sensible thing that the CVO has said in a long time:
The UK Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) advises that preserving over the long term the benefits achieved through these operations is important to sustain the good progress being made on the strategy.
In other words, a few disparate patches shooting badgers for 42 nights, just doesn't cut it, given the scale of government neglect of zoonotic tuberculosis in wildlife, over the past two decades.
The document explains more:
4.12 Licensed supplementary badger control must start in the year following the conclusion of a prior cull, as allowing the badger population to recover and then undertaking badger population control risks causing a perturbation effect in cattle TB incidence and undermining the disease control benefits achieved.
What we glean from this, is that further culls may be licensed on a 5 year rolling timescale, and certainly before giving the badger population time to recover and reinfect sentinel cattle. But to qualify for this, farmers must also comply with a shed load of thought-to-be-important sops to the badgerists, in the form of cattle controls, biosecurity and they must continue to jump through ever increasing NE hoops.
None of which will have the slightest effect whatsoever.

The paper needs to be completed by February 10th 2017 and the online response form can be found    on this link -[link]

Meanwhile, badger expert Rosie Woodroffe (who explains helpfully that she is a ' disease ecologist ' ?? Que? Is there such an animal?) has posted an abstract - [link] explaining that the vaccinated collared badgers playing in west Cornwall showed no different behaviour patterns from their un-vaccinated sett mates.

With respect, the ranges and rambles that vaccinated badgers take, are of less importance to a cattle farmer, than the detritus they may leave behind. And caging, jabbing and then releasing a badger already infected (but possibly not infectious at the time he is jabbed) is perhaps not the wisest of activities, especially when even a clean badger can succumb to a dose of m.bovis, after vaccination.

 Remember poor old D313? - [link] We do. And in that posting is the disgraceful preamble of Woodroffe's old boss at the ISG, explaining to the EFRA committee that at its inception, their £74m trial, from which Woodroffe is so keen to quote, had a predetermined conclusion.
He taught her well.

 In a recent visit to the Welsh Assembly, using ten words where one would suffice, our Rosie had this to say:
Professor Woodroffe: Yes, I should preface what I say, that, whilst I’m a disease ecologist, I am primarily a wildlife ecologist, so, you know, I’m not the biggest and best expert on cattle TB, except as it applies to badgers; badgers are particularly my expertise.
Nope Rosie; badgers are your bread and butter. And you'd like to keep it that way.

Read the whole ramble on this link - [link]

And you're gonna love this one, from 'disease ecologist' Rosie;
[81] Professor Woodroffe: In terms of other hosts, evidence suggests that the principle host, or the overwhelmingly most important host of TB in this country, is cattle.
That 'evidence' would be the modelling from the RBCT would it? Where two parts cattle to one part badger was the rough assumption fed into Christl Donnelly's magic box? She continues:
The evidence strongly suggests that badgers are involved.

Badgers can and do give TB to cattle in those places where that’s a serious problem. The best estimate of badgers’ contribution is that they’re responsible for about — in England, this is; in the high TB risk areas of England — 6 per cent of newly affected herds.
Rosie then rambles into the range of 'confidence levels' for that wild assumption of just 6 percent badger related cattle breakdowns - presumably leaving 94 per cent of outbreaks down to cattle?

                                                                                                                                                                                   Actually she estimates 75 per cent - but let that pass. She's got an 'ology, after all.
But please look carefully at the pi chart above.  We have more 'confidence' in the actual figures complied in Devon by veterinary professionals, who having excluded cattle contact and bought in cattle, attributed some 86 per cent of new breakdowns to - badgers.

 So this year ends with another consultation, inviting farmers to mop up government negligence in disease control - and pay for the privilege;  and more wild statements from people who make their living by keeping this gravy train going. As Bryan Hill - [link] says in his newly published book, "20 per cent of scientists say one thing, 20 per cent will contradict that and 60 per cent ask for more funding".

Merry Christmas from us all.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Defra receives an early Christmas present.

Several items in the news this week. The first, picked up by the red tops, is the construction of an artificial badger sett - [link] in Lincolnshire, which, together with dyke repairs, is said to have cost £313,000.

Sadly, it appears that the badgers didn't care for the decor, and began digging a few yards downstream of the new sett.

 The Grimsby Telegraph story explains:

The agency is trying to combat a surge in badgers along the Steeping River near Wainfleet, which are eroding the land. But locals are shocked at the cost, which could buy a five-bedroom house in the area.

Lincolnshire county councillor Chris Pain, 51, uncovered the cost. He told Lincolnshire Live:

"There are a dozen other setts dug into the banks of the Steeping, so if each gets the same treatment it will cost £4 million. "It worries me dearly as a local county councillor that we've spent nearly £313,000.00 on this one badger set which is not guaranteed to solve the problem."
And not for the first time,  Councillor Pain explained:
I believe there were also costs up to £300,000.00 on the Burgh le Marsh bypass. We have serious issues in the Louth area with Badger sets affecting roads and in my own council ward issues to roads in Firsby has already cost roughly £15,000.00 and £10,000.00 on both occasions and the current issues at Toynton St Peters will cost another £40,000.00.

" The Environment Agency refused £800,000 plans to dredge the river, which has not been done in 35 years, in favour of the badger home."
Giles Trust, vice chairman of the local drainage board, said the animals have rejected the extravagant new home because it is too damp. Mr. Trust told a national newspaper:
"They have dug a new sett half a mile away — straight into the river bank."
So, along with acres of carrots, there appears to be a surplus of badgers in Lincolnshire, which is just one county and a very short hop, away from Defra's notorious and useless zTB Edge area. The area we call a Maginot line ( and about which APHA say very little) and which is bubbling up some nasty clusters of TB outbreaks in the east Midlands. Making so much of the Low Risk area of England, while abandoning any meaningful wildlife control in the High Risk area, was always going to be a risky strategy.

Combined with unfettered movement of badgers, either on foot or delivered to order - [link] and alpacas, the Edge area has been a movable feast since it was dreamt up.  And as it moves steadily east and north, carrying with it annual increases in zTB, a wild deer has given Defra a slight headache with their plans to get the Low Risk area TB free within the next two years. While abandoning the rest of us to ever more cattle controls, insults and bio-garbage advice.

Just one county separates  the East Midlands Edge and the North Sea and now a dead roe deer, with zTB cultured as spoligotype 21 a (home range, Somerset / Avon) smack in the middle?

We found this in an APHA mid-term report on the situation in Linconshire - [link]
One laboratory-confirmed isolation of M. bovis in a wild roe deer, shot in College Wood near Wragby (estimated grid ref TF120756), by a XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in March 2016.

Carcase presented VL in mesenteric LN only. Spoligotype 21:a, typical from Somerset/Avon.

[ snip ] This case is being investigated further, with no other evidence of indigenous reservoir of M. bovis infection in the local wildlife populations. Passive surveillance in the deer population has been strengthened through intensified liaison with local Forestry Commission and private Estates for increased awareness and reporting of suspect cases and improved collection of data.

Radial testing has not yet been instigated.

No voluntary badger BCG vaccination known to have taken place.
This roe deer was dispatched in March, and allowing 8 - 10 weeks for cultures, only now in areas near where it was shot, are farmers being contacted for radial testing. So APHA's assertions of  'no other evidence of m.bovis infection in local wildlife populations', maybe somewhat premature if they haven't looked. Or more likely, were in panic mode denial about this nasty red splodge, smack in the middle of a Low Risk area, which we are confidently told will go TB free in a couple of years.

 The area concerned for radial testing is described by a farmer thus:
"The area it covers is quiet large. 7Km radius Mareham le Fen, 7Km radius of Langton by Wragby, 3Km radius 1 mile North of Woodhall Spa. The [ deer died] in March so it has taken them a long time to decide the course of action."
An early Christmas present indeed. And a wake up call.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Badger / Cattle contact

The latest chunk of zTB 'research' has been released by the ZSL (Zoological Society of London). Some of which can be viewed on this link - [link] That link deals with vaccination, and another leaked chunk deals with badgers visiting farm buildings. The direct link /to UCL is now unavailable, but we are grateful to Farming futures - [link] for posting the abstract. The project, part funded by Defra, was labelled SE3046, cost £1.4m and its aim is described thus:
Scientists’ poor understanding of the most important route(s) of interspecific M. bovis transmission compromises the control of cattle TB. Were it known how and where badgers transmit infection to cattle, specific management could be implemented to reduce transmission. Lacking such information, guidelines on keeping badgers and cattle apart are necessarily based on judgement rather than evidence of cost-effectiveness, potentially discouraging farmers from implementing effective methods, and perhaps wasting resources on ineffective techniques.
Link to the full paper: click here. [link]

Scientists may have a 'poor understanding' of m.bovis transmission, but we would venture to suggest, with the greatest respect of course, that veterinary practitioners, pathologists and many farmers have ample knowledge, combined with decades of experience.

Some twenty farms volunteered their cattle to be collared, to see if badgers came within spitting distance - if you'll pardon the expression. Now that, when you think about it, would involve an awful lot of collars. And so it proved as a letter from one participant in this week's Farmers Weekly explained:

 Not exactly what Mr. Wallis was expecting - two collars between 120 cattle?
And hardly the coverage described in the paper which was some 400 collars:  would they be virtual collars, and modeled? Who knows. Of  Mr. Wallis's 120 cattle, just two wore collars.

But the most galling to any cattle farmer, is his mention of the release of sick animals to up-cycle infection to any mammal crossing their paths.

He also mentioned the filming of these animals, playing with footballs.  Not sure how helps control a zoonotic grade 3 pathogen - but hey, it keeps the ball rolling. Mr. Wallis comments:
" They were very pro badger and had a line of students to do all sorts of surveys with the badgers including giving them footballs to play with. They are given government funding to research a project that has the conclusion all mapped out before it starts. This cartwheel of funding keeps them employed without sorting the problem or finding a permanent solution."

The LZS paper, also published as a letter to Veterinary Record was inevitably picked up by the BBC, - [link]The Guardian - [link] and many other publications. But few mentioned that the contamination of that shared environment, was likely to be a continued source of infection to cattle herds under TB restriction, tested every 60 days, with reactors removed.

For that we have to rely of a veterinary and epidemiological view, offered in Vet. Record (Nov. 5th edition) by Stephen Davies BVetMed, MRCVS.

 Mr Davies points out epidemiological facts (which we have reported on here - [link] and which our Parliamentary questions also confirmed)  that badgers infected with zoonotic tuberculosis are very adept at contaminating on a nightly basis, the environment in which they live. And that contamination is likely to remain long enough to infect cattle.

And Mr. Davies also points out that Woodroffe's paper reports a significant one liner, missed in the headlines:
".... transmission may typically occur through contamination of the two species' shared environment'.
This is concept many veterinary practitioners working in the field, have no problem with.
In fact as long ago as the early 1970s the results - [link] of the late William Tait's cattle carnage through west Cornwall, were mentioned in the annual report of the CVO.
Six monthly testing, severe interpretation of tests - all now coming to the High Risk Area, according to Defra's latest 'consultation' paper - and a total waste of time and taxpayer's money. The only thing the reports show, which reduced TB incidence in cattle in the 1970s was a clearance of badgers.

But we digress.  Mr Davies' letter continues:
I have long advised farmers that if they are feeding concentrates to cattle at pasture, they should at least turn troughs over afterwards, to prevent badgers licking in the troughs for any leftovers. I also advise that salt licks and mineral licks (especially molassed formulations) should never be placed on the ground. An infected badger licking the surface, potentially leaves a dose of bacteria for the first bovine to ingest afterwards.

And the impact of dead or dying badgers on environment shared with curious cows is graphically illustrated by Adam Quinney.
He points out that after that picture of his heifers investigating that dying badger was taken, these cattle suffered a breakdown. 

Stephen Davies finishes his letter with a word of support for practising veterinary surgeons and farmers, and a plea that their knowledge of experience of this disease (zoonotic Tuberculosis) which has been built up over many years, "and yet seems to be ignored or dismissed by policymakers."

By ignoring this pool of veterinary knowledge, Mr. Davies feels one tool has been left out of the box.

And we would add that by ignoring the epidemiology of the last 40 years concerning infectivity of both badgers and cattle, relying on mathematical models - [link] fed a raft of assumed data, coupled with incredible naivety of the 'scientist' of the day, this country faces the real possibility of further trade bans. And many, many more dead cattle.

The Parliamentary Questions tabled a decade ago, were unequivocal in their answers and this is arguably the most important one.
We asked what was the reason the Thornbury badger clearance had kept that area's cattle clear of TB for over a decade.

The answer needs to be inscribed over the door of every building occupied by this most political of government departments.:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]
As a postscript, we think that the area of the twenty farms (including that of Mr.Wallis and his two collared cows) may be subject to 'environmental screening' - [link] which could involve Warwick's qPCR, - amongst other things - in its £930,000 grant. How very odd then  that Defra reject out of hand this method of non invasive screening for badgers, and yet rely on its results for other species? But as Upton Sinclair remarked:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We are grateful to both Mr. Wallis and Mr. Davies for their permission to use their letters and comments.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Complementary pieces.

This week a couple of complementary pieces have emerged from the mainstream media. No doubt a lot of 'twittering' will be caused but nevertheless, it's encouraging to see a spade being called, err, a spade.

The first is a two page spread in the Mail on Sunday - [link] with a strap line describing badger vaccination as a 'catastrophic failure'.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in key vaccination trials, the number of infected cows has not reduced at all but has in fact risen dramatically. Yet new Defra figures show that in the 12 months to the end of July 2016 the number of cattle culled in Wales as a result of TB was 7,380, an increase of 25 per cent on the same period to July 2015. West Wales is a bovine TB hot spot, but for the past four years badgers in the area have not been shot – they have instead been injected. It is a key experiment for the vaccination programme.
That is shocking, horrific and completely unacceptable. But the figures are incorrect. Defra statistics show that cattle slaughtered in Wales, during the year to July numbered 9492, an increase of 38 per cent, over the previous year's total of 6872. This despite vaccination of badgers, intensive action areas, annual testing and a whole load of biosecurity advice.

 Indiscriminately vaccinating a group of animals of which up to 50 per cent are likely to be already infected, is tantamount to madness. But fortunately, that particular bandwagon  exercise has ground to a halt as supplies of BCG are very limited - [link] and needed for human beings.

As is often the case with media pieces on this subject, some fairly wild, headline grabbing adjectives have snuck into the Mail's story: badgergeddon' being one of the least offensive. The point missed of course, is that our ministry and its henchmen have placed livestock farmers on the front line against this disease, couched as a 'population reduction', but sold to the gullible as a farmer v. badger war.
Defra have offered little help in the form of PR.And made no mention at all of the massive increase in population of badgers since ultimate protection was offered, or of the seriousness of the Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen  which is now endemic in them. 

For that we must go to the second article, which comes from Pro Med, via The BBC website - [link] and tells the story of a vet, working in Africa who contracted 'zoonotic Tuberculosis' from the animals with which he worked.

His story has familiar echoes of misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment in the early stages of the disease, as UK doctors and clinicians struggle to bring their 50 year old text books up to speed.
 'Unpasteurised milk', 'foreign travel' and 'drug shelters in inner cities ' are still top of the list of risks offered by Public Health England. As are drugs tailored to the treatment of  m.tuberculosis but not to m.bovis.

There is of course little or no mention of the endemically infected wildlife which successive governments have allowed free travel permits over our land and gardens.

 And finally, from the BBC website, an X ray of the infected lung of  vet, Jonathon Cranston.

This is zoonotic or 'bovine' tuberculosis. And this is what it can do to a healthy young adult.

This country is playing Russian roulette, not only with our sentinel cattle, but with our population: offering them increasing chances of exposure to the biggest killer of human beings on the planet.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Defra Consultation

Yet another consultation - link on whether they should test / kill more cattle is in Defra's melting pot, with a closing date of November 9th.

This one suggests gammaIfn to be used more widely in the High Risk Area, more severe interpretation situations and other niceties - all to do with cattle.

There is also a second document - [link] which calls for views on how to save Defra money, under the guise of a simplified testing regime. This document proposes to abandon trace testing, rationalise contiguous tests, extend 60 day Short Interval tests to 90 days, but test every herd every 6 months.

Now it may be stating the obvious, but during the last decade all this testing has produced sweet FA except an increasing pile of dead cattle. GB's reactor numbers are still nudging 40,000 per year and we are in serious danger of being a trade leper once again.

And, more importantly, as we have said so many times, synchronised cattle testing, brutal interpretations etc, etc, have been done before. In the 1970s by the late William Tait - [link] and repeated in Ireland in 1988, by Liam Downie - [link] And they failed. Because the reservoir of infection was not in cattle, but in badgers. And until that is treated with the respect it deserves, culling more cattle, more frequently will achieve nothing at all.

 Already the NFU are challenging Defra, suggesting that one measure concerning Finishing Units has been imposed, without 'consultation'. They have yet to realise that the description is hollow. Defra have made up their minds what they would like to do, and will merely 'consult' before doing it anyway.

 Nevertheless, the NFU overview is on this link.

This follows Defra's previous  tranche of carnage - [link] reported in April by Farmers Guardian, in a very readable format which includes those Finishing Unit restrictions.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Passing the buck?

News this week from the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) scheme, and reported in the Vet Times - [link] that Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking to add zTB (zoonotic Tuberculosis) to their list of non-statutory diseases screened for under the scheme.

"Farmers who take part in the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) bTB Risk-Level Certification Programme – available through existing CHeCS cattle health schemes – will also be able to market their animals as being at lower risk of contracting or passing on the disease.

As well as reducing risk of infection, the initiative – which has the backing of Defra and the Welsh Government – could present risk-based trading opportunities for farmers selling cattle from regions with a high risk of the disease, or those wishing to minimise exposure from bought-in animals.
It also offers recognition for efforts to help Government and industry strategies aiming to control infection."
This idea of shafting a statutorily notifiable disease onto a voluntary body dealing with non-statutory cattle diseases was first mentioned by the Chief vet, Nigel Gibbens - [link] in Farmers Guardian earlier this year, where he said:
“Defra is currently working on a new scheme which will allocate a TB risk score to every herd in the country. The idea is to incorporate this into the Cattle Health Certification Standards scheme to give buyers more knowledge about the cattle they are buying.

“The two-tier market is already happening,” added Mr Gibbens.
“Risk-based trading will just make it better informed. Forty per cent of holdings in the HRA have never gone down with TB. If people engage in risk-based trading it allows those farmers to benefit from their good practice, although some people are just very unlucky because the environmental challenge is so high.”

Very unlucky?!
How on earth can Defra lump a disease over which farmers have had no legal control whatsoever, if it trundles in on a wildlife vector (as around 90 per cent of incidents do in the HRA) with diseases like BVD, IBR, Johnnes and Leptospirosis?

And where does Mr. Gibbens get his 'forty per cent of holdings' never had TB from??
Obviously not the same place from which this information came, or he would see that in the South West heartlands of his quaintly labelled 'environmental' zoonotic Tuberculosis, only a handful, some 2- 5 per cent of dairy herds have never had a breakdown since 1990.

With thanks to Bovine TB information - [link] for the AHVLA chart, dated 2013.

We would also point out, with the greatest of respect, of course, that:

It wasn't farmers who trousered £1m in 1997 and stopped all badger culling "to prevent the spread of disease", as licensed under the Protection of Badgers Act: Section 10 (2) a.

It wasn't farmers who then employed the most political of all scientists and allowed him free rein with a £74m so-called trial, which he was proud to say, had a predetermined conclusion.

And it wasn't farmers who oversaw a spread of this 'environmental challenge' as Gibbens so quaintly describes TB in badgers, from 6 or 7 hotspots in 1996 to the unholy mess we see today.

So ‘very unlucky’ doesn’t even begin to cover this complete abdication of responsibility by Government, which has overseen cattle slaughtered as reactors to TB rise from 3,881 in 1996 to 36,000 in 2015.

And that isn’t ‘very unlucky’ at all. It’s Governmental negligence on a grand scale."

So this summer, rather than address the spread of disease through wildlife reservoirs, Defra appear to have put a great deal of effort into passing the proverbial. Having shafted control of the badger population to disparate, widely scattered groups of farmers, they now attempt to foist fictional control of a statutorily Notifiable disease - a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen - into  the hands of the voluntary Cattle Health schemes.

Putting us all on a scale of 1 to 10 won't solve the problem, or stop its spread through the wildlife.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Exports: load up, fire, aim.

Yes, we know that sequence is the wrong way round, but in the case of APHA / Defra and anyone in charge of our exports, it is most definitely the way to go. Blindly firing. And putting international trade at risk.

Even though they are well aware that the skin test on some class of animals (alpacas) is about as rubbish as it gets, and even though they also know that a much more accurate - [link] test is available.

 This time, following on from an international incident concerning the export of alpacas to Norway - [link] (with zTB), calves to Holland [link] (with zTB), we have now exported another infected alpaca (or more) to Belgium. Cultures from this animal, exported last year, were described thus:
The TB isolate obtained by the Belgian Government was of a spoligotype whose ‘homerange’ (geographical area in which it is most frequently recovered) in the UK includes the county of origin.
So made in the UK. In fact due to the 'regional accents' - [link]' carried in the DNA of strains of m.bovis, identified down to the county it originated from.

Are we stark, staring mad?

After Brexit - or even before that -[link] - our trading partners owe us no favours whatsoever. And will be looking for any chance to block our exports, without the department responsible for Animal Health offering this type of opportunity on a solid silver platter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Several papers this week have reported the ongoing problems of badger earthworks in an ancient churchyard. The details do not make for easy reading. But they do show quite clearly just how far these exalted animals have risen. Cult status has been awarded and with the Ancestral home given a grade 1 listing, they have a value way above that of mere mortals, it seems.Even in death.

This desecration was reported by the local newspaper in May 2105 - [link] but obviously nothing was achieved by approaching Natural England to move the culprits on. And then there is the thorny question of where exactly to move them to?

 This week, after a long, hot summer, the problem has re-emerged with a vengeance. The Huffington-Post -[link] reports that skulls, pelvic and leg bones have been unearthed, some belonging to children,  in a heap of excavated soil some 2.5m wide and 1m high.
'If it was rats they would have dealt with it straight away’
was the accompanying strap line.

The Church is the 13th century All Saints Church, Loughborough, Leicestershire.The occupants of this sacred ground would have been from the surrounding area. Their remains now scattered and gnawed.

Friday, September 02, 2016

'Bovine' Tuberculosis - A Political Disease

This week and wonderful film was released, telling the story of one herd of beautiful Longhorn cattle, and their battle with so-called 'bovine' TB.

 Instigated and partly narrated by their owner and breeder, the film tracks over thirty years of joy and success, ending in death for these cattle and heartbreak for their owner.

 It also shows the indomitable spirit of many farmers, who try, and keep trying, against all the guff thrown around, to find a way through to a sensible solution for control of this zoonotic disease.

And finally it shows how many of our universities and civil service, while appearing to help, are actually in the grip of 'group conformity', a phenomenon explained here - [link]
"Within the group scenario, therefore, there is no premium in conveying accurate information. It is far more important not to diverge from a narrative supported by high-prestige persons. Personal prestige depends on conformity with the peer group view. It is conformity, not the truth, which fosters prestige.

Conformity is everything: facts are optional."


With grateful thanks to Mrs. Quinn and the film crew, for this wonderful but sad portrait of livestock farming in parts of Great Britain, today. From Stockyard of the world, to graveyard, in just three decades.
That is the legacy successive governments have left.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Marmite' anyone?

Just occasionally - well more than that, if we're honest - we feel we inhabit a different world from some high profile 'naturalists'. For them reality and Beatrix Potter collide, particularly when it comes to badgers.

 Last week, the Telegraph - [link] carried a piece on animal tracking described by Simon King. In extracts from his new book, the general public are encouraged to go out and seek signs of badgery behaviour.
Mr. King informs his readers that:

Badgers leave a characteristic footprint that has a “square” overall shape. On harder ground, they may leave nothing more than a few claw marks but even these, with their even spacing and fairly parallel alignment, are distinctive. In addition to individual prints, badgers create well-worn tracks or paths around their territory.
And then he goes on to tell his readers about this animal's ablutions, and in particular,  its toilet training:
Badgers are almost unique among European wild mammals in their habit of digging pits into which they deposit their dung. Because several animals from a badger clan use the dung pits communally, you frequently find several different textures and colours of fresh dung in the same shallow pit. The animals also have scent glands which they use to mark the ground (and each other).
Now not to put too fine a point on it, these piles of badgery droppings, parked conveniently in their shallow latrines, along with urine and scent marks, have proved useful to many scientists - [link] in tracking a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, known as mycobacterium bovis.

This bacterium ( the subject of this blog) is the cause of a lethal, slow burn disease called Tuberculosis.

And being a zoonosis, humans and indeed any mammal can contract it, particularly if they are in the habit of sniffing faeces or other material containing it. Such is the influence of this detritus on the cattle skin test, that cattle farmers are beaten over the head with bio security advice to fence off such latrines, this to prevent cattle coming into contact with them. To approach one and sniff, is all too often the equivalent of a bovine death warrant.

For human beings, handling anything near these latrines requires the wearing of protective clothing, masks and gloves. And testing such material requires that the laboratory concerned has Grade 4 clearance - [link] and bio security extending to years of screening tests, for its workers.

Mr. King however, thinks that this product, excreted by one of the most lethal weapons of cattle destruction on the planet, is rather nice. He explains that the smell of a latrine contents:
".. is easily detected by the human nose and is reminiscent of Marmite. I rather like it, but, like Marmite, it’s not to everyone’s taste."
After that description, if you've still got the stomach for it, there's more here - [link] including a picture of the charming interviewer, Boudicca Fox-Leonard, sniffing a chunk of otter poo.

 This man's advice should come with more than one health warning.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

End of the Summer term.

It seems that around July and August every year, a raft of papers are produced, their authors gad off with buckets and spades, the BBC media very excited,  and Defra line up more cattle for the chop.

This year is no exception, with our old friend Ellen Prook-Bollocks Brooks-Pollock - link gearing up her computer to examine risk factors for TB transmission. A radio broadcast by the BBC last month, quoted her co author Prof. Matt Keeling of Warwick University who explained:
" New research suggests that the spread of TB in cattle can only be controlled if more radical measures are adopted. Culling of entire herds, more testing and cattle vaccination are needed to reverse the spread of the disease. The lead researcher told BBC News that the study also confirms research that shows culling badgers will at best slightly slow down rather than stop the epidemic. The results have been published in the journal Nature. Even if you could cull large numbers of badgers it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on the number of TB cases in cattle."
Prof Keeling's paper was published in Nature, and cited whole herd slaughter, an option rarely undertaken - link in the UK where a wildlife reservoir remains to infect.

 Defra Minister George Eustice, MP commented on the report:
"What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country."
This view was echoed by the department's chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Boyd. He said that whole herd culling "would probably result in a rapid decline in the cattle industry in areas where TB occurs".

Prof Keeling and his co-author, Ellen Brooks-Pollock from Cambridge University, said that Mr Eustice and Prof Boyd had misunderstood the point of the study.
 In a joint statement they said: "Whole herd culling was investigated as one extreme but was never put forward as a viable policy option." 

Err, right. I think we understand that. If all the cattle are dead, there's nothing to test, and thus no TB reactors? Is that about right? Forget the infected badgers, now upspilling a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen into alpacas, sheep, goats, cats, dogs and in some cases, their owners - link

But we think this quote from Professor Keeling, is a classic:
The model was not able to specifically look at the impact of culling badgers, because there is not enough information about their location, infection and movement.

However, the team included an all-encompassing factor to represent infection from environmental effects which includes wildlife.

"Even if you could cull humanely and effectively large numbers of badgers, it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on controlling the number of TB cases in cattle,"
Do you understand that? First Prof Keeling says their model cannot look specifically at the impact of culling badgers, and then promptly and in the same sentence, reaches a negative conclusion for so doing?

Only a scientist with an electronic abacus towing a hefty research grant, could come to such a conclusion.

How much better to look back at the effect - link brutal cattle measures, slaughter and movement restrictions had in the past. Zilch. Just shed loads of cash wasted.
And a heap of dead cattle.

The second paper was published in the Ecologist, but widely reported. It tracked badgers with radio collars, and the conclusion was that they do not kiss cattle.
This is a repeat of 'research' - link done over a decade ago, but still the gravy train rolls on.

An extract from the Telegraph - link to the latest Ecologist paper explains that transmission must therefore be 'environmental'.
Well, yes. As an infected badger can produce up to 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) of m.bovis, the bacteria which may cause zTuberculosis, in just 1ml of infected urine, that is no doubt 'possible'. (That's scientific speke for - it happens)

Add to that their charming habit of scent marking territory, including our cattle feed and grazing ground, as well as general incontinence, dribbling up to 30ml of the stuff around our farms, and yes, we have a problem. And that's from only one end. Sputum from lung lesions and pus from suppurating bite wound abscesses add to that 'environmental' burden. As does the fright / flight spitting and spraying this animal indulges in - when not anesthetized to be fitted with a GPS collar..

And other research on record - much more useful in this case, confirms that just 1cfu is enough to infect a calf, and 70 cfu an adult bovine. More on that in this post - link

But there is now more on that 'environmental' burden involving the the lowly earthworm - link
A group of scientists, plastered Lumbricus terrestris (that's a fancy name for an earthworm) with cattle faeces spiked with the M. bovis BCG strain Pasteur to carry out two separate experiments. They explain;
 The dissemination, the gut carriage and the excretion of M. bovis were all monitored using a specific qPCR-based assay. 
Leaving aside the screening was using qPCR, which Defra insist will not work to identify m.bovis, the bacterium was found to be  carried through into soil for up to four days.

Now, here's thought. TB bacteria is rarely, if ever, found in cattle faeces. Any lesions are usually safely walled up in lymph nodes. But that paragraph and link in our post above details the amount of the euphemistically named 'environmental' burden heaped into grassland by infected badger detritus.

 And what are badgers preferred food? Our old friend, Lumbricus terrestris.
Or earthworms to you and me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wales - FUW reports a 37 per cent increase in TB in one year.

The Farmers Union of Wales (FUW) have issued a press release, urging the new Welsh Government to work with the farming industry to address the issue of TB in wildlife.

 Speaking during the FUW’s Annual General Meeting, FUW President Glyn Roberts told members that an average of 36 cattle were culled every working day due to TB, representing an increase of 37 percent on the previous 12 month period, and an eight hundred percent rise since 1996.
“The pattern in the north Pembrokeshire Intensive Action Area, where millions have been spent on vaccinating badgers over the past four years, is no different”,Glyn Roberts told those present, referring to the latest scientific report into the impact of badger vaccination in the area, which found there was no improvement in TB rates in the area despite more than £3.7 million having been spent on vaccinating 5,192 badgers in the area since 2011.

We therefore look to this new government to finally grasp the nettle, and accept the basic facts which our Chief Vet has made clear to successive governments,” he said.
Glyn Roberts also highlighted the experience of other countries where cattle TB controls, which are less stringent than those applied in Wales, quickly eradicate the disease and restore TB-free status, citing the example of Germany. The badger population here is proactively managed, and numbers are reduced by around 65,000 a year.
“Their badger population [in Germany] is not endangered by any stretch of the imagination - and nor is it infected with TB.”
Glyn Roberts said such patterns are repeated around the world, and that scientific evidence gathered from across the EU and the globe showed that TB cannot be eradicated while the epidemic in wildlife is ignored.
“This truth, and the distressing figures in terms of the numbers of cattle being culled every day, is something we will be highlighting over the coming months, and we hope Welsh Government and those from across the political spectrum will work with us in helping educate the public about the severity of the situation, just as we have done in the past,” he added.

Pictured: (L-R) Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Professor Christianne Glossop, FUW Deputy President Brian Thomas, Environment and Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary Lesley Griffiths and FUW President Glyn Roberts

Saturday, June 04, 2016

A (nother) new test for TB

Making the headlines this week, is another new screening test - [link] for zTB. This is a blood test, with results available in 6 hours, and aims to find TB bacteria circulating in blood, ahead of any lesions forming.

The test has been developed by a team at The University of Nottingham led by Dr Cath Rees, an expert in microbiology in the School of Biosciences and Dr Ben Swift from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

The researchers have used this new method to show that cattle diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis (bTB) have detectable levels of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - which causes this bTB - in their blood. The research: ‘Evidence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteraemia in intradermal skin test positive cattle detected using phage-RPA' has been published online in the peer reviewed medical journal Virulence = [link]

The full paper is behind a paywall. More information is available from the authors.
Contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

 In her introduction Dr Rees explains: “This test delivers results within 48 hours and the frequency in which viable mycobacteria were detected in the blood of skin test positive animals, changes the paradigm of this disease."
This new, simple and inexpensive blood test detects very low levels of mycobacteria in blood using a bacteriophage-based technique developed by The University of Nottingham. The group has patented an improved version of the method that delivers results in just six hours. More recently ‘proof of principal’ experiments have shown that this is even more sensitive. This is currently licenced to a spin out company, PBD Biotech Ltd.
This test uses amplified DNA, and is explained by the authors thus:
Bacteriophage amplification technology was developed 20 years ago as a method to rapidly detect and enumerate slow growing pathogenic mycobacteria. In addition it can be used as a tool to rapidly detect antibiotic resistance and to investigate mycobacterial dormancy. The assay detects the growth of broad host range mycobacteriophage, capable of infecting a wide range of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic mycobacteria.
Any diagnostic test with a decent pedigree, is welcome, and having heard the guff circulating about the sensitivity of the internationally used skin test, many will latch on to these discoveries like the Holy Grail.
But tests such as this for cattle, would still be supplementary to the primary skin test. Just like Gamma ifn - [link] and Enferplex - [link] and even qPCR - [link]

But only a scientist on a mission could come up with the following two statements - and keep a straight face:
"Routine testing for Bovine TB uses the Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin (SICCT) skin test for M. bovis infection and all healthy cattle are regularly tested this way. However, it is known that this test is only 90 per cent sensitive at best and misses many infected animals."
and then in describing the test results:
"The data we are getting has taken the scientific community by surprise. In our paper we show that when blood samples from (45) skin test negative cattle were tested for M. bovis cells, all the samples proved negative."

Dr Rees then explains that the test showed:
"viable Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex bacteria (MTC) were detected in 66 per cent of samples (27/41) from skin test positive animals."
So this test agreed 100 per cent with the 45 skin test negative animals and 'found' 66 per cent of the skin test positives? We're trying to get our collective heads around that one, but suggest the remaining skin test positives would be NVL at post mortem. That is, both the skin test and this blood screen, had, in some cattle, picked up mycobacterium bovis circulating ahead of lesions. Dr. Rees explains:
“More excitingly, using our new more sensitive six-hour method, this figure is even higher - all animals with visible lesions were MTC positive, and even 26 out of 28 animals where the lesions were not yet visible also were positive suggesting that M. bovis is commonly found in the circulating blood of infected animals. Using our bacteriophage-based test the hope is that we can help improve herd control by finding animals at the early stages of infection and helping farmers control outbreaks of bTB more rapidly. ”
The Nottingham team are working with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, National Animal Disease Center, to set up the first animal trial using the blood test to detect M. bovis in the blood of experimentally infected animals to determine exactly how soon this test can detect infection.

Dr Rees said: “The test also offers the potential for new, better tests for other farm animals. We are directly detecting the bacteria and so the method will work using blood samples from any animal species – so far we have detected mycobacteria in the blood of cattle, sheep and horses, but it could also be used for deer, goats or llamas. Not only that, we can detect any type of mycobacteria, we have use the same method to detect other diseases, such as Johne’s disease, not just bTB.”

Why only this suggested use on 'farm animals'? What about infected Badgers? Don't mention the 'B' word.

It could be useful. Just like non invasive qPCR on badger latrines and sputum could be useful. But it won't be used, as the responsibility for eradication of this Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen then becomes Defra's, not that of a farmer with a cage or a rifle trying to jump through Natural England's increasingly  convoluted hoops.

Finding cattle exposed to mycobacterium bovis, presently screened by the Intradermal skin test, and confirmed by this method is fine. As long as continuing  upspill from wildlife is then excluded. Otherwise, as now, we will shoot the messenger in ever increasing numbers, while gaining nothing at all.

Our take is that this test correlated very snugly with the results of the skin test, on the cattle which were examined.  

The paper is available to purchase on this link - [link]
For further information, please contact cath.rees@nottingham.ac.uk

Sunday, April 24, 2016


In our last posting we explored the bizarre - [link] and ridiculous release protocol for badger rescues, illustrating the post with a pic of a tattooed stripey which had expired in West Wales. Where had he come from? we asked. A member of Facebook asked the same question and this was the reply from Secret World.
Our badger rehabilitation and release policy follows the protocol agreed by wildlife charities, farming groups, specialist scientists and MAFF (now DEFRA) in 2001.

The policy followed by Secret World is the best possible, as advised by these scientists, to minimise the risk of disease transmission and ensure good animal welfare. We work extensively with private landowners to ensure they understand our policies, that any release sites are suitable and that we have their full consent for any releases. You can read more about our release process on our website.

The badger photographed was a cub released in 2011. The cub was tested three times for bovine TB, as is our policy, and was vaccinated before release.
Actually, as our Parliamentary questions showed, release protocol dreamt up by these charities, was not approved by Defra, but let that pass. That assertion was contradicted in a later paragraph from SWorld.

So where had this rescue (now dead) originated? Secret World had not answered at first, but later volunteered this gem:
"It came from the 'low risk' area of Essex. Other animals in that group originated in areas of similar risk".
So a T.O.W.I.E 'rescued' in Essex, reared and tattooed in Somerset, and released in 'someone's' orchard in West Wales? Are they short of badgers in that part of the UK? Is it TB free?
What a mind blowingly stupid idea.

The question was posed as to the geographic spread of released badgers from these centres. The answer:
"I am not in a position to discuss exact sites for releases, not least to maintain the confidentiality of those landowners who work with us.

The aim is to release badger cubs (not just from Secret World, but from all rescue centres around the country) as close to where they were found as possible. This is for both genetic reasons, as well as being good practise for disease control (not just TB)."
It's just about as far as you can get  from Essex to West Wales without getting wet feet, but let that pass.
The answer continued:
"The distribution of release sites depends on availability, but broadly mirrors the population of badgers across England and Wales. So more badgers are found and released in the south west of England than anywhere else. All adult badgers go back exactly where they are found.

Most cubs rehabilitated at Secret World are released in the south west of England. When we decide which cubs to release where, this is based on a risk assessment that includes consideration of where they came from and where they are going."
Mmmm. But 42 11 W, an Essex badger, ends up released in a TB hotspot in West Wales? Which hardly fits the described 'protocol' does it?

 Secret World - [link] is registered with the Charity Commission - [link] documents from which, show its income in 2014 as around £1.15m. Better than cattle farming then?

Now it seems pretty ironic to us, that having seen an increase - [link] in main setts of 103 per cent in England over the last few years, combined with a disease level of around 50 per cent (FERA figures) in the South West of England, (an area which is presently putting together population reduction strategies to control a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen) that such outfits as Secret World should be introducing more badgers into the area from Lord knows where.

Anyone want a badger or three? Just contact Secret World. We are sure they'll oblige. Possibly for a fee?

From their comforting blurb, for the dead badger with the tattoo 42 11 W, obviously the only way should have been Essex. But not so: he was adopted by a landowner in West Wales, and died there.

Credit: Facebook.com/BadgerCullPage

Saturday, April 09, 2016

You learn something new every day.

Long years ago when we were phrasing up Owen Paterson's Parliamentary Questions on zTB, most were crafted already knowing the answers. We just wanted the rest of you to know too.

But this week, we have learned that on one subject we did not probe far enough.

 And that subject is the translocation, following the rescue - [link] and release of badgers.

So as this week saw the further ratcheting down on cattle and extra testing, we must update our readers on that omission.

 In February 2004, Mr. Paterson asked this question and received the following answer:
6 Feb 2004 : Column 1109W
Mr. Paterson:" To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the sensitivity of the test used on translocated badgers is in (a)positive response and (b)negative response. [150583]

Mr. Bradshaw: The test, which is generally used, for the detection of TB in translocated badgers is a test for antibodies (the Brock Test). This is generally accepted to have a low sensitivity (the ability to detect diseased animals). However it is difficult to give accurate values for the sensitivity because euthanased animals are not always subject to laboratory culture.

Where a badger translocation is carried out under licence (from Defra or English Nature) each individual badger is tested three times. If any of the three results are positive, the badger is euthanased. Any other badger that has been in contact with the positive testing badger is also euthanased, regardless of the results of its own tests

Where an orphaned or previously injured badger is translocated by an animal centre or similar body they follow a voluntary code of practise (drawn up by the RSPCA, National Federation of Badgers Groups and Secret World Wildlife Rescue).

Any animal to be relocated is tested three times and, if it tests positive, is euthanased.

This protocol does not advise in the destruction of badgers who have had contact with a test positive badger.

It should be emphasised that this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra. "
But that is only half the story, as TB Information - [link] has discovered. On the site there is a link to a document drawn up to facilitate the release of rescued badgers.

And from that little gem, we note that the guff contained in the answer to PQ 150583, (above) does not apply to ADULT badgers. They are not tested as to do so would mean a long period of captivity to accommodate the 3 tests plus weeks in between. And that would never do.TB Information also reports:
About 70 badgers each year were reported in 2007 to be released by the wildlife rescue centre called Secret World.

 In 2003 a voluntary Badger Rehabilitation Protocol was drawn up by Secret World Wildlife Rescue National Federation of Badger Groups and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Although it recommends testing badger cubs, it says the following regarding the testing of adult badgers.

* An adult badger should not be blood tested for bovine TB for the following reasons:

* It will be released to its original location, so eliminating the opportunity for the spread of disease to new areas;

* Recent published data show that a single blood test is unreliable (Forrester et al., 2001);

* It is unlikely to be held in captivity long enough to conduct three blood tests.
Marvellous isn't it? Cattle nailed to the floor, tested to extinction and the major UK wildlife reservoir of disease is rescued and released, translocated and fostered, 'accustomed to life in the wild', using, if it's used at all, a test with sensitivity of around 47 per cent.

We're grateful to a member of The Farmers forum - [link] for the above screen shot of a badger found dead in Wales.
(Credit : TFF and Facebook)

As you can see it's sporting a handsome tattoo - 42 11 W - so from where did it originate, to end up squished on a  roadside in West Wales? And why is this crazy situation still going on at all?

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

New TB rules.

Today, April 6th, Defra finally managed to 'zone' England into the dirty areas and clean for TB status.

This zoning has nothing to do with how you farm or the health status of your cattle. It is dependent on where you happen to keep your cattle. And in particular, the relation of that location to endemically infected wildlife.
Farmers Guardian - [link] has the details.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Blowing the budget

On March 16th., Budget Day for HM Government,  Defra released its 2015 figures for zTB casualties, and as we predicted in this posting -[link] the numbers of cattle slaughtered are some 32 per cent higher than were forecast.

Farmers Guardian has some nuggets - [link] from the annual tally; but as  Defra have offered their EU paymasters 27,440 dead cattle and a downward trend in disease in 2015, that particular budget is well and truly blown..

Wales reports a staggering 27 per cent increase in slaughtered reactors over 2014, and is said to be considering some drastic measures [ link] including reducing to not a lot, compensation for reactors purchased under license. England's increase over 2014 is 6 per cent, with the SW reporting arguably their worst year on record. And the areas allegedly acting as buffers, Defr'a  Edge, are bubbling nicely.
Thus despite a decade of cattle measures and their associated modeled predictions of reduction in disease incidence, nothing was achieved.

It is said that a definition of insanity, is repeating the same action - [link] but expecting different results.
But that is precisely what Defra's mandarins have done by bearing down on cattle with small token culls of grossly infected  badgers in a very few, small areas.

And we have no doubt that some more imaginative schemes to save money, such as dreamt up by the Welsh Assembly government, will surface as Defra's budget is blown apart .

Sunday, March 13, 2016

BBC - British Badger Cabal ?

For years now we have had to endure anthropomorphic fluff from the nation's premier broadcasting company, (at least in its own eyes) when it comes to badgers. But is the tide turning?

 Shown on BBC 2 and hidden amongst a programme dealing with Country Life magazine, was a harrowing piece on TB testing, reading and finally loading for slaughter, some home bred dairy cattle. For the next couple of weeks, the programme can be viewed on iPlayer - [link]

Maurice Durbin, the farmer, his staff and their vet all came across as caring and deeply upset by the effect of zTB on this lovely herd. The story was reported in the local press - [link] but the programme then prompted an outraged flurry from the Badgerists, in the form of a letter to the Director General of the BBC, accusing it of 'bias'. On that we can make no printable comment.

 The editor of Country Life, Mark Hedges, who gave an excellent overview of the situation which many livestock farmers now find themselves in, at the end of the programme, also gave an opinion statement to The Times.

Under the strap line "BBC must not give in to bullying by the Badger Trust", the article begins with criticism of the 'grip that pop star Brian May and his Badger Trust, has on the media and the dairy-farming industry'.
Mr. Hedges explains:
"One section of the programme, which is based around the magazine I edit, showed the distressing reality of life on a West Country farm that has been shut down for most of the last six years due to bovine TB. It seemed to open the eyes of viewers, an overwhelming number of whom have demonstrated sympathy for the farmer and his family, but the trust didn’t like it one bit and has complained to the BBC about impartiality."
Mr. Hedges continues:
The programme has certainly got everyone talking about an aspect of the bovine TB tragedy that is rarely seen. The tension was palpable as we watched Maurice Durbin’s pedigree Guernsey herd, which he inherited from his father, being tested for TB. “Poor old girl, she’s got to have a little trip,” he said, bottom lip trembling, as another cow was sent to be slaughtered.
This happened to some 36,000 cows, many in calf, in the UK last year, although you won’t find protesters outside farm gates complaining about the cows’ fate. Instead, they’re too busy harassing the farming communities where Defra’s pilot badger culls have been taking place. Mr. Hedges resumes his story:
"As I said on television, the cull has not been perfect in its execution, but there is evidence that farms in Somerset are now free of TB for the first time in years. Science should be allowed to take its course. Although measures can be taken to prevent badgers getting into farmyards, little else can be done to prevent them infecting cattle in the fields."
And Mr. Hedges has certainly got the point that:
"Britain’s dairy industry is on the brink of disaster because of decades of government dilly-dallying and a one-sided view of the badger. However charming a creature it may be, its inexorable population growth has been at the expense of the hedgehog, ground-nesting birds and bumblebees.

There are always two sides to a story, and we are proud that we have enabled the farmer’s story to be told at last. A single-issue group should not be allowed to bully the BBC for doing that."
(Mark Hedges is editor of Country Life.)

 There is only one point we would make on this programme or Mr. Hedge's article, ( apart from sending our thanks and best wishes to Mr. Durbin and his family, Mr. Hedges and Country Life magazine) and that is zoonotic Tuberculosis is not a disease which affects only 'dairy cattle' .

It is a grade 3 pathogen and affects any mammal, and thus should not be allowed to rampage through our badger population at all.
Mr. Durbin's story can also be read in Country Life - [link]

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Gesture politics.

As our country has progressively dismantled the ability to govern itself, periodically the civil servants at DEFRA have to submit a ‘plan’ to the European Union of their intentions and their progress in achieving them, for disease control. Particularly if they need some of our money back, in what is called ‘co-financing’.

Below are snips from their 2015 effort.
Member States seeking a financial contribution from the Union for national programmes for the eradication, control and monitoring of animal diseases and zoonosis listed below, shall submit applications containing at least the information set out in this form.
Co-financing 2015 – 2020.
In December 2015, this somewhat out of date package for the eradication (??) of zoonotic tuberculosis was available for us to digest. As usual, it was high on hope and cattle measures, while doing very little other than a token sporadic cull of the wildlife reservoir, in very specific areas and on a small scale. And any farmers participating, paying for that dubious privilege. A few areas are licensed to indiscriminately jab badgers of indeterminable health - until such vaccines (BCG) were limited by the World Health Organisation which preferred them to be used on human babies.

As this EU submission is 117 pages of fierce cattle measures, combined with some rather spurious predictions, we’ll paste a few tasters of this document and leave our readers to do their own delving of what's in store.The overview is somewhat optimistic, we felt:
5. Overall, these descriptive statistics point to a gradual stabilisation of the main bTB incidence and prevalence indicators in England over the last few years, even though the greater testing effort has resulted in more positive herds being detected (at least until 2012). It is premature to reach any conclusions on the factors at work in these reductions, including the impact of any particular TB surveillance of control measure introduced in recent years. To draw more meaningful conclusions, we need to look at longer term trends and see whether the reductions achieved in 2013 can be sustained in the following years.
Reading from that hymn sheet in 2016 and twittering about 'stabilisation', members of Defra's TB staff obviously have not looked at longer term trends. Or if they have, they are not looking at the same stats - [link] that we are.

In 2013,  9056 herds were under TB restriction (TB2) out of  79,287 registered - if SAM can be believed.
Cattle slaughtered numbered 31,715. Two years later, to November, Defra's figures show that they  had slaughtered 35,650 cattle and their buffer, the Edge area was bubbling nicely. Now we wouldn’t call that ‘stable’ at all. In fact 2015, looks to be heading for the record books as one of, if the worst year on record when the December figures are in. This despite all the tightening of cattle controls and the vaccinating of badgers. Or in the case of the latter, possibly because of it?

The UK has had a raps over the knuckles - [link] before, from our paymasters, and as in section 8.2 of this document, they are asking for an increase above the 50 per cent co-funding arrangement, as ' reimbursement of eligible costs', then those projected costs must be accurate. Or our paymasters will want to know why.

The EU submission mentions badgers a bit, but their numbers in Defra-land have not altered one bit since 1997. Despite two head counts logging substantial increases - [link]
Targeted culling using PCR is mentioned in paragraph 26:
26. We are working to develop practical, sensitive and specific diagnostic tests for badgers as part of the GB research programme administered by Defra on behalf of England and Wales.
This would allow us to better understand the scale of badger infection in terms of geographical area. Such tests could mean that future interventions are targeted at individual badgers or setts, rather than the wider population. They could also help us judge how effective vaccination might be in a specific area. The research that Defra is concentrating on:

• Non-invasive tests to identify infected badgers, including the development of blood sampling devices; and

• Tests to identify setts and areas where infected badgers are resident, such as tests to detect bovine TB bacteria in environmental (soil, latrine) samples, including use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. .
Another pretty underhand attempt at ‘gesture politics’ here: when the Department’s own blinded trial for the most promising ‘non invasive’ screen, passed its main criteria - [link] but is still being misrepresented by 'modeled' false positives and dismissed out of hand.

Interestingly, we note that Warwick University - [link] are in receipt of £930,032, part of a £7m grant, to use this screen or one similar, in the ‘farmyard’ environment. This funded by the  Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which in turn is funded by government. Let's hope no wandering stripey has marked his territory around said farmyard then. It's all m.bovis is it not? Yet we’re told by Defra, that these tests do not work on m.bovis material obtained from badgers?
How very odd when others seem perfectly happy to throw nearly £1m at screening the farmyard environment for the same bacterium.

But we digress: Defra has listed in this document all these futile cattle measures which it has either implemented already, or plans to foist on us, in an attempt to isolate zTB to the W/SW. Thus allowing the so-called Low Risk counties to achieve TB free trading status earlier, while ignoring the march of TB problems in the middle of this sandwich - their Edge area,  Defra also seek to form local discussion groups.
42. There are also a number of stakeholder groups looking at specific issues (e.g. cattle movements and biosecurity) which bring together different agencies and industry. In addition, the engagement of local stakeholders and their willingness to work together is essential and the draft Strategy proposes the establishment of voluntary industry-led local eradication boards particularly in the LRA. A local eradication board has been set up in Cheshire in the Edge Area and it provides a model for local organisations taking charge of their local disease situation and working together to integrate services and respond effectively to the disease situation in the county. The board comprises a wide range of representatives from farming sectors, veterinarians, auctioneers, wildlife groups, local authorities and APHA.
Essential? Que? For what? Fulfilling EU demands so Defra can trouser more funding to kill more cattle?
Such groups could, if Defra had not already made up its collective mind on its protocol of cattle carnage in eradicating zTB, have a part to play. But as this turgid 117 page tome already lists the department’s plans for the next 5 years, they are immaterial. Just another nasty piece of ‘gesture politics’.

153. The Commission Working Document SANCO/10181/2014 Rev 1 (Guidelines for the Union co-funded programmes of eradication, control and surveillance of animal diseases and zoonoses for the years 2015-2017) provides suggested ambitious targets for the reduction of disease levels for the years 2015 and 2017 against the baseline in 2012. Defra, Welsh Government and DARD have developed a series of targets for the period between 2015 and 2020, based on previous epidemiological trends.
As we pointed out, the data in this submission is based on 2012/3, with targets set for 2015 – 2020. So how accurate are these? We touched on the cattle slaughter figures for 2015 earlier in the post.

 In 2015, figures offered to the EU in this document predicted prevalence of disease (that’s herds not cleared by piling up dead cattle every 60 days) was 10.54 percent for England and 8.45 percent for Wales.
The New breakdowns target was 5.24 percent for England and 3.78 per cent for Wales. (total)
And the cattle slaughtered in 2015 was predicted to be 27,441 for England and Wales combined.

The actual figures for 2015 will not be available until March 16th, but the total number of cattle slaughtered to November totaled 35,650 for England and Wales. And that's an increase of 8,209 dead cattle and almost 30 per cent over Defra’s predicted figure offered to the EU. It's also 3,794 head above 2014.
DG SANCO - [link] should be as pleased with that, as they were in 2012 when they commented on Defra's progress as it swopped badger culls for vaccination:
"UK politicians must accept their responsibility to their own farmers and taxpayers as well as to the rest of the EU and commit to a long-term strategy that is not dependent on elections. The TB eradication programme needs continuity and it must be recognised that success will be slow and perhaps hard to distinguish at first. There is a lot of skill and knowledge among the veterinary authorities and they must be allowed time to use it."
We think DG SANCO will be delighted with this 'progress' and will not miss the point made in para 5, of a ‘gradual stabilisation’ of the TB situation in England and Wales. They may also question the optimistic forecasts that all these cattle measures, the majority of which have been in place for a decade now, are going to achieve their targets in 2020. And for which the Department of Food and Rural Affairs is seeking increased funding.

Gesture politics indeed.