Sunday, August 06, 2017

European Food Standards Agency comments on zTB

As the EU collects its various bits of  past Animal Health Acts and bundles them into one new Act, which was accepted in April 2016, comes into force in 2021 and which we described in this posting = [link] the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) has also described our  pathetic efforts  one sided plans for eradication of zTB.

They describe efforts to eradicate zTB from a Great Britain by concentrating on killing  sentinel tested cattle, when the bacteria is hosted in a wild maintenance population, as 'highly improbable'.
In principle, the risk-mitigating measures should be effective and proportionate; the disease has been eradicated in several countries and the prevalence at EU level has decreased following implementation of the specific legislation above and the so called ‘trading directive’ Council Directive 64/432/EEC as amended and the conditions laid down by the OIE and WHO.

However, in some settings, the risk-mitigating measures are neither effective nor proportionate, in particular, the measures laid down in the legislation apply solely to bovine animals, but M. bovis is not a single host pathogen. As a fundamental epidemiological principle, a disease which is shared and maintained independently by a range of species in the same environment cannot be effectively controlled only by addressing the problem in one of the affected species.

If the control measures are not applied to all epidemiologically relevant species - either farmed (goats, alpaca, deer, pigs, sheep) or wildlife (badger,wild boar, deer) then eradication of tuberculosis in bovines will be highly improbable.
This a map of member states of the European Union, where zTB has been successfully eradicated by test / slaughter in most states. Bottom of the pile in 2015 is GB (including Wales).

The EFSA report can be viewed in full on this link - [link]

The report also points out that "the prevalence [of zTB] ranges from absence of infected animals in most OTF regions to a regional prevalence in non-OTF regions of 15.8% in Andalusia, Spain, considering all herds, or a reported regional prevalence of test-positive cattle herds of 17.7% within the United Kingdom in Wales and England."
" A herd prevalence > 10–20% is reported by the United Kingdom in Wales and England, with a reported highest regional prevalence in the EU of 17.7%. "
Those figures are beyond appalling. And in 2016, at 107, 000,000 euros, the cost of the UK's stupidity is more than the totals of the next five countries affected added together.
It really is time the extremists on both side of this debate were kicked firmly back to their respective boxes, thus allowing Defra and the farming industry to eradicate the bacterium itself, rather than any host it may have infected.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Defra's latest consultation

On 19th July, Defra opened a new consultation - [link] inviting views on cattle measures in the High Risk Area of England and other tweaks to their flagship Low Risk Area.

These things are usually done and dusted, with paperwork fluttering around merely to indicate that interested parties have 'been consulted', before Defra does what it wanted all along. The introduction gives readers a Jack and Jill view and a few pointers:
The proposals in the consultation document fall in to three broad categories: *Simplifying surveillance testing in the High Risk Area of England. These proposals have been developed following a Call for Views in 2016. The response to the call for views can be found at found at

* Increased use of private vets to support the delivery of TB controls

* Changes to the TB compensation system to more effectively encourage risk-reducing behaviours at the farm level.
It is important before filling in any form, especially one from Defra, to read the small print. And then read it again. Some of the plans are explained more fully here -[link] And while seeming innocuous on first reading, they seek to pass a lot of extra cost onto cattle owners.
 This applies to testing under certain circumstances, and also compensation for animals moved on under licence during a breakdown. The intention is to reduce that figure to 50 per cent of tabular for certain categories of reactor, and animals consigned dirty to abattoirs.
 Veterinary practitioners may be used more, replacing APHA staff, but their visits will be paid for by the 'beneficiary', the farmer, not Defra.

 Annex A explains that most of the rigmarole of contiguous testing, trace testing and radial will be replaced by two tests per year. And a further pdf, explains the rationale behind this:
TB testing addresses a market failure caused by the under provision of disease freedom in the free market. It provides requirement for farmers to test their cattle, preventing individual businesses to free ride on the disease control efforts of others. However, TB testing legislation can be improved to reduce its administrative burden and provide additional disease control benefits.

A move to 6 monthly routine testing will simplify the regulatory environment by replacing a complex suite of existing tests which depend on the circumstances of each farm business. This will reduce the administrative burden of dealing with different reasons for requiring a test and move farm businesses to a standardised testing regime.

The introduction of earned recognition can reduce administrative burdens further for farm businesses that face the lowest risk of suffering a TB breakdown by reducing the number of routine tests they must do. This incentivises keepers to introduce more effective bio-security to benefit from earned recognition.
We have a better idea. How about double compensation for home bred reactors, on farms with no bought in cattle? No?  We thought that wouldn't go down too well.

That weasel phrase 'earned recognition' makes our blood boil, when home bred reactors are loaded up to be shot, because of decades of government intransigence over wildlife upspill of disease. And no amount of bio-garbage will prevent this, unless farmers are prepared to keep cattle in hermetically sealed boxes 24/7 to achieve their 6 year of  'earned' TB clear with a bonus of annual testing.

 How the new testing regime will pan out, and who will benefit is explained in this Annex C - [link]

 Details of extra veterinary costs, restrictions on restocking and slurry management are in Annex D -[link] This also includes the banning of red markets in the low Risk area, changes and cost realignment to AFUs and phasing out of grazing AFUs.
'Cost realignment' is a cosy way of explaining that these costs pass to markets and farm businesses via local vets rather than through Defra. But ultimately ALL costs are passed back down the line via prices or levies, to the primary producer. Us.

Annex E - [link] deals with compensation for reactor animals. The three point plan is as follows:
*Introduce a cap on individual TB compensation rates of £5,000 per reactor(an animal that is found to be infected with TB) , replacing the current no upper limit.

 *Reduce compensation paid to 50% of current value for cattle brought into a breakdown herd which subsequently test TB positive while the herd is still under TB restrictions .

 * Introduce a charge by APHA in the form of 50% compensation reduction to cattle owners for the processing and disposal of unclean cattle sent to the slaughterhouse and for which the condemnation is as a result of owner action/inaction.)
Finally a Consultation letter - [link] invites us to respond by 29th September to this new clamp down on cattle and increase in costs.

All this, while sporadic farmer funded badger culls, are made more onerous - [link] and certainly less attractive to participants by recent Defra add ons, and no action appears to be forthcoming on other susceptible farmed animals whatsoever.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Thrown under a bus.

We pointed out in this posting - [link] just how convoluted and difficult, badger cull areas were for farmers to set up and operate. Not to mention expensive.

So as we said in the posting linked to above, farmers who had signed and paid up front for the privilege of culling badgers for just 42 nights on their own land, were none too pleased to find Defra have now added a few bits to those contracts.  

The cynics among us would think that Defra did not want zoonotic Tuberculosis eradicated, just its cost to the taxpayer..

If you remember, a couple of years ago, Defra published a a road map - [link] of farms with TB incidents, which led dear old Camel Ebola (who likes to be called Jay Tiernan) to thank them so very much for that information. He had much more use for it than farmers.

 And now, as farmers are being encouraged yet again, to sign on the dotted line, right up to date, Farmers Guardian - [link] reports that: "Farmers taking part in the badger cull are at risk of being targeted by violent animal rights activists because of a new ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)". Well there's a surprise.

The paper continues:
The ICO has told the Government it must publish information about the impact the badger cull is having on local ecosystems within 35 days or end up in the High Court. For three years, Natural England had refused to reveal the analysis because it feared the information could be used to identify participating farmers, leaving them vulnerable to intimidation."
Reading the rules and regulations - [link] attached to these few and widely scattered culls which have begun, and absorbing the 'help' described above, given by both Defra and Natural England to those wishing to disrupt them, it's no wonder that some farmers have viewed the co-operation sought to do Defra's dirty work, as akin to being 'thrown under a bus'.
That's after being blamed for the epidemic in the first place of course.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Petition from NBA.

We are pleased to give publicity to a petition organised by the NBA, which highlights a few struggles that beef finishers face trying to keep their businesses afloat. Please print, sign and return to:

Monday, June 05, 2017

Contract or Con-trick?

As two badger cull areas come to the end of their four year stint, (with, as yet, no long term management plan to replace them) and a very small handful of farms approach the middle of that four year 'contract', Defra have added a few more hoops.

 At a recent Beef Expo event, Farmers Weekly reported the NBA position - [link] on a couple of these new regulations. Abolition of AFUs (Approved Finishing Units) and the mandatory use of Gamma interferon blood testing, if a herd in a cull area has a breakdown after year two.

AFUs are not really our field, but we have done a bit of digging into the notorious GammaIFN and can find nothing reported in this country after 2005, when scientific papers were full of hope, rather than reports of its limitations and the despair felt by victims of its widespread roll out.

 The late John Daykin and Dr. Lewis Thomas had this to say - [link] in 2007, and we pulled apart the 'early detection' line - [link] in a further posting. But despite the warnings of low specificity, many false positives and a pile of dead cattle, Defra went ahead. And this sort of carnage - [link] was the result on many farms.

News from Germany confirms it it not in use in that country due to low specificity. Our correspondent tells the following story:
"The test was used in Bavaria when 40+herds went down with M. caprae. Farmers were up in arms because truckloads of cattle were killed as positives based on the results of the IFN test. Where both tests ( SICCT+IFN) were used only 56.1 % of animals gave the same results in both tests and the majority of cattle slaughtered after IFN didn't show lesions and were culture negative.

Of course this doesn't mean they were not infected but it didn't help to boost acceptance. The reliability of the [blood] test seems to be very much affected by the amount of bacteria circulating.

Another blood test, AB-ELISA, failed completely.

The reason for the problems with IFN in Germany were that there is no way to standardise samples. Even the location where the blood is taken ( tail, neck etc) makes a difference as does temperature, time between sampling and arrival in the lab, storage, time of transport...

In Germany, there is the opinion that the test is not fit for use under field conditions and if used, a positive result must be confirmed by other diagnostics tests. That leaves only SICCT or pm....

Also of interest, is that if skin testing isn't done properly (i.e. subcutaneous ‎inj. instead of intracutaneous) there will be false positive IFN results later, even after a long time. The German reference lab clearly states that the skin test and the IFN have to be done absolutely 'lege artis', (that it is performed in a correct way.  ) otherwise the results are not reliable."
Nevertheless, and despite the carnage caused by its widespread use a decade ago and the problems of standardisation of its use in the field, Gamma IFn is set to be introduced under the following circumstances:
Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle and measures are in place to prevent further spread of disease from this source;

Criterion 2: The infected herd is located in one of the areas where at least two years of effective licensed badger population control have been completed.

Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeated skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a bTB incident.
Now, farmers who have signed up to these scattered, small areas of badger culling, already have a number of Defra / NE hoops to jump through. One could say too many. And we hear that if they do not carry out Defra's duty of eradicating TB infected badgers properly and in a timely manner, then Defra may do the job for them - and charge for the privilege.

 So for Defra to bolt on other criteria for cull areas, already signed up and presumably agreed with the organisers, we think is a pretty low blow. Especially a bolt on as brutal as gamma IFN.

In fact we would go so far as to say, it should be subject to legal challenge. But with the NFU and cull organisers comfortable with the concept, while not understanding the reality of this test, that is unlikely to happen.

 But what will happen is this: