Sunday, October 08, 2017

Beneficial crisis?

Most crises create casualties by the lorry load, but also beneficiaries - if you are cute enough to jump onto that particular bandwagon.  'Bovine' TB or zoonotic Tuberculosis as we prefer to label it, is no exception.
Hard on the heels of those reams of 'research' which we spoke about in this post - [link] comes a new initiative from animal health screening lab, BioBest.

 With a little help from Danielle Gunn-Moore, BioBest now advertise a screening test - [link] for Canine and Feline TB. Their sales sheet explains:
The interferon gamma test is intended to assist in the diagnosis of suspected canine and feline TB cases. The interferon gamma test can be useful in categorising cats and dogs with suggestive lesions. This in turn can inform decisions as to whether treatment is appropriate and whether it is necessary to report the case to AHVLA (Suspected Bovine TB is a notifiable disease in all mammals).

There is also some evidence that the test can be used to monitor treatment, with responses falling in cats in remission. The test has been developed in collaboration with Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore of the University of Edinburgh and with the technical support of colleagues from AHVLA.
It is to be hoped that the use of GammaIfn is somewhat more specific to zTB when used on cats and dogs, than its use has proved to be in cattle. False positives in that species are well documented.
And is 'treatment' of zTB, an often fatal zoonotic pathogen, in a companion animal, likely to be sharing air space, if not its owner's bed, a good idea?

But we digress..

We came across Professor Gunn-Moore in 2013, when she published articles giving a link to infected badgers and an increase in felines with TB. - [link] We remarked then, that with a veterinary post mortem on a cat costing in the region of £100, digging a hole may be cheaper.

 And we are also reminded of the genetic predictions made concerning feline encepalopothies in the 90s, when it was thought that Siamese / Burmese cats may be more susceptible. Until it was realised that the value of these animals made veterinary investigations more likely.

 BioBest say:
The test will initially be performed on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month at a cost of £200 per sample.
That £200 per sample, would buy a truck load of cats. And it is unlikely that many owners taking up BioBest's offer of screening, will have offered unpasteurised milk to their pets..

Friday, September 29, 2017

Ker -ching.

If there's one thing we've learned over the last two decades gathering information about the UK's epidemic of zTuberculosis, it is that salary and pensions are way ahead of any principles - scientific or otherwise.

 We first came across this phenomenon with the diminutive professor, John Bourne. He headed the ISG (Independent Scientific Group, who were actually neither of those adjectives) and conducted the farce of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) 1997 - 2005. This was a debacle in which he was proud to explain to the EFRA committee that his trial's conclusion - [link] was predetermined before it started. Ker-ching.

 Then we have Warwick University, happily trousering at least £1m to develop their qPCR test for use in non-invasive screening and identifying infectious badgers. Building on the validation in 2011, Liz Wellington's team - [link] were provided with a substantial sum of taxpayer's cash to bring this test into field use. Only to fly in the face of a farmer contributor, when asked to endorse the method for culling badgers. That, Warwick staff stated unequivocally, they would not do - [link] 
We have yet to ascertain whether Warwick retain Intellectual Property Rights over a taxpayer funded test. But although they do not wish it used to identify infected badger groups, they seem very happy to play with it in the 'environment'. - Ker-ching.

And then there is the fragrant Rosie: Professor Bourne's sidekick on the RBCT, he taught her well.

Presently, together with a few political vets and Wellington's team, Rosie Woodroffe is playing around with a grossly infected group of badgers in West Cornwall.
Farmers involved are telling us that they wish they'd never agreed to let these people on to their farms. The drip feed of 'results' while making good copy, bear no relation to reality - [link] at farm level. Farmers who regularly lost just one of two cattle per test, now report lorry loads going, after Rosie's lot had cage trapped them.
But following TB infected badgers, the cash keeps rolling. Ker-ching.

Wales too has its benficiaries of this crisis. In 2010, their chief veterinary officer, Christianne Glossop (picture above)  gave a stunning overview -[video link] of her plans to eradicate TB in Wales.
(Apologies - blogger didn't like the video link, so it's added as a URL link. Click to view)
What Glossop said in 2010 was spot on when she speaks of 'tackling all sources of infection' and that 'we must deal with infection in badgers'. And crucially, culling badgers 'makes a big difference to the level of infection in the countryside' and that 'directly reduces infection in cattle herds'. All correct.

But with a little arm twisting from an incoming Labour administration, seven years and heap of dead cattle later, Glossop now attempts to defend Wales's appalling record on eradicating TB without touching badgers. Record numbers of cattle slaughterings, the Welsh four year vaccination debacle, (much cash, but no effect on cattle TB at all) and the Intensive Action Area (where tried and failed cattle measures were repeated) leading to many cattle farmers giving up the struggle.
All this after the Welsh badger cull was cancelled.  Glossop is still in her position. Ker-ching.

 As we have said many times, it is difficult to get someone to understand something, when his salary depends upon him not understanding. Ker-ching.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September update.

As autumn 2017 starts, Defra has announced that several new badger cull areas have met their cat's cradle of rules and calculations, imposed by arms length NGO, Natural England.

Operating for 42 nights, at a timing of the farmer led groups' choosing, the culls aim to reduce populations of badgers down to a level in which zoonotic tuberculosis (zTB) poses few problems to mammals these infected creatures (and the detritus they leave behind) encounter.

Aimed by instigators the NFU, more at winning a Judicial Review than a genuine attempt at disease control, these culls aim to control badger numbers. Thus very neatly passing the buck of  legal responsibility for control of a grade 3 pathogen. They operate using cage trapping and free shooting individual animals at night. That, rather than identifying infected social groups and culling the whole nocturnal social group underground in one hit during the day, which is now quite possible.

By the chosen cull method, any badger is encouraged to sup peanuts prior to being picked off one at a time. The background and government paperwork can be viewed here - [link]

Any benefit to local cattle (or sheep, goat, pig, alpaca or deer) populations will take longer by this method, as it did with the 8 night forays of the RBCT. But the results are said by the operators, if not by the statisticians, to be positive.

The statisticians, by playing with 'New breakdowns' instead of the more apt ' Herds under TB restriction ' appear to have juggled their input data - [link] to show - not a lot. But taken to its obvious conclusion, if ALL herds were under restriction at the beginning of a cull, but clear at the end, by this method of calculation there would be no benefit at all. And that's about as daft as it gets.

 We are hearing of some very significant clearances of herd breakdowns, but if such herds were under TB2 at the beginning of their respective culls, that information would be ignored. Even two farms known to our contributors, which have been under restriction for some 17 years and after just one years' culling are now clear to trade.

 But it's not all plain sailing. One superannuated star gazer, a pop star with a late degree in astrology, describes the culls as 'a tragedy and a disaster' - [link]
Dr. Brian May, believes that:
".... the real solution is in sight, through enhanced TB testing,”
“In years to come, I’m sure that badger culling will be seen as an enormous red herring that squandered time, effort and money, gave farmers frustration and false hope, and diverted attention away from finding the real solution.”
Perhaps when taking time out from his pop concerts, May should read a bit of history, rather than promoting its repetition. And to help him, there are several links in this posting - [link] which illustrate the futility of a one sided solution, to a problem which has at its heart, a wildlife reservoir of disease and a group of 'scientists' whose salaries and pensions depend on them not understanding that problem.

 And then there are votes and / or subscription cash.
We have already encountered this road brock block from the National Trust - [link] and this week's Farmers Guardian reports a similar problem with East Cheshire County Council - [link] which has banned badger culling on any land directly controlled by the council. As tenants have to commit land for four years and more, that decision may also affect CC farms although at present, that scenario seems to be denied..

With an eye on voluntary contributions, the RSPCA have also taken up arms against culling badgers, while completely ignoring the endemic zoonotic disease which they host. 

 As readers will be aware, we have always promoted targeted badger culling, using state of the art technology to identify infected groups, based on tested cattle results.

But sadly the people who have trousered millions of pounds to get this test to the point of widespread use - [link] prefer not to use it for culling badgers.

So, in the next few months, a Dad's Army of farmers and contractors will pop off any badger which crosses their path, regardless of its health, and hope to lower the population level. And that's a bit like the vaccination supporters, led by the fragrant Rosie Woodroffe, who are doing exactly the same with BCG. Any badger will do, regardless of its health and how many times it rocks up for a peanut fest.

 We suppose much time and effort could be saved if Rosie's lot trapped badgers and the farmers shot them. Job done.

 Finally may we remind readers to fill in the latest consultation on more cattle measures, from Defra, links in the posting below.

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: