Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Clarkson on badgers, hedgehogs and Prince Philip.

Hiding behind a paywall, an article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times (May 7th) was a gem.

Commenting on the retirement at the age of 96 of H R H Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Jeremy settles on an idea to keep the Duke active. Not golf or bridge, he explains, "It needs to be something with a point."

Mr. Clarkson then describes the aftermath of floods in Yorkshire, which prompted a local septuagenarian to make their village 'hedgehog friendly' to encourage the surviving swimmers amongst them, back to Burton Fleming.
"Taking advice from a genial-looking 78-year-old hedgehog enthusiast in the next county, she has transformed the village, drilling holes in fences, installing little ladders in ponds and erecting feeding stations. Her work has been described as “the best thing that’s ever happened” to the community."
Because, says Mr. Clarkson, hedgehogs are like ice cream and David Attenborough and Rome. Everyone likes them. Especially a badger, which is a real menace.
"When he’s not marauding about the place, knocking over walls and killing cows with his arsenal of vindictive diseases, he likes to eat as many hedgehogs as possible.

One of the main prerequisites, in fact, for turning your village into a hedgehog-friendly zone like Burton Fleming is that the area is not infested with an army of Brian May’s flea-ridden mates.

Which brings me neatly back to Prince Philip. When he stops walking around with his hands behind his back later this year, he could very easily keep his mind fresh and his body active by joining a hedgehog reintroduction scheme near one of his castles.

Obviously, I can’t see him drilling holes in a fence or erecting a small ladder [for local hogs] Nor can I see him running a bring-and-buy stall in Sandringham’s village hall. However, I can see him doing his bit by pouring himself a nice glass of red and sitting at his bedroom window with a brace of Purdeys, waiting for a badger to heave into view."
More scientific stuff on the lack of hedgehogs where badgers predominate is here - [link], here - [link] and here - [link].

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A catch up conversation.

As time passes and more UK cattle reactors are piled up dead, we note that research into zTB, m.bovis and its screening tests is repeated around the world.

We are grateful for the input of a vet from New Zealand, a country which has, with farmer co operation and a great deal of government oversight, achieved TB free status in a relatively short time. In the UK, we are just beginning that laborious process with voluntary farmer involvement in small areas, their non-voluntary cash up front and no government oversight whatsoever.

Frequently we hear criticism of the skin test so questioned the NZ vet, where it used as a single jab (non comparitive) in the caudal fold.

Below is our conversation:
"Interesting re the skin test - I had an opinion that UK should use the caudal fold Bovine tuberculin only test (CFT) as the screening test - it is quicker, safer, easier and cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.

I thought the last factor would have helped or the safety issue. The other key thing with skin testing is that it is a herd test dependent on the testing being done correctly. I had one good vet say to me once if the CFT was used "at least the test would be done properly". The CFT is simple and so much easier to get right, quickly and safely (with good facilities - that should be enforced to receive subsidy payments [not a politically correct term but that's my opinion on what they are])".
Now it's popular for Defra to blame veterinary practice in testing, blame the product, the farmer or the man in the moon. In fact anything but a 'wildlife'interface. So we double checked with a UK vet, with acres of experience of testing - and results - over the last 40 years. This was his comment in reply to the comment above:
"We use the CCT because of serious problems with non specific infection in the past.

It worked well and actually eradicated TB from all the farms in the UK – but not all at once, sadly. Certainly, in the late 60s and early 70s, TB was at a very low level, even in Glos and Cornwall.

I feel that if badger controls (Protection of Badgers Act) had not come in in the 70s things might have been different. This was at a time when it (testing) was certainly not applied uniformly well by the vets carrying out the test, but this was well enough, it seems.

It is not the test that is the problem and slaughtering large numbers of probably uninfected cattle, which must happen with the Gamma ifn test, is a good way of damaging our farming industry. That’s all.

We know that removing the wildlife reservoir works. It is everything to do with the politics."
But on specificity, (false positives) New Zealand had problems too it seems and their vet commented that there is...:
" ... plenty of non-specificity in NZ as well. Many UK Vets have the misconception that there is not. We have Johne's, Avian TB, environmental mycobacteria. The CFT is a more sensitive test, but not as specific. BUT, in lower risk areas the gamma can be used as a secondary test (especially effective when using the most specific antigens).
The accuracy of any screening test is always a trade off between Sensitivity (finding disease or exposure to bacteria which may cause disease) and Specificity (false positives and dead victims)
 In the UK, we note  that  Specificity of 100 per cent is the prime aim in any test for badgers, with the Sensitivity (ability to find disease) dropping to mid 50 per cent or less in many screening tests, in favour of not harming the hair of one badger's head.

Conversely, our politicians seem hell bent to unleash any of a number of secondary tests on our cattle with the opposite effect while leaving a burgeoning wildlife reservoir to upspill.

 So what drove New Zealand to get a serious handle on their zTB problems? One word. Trade.
The NZ vet comments:
"After seeing TB control in NZ and TB "control" in the UK firsthand - with 14+ and 9+ years in the respective countries - TB is much simpler to control than many in the UK would have you believe given the political will and finance. The non-tariff trade barriers that are rearing their heads now for UK were what prompted NZ into a fully committed approach to TB control back in the 1990's."
We have warned of possible Trade implications - [link] before. In fact the European Union drew up such veterinary import / export documents to cover such eventualities in 2004 - [link] when Russia was rattling her sabres. And make no mistake, separating the country into small patches just wouldn't cut it.

The paperwork dictates a dedicated collection chain for all bovine products which must be TB free from birth to plate, thus another 'Beef Ban' is likely.

New Zealand began its eradication process with just farmer involvement but the process stalled and government took over. So what have we been offered in the UK?
Volunteer scattered groups of farmers, under the control of an organisation - [link] which in its right hand, offers farmers grants to provide 'Badger Gates' and in its left, oversees small culls, having made the protocol for such population control as difficult as possible.

Our NZ commentator had this to say:
"Dad's Army" is a good description of how politicians have allowed (legal) badger control in England. I believe that optimum wildlife control to achieve eradication needs to be centrally co-ordinated and controlled; probably funded by Government (whose ignorance and negligence have allowed the problem to escalate and spread geographically) and industry (who would be the predominant beneficiaries)"

We are often told that 'farmer co-operation' is vital for disease control. That is true, but that description should not be confused with farmers in suits, sitting behind the revolving doors of Defra's London headquarters, playing 'politics' with our industry.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


It has always puzzled us that Natural England - or whatever they call themselves this week - have control over the wildlife reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis in Great Britain. In almost every other country in the world it is 'Animal Health' or its equivalent, which is the Government department responsible for clearing up Grade 3 zoonotic pathogens in animals. Our department is concentrating one hundred per cent on cattle, as we explained in the previous posting.

 We spoke of our concerns as long ago as 2011, when this quango published its guidance - [link] for the proposed pilot badger culls. Natural England are also on record, off the record, as saying that the cull protocols would be as difficult as they could possibly make them.

This luke warm response to eradication of zTB in Great Britain, we discussed here - [link]

So apart from celebrating Easter, calving cattle, TB testing cattle and generally minding our own businesses, some of our contributors have also been wading through Natural England's new offers of cash for the preservation of the farmed Environment. Or their idea of what a farmed environment should look like.

Previously these grants have been in the form of hedge and bank management, buffer strips and beetle banks. But the new Mid Tier syllabus for 2017 - [link] , given NE's status as cull master, contains a rather contradictory option we thought. An add on option for capital grants, contains the intriguing title 'FG 14 - Badger Gate - [link] and a description of the hoops through which to jump to get £135 for constructing such a device within an agreed plan, and up to £200 annually thereafter to maintain each one.

Badger tracks such as the one through grassland on the right, have to be studied, photographed and mapped. Then a specially designed gate flap installed in any new fence line, with no sharp edges on which they may hurt themselves.

Annual maintenance is carried out, together with detailed records of the event.

Sadly it cannot be used in an existing fence line, only in new fences supported by Countryside Stewardship, and curiously, not into areas where wetland birds nest. Which is strange as the published mantra is that badger's diets are made up of earthworms and grubs.
But a trail of peanuts and a trap the other side, could be a useful addition, could it not? And possibly take this element of 'contradiction' out of Natural England's role of badger guardian.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

April 1st - new cattle meaures.

Following Consultations - [link] informing the cattle industry what it proposed to do, Defra introduced the first of its new proposals intended to kill more cattle, on All Fools Day 2017. We expect others will follow shortly.
 As expected, more extreme cattle measures pile on to extra restrictions on licensed movements into already restricted herds. Inconclusive reactors in particular, come in for special attention. And the use of gamma Ifn, a blood test which offers broad spectrum sensitivity to many bacteria other than m.bovis, is to be more widespread in the High Risk Area, and in cull areas after their first two years.

 Meanwhile incidence of zTuberculosis in the Edge area and the apparently Low risk area, increases.

 Details can be found on the Defra operated Tb hub - [link]
 Other than a few throw away mentions of 'bio-security' aimed at preventing cattle contact with infected badgers, we see no mention of any meaningful action on curbing the spread of zoonotic tuberculosis through this maintenance reservoir of disease whatsoever. This mind set of rubbish testing and a reservoir of disease in cattle, filters right down from the top end of Defra. And like their predecessors four decades, ago they are determined to stamp it out. But inevitably, as those predecessors found, - [link] unless the disease is eradicated in free ranging, over populated, super protected wildlife, an even bigger heap of dead cattle will make no difference to disease incidence at all.

But trust in and co operation with the Ministry responsible, already low, will disappear completely.

 This current Defra mindset is also contradicted by scientists working for Defra. Following a conference in 2014, reported by author Richard Gard in Vet. Practice - [link] the following observations were made by Dr. Noel Smith, whose painstaking work compiling a zTB genotype database was discussed:
Today, the various genotypes have a specific home-range. Some 95% of bTB breakdowns are in the home-range or within 50km of it and 97% of genotypes have a home-range. Dr Smith indicated that the spoligotype identified from a bovine slaughtered for bTB indicates whether the animal has been transferred out of the M. bovis home-range.
Dr Smith commented that:
“The observed geographical clustering of M. bovis genotypes is incompatible with a cattle-only transmission model for bTB in GB, or cattle-movement patterns. The geographical localisation of bTB home-range suggests a local, relatively static environmental (wildlife) reservoir of the bacterium”.
Perhaps Defra should talk to its own staff, or those of its more reliable agencies, more often.

Friday, March 24, 2017

New, old , new, old.

We have remarked before, that with TB non control, the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same. And so it seems with the introduction last August of a new farmer and veterinary package - [link] from APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) which includes a map of TB breakdowns surrounding the one to whom it was posted.

Introduced for new TB breakdowns in the High Risk and Edge area last August, this is far more detailed than the badger Activist's Road map - [link] produced a couple of years ago after a change in the Data Protection statutes. We showed it in the posting below, with an 'X' marks the spot on Mr. Durose's farm.
Today, Farmers Guardian - [link] have more on this story.

The building blocks of outbreaks in the area surrounding his farm over the last four years, were as shocking as they were indefensible. Mr. Durose's herd had been clear of TB and on annual testing for decades.

In the leaflet, the new mapping system is described thus:
d). TB breakdown map - included on the final page is a map showing the geographical location of the holding and geographical data that is held by RPA (i.e. an outline of owned and/or rented land that is registered against that CPH with RPA). [snip - explains helpfully, that short term grazing may not be included.]

This map also indicates the location of other recent breakdowns within the area surrounding the holding of interest, along with details of any genotype(s) isolated from them (if available). This information can give an indication of the incidence, weight of disease and identified M.bovis genotype(s) present within the localised area around the breakdown under consideration. This can help in considering the risk of locally acquired versus imported disease.
But how 'new' is this idea?

 In 1972 a local vet at the Truro office began combining computer datasets with his curiosity into the origins of local TB outbreaks. All badger post mortems were logged, together with those from cattle as they became available. Spoligotypes and locations were painstakingly listed to show the depressingly familiar outwards spread we see today.

These maps are now part of a collection in the National Archive - [link]  who describe them thus:

The datasets record the incidence of tuberculosis among cattle in Great Britain from 1977 to 2002; and record of incidence of tuberculosis among badgers, as potential carriers of disease, from 1972 to 1998. The system links data showing incidence of TB to computer-generated maps; the original name of the database was 'TB Maps & Stats'.
On seeing Apha's 'new idea' Dr. Roger Sainsbury, whose painstaking work over more than two decades was for Ministerial internal consumption only, remarked wryly:
I wonder how many farmers will be shocked to see how much ‘Big Brother’ knows about their activities?
and he also noted that:
We always used to ask questions to get this information. It occurs to me that they (Defra / APHA) must be very sure that their info is 100 per cent.

As we now live in a society thriving on litigation, we hope it is too. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Carnage - again.

Four years on, and from the same area of the north Midlands comes another harrowing tale of carnage on our dairy farms.

This was the story we told then, of the 2013 'de-population' - [link] for Louis and Gillian Bothwell..

And the latest herd to feel the carnage of Defra's hammer are Guernsey cattle belonging to Mr. Durose who farmed  not a million miles from the Bothwells, and built a business producing A2 milk and cheese. - [link]

BBC Midlands Today has the story, on a short video which can be viewed here

 Mr. Durose now has no milking cattle, no income and a wish list from our Ministry before he can be licensed to restock. Most of it dealing with keeping badgers out of the way of his stock.

By order of the Secretary of State.

And this is a screen grab of the interactive TB map of the area around Mr. Durose's farm. more than 20 outbreaks surrounded his farm in 2016.

None are resolved in 2017, but more are added.

Below is a screen grab of the Defra map from the video clip.

Every yellow square  is a cattle farm which has been under restriction in the last four years.

His farm is surrounded.

Twenty years of non-eradication of zoonotic tuberculosis from its wildlife maintenance reservoir has done really well, hasn't it?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Going to the dogs?

This week has seen another wake up call for the Ministry overseeing - or not - the eradication of zoonotic Tuberculosis, a Grade 3 pathogen affecting any mammal, from Great Britain. However, while Defra, APHA or whatever they call themselves today, continue to ignore the difference between a 'maintenance reservoir' of disease (badgers) and its spill over (other mammals), dead reactor cattle may build up, but the level of so called 'environmental' infection also increases.

 We have mentioned many times the under reporting of zTB in alpacas, and our last posting - [link] seems to have woken up the British Alpaca Society, if not non-members of that particular clan.

 This week the press has jumped on dogs as a 'carrier'. A pack of hounds belonging to the Kimblewick Hunt, and housed near Ayslebury - [link] have been badly infected with the disease, and as usual, media with large axes to grind are having a field day.
Leading the pack, is the Ecologist - [link] with a second swipe in that paper from the League Against Cruel Sports LACS - [link] written by Jordi Casamitjana who is Head of Policy and Research. Inevitably, the League  has decided that zTB is nothing to do with badgers at all, and it is hounds which are riddled with the disease, spreading it across our green and pleasant land.

 The fact that the author is anti hunting has nothing to do with the slant of piece of course. And musing quietly here, if dogs (which, unlike cats, are pretty resilient to zTB) are to be put under the spotlight, what about footpaths, and dog walkers, often with multiple charges and some operating a business 'exercising' packs?

The story was apparently started by a group calling themselves Hounds Off - [link] and this piece is informative rather than over sensationalist. But most media outlets carry the paragraph below which we read with a degree of irony:
“The implications of this outbreak are huge. We already know that restricting the movement of animals in the countryside is the only effective way of controlling bTB .... []
Yup. We restrict cattle. Nail 'em to the floor, and shoot anything that has a sniff of mycobacterium bovis, while offering the maintenance reservoir of this disease the right to roam. Very sensible.

 But we digress... This is a library picture from the Kimblewick hunt's website, on a happier occasion.

Meanwhile we too are interested in just how 25 - 40 hounds, depending on which website you look at, have contracted zTB. All at the same time. So we looked up the rules on 'passive surveillance' of the disease on the APHA website - [link] And it seems that any suspect lesions in fallen stock ending up in knackers' yards or hunt kennels must be notified to APHA - just as in abattoirs.

We also learned that only meat on the bone (flesh) from under thirty month old cattle should be fed to hounds, and any other bits of dubious provenance are stained and incinerated, with records kept of tag numbers, kg of waste and even ash from the incineration process.

So if the source of this sad outbreak, does turn out to be a break down in the fallen stock recovery, rather than any other source which can be established, the rules and regulations are already in place.

 If however, the source remains unclear, then a moribund badger riddled with zTB has been the downfall of more than one canine investigator. - [link]

And then there was this case - [link] of an severely infected mum, her daughter and a euthanized dog. The dog and the adult both having been confirmed with the same spoligotype of zTB as is found 'locally'.

What is becoming more apparent with every passing year of prevarication by Defra / APHA on this subject, is that through their animals, zoonotic Tuberculosis is now affecting different groups of people. And they may not be as accepting, compliant or pragmatic about their losses and restrictions as cattle farmers appear to be.

 Edit: If more information comes to light on the case of the hounds in Aylesbury, we will report in due course.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Alpaca TB - warning notice

We have been offered sight of a warning notice which has been circulated to BAS (British Alpaca Society ) members by email, but does not appear on their website. Yet.
 Perhaps it ought to.

Entitled BAS Advisory Notice, we reproduce it in full:
As some of you may be aware, there has been a confirmed bTB breakdown at a large herd and is currently under investigation by APHA . We are unable to name the herd as we have not yet had their permission to do so.

Whilst there are breakdowns or suspected breakdowns in existence several times a year in the camelid community, this particular breakdown is significant due to the size of the herd.

While the BAS has no more rights than individuals to access ‘personal’ information from government agencies due to data protection, we are active in assisting where we can and where the affected farm(s) permit. After another herd confirmed disease from alpacas purchased from what is now believed to be the ‘source’ holding, all farms that were known to have had contact were informed back in December 2016 and some have already been tested clear.

Due to the time it takes for APHA to prove disease, there has been a delay in APHA tracing and contacting farms that have moved or purchased alpacas from the infected source holding. Earlier this week, the BAS were contacted by APHA to help with the tracings. The BAS were able to confirm the three farms that had purchased registered alpacas from this ‘source’ holding in the last year and those farms have all been contacted by BAS representatives and are being contacted by APHA now.

We would urge our members to re acquaint themselves with our guidance regarding biosecurity and contact us if they have any concerns.

Please note for the reasons already stated we are unable to give out details unless we have the express permission of the party/parties concerned.

Clearly the BAS only have records of animals which have been registered. If you have purchased, moved or have bred with males from a holding where you think there may be cause for concern and have not yet been contacted by APHA, then we urge you to please contact the BAS or APHA and we can help guide you on the most appropriate course of action. It is imperative that any alpacas that have had dangerous contact with a herd that is known to have bTB, are thoroughly tested in accordance with the 2016 Camelid bTB Testing Scenario Document and Flow Chart which can be found on the BAS website.

With regard to shows, and in particular the upcoming National Show, our bio-security measures at shows have been approved by the BVCS and APHA and shown to be robust over many years; bio security is of paramount importance and the last thing any of us want is to knowingly allow alpacas to shows that have come from dangerous contacts.

We have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to do so.

If you have any questions at all please contact us either through welfare@bas-uk.com, secretary@bas-uk.com or libby@grassroots.co.uk

Thank you for your time and attention in this important matter.

BAS Board

Now this outbreak must have been rumbling for some months (it takes APHA two months at least to confirm m.bovis by culture) and back tracing of pedigree animals is still ongoing. So the timing of this notice is startling, appearing just a couple of weeks before their National Show - [link] on 25th and 26th March.

NB. This picture was snapped at a previous 'National' alpaca show.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Brexit, UK exports and zoonotic Tuberculosis

One of the reasons given for leaving the clutches of the European Union was red tape. Happily, a bonfire of regulations will occur shortly. But this will be replaced for the farming community by another pile of Regulations - [link]

 Entitled REGULATION (EU) 2016/429 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL, this 208 page pdf contains over 300 Directives or 'Articles' concerning animal diseases, animal welfare and, with relevance to the UK, imports from third countries into the EU.

 It comes into force on 21st April 2021.

Article 9 (Annex IV on p. 177) is particularly relevant, as are Articles 229 / 300 which end with this gem:
"The Commission shall be empowered to adopt delegated acts in accordance with Article 264 concerning derogations from paragraph 2 of this Article, limiting the possibility for Member States to decide from which third countries and territories a specific species and category of animal, germinal product or product of animal origin may enter the Union, where necessary due to the risk posed by that specific species and category of animal, germinal product or product of animal origin."
That sounds suspiciously like a European Beef Ban to us. And we've been there before, have we not?

And the European Union is not without form on the thorny question of zTB . In 2004 when Russia - [link] was sabre rattling about quality of imports, zTB was used as a stick to beat three EU states. These were listed as Spain, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. To offset that threat, the EU drew up an export note, which, like the Beef Ban was a cascade of products ranging from milk powder, through gelatin to hides for tanning. In fact anything and everything - [link] that can be produced from a bovine animal. There is more clarification. [link]  on the this as answers to our questions were dragged from the Department of Trade.

And our apologies for the broken links in the first piece on Russia. As readers probably know, the Defra website is pretty rubbish at the best of times, and articles / notes and information are archived very quickly. In this case, the export document. But it exists. It is in someone's drawer and with herd TB incidence now over 10 per cent in the UK, for sure it will be used.

But if no one else is on the case, the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales) are up to speed. Yesterday's lead article on the Welsh lobby group's website, giving details of  Tb in Wales - [link]  and well written by FUW's policy director, Dr. Nick Fenwick gives a potted history of TB non policy by successive political leaders. It then points out the risks to exports from the current levels of TB in herds. Dr. Fenwick concludes:
The situation would be bad enough under normal circumstances, but with Brexit looming, competitors in other countries have one eye on our TB status, and how it might be used to their benefit – and our detriment – in trade negotiations. The clock is ticking.
And that point is made today by our sister site, with emphasis on exports of agricultural products and including several paragraphs from those new EU Regulations - [link] to which we refer above.

 Nick Fenwick is quite correct - for eradication of zTB and the security of our exports, the clock is ticking.

'Build that Wall'

News has been trickling in over the last couple of months of a cow in Canada, slaughtered in the USA and found to have lesions by the US meat inspectors. Cultures - [link] subsequently confirmed zoonotic tuberculosis.

We won't go into too much detail on this story, leaving readers to follow these links - [link] for in depth reporting from Alberta. And our grateful thanks to the cattle farmer who sent them.

 But one snippet caught our attention.
 zTB is practically unheard of in Alberta, and as such treated very seriously. Tracing is going back five years, and so far just 6 cattle have proved positive to zTB - all with the same strain of the disease.

After culture and spoligotyping (strain typing of the bacteria) it was found that the strain of zTB in these cows had not been found in Canada before, and was genetically very similar to a strain predominate in Central Mexico. The latest information from Alberta tells us that:
Genetic analysis has shown that the bovine TB organism from the infected cows is not the same as any strains detected in Canadian domestic livestock or wildlife or humans to date. All six currently confirmed positive cows have the same strain of TB. This strain of TB identified in these confirmed cows is closely related to a strain first found in cattle in Central Mexico in 1997.
Mexican herdsman with a cough? Just a thought.

And please, don't tell President Trump.

(No) Common Sense and COSHH

COSHH- or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health - is a legal requirement of those employing people in any capacity, or the  letting of property - [link]
 It involves a detailed risk assessment to identify and remove, as far as possible, risks to health from hazardous substances.

With holiday lets, often gas appliances are the most likely suspects, with carbon monoxide emissions the 'hazardous substance' to be avoided at all costs. Dodgy wiring and badly maintained flues are all on the hit list for COSHH - [ link] But so are any 'substances known to be injurious to health'.

So the recent experience of a holidaymaker staying in a self catering cottage has shocked us.

 Upon entry to the property he noticed a stainless steel bowl and four cans of dog food.

"I don't have a dog" remarked the visitor.
"Oh, they're for the badgers" replied the hostess, glibly explaining that part of the 'countryside experience' she offered, was to encourage local badgers and for guests to view their 'dining table' - which doubled as the property's patio. 

Now the conversation became a bit heated, as her guest was a veterinary surgeon, well versed in zoonotic Tuberculosis and its primary wildlife hosts. So when the cottage owner proceeded to tell him, with all the arrogance of the totally stupid, that zTB had nothing at all to do with badgers, and it was a cattle disease, he was able to inform her with the degree of certainty that his qualifications bestowed, that badgers were the main wildlife host of zTuberculosis in this country.

 And for good measure he added that as her cottages were situated within one of the worst hot-spots for that disease in the country, not only was she putting her guests at risk, she was breaking every COSHH rule in the book, by doing so. And as such had laid herself wide open to litigation should any of her guests, contract zTuberculosis  from a badger bowl which she had provided, swilled in tepid water along with the family's breakfast dishes.

This is one of those occasions where words really do fail us.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Going in circles, or another Trojan horse?

As Wales prepares to implement yet another round of cattle measures, bearing down hard on compensation levels and 'risks' of restocking in the post EU Brexit era, some stirrings can be heard in the farming community.

 Enough is enough ... reports Wales on line - [link] with the strap line pointing out that cattle controls alone, will not halt TB.

The Daily post - [link] gives a thumb nail sketch of what is to come for Wales' remaining cattle. If not for the infected wildlife they have to live alongside.

And thus we are reminded of what the chairman of the ISG (Independent [it wasn't] Scientific [ not unless you mean political science] Group [maybetold the EFRA Committee - [link] in 2007.
“What we are saying is that badger culling in the way it can be conducted in the UK, we believe, cannot possibly contribute to cattle TB control, and in using the word ‘ meaningfully’ what we mean there, is that if it is the only inducement that would encourage farmers to co-operate fully, and introduce effective cattle controls, it could have an effect”.
This was questioned, somewhat more politely than we would have done, by the EFRAcom Chairman.

He said:
“Can I make quite certain that my ears did not deceive me a moment ago, when you said with your almost impish smile, “Left to its own devices, culling is not the silver bullet but if it induced some other activity as a quid pro quo, it might have a role to play?”. Is that what you are saying to me?”

Prof. Bourne (left) replied:

“It would be most unfortunate if that happened but that is exactly what I was communicating to you, because farmers have made it clear they will not co operate unless they can kill badgers. Farmer co operation is absolutely essential to get this disease under control. It will be appalling thing for us if farmers were given the opportunity of knocking off a few badgers, just to get their co operation.”
So as the cattle measures, futile as they are, rain down on us, think of John Bourne's words, delivered with a smirk, that if farmers can knock off a few badgers, they will accept more draconian cattle measures.
Quid pro quo. Where have we heard that before?.
And will we accept them? Will we really?

So laid on the line,  imagine the map of England and Wales, with small disparate chunks of a few hundred sq km. allowing farmers to cull badgers for six weeks in a year, for a four year period only. And paying for the privilege.

We've snuck the map from Facebook, but you get the picture. It's a minute effort. Tiny.

Is it Bourne's Trojan horse?

 Compare those tiny patches on the map above to the area now affected by zoonotic tuberculosis, stretching from Cheshire in the north to the eastern borders of the Midlands, through Wiltshire and Dorset in the south and right down to Lands End in Cornwall - for England.

And of course,  the whole of Wales, conveniently missing from Defra's latest picture postcard.

 Meanwhile the Farming Unions are not happy with the spin being put on the 36 per cent increase in Welsh cattle reactors. Farmers Guardian - [link] has the story.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

In the UK, we shoot the canaries, don't we?

We frequently refer to our regularly tested cattle, as 'canaries in the coalmine'. These tiny birds were taken into coal mines as an early warning system. Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, methane or carbon dioxide in the mine would kill the bird before affecting the miners. Signs of distress from the bird indicated to the miners that conditions were unsafe due to the presence of gas.
So, if the canaries fell off their perches, it was time for the miners to leave. Quickly.

If cattle react to the skin test, they are sending a message that the bacteria which causes zoonotic Tuberculosis is around in the environment and available, not only to tested sentinel cattle, but any mammal..

From the NZ Farmer comes a much more sensible way of reacting to these 'biological markers' - [link] for a disease which may affect cattle or deer in a country which is heading for TB Free status in the very near future. In an area of New Zealand thought to be clear of TB, the disease has been found in wild pigs.
A survey of Marlborough's wild pig population is helping determine the extent of bovine TB in the region. Pig hunters have been contracted by OSPRI and Landcare Research to hunt in specific areas and collect pig heads for TB analysis since July. Lymph nodes under the neck of the animal can show that TB was evident in the region. Pigs contract TB by scavenging dead animal carcasses which have been infected, but do not pass on the disease themselves.
In New Zealand, the wildlife vector of zTB  is the brush tailed possum, so by checking wild pigs for disease, the authorities conclude:
"When TB is present in possums in an area, it is highly likely that it will also be present in local pigs. If we can pinpoint where disease is, we can be specific about possum control."
And the New Zealand authorities do 'control' those possums. Whereas in the UK, we test the canaries ( cattle) and then shoot the messenger. Leaving the wildlife vector to run wild and free. Farm to farm.

Very sensible.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

If it's good enough for the Aussies??

A new and said to be 'highly reliable' diagnostic solution - [link] for bovine tuberculosis, a major infectious disease among cattle, other farm animals and certain wildlife populations, is now on the market, reports Vet Practice magazine (Australia)
“The VetMAX M. tuberculosis Complex PCR Kit is a reliable and fast tool to confirm the presence of mycobacteria belonging to the tuberculosis complex,” said Martin Guillet, global head and general manager of AgriBusiness at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company that has developed what is the only commercially available PCR test that detects all seven strains of the M. tuberculosis complex in a single solution.
Using the test on suspect cattle lesions, the article explains that results using this PCR approach can be returned much faster when compared to bacterial culture testing methods. While the results of a M. bovis culture can take up to six weeks, results using PCR—from sample preparation to testing—take just three hours.

 And we note that the same kit (VetMax M. tuberculosis Complex PCR) was trialed in 2014 alongside conventional culture testing on abattoir suspect lesions, in France - [link] This is the result:
The aim of this study was to estimate and compare sensitivities and specificities of bacteriology, histopathology and PCR under French field conditions, in the absence of a gold standard using latent class analysis.

The studied population consisted of 5,211 animals from which samples were subjected to bacteriology and PCR (LSI VetMAX™ Mycobacterium tuberculosis Complex PCR Kit, Life Technologies) as their herd of origin was either suspected or confirmed infected with bTB or because bTB-like lesions were detected during slaughterhouse inspection.

Samples from 697 of these animals (all with bTB-like lesions) were subjected to histopathology. Bayesian models were developed, allowing for dependence between bacteriology and PCR, while assuming independence from histopathology.

The sensitivity of PCR was higher than that of bacteriology (on average 87.7% [82.5–92.3%] versus 78.1% [72.9–82.8%]) while specificity of both tests was very good (on average 97.0% for PCR [94.3–99.0%] and 99.1% for bacteriology [97.1–100.0%]). Histopathology was at least as sensitive as PCR (on average 93.6% [89.9–96.9%]) but less specific than the two other tests (on average 83.3% [78.7–87.6%]).

These results suggest that PCR has the potential to replace bacteriology to confirm bTB in samples submitted from suspect cattle.
As regular readers will have guessed, we are fans of PCR diagnostics - [link] both for speeding up diagnosis in cattle lesions, and having pushed government to support its use, identifying infection in badgers.

So were somewhat floored by the reaction of its British developers - link] (scroll forward on the video to 20 minutes in to see that reaction which we have pasted below.)
" I’m extremely busy and it’s difficult to find time to watch the film as it is long, however, I have just watched it and I don’t feel I can be involved in the film as the tone and message are not in line with my views. Some of what has been said is unscientific, including some of the comments from your vet. Also, you have criticised scientists at least twice in 5 minutes. I am not pro cull and I do not believe the evidence supports culling badgers, even in the case of your farm. I do hope you understand that the tone of this video and the content is not in agreement with my views so I cannot be involved. "
We get the picture. Follow the money, and the 'group conformity' to keep zoonotic tuberculosis rolling  - in GB at least.

But if PCR diagnostics is good enough for the Aussies, and results compare very favourably with bacterial cultures in France and also in a privately funded study into zTB in alpacas - [link] why not here too?

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Starting with the Final Report of the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) we have heard the oft repeated phrase that the primary, OIE approved screening test for cattle world wide, is missing shed loads of infected cattle. But only in the UK: or at least in parts of the UK. The ISG used modeling and the following hypothesis to concoct a heap of infected cattle on page 140  para 7:4
"Thus, if for example the true sensitivity of the test is 75 per cent, infection will remain undetected in one in four herds with a single infected animal. Given that only one confirmed reactor is detected at the disclosure test in about 30 per cent of breakdown herds, this represents a large number of additional infected herds that may remain undetected."
And from that hypothesis, the ISG's electronic abacus expands the risk to thousands of cattle in hundreds of herds. This was repeated more recently by Cambridge University models - [link] with Dr. Andrew Conlan, ignoring the obvious, and stating unequivocally that:
Around 38 per cent of herds that are cleared experience a recurrent incident within 24 months, suggesting that infection may be persisting within herds.
Not that those tested herds may be experiencing an insidious and constant reintroduction of infection from a non-bovine source? The cynical amongst us would suggest that would stop the funding stream generated by badger TB, stone dead. and that would never do.

 Scientists also, in the time honoured fashion of Not Made Here, ignore work done on actual transmission opportunities from reactor cattle, both in Ireland and GB.

In 1978 and 1988 Eamon Costello and Louis O'Reilly tried in Ireland with such pairings. Six months -[link] of shared feed, water, and air failed to transmit anything at all, and twelve months - link showed early lesions in just 4 out of 10 pairings. Conclusion: transmission in the field from cattle was very difficult.

The 'Pathman' project - [link] reporting in 2007, spent £2.8m trying to do the same and salami sliced reactor cattle into very tiny bits. After taking 1600 samples from that project's candidates and 1000 from a parallel study, they report that all failed to transmit. - [link]

A further overview, also written a decade ago by practising veterinary surgeon, the late John Daykin and Dr. Lewis Thomas also squashes flat, the elusive reservoir - [link] of zoonotic Tuberculosis in cattle.

But still, right up to date, we hear the same sing-song lament from this 2016 Defra tome - [link] Page 9.
Because of the limitations of the test and the nature of the response to the bovine TB bacterium we may miss 20 to 25 per cent of TB-infected cattle using the standard interpretation of the test (these animals are known as false negatives).
Defra personnel tend to ignore research and data which doesn't fit their particular bill, and true to form, they have ignored project SE4500, which examines slaughterhouse cases of TB.

Think about it: if the skin test was missing shed loads of cattle, then that abattoir surveillance - [link] designed for exactly the purpose of finding TB lesions, would be finding the 25 per cent of the annual kill that the skin test missed, would it not? So some 600,000 animals? That 'reservoir' which they seek?

Wind up your calculators dear readers, because there are too many noughts for us in that Defra paper.

But briefly it tells us, that out of 11.1 million animals from TB free herds, passing under the MHS officer's TB inspection microscope 2009 - 2013, just 5,366 samples proved positive for m.bovis. And that is nothing like 25 per cent of cattle, it is barely 0.05 per cent. We cannot find any more details as to whether these samples were from old, walled up lesions, or open active disease. But nevertheless, the figures and evidence from around the world do not support the ISG's and Defra's   mischievous assumption that  'If for example....' the skin test (as used in the UK or parts of it)  is rubbish.

So as cattle farmers, we are grateful to veterinary surgeon Den Leonard, for permission to quote his letter of explanation of the 'skin test' when used regularly  as a whole herd test. The letter was featured in Farmers Guardian January 13th.2017.
"Many people ask for a ‘better’ test for TB, quoting the low sensitivity of the single intradermal comparative cervical test (SICCT) or ‘skin test’ as we all call it. Because it has a low sensitivity it misses some infected animals. However, because so many tests are done on a farm and an area basis, infected areas are soon discovered.

When this happens many thousands of tests are performed in that area, as well as repeatedly on infected premises, which overcomes this issue of sensitivity from an eradication point of view, as the test is given many opportunities to identify the presence of TB.

This is how the test is used across the world very successfully and indeed was how our country virtually eradicated TB when we were managing the badger population density at the same time (before the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act).

However, what is needed more than sensitivity is specificity, and this is where the skin test is the best test. It has a specificity of 99.98%, which means that only 1 in 5000 of the positive test results are NOT positive. If we chose a more sensitive test, then we would reduce the specificity. If we reduced the specificity to 99.5%, which still sounds really good, then 1 in 200 positive results would be incorrect.

An area with perfectly clean cattle in it, or even a farm, would never test clear because of the increased false positive rate.

The skin test can be interpreted in a more sensitive (as in misses less positives), and consequently less specific way, by altering the skin thickness thresholds – what is known as ‘severe interpretation’. Also the gamma interferon blood test is more sensitive and less specific. This alteration in testing is appropriate when you know that infection resides in a herd as you want to ensure you find more truly positive cattle quickly, so you ‘accept’ more false positives during that phase. Using the combination of the skin test, gamma interferon blood testing, and severe interpretation, areas without wildlife infection are rapidly cleared of infected cattle throughout the world.

Farmers get frustrated when positively testing cattle do not show up with lesions. This is because nobody is explaining the test result to them properly, or because myths get perpetuated by people unwilling to understand. This aspect has been covered well in David Denny’s letter.

There is no need for any new cattle tests; we just need better education of stakeholders by the government and by practicing vets.

Den Leonard. Lambert, Leonard and May
From what we've read, perhaps we should start that education process with Defra.

We finished the previous posting with Damien Hirst's cow safe in her hermetically sealed formaldehyde tank. We'll end this one with a coughing badger similarly incarcerated.

 A much better idea for all our cattle, we think.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cattle Health Schemes - an unwanted, unworkable addition.

Various bodies operate cattle health schemes in the UK, and are very enthusiastic about adding a new disease to their piggy bank  disease risk portfolio.
We mentioned this in less than glowing terms in our September posting - [link] with a withering swipe at Chief Vet, Nigel Gibbens, for describing those of us who try and farm cattle in a responsible way in his 'High Risk Area' for TB as 'unlucky'.

We are not 'unlucky' at all. As we said in the that posting, we and our half a million dead cattle, are victims of governmental neglect of the wildlife reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis on a monumental scale over many decades.

 But despite the fact that zTB is primarily a spill over disease into cattle, from a maintenance reservoir in an untouchable wildlife source which has acquired cult status, the umbrella organisation CHeCS ( Cattle Health Scheme Certification Scheme) have launched their New Year with a flourish.

They and Defra Ministers describe their new risk assessment for zTB as 'rewarding farmers for good biosecurity'. So how has this risk assessment been prepared?

Working from a list of some very dubious 'factoids', the ESVPS (European School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies) have developed cobbled together a risk assessment hymn sheet [link] for vets to refer to. At the time of writing, numerous meetings have been held to promote this, but we are unsure whether the pamphlet in the link is the final draft, or a primary. The gist of it however is clear enough. Badgers with TB pose a huge problem for cattle farmers, but 'responsible cattle farmers' will keep them away from cattle.

And once again, Defra have thrown this thorny problem to another outside agency, in this instance a veterinary one, and cobbled together the risk of TB with other uniquely cattle diseases.
And that you cannot do.

To compare TB carried by wildlife and their detritus, with such uniquely cattle problems such as BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) IBR, (Infectious Bovine Rhinitis) Leptospirosis or Johnes disease etc. is both crass and unhelpful.

 The notes from which the Risk Assessment appears to have been drawn up, are mainly computer generated assumptions and factoids, bearing little relation to actual 'risks' which may practically be avoided on any working cattle farm.

Below we list them, with our interpretations:
1. In high risk areas, farms with herds of >150 cattle are 50% more likely to suffer a bTB outbreak than those with 50 or fewer

2.In herds with endemic bTB, herd sizes >300 are likely to circulate disease at a level which may be missed at individual TT test.
That computation is mathematical, not a given. Test 500 cattle in one herd and get one reactor, but test 500 cattle split between ten herds and nine herds will be clear. Simples.

3. Dairy herds tend to undertake higher risk practices including feeding. They also tend to be larger.
' High risk practices feeding Dairy herds’. Are they referring to maize or the way cattle are fed in the shed? Sheds were perfectly O.K until badger numbers got out of hand and used cattle feeding areas as their very own Badger MacDonalds on a regular basis. Grass silage too is mentioned, incurring (shock, horror) a 50% 'risk'. Just what else cattle are to fed during winter months is not explained as 'rough grazing' is also damned, incurring penalties.
4. The risk level can be assessed as highest when groups of cattle are purchased regularly and can be reduced by reducing the frequency of purchase and the size of the groups purchased.
Farmers are trying to run commercial businesses. This document appears to say that farmers should not purchase cattle, or only very occasionally and then  in small numbers. Several of our contributors run 'closed' herds using artificial insemination, have no bought in cattle at all and secure boundaries against any cattle contact. It makes no difference at all to an infected badger. He can infect any cow, any time, whatever its original home.
5. A small scale survey is ongoing to investigate whether reducing the water level in water troughs makes them less attractive to badgers who may not be able to reach in for the water level. This remains an experimental hypothesis at this time.
Experimental hypothesis??? How are smaller calves meant to drink? Via a U shaped straw?
6. Maize is grown on farm or by close neighbours and /or maize silage is fed to cattle leads to a 20% increase in TB risk per 10ha of maize grown.
So the growing of a wonderful home grown source of starch and sugar for cattle feed, is a 'risk', merely because it is also 'valued' as a magnet, by an overprotected pest? Add that to the grass silage and rough grazing previously tabled and cattle are left with precisely what to eat? Thistles?
7. Building access by badgers is recognised as a greater risk than occasional pasture contact.
It doesn't matter how or where cattle come into contact with badgers, if those badgers are infected and infectious at the time of contact and leave behind them infected evidence of their visits. That can be in farm buildings or grazed grass. A reactor is still a reactor. And she's shot.
The infectious culprit continues on its merry way.
8. Badger tracks are recognised as a lower risk than latrine and shared feeding areas at pasture
Badger tracks are still subject to the contents of leaking bladders and scent marking for territorial boundaries. They will use the same tracks too and these lead to 'badger feeding areas' (grassland) containing dung pats etc.. And badgers constantly create new latrines, now that their numbers are so great.
It is not explained how farmers can shrink wrap cattle grazing areas.
9. This [ nutritional deficiencies] may increase susceptibility to TB
That assertion was not born out by the salami sliced post mortems of reactor cattle in the the £2.8m Pathogenesis project - [link]
10. This (above?) should include Johnes disease vaccination if utilised. Using a Johnes vaccine may increase the chances of not detecting infected animals. Work is underway to investigate if the gamma interferon test may be of use in this situation.
Vaccines for Johnes [m.avium paratuberculosis] is not available in UK, as far as we are aware.
11. Evidence to support previous recrudescence or repeated incursions of bTB will need to be looked at in conjunction with the genotype results from infection in SICCT positive cattle.
How about looking at whether badgers have continued and are continuing to visit cattle areas rather than assuming recrudescence via cattle? And if you slaughter out the primary Genotype (should one be found) what happens to number two? Or three? Or four? Cognitive dissonance? No cattle = no TB.
12. There is an odds ratio of 3.1 times greater risk of lifetime risk of becoming a reactor if an individual has at any time tested as an inconclusive reactor.
Not in our, or ex DVMs practical experience over decades. Mathematical models again using assumed data?
13. Even relatively short extensions in the testing interval are associated with an increased risk of disclosing disease in the high risk area.
This will no longer apply as any farmer going over the stated window for his herd's TB testing, automatically has BPS docked and his herd put under immediate restriction. Penalties for any reactors found are also in the pipeline. All certain to focus the mind.
14. If the period of time during the test is prolonged, this can exacerbate the impact of any spread within the herd.
Some extraordinary grammar in that one. A longer time for a vet to test cattle, or a longer period between tests? We'll assume the latter. But if testing periods are extended and exposure has longer to generate lesions (as in four year testing areas) then more lesioned reactors than NVLs would be expected.
15. If this is the case, then local spread from either wildlife or locally purchased stock is suggested. If this is not the case, then purchase from outside the area is suggested.
Spoligotypes will nail that question, without making any more wild assumptions.
16. Byrne et al identified in 2012 that the average maximum distance a badger would roam was 2km. However, under exceptional circumstances hungry animals were found to roam up to 7.5km from their sett, possibly over a couple of days. The risk level can be assessed as highest when groups of cattle are purchased regularly and can be reduced by reducing the frequency of purchase and the size of the groups purchased.
One minute talking about badger ranges and then goes back into stopping farmers purchasing cattle??

And if Woodchester Park's peanut fed pets were used as the guinea pigs for Byrne et al, then forget distance. In the real world, territorial distances traveled are reported to be much, much more. In fact we have been told that one Woodchester badger, collared to track her movements, trundled 21 miles to Bristol Docks. And returned after viewing the estuary. But we don't expect Byrne or et al was told that.

We are told this is an industry led initiative. Really? The names of the AHDB, APHA, DEFRA and the NFU appear as endorsements. Did they really understand what they were suggesting?

We would reiterate, as would our supporting vets, that in no way can the disease zoonotic Tuberculosis carried by over protected wildlife,  be compared in terms of 'risk' with that of genuine cattle diseases, some of which we mentioned above and over which farmers do have an element of control..

So from that list of 'risks', is Damien Hirst's cow offering the only 'safe' place for our cattle to exist?

In a hermetically sealed tank full of formaldehyde, to protect them not only from infected wildlife, but a gravy train of hangers on intent on trousering cash from government negligence?