Friday, December 22, 2017

Defra's Christmas presents.

A few months ago Defra held yet another 'consultation' -[link] on the way forward to its ambition of TB free status for England in 25 years time. As usual this included a lot of buck passing cost cutting dressed up as  a 'benefit' for disease control. The phrase 'earned recognition' appeared many times.

 And yesterday Defra's plans were released, pretty much unchanged despite objections. This department does have a nasty habit of lobbing a hand grenade into your in-box on the eve of a holiday and yesterday was no exception. 

So here is our 2017 Christmas blog post:

 On the first day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the second day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the third day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests per year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the fourth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: reduced cash if reactors are presented dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests per year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

On the fifth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the sixth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the seventh day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the eight day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: delayed slaughter for pregnant cattle, grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the ninth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: no live movement of  Inconclusive reactors, delayed slaughter for pregnant cattle, grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the tenth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: more gamma testing, no live movement of Inconclusive reactors, delayed slaughter for pregnant cattle, grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the eleventh day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: extra testing for certain types of enterprises, which they pay for, more gamma testing, no live movement of  Inconclusive reactors, delayed slaughter for pregnant cattle, grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 On the twelfth day of Christmas, Defra brought to me: employment opportunities for private vets, extra testing for certain types of enterprises, which they pay for, more gamma testing, no live movement of  Inconclusive reactors, delayed slaughter for pregnant cattle, grants to vaccinate badgers, a new compensation table for pigs, sheep, deer and camelids, more TB advice on biosecurity, reduced cash if reactors are dirty, a 90 day SI test interval, two herd tests a year and another pile of guff for my filing cabinet.

 It's all, and more, in this pdf - [link]

The thought to hang on to here, is the answer to our PQ way back in the mists of 2004, when we asked why the Thornbury badger clearance had been so successful. Following that there combined with test / slaughter of any reactors, were no cases of TB in cattle for the following decade or more. 

The answer was unequivocal. And all of the above, just so much guff. A sop to the Treasury and Brian May's groupie's but completely unnecessary.

" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949]

A very happy Christmas to all our readers, farmers and vets.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Singing from the same hymn sheet

It seemed a simple enough question. But drew a raft of answers, many totally incorrect, from people who should know the answer.

 After cattle have tested clear, and providing that the herd is not under restriction for TB, then in many areas of England, farmers have just 60 days in which to trade them. But when does the clock start ticking?

 One of our contributors had occasion to ascertain this date recently. And he received some surprising answers.

 From an NFU spokeman, '60 days from reading day' : so 60 days after the test is read?

This marked a change from past practise, so our contributor then phoned the newly hatched TB Advisory service - [link] and was given the same answer by telephone. 60 days from the reading of the test.

Not content with this answer either, the facts were requested in writing, and an APHA booklet -[link] appeared in his in-box. Page 5 is the relevant information to answer the question, and it states:

 "Pre movement tests are valid for 60 days (from the date of the injection, which is day zero of the 60 day period)".
So the 60 days starts from jab day, but begins the day after the tuberculin antigen is given?

 Not according the blumph on the TB Hub - [link] advisory service website. This states:

 "Clear pre-movement test results are valid for 60 days from the date of injection (day one of the test)".

Being charitable that 'day one' mention may be construed as the first part of a two part test. But it may also be construed as the day the 60 day movement window begins. It's a fudge.

 Farmers' BPS payments depend upon having clear knowledge of their responsibilities for testing of cattle and following these to the letter, with threats of substantial deductions for non-compliance.
So, it is a damned disgrace disappointing that the verbal information sought was so very wrong, and two NFU or Government backed websites contradictory.

It would be helpful if all these advisers were singing from the same hymn sheet, but the paucity of correct information on this very basic question, indicates the people offering it are not even in the same choir.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hiding in plain sight

Published in September was a string of mathematically modeled figures from the original pilot culls in Gloucestershre and Somerset. Or at least the first two years of them.

Pinned out, dissected and calculated into figures that a laymen can understand, Roger Blowey MRCVS has explained to the Veterinary Record, that when the modeled figures are closely examined, the drop in cattle incidents in the two pilot areas is quite startling.

58 per cent in Gloucestershire, and 21 per cent in Somerset. 

Published by the Wiley Online Library, the paper is headed "Assessing the first 2 years of industry led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle 2013 - 15"

It can be viewed on this link. - [link] The modelers compared several non cull areas of both counties, as similar in size and cattle density as was possible, and then extruded the results.
Screen grab from the paper.

What was probably more amusing, was the that bastion of Badger Protection, the BBC gave this story a whirl on their flagship Countryfile -[link] programme.

But as the figures in Lucy Brunton's paper contain no mention of a 58 per cent drop in cattle incidence of zTB in Gloucestershre after two years with a Gatling gun, one may assume that in some quarters, their  results may prove a tad embarrassing.

Nevertheless, with a new battery in his calculator, Mr. Blowey has done the donkey work, and there it is. A good result. Hidden in plain sight.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A new test or 'dangerous nonsense'?

Bacteriophage technology has been around for almost 100 years - [link]

It is well understood and in simple terms is a bacterial virus which attacks bacteria and replicates within the cells. Work has been done over decades to see if this could replace drugs in the treatment of antibiotic resistant strains of TB.

 From 1999, a paper which explains the background to phage exploration and despite high hopes, how it failed to act as a 'cure' for Tuberculosis - [link]

And from 2004, the Journal of Clinical Microbiology - [link] concluded that:
"The small increase in sensitivity over that of direct microscopy does not justify the introduction of this technique for routine diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis at this time."
Meanwhile Biotec Laboratories in the UK were also investigating the use of phage technology to diagnose human Tuberculosis - [link] with their FASTPlaque TB tm screen.

 The results of this project were not outstanding, with many false positives and also false negatives leading us to question whether the test is species or type specific?

 A comment - [link] from a 2006 paper, exploring new methods of detecting TB in humans (m tuberculosis) describes Biotec's phage technology as follows:
"The results demonstrated that, when performed on culture isolates, phage assays have relatively high accuracy. A total of 11 out of 19 (58%) studies included in the review reported sensitivity and specificity estimates of at least 95%.Specificity estimates were slightly lower and more variable than sensitivity; five out of 19 (26%) studies reported specificity under 90%.

Only two studies performed phage assays directly on sputum specimens, with inconsistent results."
So the results were described as 'inconsistent' with specificity (false positives ) under 90%..

So what has this to do with m.bovis (a close cousin of m.tuberculosis) in our cattle?

A great deal when the company pioneering it offers opportunist interviews - [link] while guesstimating its sensitivity / specificity. The Times covered the story with an attention grabbing headline earlier this month, and this was picked up by the farming press.:
"When the veterinary surgeon arrived at a dairy farm in Devon yesterday, he already knew at least 30 cows were infected with tuberculosis. Their blood had tested positive using a new kind of TB test that is being pioneered by researchers at Nottingham University."
A skin test followed, and the cattle tested clear. The herd owner is quoted:
"He also knows that the 30 cows that tested positive using the blood test, known as phage, could infect the rest of his herd but he can’t afford to slaughter them."

The government only compensates farmers for animals that have failed their standard, approved tests. Those 30 cows have passed more than 30 skin tests each."

“If we knew getting rid of them would clear the TB immediately we would do it,” the farmer said. “But if it didn’t, I would go bust.”

There is a risk that the phage test hasn’t identified every animal with TB. There is also a risk that the cows could pick up new infections from the environment.
There is also a big risk that the phage test misdiagnosed those positives. In other words, a bundle of hopeful certainty, from a test not validated as a diagnostic test at all and with dubious specificity.

And then this cruncher:
Dick Sibley, a vet who is leading the farm trial, said a survey of badger setts in the fields around the farm had shown 30 per cent of the animals had TB.
Young cows share the fields with those badgers before they are brought inside to calve. “Even if we slaughtered 50 cows out of 500 there might be an infection remaining in the herd that we hadn’t found,” he said. “We can’t ask the farmer to do all this to get rid of the disease, only to let the animals get reinfected from the environment.”
So, using a test not cleared for diagnostics, and with a dubious pedigree, Sibley has decided that in spite of his remarks about the infectivity of local badgers, that the Biotec phage test is the next Big Thing. And more cattle must be killed?

 Our microbiologist co-editor has the following comments:
"Phages are well understood,  old technology. They cannot be used as a diagnostic tool.  End of.

To use bacteriophages thus is an abuse of the test and dangerous nonsense".

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Infectivity of vaccinated badgers

Last week, UCD Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, and the Quantitative Veterinary Epidemiology group, Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences, Wageningen University & Research, Netherlands published a paper -[link] on the vaccination of badgers.

 Over four years, groups of badgers were jabbed with either BCG or a placebo and then tested for results. The paper describes:
In this manuscript, we present the results of a badger field trial conducted in Ireland and discuss how the novel trial design and analytical methods allowed the effects of vaccination on protection against infection and, more importantly, on transmission to be estimated.
Cutting through all the guff, we pick out the following paragraphs:
Over the study period, 55 new infections occurred in non-vaccinated (out of 239 = 23.0%) and 40 in vaccinated (out of 201 = 19.9%) badgers.
This is 'protection against infection'  part. So after vaccinating, a difference of  just 3 per cent? But then the modelers got to work, and "Statistical analysis showed that susceptibility to natural exposure with M. bovis was reduced in vaccinated compared to placebo treated badgers: vaccine efficacy for susceptibility, VES, was 59% (95% CI = 6.5%-82%)." But crucially:
However, a complete lack of effect from BCG vaccination on the infectivity of vaccinated badgers was observed, i.e. vaccine efficacy for infectiousness (VEI) was 0%.
Infectivity of badgers is the amount of detritus left behind for any other mammal to fall over. That's the 'transmission' bit. Especially important for our sentinel, tested cattle, and described in the paper as " extremely important in the case of vaccination in badgers, as the ultimate goal is to help in the control or eradication of M. bovis infection in cattle."

 Not just in Ireland either. Our lot have been playing with BCG (at 10x the rate for humans) for several years. We discussed their results here - [link] and veterinary professionals gave their view here - [link]
And we also remember poor old badger D313 - [link] who had his dose of BCG and developed zoonotic Tuberculosis in pretty much every organ, during the Lesellier trial. -[link]

So the paper's 'stand out' paragraph for us is this blinder:
A reduction in the total infectivity of vaccinated and subsequently infected badgers in the field had been anticipated based on the reduction in disease progression observed in vaccinated compared to non vaccinated badgers in experimental studies (Chambers et al., 2011).

However, no reduction of infectivity was found in our study. The lack of effect of BCG vaccination on infectivity in the general badger population is thus at odds with the hypothesis that vaccination, by reducing disease progression, reduces the infectivity of vaccinated and subsequently infected badgers.

From this study, we cannot determine whether a similar reduction in disease progression to that observed in experimental studies was found in the field as no post-mortem data were available. Nevertheless, if that reduction in disease progression does exist, we did not find a concurrent reduction in infectivity. The lack of effect of vaccination on infectivity has implications in terms of the effectiveness of BCG badger vaccination in Ireland (or how much reduction of transmission is achieved by vaccination).
Post mortem data was available to Lesellier, and those vaccinated badgers all had lesions and all were shedding. (Link above)

The Farmers Union of Wales understands only too well, how ineffective faffing about with vaccinating badgers is. In an an article - [link] published by the Institute for Welsh Affairs earlier this year, Dr. Nick Fenwick describes the result of four years of vaccinating:
So it comes as little surprise that the latest official report on the badger vaccination programme in north Pembrokeshire, which cost £3.7 million, concludes that “Consistent trends in indicators of bTB incidence have not yet been seen…”
Perhaps someone should tell The Badger Trust, Rosie Woodroffe,  Brian May, and even the Secretary of State - link] And also ask, with these results echoing those of Lessellier in 2011, why on earth anyone is still promoting and funding this?  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Would you choose a veterinary professional to tune your guitar? Probably not.

But today our Secretary of State for Agriculture tweeted about his meeting with superannuated star gazer, Dr. Brian May - he of Save Me fame - to discuss a way forward on the thorny question (at least for an upwardly mobile politician) of zoonotic Tuberculosis.

This was the Tweet from Save Me, updating Gove on the way forward. Improved cattle testing, vaccination and stupid farmers. Nice one.

Now Gove is not the sharpest knife in the box, having (according to Private Eye) attempted to unblock his lavatory with a vacuum cleaner - until he was stopped. We understand that he is however well known for echoing the thoughts of those to whom he spoke most recently.

So perhaps some refreshing factoids better make their way into his shell like.

 For instance, in our PQs over a decade ago now, we asked the reason why certain areas of the UK, which had undergone a thorough cull of badgers, had achieved such success.

The answer was unequivocal and needs to be inscribed over the door of every building occupied by this most political of government departments, and especially the office of the Secretary of State:
" The fundamental difference between the Thornbury area and other areas [] where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" [157949 - Hansard]
Other areas too had spectacular success, including East Offaly, Steeple Lees and Hartland, but also the four area trial - [link] in Ireland with a reduction in cattle TB of around 96 per cent.

 And two decades or more ago, these areas had no bolt on cattle measures at all. Particularly of the sort Dr. May and his cohorts propose.

Just, as the PQ said 'a systematic removal of badgers from the area'.

Keep it simple.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

RSPCA and the cull

From The Times - link] this morning: (The Times is paywall protected)

 "The RSPCA has softened its stance on badger culling by dropping a promise to publicly shame or investigate farmers who take part.
After years of threatening farmers with public disgrace and expulsion from its animal welfare schemes, it said it had accepted advice from “external auditors” that culling badgers was not an “automatic breach” of its ethical farming rules.

The audit was launched last year by its former chief executive, Jeremy Cooper. His predecessor, Gavin Grant, had threatened to “name and shame” farmers involved in the cull and said people would boycott milk “from farms soaked in badgers’ blood”.

 That's big of them isn't it?

 A previous headline could have been 'RSPCA promotes zoonotic Tuberculosis throughout it supplying farms'.

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: