Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cash snatch - follow up.

A quick follow up to the posting below regarding Defra's compensation cash snatch - [link]

This concerns ownership of the reactor animal, as presented to an abattoir as a TB reactor and the intention of Defra to swipe farmer compensation if the animal is presented in what is described as 'an unclean' state..

We are all aware of harrowing tales of herd restrictions meaning overcrowding, inadequate housing and lack of income,  leading to animals being in less than pristine condition for slaughter for human consumption, should that need arise.

But after a reactor is identified, it is Defra (or APHA) who organise slaughter, arrange transport and then present the animal for slaughter. And it is Defra who receive monies from the abattoir for the carcase. This is known as 'salvage'. In due course, the farmer is then paid the derisory tabular compensation he is owed for the animal he has in effect 'sold' to the Ministry.

 So, at the time of presentation of the reactor for slaughter, is not responsibility for its cleanliness that of the present owner? ie. Defra?

And when does that 'ownership' begin?

Is it, for example, when the green DNA Reactor tag is applied? Thus several days or in some cases, weeks before it leaves the farm?

Conversely, it may be when it boards its  Ministry arranged transport, complete with passport, for its final journey?

 But either way, on arrival at the abattoir, the reactor animal does not belong to the farmer, it is Defra's. And thus it could be argued that its condition as 'fit to slaughter' is Defra's responsibility too.

Just a thought....

The alternative of course, is on farm slaughter, in which case, no salvage monies would be payable to Defra at all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

New compensation rules.

Whenever Defra have a 'consultation' paper, it is to rubber stamp what they've already decided to inflict on the agricultural community. And so it appears with the latest one on tabular compensation for zTB reactors, following a public 'consulation' last year.

 Published last week, the Briefing note outlines new rules to be enacted on November 1st.

 To inform Official Veterinarians that from the 1st November 2018 there will be changes to The Cattle Compensation (England) Order 2012 .

 * Reduction in compensation of 50% for animals which arrive at the slaughterhouse too dirty to process.

 * Reduction in compensation of 50% for animals brought in to a herd during a TB breakdown which are subsequently removed as reactors or direct contacts (DCs) prior to the herd regaining official TB free (OTF) status.

 * Compensation to be paid for privately slaughtered reactors if they are found to be totally condemned for reasons of TB only.

Now, we would point out, with the greatest of respect of course, that many animals destined for Defra's funeral pyre, are not farmed as meat animals and thus maybe not be as pristine clean as they would be for planned slaughter, at the time of TB testing. We would also point out that abattoirs provide a clipping service for such eventualities, and charge between £10 and £15  per animal to clip it safely. And that is not half the animal's value.

APHA licenses to purchase cattle as replacements during the course of a zTB restriction, have always been at veterinary discretion, and were there to make sure that the business itself, and its throughput of milk or beef, could continue. That will no longer be the case. 
Thus farmers who buy in with an APHA license while under TB restriction in order to continue their businesses, are being effectively put out of business - or forced to break the law in dealing with an external source of infection that Defra refuse to touch with a ten foot pole.

The full text of the document can be found here - [link]

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Serviette sir, madame?

Perhaps the most bizarre report to come out in the press recently was a BVA press release -[link] expressing concern about badgers trapped in cages during a heatwave.

Now we are not sure whether any members of the British Veterinary Association are aware that the badger cull starts in the autumn, the heatwave was experienced months ago, and has long since dissipated into default drizzle in most areas of the South West. But we digress. Some worthy individuals may be hell bent on vaccinating them.

But we suspect neither the BVA members, nor those proposing vaccination have seen the effect of a cage trap on this animal, who is likely to fill the whole area with soil and bury itself before curling up and going to sleep. Where one wonders where would this BVA water source be placed? And would said badger like a serviette to protect his peanuts from exposure to soil? Or even water?

It really is the silly season.

 Meanwhile, on Twitter - [link]  Badgergate believe that we - just love that all encompassing phrase - should celebrate an over population of infectious omnivores in these islands as a success. They say:
We wonder why people aren't happy that England is the heartland of the European badger? We wonder why some only value something that's endangered. We wonder why on an island, impoverished in wildlife terms, why people don't celebrate badgers as a success?
If badgers weren't riddled with zoonotic tuberculosis, and spreading that bacterium far and wide while hoovering up every other small mammal, ground nesting bird or invertebrate in their path, perhaps those impoverished populations would stand half and chance, and 'we' would value their chosen species more.
Below a pic of hedgehog skins, left by badgers who peeled them like a large Jaffa orange, leaving just the prickles.

 And finally dear old Rosie, supporting the above tweet of course, but with a selectively defective memory of her past work, tweeted - [link] this:
Indeed. When I suggested that if the UK was to encourage African farmers to coexist with elephants it should also encourage its own farmers to coexist with badgers, I got some of the worst trolling I've experienced.
That Rosie, would possibly be because some of us heard your former boss, the diminutive John Bourne, echo Chris Cheeseman's comments when addressing cattle farmers who had enquired, quite politely, after hearing of the gross infectivity of these over abundant, over protected creatures, how they could protect their cattle from the infection they carried.

The answer was unequivocal. "You can't. You get rid of your cattle".

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Another high profile casualty

Last week, the national press carried the story of a black alpaca called Geronimo, who had failed a blood test for zTB. In our opinion, his owner is fighting the order to slaughter, on some very spurious grounds, not least questioning the validity of the priming skin test.

New owner of this imported animal, Helen Macdonald is quoted as saying that she:
... " voluntarily agreed for Geronimo to have a blood test for TB shortly after he was imported last August. She believes the test came back with a false positive because he had been injected with tuberculin as part of skin tests conducted just before he left New Zealand and also nine months earlier. "
So this alpaca, imported a year ago, was tested in New Zealand, prior to export and previous to that, nine months earlier? No details are available as to exactly what test was used, but if it was just a skin test, then forget it. The Sensitivity of that on alpacas is notoriously bad.

What is also strange about this case, is that the blood test used by Miss. Macdonald on this animal, was our friend, Enferplex -[link] together with a priming skin test. And it was repeated, giving the same result. Positive.

 Now as we explained in that posting, Enferplex with a priming skin test, has a specificity of 97 - 99 per cent. So false positives are very rare. It does however have a low sensitivity (the ability to identify disease) Thus a positive result from Enferplex should be treated with respect.

Geronimo originated in New Zealand, at the Nevalea stud - [link] home to over 700 alpacas, and situated in the Taumarunui region of NZ's North Island. This area is on the edge of a TB hotspot - [link] - Whangamarino - one of the few remaining in New Zealand after years of wildlife control.

New Zealand farmers are keen not to take a foot off that particular pedal, and let incidence of TB rise again. However  Miss Macdonald describes Defra's attitude as 'bullying and intimidation".
In a letter received by Miss Macdonald last Tuesday, Defra’s lawyers gave her seven days to confirm she will have Geronimo put down or they would apply for a warrant to kill the animal. Miss Macdonald last night called for Defra to carry out further tests. She said: ‘If they are sure he has got the disease, it will not hurt them. I have volunteered to pay for it. The problem is they are not listening to anyone because they are arrogant.
This is not the first time alpacas from Gloucestershire have tested positive for zoonotic Tuberculosis. We covered the story of Balthazar - [link] in this 2009 posting. Since then several hundred animals have been slaughtered in the UK and more sensitive tests trialled. Not least the privately funded qPCR test - [link] which screened dead alpacas with great success.

So although we have sympathy for Miss Macdonald, she is on a hiding to nowhere with this fight. As previous owners of alpacas and cattle have discovered.

 More about the alpaca herd and the animal in question, here - [link]


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Water badgers.

A short post to comment on today's news from the South West.

Parts of Exeter near the estuary have flooded badly in the last few years, so a £32m scheme is being undertaken to protect the city, homes and railway links.

A badger sett was / is in the way, so a new ancestral home was built at great expense, but these Newcastle supporters don't approve of the decor and have returned to their old stomping grounds, which from one report, just happens to be the new flood embankment.

Local BBC news - [link] has the story.

But this isn't the first time badgers have destroyed waterway infrastructure. We reported in 2004, how the Llangollen Canal in North Wales was was drained - [link] flooding nearby farmland and stranding narrow boats. The cost of repairs then, not to mention the the disruption, was said to be £500,000.

Fourteen years on, and the cost of Exeter's new flood defences are put at £32 million. They may or may not survive a watery onslaught, but will they survive the tunneling associated with badger house building?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Another High Court challenge

Yesterday saw another High Court challenge to culling badgers launched. The Independent - [link] headlined the story  and it was picked up by other media - [link] later in the day.
From the Independent:
"Cull opponents will accuse government ministers and officials of “incompetence, negligence and deceit” in drawing up their plans and extending the “growing series of brutal, bloody countryside purges”.
The challenge is headed by Badger Trust member and ecologist Tom Langton, who believes officials acted unlawfully. He challenges two aspects of the cull policy.
The first is over the way in which Natural England, the government body in charge of protecting wildlife, did its homework before issuing licences to shoot badgers. Mr Langton and the trust claim its habitats regulations assessments, including judging the effect on protected species such as hen harriers, were flawed.

The second challenge is over a consultation in 2016-17 and the decision last summer by Department of Environment officials to grant more culling licences in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset for a further five years. The cull opponents say the officials wrongly interpreted the conclusions of randomised culling trials.
Presumably publication of the latest more targeted culling permissions - [link] in the original pilot cull areas, and published on July 6th. is what has provoked this latest whine.

So even with the outrageous -[link] and proud boasts of former un-civil servant, Andrew Wood, in charge of Natural England at the time of both the badger dispersal trial RBCT and pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset, this miserable cavalcade moves on.

In fact now this duplicitous man is involved with both the Badger Trust and The League Against Cruel Sports, he may still be pulling the strings of his former employees.

 It does seem a tad of a co incidence that Wood should publish his outbursts and Langton launch a High Court challenge to a lawful mop up of disease (abandoned by Defra) which has been paid for and operated under license by farmers for six years, all in the same week.

While the articles airing this story are populated by photographs of healthy badgers, shiny and fat, the Badger Trust supporters do not see what cattle farmers see around their fields, farms and lanes which is very different. These often appear as harbingers of a cattle breakdown.

 Excluded by their peer groups, emaciated, showing suppurating bite wounds and often starving to death, sharing the bacteria they carry with any mammal unfortunate enough to sniff it or consume it, below are some examples of the Badger Trust's successes.

They should be proud of themselves.


Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Fox - outed.

If you ever wondered just why any control of the maintenance reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis in GB was kicked into the long grass, look no further than the League Against Cruel sports latest blog - [link] which features the disgraceful mutterings of former Defra fox, Andrew Wood. - [link]

 We commented in 2011, on the extraordinary link up between AHVLA, a body with responsibility for controlling zoonotic diseases, and this quango, known as 'Natural England - [link] who seemed to be doing all in its power to prevent this.

 Andrew Wood also over saw the notorious badger dispersal trial RBCT, on which he draws for 'evidence' of a badger cull not working. Perhaps he should have paid more attention to the whitterings of its arch wizard, the duplicitous John Bourne - [link] who openly boasted of his trial's predetermined conclusion to the EFRA Committee.

 Of his time at Natural England, Wood boasts thus:
That seems an apt analogy for my time working for Natural England when the badger cull was initially rolled out. I wanted to stop it, and I tried to stop it – but I was a civil servant, not a government minister, and I didn’t have the power. When I knew I couldn’t stop it, I did what I could to save as many lives as possible, and I’m confident that I did that.
So, Andrew Wood and his cohorts at Natural England took a decision that culling was ineffective, the problem was cattle, and then did all they could to frustrate any attempt to sort out the problem of zoonotic tuberculosis in badgers?

 Yes, they did, and are proud of their achievements. Wood's diatribe continues:
So, do I regret my involvement in the early stages of this obnoxious policy? My firm belief is that without my engagement and that of others in Natural England, the policy would have been rolled out more quickly and with even less regard being paid to the evidence. More badgers would have died. There would have been no pilots and culling would have begun over much bigger parts of the country much sooner. The Government may even have resorted to gassing badgers. I am glad that I did what I could to prevent this.

Since leaving Natural England I offered support and advice to Brian May in his legal challenge to the policy in 2015. The challenge didn’t work, but we must not stop in our bid to halt this hideous slaughter of a beautiful, British animal.
So, no matter how many cattle are slaughtered, and how many alpacas, sheep, pigs and companion animals die, badgers rotting with tuberculosis must be protected?

 During this man's tenure of Natural England, (2007 - 2015) almost a third of a million - 313,000 cattle were slaughtered as reactors to zoonotic tuberculosis. And as numbers continue to rise in counties not licensed to cull, GB is in serious danger of losing its ability to trade - [link]

 And we have no doubts that Andrew Wood left some 'cubs' behind when he vacated the particular hen house known as 'Natural England'..

Those who pretend to be your friends, are most often your enemies. And anyone who protects the bacteria which causes 'zoonotic tuberculosis' is no friend of any mammal, especially badgers..

Friday, May 18, 2018

About time too.

When a farm has a TB breakdown, much information is collated by the local veterinary offices. This includes slide samples (above) of bacteria present in any lesions. Sadly this is often dissipated between several APHA offices, but at some point it comes together as a report.

And better late than never, the farm's history of breakdowns, cattle movements and most importantly the genotype responsible for the breakdown, will be made available to the farm concerned.

 A newsflash from the NFU:
The APHA is making more data available to farmers in England and Wales to help tackle bTB.

Reports for individual farms are produced by the APHA using TB breakdowns and cattle movement data, these are posted out a few weeks after the start of a breakdown, with the aim of helping farmers better understand the bTB risks to their herd and to take action to reduce those risks.

 It is strongly recommended that farmers start to share these reports with their private vets which should help both parties to understand the level of bTB risk to the herd, the impact of previous TB breakdowns on the herd, the pattern of cattle movements and its potential effect on the herd's bTB risk, and also the reasons for the pattern of bTB breakdowns in the herd (if applicable).

The report describes the herd type and size, and any TB breakdowns that have occurred on the holding over the last 10 years, along with the causative strain (genotype) of bTB identified in the lab which shows the geographical area where that strain is commonly found.
This can help with identifying the route of transmission to establish if it is more likely to have come from cattle movements or indirect/direct contact with infected badgers.
And it is that final paragraph which is important.

When APHA culture samples from cattle taken as reactors, (and any badgers they feel like looking more closely at)  a genotype is revealed.
This, over many decades, has formed a database which we have described here, in 2006 -[link], and here with some charts - [link].

Each individual strain or spoligotype has slight variations if the sample is subject to VNTR (Variable Number Tandem Repeats) then these may be described as regional accents - [link] which a former Chief Scientist was delighted to 'discover'. They were there anyway, but until an 'ologist has found them, they remain unique but invisible.

 Farmers under TB restriction will also be offered a map - [link] of breakdowns in their area, including spoligotypes of the offending bacteria.

 Finally a thought for the day. The predominator strain of m.bovis (AN5) found decades ago, has now been eliminated, leading many scientists working on this subject to the question 'have we now got badger adapted TB - [link] spreading back up into our tested, sentinel cattle?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another Defra cash snatch? (Updated)

Futher update:

The EU document from which this legislation is spawned, is linked to below. It was published on June 8th 2016 and is quite specific as to the time line - in EU speke.

"This Regulation should be applicable from the first day of the twenty-eighth month after the date it enters into force."
Which is November 1st 2018. The EU document also helpfully explains  

                             HAVE ADOPTED THIS REGULATION:
So having sat on their hands for almost all of that allotted time, Defra now have a consultation out to discuss it. And clarify any misinterpretations in the 3 months before it comes into force.

**The Defra documentation can be accessed here - [link] and must be returned by July 11th.**

But our posting below has already highlighted an unwelcome  side effect of this grindingly boring paperchase. And that refers to the difference - many thousands of £s in some cases - between Defra's perceived 'value' of pedigree animals and non-pedigree casualties of their Animal Health programs.

When cattle become TB 'reactors'. Defra's table valuations swing into action, and in most months, casualties which have a pedigree certificate are 'valued' higher than non-pedigree cattle.

Note: this valuation applies to other Defra Animal Health slaughterings too.

But on November 1st 2018, unless the smaller breed societies get their collective heads together, pedigree cattle registered with them will lose that designation and be paid out as non-pedigree.

All the relevant bedtime reading is contained in this document - [link] which deals with intra community trade in zootechnical products.The document spreads its wings over breed societies and explains how they should / must operate.

The registration of such societies is operated in the UK by the Defra committee known as FaNGR (Farm Animal Genetic Resources committee) whose pedigree and contact details are described here - [link]
This latest tranche of paper appears to owe most of its content to exporting cattle into and around the EU, rather than breed promotion within the UK. But sadly we hear that already some overzealous vets are using it already, to reduce TB compensation paid to owners of pedigree cattle, whose breed societies have not yet made it on to Defra's new list. We also hear that Brexit appears to have stalled some pending registrations.

Here is a snippet from the current legislation - [link]  

.“pedigree animal” means a breeding animal for which a pedigree certificate has been issued by a breeder’s organisation or association that fulfils the conditions  of  Commission Decision 84/247/EEC(a) laying down the criteria for the recognition of breeders’ organisations and associations which maintain or establish herd-books for pure-bred breeding animals of the bovine species;......"

 Notable absentees from Defra's new list include minor beef breeds, such as Salers, Bazadaise, Parthenaise, Gloucesters, Kerry and many more.

Apparently having paid a breed society for membership,  Herdbook registrations and having a pedigree certificate, is not enough. If your breed society is not on this list - [link] then from November 1st.  any reactors will be paid at non-pedigree rates.

 However long their pedigree is.

Sunday, April 15, 2018


We are hearing many heart wrenching tales of lorry loads of cattle, and in some cases whole herds - all headed for premature slaughter after failing the Gamma interferon - [link ] blood test.

We wrote about this test in 2008, and described the problems with it in this posting, [link] where we quoted snippets from the infamous pilot, carried out by Defra into the use and in particular, the specificity (false positives) associated with Gamma - which were summarily dismissed..

These are described in a paper labelled SB4021 - [link] and where those unexpected results - 25 per cent of one herd, expected to be negative results - were ignored.

Comments on the thread above pointed out that the condition of bloods and timing of samples v. their delivery to a laboratory are crucial to results. And the lives of our cattle. And we hear that other countries using the test do not use it as a slaughter test. Results have to be confirmed with a skin test. And in 2006, after the pilot study (which excluded any  results the team did not expect to find) Hansard records thus:
22 May 2006 : Column 1294W Mr. Bradshaw:

It was research project SB4021 ( ) that was established to evaluate the specificity of the gamma interferon (IFNg) test. This project confirmed the findings of previous studies by concluding that the commercially available IFNg test had a specificity of between 95-97 per cent. Findings from SB4021 supported the view that it would be inappropriate to use IFNg for routine screening purposes because it risks producing too many false positive results.

A further roll out of Gamma ifn, by invitation only, failed to attract enough support and petered out.

In the interim, studies found that a priming skin test increased sensitivity of gamma, which got Defra very excited, but we can find nothing to contradict the findings of that Pilot study SB4021. And this showed the ability of gamma to hoover up as positives, many micobacteria in the MTC (Micobacterium Tuberculosis Complex) family. Many of which are widespread and harmless.

So fast forward to 2016 and a 'consultation' to tell us what Defra have in store for our cattle next. And we see this for Gamma ifn in 2017:
Gamma testing is being used in the following circumstances:

"From April 2017, the gamma test will be applied alongside the skin test to help resolve TB breakdowns with lesion and/or culture positive animals in the HRA where any of the following three criteria are met:

* Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle (e.g. via cattle movements, residual cattle infection from a previous TB breakdown, or contact with a contiguous infected herd) and measures are in place to prevent further spread of the disease from this source

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

* Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeat skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a TB breakdown .
And so it is. With devastating results - especially in herds which fall into criterion 2. i.e, the owners have signed a contract to manage badgers in the area. And having followed the prescribed scatter gun approach to disease control by culling 70 per cent of badgers, on 70 per cent of the area and leaving the rest to wander, if the herd has the misfortune to go under restriction with at least one lesioned or culture positive reactor. Then as we read this, no epidemiological veterinary interpretation of the herd history is needed. Just point and shoot.

The only criteria being a signature, on a contract drawn up at least two years ago.

Thin ice? On a legal basis, we have grave doubts about this. Leaving aside SB4021 and the failings of gamma ifn, so ably covered by Defra's soothingly modelled statistics, can it be legal for one party to add conditions to a contract already signed and paid for?

We pointed this out in this posting - [link] but it has taken a few months to really hit home, in terms of cattle slaughtered in GB which totalled 43,564 last year. The highest ever in our memory.

The use of this screening test has been variously described to us in less than enthusiastic terms  by Veterinary professionals - [link], but the word which stood out is 'madness'. And with that we would not disagree.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Selective law enforcement.

As another batch - [link] of areas in England get the go ahead from un-Natural England to cull infected badgers, the Police and Crime Commissioner of Derbyshire is not a happy bunny. He explains on the PCC website that:
“Badgers are a protected species under the 1992 Badger Protection Act and evidence shows that shooting badgers is not a viable solution to the spread of bovine TB. If this is the case, then it doesn’t make sense to pursue an expensive culling programme at the cost of the taxpayer. I am urging the Government to reconsider its position and to continue to invest in the vaccination programme in this county and beyond to protect what remains a threatened species for future generations.”
This gem was reported on the Derbyshire PCC website - [link] where this misguided person is promoting vaccination as a substitute for culling TB riddled badgers - who, after two decades of complete protection,  are anything but 'threatened'.

 Methinks his protests may have more to do with the published costs of policing the culls, than any altruistic love of wildlife or a skewed view of the effects of vaccination. And as it is farmers who have personally coughed up many thousands of pounds, in order to mop up decades of governmental inaction and shirking of responsibility, the very least the police can do is uphold the law. All laws, not just some of them.

 In a paper released last autumn, Defra estimate - [link] that the cost of policing culls will be around £255,000 over the four year main cull period for each area licensed. (p.7 of the linked report)
They explain:
The need for policing has been a feature of the policy to date due to the need to maintain public safety. It is likely that extending to eleven new areas will require a similar level of policing, at least in their initial year. However, police forces have consolidated their command and control structure for operations this year to reduce costs. It is a shared goal of Defra and the Home Office that policing should become business as usual for local `police forces and attract no additional costs. Over time, following further successful operations without security incident, we expect policing costs to disappear. This ambition is factored into our central scenario.
One benefit reported in rural areas, which rarely see a policeman, but are subject to all the guff that goes with 'crime' dressed up as joy riding, poaching or theft of valuable stock and machinery, was that anecdotedly of course, a drop in such cases was noted, as more police were around chasing badger activists. A group of people, who if they were not exercising their 'rights' to prevent lawful and necessary culls of overpopulated and infected wildlife, would actually cost the taxpayer - or the Derbyshire PCC - very little at all.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

The end of the line

Over the last few years, we've told the story of a farming couple, their fight both with zoonotic tuberculosis in their cattle which wiped out the whole herd, the debacle of misinformation which accompanied their restocks, and finally today, the end of line for a business and and a marriage.

 In 2013, Louis and Gillian Bothwell gave us the inside story of their lovely herd of cattle - and empty sheds. - [link]
Farmers Guardian - [link] told the story in more detail in Gillian's own words. And we compared the trauma of these losses - [link] to Defra's antics over FMD.

 After the restocking, we revisited Louis and Gillian's story and were shocked to find they were still in deep trouble. Louis had been persuaded by his Defra case officer to buy Holstein heifers from Europe. He reccomended northern Germany as a source of TB free cattle. But  within six weeks of arriving in the UK, many were diagnosed with Johne’s disease.

 They also proved to have very high cell counts and losses were considerable.

 Within the first year, and by the time the remaining replacement animals calved for the second time, one third of them were dead or slaughtered because of Johne’s disease.

Veterinary professionals confirm that tests for Johne’s are unreliable and unless clinical disease has been confirmed, single positive test results should be treated with care. These restocks were clinical.

We understand that there are known hotspots for this disease in Germany, and the area from which Louis Bothwell sourced his 'TB free replacements', as instructed by his Defra case officer, is one of them.

 Thus two years on from the trauma of losing a herd of homebred UK cattle to TB, Louis and Gillian were faced with losing their German replacements to Johne’s.

And in a routine TB test in 2016, with no action taken on the farm’s wildlife vectors, the remaining cattle were once again under TB restriction.

 That proved the final straw. As they calved, those remaining cattle were sent to direct slaughter.

Most of the farm is now let out on contract for maize and potato growing, with just a handful of acres let as grass keep. There are no dairy cows and the buildings lie empty; the unintended consequences of successive governments’ non-policy on ‘bovine’ Tuberculosis and misplaced advice from its officers.

 Sadly it has also proved the final straw for this young couple's marriage, as well as their dreams and investments. Farmers Guardian - [link] carries the story this week.

Friday, February 23, 2018

It's all in the Genes.

When people talk about zoonotic tuberculosis in terms of cattle v badger and who gives what to whom, they parade their ignorance of work done over decades on the genome of m.bovis, the bacterium which when inhaled or ingested in colony forming units (cfu) or clusters of bacteria, may go on to cause full blown disease.

 On its way through hosts, m.bovis loses part of its unique genetic code.

In this posting we bring together three papers which we've mentioned in isolation before, but not as a progression of thought.

According to a 2002 paper by Brosch et al - [link]  M.bovis appeared after a bottle neck about 15 - 20,000 years ago and developed separately from ancestral m.tuberculosis. Brosch  observed that it and other strains, had developed from a common ancestral strain which then split. Each time the genome altered, there was a deletion in the sequence.
..the results from this study unambiguously show that M. bovis has undergone numerous deletions relative to M. tuberculosis. This finding is confirmed by the preliminary analysis of the near complete genome sequence of M. bovis AF2122/97, a classical M. bovis strain isolated from cattle, which revealed no new gene clusters that were confined specifically to M. bovis.
So successful was m.bovis that Brosch postulates:
These deletions seem to have occurred in the progenitor of tubercle bacilli that — today — show natural host spectra as diverse as humans in Africa, voles on the Orkney Isles (UK), seals in Argentina, goats in Spain, and badgers in the UK.
Please note, these are ' natural hosts' maintaining the disease and its genome, not spill over.

 Following on from Brosch in 2006, our own Professor Noel Smith ran similar DNA screens - [link] and concluded that these deletions did not cross barriers as they migrated to other hosts. They 'nested' in the host they had chosen.

 And the spoligotype maps produced by Prof. Smith's team show that. They illustrate the Regional Accents [link] of the bacterium known as m.bovis.

And now we come to a simplified explanation of this work by Defra Chief Scientist, -[link] Professor Ian Boyd, who wrote in his blog in 2013 that following this clonal deletion process, the predominant cattle strain of m.bovis AN5 has now disappeared, replaced by the strain SBO 140 found predominantly in ... badgers. Professor Boyd then concludes:
"We have found through our testing that the original strain, AN5, has been successfully eliminated from English cows. It is interesting that while this strain has died out, SB0140 has survived and flourished. This leads me to an intriguing hypothesis; is SB0140 specifically adapted to survive and thrive in badgers?"
So the GB eradication process begun in the 1950s and 60s was very successful, eliminating the cattle strain of m.bovis completely.

And what we have now is badger adapted TB up spilling into - anything it touches.

So it is pretty crass to find populist vet, Dick Sibley tweeting that his work on phage testing and the undiscovered reservoir of m.bovis in our cattle (or one herd of cattle) is the result of his wanting to protect badgers from cattle tb.   The genome sequence of which, disappeared several decades ago.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Zoonotic Tuberculosis and straw men

When people have little to add to a debate, they often stand up a 'straw man' and then spend a huge amount of time and oxygen knocking him down. And so it is with the eradication of this insidious disease, which we call bovine TB - or more accurately, zoonotic Tuberculosis.

It is fourteen long years since we asked our 500 Parliamentary questions of the then Minister of a Labour administration. Most of the answers were logged on the site, in 2004.

The crucial one was efficacy of the intradermal skin test, used as a herd test, and how effective it was at clearing TB from cattle herds. The answer was given in this list - Column 540 [150492] [link]
"All countries that have either eradicated, or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test. The Government have close links with a number of countries in various stages of eradication and exchanges information and experiences on the use of the tests in the context of these programmes."
So why has the straw man of how rubbish the skin test is, been allowed to gain traction?

The answer to that is money [link] Plain and simple. Research is followed by the begging bowl for more research. Why? Those PQs in 2003/4 told us all that Defra already knew about how infectious badgers were, how they were an ideal maintenance reservoir of this zoonotic disease, and how they passed the bacteria between themselves and on to cattle and other mammals. We explored how much bacteria was excreted by these creatures and how little it took to infect a cow. How long m.bovis survived under various conditions, and what killed it. At one point we were accused of backing the badger lobby, when our PQs explored how much badgers suffered from this disease.

We back the eradication of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, nothing else.

Nothing has changed, except that after twenty years of ultimate protection, there are now many more badgers and hundreds more infected / infectious ones spreading a lethal load into the environment.

 But still those straw men keep coming. The latest being Cath Rees's Phage test - [link] turned down for use in human pulmonary tuberculosis, its use is being proposed for our cattle. No matter that phage screening is not, and never has been used as a diagnostic test. The research has been done, and now must be sold to recoup laboratory costs. Ker-ching.

 And then there is politics. And an election looming, with an opposition determined to hug fluffy things and pander to minority groups - at any cost. That's Corbyn, but the echo chamber that is Michael Gove is looking to his next job, and holding hands with a super-annuated rock star, for inspiration. - [link]

So once again we'll end this posting with another PQ which explained why the Thornbury badger clearance had been so successful.
" 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]

Here is the result, compared with other less successful badger culls. Especially that charade with passed for 'science' a decade ago, where 8 nights of culling with cage traps, splintered an infectious population and then the operators walked away.

So while Brian May quotes John Bourne's well edited Final Report, he would do better to read that odious little man's evidence to EFRAcom in 2007, where he boasted that at the end of his trial, culling badgers was not to be part of the solution.
And those were his instructions at the beginning. -[link]

Stick to the basics, keep it simple. Everything else is just so many straw men.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Strange bedfellows

We hear on Instagram that yesterday a high level meeting took place at DEFRA headquarters - link (pic above) to discuss zoonotic Tuberculosis and the UK plan to eradicate it. Attendees included the great and the good from the NFU, Secretary of State Michael Gove several 'ologists of various hues and...

 a superannuated, guitar playing star-gazer. Dr. Brian May


Now, as we are 5 years in to a 25 year eradication plan, which involves farmers coughing up cash to mop up two decades of Defra's negligence in tackling the disease in wildlife, one would have thought there would not be too much to discuss. Especially as the NFU are circulating the screen shots which we aired in this posting - [link] to illustrate the size of the historic problem in herds, compared with new outbreaks post badger cull.

 But we could be wrong. Or maybe Gove is just starstruck - link.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Before .... and after.

The NFU have circulated some screen grabs of the interactive TB map - [link] - so beloved of Camel Ebola and his friends - which show a startling drop in herds under restriction in the two pilot badger cull areas. Produced as a power point presentation, the slides start with a potted history of how to clear TB in cattle herds.

This is followed with screen shots from APHA's iTB map. The first taken to show historic TB restrictions in the years leading up to the culls,(Closed cases)  the second after four years of culling.(Open or ongoing on the day the map was printed)

This is a snap shot of herds which had been historically been under restriction in the Gloucestershire pilot cull area. Single dots are single outbreaks. Turquoise dots indicate clusters of up to 20 farms under restriction.

And now, herds currently under TB restriction after 4 years culling.

In Somerset, historic outbreaks in the years before the cull started:

And a snapshot after four years culling:

( ** Please note that the iTBmap charts show different time scales and are not comparable. The historic data shows several years of closed breakdowns - and illustrates the need for a cull?
While the second screen grab, shows holdings currently under restricton, after four years of culling.)

And remember, this was culling for 42 nights only, complete with intense scrutiny, huge publicity, (most of it bad) and much interference.

 The results are stunning.

The editors and contributors to this site have always supported a targeted cull of infectious badgers, encouraging the developers of non invasive testing in their work. The shock waves which followed the announcement that they did not wish 'their' test to be used to cull badgers, are still reverberating.

So as we wish readers a happy new year, we extend grateful thanks to the farmers of Gloucestershire and Somerset for piloting the alternative strategy. The fact that more badgers and not necessarily the infected ones will be killed, seems to have escaped the gravy train which follows this disease around.

Nevertheless the results of even a partial cull, are beyond expectations.

So a Happy New Year to all.