Wednesday, September 08, 2021

TB or not TB ?


A very strange report today. Geronimo, the black alpaca for four years living on very borrowed time, after not one but two positive Enferplex TB tests, has his post-mortem results. 

At 1 o’clock, the BBC reported no visible lesions were found, this headline news illustrated by a screaming crowd outside Defra headquarters, howling for blood. The source of the report is not known.

But an hour later, the  Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemass reported by and here indicated that pathologists had in fact found suspect lesions in this animal’s liver (see pm pic of alpaca liver above) and some lymph glands. And that, as is usual, further testing would be carried out. 

This involves culturing samples to identify acid fast bacteria, and if appropriate, the spoligotype of m.bovis responsible. 

This is normal procedure after a post mortem where TB is suspected. It takes several weeks.

As farmers, some of whom have had the dubious pleasure of presenting reactor cattle to Defra’s mincing machine, we are unanimously appalled at the treatment this animal had during his last hours. 

It is usual under many circumstances including this one, that the animal is put down quietly on the farm. But that dignity and respect was not afforded to Geronimo, and we understand that that was the choice of Helen MacDonald, his owner. A media circus was what she wanted.

So having courted the press, in his company, haltered and calm for weeks,  Geronimo’s owner abandoned him to a mob of ‘protectors’ and police, while booted and suited vets attempted to catch him. All strangers. The ministry vets then had to identify him, ‘isolated’ with four more black alpacas, then halter him with an ill fitting cattle halter and drag him to a padded horse box through a mob.

 And his owner? Skulking away from the cameras. Leaving this animal for others to cope with. Appalling. Absolutely appalling. 

Personally, we would have corralled the press mob and the so called supporters and insisted the owner present this alpaca in a calm and secure way. The circus we saw was for the media and certainly not for the welfare of this animal. 

Friday, August 06, 2021

End of the road?


We wrote of a black alpaca called Geronimo   in a posting in 2018.

Imported from New Zealand, into a UK TB hotspot, the animal subsequently tested positive for the disease and Defra's death notice was served.

After almost four years, some big money spent and several court appeals later, the animal is still alive and is due for  destruction  this week. 

The Sun, carrying the story on the link above, now puts the animal's owner in the firing line, as she has vowed 'to take the bullet' meant for her alpaca. 

It's probably worth mentioning that the number of cattle subject to Deathrow's paperwork in those four years, has exceeded 40,000 in each of the last three years. A peak in  2018, can be viewed on this link when 44,654 animals were compulsorily slaughtered after failing either the skin test or the notorious gamma ifn blood test.  A cumulative total of 130,113 cattle were condemned 2018 - 2020.

We also discovered some years ago that Defra were massaging  figures for camelid casualties of the zoonotic tuberculosis epidemic, now entrenched in the wildlife of GB. While individual cattle deaths were recorded, with alpacas, numbers published were restricted to a single group or herd. And even included herds which had had contact or were 'tethered' to the initial outbreak.  

We have been unable to ascertain whether this is still the case. 

But this is what tuberculosis in an infected alpaca looks like at post mortem.

Edit update:

There is of course another  ante mortem test for camelids, one which many people will now be familiar with after 17 months of covid. And that is PCR.  (Geronimo's owner is criticising the test, we understand)

In 2013, it was pretty obvious that trying to shoe-horn other mammals into the bovine test scenario was not going to work, and the owners of alpacas were particularly hard hit. So a group decided to self fund a Proof of Concept   study into whether PCR would be a more appropriate test  for these animals.

It worked, just as the PCR test for infected badgers  worked, when Owen Paterson's department threw £742,000  to Liz Wellington at Warwick University to develop her test to identify infected badger setts.

Sadly for reasons known only to themselves, neither test was accepted by the British Alpaca Society or Defra whose single collective brain cell is still in denial for camelids and badgers - if not for cattle..

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Follow the money


We've pondered long and hard while scribbling this blog, about how genuine 'science' as practised decades ago, can be at best ignored and worse, denigrated and made the subject of derision. As is anyone who dares to question the current mantra of kill cattle, cattle cattle - and vaccinate badgers.

We've seen consultation after consultation, all skewed towards preordained conclusions, even to the extent of our current Secretary of State announcing the result , ahead of reading the replies. And we've read the Hansard reports of the RBCT debacle, where it's chief wizard  declared with some pride, that his trial had to reach a preconceived and totally political, conclusion.  

Follow the data? Our co editor, taking a lead from the Financial Times,  together with his own research, has a tale which makes the 2015 'cash for questions' scandal look like 'Listen with mother'. 

Cash up front will get you ringside seat with anyone from the Prime Minister down, and including HRH Prince Charles, whose nephew, Ben Elliot  (by his marriage to Camilla) runs this seedy set up.

Anyone who stumps up £250,000 can have a seat within the inner sanctum, known as the 'Advisory Board' and is guaranteed access to Boris Johnson,  chancellor Sunak and others. Failed MP, now in the Lords and parachuted into Defra, Zac Goldsmith is also mentioned in dispatches.

 So after 538 Parliamentary Questions, 17 years of gathering research on policies which worked to eradicate zoonotic Tuberculosis and more importantly, those which did not, we have a government bought and paid for. A government which wants to leave a reservoir of this zoonotic disease in wildlife, kill more cattle and vaccinate any badger which happens to enter a peanut laced cage, despite the published evidence of a very dead cat,  carrying the same  unique genotype of zTB found in badger vaccines. 

And we in the UK dare to criticise the corruption of other country's governments? Really?  

A 'banana republic' is described as one where a government functions poorly for its citizens while disproportionately benefitting a corrupt and elite group group or individual. 

As we said, follow the money.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Creative Inertia

 'Creative inertia' was a phrase used in a TV sit-com a few years ago, where the civil servants guided their minister through his duties. Or not as the case may be. The resultant circular tour was known as 'creative inertia' where things appeared to be proceeding - but were not. In fact they were going backwards at an alarming rate, or at best, staying the same.

And so we come to the subject of this blog. And a reminder - if that was ever needed - that this country's low point in disease eradication came in 1986. In that year GB reported less than 100 herds with breakdowns, and 638 cattle were slaughtered.

Fast forward over many dilutions of Ministerial badger policy - none of them of any benefit to cattle - and we arrive at today's total shambles. New TBagger groups, all searching for an instant solution, and failing to look over their collective shoulders to what had been tried and failed, many times before.

 We've explored these in detail in past postings, but they do bear repeating - if only to remind the newbies that the result of their direction of travel will be more dead cattle, and very little else. 

After the TB eradication sweeps in the late 50s and 60s, a couple of persistent blots on MAFF's landscape spoilt an otherwise clean sheet. A fierce Scotsman, William Tait  was sent to Cornwall to clean up that patch. His efforts. brutal though they were (on cattle herds) failed to stem the tide  of TB but his steam cleaning of the old Cornish cob barns was responsible for not a few collapses.

It wasn't until Roger Muirhead from Gloucestershire, in 1971 made a positive link to TB infected badgers, and started clearing infected groups from persistently infected farms, that the maps took on a different hue, and reactor numbers dropped.

In Ireland, almost two decades later Liam Downie  following a similar political badger love-in, applied the same cattle measures, and he too failed to reduce the number of reactors. In fact, because he was searching so diligently, numbers went up. 

And in 2004/5, the diminutive leader of the English badger dispersal trial, the RBCT, ( Professor John Bourne) constructed a politically led  manifesto to repeat all these cattle measures, and gradually, they are creeping insidiously into our lives. 

Add to that a few commercial opportunists  hand in hand with a couple of political vets, and Houston, we have a problem.

But we do have data. Collected patiently and carefully by both ministry vets and Meat Hygiene Service.

We are hearing some alarming 'factoids' about the universally applied intradermal skin test. But apparently only applicable in certain areas of England, Wales and Ireland it seems. In the rest of the world, it works just fine. Now if this internationally used skin test was missing X per cent of infected cattle in parts of Great Britain (take your pick on what figure is doing the rounds) but let's settle on 20 per cent, then eventually, all these disease riddled animals would end up in abattoirs. That's what happens. And they would go down the line past a Meat Hygiene operative, trained to look for evidence of - tuberculosis.

So how many do they find? Defra reported in 2014:

Between 2009 and 2013, over 11.1 million cattle were recorded as slaughtered in 313 slaughterhouses in GB. During this period 7,370 samples with lesions suspicious of bTB were submitted to AHVLA by meat inspection teams of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) leading to an overall rate of 0.66 submissions per 1,000 animals slaughtered.
M.bovis was identified in 5,366 [of those] samples.

But 5,366 out of 11.1 million cattle with culture positive evidence of zTB is not 20 per cent missed, or even 2 per cent. Its just under 0.05 per cent. Some reservoir. Some lie.

In 2019, according to Defra / AHDB figures  2.8m head were examined by MHS operatives, after passing through a GB abattoir.

Of those, 601 animals in the Defra stats for 2019 were confirmed as having zoonotic TB. (Line 15) 

Having girded up the blog calculator, we make 601 confirmed cases found from 2.8m inspections, which are designed specifically to look for TB in cattle, just 0.02 per cent of the national kill that year. 

That reservoir is a mirage. It doesn't exist. 

And similar results were found when in 2007, Defra spent £2.8m on the  Pathman project  (SE 3013) Reactor animals, 32 of which had lung lesions were subject to a complete post mortem, taking several hours. And samples taken to  support the 'undiscovered' reservoir of TB in cattle.  However their results were statistically very similar to the OV pms  done in 8 minutes in the abattoir.  And more importantly,  of all those samples, and those taken in a parallel project, not one was capable of onward transmission. Not a single one.

So fast forward to a 2020 report  by Defra on the current situation.  They confirm that 1986 was the low point for TB in our cattle, but fail to elucidate on why things have got  progressively worse. For that information, see this posting together with the Defra maps to illustrate.

From that 2020 report, one bit caught our attention:

Every breakdown herd has the dubious benefit of a Defra 'risk assessment', where a lot of questions are asked about the herd, how it is fed, how it relates to neighbouring herds etc.

 And the presence of wildlife, particularly badgers. The results for 2019, are shown on p.36 as follows:

At county level, the most common source of infection attributed within the HRA was badgers, with over 70% in Cornwall (78.0%), Staffordshire (71.5 %) and Shropshire (70.1%) (Table 3.2.1). 


Within the Edge Area, the source of infection with the highest contribution varied between counties. Derbyshire (61.4%), Cheshire (60.7%), Oxfordshire (55.2%), Northamptonshire (51.9%) and Warwickshire (50.3%)


 All had more than half of the weighted source attributed to badgers.

So why, when their own operatives in the field are producing data which attributes up to 78 per cent  of TB infections to badgers, are Defra's minions so hell bent on killing the sentinels of their own failed policies? That question was rhetorical, by the way.

The direction of travel appears to be more cattle tests, more sensitive cattle tests, more dead cattle  - and vaccinate badgers.  This despite the third party casualty  reported in Ireland, which blows a rather large hole in badger vaccine's  VMD limited liability status - 'to do no harm'. 

The (dead) Irish cat, we think, would disagree. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

An unelected, unaccountable influencer

 We have written before about the influence that our current prime minister's latest paramour has over our industry, and its health and welfare. 

Entrenched within the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) and with carefully placed colleagues, Carrie Symonds's  Beatrix Potter inspired wish list is gradually being unveiled from the corridors of power. 

The Farmers Guardian this week  reports on her demands to remove from office  the Secretary of State for DEFRA, George Eustice. The accusation, the paper affirms, is that Eustice is 'too close to the farming lobby'. 

As The Right Honourable Member was quite openly offering media briefings along the lines of the CAWF's wish list only weeks ago, and well ahead of a sham 'consultation' on the future of badger culling, we would dispute that. Eustice has history of following his masters' voice. 

And as George Dunn (Tenant Farmers Association) remarked in the FG piece, to find that we need look no further than the present prime minister's latest bed mate.

"If we are looking at where allegations of undue influence should be more aptly applied, then we should look no further than within the private quarters of Number 10 Downing Street."

It's one thing the agricultural press passing an opinion on the 'undue influence' Symonds holds over Johnson and policy, but last week the Mail on Sunday ran an article about the pair.  While the main thrust was the decoration of the Downing Street flat, or more particularly, who financed it and when,  for hard pressed livestock farmers, the Henry Davies cartoon says it all. 

Carrie wants to 'save badgers' by vaccinating them. That is No 22 of the CAWF wishlist a screen shot of which is below. Apologies - use zoom to see detail. 

The document has long disappeared from the CAWF site, but is 'saved' here.  

Sunday, March 07, 2021

After the cat, a herd of deer culled.

Despite acknowledging the success of the farmer led badger culls, with cattle breakdowns and slaughterings down by an average of over 50 per cent, our Secretary of State, with his eye firmly fixed on his advancement, is still whittering on about stopping the culls, in favour of vaccination.

Are his advisers not aware of the vaccinated badger (s) which developed enough disease from the vaccine to infect a perfectly  innocent young cat? Or is he listening with his ears shut?

Following that story, the BBC report a  cull of deer  at Dyrham Park, in south Gloucestershire.  (Picture credit - Sarah Cox)

An entire herd of deer at an historic park has been culled due to an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

The 70 deer at Dyrham Park were put down after a 10-year battle by estate staff to stop the disease spreading.

There has been a herd at the park, between Bristol and Bath, for 300 years.

Several cattle farmers have also had a ten year ( or more) battle trying to keep zoonotic TB out of their herds - but let that pass. The report continues:

The National Trust said over the past decade measures including adding extra fencing, carrying out a badger vaccination programme and stopping cattle grazing in the park had all been tried, without success.

Yup , been there, done that - got many tee shirts.  But now we see from the report on the cat, that at least some scientists are waking up to the fact that vaccinating any old badger in the field, regardless of its current health status, may not be the most sensible of ideas. And may also breach the terms of its VMD (Veterinary Medicines Directorate)  license. 

But when you look at the wanderings of badgers across pasture land, and add to that their incontinent but highly effective  sprinkler system, and add to that the amount of bacteria they excrete, it's no wonder any mammal encountering this detritus becomes infected too. Whether that's with the strain TB already in badgers in the area, or the Danish BCG strain. 

With thanks to this site for permission to use the picture  taken with a drone over snow covered fields. 

To any new readers to this site, we'll re cap on the amount of bacteria carried by infected badgers, especially in their urine.  From our Parliamentary Questions  we gleaned these nuggets:

Badgers with kidney lesions can excrete up to 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) of m.bovis bacteria in each 1 ml of urine: and they void up to 30ml in each incontinent squirt..

Just 70 cfu can infect a cow, and 1 cfu a calf.

The National Trust say they hope to restock Dyrham Park with deer. Why? They've tried fencing, no cattle grazing and vaccination of local badgers. But as others have already found to their cost, until they clear the Park of infected badgers, anything else is a total waste of time. 

How arrogant. How sad.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Boris : 18/02/2021 " I will follow the data."


Excellent statement. Sadly though it refers to SARS-COV-2 and not a bacteria of the same pathogenic class - mycobacterium bovis - or as we prefer to call it zoonotic Tuberculosis.

The graphs are courtesy of bovineTB information and show the data for Gloucestershire (which piloted a cull of badgers) and Derbyshire (which did not, having had interference from the PM's girlfriend)

Presently DEFRA has a Consultation  out to show us the direction of travel. Led by Boris's current bed mate, a couple of Goldsmiths, a Defra minister and a few more people with much to say and nothing to lose,  Defra appear to want to stop 'following the data', and replace what works with something which most definitely does not. Here's a sample:

A summary of their suggestions
Proposal 1 - extending post movement testing to the edge area
proposal 2 - use of the gamma test in the HRA and edge area
proposal 3 - stop issuing new intensive badger cull licences post 2022
proposal 4 - badger cull licences issued in 2021 and 2022 could be revoked after two years
proposal 5 - reduce the financial commitment required from coal companies
proposal 6 - restrict supplementary badger cull licences to a maximum of two years

Data gathered over the last 50 years shows that to eradicate zoonotic TB from cattle, testing and culling reactor bovines must go hand in hand with culling infectious wildlife reservoirs of disease. That's pretty obvious really, and as CV-19 ravages our economy, lives and industry, lockdowns of people are pretty ineffective if the organism causing the disease, is allowed to spread unchecked. As we have seen.

Government direction of travel  however, seems to be to stop what is seen to work, and replace with something which patently does not. In the link previously given, page 6 states that even the sporadic farmer led (and paid for)  culls have reduced cattle TB by a very significant amount. And the figure of an over 50 per cent reduction has been sustained as more areas came on stream.

As of 2019, 57% of the HRA is now subject to a licensed cull of badgers. This policy, while difficult and inevitably contentious, is starting to yield results. The latest epidemiological analysis conducted by Downs and others has shown that the incidence of the disease in the first cull areas of Somerset and Gloucester has fallen substantially, by 37% and 66% respectively.

We have written many times about the futility of vaccinating  wild badgers . done in such a way that no credence is given to their health status at the time of a jab, and no micro chip to mark them. The results were of course predictable. But the gravy train continues to roll, with the latest consultation full of hope and more research, and very little else to support our livestock industry.  

We feel that the story we told last week about the young Irish cat  dead from the Danish strain 1331 of m.bovis, uniquely found in badger vaccines, may call into question both the licensing criteria for this product and its ad hoc use in the field.

If you remember, badger BCG has a LMA classification - Limited Marketing Authority. No efficacy data was submitted. That we were told, was the responsibility of the end user. And in this case the end user is the Queen of obfuscation regarding vaccines in general and badger vaccine in particular, Rosie Woodroffe.  The VMD also confirm that the product was licensed on the basis that 'did no harm'.

A dead Irish cat and an unknown number of badgers infected with Danish strain 1331 may take issue with that. 

So while our Prime Minister Boris Johnson, MP  is intent on following the data on one Grade 3 pathogen, we would ask him to ensure that his Secretary of State for Environment, Food and  Rural Affairs does exactly the same for another.