Saturday, April 23, 2005

Anything you can do......

.... the UK can do better. Especially if it involves re-inventing wheels or joining the 'Flat Earth' society ( or sundry other beneficiaries of the current btb explosion.)

To move forward, it is sometimes wise to look back, and this site is most grateful for documention of the Republic of Ireland's fight against bTb, which highlight the crass futility of nailing the cattle to the floor, while allowing a wildlife reservoir to flourish.

In 1960, R of I had 160,000 reactors and instigated a raft of cattle measures, county by county to eradicate the disease from - the cattle. These included compulsory and regular testing, prohibited the movement of cattle into the designated area except under license (permit), regulated the movement of cattle into and out of herds within the area, controlled public sales and disposed of reactor cattle.

By 1965, the disease had shrunk back to 20,000 reactors, but there it stayed averaging +/- 30,000 per year over the next 20 years.

Enter the 'Downie' Era. In 1988, this new broom decided to rid the country of btb 'once and for all' and get rid of the reservoir of btb in the cattle. And 19 new measures were brought in to sweep it all away. These included:

* Exhaustive tuberculin testing. (44 million tests , 7 million cattle , over 4 years)

* A reactor collection service and improved compensation / hardship grants.

*Random sample testing of herds by veterinarians.

*Establishment of a specialised research, investigation and epidemiology unit for bTb.

*Continuation of a pre movement test.

*Improved control of dealers.

*De population of persistantly infected herds.

*Improved identification - cattle tags + checks at markets, abattoirs.

*Improved post mortem procedures at meat plants.

*Establishment of badger research and control services.

*Control of calf movements.

These measures were combined with an establishment of a Tb farm advisory service, and improved DVO procedures.

And the result of 44 million tests on 7 million cattle over 4 years and pre movement testing etc?

At the start of the 'Era';

1988 30,000 reactors.
1989 42,000
1990 41,000
1991 35,000

And at the end:
1992 35,000

And despite all that sweeping (under the carpet?) +/ - 30,000 is where it remained......

.....until the East Offaly badger removal project, which ran 1989 - 95 and showed a drop of over 90 percent in cattle tb, followed by the 4 County Trial which achieved a 96 percent reduction in the area with the tightest border control.

Quotes from this peer reviewed Irish work:

"....bovine to bovine transmission of M.bovis is no longer the primary source of new outbreaks." Griffin & Dolan 1995

"...generally little evidence of transmission from each primary (cattle) case."
Griffin 1991, Flanagan, Finn et al 1998.

"The most striking change was the absence of large outbreaks of the disease (bTb) in the Project area (Offaly badger clearance area) in later years..." Eves 1999

"Cattle herds present in the badger-removal area had a significantly lower proportion of new confirmed herd restrictions compared with cattle from an area where no systematic badger removal was attempted" . O.Mairtin, Williams et al 1998.

And so the (ecological) wheel has turned full circle, and under a shrill, strident and vaccuous onslaught from the ISG's Prof Bourne and cohort Elaine King, the UK is considering - doing exactly what had absolutely no effect in Ireland 1988 - 91.

As we've said before, this site has no problem with genuine disease control measures, but we don't do 'comfort blankets' for political expediency. A post movement test for breeding cattle going into areas of 3/4 year testing is sensible. That said, only 5% of new bTb outbreaks are outside the heartlands of bTb but after 7 years of political inertia, those heartlands are not just 7 or 8 'hotspots' as described by Prof. Harris in 1997, but a huge area stretching from Cornwall to the north Midlands and into Cumbria. When the RBCT started, 75 percent of the tb problem was within the areas covered. By 2004, 88 percent was outside them. Like Topsy - they've grown and grown and grown - just as Prof. Harris predicted.


Anonymous said...

The UK has had some 'new brooms' as well. In about 1972 Cornwall's Divisional Veterinary Officer applied Severe Interpretation to all skin tests. He killed a lot of cattle, upset a lot of farmers and had to answer a lot of questions from the Treasury. That had no effect either. Without action on infection in the badgers, nothing works.

George said...

..........and it helped kill him.
Its very stressful trying to solve an impossible problem.

Matthew said...

We appreciate the pressure SVS vets are under - as Dr. David Denny, B.Vet.Med, MRCVS, said in his letter to members of the House of Lords, "Bacteria and viruses are not sensitive to Political spin".

Those trying to control them, and who also work for DEFRA, unfortunately are.