Saturday, May 09, 2020

A plague on their houses.

Farmers Guardian this week had a harrowing front page - [link] and an insightful op-ed on the state of play in the UK's battle with zoonotic Tuberculosis.

 Following on from our previous posting where the timing of the birth of a new sprog in the Johnson household, indicates a degree of celebration from the Prime Minister's latest bed mate, comes the awful news that her alleged intervention in the Derbyshire cull area start date, has led in part, to four farmers taking their own lives.
"Derbyshire-based vet Sarah Tomlinson, who is also a member of the Defra funded TB Advisory Service (TBAS), said some farmers had ‘pinned everything’ on the badger cull going ahead last autumn.

We have had four suicides in Derbyshire since the direction was pulled, one was the weekend after it happened,” said Ms Tomlinson. I do not think people realise the stress and utter devastation something like this brings. It is the guilt of seeing herd genetics from generations of work wiped out, families losing their heritage, their livelihoods."
The article by Olivia Midgley, which has attracted over 12,000 viewings, explains that after a doubling of cattle slaughterings in 2019, :
"The Derbyshire cull was pulled at the 11th hour by the then Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers, who admitted there had been ‘involvement from Number 10’, giving credence to claims the Prime Minister’s partner and animal rights campaigner Carrie Symonds had waded in at the last minute. A recent High Court legal challenge, brought by the NFU, heard the decision was ‘unlawful’.

The High Court is expected to publish its ruling shortly."(See edit **)
Meanwhile testing and slaughtering cattle continues apace.

 In the same issue, the Leader column examines the human cost of zTB, with editor Ben Briggs remarking that 'those in positions of power, should hang their heads in shame'.

 He continues: "
"It is a damning indictment of the fact that zTB is a disease which not only has huge consequences for infected cattle and badgers, but is one that piles unspeakable emotional hardship, not to mention financial [stress] on farmers whose livestock are devastated by it."
Ben then goes on to question the logic of Secretary of State George Eustice, whose anouncement in March rang alarm bells through the thinking part of our industry that he wanted government to move toweards a vaccination strategy in the longer term. And in cull areas after four years.

Why on earth would the man say this, when previous trials of vaccination - [link] over the last ten years in two countries, have had zero effect on cattle tuberculosis?

In fact in Wales, they appear to have had the opposite effect, with the number of cattle slaughtered in the Principality, the highest - [link] on record.

 So as the UK grapples with the cost of its human lock down, and SARS-Cov-2 stalks the land, remember that in the countryside, the plague of zoonotic Tuberculosis, carried by badgers, is doing exactly the same.

(The illustration is of plague 'doctor' - Doctor Schnabel (i.e., Dr. Beak), a plague doctor in seventeenth-century Rome, circa 1656 . These people,were employed to 'treat' victims of bubonic plague, collate information and do wills and autopsies - amongst other things. They travelled widely. 
The costume's beak was thought to protect them against disease. )


EDIT. The High Court has upheld the judgement, of the cancelling of the Derbyshire badger cull. 13/05/20

Tuberculosis wins again, and the grim reaper stalks our green and pleasant land.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Boris's baby shower.

From looking at today's headlines, one would assume that Boris Johnson's latest bed mate had influenced his direction on badger culling, as set out in the CAWF - wish list (link) couple of years ago. See Wish 22. The latest member of this group is Johnson senior, as patron.

Certainly Carrie's 'undue influence' was said to have occurred when the Derbyshire badger cull was halted at the 11th hour. A decision now subject to a Judicial Review.

But as we read it, the Strategy paper - (link) has been slightly misquoted. The press release is as follows:
1) Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is one of the most pressing animal health problems in England. It results in the compulsory slaughter of over 30,000 cattle a year, combined costs to the taxpayer and industry of around £150 million a year, and has severe impacts on the health and welfare of farmers and farming communities.

Left unchecked, bTB poses an increasing threat to animal health and welfare, and to public health.

2) The government’s 25-year bTB eradication strategy (‘the bTB Strategy’) published in 2014 aims to secure officially bTB free (OTF) status for England by 2038. In 2018, the Environment Secretary commissioned Professor Sir Charles Godfray and a team of experts to conduct an independent review of the strategy and provide advice on how to take it to the next phase (‘the Godfray Review’). Sir Charles submitted his report to Ministers in October 2018.

3) The government has considered the Godfray Review findings in detail, in partnership with stakeholders. The Review has provided an opportunity to regroup and refocus the shared government and industry efforts on achieving OTF status for England by 2038. There are no easy answers but we do have a range of effective tools available. The Review is clear that the current bTB situation cannot be allowed to continue and that what is required is a new drive and concentrated and concerted effort by all sectors involved.
4) This response sets out the approach planned for the next five years in pursuit of that goal.

5) The government’s top priorities for this period are featured in this image:
a. Accelerating work to develop a deployable cattle bTB vaccine within the next five years.

b. Evolving the badger control policy with increased support for badger vaccination, following the wide-scale deployment of effective, industry-led intensive badger culling. Detailed analysis has shown that this intensive culling has been associated with reductions in herd bTB incidence of 66% and 37% in the first two areas over the first four years. The government envisages that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance. Culling would remain an option where epidemiological assessment indicates that it is needed. Changes to Defra’s guidance to Natural England (NE) on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.
On point a) it's important to remember that BCG, the only vaccine licensed for control of zoonotic tuberculosis has failed in human beings to achieve a herd immunity to this disease in the century it has been used. And in cattle please see our take in this posting - (link) on its possible use, its effect on the national herd and its cost.

Point b) seems to have been missed by the tabloid headlines, but to cattle farmers it is the single most important statement. So we'll repeat it:
"... following the wide-scale deployment of effective, industry-led intensive badger culling. Detailed analysis has shown that this intensive culling has been associated with reductions in herd TB incidence of 66% and 37% in the first two areas, after the first four years"
On going management of our endemically infected badger populations is imperative. No way can their population density and thus the infection these animals carry, be allowed to build up as it has done since 1997.

The 'vaccination' bit we see as a sop to the aforementioned partner of our prime minister and her influential friends in the CAWF. Maybe they should research the effects of vaccinating badgers, and thus on our cattle herds, of previous trials into badger vaccination over many years in two countries. We linked to them in this posting - (link)  

The next few bits are an unecessary distraction with c) being translated as kill more cattle as quickly as possible, with IRs, already restricted to farm of origin until slaughter, replaced by no IRs allowed at all and 6) Fudge up any export possibilities by promotion of a half cocked vaccine. If our levels of zTB don't put global customers off, then animals vaccinated but not protected, most certainly will.

* Note to Defra: we still await sight of the  Export Health Certificate for the much headlined export of beef to China, (October 2019) But as pigmeat from GB already has ECH restrictions on grounds of zTB, we don't expect too much.  But we digress:
c. Improving diagnostic testing to root out bTB more effectively, with deployment of more sensitive tests for surveillance supported by greater use of on-farm restriction of cattle with inconclusive test results.

6) The Godfray Review highlights the opportunities presented by leaving the European Union (EU) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This government response considers the wider context in terms of regulatory reform, structural change and farm productivity. The government’s Industrial Strategy aims to secure the UK’s position as a global leader in sustainable, affordable, safe and high-quality food and drink. We cannot ignore the significant threat that bTB poses to the health, productivity, sustainability and reputation of our national livestock sector in an increasingly global market.
The following is a statement of the obvious. We know our zTB levels (as shown by sentinel tested cattle deaths and herd restrictions) are appalling. We also know from past experience that the continued killing of our cattle, while leaving a wildlife reservoir to upspill, is as futile as it is expensive. But since the 1997 moratorium on culling badgers 'to prevent the spread of disease' section 10 (2) a in the Protection of Badgers Act, then resposibility for this state of affairs, the cost and implications for trade, and consequences to our industry, have rested squarely on governmental heads. Not those of our cattle farmers.
7) The UK as a whole continues to experience the highest levels of bTB of any developed country in the world. To achieve OTF status by 2038 and deliver benefits for a Global Britain, we must accelerate our efforts at farm, regional and national level supported by the best available evidence and tools. Priorities include reversing the rising bTB trend in the Edge Area, continuing to bear down on bTB in the High Risk Area (HRA) banking the disease control benefits in badger cull areas and keeping bTB out of the Low Risk Area (LRA). Eradicating bTB in England will come with more costs in the short to medium term and government is committed to playing its part.
Finally
8) The government does not underestimate the challenge for the farming sector, particularly in those parts of England worst affected by bTB. That is why it is essential that government, farmers, vets, local authorities, auction markets, retailers, food manufacturers, and wildlife and conservation groups rise to this challenge together and with urgency so that the sector and the wider economy can realise the ultimate prize that OTF status for England offers. We can achieve this if all interested parties work together to eradicate bTB.
We can achieve this? Who's this 'we'? It is farmers in the firing line who have shouldered the responsibilty and cost of cleaning up Defra's mess and it is farmers who have had no support from that organisation as the popular press have heaped insults and lies on top of their dead cattle since the pilot badger culls began.

There is also a succinct get out for Defra in this statement by George Eustice, carefully fence sitting in this statement:

However, the government will retain the ability to introduce new cull zones where local epidemiological evidence points to an ongoing role of badgers in maintaining the disease.


 A summary of plans for the next five years
Acceleration of work to develop a deployable cattle bTB vaccine, as part of a wider programme of bTB research A deployable cattle bTB vaccine with the objective of introduction within the next five years is a top priority. It is expected to be a game-changer in terms of providing a strong additional tool to help eradicate bTB.

Other research strands include diagnostic test development, managing TB in wildlife, on-farm biosecurity, socio-economic factors and policy design and evaluation. Evolving the strategy for preventing the spread of TB from wildlife Following the wide-scale deployment of effective, industry-led intensive badger culling and recognising the need to bank the benefits, maintain progress on bTB eradication and shift towards non-lethal control methods.

The government envisages that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance. Culling would remain an option where epidemiological assessment indicates that it is needed.

Changes to Defra’s guidance to NE on licensing badger control will be subject to consultation.

Improving diagnostics, surveillance and epidemiology to root out bTB more effectively Increasing the sensitivity of cattle surveillance testing, strengthening the management of infected herds and roll-out of new epidemiological tools to understand better the likely source of bTB and better target delivery of disease control policies.

Incentivising the uptake of effective biosecurity measures and managing the bTBrisks posed by cattle movements to reduce the risk of spread of bTB within and between farms
 Improving sources of advice, creating the right incentives, maximising the use of existing tools such as the Information bTB website (ibTB) and developing new innovations in partnership with industry. The Livestock Information Service (LIS) will be a particularly important tool for supporting responsible cattle movements.

 Developing governance of bTB eradication Establishing a new ‘Bovine TB Partnership’ between government and industry to encourage shared ownership, coordination and decision making on bTB eradication and harness the collective will to eradicate bTB.

The government plans to consider an animal health levy alongside other options for funding the delivery of bTB controls."

Mmmm.  So another  Animal Health levy? If cattle farmers pay, they will expect more say and more accountability from those in charge. Including fiscal responsibility for any more vaccine trials. That's the meaning of partnership.

But as we have remarked before, those with the most vocal views on this subject, pay nothing and have the least to lose.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Cattle carnage in Wales

The farming and veterinary press are singing from the same hymn sheet this week, as The Vet Record (above) 25/01, the Farmers Guardian - [link] 24/01 both comment on the appalling carnage happening across the south of Wales, following the 'enhanced' cattle measures introduced recently.

This follows publication of the worst ever figures for cattle slaughterings in the Principality's history.

Cattle deaths climbed 31 per cent in the year to September 2019. The latest official figures show that this policy (enhanced measures) resulted in 13,078 cattle being slaughtered in Wales as TB reactors in the 12 months to September. That’s a 31% increase on the previous 12 months (9,946). And in Wales, 76,769 cattle have been slaughtered for TB between 2010 and 2018.

 We are told that the 'enhanced measures' can be described as follows:

"The policy involves switching over to severe interpretation of the skin test as well as also classifying inconclusive reactors to this test as reactors and this is repeated every 60 days. (This even in herds even where reactor animals are not found at pm to be lesioned, and are negative on culture)
An annual herd blood test using the gamma interferon is also carried out. Additional blood tests to check for antibody are usually also applied."
All reactors to the above tests, are slaughtered.

So, the protocol appears extremely thorough indeed. But what are the results of all this “thorough” testing in Wales? A Freedom of Information Act request revealed that during 2018 and up to end of June 2019 almost 9,000 (8,995) animals had been slaughtered from 661 farms in Dyfed alone.
"The total of TB lesioned animals was 1,019. But only 6 cattle showed gross TB lesions in the lungs (0.6%) an extremely low figure."
Drs. John Gallagher and Roger Sainsbury, two retired ex Ministry senior veterinary pathologists, and a retired practise vet from Cardigan, Richard Thomas,  who collated the figures, comment on these results:
“With the very low number of lung TB cases found in Dyfed, we consider it incompatible with the CVO’s claim of cattle-to-cattle spread”
But proudly explaining her ongoing carnage, the Welsh CVO, Christianne Glossop, explained that New Herd Incidents and Herd prevalence where both lower in Wales than in 2009.

The cynical among us would say that having lost hundreds of cattle, and with them the ability to sustain a business, many farms would have thrown the towel in. And indeed there appears to be some 20 per cent less registered cattle farms - [link] in Wales than a decade ago.
 A drop from 12,460 registered cattle herds in 2008, to 9,868 in 2018.

We wrote last year - [link] of the carnage happening across the Welsh valleys, courtesy of the Welsh Assembly Government's one sided policies and we also posted the video link of Glossop - in a previous life - supporting culling badgers as part of the measures to eradicate zTB in Wales.

Culling badgers, the lady said then, would make a big difference to the levels of infection in the countryside and thus to cattle TB. Within days that video was removed from view.

So it is only our transcripts of this politically motivated leader's speech which remind us that zoonotic Tuberculosis in badgers is as subject to political steerage now, as it ever was.

 This is what the lady said in 2010:

" We have a big TB problem here in Wales. And it's quite clear that if we're going to succeed in eradicating this epidemic we absolutely have to tackle all sources of infection.

We have infected cattle and we are testing and slaughtering those infected cattle on a regular basis. But alongside that we must deal with infection in other species.

One of the biggest problems is our wildlife reservoir of infection particularly in the badger population."

Killing the Badgers will make a big difference to the level of infection in the countryside and we know from scientific studies carried out in England that it can also have a direct impact on the incidence of infection in cattle."  

In her 2010 video, Glossop got it correct. A parallel policy. Nine years on and she is responsible for the carnage experienced across south Wales, leading to the deaths of 76,769 cattle since she made the film, and up to 2018. We hear that the lady retires this year. What a legacy to have presided over..

 And there can be no doubting the mental and financial strain put on the owners of thse cattle. Carnage indeed.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

New Year - New news.

As we wade into a wet 2020, and 15 long years since this blog was started, the results of the farmer led culls of endemically infected badgers is starting to show in the amount of cattle going into Defra's mincer.

In the High Risk Area, it is dropping, as are breakdowns.

We were hearing, anecdotally of course, of long standing herd breakdowns resolving quite quickly after culling the wildlife maintenance reservoir began, but we had to wait until the mathematical modelers had fired up their machines to see a reduction of 58 per cent -[link] in cattle TB in the Gloucestershire pilot cull area. And a significant drop in the Somerset pilot cull area.

 Further analysis over the years 2013 - 17 has produced more data, reported by Sara Downs's team in Nature- (link) and the crucial paragraph, amongst the diagrams of models is quoted thus:
"The effect was strongest in Gloucestershire where the central estimate was 66% lower than in comparison areas compared to 37% lower in Somerset."
Other scattered  areas of the far South West have joined in, clearing up the decades of intransigence and political chicanery undertaken by successive governments, and reports of significant drops in herd breakdowns are coming through.

APHA's interactive TB maps show this quite starkly.

A screen grab of 2016 outbreaks in England, counted from a line due south and west of Birmingham, where the majority of the new cull areas are now in place, is pictured below.
There were 2,700 herds under restriction and a very small number of farmer led badger control areas..




And a similar screen grab showing outbreaks in 2019 has 2,137 herds under restriction. A drop of 21 per cent in herds under TB restriction.


Bearing in mind that some of these scattered cull areas had only just started their monumental clean up exercise, and that Defra are still allowing the translocation and vaccination of badgers, not to mention the opt outs of misguided people who think they are somehow protecting these over populated, endemically infected animals, that is a remarkable drop.

Particularly as only 42 nights culling per year is allowed, under very strict conditions from un-Natural England. It was never going to achieve the effect of Thornbury which was described in our Parliamentary questions, and in 2004 formed  the basis of this site.

We asked why the 8 month sett euthanasia at Thornbury had been so successful, keeping cattle clear of TB for at least a decade.

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]
Keep it simple. A very Happy New Year.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas.

Another year, and one of the very worst on record for cattle slaughterings. Just what on earth do Defra think they are achieving?

Our graph from several years ago predicted up to 40,000 head of cattle slaughtered and this year Defra will have again achieved that [ link] with bells on. They have slaughtered 45, 831 animals in the 12 months to September 2019 in Great Britain.

 Meanwhile a bit of good news from the scientists. It has been found by DNA sequencing the bacterium which causes zoonotic tuberculosis, that the disease is ten times more likely to be passed from badgers to cattle, than between species.

This was a 15 years study, and is published in elife sciences - [link] for those who like a bit of light reading.

The farming press covered it in more simple terms - [link]  And the conclusion was that 'badgers played a significant roll in maintaining infection in cattle populations'.

Well no s**t Sherlock. Pardon our language - but really? Really? Who'd have thought?

The paper quotes thus:
"Crispell et al. show that complex patterns of contact between cattle and badgers likely drive the persistence of tuberculosis in cattle, also known as bovine tuberculosis.

In three separate analyses, Crispell et al. compared the genomes of M. bovis found in cattle and badgers, the animals' locations, when they were infected, and whether they could have been in contact.

The analyses found that M. bovis was likely to have been transmitted more frequently from badgers to cattle rather than from cattle to badgers. They also showed that transmission within each species happened more often than transmission between species."
And then the inevitable begging bowl:
"If these results are confirmed by other studies, they may help scientists develop better strategies for controlling tuberculosis in British cattle. In particular, controversial control strategies – such as badger culls – could be more targeted to better combat tuberculosis in cattle but have less of an impact on badgers."
As our graph above so eloquently shows, shooting cattle with little (or in most cases, no) control of infected wildlife which share their environment, is as futile as it is expensive.

And more research achieves very little too, when taken in the context of disease control.
However culling which is targeted at the disease itself is sensible. But it also means that Defra cannot hide behind its farmer 'population controlling culls' and abandon respoinsibility for its own role in the eradication of a Grade 3 zoonosis.

We all wish UK's farmers a Happy Christmas, and its cattle, a TB free one.






Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Badger dispersals - 308 km further than expected.

Published this week, a study on the movement patterns - [link] of badgers, conducted over seven years in Ireland.

 Entitled 'Dispersal patterns in a medium‐density Irish badger population: Implications for understanding the dynamics of tuberculosis transmission' the paper gives an insight into population dynamics of groups of badgers and more importantly, how far they 'disperse' from home territory.

The abstract explains:
...that dispersal is an extremely complex process, and measurements of straight‐line distance between old and new social groups can severely underestimate how far dispersers travel. Assumptions of straight‐line travel can also underestimate direct and indirect interactions and the potential for disease transmission.

For example, one female disperser which eventually settled 1.5 km from her natal territory traveled 308 km and passed through 22 different territories during dispersal.
* 308 km is 190 miles, in old money.

Now it isn't rocket science to conclude from all that is known of badger behaviour that within a finite area, with a finite food supply and unlimited population increase, something is going to have to give.

And old, sick individuals or young males are turfed out from the group to fend for themselves. The paper describes one collared female (F11) as having sustained bite wounds on her travels.

 The implications for disease transmission are explained thus:
Our results illustrate that a single individual disperser may interact with over 20 social groups, often sleeping in their territory, providing abundant opportunities for disease transmission. Individuals such as this, who have extensive contact with other individuals, will affect the way in which disease is transmitted through a population, and particularly, a population structured into social groups.
As cattle farmers, what we picked up from this, and a quick scroll through a few of the 130 references given (yes that is correct - over 100 previous research papers are named) is that badger social groups are not stable, and when individuals leave the group - for whatever reason - they travel a lot further than was thought.

Up to 308 km (190 miles) for one collared individual, passing through (and fighting with) 22 other groups on its travels.

However, given the beneficial opportunity to trouser loads more 'research' cash, scientists have not yet homed in on the obvious solution to diseased wildlife roaming far and wide.

This paper discusses vaccinating prior to 'dispersal', but the simplest solutions are often the best.

Identify infected groups and euthanase all members? And then manage populations so that numbers do not stress out disease ridden 'dispersers' to shed and share the disease which is endemic in them?

Sadly, both farmer and veterinary knowledge is  still  bypassed - [link] as the gravy train rolls on.


Monday, September 09, 2019

The Badger Benefit Corps, BBC - at it again.

We are used now to the stream of 'fake news' coming from the UK's self pronounced premier broadcaster. And today is no exception.

An ex chairman of the group charged with examining the badgers culls overseen by Natural England, Professor Ranald Munroe posed a FoI question and received an answer which he then passed to the BBC' Pallab Ghosh.

The startling headline - [link] indicates the 'suffering' of a shot badger, which takes (the report says) 5 minutes to die.

Really?

No. Not a bit of it. The protocol written in the NE Bible which shooters on the culls have to follow to the letter, explains what happens after the shot is fired and crucially, the time allowed for this:
"After shooting a badger and in the belief of correct shot placement, regardless of first impressions (unless it is obviously still alive), an assessment needs to be made to confirm that it is dead. A final check for signs of life must be made within 5 minutes of the final shot to that animal and before the animal is bagged up."
That "5 minutes" is in bold font too - it are not ours. But that is what Prof. Munroe has fixated on.


This is the protocol.

 * After discharging his firearm, the shooter's banksman clicks a stopwatch.

 * The shooter then watches the target for at least a minute to check for movement (through telescopic night sights)

 * Then he dons his bio secure TB proof gloves and overalls, and makes his way across often difficult terrain, in the dark, to where the carcase lies.

* He then has a check list of what to look for, including tickling the eye's cornea with a stick, to assure himself the animals is really dead.

 Only then can he give a thumbs up to his banksman, who stops the clock.

So the 5 minutes mentioned in bold, and thoroughly misrepresented, is not the time it takes a shot badger to die. It is the time is takes the shooter, jumping through all these hoops, to ascertain that death has occurred. And that is quite different.

 The rest is mischief.