Saturday, October 08, 2016

Defra Consultation

Yet another consultation - link on whether they should test / kill more cattle is in Defra's melting pot, with a closing date of November 9th.

This one suggests gammaIfn to be used more widely in the High Risk Area, more severe interpretation situations and other niceties - all to do with cattle.

There is also a second document - [link] which calls for views on how to save Defra money, under the guise of a simplified testing regime. This document proposes to abandon trace testing, rationalise contiguous tests, extend 60 day Short Interval tests to 90 days, but test every herd every 6 months.

Now it may be stating the obvious, but during the last decade all this testing has produced sweet FA except an increasing pile of dead cattle. GB's reactor numbers are still nudging 40,000 per year and we are in serious danger of being a trade leper once again.

And, more importantly, as we have said so many times, synchronised cattle testing, brutal interpretations etc, etc, have been done before. In the 1970s by the late William Tait - [link] and repeated in Ireland in 1988, by Liam Downie - [link] And they failed. Because the reservoir of infection was not in cattle, but in badgers. And until that is treated with the respect it deserves, culling more cattle, more frequently will achieve nothing at all.

 Already the NFU are challenging Defra, suggesting that one measure concerning Finishing Units has been imposed, without 'consultation'. They have yet to realise that the description is hollow. Defra have made up their minds what they would like to do, and will merely 'consult' before doing it anyway.

 Nevertheless, the NFU overview is on this link.

This follows Defra's previous  tranche of carnage - [link] reported in April by Farmers Guardian, in a very readable format which includes those Finishing Unit restrictions.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Passing the buck?

News this week from the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) scheme, and reported in the Vet Times - [link] that Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking to add zTB (zoonotic Tuberculosis) to their list of non-statutory diseases screened for under the scheme.

"Farmers who take part in the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) bTB Risk-Level Certification Programme – available through existing CHeCS cattle health schemes – will also be able to market their animals as being at lower risk of contracting or passing on the disease.

As well as reducing risk of infection, the initiative – which has the backing of Defra and the Welsh Government – could present risk-based trading opportunities for farmers selling cattle from regions with a high risk of the disease, or those wishing to minimise exposure from bought-in animals.
It also offers recognition for efforts to help Government and industry strategies aiming to control infection."
This idea of shafting a statutorily notifiable disease onto a voluntary body dealing with non-statutory cattle diseases was first mentioned by the Chief vet, Nigel Gibbens - [link] in Farmers Guardian earlier this year, where he said:
“Defra is currently working on a new scheme which will allocate a TB risk score to every herd in the country. The idea is to incorporate this into the Cattle Health Certification Standards scheme to give buyers more knowledge about the cattle they are buying.

“The two-tier market is already happening,” added Mr Gibbens.
“Risk-based trading will just make it better informed. Forty per cent of holdings in the HRA have never gone down with TB. If people engage in risk-based trading it allows those farmers to benefit from their good practice, although some people are just very unlucky because the environmental challenge is so high.”

Very unlucky?!
How on earth can Defra lump a disease over which farmers have had no legal control whatsoever, if it trundles in on a wildlife vector (as around 90 per cent of incidents do in the HRA) with diseases like BVD, IBR, Johnnes and Leptospirosis?

And where does Mr. Gibbens get his 'forty per cent of holdings' never had TB from??
Obviously not the same place from which this information came, or he would see that in the South West heartlands of his quaintly labelled 'environmental' zoonotic Tuberculosis, only a handful, some 2- 5 per cent of dairy herds have never had a breakdown since 1990.

With thanks to Bovine TB information - [link] for the AHVLA chart, dated 2013.

We would also point out, with the greatest of respect, of course, that:

It wasn't farmers who trousered £1m in 1997 and stopped all badger culling "to prevent the spread of disease", as licensed under the Protection of Badgers Act: Section 10 (2) a.

It wasn't farmers who then employed the most political of all scientists and allowed him free rein with a £74m so-called trial, which he was proud to say, had a predetermined conclusion.

And it wasn't farmers who oversaw a spread of this 'environmental challenge' as Gibbens so quaintly describes TB in badgers, from 6 or 7 hotspots in 1996 to the unholy mess we see today.

So ‘very unlucky’ doesn’t even begin to cover this complete abdication of responsibility by Government, which has overseen cattle slaughtered as reactors to TB rise from 3,881 in 1996 to 36,000 in 2015.

And that isn’t ‘very unlucky’ at all. It’s Governmental negligence on a grand scale."

So this summer, rather than address the spread of disease through wildlife reservoirs, Defra appear to have put a great deal of effort into passing the proverbial. Having shafted control of the badger population to disparate, widely scattered groups of farmers, they now attempt to foist fictional control of a statutorily Notifiable disease - a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen - into  the hands of the voluntary Cattle Health schemes.

Putting us all on a scale of 1 to 10 won't solve the problem, or stop its spread through the wildlife.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Exports: load up, fire, aim.

Yes, we know that sequence is the wrong way round, but in the case of APHA / Defra and anyone in charge of our exports, it is most definitely the way to go. Blindly firing. And putting international trade at risk.

Even though they are well aware that the skin test on some class of animals (alpacas) is about as rubbish as it gets, and even though they also know that a much more accurate - [link] test is available.

 This time, following on from an international incident concerning the export of alpacas to Norway - [link] (with zTB), calves to Holland [link] (with zTB), we have now exported another infected alpaca (or more) to Belgium. Cultures from this animal, exported last year, were described thus:
The TB isolate obtained by the Belgian Government was of a spoligotype whose ‘homerange’ (geographical area in which it is most frequently recovered) in the UK includes the county of origin.
So made in the UK. In fact due to the 'regional accents' - [link]' carried in the DNA of strains of m.bovis, identified down to the county it originated from.

Are we stark, staring mad?

After Brexit - or even before that -[link] - our trading partners owe us no favours whatsoever. And will be looking for any chance to block our exports, without the department responsible for Animal Health offering this type of opportunity on a solid silver platter.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Several papers this week have reported the ongoing problems of badger earthworks in an ancient churchyard. The details do not make for easy reading. But they do show quite clearly just how far these exalted animals have risen. Cult status has been awarded and with the Ancestral home given a grade 1 listing, they have a value way above that of mere mortals, it seems.Even in death.

This desecration was reported by the local newspaper in May 2105 - [link] but obviously nothing was achieved by approaching Natural England to move the culprits on. And then there is the thorny question of where exactly to move them to?

 This week, after a long, hot summer, the problem has re-emerged with a vengeance. The Huffington-Post -[link] reports that skulls, pelvic and leg bones have been unearthed, some belonging to children,  in a heap of excavated soil some 2.5m wide and 1m high.
'If it was rats they would have dealt with it straight away’
was the accompanying strap line.

The Church is the 13th century All Saints Church, Loughborough, Leicestershire.The occupants of this sacred ground would have been from the surrounding area. Their remains now scattered and gnawed.

Friday, September 02, 2016

'Bovine' Tuberculosis - A Political Disease

This week and wonderful film was released, telling the story of one herd of beautiful Longhorn cattle, and their battle with so-called 'bovine' TB.

 Instigated and partly narrated by their owner and breeder, the film tracks over thirty years of joy and success, ending in death for these cattle and heartbreak for their owner.

 It also shows the indomitable spirit of many farmers, who try, and keep trying, against all the guff thrown around, to find a way through to a sensible solution for control of this zoonotic disease.

And finally it shows how many of our universities and civil service, while appearing to help, are actually in the grip of 'group conformity', a phenomenon explained here - [link]
"Within the group scenario, therefore, there is no premium in conveying accurate information. It is far more important not to diverge from a narrative supported by high-prestige persons. Personal prestige depends on conformity with the peer group view. It is conformity, not the truth, which fosters prestige.

Conformity is everything: facts are optional."


With grateful thanks to Mrs. Quinn and the film crew, for this wonderful but sad portrait of livestock farming in parts of Great Britain, today. From Stockyard of the world, to graveyard, in just three decades.
That is the legacy successive governments have left.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

'Marmite' anyone?

Just occasionally - well more than that, if we're honest - we feel we inhabit a different world from some high profile 'naturalists'. For them reality and Beatrix Potter collide, particularly when it comes to badgers.

 Last week, the Telegraph - [link] carried a piece on animal tracking described by Simon King. In extracts from his new book, the general public are encouraged to go out and seek signs of badgery behaviour.
Mr. King informs his readers that:

Badgers leave a characteristic footprint that has a “square” overall shape. On harder ground, they may leave nothing more than a few claw marks but even these, with their even spacing and fairly parallel alignment, are distinctive. In addition to individual prints, badgers create well-worn tracks or paths around their territory.
And then he goes on to tell his readers about this animal's ablutions, and in particular,  its toilet training:
Badgers are almost unique among European wild mammals in their habit of digging pits into which they deposit their dung. Because several animals from a badger clan use the dung pits communally, you frequently find several different textures and colours of fresh dung in the same shallow pit. The animals also have scent glands which they use to mark the ground (and each other).
Now not to put too fine a point on it, these piles of badgery droppings, parked conveniently in their shallow latrines, along with urine and scent marks, have proved useful to many scientists - [link] in tracking a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, known as mycobacterium bovis.

This bacterium ( the subject of this blog) is the cause of a lethal, slow burn disease called Tuberculosis.

And being a zoonosis, humans and indeed any mammal can contract it, particularly if they are in the habit of sniffing faeces or other material containing it. Such is the influence of this detritus on the cattle skin test, that cattle farmers are beaten over the head with bio security advice to fence off such latrines, this to prevent cattle coming into contact with them. To approach one and sniff, is all too often the equivalent of a bovine death warrant.

For human beings, handling anything near these latrines requires the wearing of protective clothing, masks and gloves. And testing such material requires that the laboratory concerned has Grade 4 clearance - [link] and bio security extending to years of screening tests, for its workers.

Mr. King however, thinks that this product, excreted by one of the most lethal weapons of cattle destruction on the planet, is rather nice. He explains that the smell of a latrine contents:
".. is easily detected by the human nose and is reminiscent of Marmite. I rather like it, but, like Marmite, it’s not to everyone’s taste."
After that description, if you've still got the stomach for it, there's more here - [link] including a picture of the charming interviewer, Boudicca Fox-Leonard, sniffing a chunk of otter poo.

 This man's advice should come with more than one health warning.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

End of the Summer term.

It seems that around July and August every year, a raft of papers are produced, their authors gad off with buckets and spades, the BBC media very excited,  and Defra line up more cattle for the chop.

This year is no exception, with our old friend Ellen Prook-Bollocks Brooks-Pollock - link gearing up her computer to examine risk factors for TB transmission. A radio broadcast by the BBC last month, quoted her co author Prof. Matt Keeling of Warwick University who explained:
" New research suggests that the spread of TB in cattle can only be controlled if more radical measures are adopted. Culling of entire herds, more testing and cattle vaccination are needed to reverse the spread of the disease. The lead researcher told BBC News that the study also confirms research that shows culling badgers will at best slightly slow down rather than stop the epidemic. The results have been published in the journal Nature. Even if you could cull large numbers of badgers it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on the number of TB cases in cattle."
Prof Keeling's paper was published in Nature, and cited whole herd slaughter, an option rarely undertaken - link in the UK where a wildlife reservoir remains to infect.

 Defra Minister George Eustice, MP commented on the report:
"What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country."
This view was echoed by the department's chief scientific adviser Prof Ian Boyd. He said that whole herd culling "would probably result in a rapid decline in the cattle industry in areas where TB occurs".

Prof Keeling and his co-author, Ellen Brooks-Pollock from Cambridge University, said that Mr Eustice and Prof Boyd had misunderstood the point of the study.
 In a joint statement they said: "Whole herd culling was investigated as one extreme but was never put forward as a viable policy option." 

Err, right. I think we understand that. If all the cattle are dead, there's nothing to test, and thus no TB reactors? Is that about right? Forget the infected badgers, now upspilling a grade 3 zoonotic pathogen into alpacas, sheep, goats, cats, dogs and in some cases, their owners - link

But we think this quote from Professor Keeling, is a classic:
The model was not able to specifically look at the impact of culling badgers, because there is not enough information about their location, infection and movement.

However, the team included an all-encompassing factor to represent infection from environmental effects which includes wildlife.

"Even if you could cull humanely and effectively large numbers of badgers, it is predicted to have a relatively small impact on controlling the number of TB cases in cattle,"
Do you understand that? First Prof Keeling says their model cannot look specifically at the impact of culling badgers, and then promptly and in the same sentence, reaches a negative conclusion for so doing?

Only a scientist with an electronic abacus towing a hefty research grant, could come to such a conclusion.

How much better to look back at the effect - link brutal cattle measures, slaughter and movement restrictions had in the past. Zilch. Just shed loads of cash wasted.
And a heap of dead cattle.

The second paper was published in the Ecologist, but widely reported. It tracked badgers with radio collars, and the conclusion was that they do not kiss cattle.
This is a repeat of 'research' - link done over a decade ago, but still the gravy train rolls on.

An extract from the Telegraph - link to the latest Ecologist paper explains that transmission must therefore be 'environmental'.
Well, yes. As an infected badger can produce up to 300,000 cfu (colony forming units) of m.bovis, the bacteria which may cause zTuberculosis, in just 1ml of infected urine, that is no doubt 'possible'. (That's scientific speke for - it happens)

Add to that their charming habit of scent marking territory, including our cattle feed and grazing ground, as well as general incontinence, dribbling up to 30ml of the stuff around our farms, and yes, we have a problem. And that's from only one end. Sputum from lung lesions and pus from suppurating bite wound abscesses add to that 'environmental' burden. As does the fright / flight spitting and spraying this animal indulges in - when not anesthetized to be fitted with a GPS collar..

And other research on record - much more useful in this case, confirms that just 1cfu is enough to infect a calf, and 70 cfu an adult bovine. More on that in this post - link

But there is now more on that 'environmental' burden involving the the lowly earthworm - link
A group of scientists, plastered Lumbricus terrestris (that's a fancy name for an earthworm) with cattle faeces spiked with the M. bovis BCG strain Pasteur to carry out two separate experiments. They explain;
 The dissemination, the gut carriage and the excretion of M. bovis were all monitored using a specific qPCR-based assay. 
Leaving aside the screening was using qPCR, which Defra insist will not work to identify m.bovis, the bacterium was found to be  carried through into soil for up to four days.

Now, here's thought. TB bacteria is rarely, if ever, found in cattle faeces. Any lesions are usually safely walled up in lymph nodes. But that paragraph and link in our post above details the amount of the euphemistically named 'environmental' burden heaped into grassland by infected badger detritus.

 And what are badgers preferred food? Our old friend, Lumbricus terrestris.
Or earthworms to you and me.