Monday, June 19, 2017

Petition from NBA.

We are pleased to give publicity to a petition organised by the NBA, which highlights a few struggles that beef finishers face trying to keep their businesses afloat. Please print, sign and return to:

Monday, June 05, 2017

Contract or Con-trick?

As two badger cull areas come to the end of their four year stint, (with, as yet, no long term management plan to replace them) and a very small handful of farms approach the middle of that four year 'contract', Defra have added a few more hoops.

 At a recent Beef Expo event, Farmers Weekly reported the NBA position - [link] on a couple of these new regulations. Abolition of AFUs (Approved Finishing Units) and the mandatory use of Gamma interferon blood testing, if a herd in a cull area has a breakdown after year two.

AFUs are not really our field, but we have done a bit of digging into the notorious GammaIFN and can find nothing reported in this country after 2005, when scientific papers were full of hope, rather than reports of its limitations and the despair felt by victims of its widespread roll out.

 The late John Daykin and Dr. Lewis Thomas had this to say - [link] in 2007, and we pulled apart the 'early detection' line - [link] in a further posting. But despite the warnings of low specificity, many false positives and a pile of dead cattle, Defra went ahead. And this sort of carnage - [link] was the result on many farms.

News from Germany confirms it it not in use in that country due to low specificity. Our correspondent tells the following story:
"The test was used in Bavaria when 40+herds went down with M. caprae. Farmers were up in arms because truckloads of cattle were killed as positives based on the results of the IFN test. Where both tests ( SICCT+IFN) were used only 56.1 % of animals gave the same results in both tests and the majority of cattle slaughtered after IFN didn't show lesions and were culture negative.

Of course this doesn't mean they were not infected but it didn't help to boost acceptance. The reliability of the [blood] test seems to be very much affected by the amount of bacteria circulating.

Another blood test, AB-ELISA, failed completely.

The reason for the problems with IFN in Germany were that there is no way to standardise samples. Even the location where the blood is taken ( tail, neck etc) makes a difference as does temperature, time between sampling and arrival in the lab, storage, time of transport...

In Germany, there is the opinion that the test is not fit for use under field conditions and if used, a positive result must be confirmed by other diagnostics tests. That leaves only SICCT or pm....

Also of interest, is that if skin testing isn't done properly (i.e. subcutaneous ‎inj. instead of intracutaneous) there will be false positive IFN results later, even after a long time. The German reference lab clearly states that the skin test and the IFN have to be done absolutely 'lege artis', (that it is performed in a correct way.  ) otherwise the results are not reliable."
Nevertheless, and despite the carnage caused by its widespread use a decade ago and the problems of standardisation of its use in the field, Gamma IFn is set to be introduced under the following circumstances:
Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle and measures are in place to prevent further spread of disease from this source;

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

Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeated skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a bTB incident.
Now, farmers who have signed up to these scattered, small areas of badger culling, already have a number of Defra / NE hoops to jump through. One could say too many. And we hear that if they do not carry out Defra's duty of eradicating TB infected badgers properly and in a timely manner, then Defra may do the job for them - and charge for the privilege.

 So for Defra to bolt on other criteria for cull areas, already signed up and presumably agreed with the organisers, we think is a pretty low blow. Especially a bolt on as brutal as gamma IFN.

In fact we would go so far as to say, it should be subject to legal challenge. But with the NFU and cull organisers comfortable with the concept, while not understanding the reality of this test, that is unlikely to happen.

 But what will happen is this:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Matt Ridley on badgers

While not as acerbic as Jeremy Clarkson - [link] in our posting below, Matt Ridley writing in the Times and on his own blog - (link) argues the case for controlling badger numbers.

He begins thus:
Badger culls work. They worked in Ireland, where bovine tuberculosis has been largely eliminated. Recent badger culls in Britain, though apparently designed by timid bureaucrats to fail and thereby frighten off politicians, have almost certainly been a success, resulting in a big drop in tuberculosis among cattle. True, the government has been slow to publish this officially — the data are working their way through the scientific journals — but the anecdotal evidence is now strong.
The article then points out that dozens of farms in the cull zones that had been closed down by TB for decades are now going clear. Which is true. But these will not show up under the data collection methods prescribed by Messrs. Donnelley and Co - [link] at Imperial College, as the herds under restriction within a short period of the cull beginning, were apparently excluded from their results.

 We would point out the obvious here, that if ALL herds in cull areas were under TB restriction at the time a cull of badgers began, and all subsequently went clear, then there would be no data to collect at all. Sometimes, simple squared really does equal stupid.

The article then describes the wider benefits to the ecology of controlling badger numbers, citing hedgehogs and bumble bees as species with the most to gain.

  " Human beings should not shirk their duty as the apex predator," says Ridley, whose article concludes:

 Having long got rid of the wolf and the lynx, people have unleashed middle-ranking “meso-predators” such as badgers and foxes to reach unnatural densities with devastating effects on other species. To restore an ecological balance, they need to control the numbers of these animals."

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Clarkson on badgers, hedgehogs and Prince Philip.

Hiding behind a paywall, an article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times (May 7th) was a gem.

Commenting on the retirement at the age of 96 of H R H Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Jeremy settles on an idea to keep the Duke active. Not golf or bridge, he explains, "It needs to be something with a point."

Mr. Clarkson then describes the aftermath of floods in Yorkshire, which prompted a local septuagenarian to make their village 'hedgehog friendly' to encourage the surviving swimmers amongst them, back to Burton Fleming.
"Taking advice from a genial-looking 78-year-old hedgehog enthusiast in the next county, she has transformed the village, drilling holes in fences, installing little ladders in ponds and erecting feeding stations. Her work has been described as “the best thing that’s ever happened” to the community."
Because, says Mr. Clarkson, hedgehogs are like ice cream and David Attenborough and Rome. Everyone likes them. Especially a badger, which is a real menace.
"When he’s not marauding about the place, knocking over walls and killing cows with his arsenal of vindictive diseases, he likes to eat as many hedgehogs as possible.

One of the main prerequisites, in fact, for turning your village into a hedgehog-friendly zone like Burton Fleming is that the area is not infested with an army of Brian May’s flea-ridden mates.

Which brings me neatly back to Prince Philip. When he stops walking around with his hands behind his back later this year, he could very easily keep his mind fresh and his body active by joining a hedgehog reintroduction scheme near one of his castles.

Obviously, I can’t see him drilling holes in a fence or erecting a small ladder [for local hogs] Nor can I see him running a bring-and-buy stall in Sandringham’s village hall. However, I can see him doing his bit by pouring himself a nice glass of red and sitting at his bedroom window with a brace of Purdeys, waiting for a badger to heave into view."
More scientific stuff on the lack of hedgehogs where badgers predominate is here - [link], here - [link] and here - [link].

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A catch up conversation.

As time passes and more UK cattle reactors are piled up dead, we note that research into zTB, m.bovis and its screening tests is repeated around the world.

We are grateful for the input of a vet from New Zealand, a country which has, with farmer co operation and a great deal of government oversight, achieved TB free status in a relatively short time. In the UK, we are just beginning that laborious process with voluntary farmer involvement in small areas, their non-voluntary cash up front and no government oversight whatsoever.

Frequently we hear criticism of the skin test so questioned the NZ vet, where it used as a single jab (non comparitive) in the caudal fold.

Below is our conversation:
"Interesting re the skin test - I had an opinion that UK should use the caudal fold Bovine tuberculin only test (CFT) as the screening test - it is quicker, safer, easier and cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.

I thought the last factor would have helped or the safety issue. The other key thing with skin testing is that it is a herd test dependent on the testing being done correctly. I had one good vet say to me once if the CFT was used "at least the test would be done properly". The CFT is simple and so much easier to get right, quickly and safely (with good facilities - that should be enforced to receive subsidy payments [not a politically correct term but that's my opinion on what they are])".
Now it's popular for Defra to blame veterinary practice in testing, blame the product, the farmer or the man in the moon. In fact anything but a 'wildlife'interface. So we double checked with a UK vet, with acres of experience of testing - and results - over the last 40 years. This was his comment in reply to the comment above:
"We use the CCT because of serious problems with non specific infection in the past.

It worked well and actually eradicated TB from all the farms in the UK – but not all at once, sadly. Certainly, in the late 60s and early 70s, TB was at a very low level, even in Glos and Cornwall.

I feel that if badger controls (Protection of Badgers Act) had not come in in the 70s things might have been different. This was at a time when it (testing) was certainly not applied uniformly well by the vets carrying out the test, but this was well enough, it seems.

It is not the test that is the problem and slaughtering large numbers of probably uninfected cattle, which must happen with the Gamma ifn test, is a good way of damaging our farming industry. That’s all.

We know that removing the wildlife reservoir works. It is everything to do with the politics."
But on specificity, (false positives) New Zealand had problems too it seems and their vet commented that there is...:
" ... plenty of non-specificity in NZ as well. Many UK Vets have the misconception that there is not. We have Johne's, Avian TB, environmental mycobacteria. The CFT is a more sensitive test, but not as specific. BUT, in lower risk areas the gamma can be used as a secondary test (especially effective when using the most specific antigens).
The accuracy of any screening test is always a trade off between Sensitivity (finding disease or exposure to bacteria which may cause disease) and Specificity (false positives and dead victims)
 In the UK, we note  that  Specificity of 100 per cent is the prime aim in any test for badgers, with the Sensitivity (ability to find disease) dropping to mid 50 per cent or less in many screening tests, in favour of not harming the hair of one badger's head.

Conversely, our politicians seem hell bent to unleash any of a number of secondary tests on our cattle with the opposite effect while leaving a burgeoning wildlife reservoir to upspill.

 So what drove New Zealand to get a serious handle on their zTB problems? One word. Trade.
The NZ vet comments:
"After seeing TB control in NZ and TB "control" in the UK firsthand - with 14+ and 9+ years in the respective countries - TB is much simpler to control than many in the UK would have you believe given the political will and finance. The non-tariff trade barriers that are rearing their heads now for UK were what prompted NZ into a fully committed approach to TB control back in the 1990's."
We have warned of possible Trade implications - [link] before. In fact the European Union drew up such veterinary import / export documents to cover such eventualities in 2004 - [link] when Russia was rattling her sabres. And make no mistake, separating the country into small patches just wouldn't cut it.

The paperwork dictates a dedicated collection chain for all bovine products which must be TB free from birth to plate, thus another 'Beef Ban' is likely.

New Zealand began its eradication process with just farmer involvement but the process stalled and government took over. So what have we been offered in the UK?
Volunteer scattered groups of farmers, under the control of an organisation - [link] which in its right hand, offers farmers grants to provide 'Badger Gates' and in its left, oversees small culls, having made the protocol for such population control as difficult as possible.

Our NZ commentator had this to say:
"Dad's Army" is a good description of how politicians have allowed (legal) badger control in England. I believe that optimum wildlife control to achieve eradication needs to be centrally co-ordinated and controlled; probably funded by Government (whose ignorance and negligence have allowed the problem to escalate and spread geographically) and industry (who would be the predominant beneficiaries)"

We are often told that 'farmer co-operation' is vital for disease control. That is true, but that description should not be confused with farmers in suits, sitting behind the revolving doors of Defra's London headquarters, playing 'politics' with our industry.