Sunday, November 27, 2016

Defra receives an early Christmas present.

Several items in the news this week. The first, picked up by the red tops, is the construction of an artificial badger sett - [link] in Lincolnshire, which, together with dyke repairs, is said to have cost £313,000.







Sadly, it appears that the badgers didn't care for the decor, and began digging a few yards downstream of the new sett.

 The Grimsby Telegraph story explains:






 
The agency is trying to combat a surge in badgers along the Steeping River near Wainfleet, which are eroding the land. But locals are shocked at the cost, which could buy a five-bedroom house in the area.

Lincolnshire county councillor Chris Pain, 51, uncovered the cost. He told Lincolnshire Live:

"There are a dozen other setts dug into the banks of the Steeping, so if each gets the same treatment it will cost £4 million. "It worries me dearly as a local county councillor that we've spent nearly £313,000.00 on this one badger set which is not guaranteed to solve the problem."
And not for the first time,  Councillor Pain explained:
I believe there were also costs up to £300,000.00 on the Burgh le Marsh bypass. We have serious issues in the Louth area with Badger sets affecting roads and in my own council ward issues to roads in Firsby has already cost roughly £15,000.00 and £10,000.00 on both occasions and the current issues at Toynton St Peters will cost another £40,000.00.

" The Environment Agency refused £800,000 plans to dredge the river, which has not been done in 35 years, in favour of the badger home."
Giles Trust, vice chairman of the local drainage board, said the animals have rejected the extravagant new home because it is too damp. Mr. Trust told a national newspaper:
"They have dug a new sett half a mile away — straight into the river bank."
So, along with acres of carrots, there appears to be a surplus of badgers in Lincolnshire, which is just one county and a very short hop, away from Defra's notorious and useless zTB Edge area. The area we call a Maginot line ( and about which APHA say very little) and which is bubbling up some nasty clusters of TB outbreaks in the east Midlands. Making so much of the Low Risk area of England, while abandoning any meaningful wildlife control in the High Risk area, was always going to be a risky strategy.

Combined with unfettered movement of badgers, either on foot or delivered to order - [link] and alpacas, the Edge area has been a movable feast since it was dreamt up.  And as it moves steadily east and north, carrying with it annual increases in zTB, a wild deer has given Defra a slight headache with their plans to get the Low Risk area TB free within the next two years. While abandoning the rest of us to ever more cattle controls, insults and bio-garbage advice.



Just one county separates  the East Midlands Edge and the North Sea and now a dead roe deer, with zTB cultured as spoligotype 21 a (home range, Somerset / Avon) smack in the middle?

We found this in an APHA mid-term report on the situation in Linconshire - [link]
 
One laboratory-confirmed isolation of M. bovis in a wild roe deer, shot in College Wood near Wragby (estimated grid ref TF120756), by a XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in March 2016.

Carcase presented VL in mesenteric LN only. Spoligotype 21:a, typical from Somerset/Avon.

[ snip ] This case is being investigated further, with no other evidence of indigenous reservoir of M. bovis infection in the local wildlife populations. Passive surveillance in the deer population has been strengthened through intensified liaison with local Forestry Commission and private Estates for increased awareness and reporting of suspect cases and improved collection of data.

Radial testing has not yet been instigated.

No voluntary badger BCG vaccination known to have taken place.
This roe deer was dispatched in March, and allowing 8 - 10 weeks for cultures, only now in areas near where it was shot, are farmers being contacted for radial testing. So APHA's assertions of  'no other evidence of m.bovis infection in local wildlife populations', maybe somewhat premature if they haven't looked. Or more likely, were in panic mode denial about this nasty red splodge, smack in the middle of a Low Risk area, which we are confidently told will go TB free in a couple of years.

 The area concerned for radial testing is described by a farmer thus:
"The area it covers is quiet large. 7Km radius Mareham le Fen, 7Km radius of Langton by Wragby, 3Km radius 1 mile North of Woodhall Spa. The [ deer died] in March so it has taken them a long time to decide the course of action."
An early Christmas present indeed. And a wake up call.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Badger / Cattle contact

The latest chunk of zTB 'research' has been released by the ZSL (Zoological Society of London). Some of which can be viewed on this link - [link] That link deals with vaccination, and another leaked chunk deals with badgers visiting farm buildings. The direct link /to UCL is now unavailable, but we are grateful to Farming futures - [link] for posting the abstract. The project, part funded by Defra, was labelled SE3046, cost £1.4m and its aim is described thus:
Scientists’ poor understanding of the most important route(s) of interspecific M. bovis transmission compromises the control of cattle TB. Were it known how and where badgers transmit infection to cattle, specific management could be implemented to reduce transmission. Lacking such information, guidelines on keeping badgers and cattle apart are necessarily based on judgement rather than evidence of cost-effectiveness, potentially discouraging farmers from implementing effective methods, and perhaps wasting resources on ineffective techniques.
Link to the full paper: click here. [link]

Scientists may have a 'poor understanding' of m.bovis transmission, but we would venture to suggest, with the greatest respect of course, that veterinary practitioners, pathologists and many farmers have ample knowledge, combined with decades of experience.

Some twenty farms volunteered their cattle to be collared, to see if badgers came within spitting distance - if you'll pardon the expression. Now that, when you think about it, would involve an awful lot of collars. And so it proved as a letter from one participant in this week's Farmers Weekly explained:





 Not exactly what Mr. Wallis was expecting - two collars between 120 cattle?
And hardly the coverage described in the paper which was some 400 collars:  would they be virtual collars, and modeled? Who knows. Of  Mr. Wallis's 120 cattle, just two wore collars.

But the most galling to any cattle farmer, is his mention of the release of sick animals to up-cycle infection to any mammal crossing their paths.

He also mentioned the filming of these animals, playing with footballs.  Not sure how helps control a zoonotic grade 3 pathogen - but hey, it keeps the ball rolling. Mr. Wallis comments:
" They were very pro badger and had a line of students to do all sorts of surveys with the badgers including giving them footballs to play with. They are given government funding to research a project that has the conclusion all mapped out before it starts. This cartwheel of funding keeps them employed without sorting the problem or finding a permanent solution."
 

The LZS paper, also published as a letter to Veterinary Record was inevitably picked up by the BBC, - [link]The Guardian - [link] and many other publications. But few mentioned that the contamination of that shared environment, was likely to be a continued source of infection to cattle herds under TB restriction, tested every 60 days, with reactors removed.

For that we have to rely of a veterinary and epidemiological view, offered in Vet. Record (Nov. 5th edition) by Stephen Davies BVetMed, MRCVS.

 Mr Davies points out epidemiological facts (which we have reported on here - [link] and which our Parliamentary questions also confirmed)  that badgers infected with zoonotic tuberculosis are very adept at contaminating on a nightly basis, the environment in which they live. And that contamination is likely to remain long enough to infect cattle.

And Mr. Davies also points out that Woodroffe's paper reports a significant one liner, missed in the headlines:
".... transmission may typically occur through contamination of the two species' shared environment'.
This is concept many veterinary practitioners working in the field, have no problem with.
In fact as long ago as the early 1970s the results - [link] of the late William Tait's cattle carnage through west Cornwall, were mentioned in the annual report of the CVO.
Six monthly testing, severe interpretation of tests - all now coming to the High Risk Area, according to Defra's latest 'consultation' paper - and a total waste of time and taxpayer's money. The only thing the reports show, which reduced TB incidence in cattle in the 1970s was a clearance of badgers.

But we digress.  Mr Davies' letter continues:
I have long advised farmers that if they are feeding concentrates to cattle at pasture, they should at least turn troughs over afterwards, to prevent badgers licking in the troughs for any leftovers. I also advise that salt licks and mineral licks (especially molassed formulations) should never be placed on the ground. An infected badger licking the surface, potentially leaves a dose of bacteria for the first bovine to ingest afterwards.




And the impact of dead or dying badgers on environment shared with curious cows is graphically illustrated by Adam Quinney.
He points out that after that picture of his heifers investigating that dying badger was taken, these cattle suffered a breakdown. 





Stephen Davies finishes his letter with a word of support for practising veterinary surgeons and farmers, and a plea that their knowledge of experience of this disease (zoonotic Tuberculosis) which has been built up over many years, "and yet seems to be ignored or dismissed by policymakers."

By ignoring this pool of veterinary knowledge, Mr. Davies feels one tool has been left out of the box.

And we would add that by ignoring the epidemiology of the last 40 years concerning infectivity of both badgers and cattle, relying on mathematical models - [link] fed a raft of assumed data, coupled with incredible naivety of the 'scientist' of the day, this country faces the real possibility of further trade bans. And many, many more dead cattle.

The Parliamentary Questions tabled a decade ago, were unequivocal in their answers and this is arguably the most important one.
We asked what was the reason the Thornbury badger clearance had kept that area's cattle clear of TB for over a decade.

The answer needs to be inscribed over the door of every building occupied by this most political of government departments.:
" 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]
As a postscript, we think that the area of the twenty farms (including that of Mr.Wallis and his two collared cows) may be subject to 'environmental screening' - [link] which could involve Warwick's qPCR, - amongst other things - in its £930,000 grant. How very odd then  that Defra reject out of hand this method of non invasive screening for badgers, and yet rely on its results for other species? But as Upton Sinclair remarked:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We are grateful to both Mr. Wallis and Mr. Davies for their permission to use their letters and comments.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Complementary pieces.

This week a couple of complementary pieces have emerged from the mainstream media. No doubt a lot of 'twittering' will be caused but nevertheless, it's encouraging to see a spade being called, err, a spade.

The first is a two page spread in the Mail on Sunday - [link] with a strap line describing badger vaccination as a 'catastrophic failure'.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in key vaccination trials, the number of infected cows has not reduced at all but has in fact risen dramatically. Yet new Defra figures show that in the 12 months to the end of July 2016 the number of cattle culled in Wales as a result of TB was 7,380, an increase of 25 per cent on the same period to July 2015. West Wales is a bovine TB hot spot, but for the past four years badgers in the area have not been shot – they have instead been injected. It is a key experiment for the vaccination programme.
That is shocking, horrific and completely unacceptable. But the figures are incorrect. Defra statistics show that cattle slaughtered in Wales, during the year to July numbered 9492, an increase of 38 per cent, over the previous year's total of 6872. This despite vaccination of badgers, intensive action areas, annual testing and a whole load of biosecurity advice.

 Indiscriminately vaccinating a group of animals of which up to 50 per cent are likely to be already infected, is tantamount to madness. But fortunately, that particular bandwagon  exercise has ground to a halt as supplies of BCG are very limited - [link] and needed for human beings.

As is often the case with media pieces on this subject, some fairly wild, headline grabbing adjectives have snuck into the Mail's story: badgergeddon' being one of the least offensive. The point missed of course, is that our ministry and its henchmen have placed livestock farmers on the front line against this disease, couched as a 'population reduction', but sold to the gullible as a farmer v. badger war.
Defra have offered little help in the form of PR.And made no mention at all of the massive increase in population of badgers since ultimate protection was offered, or of the seriousness of the Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen  which is now endemic in them. 

For that we must go to the second article, which comes from Pro Med, via The BBC website - [link] and tells the story of a vet, working in Africa who contracted 'zoonotic Tuberculosis' from the animals with which he worked.

His story has familiar echoes of misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment in the early stages of the disease, as UK doctors and clinicians struggle to bring their 50 year old text books up to speed.
 'Unpasteurised milk', 'foreign travel' and 'drug shelters in inner cities ' are still top of the list of risks offered by Public Health England. As are drugs tailored to the treatment of  m.tuberculosis but not to m.bovis.

There is of course little or no mention of the endemically infected wildlife which successive governments have allowed free travel permits over our land and gardens.

 And finally, from the BBC website, an X ray of the infected lung of  vet, Jonathon Cranston.





This is zoonotic or 'bovine' tuberculosis. And this is what it can do to a healthy young adult.

This country is playing Russian roulette, not only with our sentinel cattle, but with our population: offering them increasing chances of exposure to the biggest killer of human beings on the planet.





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

Sacrilege

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.