Saturday, January 21, 2017

If it's good enough for the aussies??

A new and said to be 'highly reliable' diagnostic solution - [link] for bovine tuberculosis, a major infectious disease among cattle, other farm animals and certain wildlife populations, is now on the market, reports Vet Practice magazine (Australia)
“The VetMAX M. tuberculosis Complex PCR Kit is a reliable and fast tool to confirm the presence of mycobacteria belonging to the tuberculosis complex,” said Martin Guillet, global head and general manager of AgriBusiness at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the company that has developed what is the only commercially available PCR test that detects all seven strains of the M. tuberculosis complex in a single solution.
Using the test on suspect cattle lesions, the article explains that results using this PCR approach can be returned much faster when compared to bacterial culture testing methods. While the results of a M. bovis culture can take up to six weeks, results using PCR—from sample preparation to testing—take just three hours.

 And we note that the same kit (VetMax M. tuberculosis Complex PCR) was trialed in 2014 alongside conventional culture testing on abattoir suspect lesions, in France - [link] This is the result:
The aim of this study was to estimate and compare sensitivities and specificities of bacteriology, histopathology and PCR under French field conditions, in the absence of a gold standard using latent class analysis.

The studied population consisted of 5,211 animals from which samples were subjected to bacteriology and PCR (LSI VetMAX™ Mycobacterium tuberculosis Complex PCR Kit, Life Technologies) as their herd of origin was either suspected or confirmed infected with bTB or because bTB-like lesions were detected during slaughterhouse inspection.

Samples from 697 of these animals (all with bTB-like lesions) were subjected to histopathology. Bayesian models were developed, allowing for dependence between bacteriology and PCR, while assuming independence from histopathology.

The sensitivity of PCR was higher than that of bacteriology (on average 87.7% [82.5–92.3%] versus 78.1% [72.9–82.8%]) while specificity of both tests was very good (on average 97.0% for PCR [94.3–99.0%] and 99.1% for bacteriology [97.1–100.0%]). Histopathology was at least as sensitive as PCR (on average 93.6% [89.9–96.9%]) but less specific than the two other tests (on average 83.3% [78.7–87.6%]).

These results suggest that PCR has the potential to replace bacteriology to confirm bTB in samples submitted from suspect cattle.
As regular readers will have guessed, we are fans of PCR diagnostics - [link] both for speeding up diagnosis in cattle lesions, and having pushed government to support its use, identifying infection in badgers.

So were somewhat floored by the reaction of its British developers - link] (scroll forward on the video to 20 minutes in to see that reaction which we have pasted below.)
" I’m extremely busy and it’s difficult to find time to watch the film as it is long, however, I have just watched it and I don’t feel I can be involved in the film as the tone and message are not in line with my views. Some of what has been said is unscientific, including some of the comments from your vet. Also, you have criticised scientists at least twice in 5 minutes. I am not pro cull and I do not believe the evidence supports culling badgers, even in the case of your farm. I do hope you understand that the tone of this video and the content is not in agreement with my views so I cannot be involved. "
We get the picture. Follow the money, and the 'group conformity' to keep zoonotic tuberculosis rolling  - in GB at least.

But if PCR diagnostics is good enough for the Aussies, and results compare very favourably with bacterial cultures in France and also in a privately funded study into zTB in alpacas - [link] why not here too?

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Starting with the Final Report of the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) we have heard the oft repeated phrase that the primary, OIE approved screening test for cattle world wide, is missing shed loads of infected cattle. But only in the UK: or at least in parts of the UK. The ISG used modeling and the following hypothesis to concoct a heap of infected cattle on page 140  para 7:4
"Thus, if for example the true sensitivity of the test is 75 per cent, infection will remain undetected in one in four herds with a single infected animal. Given that only one confirmed reactor is detected at the disclosure test in about 30 per cent of breakdown herds, this represents a large number of additional infected herds that may remain undetected."
And from that hypothesis, the ISG's electronic abacus expands the risk to thousands of cattle in hundreds of herds. This was repeated more recently by Cambridge University models - [link] with Dr. Andrew Conlan, ignoring the obvious, and stating unequivocally that:
Around 38 per cent of herds that are cleared experience a recurrent incident within 24 months, suggesting that infection may be persisting within herds.
Not that those tested herds may be experiencing an insidious and constant reintroduction of infection from a non-bovine source? The cynical amongst us would suggest that would stop the funding stream generated by badger TB, stone dead. and that would never do.

 Scientists also, in the time honoured fashion of Not Made Here, ignore work done on actual transmission opportunities from reactor cattle, both in Ireland and GB.

In 1978 and 1988 Eamon Costello and Louis O'Reilly tried in Ireland with such pairings. Six months -[link] of shared feed, water, and air failed to transmit anything at all, and twelve months - link showed early lesions in just 4 out of 10 pairings. Conclusion: transmission in the field from cattle was very difficult.

The 'Pathman' project - [link] reporting in 2007, spent £2.8m trying to do the same and salami sliced reactor cattle into very tiny bits. After taking 1600 samples from that project's candidates and 1000 from a parallel study, they report that all failed to transmit. - [link]

A further overview, also written a decade ago by practising veterinary surgeon, the late John Daykin and Dr. Lewis Thomas also squashes flat, the elusive reservoir - [link] of zoonotic Tuberculosis in cattle.

But still, right up to date, we hear the same sing-song lament from this 2016 Defra tome - [link] Page 9.
Because of the limitations of the test and the nature of the response to the bovine TB bacterium we may miss 20 to 25 per cent of TB-infected cattle using the standard interpretation of the test (these animals are known as false negatives).
Defra personnel tend to ignore research and data which doesn't fit their particular bill, and true to form, they have ignored project SE4500, which examines slaughterhouse cases of TB.

Think about it: if the skin test was missing shed loads of cattle, then that abattoir surveillance - [link] designed for exactly the purpose of finding TB lesions, would be finding the 25 per cent of the annual kill that the skin test missed, would it not? So some 600,000 animals? That 'reservoir' which they seek?

Wind up your calculators dear readers, because there are too many noughts for us in that Defra paper.

But briefly it tells us, that out of 11.1 million animals from TB free herds, passing under the MHS officer's TB inspection microscope 2009 - 2013, just 5,366 samples proved positive for m.bovis. And that is nothing like 25 per cent of cattle, it is barely 0.05 per cent. We cannot find any more details as to whether these samples were from old, walled up lesions, or open active disease. But nevertheless, the figures and evidence from around the world do not support the ISG's and Defra's   mischievous assumption that  'If for example....' the skin test (as used in the UK or parts of it)  is rubbish.

So as cattle farmers, we are grateful to veterinary surgeon Den Leonard, for permission to quote his letter of explanation of the 'skin test' when used regularly  as a whole herd test. The letter was featured in Farmers Guardian January 13th.2017.
"Many people ask for a ‘better’ test for TB, quoting the low sensitivity of the single intradermal comparative cervical test (SICCT) or ‘skin test’ as we all call it. Because it has a low sensitivity it misses some infected animals. However, because so many tests are done on a farm and an area basis, infected areas are soon discovered.

When this happens many thousands of tests are performed in that area, as well as repeatedly on infected premises, which overcomes this issue of sensitivity from an eradication point of view, as the test is given many opportunities to identify the presence of TB.

This is how the test is used across the world very successfully and indeed was how our country virtually eradicated TB when we were managing the badger population density at the same time (before the 1992 Protection of Badgers Act).

However, what is needed more than sensitivity is specificity, and this is where the skin test is the best test. It has a specificity of 99.98%, which means that only 1 in 5000 of the positive test results are NOT positive. If we chose a more sensitive test, then we would reduce the specificity. If we reduced the specificity to 99.5%, which still sounds really good, then 1 in 200 positive results would be incorrect.

An area with perfectly clean cattle in it, or even a farm, would never test clear because of the increased false positive rate.

The skin test can be interpreted in a more sensitive (as in misses less positives), and consequently less specific way, by altering the skin thickness thresholds – what is known as ‘severe interpretation’. Also the gamma interferon blood test is more sensitive and less specific. This alteration in testing is appropriate when you know that infection resides in a herd as you want to ensure you find more truly positive cattle quickly, so you ‘accept’ more false positives during that phase. Using the combination of the skin test, gamma interferon blood testing, and severe interpretation, areas without wildlife infection are rapidly cleared of infected cattle throughout the world.

Farmers get frustrated when positively testing cattle do not show up with lesions. This is because nobody is explaining the test result to them properly, or because myths get perpetuated by people unwilling to understand. This aspect has been covered well in David Denny’s letter.

There is no need for any new cattle tests; we just need better education of stakeholders by the government and by practicing vets.

Den Leonard. Lambert, Leonard and May
From what we've read, perhaps we should start that education process with Defra.

We finished the previous posting with Damien Hirst's cow safe in her hermetically sealed formaldehyde tank. We'll end this one with a coughing badger similarly incarcerated.

 A much better idea for all our cattle, we think.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Cattle Health Schemes - an unwanted, unworkable addition.

Various bodies operate cattle health schemes in the UK, and are very enthusiastic about adding a new disease to their piggy bank  disease risk portfolio.
We mentioned this in less than glowing terms in our September posting - [link] with a withering swipe at Chief Vet, Nigel Gibbens, for describing those of us who try and farm cattle in a responsible way in his 'High Risk Area' for TB as 'unlucky'.

We are not 'unlucky' at all. As we said in the that posting, we and our half a million dead cattle, are victims of governmental neglect of the wildlife reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis on a monumental scale over many decades.

 But despite the fact that zTB is primarily a spill over disease into cattle, from a maintenance reservoir in an untouchable wildlife source which has acquired cult status, the umbrella organisation CHeCS ( Cattle Health Scheme Certification Scheme) have launched their New Year with a flourish.

They and Defra Ministers describe their new risk assessment for zTB as 'rewarding farmers for good biosecurity'. So how has this risk assessment been prepared?

Working from a list of some very dubious 'factoids', the ESVPS (European School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies) have developed cobbled together a risk assessment hymn sheet [link] for vets to refer to. At the time of writing, numerous meetings have been held to promote this, but we are unsure whether the pamphlet in the link is the final draft, or a primary. The gist of it however is clear enough. Badgers with TB pose a huge problem for cattle farmers, but 'responsible cattle farmers' will keep them away from cattle.

And once again, Defra have thrown this thorny problem to another outside agency, in this instance a veterinary one, and cobbled together the risk of TB with other uniquely cattle diseases.
And that you cannot do.

To compare TB carried by wildlife and their detritus, with such uniquely cattle problems such as BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea) IBR, (Infectious Bovine Rhinitis) Leptospirosis or Johnes disease etc. is both crass and unhelpful.

 The notes from which the Risk Assessment appears to have been drawn up, are mainly computer generated assumptions and factoids, bearing little relation to actual 'risks' which may practically be avoided on any working cattle farm.

Below we list them, with our interpretations:
1. In high risk areas, farms with herds of >150 cattle are 50% more likely to suffer a bTB outbreak than those with 50 or fewer

2.In herds with endemic bTB, herd sizes >300 are likely to circulate disease at a level which may be missed at individual TT test.
That computation is mathematical, not a given. Test 500 cattle in one herd and get one reactor, but test 500 cattle split between ten herds and nine herds will be clear. Simples.

3. Dairy herds tend to undertake higher risk practices including feeding. They also tend to be larger.
' High risk practices feeding Dairy herds’. Are they referring to maize or the way cattle are fed in the shed? Sheds were perfectly O.K until badger numbers got out of hand and used cattle feeding areas as their very own Badger MacDonalds on a regular basis. Grass silage too is mentioned, incurring (shock, horror) a 50% 'risk'. Just what else cattle are to fed during winter months is not explained as 'rough grazing' is also damned, incurring penalties.
4. The risk level can be assessed as highest when groups of cattle are purchased regularly and can be reduced by reducing the frequency of purchase and the size of the groups purchased.
Farmers are trying to run commercial businesses. This document appears to say that farmers should not purchase cattle, or only very occasionally and then  in small numbers. Several of our contributors run 'closed' herds using artificial insemination, have no bought in cattle at all and secure boundaries against any cattle contact. It makes no difference at all to an infected badger. He can infect any cow, any time, whatever its original home.
5. A small scale survey is ongoing to investigate whether reducing the water level in water troughs makes them less attractive to badgers who may not be able to reach in for the water level. This remains an experimental hypothesis at this time.
Experimental hypothesis??? How are smaller calves meant to drink? Via a U shaped straw?
6. Maize is grown on farm or by close neighbours and /or maize silage is fed to cattle leads to a 20% increase in TB risk per 10ha of maize grown.
So the growing of a wonderful home grown source of starch and sugar for cattle feed, is a 'risk', merely because it is also 'valued' as a magnet, by an overprotected pest? Add that to the grass silage and rough grazing previously tabled and cattle are left with precisely what to eat? Thistles?
7. Building access by badgers is recognised as a greater risk than occasional pasture contact.
It doesn't matter how or where cattle come into contact with badgers, if those badgers are infected and infectious at the time of contact and leave behind them infected evidence of their visits. That can be in farm buildings or grazed grass. A reactor is still a reactor. And she's shot.
The infectious culprit continues on its merry way.
8. Badger tracks are recognised as a lower risk than latrine and shared feeding areas at pasture
Badger tracks are still subject to the contents of leaking bladders and scent marking for territorial boundaries. They will use the same tracks too and these lead to 'badger feeding areas' (grassland) containing dung pats etc.. And badgers constantly create new latrines, now that their numbers are so great.
It is not explained how farmers can shrink wrap cattle grazing areas.
9. This [ nutritional deficiencies] may increase susceptibility to TB
That assertion was not born out by the salami sliced post mortems of reactor cattle in the the £2.8m Pathogenesis project - [link]
10. This (above?) should include Johnes disease vaccination if utilised. Using a Johnes vaccine may increase the chances of not detecting infected animals. Work is underway to investigate if the gamma interferon test may be of use in this situation.
Vaccines for Johnes [m.avium paratuberculosis] is not available in UK, as far as we are aware.
11. Evidence to support previous recrudescence or repeated incursions of bTB will need to be looked at in conjunction with the genotype results from infection in SICCT positive cattle.
How about looking at whether badgers have continued and are continuing to visit cattle areas rather than assuming recrudescence via cattle? And if you slaughter out the primary Genotype (should one be found) what happens to number two? Or three? Or four? Cognitive dissonance? No cattle = no TB.
12. There is an odds ratio of 3.1 times greater risk of lifetime risk of becoming a reactor if an individual has at any time tested as an inconclusive reactor.
Not in our, or ex DVMs practical experience over decades. Mathematical models again using assumed data?
13. Even relatively short extensions in the testing interval are associated with an increased risk of disclosing disease in the high risk area.
This will no longer apply as any farmer going over the stated window for his herd's TB testing, automatically has BPS docked and his herd put under immediate restriction. Penalties for any reactors found are also in the pipeline. All certain to focus the mind.
14. If the period of time during the test is prolonged, this can exacerbate the impact of any spread within the herd.
Some extraordinary grammar in that one. A longer time for a vet to test cattle, or a longer period between tests? We'll assume the latter. But if testing periods are extended and exposure has longer to generate lesions (as in four year testing areas) then more lesioned reactors than NVLs would be expected.
15. If this is the case, then local spread from either wildlife or locally purchased stock is suggested. If this is not the case, then purchase from outside the area is suggested.
Spoligotypes will nail that question, without making any more wild assumptions.
16. Byrne et al identified in 2012 that the average maximum distance a badger would roam was 2km. However, under exceptional circumstances hungry animals were found to roam up to 7.5km from their sett, possibly over a couple of days. The risk level can be assessed as highest when groups of cattle are purchased regularly and can be reduced by reducing the frequency of purchase and the size of the groups purchased.
One minute talking about badger ranges and then goes back into stopping farmers purchasing cattle??

And if Woodchester Park's peanut fed pets were used as the guinea pigs for Byrne et al, then forget distance. In the real world, territorial distances traveled are reported to be much, much more. In fact we have been told that one Woodchester badger, collared to track her movements, trundled 21 miles to Bristol Docks. And returned after viewing the estuary. But we don't expect Byrne or et al was told that.

We are told this is an industry led initiative. Really? The names of the AHDB, APHA, DEFRA and the NFU appear as endorsements. Did they really understand what they were suggesting?

We would reiterate, as would our supporting vets, that in no way can the disease zoonotic Tuberculosis carried by over protected wildlife,  be compared in terms of 'risk' with that of genuine cattle diseases, some of which we mentioned above and over which farmers do have an element of control..

So from that list of 'risks', is Damien Hirst's cow offering the only 'safe' place for our cattle to exist?

In a hermetically sealed tank full of formaldehyde, to protect them not only from infected wildlife, but a gravy train of hangers on intent on trousering cash from government negligence?

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New for 2017

First off the post, is Dr. Brian May's March 2017  Symposium - [link] where the magic circle cogitate and invent new ways of trousering taxpayer cash, attempting to prove the earth is flat or in their communal cases, badgers infected with zoonotic Tuberculosis do not infect anything else at all.

There is a phenomenon which encompasses such groups. It is loosely described as 'Group Conformity', but it is also now recognised in the journal, Nature - [link] which offers a scientific perspective on such stupidity and intransigence in the face of bare facts. The paper deals with political conformity, but may just as easily describe the attitude of most of the high profile badgerists 'networking' under Dr. May's banner, 'Save Me'..

 Some snippets from the paper:
"... resistance to evidence may entail disengagement from external reality and increased inward focus."
and ...
"Defending one’s beliefs against challenging evidence is a form of internally directed cognition, involving both disconnection from the externally presented evidence and a search through memory for relevant counterarguments."
and ...
".... when people are confronted with challenges to their deeply held beliefs, they preferentially engage brain structures known to support stimulus-independent, internally directed cognition".
In other words, when people have settled on their particular beliefs, they shut off external stimuli and rely on an internal stock of arguments to validate them. They create their own bubble and dwell within it.

 Having witnessed this over two long decades, (twenty years in which GB slaughtered half a million sentinel reactor cattle) we'll go with that explanation from our co-editor..

And then there is, as we have pointed out before. the 'gold standard' of disease transmission, familiar to epidemiologists if not to many others with obscure degrees, or no scientific background at all. These are a short list of 'postulates' which, if fulfilled, it may be assumed disease transmission will occur to any vulnerable species. A 'scientist' does not need to observe such transmission happening or have recorded such an event.

 First described by Professor Koch in 1884, updated several times since, most notably by Evans in 1977 and then again by our co-editor a century after the initial finding.

This is pure epidemiology, where if certain events happen, (causality) then how transmission occurs does not need further investigation. Such transmission can be assumed. And searching Parliamentary questions aimed at just that conclusion, formed the anchor of this website in 2004. The answers we received showed that the postulates of zoonotic Tuberculosis transmission from badgers were fulfilled. There was no need for the £squillions spent on spurious research, which sadly still goes on. The recipients of this largesse are not any sort of solution, but the main part of the problem.

These early postulates from Koch upgraded by Evans include:

  * Disease should follow exposure to the putative agent

  • Exposure increases disease incidence prospectively

  * Exposure increases disease prevalence

 • Exposure to the cause more common in those with the disease than those without ceteris paribus

 • Dose-response relationship.

 * Experimental reproduction of the disease possible

• Measurable host response following exposure to the cause

• Elimination of putative cause reduces incidence

• Prevention of the host‘s response eliminates the disease

 • The whole thing should make biologic and epidemiological sense.
 But as we pointed out in 2014 - [link] , how this Grade 3 zoonotic, bacteriological killer has been handled in this country over the last three decades make no sense whatsoever; biological, epidemiological or any other descriptive term Defra can dream up.

 And from the past history of the listed attendees at Brian May's Symposium, we do not expect any more sense to emerge. Only Oliver Twist's  begging bowl, for more research.

As one of our more acerbic contributors pointed out, the most helpful thing anyone could do to eradicate zoonotic Tuberculosis from our country's cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, alpacas, cats and their owners -  and its maintenance host, badgers - was when Dr. May's badgerists were all safely in one place,  lock the door.
And throw away the key.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas thoughts 2016 - and a turkey to chew on.

As Christmas draws nearer, Defra has launched another Consultation - [link] document to stuff into your Christmas stocking. This is a proposal to continue a 'management' strategy for badger numbers in cull areas, after the initial four year blast.The document explains thus:
1:3 Licences have been issued under section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and section 16 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to enable the culling or vaccination of badgers for the purpose of controlling the spread of TB in endemic TB areas. When successfully completed, these licensed intensive culls can be expected to reduce cattle TB breakdowns (see paragraph 3.2) in an area for around seven and a half years. To prolong the disease control benefits it is necessary to maintain a steady badger population at the level achieved at the end of the licensed culls.
Now that would seem to indicate that the moratorium on section 10 (2) a of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, bought and paid for with £1m bung in 1997, has been quietly lifted?
But we digress. The consultation document continues:
1:4 Natural England (NE) would need to licence a supplementary form of culling to achieve this.[ Ed- the disease control benefits of a smaller number of badgers] Continuing with badger control in this way is consistent with the TB Strategy’s adaptive, evidence-based, long-term approach to disease control and would complement the other measures within the Strategy.
The paper explains that two such farmer-led operations have now completed successfully their fourth and final year, eight areas have two or three years to run and more than 30 other areas have expressed interest in starting operations.

And then possibly the most sensible thing that the CVO has said in a long time:
The UK Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) advises that preserving over the long term the benefits achieved through these operations is important to sustain the good progress being made on the strategy.
In other words, a few disparate patches shooting badgers for 42 nights, just doesn't cut it, given the scale of government neglect of zoonotic tuberculosis in wildlife, over the past two decades.
The document explains more:
4.12 Licensed supplementary badger control must start in the year following the conclusion of a prior cull, as allowing the badger population to recover and then undertaking badger population control risks causing a perturbation effect in cattle TB incidence and undermining the disease control benefits achieved.
What we glean from this, is that further culls may be licensed on a 5 year rolling timescale, and certainly before giving the badger population time to recover and reinfect sentinel cattle. But to qualify for this, farmers must also comply with a shed load of thought-to-be-important sops to the badgerists, in the form of cattle controls, biosecurity and they must continue to jump through ever increasing NE hoops.
None of which will have the slightest effect whatsoever.

The paper needs to be completed by February 10th 2017 and the online response form can be found    on this link -[link]

Meanwhile, badger expert Rosie Woodroffe (who explains helpfully that she is a ' disease ecologist ' ?? Que? Is there such an animal?) has posted an abstract - [link] explaining that the vaccinated collared badgers playing in west Cornwall showed no different behaviour patterns from their un-vaccinated sett mates.

With respect, the ranges and rambles that vaccinated badgers take, are of less importance to a cattle farmer, than the detritus they may leave behind. And caging, jabbing and then releasing a badger already infected (but possibly not infectious at the time he is jabbed) is perhaps not the wisest of activities, especially when even a clean badger can succumb to a dose of m.bovis, after vaccination.

 Remember poor old D313? - [link] We do. And in that posting is the disgraceful preamble of Woodroffe's old boss at the ISG, explaining to the EFRA committee that at its inception, their £74m trial, from which Woodroffe is so keen to quote, had a predetermined conclusion.
He taught her well.

 In a recent visit to the Welsh Assembly, using ten words where one would suffice, our Rosie had this to say:
Professor Woodroffe: Yes, I should preface what I say, that, whilst I’m a disease ecologist, I am primarily a wildlife ecologist, so, you know, I’m not the biggest and best expert on cattle TB, except as it applies to badgers; badgers are particularly my expertise.
Nope Rosie; badgers are your bread and butter. And you'd like to keep it that way.

Read the whole ramble on this link - [link]

And you're gonna love this one, from 'disease ecologist' Rosie;
[81] Professor Woodroffe: In terms of other hosts, evidence suggests that the principle host, or the overwhelmingly most important host of TB in this country, is cattle.
That 'evidence' would be the modelling from the RBCT would it? Where two parts cattle to one part badger was the rough assumption fed into Christl Donnelly's magic box? She continues:
The evidence strongly suggests that badgers are involved.

Badgers can and do give TB to cattle in those places where that’s a serious problem. The best estimate of badgers’ contribution is that they’re responsible for about — in England, this is; in the high TB risk areas of England — 6 per cent of newly affected herds.
Rosie then rambles into the range of 'confidence levels' for that wild assumption of just 6 percent badger related cattle breakdowns - presumably leaving 94 per cent of outbreaks down to cattle?

                                                                                                                                                                                   Actually she estimates 75 per cent - but let that pass. She's got an 'ology, after all.
But please look carefully at the pi chart above.  We have more 'confidence' in the actual figures complied in Devon by veterinary professionals, who having excluded cattle contact and bought in cattle, attributed some 86 per cent of new breakdowns to - badgers.

 So this year ends with another consultation, inviting farmers to mop up government negligence in disease control - and pay for the privilege;  and more wild statements from people who make their living by keeping this gravy train going. As Bryan Hill - [link] says in his newly published book, "20 per cent of scientists say one thing, 20 per cent will contradict that and 60 per cent ask for more funding".

Merry Christmas from us all.

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.