Thursday, April 19, 2018

Another Defra cash snatch?





When cattle become TB 'reactors'. Defra's table valuations swing into action, and in most months, casualties which have a pedigree certificate are 'valued' higher than non-pedigree cattle.







But in September this year, unless some of the smaller breed societies get their collective heads together, pedigree cattle registered with them will lose that designation and be paid out as non-pedigree.


 The relevant paperwork is contained in this document - [link] which appears to owe most of its content to exporting cattle into the EU, rather than breed promotion within the UK.

 Notable absentees include minor beef breeds, such as Salers, Bazadaise, Parthenaise, Gloucesters and many more.

Apparently having paid a breed society for Herdbook registrations and having a pedigree certificate, is not enough. If your breed society is not on this list - [link] then any reactors will be paid at non-pedigree rates.


 However long their pedigree is.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Madness"

We are hearing many heart wrenching tales of lorry loads of cattle, and in some cases whole herds - all headed for premature slaughter after failing the Gamma interferon - [link ] blood test.

We wrote about this test in 2008, and described the problems with it in this posting, [link] where we quoted snippets from the infamous pilot, carried out by Defra into the use and in particular, the specificity (false positives) associated with Gamma - which were summarily dismissed..

These are described in a paper labelled SB4021 - [link] and where those unexpected results - 25 per cent of one herd, expected to be negative results - were ignored.

Comments on the thread above pointed out that the condition of bloods and timing of samples v. their delivery to a laboratory are crucial to results. And the lives of our cattle. And we hear that other countries using the test do not use it as a slaughter test. Results have to be confirmed with a skin test. And in 2006, after the pilot study (which excluded any  results the team did not expect to find) Hansard records thus:
22 May 2006 : Column 1294W Mr. Bradshaw:

It was research project SB4021 ( ) that was established to evaluate the specificity of the gamma interferon (IFNg) test. This project confirmed the findings of previous studies by concluding that the commercially available IFNg test had a specificity of between 95-97 per cent. Findings from SB4021 supported the view that it would be inappropriate to use IFNg for routine screening purposes because it risks producing too many false positive results.

A further roll out of Gamma ifn, by invitation only, failed to attract enough support and petered out.

In the interim, studies found that a priming skin test increased sensitivity of gamma, which got Defra very excited, but we can find nothing to contradict the findings of that Pilot study SB4021. And this showed the ability of gamma to hoover up as positives, many micobacteria in the MTC (Micobacterium Tuberculosis Complex) family. Many of which are widespread and harmless.

So fast forward to 2016 and a 'consultation' to tell us what Defra have in store for our cattle next. And we see this for Gamma ifn in 2017:
Gamma testing is being used in the following circumstances:

"From April 2017, the gamma test will be applied alongside the skin test to help resolve TB breakdowns with lesion and/or culture positive animals in the HRA where any of the following three criteria are met:

* Criterion 1: The APHA veterinary investigation concludes that the most likely bTB transmission route for the affected herd was contact with infected cattle (e.g. via cattle movements, residual cattle infection from a previous TB breakdown, or contact with a contiguous infected herd) and measures are in place to prevent further spread of the disease from this source

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

* Criterion 3: There is clear evidence that repeat skin testing of the herd has failed to resolve a TB breakdown .
And so it is. With devastating results - especially in herds which fall into criterion 2. i.e, the owners have signed a contract to manage badgers in the area. And having followed the prescribed scatter gun approach to disease control by culling 70 per cent of badgers, on 70 per cent of the area and leaving the rest to wander, if the herd has the misfortune to go under restriction with at least one lesioned or culture positive reactor. Then as we read this, no epidemiological veterinary interpretation of the herd history is needed. Just point and shoot.

The only criteria being a signature, on a contract drawn up at least two years ago.

Thin ice? On a legal basis, we have grave doubts about this. Leaving aside SB4021 and the failings of gamma ifn, so ably covered by Defra's soothingly modelled statistics, can it be legal for one party to add conditions to a contract already signed and paid for?

We pointed this out in this posting - [link] but it has taken a few months to really hit home, in terms of cattle slaughtered in GB which totalled 43,564 last year. The highest ever in our memory.

The use of this screening test has been variously described to us in less than enthusiastic terms  by Veterinary professionals - [link], but the word which stood out is 'madness'. And with that we would not disagree.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Selective law enforcement.



As another batch - [link] of areas in England get the go ahead from un-Natural England to cull infected badgers, the Police and Crime Commissioner of Derbyshire is not a happy bunny. He explains on the PCC website that:
“Badgers are a protected species under the 1992 Badger Protection Act and evidence shows that shooting badgers is not a viable solution to the spread of bovine TB. If this is the case, then it doesn’t make sense to pursue an expensive culling programme at the cost of the taxpayer. I am urging the Government to reconsider its position and to continue to invest in the vaccination programme in this county and beyond to protect what remains a threatened species for future generations.”
This gem was reported on the Derbyshire PCC website - [link] where this misguided person is promoting vaccination as a substitute for culling TB riddled badgers - who, after two decades of complete protection,  are anything but 'threatened'.

 Methinks his protests may have more to do with the published costs of policing the culls, than any altruistic love of wildlife or a skewed view of the effects of vaccination. And as it is farmers who have personally coughed up many thousands of pounds, in order to mop up decades of governmental inaction and shirking of responsibility, the very least the police can do is uphold the law. All laws, not just some of them.

 In a paper released last autumn, Defra estimate - [link] that the cost of policing culls will be around £255,000 over the four year main cull period for each area licensed. (p.7 of the linked report)
They explain:
The need for policing has been a feature of the policy to date due to the need to maintain public safety. It is likely that extending to eleven new areas will require a similar level of policing, at least in their initial year. However, police forces have consolidated their command and control structure for operations this year to reduce costs. It is a shared goal of Defra and the Home Office that policing should become business as usual for local `police forces and attract no additional costs. Over time, following further successful operations without security incident, we expect policing costs to disappear. This ambition is factored into our central scenario.
One benefit reported in rural areas, which rarely see a policeman, but are subject to all the guff that goes with 'crime' dressed up as joy riding, poaching or theft of valuable stock and machinery, was that anecdotedly of course, a drop in such cases was noted, as more police were around chasing badger activists. A group of people, who if they were not exercising their 'rights' to prevent lawful and necessary culls of overpopulated and infected wildlife, would actually cost the taxpayer - or the Derbyshire PCC - very little at all.




 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The end of the line

Over the last few years, we've told the story of a farming couple, their fight both with zoonotic tuberculosis in their cattle which wiped out the whole herd, the debacle of misinformation which accompanied their restocks, and finally today, the end of line for a business and and a marriage.

 In 2013, Louis and Gillian Bothwell gave us the inside story of their lovely herd of cattle - and empty sheds. - [link]
Farmers Guardian - [link] told the story in more detail in Gillian's own words. And we compared the trauma of these losses - [link] to Defra's antics over FMD.

 After the restocking, we revisited Louis and Gillian's story and were shocked to find they were still in deep trouble. Louis had been persuaded by his Defra case officer to buy Holstein heifers from Europe. He reccomended northern Germany as a source of TB free cattle. But  within six weeks of arriving in the UK, many were diagnosed with Johne’s disease.

 They also proved to have very high cell counts and losses were considerable.

 Within the first year, and by the time the remaining replacement animals calved for the second time, one third of them were dead or slaughtered because of Johne’s disease.

Veterinary professionals confirm that tests for Johne’s are unreliable and unless clinical disease has been confirmed, single positive test results should be treated with care. These restocks were clinical.

We understand that there are known hotspots for this disease in Germany, and the area from which Louis Bothwell sourced his 'TB free replacements', as instructed by his Defra case officer, is one of them.

 Thus two years on from the trauma of losing a herd of homebred UK cattle to TB, Louis and Gillian were faced with losing their German replacements to Johne’s.

And in a routine TB test in 2016, with no action taken on the farm’s wildlife vectors, the remaining cattle were once again under TB restriction.

 That proved the final straw. As they calved, those remaining cattle were sent to direct slaughter.

Most of the farm is now let out on contract for maize and potato growing, with just a handful of acres let as grass keep. There are no dairy cows and the buildings lie empty; the unintended consequences of successive governments’ non-policy on ‘bovine’ Tuberculosis and misplaced advice from its officers.

 Sadly it has also proved the final straw for this young couple's marriage, as well as their dreams and investments. Farmers Guardian - [link] carries the story this week.

Friday, February 23, 2018

It's all in the Genes.

When people talk about zoonotic tuberculosis in terms of cattle v badger and who gives what to whom, they parade their ignorance of work done over decades on the genome of m.bovis, the bacterium which when inhaled or ingested in colony forming units (cfu) or clusters of bacteria, may go on to cause full blown disease.

 On its way through hosts, m.bovis loses part of its unique genetic code.

In this posting we bring together three papers which we've mentioned in isolation before, but not as a progression of thought.

According to a 2002 paper by Brosch et al - [link]  M.bovis appeared after a bottle neck about 15 - 20,000 years ago and developed separately from ancestral m.tuberculosis. Brosch  observed that it and other strains, had developed from a common ancestral strain which then split. Each time the genome altered, there was a deletion in the sequence.
..the results from this study unambiguously show that M. bovis has undergone numerous deletions relative to M. tuberculosis. This finding is confirmed by the preliminary analysis of the near complete genome sequence of M. bovis AF2122/97, a classical M. bovis strain isolated from cattle, which revealed no new gene clusters that were confined specifically to M. bovis.
So successful was m.bovis that Brosch postulates:
These deletions seem to have occurred in the progenitor of tubercle bacilli that — today — show natural host spectra as diverse as humans in Africa, voles on the Orkney Isles (UK), seals in Argentina, goats in Spain, and badgers in the UK.
Please note, these are ' natural hosts' maintaining the disease and its genome, not spill over.

 Following on from Brosch in 2006, our own Professor Noel Smith ran similar DNA screens - [link] and concluded that these deletions did not cross barriers as they migrated to other hosts. They 'nested' in the host they had chosen.

 And the spoligotype maps produced by Prof. Smith's team show that. They illustrate the Regional Accents [link] of the bacterium known as m.bovis.

And now we come to a simplified explanation of this work by Defra Chief Scientist, -[link] Professor Ian Boyd, who wrote in his blog in 2013 that following this clonal deletion process, the predominant cattle strain of m.bovis AN5 has now disappeared, replaced by the strain SBO 140 found predominantly in ... badgers. Professor Boyd then concludes:
"We have found through our testing that the original strain, AN5, has been successfully eliminated from English cows. It is interesting that while this strain has died out, SB0140 has survived and flourished. This leads me to an intriguing hypothesis; is SB0140 specifically adapted to survive and thrive in badgers?"
So the GB eradication process begun in the 1950s and 60s was very successful, eliminating the cattle strain of m.bovis completely.

And what we have now is badger adapted TB up spilling into - anything it touches.

So it is pretty crass to find populist vet, Dick Sibley tweeting that his work on phage testing and the undiscovered reservoir of m.bovis in our cattle (or one herd of cattle) is the result of his wanting to protect badgers from cattle tb.   The genome sequence of which, disappeared several decades ago.





Saturday, February 17, 2018

Zoonotic Tuberculosis and straw men

When people have little to add to a debate, they often stand up a 'straw man' and then spend a huge amount of time and oxygen knocking him down. And so it is with the eradication of this insidious disease, which we call bovine TB - or more accurately, zoonotic Tuberculosis.

It is fourteen long years since we asked our 500 Parliamentary questions of the then Minister of a Labour administration. Most of the answers were logged on the site, in 2004.

The crucial one was efficacy of the intradermal skin test, used as a herd test, and how effective it was at clearing TB from cattle herds. The answer was given in this list - Column 540 [150492] [link]
"All countries that have either eradicated, or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test. The Government have close links with a number of countries in various stages of eradication and exchanges information and experiences on the use of the tests in the context of these programmes."
So why has the straw man of how rubbish the skin test is, been allowed to gain traction?

The answer to that is money [link] Plain and simple. Research is followed by the begging bowl for more research. Why? Those PQs in 2003/4 told us all that Defra already knew about how infectious badgers were, how they were an ideal maintenance reservoir of this zoonotic disease, and how they passed the bacteria between themselves and on to cattle and other mammals. We explored how much bacteria was excreted by these creatures and how little it took to infect a cow. How long m.bovis survived under various conditions, and what killed it. At one point we were accused of backing the badger lobby, when our PQs explored how much badgers suffered from this disease.

We back the eradication of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, nothing else.

Nothing has changed, except that after twenty years of ultimate protection, there are now many more badgers and hundreds more infected / infectious ones spreading a lethal load into the environment.

 But still those straw men keep coming. The latest being Cath Rees's Phage test - [link] turned down for use in human pulmonary tuberculosis, its use is being proposed for our cattle. No matter that phage screening is not, and never has been used as a diagnostic test. The research has been done, and now must be sold to recoup laboratory costs. Ker-ching.

 And then there is politics. And an election looming, with an opposition determined to hug fluffy things and pander to minority groups - at any cost. That's Corbyn, but the echo chamber that is Michael Gove is looking to his next job, and holding hands with a super-annuated rock star, for inspiration. - [link]

So once again we'll end this posting with another PQ which explained why the Thornbury badger clearance had been so successful.
" 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]

Here is the result, compared with other less successful badger culls. Especially that charade with passed for 'science' a decade ago, where 8 nights of culling with cage traps, splintered an infectious population and then the operators walked away.

So while Brian May quotes John Bourne's well edited Final Report, he would do better to read that odious little man's evidence to EFRAcom in 2007, where he boasted that at the end of his trial, culling badgers was not to be part of the solution.
And those were his instructions at the beginning. -[link]

Stick to the basics, keep it simple. Everything else is just so many straw men.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Strange bedfellows


We hear on Instagram that yesterday a high level meeting took place at DEFRA headquarters - link (pic above) to discuss zoonotic Tuberculosis and the UK plan to eradicate it. Attendees included the great and the good from the NFU, Secretary of State Michael Gove several 'ologists of various hues and...



 a superannuated, guitar playing star-gazer. Dr. Brian May

 

Now, as we are 5 years in to a 25 year eradication plan, which involves farmers coughing up cash to mop up two decades of Defra's negligence in tackling the disease in wildlife, one would have thought there would not be too much to discuss. Especially as the NFU are circulating the screen shots which we aired in this posting - [link] to illustrate the size of the historic problem in herds, compared with new outbreaks post badger cull.

 But we could be wrong. Or maybe Gove is just starstruck - link.