8 Jan 2013, 5:54 PM
The Republic of Ireland has been culling badgers since the 1980s and it is understood there was national culling from 1997. Between 1996 and 2006 about 4,000 badgers were culled each year. Most are caught using snares and then shot. One study, known as the Four Areas Project, alleges reductions in cattle TB incidence ranging from 51% to 68% over a five-year culling period. The information is being used to help support badger culling in England. Culling is still underway. However, one vet, formerly practising in Donegal, is questioning the claims being made. He believes perturbation is a much bigger threat than we are being led to believe. He is concerned that Ireland has officially denied any perturbation at all.
Tom Kelly writes;
When I read this paper, A case study of bovine tuberculosis in an area of County Donegal, Ireland, in the Irish Veterinary Journal of December, 2006 (http://www.veterinaryirelandjournal.com/Links/PDFs/Peer/Peer_December_06.pdf ), I was surprised to see veterinary colleagues from Ireland’s department of agriculture and CVERA (the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis) point a finger of suspicion away from badgers and towards almost anything else imaginable.
When I had re-read the paper often enough to understand that they were pointing away from all badgers primarily on the basis that they could hardly blame one, single badger with a microscopical tuberculous lesion, reportedly snared after the end of the Four Areas Project, for all that bovine TB during the final year of the FAP, I was even more surprised.
I was also surprised that no mention of strain-typing, not even an explanation for its omission, was made. I had inspected a vast majority, if not all, of the abattoir post-mortem reports for reactor cattle from the FAP’s Removal, Buffer and Reference Areas slaughtered during all five years of the FAP, and noted that they were stamped with the instruction that any tuberculous isolates be sent for strain-typing - as were reports for some time after the FAP concluded.
When I phoned the peer-review editor of the IVJ, he admitted that it was "political," that a minimum of just two peers was required, that the pool of possible peers for such a job was very limited, and of those available, smaller still. From this, I deduce that it was likely an "inside job."
When I queried this in a letter to the Irish Veterinary Journal of May, 2010, I got the following response:
“…Kelly asserts that “the absence of any reference in this paper to the straintyping of M. bovis isolates from any/all reactor cattle in Co. Donegal, and certainly from those grazed or housed in the areas of study, as well as of any badger-derived isolates, is a conspicuous omission”. We had previously published on this issue using all of the data available to us (see “Spatial relationship between Mycobacterium bovis strains in cattle and badgers in four areas in Ireland” (Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 2005 Sep 30; 71(1-2):57-70)). The results of that study demonstrated that even with strain typing data available in all captured badgers and cattle in the removal areas, we were unable to clearly identify defined geographical clusters of infected badgers sharing a common M. bovis strain. On the contrary, we found that the majority of geographical areas contained a mixture of different M. bovis strains among badgers. Thus, based on the results of our previous study, and the presence of only one infected badger in the Donegal Reference area during our study period, we could not support strong conclusions about the role of badgers.
We did say, in conclusion, whereas we agree that infected badgers pose a serious risk to the general cattle population, in this instance it is difficult to point to badgers as the major cause of the elevated number of restricted herds during the fifth year.
We think our conclusions and the evidence on which we based them were and remain reasonable….
Sincerely, Dr. Francisco J. Olea-Popelka, DVM, MSc, PhD.”
But surely they had not published all the data on strain-typing available to them if they had published data from the four Removal Areas, only, and no data about any isolates from either badgers or cattle from the Buffer or the Reference Areas?
Dr Olea-Popelka writes,
“Thus, based on the results of our previous study, and the presence of only one infected badger in the Donegal Reference area during our study period, we could not support strong conclusions about the role of badgers.”
According to John Griffin et al, 2004 (The impact of badger removal on the control of tuberculosis in cattle herds in Ireland - J.M. Grifﬁn, D.H. Williams, G.E. Kelly, T.A. Clegg,I. O’Boyle, J.D. Collins, S.J. More), Donegal’s Reference Area measured 275 square kilometers (Table 1, Page 9); nine badgers were snared/trapped in it in 1998-1999 (Table 3, Page 14); and four more taken in 2000-2001. Whether or not these were all additional to those said by Dr Olea-Popelka et al to have been caught in November, 2002, I do not know. Nor do I know how many of these 13, if any, were found to be tuberculous. Regardless, had only one infected badger been present in Donegal’s entire 275 square kilometers of Reference Area during the five years or five years and three months, 1 September, 1997 – 30 November, 2002, (or even just during the final year of the FAP, 1 Sept., 20012 - 31st Aug., 2002), then the entire FAP would need to be drastically reviewed in that light, and its conclusions in the meantime withdrawn.
As things stand, the authors (and, presumably the reviewing peers) suggest that, particularly in the favourable-for-trapping/snaring month of November, a haul of just four badgers from eight active setts among many infected herds showing signs of badger activity, latrines etc., does not give rise to such questions as, “Why so few? What happened to the others? Doesn’t it look awfully like somebody took the law into their own hands? Why wouldn’t farmers have been expected to kill badgers in that area, especially given such dramatic outbreaks of TB?” Etc.
This seems incredibly naïve or disingenuous of those authors, two of whom worked in Co. Donegal’s District Veterinary Office around that time.
It also flies in the face of the Department’s stated understanding of the epidemiology of bovine TB in Ireland offered in this press release some months later, in May, 2007, Minister Coughlan rejects Badger Trust / Badgerwatch Ireland Report - http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/press/pressreleases/2007/may/title,13476,en.html .
I understand that, before the FAP began in 1997, farmers in the Project areas were asked not to interfere with badgers as this was not only illegal but could also render any data retrieved unreliable or inaccurate.
The first time I met Dr Francisco Olea-Popelka, in 2007, he asked me if I believed Irish farmers were likely to deal with badgers themselves when faced with an outbreak of TB. In that part of Donegal’s Reference Area, where I had worked for eight years between 1982 and 1990, I believe it to be extremely likely that they would have done so, scientific trial notwithstanding.
From 1990-2008, I ran a practice which included parts of the Donegal Reference Area as well as territory to the south and west of it. My first few years in that practice, there were virtually no reactor cattle in the entire area. That changed very dramatically during the five years of the FAP, when I believe fifty or more herds close to the western border of the Reference Area were affected, some of them explosively, a great majority of them, to the best of my knowledge and belief, having had no history of bovine TB within memory.
Were one to take sufficient herds immediately to the west of Donegal's Reference Area during the period of the FAP, as I believe one still could, to give one data on another approximately 6,150 cattle (by which cattle in Donegal's Removal Area exceeded those in its Reference Area, according to John Griffin et al, 2004), then one would see a most alarming increase in bTB in that new reference area during that period.
Likewise, a review of abattoir reports for reactor cattle from herds situated in Donegal’s Buffer Area during the FAP showed a spectacular increase in TB. To date I know of no published data for TB in cattle or badgers in those Buffer Areas, probably now the most interesting of all statistics, given the subsequent findings of evidence of perturbation by the ISG in Britain in areas surrounding the trapping zones of the RBCT.
The authors of the same paper at: http://www.veterinaryirelandjournal.com/Links/PDFs/Peer/Peer_December_06.pdf, state:
"Neither is it a problem that needs to be investigated only at the herd level, but rather at the area level, including groups of contiguous herds."
I agree wholeheartedly with this, and that, when possible, any associated outbreaks ought to be studied for as long as they appear to be related. Therefore it is crucial to publish all the data for TB in all four Buffer Areas, as well as data relating to the explosion of TB just west of the Donegal Reference Area during the FAP.
Having corresponded with a number of the authors for several years now, I remain convinced that their magnanimity towards that lone badger and other, missing badgers is misplaced. One of the authors, finally admitted to me that he and others of the Irish side of this perturbation debate had suffered hurtful personal attacks from their British counterparts, and confided to me that, when one made a mistake, one could not admit it.
This paper’s preamble and conclusion claimed to support the hypothesis that Donegal’s part in the FAP, with a Removal Area which was by far the most geographically isolated as well as the most efficiently and effectively culled of all four areas, demonstrated how successful culling could be when carried out sufficiently aggressively, in a wide enough area, and in areas which were sufficiently geographically isolated.
I suggest that the opposite is more the case, and that an independent reappraisal of the Study and/or of the FAP will support this.
As things stand, continuing to place faith in an erroneous misinterpretation of the situation in Donegal and in Ireland in general, and a concerted cover-up of perturbation effects in Ireland, can only harm elimination/control efforts on both islands, as well as skewing an assessment of the costs of vaccination, with or without culling, versus culling alone.
In justifying a decision to allow badger culling to go ahead in Britain, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Mr Owen Paterson, suggested that, by yielding a “96%” reduction in bovine TB, Donegal showed just this. (Please see APPENDIX 1 below.)
How ironic if, in fact, a herd in Donegal’s Removal Area during the final year of the FAP had a 96% higher or a 25 times greater risk of failing a herd test than one in the Reference Area was because culling there (and perhaps farmer-executed culling in the Reference Area) had so increased TB in cattle in the nearby Reference Area - and how tragic for decision-making in general!
I suggest that there is overwhelming evidence to support the view that the vacuum created by heavy cullings in Donegal’s Removal and Buffer Areas, possibly together with illegal reactive cullings on the part of farmers, gave rise to a very marked perturbation effect in Donegal’s Reference Area, as well as in large areas elsewhere to the south of and west of the Removal Area.
One is forced to wonder if the nine authors and their reviewing peers were being naïve, disingenuous - or downright deliberately deceitful, regardless of the cost?
This press release, Minister Coughlan rejects Badger Trust / Badgerwatch Ireland Report - http://www.agriculture.gov.ie/press/pressreleases/2007/may/title,13476,en.html , may provide a clue.
By choosing 1998 as its reference year, a 46% reduction in reactor numbers to 2006 is boasted as evidence of the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing cattle TB. But reactor numbers had been relatively stable in Ireland 1993-1997…before leaping by 54%+ in 1998 over 1997, and by 55%+ in 1999 over 1997, thereafter gradually reducing again during the following years towards the 1993-1997 levels.
Why were there suddenly so many reactors in 1998? If we knew this, could it help us get a handle on who and/or what causes bovine TB in general nowadays, and how?
Three (Dublin-based) Departmental veterinarians, including one CVO, and one member of CVERA told me that it was due to farmer and/or vet fraud, the reactor compensation rate having been increased around that time, and the lesion rate not keeping up with previous years. But I was emphatically instructed not to make this public.
If farmers and vets involved in the Irish scheme are believed that such a fraud occurred, then the Irish, the UK and the EU public have a right and an urgent need to know this?
If public servant vets and their political mistresse/s/master/s believe/d that such a fraud had occurred, they themselves were being fraudulent in using the 1998 figure as their baseline from which to boast dramatic progress, especially considering that using the 1997 figure, instead, and factoring in the reduction in size of the Irish national herd by 2006, we see an overall INCREASE in the incidence of bovine TB in Ireland.
Likewise, if it is truly believed that badgers were not responsible for the fact that, as Mr Paterson suggested, a herd owner had a 96% lesser risk of TB if he farmed in Donegal’s Removal Area following culling (compared to his risk if he lived in the Reference Area), surely the Secretary of State for Environment ought to be quickly put right on this, and then correct the public record.
Minister Mary Coughlan’s following remark in that same press release suggests that a deceit may be the core of Ireland's bovine TB strategy, given that those who supplied the minister with her facts can hardly fail to have known – and to still know -- that, with herds on average twice the size of Ireland’s, given the same animal incidence of TB, similarly spread, Britain could expect double the herd incidence.
“Commenting on the relative levels of bovine TB in Ireland and Great Britain, Ms Coughlan said that the number of cattle slaughtered as reactors did not accurately reflect the incidence of disease. The widely accepted measure of the incidence of a disease is the number of herds in which disease is detected as a proportion of the number of herds tested. On this basis, the incidence of TB in the UK in 2006 was 7% compared with 5.4% in Ireland. In addition, much of the disease in the UK is concentrated in the South West of England, which has a herd incidence in excess of 10%.”
Thomas P. Kelly, MVB, MRCVS,
965, Luna Vista Drive,
Mobile, dialing from UK/Ireland: 001 760 29 17 066
Land, dialing from Ireland: 001 760 741 7844
From http://www.channel4.com/news/badger-cull-discussion-brian-may-and-owen-paterson :
At 4 min:40:
"There is not a single country in the Western world with a significant cattle population, which also suffers from TB, where the government does not work with farmers bearing down on wildlife.
Look at our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland, where the four-counties cull showed a 96% reduction in Donegal!
At 5 min:32:
"The changes were to go over a much larger geographical area, to have clear boundaries at the edges such as motorways and rivers, and to go for a much more efficient system of culling. We simply have to bear down on this disease. It's cost us so far a hundred million pounds last year, five hundred million pounds in recent years. We're heading for a bill of a billion pounds.
And we have to follow the example of other countries that bear down on disease in wildlife and in cattle, ending up with healthy wildlife and healthy cattle."
From http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/environment-secretary-owen-paterson-defends-badger-cull-8203537.html :
But the main threat to cattle farmers was from bovine TB, he said, telling the conference that 26,000 cattle were slaughtered last year at a cost to the taxpayer of £100 million, due to the disease.
That cost would rise to £1 billion over the next decade "if we don't take action", he said.
"Let's be clear. Bovine TB imposes a shattering financial and emotional cost on our farmers, their families and communities. This will only get worse if we continue the cowardly policy of inaction pursued by Labour in government. Let me tell you, there is no easy solution."
Despite £15.5 million being spent on vaccine research, there was no workable solution in the short term.
"We must, therefore, learn from the experience of other countries. We have to use every tool at our disposal and that's why we're trialling a badger cull.
"We need healthy wildlife living alongside healthy cattle. Only if we work to eradicate the reservoir of TB in our badgers, will we have the strong and prosperous dairy industry the public wishes to see."