The new think tank group 'Rethink bTB' has launched its campaign and published its first discussion paper, 'Bovine TB; is it time for a radical rethink?' Comments have been invited on its contents and a second, updated version is likely to be available soon. The paper stresses the consequences of of relying on the imperfect skin test.
Defra says the existing test wrongly condemns only one animal in a thousand. But even if that is right, the Rethink campaign says that would have meant 4,899 false positives in 2009 – a fifth of the 24,924 cattle condemned. Similarly, the campaign argues, the combination of flaws in the Defra strategy suggest it misses one infected animal in every five or six.
The Rethink paper concludes that, “The effect of the policy is worse than the disease. Whatever aspect is considered – farming profit, cost effectiveness, animal welfare, human health, conservation or food security – current policy is a resounding failure. Much of the compensation paid to farmers is for healthy cattle that were unlikely to develop bovine TB or would have been slaughtered in the normal course of farm production long before any symptoms developed.”
The campaign says a combination of vaccination and sensible culling would be cheaper and less stressful all round. See www.rethinkbtb.org
Experts from around the world have gathered in Wales for the first day of a four-day international conference on bovine TB.
The British Cattle Veterinary Association’s were successful in their bid to bring the International Mycobacterium bovis conference to Cardiff (held this week).
The debate needs to move on from the binary portrayal of farmers versus animal rights activists.
Speakers include scientific experts and delegates from across the world, including Australia, New Zealand and Ethiopia. They will share their knowledge on TB epidemiology, vaccination and wildlife policy.
The conference comes at a time when the level of bovine TB in Wales has fallen significantly. New incidents are down by nearly a quarter on the previous year.
The latest available Welsh government figures show that between December 2012 and November 2013 there were 880 new herd incidents compared to 1,145 in the previous year. In the same period the number of cattle slaughtered for bovine TB control also reduced from 9,364 to 6,275 – a reduction of 33%.
Wales’ farm minister Alun Davies said bovine TB had been at the top of the Welsh government’s agenda for 10 years. Despite the improvement in the situation in Wales, he insisted that the government was not “resting on its laurels.’’
“As well as providing an opportunity for us share our programme with international experts, the conference will enable us to learn from other countries that have had real success in dealing with this disease,’’ he said.
Info from: www.fwi.co.uk/articles/16/06/2014/145074/experts-gathered-for-world-tb-conference.htm#.U6A9F9JaSgU.twitter
18 Jun 2014, 2:28 PM
Will Hamilton interviewed Prof. Paul Torgerson for Polygeia in May 2014.
Professor Torgerson co-wrote the excellent 'Public Health and Bovine Tuberculosis: What's All The Fuss About?' paper published 2009. Extract:
WLH: So clearly these are diseases that it would be very cost-effective to invest in control programmes for. Are there any diseases that receive a disproportionate amount of funding and attention, given the cost required per DALY averted?
PT: An obvious example in the UK is bovine tuberculosis [cow TB]. The whole bovine tuberculosis control programme was all about public health when it was started in the 1940s-50s. And it was a big public health problem because back in the 1930s there was no pasteurization of milk, and there were 3,000 human deaths per year caused by bovine TB. But with the introduction of pasteurized milk it has virtually disappeared. All the evidence suggests that the only significant route of transmission from cattle to humans is through milk, and pasteurization stops that transmission. So now we see about 8,000 cases of TB diagnosed in the UK per year, which costs the National Health Service about £40 million per year to treat. Of those 8,000, only about twenty are caused by Mycobacterium bovis [the cause of bovine TB]. The remaining 7,980 are caused by the human pathogen, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Nearly all of those twenty cases will be in elderly people who have latent infection with M. bovis they acquired by drinking unpasteurized milk as children, or in recent immigrants that drank unpasteurized milk outside of the UK. So despite the epidemic in cattle there is no transmission to humans in the UK.
WLH: So what number would you give for the amount of money invested in bovine TB control programmes in the UK per DALY saved?
PT: We’ve done this calculation, though it’s not straightforward. When you look at those assumptions [of transmission only through unpasteurized milk], based on the human health impact, you come to a figure that for the £100 million per year spent in the UK on bovine TB eradication efforts, it’s costing about £2-3 million per DALY averted.
WLH: I’ve heard you use the phrase ‘under-neglected’, what do you mean by that?
PT: Well, neglected diseases tend to have a big impact but with little investment, so I think that ‘under-neglected’ diseases have a low impact but attract a lot of funds. So it’s a play on the language because actually you probably need to be neglecting those diseases.
WLH: So in your view the badger cull programme is not an effective use of public money?
PT: Well, people argue that culling badgers is a waste of money because it’s scientifically ineffective at controlling bovine tuberculosis, which the randomised controlled badger trial showed it is. But if you step back even further from that and say, do we need to control bovine tuberculosis anyway? It makes culling badgers even more absurd.
WLH: Is there any economic impact on farming productivity?
PT: Mycobacterial disease is chronic and progresses very slowly. So you very rarely see clinical bovine tuberculosis because most British cattle are culled when they’re still relatively young due to lameness or mastitis. There are very few cows in the British dairy herd older than six years, which is too young to actually get clinical signs.
PT: Another important piece of evidence is that the bovine tuberculosis test which DEFRA uses for testing cattle in the UK has a specificity close to 100% but a sensitivity of 80%. The sensitivity is the number of animals that have got tuberculosis but that the test won’t give a positive reaction to. So last year they diagnosed 30,000 cattle using this test and killed them. But that was only 80% of the total, so there’s another 20% – 6,000 animals – with bovine tuberculosis that don’t react to the test. And they’re just wondering around in the countryside somewhere but there’s no clinical disease being detected.
WLH: How effective would you say the UK government currently is at using scientific evidence to direct its public health policies?
PT: It’s not very good. For veterinary public health programmes, something like 90% of the money goes into bovine TB control. Relatively speaking, very little goes into toxoplasmosis, Salmonella, E. coli 0157:H7, which are far more important in terms of impact. Just to put it in perspective, there’s £100 million spent on bovine tuberculosis control in cattle per year. The NHS spends £40 million per year treating cases of human tuberculosis, which is caused by a different bug, and about £30 million per year on programmes to prevent HIV infection. Human tuberculosis and HIV are important public health problems. Bovine tuberculosis is irrelevant.
WLH: In one sentence, how do you think the situation could be improved?
PT: One sentence? Well, you can present the evidence. Scientists have to present the evidence and hope the politicians listen. I also work for the WHO with the Global Burden of Foodborne Diseases, and we’re compiling evidence on which are the most important foodborne diseases globally. Maybe if it comes from the WHO the politicians might listen, who knows?
Will Hamilton interviewed Paul Torgerson for Polygeia in May 2014
21 May 2013, 3:36 PM
Email from Prof PT dated 21.05/13 referring to the report 'Zoonotic Mycobacterium bovis– induced Tuberculosis in Humans " published in current edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases • www.cdc.gov/eid • Vol. 19, No. 6.
He commented 'It basically says that the global impact to human health of bovine TB is pretty small everywhere (even where there is no control)'.
Interesting extract from the report - we still cannot understand why so much attention and money is directed at bovine TB as it is such an insignificant risk to human health these days:
'There is evidence to suggest that zoonotic TB accounted for a significant proportion of the TB cases in the Western world before the introduction of regular milk pasteurization programs (6,7). Currently, in high-income countries, bovine TB is well controlled or eliminated in most areas, and cases of zoonotic TB are rarely seen (6,7). However, reservoirs of TB in wildlife populations have been linked to the persistence or increase of the incidence of bovine TB in some countries, most notably the United Kingdom (UK) (6). The absence of zoonotic TB despite an upsurge in the incidence of bovine TB in the United Kingdom sparked a controversy over the large financial expenditures for disease control in cattle (6).'
The majority of farmers we are in contact with want to see a rethink of bovine TB policy. Many believe cattle vaccination is the best way forward and the National Farmers Union is not doing enough to bring this about. Many believe that with the political will it could be an option for the near future but without the full support of the NFU to push it up the agenda it will continue to be delayed.
Interestingly the NFU has apparently been making government policy since 1947 according to the article by Malcolm Massey at http://www.ukcolumn.org/article/national-farmers-union-making-government-policy-1947. 'Many people have heard of the National Farmers Union but how many of us are aware of the power the National Farmers Union has to make legislation, or determine prices. In a shocking discovery, it appears that not only does the National Farmers Union have these powers, but they have been made statutory.'
The following extracts from the article are of great interest as they reveal just how few farmers the NFU truly represent.
According to 'Corporate Watch', the UK government is legally obliged by the 1947 Agriculture Act to consult the National Farmers Union when making policy; a fact confirmed to the UK Column by the NFU. It is not mentioned at all in the 'about us' section on the NFU Website that the organisation contributes to policy. Having spoken to a number of farmers about this, not one has said they knew the NFU was helping to shape policy directly.
The NFU's relationship with the Government is further supported by 'National Archives', which states, in regards to the NFU's inclusion in the 1947 Agriculture Act:
The government's aim was to maintain high levels of agricultural production through a system of guaranteed prices negotiated annually by the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Farmers' Union.
The unveiling of this close relationship will not surprise those farmers that believe the NFU was 'pulling the strings' during the Foot and Mouth disaster in 2001.
The NFU is a much more powerful Union than it appears. It does not change as Parliament changes and is therefore, in effect, much like a branch of the civil service; unelected by the wider public, but which does make and control government policy. How many farmers, or members of the non-farming community for that matter, are aware of this? Apparently not many, since the NFU only has 47,000 members actively farming (of the approximate 96,000 members in total). There are 300,000 or so active farms currently in Britain.
The NFU dubs itself the voice of farming, but how can it be? With little more than 15% of farmers actually members - many 'ordinary' farmers complain that they don't have time to take part, or that they believe the NFU does not represent their interests - if this was a democracy, a meagre 15% of support would not, and should not, allow an organisation to have a say in the making of policy which will effect not only farmers but the wider public as well.
Internally, the NFU appoints its officials to a council that is appointed by the NFU council. When asked how councillors were appointed, the NFU representative explained that councillors worked there way up 'through the ranks' of various policy boards, elected by the NFU council.
The NFU does permit farmers a vote, but those votes do not necessarily correlate with the outcome, since it is the NFU council which casts the final and deciding vote. It is not clear whether the council is obliged to represent the opinion of the NFU members, or exactly what the finer details of how the council operates are. The NFU representative suggested that those would be clarified in the NFU's constitution, but that it is only available to members; a submission confirmed by the NFU website. This in itself is a remarkable admission - it seems that one cannot view the constitution before consenting to it.
It is becoming clear is that our nation is being governed and manipulated by various organisations, companies, quangos and NGOs that, unknowingly to the public – and unelected by the public – are shaping the policies that effect our daily lives. That is not to say that the NFU does act nefariously, but the opportunity is there and as events are demonstrating, power is regularly abused for the benefit of a an individual or small elite. Democracy must be truly representative of the people, or there is no democracy.
13 Mar 2013, 12:47 PM
A very balanced view from Chris Packham, published at /www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Chris-Packham-Face-facts-badger-cull-won-t-work/story-18288514-detail/story.html#axzz2MfBWGmjc & nbsp; /www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Chris-Packham-Face-facts-badger-cull-won-t-work/story-18288514-detail/story. html#axzz2MfBWGmjc
Naturalist Chris Packham, presenter of the BBC's Springwatch programme, questions the value of the West Country badger cull, which cleared its final hurdle on Wednesday...
Let me start by saying this: I and an overwhelming percentage of conservationists concerned about the badger cull really do have the utmost sympathy for the farming fraternity.
We understand that 86 per cent of the land surface of the UK is farmed or forested. The future of wildlife and its environment is dependent on us working in co-operation with farmers and the last thing we want is something like the cull to drive a wedge between the public, conservationists and farmers.
But I govern my life by fact. We know the world’s round now, not flat. An independent study set up by the Government and paid for by you and me to the tune of £11 million showed that a cull was an ineffective way of controlling TB in cattle and in certain cases increased the rate of transmission. Anyone with any understanding of this crisis, and that is what this is, knows full well that the only successful way forward is to develop a vaccine, and a test appropriate to that vaccine, for cattle.
The study that said a cull won’t work was undertaken by some of the best scientists in the world, and 50 of the those scientists put signatures to a letter sent out before Christmas confirming it won’t work. Surely we should listen to that, act on that. The signatories included Professor John Krebs, a world renowned expert.
We also recently learned that 80 per cent of the scientific information presented to Government in the last ten years was ignored. There are several things worrying about that.
One, we have paid for that work so our money has been wasted. Two, we live in a society where we should make the best choices, based on the best evidence and it would appear that we are not doing that in the case of the badger cull, among many other issues.
We have a vaccine that works but the test we have to see whether it has done isn’t compatible with the vaccine so we can’t be certain whether a vaccinated animal has TB or not.
The EU also forbids the sale of products from animals that have been vaccinated against TB so in any case our farmers have been forced into a very difficult position.
If we did have an effective vaccine and test at the moment that would solve the disease problem – except that with the EU’s standpoint our farmers would still be down to the tune of £465 million a year. That is how much our farmers make from exporting cattle and their produce to the EU.
Rest assured that if this study had shown that culling would work I would not be opposing the cull because I am governed by the science, not the emotion. Of course I like badgers, I enjoyed studying them and even enjoyed analysing their faeces every Thursday night for five years , but I am a pragmatist and I understand this is costing farmers a huge amount of money. If the problem could be solved this way I would be gritting my teeth and saying we should go ahead but the facts indicate that this is not the solution.
We know full well that politicians are beholden to their civil servants; obviously they can’t be instant experts in every field. That’s why we employ civil servants, to advise, so that politicians can make an informed judgement, but in this case the decision is wildly flawed.
Our rural economy is in a mess and has had consistent lack of support for a tremendously long time now – since we joined the EU and the CAP came in, and that is compounded by the supermarket monopoly and price-fixing that amounts to a stranglehold on our farmers. And perversely we the public support that because we go to supermarkets and buy cheap food sold as loss-leaders to help the supermarket make profits on other things.
I recognise that what farmers need is not any more hindrance but a tremendous amount of support from the British people. Rather than going to the NFU and saying, “OK we are going to cull badgers, something we know isn’t going to work, because the science has shown that,” the Government should end the supermarket monopoly and other crippling and unfair strategies that make it so hard for our farmers to make a living.
Until we start helping them how can we conservationists knock on their doors and ask for help when they are struggling to make a living? We need to talk about a long-term solution, about how we build a rural economy in order to sustain a rural landscape and one that includes wildlife.
We must help farmers, not hinder them.
What I fear more than anything about this badger crisis is that unfortunately, given the world we live in, this will turn people against certain sections of the farming fraternity.
Activists are going to cause a lot of disruption and that’s counter-productive. It is so divisive, that’s what is so disappointing about this decision. We need to work together to make sure that farmers can make a living in the countryside and our wildlife can prosper.
6 Feb 2013, 7:36 PM
No wonder cattle vaccination is STILL years away - in a letter from Tonio Borg, of the European Commission to Secretary of State to Owen Paterson, MP published recently, it stated that : "In the past four years the Commission has allocated considerable funds to support the UK bTB programmes (EUR 116,3 Mio in total). We therefore expect significant improvements in the epidemiological situation in 2013 that show efficient use of Union funds. This is absolutely necessary in view of a further renewal of the EU financial support to this programme."
A significant proportion of this EU (or taxpayers') money was used to increase bTB testing (using the same old imperfect test) - good for vets but not for farmers.
2 Jan 2013, 11:51 AM
The new year heralds even more problems for farmers in England as a result of the existing bTB policy as they see tighter restrictions and more measures introduced - but there is still no sign of cattle vaccination being allowed or even trialled in the UK, despite previous commitments from Defra.
The following additional counties have been put on an annual testing regime: Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and East Sussex.
The remaining counties will be remain on a four-yearly testing regime.
These additions reflect what Defra believes are areas which are at greatest risk from the geographic spread of TB "in the short to medium term".
Counties already on the annual testing list are: Cornwall, Devonshire, Somerset, Dorset, Avon, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands and Warwickshire.
Tighter controls, are as follows (which came into force on 1 January):
Farmers who have had a case of TB in their farm will not be allowed to bring new cattle in until the rest of the herd has been tested for TB and a vet has carried out an assessment.
Farmers now have 30 days, down from 60, to move cattle that test negative for TB from a TB breakdown farm.
Approved Quarantine Units (AQUs) are going to be phased out as they are considered too risky.
TB free cattle are sent to Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) from TB infected farms for fattening before they are slaughtered.
15 Nov 2012, 6:36 PM
The fact remains that only a minority of herds are restricted at some point, even in the annual testing areas, less than half a percent of the national herd is slaughtered for bTB control year on year. Defra TB stats show no evidence of an epidemic, there are no grounds for this 'sledgehammer to crack a nut' policy. Why do we insist on treating the majority of the country as if it is one big hot-spot for bTB? Instead we could vaccinate cattle to ring-fence the minority of herds which suffer repeated breakdowns.
FINAL REPORT OF AN AUDIT CARRIED OUT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM FROM 05 TO 16 SEPTEMBER 2011 IN ORDER TO EVALUATE THE OPERATION OF THE BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS ERADICATION PROGRAMME
This is the EU audit paper for 2011 and the response from DEFRA. Included are some interesting data and critisms. For example over 1000 cattle per year are being found with gross lesions in abattoirs from herds that are under no restrictions (i.e. have clear tests)....
There also problems with the gINF test, biosecurity etc.
2 Nov 2012, 7:53 PM
A Lord with great wisdom and Wit:
FROM THE LORDS 25/10/12 Lord Krebs: My Lords, as has been said, bovine TB is a serious problem, and it deserves serious science to underpin policy. I do not want to take up too much time, but I hope that your Lordships will forgive me as an individual who has been involved in this over the past 15 years and, as has been said, instigated the randomised badger culling trial and took part in the review of the evidence with Sir Bob Watson last year. It is worth briefly repeating the facts: the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there. To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning; it is just that there is 16% less than there would have been without a cull. The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading-a dishonest filleting of the data. The other thing that the experts conclude is that culling makes the situation worse at the beginning so it will take a long time to emerge into this Nirvana of a 16% reduction, and 84% of the problem is still there.
That is just the background. I turn to questions that I hope the Minister will answer. Last Friday we were told by the Minister of State for Food and Farming that between 500 and 800 badgers would be culled in each of the two areas. The number, thanks to rapid badger reproduction over the weekend, is now 5,530 over the two areas-a fourfold increase. I am impressed. What this underlines is that if the policy is to cull at least 70% of the badgers, we have to know what the starting number is. This variation from just over 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the space of a few days underlines how difficult it is for us to have confidence that the Government will be able to instruct the farmers to cull 70% if they do not know the starting numbers. So my first question to the Minister is: how will he assure us that these numbers are accurate?
If we ask why the NFU has backed out, it is because it was due to pay those who were going to shoot the badgers on a per-badger basis. The NFU calculated it on the basis of shooting 1,300 badgers. Suddenly it is told, "It's 5,500 badgers". The farmers thought it was worth doing-but not that much. They have done their own cost-benefit calculation and say that it is not worth the candle. So my second question to the Minister is: in next year's cull, who is going to pay? Are the farmers going to stump up on a per-badger basis to shoot 5,500 badgers or are we, the taxpayer, going to pay?
Finally and briefly, we have a pause and time to rethink. I urge the Minister to gather together scientific experts and rethink the Government's strategy altogether, starting from square one.
2 Nov 2012, 6:58 PM
Email from farmers G and DP dated 2/11/12.
This outdated 'test and cull' policy is spiralling out of control. The NFU have done nothing but make the situation worse, attracting publicity by using sensationalised headlines, causing controversy with their blinkered badger cull plans and now the farmers in the two and three year testing areas will be paying the price. It's time for the real farming industry to stand up and says "enough's enough". We are trusted to manage our cattle in the face of other infections equal in severity to bTB. Cattle vaccine is available, Defra need to license it and we saw with blue-tongue the speed at which they can work if the political will is there. Turn your sights on Defra and demand they get the EU rules changed because UK famers have to take back control of their herds before Defra's 'test and cull' policy wipes us all out.
21 Oct 2012, 6:23 PM
Brian May has been doing a tremendous job in exposing the facts about bovine TB. A vehement opposer of the badger cull he has clearly looked at all the issues involved. His recent article in the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2220734/This-cruel-badger-cull-pointless--I-prove-says-Queen-guitarist-Brian-May.html? ito=feeds-newsxml) sums up progress to date.
Interestingly Brian had a brief encounter with the new Defra Minister, Owen Paterson, who, he said, seemed positively jubilant about the ‘imminent’ badger cull he is so enthusiastically backing. Brian asked him; ‘Surely it would be better to vaccinate cattle instead of this cruel cull of badgers?’ He gave a condescending smile and said: ‘Not a chance! Vaccination of cattle is years away.’ He pushed the palm of his hand into the middle distance, effectively cutting off any further discussion.
Brian's article goes on to say 'So WHY is Mr Paterson, his Government and the National Farmers Union clinging to this discredited and highly unpopular policy? Why can we not vaccinate our cows as we do our children?'. Of course, by now most of us embroiled in this issue know the answers:
a) We can’t vaccinate because it’s impossible to distinguish a vaccinated cow from an infected cow. Therefore cows can’t be exported as buyers won’t risk bringing bTB into their country. b) We can’t vaccinate because the EU won’t let us. Even last week Caroline Spelman, the ex-Defra Minister who brought in this cull, told me: ‘It would take years to change this – we’d have to go around every member state in Europe begging for a derogation.’
Earlier this month Brian, accompanied by Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPCA, and a delegation from TeamBadger visited Brussels to find out why the EU would not allow the UK to vaccinate our cows. They were joined, at their request, by a representative from the NFU. Brian said; 'What we discovered is a bomb that will blow the idea of culling badgers out of the water for ever. We were warmly welcomed at the European Parliament by MEPs of all parties – 90% against culling wild animals, and 100% in favour of helping us make cattle vaccination in Britain happen'.
Next stop was the European Commission. Why, they asked Georg Haeusler, Chef de Cabinet for Agriculture, would the EU not let us vaccinate cows?
Brian said; 'He looked at us in surprise and said: ‘But this is not true. You British are welcome to. You would find it was not possible to sell cows into the mainland of Europe because we would be risking bringing bTB into our countries. But you do not export live cows to us anyway. It would be meat and milk and other ‘‘products’’ made from cattle that would be proscribed. But there would be no police descending on you if you began vaccinating tomorrow.’
In a telephone call between Brian and Georg later, discussing the procedure re introducing cattle vaccination, Brian asked; “Surely that would take years and years?” The reply was, “I know we have reputation for being slow, and sometimes that is justified, but if this case was put to the Commission, supported by letters from the MEPs, the relevant department would, realising the urgency of this request, push it through quickly. It might not be next week, but it is likely to be no more than a few months if the process is begun now. It would be ludicrous for us to stand in the way of such an urgent request. Why would we do that?”
So, there you have it. It has taken all these years to get to the truth but it is all coming out now and all because of the imminent threat to one of of the UK's best loved mammals.
Ministers have announced a tightening of rules to prevent tuberculosis spreading between cattle. The strengthened rules, which will come into force from 1 January 2013, include changes to the testing regime and cattle movement restrictions.
The new measures include an extension of the region where farms must be tested yearly for TB: 10 new counties will be included across south-west, west and central England. The new rules on cattle movement mean that, in all cases, farmers who have had a case of TB in their farm will not be allowed to bring new cattle in until the rest of the herd has been tested for TB and a vet has carried out an assessment. In addition, farmers now have 30 days, down from 60 days, to move cattle that test negative for TB out of a TB breakdown farm.
The new rules "move a little way in the right direction", according to Prof John Bourne, who led a landmark 10-year badger culling trial and also with many other scientists opposes the government's proposed cull. Bourne said only even stricter biosecurity would control bovine TB, as it had 50 years ago in the UK.
It was recently revealed that a European Commission inspection conducted in September 2011 found a catalogue of failures in English farmers' biosecurity. These included missed targets on both the rapid removal of cattle with TB and the follow-up of missed tests, and "weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision". All these problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.
Bourne said new measures still fail to recognise the problem that the test frequently gives false negatives, ie passes infected cows as healthy. When they are moved, they carry infection to new farms. Bourne said this could be overcome, as in the 1950s and 1960s, by banning any movement between heavily tested TB-free herds and herds which had not been heavily tested. "The attested herd scheme was successful in UK in the 50s and 60s and was the basis of eradication in Australia," he said. "But farmers would not like it and this is why it is unlikely to happen."
Another tragic case about the bTB breakdowns at a farm in North Devon. The farmers involved want to be able to vaccinate their cattle against bTB. It was reported in This is Devon (www.thisisdevon.co.uk/Badger-cull-pilots-waste-time-money-effort/story-17134043-detail/story.html).
Despite losing more than half their valuable organic herd of beef cattle, a Devon farming partnership is against the badger cull.
Robert James and Kate Palmer think the pilot culls in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury are a waste of time, money and effort.
"If you cull badgers in one place, within months other badgers will come back in. Then what will happen? It will not stop TB," said Robert James, who farms more than 100 acres of organic land at Witheridge, in North Devon.
He and his partner, Kate Palmer, have seen their valuable herd of Ruby Red Devon cattle decimated by bovine TB – and they are well aware of the part badgers can play in spreading disease, which caused the deaths of 26,000 cattle nationally last year.
The partnership at West Yeo Farm had 30 cows, plus their calves earlier this year, but the herd is now reduced to just 20, after cattle failed TB tests.
Highly distressing was the fact that several were found not to have TB at post mortem – but most tragic of all was the loss of the award-winning stock bull.
Mr James explained: "We have lost half our herd of pedigree Devon cattle to TB this year. Our bloodlines go back 70 years and cannot be replaced."
Eighty-five per cent of Ruby Red bloodlines were now crossed with Saler cattle and he has been unable to replace the lost animals with purebred Devons, he said.
Now the partners are petitioning the Government to get on with the development of an effective TB vaccine for cattle without delay – and pay realistic compensation for the loss of organic cattle, instead of a flat rate.
Mr James added: "We have lost over £15,000, as the Government does not pay organic market prices in compensation. We had four cows killed that did not have TB."
But the loss of the stock bull was worse. Mr James explained: "At £14,000 he was the highest-priced Devon bull at auction in the UK. I cried when I had to load him. Kate could not be there because she was so upset. We were so proud when we bought him in spring 2008 at the Ruby Red Devon Society sale at Sedgemoor Market and he was champion on the day, bred by the Dart family at Molland on Exmoor. We have sold semen from him all over the world. Now he is just 660 kilos of dead meat hanging on a hook."
But still he opposes the cull. "I feel very passionately about this. I have a friend who farms on Exmoor whose herd has gone down with TB, without a badger on the farm and with no new stock bought in. The answer was TB in the wild red deer population."
He added: "The Government has to get on with a vaccine that works."
19 Oct 2012, 7:56 PM
Dr Rowland Kao, a leading expert in the statistics of animal epidemics, points out that much of the alleged increase in cattle TB is down to a far more rigorous testing regime. Go looking for an infection more frequently and you will find more sick animals. Cows and bulls are moved around more than they were. “places with ‘new’ TB had an epidemic long before we thought they did,” he says. (Daily Mail, http://hanlonblog.dailymail.co.uk/2012/10/the-great-badger-cull-is-dead-in-the-water.html).
What we need, of course, is a complete rethink and to be able to vaccinate our cattle.
This article in Farmers Weekly says that Defra will make more farmers' lives a misery by dragging the two and three year testing areas into annual testing, starting Jan 2013.
9 Oct 2012, 10:39 AM
A meeting at a Chedworth farm on 29/08/12 gave rise to the letter below which was sent to media contacts in September.
Bovine TB and Cattle Vaccination
While vaccination is the response to most infectious diseases, with cattle and Bovine TB it is the one weapon in the disease management armoury which has yet to be deployed.
A vaccine against Bovine TB for cattle (along with the associated DIVA test which differentiates between infected and vaccinated animals) has been developed and is ready to licence, but is held up by regulatory and European legal obstacles. Meanwhile farmers are being misled into believing that cattle vaccination is many years away. Following a meeting of interested organisations and individuals the following Declaration has been put to Owen Patterson the new DEFRA Minister:
"Now that a cattle vaccine is ready for licensing, we are convinced that the only way to control bovine TB and hence avoid the devastating and costly current Bovine TB policy is to vaccinate all bovine animals and where necessary wildlife.
We therefore call on the Government to take immediate action to eliminate all legal and political obstacles preventing farmers from vaccinating their cattle against Bovine TB.
We represent a cross section of scientists, veterinarians, farmers and conservationists concerned about the impact of bovine TB on the farming industry and countryside."
We await his response with interest.
Nigel Finch, farmer, Gloucestershire Kate McNeil, farmer, Yorkshire Jean and Keith Morgan, farmers, Carmarthenshire Steve Jones, farmer, stockman and lecturer on ethical farming, Glos Peter Pennington Legh, farmer, Wiltshire Cliff and Maureen Carnell Farmers, Carmarthenshire Chris and Mary Wheeler Farmers, Pembrokeshire Rebecca Hosking Farms for the Future Dr Mark Jones, vet and Executive Director of Humane Society International Brian Davies, Founder, Network for Animals Sally Hall, Bovinetb.co.uk campainging for the right to vaccinate cattle Lorraine Platt, Founder, Blue Badger Dr. Chris Cheeseman, Ecologist Dr. Gordon McGlone, Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust Celia Thomas, Farmer and Chair of Pembrokeshire Against the Cull Jeff Hayden, Finance Director for the Badger Trust Michael Ritchie, Rethink Bovine TB Lucy Borde, Brock Vaccination Chris Skinner, Norfolk farmer, conservationist and broadcaster Carole Youngs, Smallholder Series Wenda Shehata, cattle owners, East Sussex Jean and Keith Morgan, farmers, Carmarthenshire
4 Oct 2012, 1:11 PM
An article in the Police Oracle today (http://www.policeoracle.com/news/HR,+Personnel+and+Staff+Development/2012/Oct/03/Police-Holidays-Banned-Until-Next-Year_55732.html#.UG1xlFszON8.twitter) reveals just how much the bovime tb policy is now beginning to effect other areas, not to mention the public costs involved.
A Police Federation branch has said it is considering speaking to the Health and Safety Executive after officers in Glos (one of badger cull trial areas) were banned from booking any time off until January 2 .
Gloucestershire Police Federation has questioned the decision, saying officers will become more stressed and exhausted which could lead to mistakes. Tracy De Young, who chairs the Fed branch board, said some officers faced the potential of not having a family holiday until next February.
She added: “Some officers are carrying up to 100 hours of owed time on top of their annual leave. A lot of officers were working long hours, especially during the Torch Relay and the Olympics. It is human nature when people are tired there could be more mistakes because the body cannot properly rest.'
Surely of public concern as with the widespread public opposition to the proposed badger culls and likelihood of clashes with protesters public safety could be involved. With long range, powerful rifles involved surely the police need to be alert?
Ms De Young said: “We are fighting and there are considerations to bring in the Health and Safety Executive to investigate the number of hours police are working.
“It is going to get worse and worse with the continuing budget cuts and the Comprehensive Spending Review around the corner.
“This will have a knock on effect.”
The government has yet to set a date for when the cull will begin, but there are concerns that it could prompt disorder if animal rights activists take action.
29 Sep 2012, 4:42 PM
It is clear that public opposition to the cull is strong and growing (in just a couple of weeks over 135,000 have signed the petition on the government's e-petition site). It is inevitable therefore that there will be protests for the duration of the actual culling. High velocity rifles are being used with long ranges. Whatever the Government says in support of the cull, there are so many intelligent people and scientists opposing it surely it makes no sense for it to go ahead with so many risks to public safety involved? The police have already expressed their concerns. We are now seeing local councils expressing their concern too regarding the safety issues. It is all getting out of hand.
Councillors for Gloucestershire County Council, which owns a number of farms in the Glos area, one of the badger cull pilot areas, have expressed concerns about the dangers of shooting badgers at night and have ordered a review. There were concerns that night-time shooting of badgers involving high velocity rifles had serious safety and policing issues. They voted for a full Council review of current policy which allows tenant farmers to take part in the Gloucestershire cull.
The committee also recommended that the Cabinet Member responsible for farms requests tenants taking part in the cull to carry out a risk assessment to re-assure the Council that the public would not be put at undue risk.
The Conservative-controlled Forest of Dean District Council has already voted against the cull and will not allow the shooting of badgers on any of the land they own. Their concerns were apparently sparked by a petition signed by 779 people in Gloucestershire in the last few weeks calling on the council to ban the cull on their land. The public outcry led to a heated discussion by a scrutiny committee.
The motion read: "The Forest of Dean District Council must make public safety and the care of our wildlife a priority and to this end this council must endeavour to make contact with all other land owners within its boundary to request that they refuse any culling of badgers on their land."
Now, more than ever, we need a rethink.
Information from www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9571942/Badger-cull-could-be-scuppered-by-health-and-safety.html
28 Sep 2012, 6:49 PM
As a direct result of the recent incidents when many animals being exported suffered and/or died en route, live exports of farm animals has been halted with no British ports now operating the trade. The suspensions mean that no British ports are exporting live animals after Ipswich halted sailings until further notice following animal welfare concerns.
It is not known when the export of live animals will resume but as one person who emailed us said; 'the closer we get to a complete cessation of live exports - the more favourable the odds are for arguing for (bTB) cattle vaccination.'
21 Sep 2012, 6:21 PM
It is time for a rethink. The policy is worse than the disease. There are now threats to public safety anticipated by the police when the shooting of badgers starts..
There are calls for boycotts of dairy products. Media reports say that campaigners will be using fireworks, rape alarms and vuvuzelas near the homes of farmers who allow the cull to take place on their land. It is all getting out of hand and one wonders just what effect this will have on the farming industry.
The scientists who commissioned and ran the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). (being used by the government to justify the current proposals), are, almost without exception, opposed to the shooting trials. Lord Krebs, who led the RBCT, described the scheme as "crazy". Lord Krebs, who is one of the government's most respected scientific advisers, said that the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which is administering the scheme, has no way of knowing how many badgers there are in the area, so will not know when they've killed 70% of the badgers in the area.
"I would go down the vaccination and biosecurity route rather than this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver none. And it's very hard to see how Defra are going to collect the crucial data to assess whether it's worth going ahead with free shooting at all," he said
Prof Sir Robert Watson, a former science adviser to Defra, which is overseeing the process, told the BBC that: "Culling won't solve the problem nationally (across England)," .
With critics like this it is no wonder there is such a public outcry. Prominent celebrities, such as David Attenborough, Simon King, Chris Packham, Brian May and many others have also stated their opposition.
It seems there will be a well organised effort to disrupt the shooting when it starts. The Guardian reports that superintendent Adrian Tudway, national co-ordinator for domestic extremism at the Association of Chief Police Officers, has warned the government that the cull poses a safety risk to the public.
Tudway told Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) that the cull has the "potential to place armed farm workers in the near vicinity of protesters and activists, typically during the night-time; we regard this as a scenario with clear potential for harm to public safety
18 Sep 2012, 7:25 PM
Following a meeting organised by Rethink bTB last week those attending have sent the following statement to Owen Paterson. It is good to see groups working together towards a common aim at last.
'Now that a cattle vaccine is ready for licensing, we are convinced that the only way to control bovine TB and hence avoid the devastating and costly current bovine TB policy is to vaccinate all bovine animals and where necessary wildlife. We therefore call on the Government to take immediate action to eliminate all legal and political obstacles preventing farmers from vaccinating their cattle against bovine TB. We represent a cross section of scientists, veterinarians, farmers and conservationists concerned about the impact of bovine TB on the farming industry and countryside.'
13 Sep 2012, 11:48 AM
According to the Farmers Weekly (www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/13/09/2012/135157/FUW-government-should-foot-bill-for-TB-testing.htm) the Farmers' Union Wales (FUW) has called on the Welsh Assembly to start funding the pre-movement testing implemented in Wales. It was introduced in 2010 as part of a package of measures to supposedly 'eradicate' bovine TB. .
FUW president, Emyr Jones, insists the Welsh Government has a 'moral obligation'” to pay for the stricter movement measures. Welsh cattle farmers agreed to adopt the measures. However, the FUW wanted a badger cull and are obviously not happy with the badger vaccination programme that replaced the culling proposals. The Glamorgan branch of the FUW is leading the way for a policy change. A resolution passed by the branch demands that farmers should not pay for pre-movement tests.
Why should the taxpayer pay even more towards eradication of a disease that clearly cannot be eradicated? Why can't we have the option of vaccinating our cattle instead and do away with the current frequent testing regimes which are time consuming, costly, stressful and hazardous for us and our animals?
It raises some very interesting issues and includes some useful facts.
22 Feb 2012, 1:24 PM
More pressure on farmers. At the recent NFU conference James Paice, MP warned livestock farmers that cattle control measures will tighten further as part of the government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB.He described the changes as relatively small, but important' and referred to the controls that had been strengthened over the last two to three years in a bid to reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission.
Cattle which have had TB tests in the past 30 days, and those which have shared accommodation with other cattle at shows, will no longer be exempt from pre-movement tests.
Compensation for farmers who failed to test on time would be reduced, as currently happens in Wales.
Paice said changes would have to be communicated more effectively than the recently introduced changes preventing the restocking of farms newly diagnosed as has having TB status ‘withdrawn’.
“I am not going to pretend those changes won’t be against the wishes of cattle keepers. They will make life a little bit harder in some areas, but we need to communicate them effectively,” he said. “We have started badly with recent changes. It was not our finest hour and we need to improve on that.”
Mr Paice revealed the UK had come under intense pressure from Brussels to improve its cattle TB controls. He said the European Commission was ‘minded’ to reject the Government’s annual TB Eradication plan, which would result in it withholding €30 million (£25.4m) of EU funding for TB controls. “That would have been pretty disastrous,” he said. Mr Paice said Defra had persuaded the Commission to accept its plans, but this meant it was forced to tighten its controls.
Chief vet, Nigel Gibbens, spoke of the need to expand the areas that are subject to more frequent TB testing in order to get ahead of disease.
Yet again there was the warning that it might take 20 years to eradicate bTB (it is always 20 years!).
Again it was stated that cattle vaccination was probably the longer term solution, but yet again we have to wait for a change in EU law to make its use legal and this might take several years, despite earlier dates being specified in Defra's 2010 public document regarding the proposed badger culling.
When will the government and NFU realize the existing policy is not working and it is time for a rethink. The actual risks of the disease should be re-assessed as a matter of urgency. Now that bovine TB is not the health risk it once once surely a more sustainable, cost effective and reasonable control policy could be used. the existing policy is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.