It’s about TB

After the decision to delay the badger-cull pilot study it might be that badgers are breathing a sigh of relief.  Except they won’t be because we don’t have in place effective measures to limit the spread of bovine TB in badgers and cattle and from one to the other (both ways!).

One huge problem with the whole ‘badger thing’ is that it is seen as a ‘badger thing’ when it should be seen as a ‘TB thing’.  And it’s quite a thing – bovine TB is a big problem for cattle, farmers and, because we end up paying for most of it one way or another (eg research, pilot studies, compensation), for you and me.

Bovine TB is spreading and we need to stop that spread and begin to reduce its incidence.

Successive governments have failed to invest fully enough in vaccination as a solution to the TB problem and I have now spent well over 15 years being told that ‘vaccination isn’t the answer – it’s about 4-5 years away and we need something now!‘.  Well, we didn’t get ‘something now’ and we haven’t yet got vaccination.

The farming community deserves to take quite a lot of the blame for where we are.  They have focussed on badgers to a ridiculous extent.  Yes badgers are part of the problem, I agree, but it is the farming community, through the NFU and through individual farmers, who have been most insistent on badger-culling almost to the exclusion of anything else.

If we killed all the badgers in infected counties, that would be tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of badgers, I believe we would see the incidence of bovine TB fall.  It would fall, but it wouldn’t disappear, and my understanding is that it wouldn’t fall very much.  So badger culling probably isn’t the whole answer.  So what is?

Much better testing of cattle, to remove false positives (thinking a cow has TB when she doesn’t) and false negatives (thinking a cow is clean when she is infected) is essential.  Reducing movements of cattle from infected to clean areas is important – all the more so when the accuracy of testing is poor.  And better biosecurity so that badgers and cattle don’t mix as freely (which might be as simple as better gates and fences) is also important.

But, if we did all that would the incidence of bovine TB fall – I think it would?  Would it fall very quickly and dramatically – it just might but I’m not an expert and I’m not promising anything?  Might it be that if we did all that there would still be a problem and by now badgers would be a bigger proportion of that problem – I think they might be?

The long term solution to all this does seem to be vaccination.  Vaccination of badgers and vaccination of cattle.  Neither is easy, and neither is cheap – but then we aren’t in any easy place now and it certainly isn’t a cheap one either.

One of the arguments always advanced against vaccination of cattle is that the EU won’t let us – apparently, if you are prepared to believe Brian May and the Daily Mail, they will.

Government needs to heed the science and come up with a solution to bovine TB that will work.  It won’t be cheap and it won’t be cheerful – there is plenty of pain ahead. However, I for one, would stomach some badger-culling if it were a necessary part of a well worked out solution to bovine TB.  I am not yet convinced that badger culling will be necessary.

Some things to read if you want more on bovine TB and badgers:

Some important but heavy science

And something much lighter.

30 scientists call the badger cull ‘a costly distraction’

Interesting views of more scientists

Good Guardian coverage

Scientist who led 10-year cull study blames cattle movements

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34 Replies to “It’s about TB”

  1. As always very interesting. I do see the political side to this but hope that the proposed cull had some basis on science. It is interesting that you would support culling if it was proven to work, many opponents of the cull would not approve culling in any event. The arguements seem odd and disjointed (on both sides). Surely as with so many countryside issues, common ground and common science needs to be found. We seem to have agreement that badgers spread bTB, perhaps the next question is whether we can vaccinate. The battle over culling has become an ideological debate rather than one of suppressing bTB and conserving badgers.

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  2. Bio-Security is an interesting area that needs a harder look at. For example, yesterday, as part of volunteering I took my van to Sheffield picked up two injured greyhounds from a vet (been dumped in a gravel pit.). Dropping them off at a rescue centre, my shoes were taken off a pair of wellies given to me, then I walked through two disinfection trays before entering the kennel area, the dogs were given a similar treatment. Compare that to the farm were I was photographing birds last week, were I was able to walk straight into a barn (not the milking area) have a look at a pair of Little Owls, no bio security at all.

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  3. Long distance livestock sales are the most effective means of spreading disease. It can be seen all the time with new TB outbreaks. It was very effective in spreading F&M and now it starting to spread Schmallenberg.
    I was once lectured by a farmer about walking on his land with "dirty boots"(he didnt like the access legislation), he then imported TB infected cattle all the way up to Scotland.

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  4. I agree that bTB is a problem that needs to be addressed. What really annoys me about the badger cull is the apparent lack of science. How would a pilot cull work if the number of badgers in the area is unknown? How many of those badgers have bTB - would they be tested after they were shot? If the cull will reduce bTB by 16% over 10 years, how long will the pilot cull have to run to be able to determine if the full cull will work? So many unanswered questions.

    If vaccination would reduce or stop export to the EU, would that cost the country more than the bTB compensation that is paid out now? Vaccination seems to make the most sense to me, and if means we export less, surely that means we import less too so less food miles, which is a good thing too?

    And remember, this isn't a Govt U-turn, it's just a postponement until next summer. That gives 'us' 6-7 months to convince them that there are viable, affordable alternatives.

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    1. Emma - these are all good questions. And you are right, it is a pause not a U-turn. Although almost every U-turn starts with a loss of velocity.

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  5. Our local estate farmer has already 'beefed up' his bio security to not allowing anyone across the farm that hasn't been through a disinfectant wash bath, this includes vehicles. Unfortunately this has meant that three 'unoffical' paths that were used by walkers through the top woods have been shut.

    He did look at replacing fences and gates but found very quickly that badgers will dig under both no matter how deeply they are burried into the ground, and of course the price of this is extreme, especially at a time when the farming community is on its knees.

    However, the most worrying aspect of the 'TB problem' is the reports from the forestry rangers that there has been a significant increase in the number of deer and wild boar that have shown signs of TB on inspection. Clearly no amount of bio security or vaccination will rectify this in a hurry and another year of inept dithering is only going to make the matter worse.

    In the past six months we've seen a closed and fenced herd of Fallow test positive for TB and have to be culled (Clearly as they have no contact with cattle or man this could have only come from badgers digging under the fenced compound). This 'cross infection' of a fenced deer herd is mirrored by the experiences of the LACS herd on Exmoor.

    Our estate cattle herd is a closed organic herd and has not experienced two clear tests since 1995. A similar organic farm herd of 126 head that resides not six miles away was
    culled last month after testing positive.

    Clearly we are in the middle of a countryside disaster. I have refused to blame any one single agency for this but rather the ineptitude of successive governments and the blinkered attitude of a minority of the general public who have a single vision and very little knowledge on the ground.

    It's a sad situation and I can't help wondering, following this governments flip, flop handling this week, whether for some farmers and their families Tuesday was a disappointment too far. I already know of three farming families where there have been suicides I just pray we don't see more.

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    1. Connormead - thank you. I have always had this niggling worry about other wildlife reservoirs and vectors and your comment makes me more worried. And yes, I agree that lack of certainty has been an ongoing problem for far too long and that that must make life move towards the intolerable for some affected farming families.

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  6. Glad you covered this, Mark. As a former member of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB and the ringleader of the "32 scientists" who wrote to the Observer, I am constantly frustrated by claims that the policy now on hold is "backed by the science". Defra scientists did a sterling job trying to use licensing criteria to shape the square peg of badger culling to fit into the round hole of TB eradication - but in the end the peg remains squarish and the hole still round. Farmers were unable to deliver these culls because of the stringency of the licensing criteria - criteria which were absolutely essential to avoid a cull which increased cattle TB rather than reducing it. In my view, this pause is not a U-turn but the pilots doing just what I expected them to do - demonstrating the unsurmountable challenge farmers faced in delivering culls which are effective, humane, and publicly acceptable. The good news is that they were able to learn this without having to kill any badgers. I fervently hope that today's debate on the subject will help to refocus attention on more effective and sustainable solutions to this very serious problem.

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    1. Rosie - welcome and thank you for commenting here. I very much appreciate your input here and to the bovine TB debate as a whole. Thank you.

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  7. Mark rightly says “Government needs to heed the science and come up with a solution to bovine TB that will work”.

    But unfortunately the latest (pseudo-) science (Pro Bourne’s ISG RBCT) is based upon New Labour’s vegetarian politics

    eg George Monbiot 2004 Telegraph – “some New Labour ministers are actually hostile to livestock farming itself’

    MAFF / DEFRA veggies included Benn, Becket, Bradshaw, Milliband, Morley, Fitzpatric etc etc.. An ‘absolute’ not often referred to for so-called politically ‘correct’ reasons.

    Bourne explained to the EFRA committee his trial's political base. He said:

    “Let us go back to 1999 when we started our work. It was made very clear to us by ministers of the day - and they have not refuted it since - that elimination of badgers over large tracts of countryside was not an option for future policy". It was on that basis that we designed the trial. We also had to take into account welfare considerations with respect to culling used, and limitations on culling with respect that cubs were not killed or died underground [ ] Those were clear political limitations that we operated under; I have no reason to believe that those political limitations have changed".

    "We repeatedly say 'culling, as conducted in the trial.' It is important [that] we do say that. Those limitations were not imposed by ourselves. They were imposed by politicians. [] Whatever has driven that I do not know but the fact is that a price has been put on the badger in this country which related to the way we were able to carry out our scientific work. That is exactly what we report."

    The RBCT debacle mapped areas one third smaller than these proposals, used a different operating protocol (eg trapping for EIGHT days a year) and had a 'limitations imposed by politicians'.

    Vaccination

    Prof Cheeseman said to the EFRAcom 2004

    WILDLIFE VACCINATION

    “… you have to remember that although we do have a reservoir of disease in badgers, another piece of work that we have recently completed illustrates that we have quite a large pool of disease in deer. If you are going to vaccinate one wildlife reservoir you need to think about what is going to happen if you do not tackle the others. We found in a sample of several hundred deer 4.4 per cent prevalence in Fallow deer; that is quite high. That is what we found in badgers when we first started looking. We have also found disease in Row deer and Muntjak deer. Muntjak and Row are spreading, both those species are prolific and extending their range quite dramatically across Britain.

    It is no good just thinking that we can vaccinate badgers and ignore the fact that we may have other wildlife reservoirs”

    And those volunteers injecting badgers wear (inadequate) masks knowing that that even staff at FERA wear seriously strong masks but have still managed to ‘catch’ badger TB from its captive wildlife.

    CATTLE VACCINE

    Despite years or research, the efficacy of cattle vaccines is still only 50 - 60 per cent, which means that 40 - 50 of the cattle injected in a 100 cow herd would have little or no protection. BCG doesn't pretend to stop tuberculosis. It works (if it works at all) by reducing the size of and bacterial shed from, lesions. And recent work on cattle both in Africa and here has not been exactly promising. Unless you call killing the animal at 2 years old and NOT having the carcase condemned as a success. The test which differentiates vaccinates from infected cattle (DIVA test) is equally uninspiring with Defra explaining that a 'negative' result does not guarantee freedom from TB, and that the test is likely to throw up many false positives.
    So that particular bar is set too low - and assume for the OIE (Office of International Epizooties) who do take tuberculosis seriously, and would invoke an immediate ban on all products from vaccinates to all countries signed up to TB eradication plans. Another Beef Ban.

    The solution? – DEFRA must gas all diseased SETTs whilst diseased badgers are underground – it worked at Thornbury – where some 100 square KM were gassed (and re-gassed to prevent re-colonisation – result NO TB in cattle for TEN YEARS – with 150 setts being re-colonised after 4 – 5 years by healthy badgers.

    The current estimates now suggest that the UK badger population is in excess of 1 million – although NE last suggested it was 190,000 for political reasons and the govt sticks with 250,000 – 300,000 because we will only be killing a smaller percentage.

    Lastly - I repeat – the current situation is brought to us by courtesy of the fanatical militant and ideological vegetarian / vegan mob – not the genuine thinking wildlife conservationists – just look at the so-called celebrities supporting the anti-cull – all (?) at least vegetarian.

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    1. Trimbush - but culling badgers is clearly not the complete solution is it? Or would you claim it is? What is your integrated solution to eradicating bovine TB?

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    2. Trimbush, This argument is too one sided from the farming community and too one sided from the pro badger groups. To deal with TB the answer must lie in the middle. I would have no problem if TB is found on a farm and then cattle and badgers dealt with in the same way.

      As far as fanatical militants, I haven't seen yet but one of my major concerns is that they may become evident and you will have the unthinkable situation of fanatical shooters being confronted by your fanatical militants.

      Bob: Non vegetarian (likes venison but with lead and TB may now prefer beef)

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  8. I find it an interesting "thought experiment" to imagine what would happen IF it was the case that badgers were solely responsible for bovine TB and extermination of badgers was the only solution to controlling the disease. In other words what do we do when an industry's interests collide with that of a species? Sadly I imagine the extinction of the badger would often be chosen ahead of the abandonment of an industry (hen harriers and red grouse spring to mind), although we did just about stop whaling. At least the badger is aesthetically appealing. God help the species that isn't cute enough to whip up a quick e-petition stay of execution.

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    1. Hugh - yes, that is an interesting thought experiment. If that were the case (and it isn't) then I. for one, would reluctantly be prepared to consider badger culling. I would do that because although I am not at all keen on killing animals it isn't a red line for me. I eat meat and fish (although much less than I used to do) and so I think it would be a bit inconsistent if I opposed any form of badger cull. But under those circumstances I would want to know that the cull was as humane as possible, that it would work and that other methods which didn't involve killing wouldn't work. If it were the case we would be looking at an awful lot of badger deaths - the infected areas and a continuing cull to prevent recolonisation. It would be horrendous.

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      1. I see your point Mark and applaud your reasonable stance, but I was trying to imagine following this viewpoint through to its logical conclusion. Would you condone killing all badgers if that were necessary to control bovine TB? (I know it isn't). My interest is in what happens when human and wildlife interests are irreconcilable. At what point (if ever) do we say "Well we could produce more food without the wildlife but we value its intrinsic value and so accept a lower/different output so as to live in a biodiverse and stimulating world". Looking around the impoverished British countryside today it seems to me that production has trumped biodiversity on an enormous scale while shifting baselines (which you've blogged on before) mean few even recognise what we have all lost.

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        1. Hugh - yes, good point. These should perhaps be informed societal decisions - after all we all pay financially and we all pay in terms of impacts on wildlife.

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  9. Mark, Well said. That is the best laymans guide to TB issues I have read for a while.

    Coonormead, Just a small point that niggles at me. You have blamed badgers for the fallow deer breakdown but how do you know your deer haven't caught it from wild deer that have come up to the fence to say hello.

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  10. An interesting discussion. Firstly for the benefit of Trimbush I can tell him quite definitely that Bill Oddie is not a vegetarian.

    I think it is obvious that there is a big element of politics in all of this. The Tory element of the coalition will have been under enormous pressure from the farming lobby to get on and "do something" about badgers. Most will be supoporters of the Tories and both will know what they expect from each other. The delaying of the cull may well be becasue farmers could not meet the conditions but the e-petition must also be exercising the minds of Parliament.

    I think there is a very important debate to be had about whether our biodiversity should always be sacrificed for the benefit of industrial "progress". This is relevant when talking about some industries where demand for their products is being reduced. We hear often the word "balance" used by politicians. When I hear such things I know that wildlifde has lost out yet again.

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  11. The politics surrounding this issue are fascinating. A farmer I know well with strong NFU ties, remarked to me well over a fortnight ago that some sections of the NFU leadership having underestimated the costs, logistics and public reaction were starting to get cold feet regarding the badger cull.

    Could it be that the penny has (finally) dropped with NFU leadership on the folly of continuing to pursue a badger cull policy? It wouldn't surprise me. Peter Kendal may be many things but stupid he is not.

    I can imagine a conversation between Owen Paterson and Peter Kendall a few weeks ago sounding something like this....

    PK: "Hello Owen, not sure quite how to put this but this badger cull thing....on reflection (long pause)...we at the NFU (even longer pause) are not too sure that its such a good idea anymore"

    OP: (deafening silence followed by) "NOT BLOODY SURE ?! You have only spent the last six years demanding one, telling us that killing the bloody things is THE ONLY solution, so thats what we've bloody well given you! It's too late to turn back now Peter!"

    PK "I have an idea..."

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  12. Basically – culling badgers was the whole answer in 1975 – the year of the Thornbury

    Between 1978 and 1997 badger TB increased from 10% to almost 30% - New Labour stopped publishing this figure in 1997. It’s anybody’s guess what it is now! 50%? Certainly in the hotspot areas.

    MAFF nearly cracked it in the mid-80’s but do-gooders came along and stopped the gassing – and each subsequent culling strategy represented an increased ‘easing off ‘– until 1997 when Labour gained office and messrs Mandelson Powell & Morley fulfilled their side of the £1 million deal – with PAL / IFAW (Ask Stanley Johnson)

    It was then (1971 – mid 80’s) important to distinguish between the SW England and the Rest of E&W – but now (since 1997) the spread of Badger TB has been so dramatic that almost precisely the SW quartile of the UK is disease ridden.

    The disease must be treated as seriously as a war – because that’s what it is - and a war needs the Army! As was done for FMD.
    It needs the surveying, the communications the planning / co-ordination skills of the Army – it also needs the power to arrest the agri-terrorists / protestors.

    We need to create (regional / area) firewalls – buffers where the disease (in badgers) cannot migrate through – to arrest the disease.
    Cattle movement to active areas would be frozen.

    Volunteer Conservation Medicine would also form a part of the operation – led by and co-ordinated eg the Badger Trust with Wildlife Vets.

    Ben Bradshaw (DEFRA) was asked if anything else was done during the Thornbury exercise – movement restriction, etc etc – He answered No!

    It’s easy – once you’ve got the manpower and the management

    Much more detail follows in my book – Badger TB – Political & Scientific Cowardice & Corruption.

    It’s also important to offer the ‘opposition’ an opportunity to contribute from the outset.

    Saving the UK badger species should be of interest to somebody!

    In haste – between looking feeding animals and watching the debate – a couple of good speeches – but largely most participants know very little.

    Most MPs think (?) Badger TB science started in 1997 with Krebs. And the Bow Group (Tory Think Tank) has been hoodwinked by its ‘conservation’ expert – rather embarrassing reakky

    But what a brilliant con by New Labour! 13 years of obfuscation double-dealing and deceit.

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  13. Mark,thought this perhaps your best blog ever and probably the best one I have read on this massive problem.We definitely need to do something for both cattle and Badgers and I understand that tighter rule coming in for cattle but cattle and Badgers will always mix and I do disagree with your comment about fences and gates as Badgers will get into fields as that is where their food of mostly worms are.Have gone out in the middle of night say 2.00 A.M to look at calving cow and Badger turning over all the dry cow pats looking for worms,they also seem very good climbers.In short there is no practical way to keep them out of fields.
    I do not believe random culling Badgers will do any good unless the culling is of such large numbers to make it unacceptable except to the most blood thirsty.
    I probably differ from most that I think the way forward at the moment is some vaccination after gassing of setts on farms that have serious numbers of cattle falling victim to TB,not ideal but at least we would go some way to stopping the disease spreading even further and those Badgers are almost certainly diseased.
    I think most people ignore the fact that farmers know this is a disease of at least cattle and Badgers and worse still if we ignore the usual % of bad eggs in all walks of life farmers will try very hard to keep this disease out of their herds as not being able to sell any animal except for slaughter until the herd gets the all clear is a very serious problem as well as losing valuable animals.
    Well done Mark I saw where you were described as a RSPB legend where you were giving a talk this Saturday I think.

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  14. Hi Derek

    re Bill Oddie being a vegetarian - I acutally state aboe all (?)

    Mr Oddie certainly doesn't look like a vegetarian!

    PS Heard some Radio4 extra (?) - I'm sorry I'll say that again (?) with Bill in the 60's and it was truly the best I've ever heard him sing - indeed it sounded more like the Bill Oddie Show - and the credits (BO x3) at the end reflected this

    Cheers

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  15. The last paragraph of the Angela Cassidy article (Something much lighter) is the best summation of this issue I have seen.

    The problem is a largely an artificial one. Apart from the trauma of seeing a herd prematurely slaughtered, sometimes a herd which has taken several (human) generations to breed, the financial compensation is limited to standard amounts and does not include consequential losses such as feed bought-in to sustain animals which can't be moved, and the reduced market price when they can - and are too old (an estimation of the GHG emission impacts of the slaughter and quarantine policies would be illuminating). This is to comply with a disease control policy which has been operated since 1942. Time for an upgrade!

    The role of the live export market in distorting perception of the bTB issue needs a full and frank discussion - Why do we need it? To what extent do we subsidise it? Are the reasons purely economic? Is it so that livestock can be inhumanely slaughtered abroad for religious reasons, or to provide target practice for RSPCA paramilitaries? Somebody should be banging the heads of the supply-chain oligarchs, the supersheds and the NFU together very hard in a locked room until they all shout "Uncle" and sit down and sort it out.

    An effective vaccine for cattle seems to me the only answer, because of the degree of control we have over cattle. I must add this to the other unlikely items on my Christmas wish-list. The notion of badger vaccination, annually, on a nationwide basis with an ineffective vaccine is too ludicrous to be contemplated, especially now they appear to be doubling their numbers every few days.

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  16. In the 1960s TB was virtually eradicated in cattle in England (John Bourne, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/15/badger-cull-government-accused).

    The main thing that has changed since then is the way in which farmers, and the supermarkets who buy many of the animals, treat their stock, especially in rapidly transporting livestock around the country.

    This revolution in animal husbandry is vividly and grimly illustrated by the differences between the progress of the two major outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in the last half-century. In the 1967-68 FMD epidemic, Cheshire was the epicentre, and bore the heaviest burden: 1,016 of the 2,346 recorded occurrences, and 90,431 cattle slaughtered of the 208,811 total were in the county (Hughes, Herbert and J. O. Jones, eds. (1969) Plague on the Cheshire Plain: An Account of the Great Foot-and-Mouth Epidemic, 1967-68. Dennis Dobson, London). In the 2001 outbreak, Cheshire escaped relatively unscathed with just 11 of the 2,030 recorded incidents, and 2,584 cattle slaughtered of the 700,000 national cull.

    But the crucial point is that the progress of the disease was vastly different: in 1967, FMD took about six months to cover about 100 miles, mostly dispersed by wind or by vehicles; in 2001, within a few days the disease had leapt hundreds of miles across the country, largely by transport and trading of animals from infected farms and markets.

    The closure of many abattoirs and the supermarkets’ centralisation of food processing have made an enormous difference to the treatment of livestock, with unforeseen consequences on animal health.

    There must surely be a similar effect on transmission of TB.

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    1. It is also feasible that the 2001 FMD outbreak had many disease foci by the time it was correctly identified. Trading, transport and dubious practices - like supply of replacement sheep to reconcile actual sheep numbers with subsidy claims - didn't help.

      A good account of what we are not supposed to know can be found here: http://www.warmwell.com/footmoutheye.html

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    2. Very good points David.

      An example of the effect of abatoir closure is well illustrated in my own village. My neighbouring farmer supplies many of his finished cattle to our local butcher 2 miles away. However, first the cattle must be sent the 'local' abatoir which is located 32 miles away. In the 1960's there was not only a slaughter houses in the village but several others within a 6 mile radius.

      Inadvertently the NVZ Action Progamme rules have also had an effect on cattle movements in Cheshire. As a result of Livestock Manure N Farm Loading restrictions, increasingly many of the larger intensive dairy units are outsourcing the rearing of young stock to specialist heifer rearing units, I know of at least a dozen farms where the young stock are reared on farms 20-50 miles away. On year round calving systems this results in a steady flow of cattle moving to and from these holdings all year round.
      Many farms have also had to acquire additional land to help comply with the farm loading restrictions and in many cases much of this land lies a fair distance from the main holding, too far to cart maize and silage back from but near enough for keeping young stock or dry cows.

      Livestock manures are also moving around the county in a way that never previously existed, generally this is a good thing from a nitrate and phosphate angle but it can't be helping to reduce the spread of bTB. Increasingly manures and slurries are also being moved and spread by contractors who operate on numerous different farms right across the county, again this cannot be helping the situation.

      On another note, I am pleased to note a warm response from many of the farming community to the badger vaccination programme being undertaken by the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. I'm not sure that vaccinating badgers is the solution, we will have to see, but well done to CWT for being proactive and taking the lead locally on such an important issue. It will be interesting to see the results.

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  17. Meanwhile Dr Colin Fink say:-

    "...The problem that Governments have is that they are afraid to say 'we don't know'.
    There are an awful lot of 'don't knows' here, and trying to shoot 70% of the badgers and not managing it ( how do you measure accurately?) to gain a 16% reduction in cattle cases seems a bit of a tall order. We have no good vaccine as yet for badgers, cattle, nor indeed for Homo Sapiens, we do not know enough about the persistence of the organism in the environment outside mammalian bodies, we do not know the amount of inter-cattle infection in a herd from one index case nor do we know the residual infection in other wildlife than badgers.
    So all in all a dog's breakfast. We need decent research and time. It will take time - and in the meantime perhaps triple antibiotics and progesterones at feeding stations ( badgers are quickly habituated) may just reduce the Mycobacterial carriage, reduce fertility and keep badgers fat and contented - and thus reduce their wandering.
    Does any one else have a better suggestion?"

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  18. Interesting Commons result and a heavy defeat for the Government. Not binding of course but this must surely make people look for an overall answer.

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  19. We currently have a selective cull of cattle based on a test that misses 1 in 5 infections. We have a proposal for a non selective cull of badgers that will take out the healthy and the unhealthy badgers. This will result in an increase in the prevelance of TB in the remianing badger population. If the Government really wants to bear down on TB in cattle and in wildlife it would be more logical and effective to introduce whole herd culling of cattle and a badger cull across much of England. Neither of which would win them any votes. If they are interested in healthy badgers and healthy cattle they need to find some money for vaccination and it will take time.
    An alternative view is that the hardship caused by bTB is not from the disease but from the way the disease is being dealt with, see http://www.rethinkbtb.org/ . This is not my view but one that I'm throwing in for others to comment on.

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  20. Around 30 years ago, when I sat on what was then the MAFF Badgers Panel, I and others asked for more data on the prevalence of TB in other wildlife. It's not just deer that get it, and though undoubtedly there are different strains, voles brown rats, foxes also get TB, including, I believe, bTB. At a very low infection rate agreed, but then there are often hundreds, if not thousands of individuals (of voles in 'plague' year). I have seen very little recent comment/literature on recent research, but presumably as bTB has spread in badgers, it might also have spread in other wildlife? And if so what are the implications should something like a short-tailed vole become a reservoir? Unlikely, but perhaps not impossible. It was clear in the 1970s that moving cattle was the main reason for its spread; at that time it could possibly have been contained. But now, it is probably far to late to do anything, as it is now endemic in too many species, as has been pointed out. Badgers are relatively easy to eliminate, but deer and Boar much more difficult. So clearly the Badger Cull is largely to appease the NFU etc, and has a very weak scientific basis. But I doubt if, based on the present evidence, it is possible to eliminate bTB, or even contain it. Some radical new thinking is needed.

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