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Farmers in hope for badger culls after trials are assessed

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: December 05, 2013

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MANY farmers are hoping the Government will allow badger culls in North Devon now that the two trials on Exmoor and in Gloucester are over.

Ministers are assessing the two test operations as examples for other areas.

"They've opened the door and we're pushing for something to be done in Devon as soon as possible," said the chairman-elect of Devon National Farmers Union, David Verney, who farms at Bishops Nympton, near South Molton.

He was speaking after news that the Gloucester cull ended last week.

The one in Somerset, that included parts of Exmoor, finished a month ago.

Anti-cull campaigners say the tests failed to achieve anything and the Government should not allow any more.

Parts of North Devon are the worst-hit hotspots for bovine TB and many farmers believe only by tackling badgers in wildlife will their herds be safe.

Mr Verney said: "Hopefully the Government will do its evaluation of the culls quickly.

"Certainly the Somerset pilot has opened the door to something else.

"It proved the cull can be successful, done humanely and without risk to life.

"Now we've got a short window of opportunity while we have a minister who is up for it and hopefully it will happen in Devon."

Meanwhile the Environment Secretary has warned farmers they'll lose some of their farm subsidies if they are late with any TB tests.

Latest figures show in 2012 there were 6650 overdue TB tests in England out of a total of 21,398, nearly a third.

Now Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said there must be zero tolerance on late testing: "Late testing is unacceptable, so from 1 January 2014 anyone who fails to complete their test by the set deadline, even by one day, will see their CAP Scheme payment reduced.

"The reductions will vary, depending on the seriousness of the case, but the outcome I want to see is no late testing at all."

Mr Verney said he wouldn't defend anyone unreasonably failing to carry out the correct tests but there will be circumstances, in very poor weather for example, when they will need some leeway and support.

"We must be firm that if it's not the farmer's fault, then they won't be penalised."

The Government has begun a seven-week consultation on a draft strategy to achieve official TB free status for England in 25 years and add to the improvements to cattle controls introduced over the last two years.

The consultation proposes:

Cattle from higher TB risk herds moving to and from common land will be required to be pre-movement tested;

Phasing out the practice of de-restricting parts of TB-restricted premises so that the entire farm is given the same TB risk status;

Sharing the location details of TB breakdowns so farmers can better manage the disease risks to their herds; and

That in exceptional circumstances where TB testing an animal is not safe, the animal will be culled without a TB test.

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9 comments

  • Clued-Up  |  December 06 2013, 6:07PM

    Thanks for your information auntyapril. Thoughts occurring to me are:- 1. The bTB strategy for the next 25 years proposed by DEFRA is to increase privatisation of the testing process and further remove central government oversight. Your posts suggest this strategy if implemented will increase the cattle bTB disease problem. 2. It's such a hard, expensive slog using the current approach to remove relatively low levels of cattle bTB that I can't understand why farmers (as well as government) haven't INSISTED on a faster introduction of the cattle vaccine plus DIVA test. We know this "new" approach is being trialled within the UK next year - but why on earth wasn't it done much earlier? The EU Commissioner made it quite clear the barrier WASN'T EU regulations - they could have been renegotiated if our government had wanted to do so.

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  • auntyapril  |  December 06 2013, 5:40PM

    Sadly, the 'undisclosed' reservoir of cattle TB never disappeared even at the mid-1970s low point. Relaxing the test/movement restrictions allowed this to spread back into former Midlands strongholds, which were, however, of Irish import post-war (distribution maps in Francis 1947, 1958; Dunnet 1986; the south-west of England and west Wales were not problem areas then). The long process of movement bans and a return to annual testing will have to be endured again. It is the gold standard worldwide and under EC Directives, since it works and minimizes risk to public health. At present, with much of the country still on up to 4-year test intervals, this simply allows TB to build up within such herds, to the highly infectious VL stage, posing a very real risk to nearby herds, other stock (including several cases of farm cats and dogs), wildlife (including red, roe and fallow deer), and the farm workers themselves, particularly if they drink home-produced raw milk. The first step in most TB schemes worldwide has usually been the mandatory pasteurization of milk by law. It seems perverse that this is so in Ireland and Scotland, but not the rest of the UK. Risk from milk has been known and pasteurization advocated by TB pioneers pre-1900 such as M'Fadyean, Bang and Ostertag; despite the 1901 views of Koch which led to the immense work of the Royal Commission (Francis 1947). Human and BCG vaccines in cattle may shed bacilli in milk, as can happen in cows without overt udder lesions. Faecal contamination outside of teats can pass TB into milk, along with Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter. In the 1930s there were some 2000 deaths a year from bovine TB, hardly surprising since 8% of bulk milk supplies were infected. and bacilli can persist 99 days in salted butter or 30–40 days in unpasteurized cheeses (Schroeder 1907 in Francis 1947). Recent reports suggest that Johnes disease causing scouring in cattle may also cause Crohn's bowel disease in man and the M. paratuberculosis bacilli may not be killed even by pasteurization. Belfast studies suggest 3% of bottle milk may be affected, while up to 50% of Dutch dairy cows may carry paratuberculosis (J. Hermon-Taylor, personal communication).

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  • auntyapril  |  December 06 2013, 5:25PM

    Amid the rising tide of false reactors finding the remaining true TB cases becomes more difficult. A reactor rate of 0•1% means testing 10 000 cattle to find 10 cases, but relaxing testing as in Michigan allows TB to rise again (Myers and Steele 1969; p. 112). Farmers, vets and politicians become disillusioned with the high cost for diminishing returns and scarcity of true TB, and hence often advocate relaxing the test/slaughter programme. Indeed going on to identifying TB cases solely by abattoir returns may be suggested, but unless full traceability is guaranteed this merely lets TB escape (Myers and Steele 1969). The most common error in TB schemes is hence to prematurely relax testing/isolation procedures. In the USA the reactor rate was hence 4•9% initially in 1918; 0•46% by 1940 and 0•11% by 1952–4. Relaxing testing saw a rise to 0•23% by 1959, but reinstating rigorous testing got it down to 0•06% by 1968 (Myers and Steele 1969). Two world wars saw accidental rises due to loss of 'attention'. Ulster reactor rate decreased from 0•39% in 1960 to a low of 0•038% in 1971, but a premature shift to biennial then triennial testing by 1971 had to be reversed to annual testing by 1982 since levels had risen to 0•19% in 1976 (O'Connor 1986). A vet strike in the mid-1970s in Ireland allowed TB to reach 51 000 cases a year, but the present rise towards this figure would appear to be attributable to privatization of the testing regime, and more particularly to the abandoning of premovement tests, and in the UK whereas all 9 million cattle were tested annually into the early 1960s, going to longer herd test intervals meant fewer cattle tested so that now only some two out of 12 million cattle are tested each year (Zuckerman 1980; O'Connor 1986). Longer test intervals as a cost-cutting measure from 1993 at the height of BSE also allowed TB to escape from containment, coupled with increased stock movement for BSE replacement, as well as the ending of veal calf exports and milk quota/dispersal sales factors (Hancox 1998b). Final eradication hence requires the removal of the very last actual M. bovis carrier. A single index case can infect most of a herd; a single index or epicentre TB farm can cause a herd cluster. Test/trace procedures are simply inadequate to find this residual 'undisclosed' reservoir of cattle TB. Elderly, much retested cows may be critical: three such cases caused 18 herd breakdowns, i.e. a tenth of the total in a 27-month Cornish study (Richards 1972). Early NVL cases may not be immunocompetent, i.e. non-reactors to initial tests. At least 70% of such NVL cases may have been latent subclinical early cases, and the reason why parishes on annual tests are more likely to have repeat breakdowns than non-problem parishes, which by definition are on longer testing regimes (Wilesmith 1987; Bourne 2000, p. 92).

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  • auntyapril  |  December 06 2013, 5:25PM

    Both badgers in Britain and Ireland (but not Ulster); and possums in New Zealand, are blamed for causing further herd breakdowns. Inquisitive nuzzling/sniffing of terminally tuberculous possums with open skin lesions may be how deer (and cattle?) might realistically get TB from wildlife (Griffin and de Lisle 1995), but this is unlikely in badgers which do not show such massive skin ulcers and mostly die underground. There is little evidence that wildlife can be a self-maintaining reservoir of TB capable of infecting cattle, as previously discussed in section 2. Whereas it is far more likely that they and domestic stock, in particular pigs (plus wild boar), are a spillover 'miners canary' host from cattle. They are hence dead-end hosts or at best amplify background environmental TB, rather than being an effective 'undisclosed source' of cattle TB (Morris et al. 1994). An exception would seem to be feral water buffalo, African buffalo and bison (Francis 1958; Zuckerman 1980; Griffin and de Lisle 1995). Kruger Park lions and Coto Donana lynx acquire TB from infected meat, and pigs and badgers probably get TB via the dietary route too, despite the secondary early development of lung lesions (Hancox 1997). and also contrary to accepted wisdom (Krebs 1997), badgers probably do have population TB levels boosted even in supposedly self-maintaining disease, as with spillover from the mid-1980s 'inner ring' TB farms at Woodchester Park, rather than any TB cyclicity in badgers (Krebs 1997). The clean ring culling also suggested that badgers merely catch TB from the preceding herd breakdowns working out from the index or epicentre farm; which could easily be put to the test from current Bourne cull data (Hancox 1997, 1998b, 1999; Krebs 1997).

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  • auntyapril  |  December 06 2013, 5:20PM

    Sadly, these reviews reveal that the same two mistakes have been made in various countries in Phase 2, and instead of eradication, TB escapes from containment. These errors are: a premature relaxation of the isolate/eliminate by annual testing of ALL cattle procedure, and a failure to understand the significance of NVL, or unconfirmed or non-specific reactors. Thus the problem comes back to Bang's pioneering point and the stark warning by Myers and Steele (1969) that as long as one animal reacts to the tuberculin test then there remains a tuberculosis problem. The skin test picks up some cases which do not have TB (false positives, i.e. low specificity) but misses some cases which do have TB (false negatives i.e. low sensitivity). In fact, the problem is not so much as to find the last reactor, but of finding the last M. bovis-positive animal. The compromise as to the inverse correlation between specificity/sensitivity, and subjective measurement and interpretation as to standard or severity of the various skin tests is highlighted by Francis (1978): caudal fold 98•8/72%; single cervical 75•5/91•2%; comparative cervical 88•8/68•6%. So while Britain and Ireland have special EC derogation to use the comparative skin test because of the high background levels of avian TB (8–12%, whereas the rest of Europe is 0•5–1%; O'Connor 1986); it would seem that this is misplaced late on in their TB schemes because too many false positives are diagnosed. Pockets of the M. paratuberculosis Johnes disease 'variant' of avian TB may also be a key factor in localized problem areas.

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  • auntyapril  |  December 06 2013, 5:15PM

    Cattle tuberculosis schemes: control or eradication? Letters in Applied Microbiology Volume 31, Issue 1, pages 87–93, July 2000 M. Hancox 'the virulence of the [test] reaction has no constant relation to the development of the disease. Farmers often believe the cow reacting violently to be extremely tuberculous, and the one reacting feebly to the comparatively sound; the case is rather the reverse' (Bang 1892 cited in Francis 1947, 1958). And so while the onset of positive reactivity broadly reflects the extent of progressive lesions (Cassidy 1999); it may be that anergy or non-reactors may actually have more progressive multiple lesions, the immune system 'swamped' by TB proliferation (Lepper 1977 in Pritchard 1988). Britain succeeded in eradicating three of 'the four bovine scourges' over the last century and a half. Spread of infection was prevented by a movement ban of stock into disease-free areas, while the 'reservoir' of disease was eliminated by slaughter of diseased cattle and dangerous contacts: 'area eradication'. The two viral diseases were easiest, since cattle were overtly clinically ill: cattle plague or rinderpest, and foot and mouth disease. The latter clearly showed the growth of primary contiguous herd clusters, spawning further secondary herd clusters, and the value of quarantine, and cordon sanitaires. TB is no different except that the lag of a year or two masks the nature of contiguous spread of 'overt' disease, so that badgers get blamed instead, and arbitrarily after 15 months these are 'new' breakdowns (Hancox 1998b). In Ulster, some 70% of TB herds were via contiguous spread, up to 30% to 'bought-in' stock, i.e. 100% due to cattle, and badgers neither blamed nor culled (McIlroy 1986). The cattle mycoplasmal pneumonias are more like TB in that they are spread by the respiratory route – pneumonia, and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP). The latter was also often a chronic infection, so the removal of carriers is dependent on the accuracy of the test (Francis 1947, 1958; Ritchie 1965). The problem of cattle TB schemes is hence identical to these other infectious parasitic diseases. A ban on any movement into TB-free areas, and gradually reducing the reservoir of disease by annual test/slaughter, with testing of ALL cattle and removal of reactors and dangerous contacts, removes most TB cases before they get to the highly infectious multilesion stage, and may bring TB under control nationally within a decade or so (5–15 years), depending on the size of country and national herd. In effect this reflects the working life of dairy cows such that a complete population replacement or turnover occurs. and whereas as TB develops in the individual through the inter-grading stages of NVL – VL – clinical cases, this sequence is reversed and clinical, then VL cases become scarcer and TB spread slows down (Macrae 1961; Ritchie 1964, 1965; Myers and Steele 1969; Evans and Thompson 1980–1).

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  • Rogerout  |  December 06 2013, 3:35PM

    David Verney of Devon NFU has said according to this article that "Many" Devon Farmers want the cull rolled out in Devon. How many in Devon does the NFU represent, and how many of those actually have cattle on their land, and are not just Game shooting estates. ? So how many do not wish to participate? Or how many of those wish to remain anonymous to avoid any pressure . And is it not the NFU who now wish to change the rules-- so unless you OPT OUT you are taken as consenting to your land being accessed for culling or gassing or cage trapping. And how many Farmers/Landowners have or are considering Vaccination of Badgers on their land. By trained volunteers from Wildlife Trusts or other organisations?

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  • Clued-Up  |  December 05 2013, 4:45PM

    One wonders about the thinking processes of NFU leaders. The pilot badger culls have been outright disasters for their backers (and more importantly for everyone else). I'm sure the Countryside Alliance and shooting estate supporters of the cull didn't intend to act as recruiting sergeants for the Hunt Sabs - but they have. They've also shone a spotlight on hunting and shooting activities they might have preferred to remain hidden. Similarly I'm quite sure the NFU Council didn't want to convince ordinary farmers the NFU thinks safeguarding their interests much less important than pursuing the leadership's vendetta against badgers.

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  • Harymary  |  December 05 2013, 2:36PM

    It's a funny kind of success when the government felt the need to extend and change the method of the massacre in Somerset for a further six weeks and the one in Gloucestershire for eight because they 'hadn't killed enough badgers'. It only called a halt to the Glos cull because the Badger Trust and Brian May were suing them for illegally changing the policies set out in the Act, by stopping the free-shooting of badgers (because it hadn't worked??), and replacing it with baiting, cage trapping and shooting caged badgers, without the consent of Parliament.

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