Bovine TB A Black and White Issue?
As the Krebbs trials begin again, a casual observer of the situation could be forgiven for thinking that the link between badgers and bovine TB was a new occurrence which needed quantifying. But for nearly 30 years, taxpayers' money has paid for learned professors to re-invent the ecological wheel, only to have successive governments sanitise the results, under pressure from single species activists, or universities in need of further research grants.
Many trials have been done, ( some are ongoing) but all have shown a drop in incidence of cattle TB of between 91 - 100% if infected badgers were removed. No action on other wildlife species was taken, and no alteration to farm practices advised. In the Irish Republic, trials similar to Krebbs concluded in an interim statement issued January 1999, "there is very little choice but to take out the badgers, where cattle TB is endemic".
In 1980, after his review of the situation, Prof. Zuckerman noted with regret that after the suspension of badger control, cattle TB had increased. He also commented that culling reactor cattle while taking no action on the acknowledged reservoir of infection in the badgers was a waste of time, and of taxpayers money. Yet in on May 8th. 1997, the current government, in receipt of £1 million from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL), ignored that advice and repeated the ban on badger culling.
The results and costs of which our farmers have had to bear is an exponential rise in cattle TB. In 1988, MAFF slaughtered 782 cattle as reactors or contacts after TT testing.
A year after the cessation of badger control, 1998's figure was 6086, and by mid February 2002,(after little testing in 2001 due to FMD) the 3 year total was 31,326 - over 10,000 per year. Ministry number crunching will dispute this figure by breaking it down into a) Reactors to the TT test, b) Dangerous contacts at ''severe interpretation', or c) Lesioned at postmortem cattle. But a dead cow is still dead, and the numbers I have quoted are Maff's for cattle slaughtered. Some may argue that the TT test is flawed, but it is in use world wide, and does not indicate 'infection' but exposure to m.bovis, which may or may not go on to develop into full blown TB.
An alternative source of infection has to be suggested if the badger is excluded. If cattle are presumed to be that hidden source of undiscovered TB, then a large reservoir must exist to transmit and spread the disease which is not flagged up by the TT test. But every carcass, including cattle going on the OTMS (Over Thirty Month Scheme) for destruction, has to pass a Meat Hygiene inspection. In the 4 years before the moratorium on badger control, up to 3.4 million cattle per year were slaughtered and inspected. Of those, 55-124 suspicious samples were taken and tested by the MHS.
Just 22 - 27 proved positive.
Prof. Bourne describes his 'trials' as the last chance to 'prove a link' and 'validate a control area.' But two of the three options are likely to prove unacceptable. i.e., no action, or the complete elimination of badgers. Predictably the trials have polarised opinions. Our farms are battlegrounds, with farmers and Maff/Defra operatives the butt of violence, threats and intimidation by single species activists who have accorded the badger 'cult' status and his ancestral home a grade 1 listing
Politicians obviously see more votes in a dead badger than in a dead cow.
Dr. Elaine King of the National Federation of badger Groups, describes 'progress' made by the TB forum, with a 'holistic' approach to cattle TB, encompassing minerals, farming practise and cattle to cattle transmission. But if infected badgers are removed, that approach accounts for just 0 - 9%. It is however the target of much of Defra's budget.
But West Country naturalist and trustee of the Somerset Wildlife Trust, Dr. Willie Stanton, in a damning indictment of what he describes as a 'Magic Circle' of badger preservationists, describes a huge increase in badger numbers, given the protection the species now enjoys and the lack of any natural predator. He points out that in practice, as well as the problems with cattle TB, this means inoffensive UK residents of our countryside, such as hedgehogs, slow worms, bumblebees, toads, grass snakes, grey partridge, lapwing and larks - all treasured by a balanced ecology - are being sought out as food by the omnivourous badger and in some areas, have been exterminated.
The badger is not a scapegoat. It is a known and acknowledged reservoir of a pathogen in the same group as E coli 0157. Global health experts are reported as being "extremely concerned" at the UK's lack of control of the problem within badgers. Cattle testing is a sentinel of the amount of M.bovis in the countryside With the knowledge of how resiliant the bacterium is (Dr. King's own research showed it survives up to 11 months when suspended in badger urine, on damp grass) and how virulent (300,00 units of M.bovis in just 1 ml of urine from a badger with kidney lesions), it isn't difficult to see why US health experts are worried, and why HSE recommend protective clothing, masks and specialist laboratories for dealing with badger carcasses or habitat. An explosion of human TB is their forecast for the UK within the next 3 decades, as our population have contact with M. bovis from wildlife sources, but wall up the lesions, only to have TB develop in later life when their immune system is under pressure from other infections.
After a gap of more than 20years, BSG jabs have been re introduced for teenagers.
As a working farmer, I have listened to the NFBG and Dr. King. I have hung minerals on metal gates, installed high water troughs, not grazed silage headlands and kept a closed herd, (i.e one that is completely home bred) for the last 6 years. Herd health is excellent, and we vaccinate for BVD (Bovine Viral Diarrhoea), which is suspected of compromising cattle test results. We test the cattle annually, and have no contact with any other cattle, being ring fenced by roads, woods or rivers.
All very healthy, bio secure and 'holistic'.
Did it protect us? Not a chance. TB is now raging through our herd, which was established in 1908, and accredited (TB free) in 1952. So where do we go from here?
Dr. Chris Cheeseman of Woodchester Park's 'badger heaven' was asked the same question at a Cheshire meeting. His reply shocked his audience.
He said "You can't farm with infected badgers, get rid of your cattle".
Well the Minstry are certainly doing that. Three super young cows will be shot next week. All home bred, as were their mothers (2 are still in the herd, at 10 years old )
Two of them are heavily in calf. Their unborn calves will die too. Obscene.
No lesions have been found yet, and Maff have been unable to culture TB from previous carcasses. Our source of exposure is badgers, but our cows are still dead.
Concern for animals can be very selective.