The BTB Time Line

 

During the 1930s, a high percentage of dairy cows were found to be infected with Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). Many were kept near large cities, in order to supply residents with fresh milk; and most were closely confined in poorly ventilated cowsheds, which provided ideal conditions for the spread of the disease. Many infected cows developed tuberculosis (TB) in the udder, and consequently shed M. bovis in their milk. As most milk was drunk raw (untreated), milk-borne M. bovis infection was identified as a major public health risk: one which often led to TB in the human population. More than 50,000 new cases of human TB were recorded each year in Great Britain, and estimates of the time indicated that some 2,500 people died annually from TB caused by M. bovis.

In an effort to control the problem, the government introduced a voluntary bTB testing scheme for cattle in 1935. To prevent the disease from spreading to other herds, any animal that tested positive was slaughtered, and the movement of cattle from affected farms was prohibited.

This testing and slaughter programme became compulsory in 1950 and by 1980 it had reduced the national incidence of TB in cattle to a very low level. In addition to this, routine pasteurisation (heat treatment) of cows’ milk and inspection of cattle carcases at slaughterhouses were gradually put in place to further protect public health.

Although the incidence of bTB has increased over the last 15 years, the testing and slaughter programme remains central to our strategy to stop its spread.

In 1971, the body of a badger apparently infected with bTB was found on a Gloucestershire farm which had suffered an outbreak of the disease (a ‘breakdown’).

While the Badgers Act 1973 protected badgers from persecution, it also allowed the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), as it was then, to issue individuals with a licence to kill badgers in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

Gassing
In 1975, MAFF decided that only its own staff, or others under its control, would be permitted to cull badgers. Gassing was the method used.

The Zuckerman review:

In 1983, given that many people were unconvinced that badgers spread the disease, and felt gassing was inhumane, Lord Zuckerman was asked to address the problem of bTB. Gassing operations were suspended at the start of his review.

Lord Zuckerman concluded that badgers were probably a significant source of bTB infection, and that the high density and close proximity of cattle and badgers in parts of south-west England facilitated the spread of the disease. As the incidence of bTB appeared to have spread since the suspension of controls at the start of the review, he advised their reintroduction. Gassing was considered inhumane, so badgers would be trapped in cages and shot.

The ’clean ring’ strategy:

Lord Zuckerman advised that areas affected should be cleared of infected badgers and kept clear, so from 1982 to 1985 a ‘clean ring’ strategy applied. Social groups of badgers living on and around every breakdown farm were identified and trapped. Sample carcases from these groups were then examined. Where infection was found, all members of the social group were removed. The ring was then extended outwards until all badgers caught were free of infection. Trapping took place in cleared areas for a further six months, in order to keep them ‘clean’.

The Dunnet review:

Lord Zuckerman had recommended that a further review take place three years after his initial study. This was conducted in 1986 by Professor Dunnet, who concluded that some form of badger control was unavoidable. He recommended the use of an interim strategy until sufficient data from research, and from badger removal operations, allowed a further substantive review, and the development of a reliable ‘live’ diagnostic test for bTB in badgers.

The ’interim strategy’:

The interim strategy involved removing and culling badgers only on farms where bTB had been confirmed. During its operation, incidence of the disease increased in south-west England, and it was also found in areas with no recent history of infection, including the West Midlands and south Wales.

A trial study of a diagnostic test on live badgers was conducted between 1994 and 1996. It was then suspended due to the poor sensitivity of the test, and problems with the trial itself.

The Krebs report:

Given the continuing increase of TB in cattle, it was clear by 1996 that the interim strategy was not working, and the government asked Professor John Krebs to carry out a further review. His report recommended that a randomised block experiment be carried out to determine the effectiveness of culling in reducing the incidence of TB breakdown in herds of cattle.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT)

The RBCT, which was set up in response to the Krebs report, took place between 1998 and 2007. The aim was to investigate the ways in which bTB is spread between cattle, badgers and other wildlife.

The trial was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (the ISG). Results showed both positive and negative changes in the incidence of TB in cattle as a result of badger culling.

In November 2004, enhanced testing and control measures were introduced to help improve the detection of bTB, so that action might be taken quickly to prevent the spread of the disease.

In December 2005, pre-movement testing in England and Wales was announced. The aim was to help reduce the risk of the spread of bTB between herds.

The Labour government of the time declared its commitment to identifying the best way to combat bTB by way of robust evidence, and introduced a wide-ranging programme of research and development.

JUNE

In its final report, the ISG concluded that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain’, and in subsequent peer-reviewed scientific publications, members found that ‘reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended’. The ISG identified weaknesses in cattle TB testing, and in the movement of cattle, as the main factors in the spread of bTB:

‘A number of cattle carrying undiagnosed TB frequently remain following tuberculin testing. This has serious implications for the maintenance and persistence of disease in infected herds, and for the spread of the disease to neighbouring herds and to other parts of the country.’

July

Sir David King writes a paper in just five weeks that is not just peer reviewed and say ISG is wrong we muct cull.

The Masters of Spin

We never cease to be amazed at the continuing ingenuity shown by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the NFU, who, when unhappy with figures or answers given by their own officials, have others provide them with new figures or answers which they then disseminate!

40% of cases of TB in cattle are detected following slaughter (Defra Fact)

Stricter controls on the movement and testing of cattle were introduced in 2008, and Defra’s own figures showed that these resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cattle culled and the number of herds subjected to restriction of movement, without the slaughter of a single badger.

In 2010, the Welsh government stated its intention to slaughter badgers in an ‘intensive action area’ (IAA) in Pembrokeshire.

A research article by Jenkins et al. published on 10 February 2010 concluded:

‘Our findings show that the reductions in cattle TB incidence achieved by repeated badger culling were not sustained in the long term after culling ended and did not offset the financial costs of culling. These results, combined with evaluation of alternative culling methods, suggest that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.’ (PLoS ONE 5(2): e9090. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0009090)

Fisher

‘David Fisher, a Defra-funded TB inspector in Wales until 2011, said [in 2010]: “It is an open secret that isolation of [TB] reactors and inconclusive reactors is rare.” Fisher said Defra’s own database showed that in 2009 there was 20.8% non-compliance for bovine TB issues and that there was only one instance that year of a dairy farm being checked for compliance with an isolation notice.’ (Guardian, 4 October 2012)

‘Failure to isolate reactors and IRs [inconclusive reactors] has an effect in bTB transmission [of] an order of magnitude greater than cattle movements. Failure to isolate is accepted by officials, and subsequently by the farming community, ’

The Welsh Assembly’s plans for a mass slaughter of badgers in west Wales were abandoned, and a vaccination programme introduced.

April 2011

Meeting of scientific experts:

Experts gathered at the meeting unanimously accepted the RBCT findings and rejected culling. In their view, culling could have no significant impact on the national incidence of the disease if it were not conducted over a very large area (bTB is currently considered endemic in more than 39,000 km2 of England (the area subject to annual bTB testing))
The Masters of Spin 

Once again, we were struck by the reluctance on the part of Defra and the NFU to accept figures or answers given to them by their own officials, and their rapid discovery of new figures and new answers better suited to their claims!

Early in 2011, the European Commission’s DG SANCO (Directorate General for Health and Consumers) commissioned an audit, carried out in September the same year, which identified a number of potential weaknesses in farming practices. In fact the report was so damning that the UK was threatened with the withdrawal of the 32 million euros it receives from the EU for the sole purpose of combating bTB.

Among the issues were:

movement derogations;
pre-movement test exemptions (including extended time intervals between testing and movement);
the operation of ‘linked’ holdings over large geographical areas;
incomplete herd testing;
the operation of specialist units under restriction, and the consequent lack of the necessary bio-security arrangements;
key targets (removal of reactors, instigation of epidemiological enquiries) not met;
fragmented system of controls, lack of co-ordination.

July 2011: UK cull announced

 

On 19 July 2011, Environment Secretary (at the time) Caroline Spelman announced government plans to cull in two pilot areas, in West Somerset and Gloucestershire. She also stated that restrictions on the movement of cattle would be increased.

2012

Claridge et al.

In May 2012, a study involving 3,026 dairy herds in England and Wales by Claridge et al. showed

‘a significant negative association between exposure to the common, ubiquitous helminth parasite, fasciola hepatica, and diagnosis of bTB’,

and estimated

‘an under-ascertainment rate of about one-third’. (Nat Commun. 2012 May 22; 3:853, doi: 10.1038 / ncomms1840).

September 2012

On 17 September 2012, with its billboard on the Cromwell Road, London SW5, Team Badger (the world’s largest animal welfare coalition) launched its campaign to stop the cull and demand a backbench debate.

October 2012

On 23 October, following a bungled count of badgers, Owen Paterson announced in parliament that the cull would be delayed until the summer of 2013. Someone in the Lords suggested the badgers had ‘shagged’ themselves a reprieve.

At this point, the NFU claimed the cull would lead to a 30% reduction in bTB. In response, Lord Krebs accused the organisation of filleting the figures from his paper, and, along with the entire scientific community, stood by the science of the RBCT. (Once again, Defra and the NFU didn’t like the figures and answers presented, and quickly found new ones…)

On 25 October, the backbench debate took place. Team Badger won the vote.

February 2013

On 22 February, the government and NFU rejected the first badger estimate (which cost taxpayers £750,000), and demanded a new count: one that would provide a figure they actually liked.

Defra published new figures on numbers of badgers. In 2012, farmers had alleged that the figure showed an increase in badgers they knew to be there. However, new figures contradicted their claim.

West Somerset old figures

CULL ZONE

NEW DEFRA FIGURES

22nd FEBURARY 2013

OLD DEFRA FIGURES

15th OCTOBER 2012 (£750,000 )

West Somerset 1972 – 2973 3740 – 5085
West Gloucestershire 2657 – 4079 3145 – 4391

Defra says “These new estimates have arisen due to the availability of new data.”

The Masters of Spin 

Once again, we were struck by the reluctance on the part of Defra and the NFU to accept figures or answers given to them by their own officials, and their rapid discovery of new figures and new answers better suited to their claims!

27th February

Defra stated, ‘These new estimates have arisen due to the availability of new data.’

At the NFU conference in Birmingham on 27 February, Owen Paterson confirmed that it was his intention to slaughter badgers in Gloucestershire and West Somerset, and in a new reserve area in Dorset, in the summer of 2013. Two licences were issued by Natural England for culling in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset on the same day

Brian May speaks at the Oxford Union Debate to launch Team Badger in “Setts , Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” . Owen Patterson declines to speak against him saying – he would have to be mad to engage with Brian. Is our minister running scared as he has no answers for his political cull. Owen Patterson has avoided Brian at every interview we have been to -refusing to speak with him and insisting on being in different studios or being recorded separately . That speaks volumes.