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Official figures have overstated the number of cows with TB in the past two years

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: January 15, 2014

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Official figures have overstated the number of cattle herds with tuberculosis in the past two years, it has been admitted.

Figures showing the incidence of new cases of the disease and the number of herds under restrictions following an outbreak of TB have been suspended dating back to September 2011, after a problem was identified with data recording.

The revelation is the latest issue to beset the Government’s controversial policy to tackle TB in cattle, after efforts to cull badgers – which can spread the disease to herds – failed to kill enough badgers in two pilot areas, and policing costs spiralled.

A number of herds which had been declared TB-free and had seen their restrictions lifted were still being recorded as not officially free of the disease, officials said.

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Figures for the number of herds under restrictions in 2012 and 2013 were likely to be revised “significantly” downwards following the identification of the problem by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), the Environment Department (Defra) said.

There was also a possibility the problem with the data could affect the figures for the incidence of new cases in herds, although this was unlikely to have a significant effect.

But the figures for the incidence rate had also been suspended pending investigation as a precautionary measure.

The latest figures for the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered after they were found to have TB or be directly in contact with the disease was still published and showed 27,474 animals were killed from January to October 2013, compared to 31,143 during the same period in 2012.

Dominic Dyer, policy advisor for wildlife charity Care for the Wild, said the announcement that the number of herds with TB had been overstated seriously undermined a key element of the Government’s justification for its “disastrous” badger cull policy.

“It has now become clear that Defra has been significantly overstating the number of herds with TB since September 2011. This in turn has misled farmers, MPs, the media and the general public on the extent of the bovine TB problem in the UK.

“We have just spent at least £7 million on the most expensive and disastrous wildlife cull on record, while the level of TB in cattle herds has been dropping by more than Defra estimated.

“It’s now time for Owen Paterson to come clean and accept that TB rates are falling significantly in UK cattle herds and that there is no scientific, economic or animal welfare justification to continue the disastrous badger cull policy.”

He said the figures also showed the number of cattle slaughtered because of TB had dropped by more than 11% on last year’s numbers.

A spokesman for Defra said the AHVLA was amending the statistics after the problem came to light, and those statistic that had been affected had been suspended and would be republished soon.

“This relates to data-entry only and does not affect farmers or have any impact on disease control. This does not change the need to use every tool we have to reduce the unacceptably high levels of TB,” he said.

An AHVLA spokesman said: “AHVLA is undertaking urgent work to update the missing statistics with the correct data. This issue relates to the reporting of statistics and does not affect farmers or have any impact on disease control.”

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18 comments

  • Charlespk  |  January 18 2014, 9:37AM

    That should be 'mammals'.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 18 2014, 9:34AM

    Peter Martin, welcome to the mighty band of ignorant badgerists who haven't got any understanding of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis genus of tuberculosis causing bacteria whatsoever, and don't give a monkey about any other mammas except the European badger Meles meles a species of badger in the family Mustelidae. Here's some education for you. THE NATURE OF TB IN BADGERS. 1.Tuberculosis has a different manifestation in most species . In the badger it is fundamentally different from TB in cattle essentially due to the lack of development of a hypersensitivity response which is a prime feature of infection in cattle. Thus small numbers of organisms infecting cattle produce a vigorous cellular response which results in extensive cell death and the development of large cold abscesses in the affected tissues usually the lung and respiratory lymph nodes . This is in fact the host immune reaction to TB. Whilst causing disease and disruption to the affected organs the changes inside these abscesses strongly inhibit the TB bacteria and kill many of them. The badger does not show such a vigorous destructive reaction but rather a slowly progressive proliferative reaction which eventually results in cell death as numbers of bacteria increase markedly. TB lesions are thus relatively much smaller but contain relatively vastly more bacteria than those of cattle. TB bacteria do not produce toxins but rather cause lesions as a result of their highly antigenic cell walls to which different hosts may respond with greater or lesser aggression. PROGRESSION OF INFECTION 2. Once a badger develops disease all the members of that social group are likely to become infected due to the confined living space in their underground tunnel systems, their highly gregarious nature and constant mutual grooming. But that seed of infection (the primary focus ) will usually only progress to produce disease and eventually death in a minority of cases. Latency is a feature of TB in many species and this is so in badgers and cattle. The bulk of infections in badgers, usually 70% or more will become latent or dormant. A small number of badgers may resolve the infection completely and self cure. But the latent infections remain fully viable and may breakdown under stress which may be of nutritional origin, intercurrent disease, senile deterioration or social disturbance and disruption. Some badgers may develop fulminating disease (Gallagher et al 1998). Badgers with terminal generalised tuberculosis can excrete vast numbers of bacteria particularly when the kidneys are infected. Counts of several million bacteria in a full urination have been recorded (Gallagher and Clifton-Hadley, 2000). When infection is acquired by a bite wound from the contaminated mouth of another badger, the bacteria are Inoculated either deeply subcutaneously or intramuscularly and rapid generalisation of infection usually occurs, causing progression to severe and often fatal tuberculosis which may develop in a matter of several months (Gallagher and Nelson, 1979). Respiratory origin infections have a longer duration and cases in an endemically infected population (Woodchester) have been monitored showing intermittent excretion of infection for a year, with the longest recorded case excreting for almost three years before death. The above ground mortality due to TB is estimated as about 2% of the population per annum. Thus in the South West alone with its now extensive endemically infected areas the annual deaths due to TB will be of the order of at least 1000 to 2000. Tuberculosis has an unfettered progress in the badger population and the cycle of infection and disease in the badger has long been known to be self sustaining (Zuckerman 1980). Over time the badger has become well adapted as a primary reservoir host of bovine TB infection. . . . . . . Dr John Gallagher, a veterinary pathologist since 1972 I do hope you feel better later.

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  • oldlongdog  |  January 18 2014, 9:14AM

    Oh dear Charles, now you have revealed your true colours in spectacular style! Anyone who disagrees with you must be a 'lefty' or a 'student' or an 'animal rights nutter'... and you think that not killing things is 'immoral'?! Charles, you are a parody of the unthinking country bufton, sounding off in ever more furious tones until you collapse from apoplexy! Putting words in capitals (the equivalent of shouting) doesn't make you right. Nor does being old and nor does being right about one thing make you right about everything. You cannot just point to one scientific argument and then dismiss all the rest because it suits your point of view. You have to consider it all in the round' and then make a balanced, reasoned decision rather than lash out at the truth. What has being a 'lefty' got to do with the science? Why does caring for animals mean giving them 'rights'? Your accusation that people who care about science, and animal welfare 'don't pay much tax' is risible! Does paying tax automatically make a person right about everything?! What an unbelievably stupid statement... I've worked all my life, had an expensive education, paid my taxes, am neither a 'lefty' or a 'righty' and can trace my family back to the Norman Conquest. My opinions come from an open mind, reading a lot of science and the experience of living in the countryside (including working on farms as a youngster). So now we've got all that out of the way you need to go back to the science, and the politics (because the waste of taxpayers money is also important) and look at the problem in the round. You cannot dismiss the ISG and all the other scientists who, after all, spent 9 years and £50m of our money concluding that badger culling doesn't work. They haven't said that badgers don't have bTB, just that it is too expensive, too difficult and not effective to try and solve any part of the bTB problem by culling. Every time it is tried it fails and consumes huge amounts of effort and public money, all to no good effect. It's nothing to do with being a 'lefty, work-shy, animal rights nutter' - it's simply because it doesn't work. And you know it doesn't because you have still failed to answer why, in the 21 years following the discovery of bTB in badgers and the introduction of the Protection of Badgers Act, when farmers were able to kill as many as they liked, that bTB was steadily rising? Tell us how your 'historically indisputable facts' account for that? And instead of petulantly demanding I write down all the science here (posts are limited and I've given you plenty of links) and spluttering on about Voodoo and Black Magic, why don't you say whether or not you think badgers are the only source of bTB or whether you admit that cattle-to-cattle transmission is also a factor. And if cattle do pass it on to each other, tell us to what extent you think that contributes to the problem? I invited you to come out and witness the cull when it was on but you refused. If you had you would have seen just how impractical a cull is to prosecute on the ground, in the real world of rain and mud, and badgers not being seen. Neither you nor Defra, nor any of the landowners actually know where all the badgers are or how many of them exist. The countryside is too big; it would take thousands of gunmen months to get anywhere near making an impact on bTB. Who's going to pay for that - you? I feel sorry for you Charles; it must be very frustrating, not to say humiliating, having a lifetime of beliefs trashed so publicly and comprehensively by the facts and by practical experience. The trick, though, is not to have 'beliefs' but to have an open mind and trust in the science.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 17 2014, 12:06PM

    Come on then smarty! Tell me all you know about tuberculosis. It obviously won't take you very long. You badgerists spend your entire lives insulting every informed scientist on the planet trying to defend an immoral hypothesis concocted by lefty overgrown students, that tries to give the badger the rights above every other mammal on the planet. You've only been told lies by animal rights nutters. And I doubt those of you making the most noise are paying much tax. These are the facts. You can't change them and neither can Krebs, Bourne or the ISG. The INDISPUTABLE, historically accurate, scientific facts. http://tinyurl.com/bw7jpxy (open in a new window) And by the way, how do you account for the the fact that the Super Dairies don't suffer with M,bovis. More of your Voodoo and Black Magic?

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  • oldlongdog  |  January 17 2014, 10:15AM

    Sorry charles but you do talk the most awful cack about bTB and badgers. We are not 'badgerists', we are taxpayers who are sick and tired of all the lies we are being told and having to pay millions of our pounds to clear up the messes farmers keep making (BSE, F&M and now this). The ISG report on the RCBT gathered together all the scientific evidence currently known (including going back all the years you claim to have lived) and concluded that culling badgers couldn't have any significant impact on the spread of bTB. The recent cull has proved they were right and demonstrated with piercing clarity just how hard it is to cull badgers effectively, let alone at a reasonable cost. You still haven't answered my question about the missing 21 years when people like you were free to kill badgers unchecked but bTB was still rising. That's because it fatally undermines your argument. Being alive 60 years ago doesn't make you right about everything. What we know now about the epidemiology of bTB wasn't known then. Things move on and we need to pay attention the the state of science now, not then. We know now, for instance, that increased herd sizes, increased cattle movements and increased stress on cattle since the 1950s and 60s is a major factor in the spread of the disease. Combine this with over-wintering in over crowded barns, poorly applied testing regimes, missed tests and the unspeakably stupid practice of putting reactors back in the herd before they are collected for slaughter and you have your answer - bTB is rampant. The infection of badgers mirrors the infection of cattle but at a much lower rate. Cure the cows and the badgers cure themselves (either by dying or by developing immunity). We also know that trying to shoot badgers at night causes a 'perturbation effect' where settled badger clans start moving about and potentially making the situation worse rather than better. This is why vaccinating badgers is better than culling - it's not perfect but it does keep the problem in one place. What is so sad, Charles, is the fact that you cannot accept all this and that you are determined to exterminate badgers. Even sadder that if you had your way bTB would still be rampant in cattle. I suspect that you are simply too vain and bull-headed to accept the truth.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 16 2014, 6:02PM

    And oldlongdog; I don't ever talk nonsense about tuberculosis; remember that.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 16 2014, 5:45PM

    We know all that. . Ii was us that told you that first. . What you badgerists just wont ever accept because you were all too young to know, is that badger numbers were minimal in those days and we had to start culling them to finish the job. . The explosion in bTB happened when they protected them and their numbers soared. Those are the FACTS.

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  • oldlongdog  |  January 16 2014, 5:18PM

    Again, charlspk, you are talking nonsense. bTB was reduced prior to 1960 by cattle controls alone. When bTB was discovered in badgers in 1971 the cattle controls were relaxed but badger killing went on until the Protection of Badgers Act was introduced in 1992. So why was bTB increasing so steadily for 21 years when badgers could be (and were being) killed in such huge numbers? You see, you can't answer that can you? It proves conclusively that culling badgers does not have a significant impact on the spread of bTB but cattle controls do. You can futter about commenting on this page as much as you like but you cannot alter the truth - culling doesn't work, cattle controls do.

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  • Charlespk  |  January 16 2014, 5:12PM

    Don't talk so much rubbish. The INDISPUTABLE, historically accurate, scientific facts. http://tinyurl.com/bw7jpxy (open in a new window)

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  • oldlongdog  |  January 16 2014, 4:54PM

    mmjames - funny how Ireland has culled hundreds of thousands of badgers and yet its rate of bTB is the same as Northern Ireland where no badger culling has taken place... Funny how the UK reduced bTB to less than 2% of the national herd and just 2 locations in the Southwest in the 1950s and 60s without culling a single badger... It's not the badgers - get it?! It's the lack of cattle controls. bTB wasn't noticed in badgers until 1971 but he problem with that discovery was that it was fatally misinterpreted as meaning that badgers were the 'cause' of bTB. So then... cattle controls were relaxed and... bTB started spreading again! Funny that...? Funny also that the greatest increase in the recent resurgence in bTB came in the two years after the Foot & Mouth outbreak… where cattle testing was suspended… and the NFU lobbied government to restock the national herd from the Southwest where F&M was not so prevalent… but bTB was rampant… and they didn't want any testing for bTB so as to protect the 'export market' (just 2% of the UK cattle and dairy industry)… Funny? Not really. Why don't you people get it? Even the NFU and Defra admit that cattle controls are the main solution to the problem but there's a rump of people who are still convinced that badgers are the primary 'cause' of bTB in cattle and are in complete denial about the real causes or solutions. Then there are those who think the only solution to any problem on a farm is to kill it, burn it, spray it with chemicals or plough it out of the ground. Why do you and charlespk want to kill badgers? It isn't justified on scientific or cost grounds. It doesn't work and if done badly it can make bTB worse. And yet you continue to pedal these myths - why? Read the science here http://tinyurl.com/3jy456j Yes, some badgers can infect some cattle but it's a minute part of the overall problem. The cull is purely political and yet people like charlespk below think all we have to do is stop protecting badgers and the problem will go away - what utter bollo'! He obviously denies any cattle to cattle transmission which means he's either completely stupid or has a sick agenda. Badgers were protected btw to put an end to baiting badgers with dogs. I sometime wonder if there is an element of the rural community that is clinging on to old superstitions about badgers because they are nocturnal and were not well understood until recently. Please tell us why, despite £50m and nine years research into culling (RCBT) that concluded unequivocally that "badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain", and despite all the evidence from the recently failed cull, that you and charlespk still think it is a good idea?

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