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Somerset badger cull plans: Could cattle be spreading bovine TB?

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 21, 2012

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Campaigners looking to halt proposed badger culls in the greater South West have been boosted after new research poured cold water on Government claims linking the creatures with the spread of bovine TB.

Research, which comes from the Government’s own scientists, suggests that rather than the badgers spreading the disease, cows could be carrying TB for years without detection, spreading it to other members of their herds.

It has led to calls that plans to slaughter up to 130,000 badgers in an effort to combat bovine TB are “flawed” because the tests used to identify the disease in cattle are seriously inaccurate, according to the Sunday Times.

Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, wants to kill 70 per cent of England’s estimated 190,000 badgers, in the belief that the animals spread TB to cattle. Speaking ahead of her visit to the Devon County Show this week, Ms Spelman said she anticipated pilot culls – in West Somerset and in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire – would not be de-railed by a legal challenge mounted by the Badger Trust last month.

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The minister said the “incredible care” taken when preparing to give the culls the go-ahead limited the chances of being pulled up on a “technicality”.

The disease is rife in the South West and the Government estimates it could cost taxpayers £1 billion. If pilots are successful they will be rolled out in West Country hotspots. If they do not start before 2013 there would be a year’s delay to avoid disrupting the badger breeding season.

About 26,000 cows are slaughtered each year after testing positive for TB.

Ms Spelman is already facing a public backlash over the cull as well as legal action by the Badger Trust, which has won approval for a judicial review of her decision.

The warning comes in two reports from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Northern Ireland, a leading research centre. One, already published, warns the tests used for TB often produce negative results if cattle are co-infected with liver flukes. This is because the flukes secrete hormones that suppress the immune response on which the TB test depends.

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  • Charlespk  |  May 22 2012, 2:16PM

    Each person with an XDR strain of M.bovis or M.tuberculosis can infect up to a dozen others. Molecular typing of Mycobacterium bovis isolates in Argentina: first description of a person-to-person transmission case. http://tinyurl.com/bwxembw (open in a new window) Australian Christiaan Van Vuuren went on a working holiday as Aussies do that ended in Argentina Quote:- "Not long ago I was diagnosed with a rare strain of Tuberculosis and I've been stuck in a hospital quarantine room in Sydney for a total of about 60 days, with at least another 30 to go, while I am being treated and stuff… To help kill the time and take my mind off the treatment, I have been making some vids from hospital. Here is a rap song that I made about my time here in quarantine so far." http://tinyurl.com/yzdos5k (open in a new window) Life in a Day, 180 days spent in Quarantine. http://tinyurl.com/cqar6er (open in a new window) 75% of the 4000+ genes of these bacteria are believed to have evolved simply to evade any hosts immune response. . That is probably the reason they are one of the most successful bacteria on the planet, and have been around for more than 10,000 years.

  • Charlespk  |  May 22 2012, 1:27PM

    Alpaca, deer, wild boar and other and other camelids have only become infected since badgers, the main self-maintaining vector of M,bovis in the wild were protected. That's just another fact the badgerists just can't handle. It appears some have only just caught up with the problem for Alpaca and other camelids that we were telling them would happen years ago. If M.bovis now progresses to horses again as it was in the first half of the last century; there will be a lot of very unhappy, very wealthy Arabs also. . Horses now only very, very rarely contract Mycobacterium avium-complex (MAC). Quote:- "Mycobacterial infections are very rare in horses. In the first part of 20th century mycobacterial infections in horses were mainly caused by Mycobacterium bovis. The situation has changed since the second part of 20th century, and the most common cause of mycobacterial infections in horses are now members of the M.avium complex(MAC). Generally, mycobacterial infections in horses arise via ingestion, though primary respiratory infection does occur. The prevailing clinical signs are chronic weight loss, diarrhoea, pyrexia, chronic pneumonia, septic arthritis and blindness in both eyes; abortions have also been documented, as analysed in a published review by Pavlik et al.(2004)."

  • Charlespk  |  May 21 2012, 9:51PM

    If the above thesis were even remotely true. . It could be easily tested by screening cattle urine and faecal matter. . Lesions are mostly only discovered occasionally in a cows udders. To excrete bacteria they would have to have infection in some organ. This is just more of the badgerist's desperate sophistry. Quote:- "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)."

  • Mikethepike  |  May 21 2012, 9:50PM

    Apart from re-writing bTB history--as is usual with him--Charlespk does a wobbly by throwing in some nonsensical suggestion that there is some relationship between disease in badgers and current TB in humans (or have I failed to follow his erratic logic? ) and deliberately tries to confuse the real significance of the new research (independent scientific research, Charles, nothing to do with badger groups). If, as the scientists suggest, the skin test is even more suspect that we all thought, that will surely go a long way to explaining why bTB has not been beaten. Why it keeps recurring. It's there in the herds. The skin test picks up only some of it (and now we know more about why that happens), the infection spreads within the herds (and to other geographical areas, courtesy of the massive and constant movement of hundreds of thousands of cattle) but of course badgers get the blame by Charles and his like. Badgers are the easy scapegoats. As for his bit of history rewritten: the area by area eradication scheme all but solved the bTB crisis, which had its beginnings pre-war. No badgers were implicated, there was no clear-out of setts (that's to judge from personal experience and detailed written records of the formal eradication scheme) and of course it was 1971 or so before there was even a hint that some badgers carried TB. Defra accepts that the skin test misses infection on a significant scale; independent scientists (including the iSG) point to the contribution it makes to bTB spread. But Charles won't have it. As ever, never a word of criticism about farming or farmers, never a constructive contribution as to how the current testing/regulatory controls might be improved. Head stuck down a badger sett, ostrich like.

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  • E_Badger  |  May 21 2012, 9:37PM

    And what does the honorable Charlespk think of the Alpaca connection? Alpaca farming is very popular in the UK and in the South West in particular, the animals through recorded cases of bTB infection are known to have the potential to carry and spread the disease and (quote from linked article below) "... have this ability to be absolutely riddled with the disease [internally] and still be strolling around looking perfectly healthy..." and yet there is no legal requirement to test Alpacas for the bTB. http://tinyurl.com/cr2etoa

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  • E_Badger  |  May 21 2012, 9:36PM

    And what does the honorable Charlespk think of the Alpaca connection? Alpaca farming is very popular in the UK and in the South West in particular, the animals through recorded cases of bTB infection are known to have the potential to carry and spread the disease and (quote from linked article below) "... have this ability to be absolutely riddled with the disease [internally] and still be strolling around looking perfectly healthy..." and yet there is no legal requirement to test Alpacas for the bTB. http://tinyurl.com/cr2etoa

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  • Charlespk  |  May 21 2012, 9:17PM

    If cattle were being missed at testing there would many, many thousands out there now clinically sick with TB. . . And not just here but all over Europe. . There are not. . A small number of carcasses get spotted with lesions at slaughter and are condemned. . That is all. The thing the badger groups just will not ever accept and now even deny with sophistry, is the fact that we once conquered this problem by clearing badger setts in the locality of any herds that broke down and immediately culling any reactors. . The national herd was clear of disease and all herds in the UK were officially designated 'Brucellosis Free' in October 1985. With the discovery of Streptomycin and other antibiotics and drugs; we thought we had beaten tuberculosis and all the sanatoriums had long been closed. . . Then some in their mistaken wisdom decided the risk from badgers was by then minimal. . With the explosion in the badger population, we can all now see just how 'minimal' that was. The gassing of badgers ceased in the late 1970's and testing of cattle continued. . In 1986, a total of 38,000 herds comprising 3,200,000 cattle were tested, resulting in the slaughter of just 506 cattle that reacted to the test. . The latest position with over 25,000 being slaughtered is neither acceptable or sustainable. Bovine TB - A Way Forward. http://tinyurl.com/66l9ud9 (open in a new window)

  • Charlespk  |  May 21 2012, 8:38PM

    Here's some fact not just more fiction. (part) Memorandum submitted by Former Veterinary Officers, State Veterinary Service. Dr John Gallagher, a veterinary pathologist since 1972 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. More from the report: http://tinyurl.com/3g5zwe9 (open in a new widow)"

  • Mikethepike  |  May 21 2012, 3:56PM

    Of course cattle spread bovine TB! The bulk of the disease comes from cattle-to-cattle transmission. That's why there are controls over cattle movements; that's why Defra encourages disease control measures like double fencing at farm boundaries to stop cattle from neighbouring farms infecting each other; that's why reactors are slaughtered--to stop them spreading infection to others in the herds. Come on! The issue is not whether cattle infect each other it's the degree to which cattle are responsible for TB spread. It has always been acknowledged that the skin test is fallible, that it misses, on average, around 20 per cent of the infection present in a herd. This latest research shows that it is very likely that the skin test is even more unreliable than has previously been thought. Its efficiency is compromised in a number of ways: infection by liver flukes is one--and that is a newish finding--the varying quality of the tuberculin (obtained from a number of different sources world wide) is another. When cattle pass the skin test famers like to assume that the rest of the herd is clear. That is absolutely not the case. This test is less than perfect. Disease remains in the herd undetected. When it breaks out again infection by badgers is often blamed by the same farmers when in fact it is the test which has let them down--not wildlife. It is in the farmers' interests that this ineffective misleading test is somehow replaced with a testing system they can rely on, and it is also in the interests of taxpayers (who fund the compensation) and wildlife, specifically badgers --always blamed, always the easy to target scapegoats.