Bovine TB: Tough new rules to halt the spread of disease

Here in Britain some cattle (Bos primigenius) get bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and we want rid. Wild badgers (Meles meles) can get bTB. Some people think badgers spread the infection (Mycobacterium bovis) to cattle. Others think that we shouldn’t obsess about badgers because the real problem is cattle being moved around the country too much, giving bTB to each other.

You might choose to follow my tags ‘tuberculosis’ and ‘badger’ for other posts on this. I reached the opinion that culling wild badgers would be useless in controlling bTB. In fact that a cull could make the problem worse because badgers have legs. If you clear an area of badgers, other badgers will move in, perhaps bringing bTB with them.

Some of the most senior scientists who’ve been involved in researching the bTB problem, notably John Krebs, concluded that badger culling would be a daft thing to do. They advised the Government to cancel the cull.

Despite this our Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, ordered a ‘pilot cull’. A cull to clear badgers from a few areas. Quite how that’s supposed to be a good idea remains a mystery to me! But it’s due to start soon.

A more sensible response to bTB, in my opinion and others’ opinions, would be to move cattle around less. Another promising idea is to vaccinate wild badgers. Therefore I’m very pleased to see that the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, David Heath, has just announced ‘Tough new rules to halt the spread of disease’. His rules are about cattle transport and about improving the badger vaccine. We were promised these improved rules, last winter, and now we can see the detail.

Mr Heath is one of Mr Paterson’s team. I think that right now, he’s talking more sense than his boss.

Mr Heath’s new rules about cattle movements and badger vaccination will start coming into force in October. When I see reports of how that’s going, whether it’s working, I’ll show them to you.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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9 Responses to Bovine TB: Tough new rules to halt the spread of disease

  1. Finn says:

    What are your thoughts on the badger vaccine? I don’t see how it can work, for the same reason a cull won’t work. How can they guarantee to kill or vaccinate all the badgers when you don’t know how many there are to start with?

    You’re right about Heath, he seems to be talking a lot more sense than Patterson. Restricting and regulating cattle movements must be a better solution.

    • argylesock says:

      To tell the truth, I’m not convinced by the badger vaccine. Nor by the badger contraceptive, which as you know is at an even earlier stage of research. I agree that coverage (getting all the badgers) is an issue. I think also that badger health and welfare would be at risk – these are wild animals.

      We humans are the ones who choose to keep so many cattle on the land. TB in cattle isn’t even very serious for the cow, at least in its early stages (see the post I’ve written today) but it’s serious for the farmer because phe’s required to test, slaughter and avoid moving cattle.

      bTB is a problem if you’re a farmer, when your industry’s in financial dire straits. My late sister-in-law was a secretary at one of the main accountancy firms in Skipton, West Yorkshire. So she knew what was happening in the farmers’ businesses. She said that most of the fancy tractors, milking parlours and so on weren’t being paid for. Farms were mortgaged and remortgaged, she said.

    • argylesock says:

      On the other hand, the first time I became aware of Mr Heath was a couple of weeks ago when he talked a lot of (in my opinion) tosh about neonics https://argylesock.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/david-heath-wants-neonics-back/

      [Edit] I tell a lie! In fact, I first heard of Mr Heath last September after the Cabinet reshuffle https://argylesock.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/hello-mr-heath-and-lord-de-mauley/

  2. Pingback: Licensed to kill? Not a single badger has been shot two months into cull | Science on the Land

  3. Finn says:

    That’s an interesting and frightening insight into the financial management of the industry. Government has to find a way of making agriculture pay a fair wage to the custodians of our countryside. We should also have a ‘Fair Trade’ scheme for UK farmers which cuts out parasitic ‘middlemen’ and forces the supermarkets to deal directly with them and pay them a sensible price.

    Back to the badgers though, would it not make sense to have a Europe-wide cattle vacination program? If it covered all of Europe it would eliminate the prevailing nonsense about Tb anitbodies indicating that a national herd had been exposed to Tb and the associated export bans.

    It could also be applied to all the other diseases that lead to mass livestock slaughter and export bans, mad cow disease, foot and mouth, blue tongue virus etc etc. Cattle vaccine development could then be a sensible and lucrative direction for the biotech industry rather than the great GM swindle! I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

    • argylesock says:

      I’m sure you’re familiar with the Fairtrade Foundation. Its FAQ page http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/what_is_fairtrade/faqs.aspx answers the question, ‘Why doesn’t the FAIRTRADE Mark apply to UK farmers?’

      ‘The FAIRTRADE Mark was established specifically to support the most disadvantaged producers in the world by using trade as a tool for sustainable development. We do recognise that many farmers in the UK face similar issues as farmers elsewhere, not least ensuring that they get a decent return for upholding social and environmental standards in their production. However there are also some major differences. For example, farmers in developing countries often have little infrastructural support, social security systems or other safety nets available if they cannot get a fair price for their products. Our Fairtrade standards, and our expertise, are specifically focused on enabling producers in developing countries tackle poverty through trade. If the Foundation diverted its own attention from this mission, this could potentially end up diluting the benefits of Fairtrade for the very farmers and workers we were established to support.

      ‘We agree that the principles behind fair trade may provide useful insight into the debate on improving the situation for UK producers. The Foundation is not convinced, however, that a labelling scheme is the right solution to the problems affecting UK farmers. A plethora of similar sounding labelling initiatives could result in confusion for consumers and undermine both the local cause and the global situation we care so deeply about. Rather than yet another label, the Foundation believes a more rigorous investigation by government and the industry itself is needed. This should look into the causes behind the problems being experienced by domestic producers, so that more robust and wide reaching policy tools can be identified – to benefit all affected farmers, and to reassure all concerned shoppers.’

    • argylesock says:

      You have a point about supermarkets mistreating farmers, in Britain and elsewhere. That deserves at least one blog post of its own. So does your idea about managing livestock diseases across Europe, instead of nationally.

  4. Pingback: Badgers still aren’t being shot | Science on the Land

  5. Pingback: Cuts to red tape in British agriculture | Science on the Land

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