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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Help the RSPCA save British Badgers!

The RSPCA is asking for the publics help to stop the government ordering a cull of Badgers in the UK. The farmers believe that badgers infect their cattle with Bovine TB, however recent scientific evidence indicates the most prevalent source of infection is from other cows! There is also evidence that a badger cull may actually spread the problem since with less badgers around their territory expands.

There is currently a public consultation by the government about the proposed culling so now is the time for us to do something about it. The deadline is 10th March 2006 so do not delay!!

This RSPCA website has links to the relevant information and who to write to/email. They even have a handy letter template to help you.

Thank you
Em

8 comments:

Averroes said...

So, the RSCPA is badgering the badger badgerers.

And there is that sophism about less badgers spreding more!

Note that the RSCPA does not seem to use their real motive. It is a perfectly reaonable motive.

Now, just for the sake of argument, lets say that a strain of bird flu arose, as it weell might, that spread easily from human to human, and a pandemic or worse was in the offing.

Now, let us suppose that Jack's chicken farm had an outbreak of this strain in its chickens. Would the RSCPA argue that it is folly to cull the chickens because most humans catch this strain from other humans?

Averroes said...

Oh--I guess i didn't make this explicit--I was trying to show that the fact that cows spread the virus easily is precisely the reason to cull. IF, for example, cows RARELY spread the virus from one to the other, there would be little reason for the cull.

See?

"In the wild," humans don't often spread anthrazx one to another. If they did, animal husbandry, animal food processing, and animal hide processing would have to be drastically changed.

Remember, the danger to a herd of cows is a product of the rate of infection from outside the herd by the rate of spread within the heard. If the latter value is high, efforts must be made to lower the former value.

Kav said...

Just a quickie (busy, busy busy)

Av, I think you misunderstand the cattle to cattle point.

The infection from cattle is not an issue with spreading within the herd. Studies have shown that the movement of cattle around the country has a more important role in spreading TB than from widlife (e.g. badgers and deer). That is not to say that they do not play a role. An important finding is that although there is confidence that cattle-to-cattle transference is dominant it is difficult to estimate the extent of badger-cattle transference, not solely beacuse of the possibility of infection from other wild sources. Similarly the spatial association between badger abundance and incidence of bTB is far from perfect. In addition it has not been ruled out that there is an environmental (immobile) source) since the disease can persist in the environment for up to a year.

The DEFRA report is quite illuminating on the subject and acknowledges that selective culling might work in some cases but the impact of cattle to cattle transfer is likely to be swamping the wildlife resevoir at the moment. It suggests that this is a direct result of mass restocking of cattle after foot and mouth and that the badger cull would have a comparatively small effect (less than the 60+/-20 % reduction found in trials in Ireland - which they suggest are not directly relevant to GB).

Here are two useful documents (both pdfs:

The review on research of bovine TB from the SAC to DEFRA

The SAC report on trial culling in the UK

Averroes said...

"Av, I think you misunderstand the cattle to cattle point."

>>Nope. The information youhave added confirms my point.

"The infection from cattle is not an issue with spreading within the herd. "

>>Wrong. The issue is that it spreads from cow to cow. That is, unless you have evidence that it only spreads from one cow to another from a different herd! The fact that cows are moved about the cpountry simply amplifies the effect. Analogously, if ebola had come to our attention 1,000 years ago, we would not be so worried as we are now, when people move rapidly around the globe. That is why we are working so hard to isolate the resoviour (thought to be chimps) and to stop transference to humans, for instance, by discouraging the eating of chimps.

In other words, my point, now expanded, is that both the ease of human to human trnsference, and the movement of humans about the world make it more critical to stop the transference from animals to humans. Likewise with your cows.

"Studies have shown that the movement of cattle around the country has a more important role in spreading TB than from widlife (e.g. badgers and deer)."

>>As you can see, this is irrelvant, really, to the argument about badgers UNLESS someone is arguing that one can do either measures aimed at stopping the spreading in cows OR stopping the spreading TO cows, but not both. From the long view, as long as the disease spreads easily from cow to cow the spread TO cows MUST be stopped, unless there is no damage from the disease. After all, we don't try to wipe out toads to stop warts.

"Similarly the spatial association between badger abundance and incidence of bTB is far from perfect."

>>Nor would one expect it to be. You did say that cows were moved. You did say tht there were other reserviour.

"the badger cull would have a comparatively small effect"

>>So long as their is no treatment of bTB in cows themselves, and once the infection numbers reach a critical mass, the culling of badgers or any other an8imal is useless. In that case, the cows themselves are an adequate reservoir.

The thought experiment here is to imagine that bTB is wiped out in cows in Britain. How could one prevent its return? By preventing contact with infected animals, of course. Now, if cows didn't efficiently transfer infection one to another, one wouldn't much mind some small rate of infection from, say, wild badgers. But under conditions where it is transfered efficiently, the situation is different, UNLESS one is willing to sacrifice whole herds to contain the infection. Add in that cows are moved about......

Part of my reaction was the feeling that this is more about saving the badger than anything else. Do you suppose that we would have the same outcry if the vector was the black widow spider?

Now, if i can get my pdf thingy working, I'll go ahead and read the links....

Averroes said...

OK, I read the first one, and all i can say is that the writers must consider their target audience complet idiots. I presume that the udience is the government, and so theyjight be right. It has many painfully obvious gems in it that should go without saying. For example, they note that generally, the resu8lts of the Irish culling trials may not be found in trials in GB because the conditions may not be the same.

Duh!

For instance (and they actually hint at this), if the badgers next to your cows are completely uninfected, then culling them will have no effect!

Here's the thing: as i suggested, they are talking about "re-infection." They note that re-infection is coming from cows. They note that something ought to be done about it.

But this is not an argument against doing something about re-infection from badgers!

They also hint at a general characteristic of mycobacter infections. In general, mycobacter are extremely slow-growing, which means that they tend to cause long term infections which can be asymptomatic for long periods and which can evade tests, that treatment is difficult and long-term, since most anti-biotics depend on cell growth and so, in herd situations (or ghettos), eradication of the infection may be difficult.

Thus, re-infection must be avoided at all costs. They suggest several things which must be done. Telling for both their attitude and the truth of what they say is this:

"There is now firm evidence that the incidence of bTB is substantially
increased by cattle movements, both locally and over long distances
(probably as a result of direct cattle-to-cattle transmission). Precautionary
measures to reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission need to be considered as
a matter of urgency."

Gee, this was known back in the relative dark ages when i first learned about this organism. (That's decades ago.)

Aditionally, they note that in areas where there is transference between badgers and cattle, there should be animal husbandry and security measures to prevent contact! Hasn't anyone thought of that yet?

The bottom line is that it is silly to cull badgers to prevent re-infection if you are going to introduce infected cattle into disease-free herds. i have to agree with that one.

Interestingly, no one has taken the zide of the badgers, who, after all, are suffering from the introduction of an allopathic illness themselves, and should be calling for the culling of the offending species.

For the cattle biz, the question is the cost/benefit analysis of preventing re-infection from any souce. If my country is any indication, pseudo-environmentalists will try to make the cost of culling badgers so high that if can't be done.

It is just important to be reasonable about these things. Proper is to take any and all measures possible to prevent re-infection. But it is also reasonable to make a slogan of "Not one more badger than necessary" and to look for alternate ways (some mentioned, such as vaccination) to reduce the disease in the badgers.

One might also encourage vegetarianism.

Kav said...

Averroes: OK, I read the first one, and all i can say is that the writers must consider their target audience complet idiots. I presume that the udience is the government, and so theyjight be right.

Bingo.

It has many painfully obvious gems in it that should go without saying. For example, they note that generally, the resu8lts of the Irish culling trials may not be found in trials in GB because the conditions may not be the same.

sometimes one has to spell out the obvious to people who are determined to be seen to be doing something based upon any back-up evidence they can aquire. ;-)

Gee, this was known back in the relative dark ages when i first learned about this organism. (That's decades ago.)

yep but is doesn't stop enough dumb people from not actually taking the necessary steps.

Aditionally, they note that in areas where there is transference between badgers and cattle, there should be animal husbandry and security measures to prevent contact! Hasn't anyone thought of that yet?

Mind boggling isn't it. It appears in many cases that it has not. We seem to have a culture very dependent on reactionary measures over here. I mean who would have thought that feeding sheep offal from sheep infected with Scrapie would elad to a disease in cows Okay that was unfair, but some of the things that have happened in farming over here and government response to such are truly incredible.

I should note that the increase in TB seems to have come about as a direct consequence of Foot and Mouth. Checks (that some argued were already below par) were suspended to avoid additional risk of spreading F&M by the vets and inspectors. Then they seem not to have been re-implemented quickly enough and the ensuing restocking of herds has led to this upswing in TB. On its face, it looks farcial.

The bottom line is that it is silly to cull badgers to prevent re-infection if you are going to introduce infected cattle into disease-free herds. i have to agree with that one.
Bingo!

Interestingly, no one has taken the zide of the badgers, who, after all, are suffering from the introduction of an allopathic illness themselves, and should be calling for the culling of the offending species.
Lol. I have visions of badger demonstrations, with placards. But I see your point. It lies alongside a feeling here in the UK that criticising farmers for their actions is a bad thing. I don't really understand why, is it a political power thing? Many farmers have struggled through the years and as such the entire profession has been tagged with martyrhood. An awful lot of leeway is granted even if they have been doing things wrong.

If my country is any indication, pseudo-environmentalists will try to make the cost of culling badgers so high that if can't be done.
That may well happen, but the general unpopularioty of eco-warriors may actually turn public opinion towards a cull.

It is just important to be reasonable about these things. Proper is to take any and all measures possible to prevent re-infection. But it is also reasonable to make a slogan of "Not one more badger than necessary" and to look for alternate ways (some mentioned, such as vaccination) to reduce the disease in the badgers.
I imagine that is the position that we will get into. It depends on who defines what the 'necessary' number of badgers is, the farmers, the scientists or ... who?

I do wonder whether mass vaccination might be the way to go in the long run; however it is unlikely to appease the farmers due to their desire to have an immediate effect. Of course a cull would not have an immediate effect but...

One might also encourage vegetarianism.

And what about the carrots?!!

Kav said...

>>Wrong. The issue is that it spreads from cow to cow. That is, unless you have evidence that it only spreads from one cow to another from a different herd!

Ah we are talking past each other. It is partly to do with introduction of new cows to herds and subsequent spreading.

That is why we are working so hard to isolate the resoviour (thought to be chimps) and to stop transference to humans, for instance, by discouraging the eating of chimps.
I though current understanding has pinned fruitbats as the ebola resevoir?

In other words, my point, now expanded, is that both the ease of human to human trnsference, and the movement of humans about the world make it more critical to stop the transference from animals to humans. Likewise with your cows.
Agreed with caveats. The first being that it has not been shown that badgers are the dominant source. It would be pointless to cull large numbers of badgers just to find that it was something else like deer, especially when other methods (better safeguards for one and proper testing of the cattle themselves) could cut TB more.

>>As you can see, this is irrelvant, really, to the argument about badgers UNLESS someone is arguing that one can do either measures aimed at stopping the spreading in cows OR stopping the spreading TO cows, but not both.
You see at the moment the spreading among cows is better understood and can be dealt with if the will is there. The spreading to cows is much less understood and so far the role that badgers play in this seems to be very small in the UK. Of course as you point out in the latter post, if measures are not taken to reduce spread in cows then it could then spread to the badgers and it becomes cyclical. Assuming that the badger-cow transfer is as bad as the farmers say.

Part of my reaction was the feeling that this is more about saving the badger than anything else. Do you suppose that we would have the same outcry if the vector was the black widow spider?

Undeniably so in many cases. I would be very worried if the black widow was the cause - it would mean someone had introduced them over here (shudder). Your point is well taken. the thing is that the argument does not just rest on the 'save the beautiful badger' argument. That is how I am sure the farmers will soon start framing the debate.

My problem at the moment is why there is a public consultation? What expertise are we the public bringing to the table that does not exist within advisors already?

Averroes said...

just a few notes, you being busy and all.

"It lies alongside a feeling here in the UK that criticising farmers for their actions is a bad thing. I don't really understand why, is it a political power thing? Many farmers have struggled through the years and as such the entire profession has been tagged with martyrhood. An awful lot of leeway is granted even if they have been doing things wrong."

Hey, i come from a country where ewven the most ardent free trade advocate would not dare touch farm subsidies. Fouling of the environment which would cause the entire student body of Stanford to protest outside a factory goes hardly noticed when it is done by a zillion acre farm of pigs standing shoulder to shoulder. No one attacks "the farmer." i mean, we spend millions to convince people not to use a product, tobacco, which gets subsidies!

"I imagine that is the position that we will get into. It depends on who defines what the 'necessary' number of badgers is, the farmers, the scientists or ... who?"

A committee, who will please neither the farmers nor the tree-hugging, bleeding heart badger lovers, who, i will note, will certainly try to avoid having badgters in their backyard, lest Fideaux get mauled.

"I do wonder whether mass vaccination might be the way to go in the long run; however it is unlikely to appease the farmers due to their desire to have an immediate effect. Of course a cull would not have an immediate effect but..."

I'm not sure how good the vaccine is, how well it works in badgers, or even how easy it is to vaccinate badgers. it is probably not much of an answer.

In a way, this is like our problem here between sheepherders and wolf lovers. The former get a bit hyperexcited when one of their sheep, a pet dog, or a child is killed by a wolf. The anti-wolf cull people blame the sheepherders, saying that, after all, it is "we" that invaded the wolf's land, that killed wolf prey, and that we should learn to live "naturally" with the wolf by, say, having an extra child, if we are worried.

Meanwhile, where i grew up, out in the boondocks, farmers simply went out and shot offending animals. if they had a bad problem with some varmint, they might let it be known that their farmland (the untilled part) could be used for free hunting of the varmint--free hunting meant that the hunter did not have to take away the dead animal. many of my buddies wiled away the summer evenings shooting woodchuck (who will chuck all the farmer's wood if they become too numerous).

Somehow i never picture England as quite as rural as the hills i was borned in.

"I though current understanding has pinned fruitbats as the ebola resevoir?"

I'm not up on ebola research rigtht now, because it has the lovely charcter of killing so fast that it doesn't spread well. So, out of sight, out of mind.

However, most outbreaks are traced to the eating of primates. Now, just because ebola kills primates so quickly, primates are thought unjhlikely to be th4e ultimate reservoir (it is theoretically possible). Bats are among the most promising candidates.

"The first being that it has not been shown that badgers are the dominant source."

This doesn't matter. They simply must be shown to be a significant source. 'Significant' will mean something different for different people. Remember, our wolf naturalists think that the loss of a child or two to a wolf is not significant, but the parents do.

"It would be pointless to cull large numbers of badgers just to find that it was something else like deer, especially when other methods (better safeguards for one and proper testing of the cattle themselves) could cut TB more."

Not really. if they need cyulling, that is without regard to other species. it may be that only after culling will the extent of anotyher problem species be known, which, in turn, may need to be culled. The point is to get re-infection to zero.

Where I was up and raised, the deer population was regularly culled. it was called "hunting season." The number that needed to be culled led to the number and kind of licenses offered, and was determined by population and habitat studies each year.

If bovine TB isd a problem, EVERYTHING should be done.

"My problem at the moment is why there is a public consultation?"

Because "this England" is a thing of the public, and they way things are done in a Repuib;lic is through politics. that fact is quite frustrating sometimes to those of us who know exactly what ought to be done.

btw, the town in which i now reside has never allowed fluoridation! It is a mecca for dentists.