Rethink Bovine TB

Rethink Bovine TB

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Time for a Rethink

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Thu, October 18, 2012 18:27:17


1.       BTB poses negligible risk to human health in the UK.   The current policy has a greater adverse effect on cattle welfare than the disease could.


2.       The existing test and cull regime would take decades to achieve OTF status, if it ever did, whatever is done or not done to badgers.


3.       The “skin test” is only suitable as a herd test.   It misses far too many cattle (and condemns too many falsely) to be very effective in finding infected individuals and removing them from the herd.


4.       It is widely said that countries which have achieved OTF status have addressed any wildlife reservoir.   It is conveniently forgotten (by those wanting to slaughter wildlife) that the two examples they choose most often, Australia and USA, have used the skin test as a herd test – if one reactor is found the whole herd, however large, is slaughtered.


5.       Most importantly cattle vaccination must be allowed.    It could be used alone or alongside any other policies and methods.   The vaccine and the accompanying test could be licensed this year with the political will.


6.       Only EU law prevents cattle vaccination, and EU law over rules ours.   Defra claim that it would take 5 years to change.   They have been saying this for as long as anyone can remember and there is little evidence of efforts to actually change it.   Other authorities say it could be changed very quickly.   The French and Italians would probably just ignore it.    It is intolerable that we cannot use vaccines to protect our cattle and the interests of our farmers against BTB.   The reason for the EU prohibition, interference with the skin test, is no longer relevant as a different test would be used on vaccinated cattle.

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One in five herds could still harbour infection

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Thu, October 18, 2012 18:23:19
Defra-funded) research ( has confirmed just how unreliable the skin test is. The RethinkbTB discussion paper (page 7, 'Why test and cull is not working') makes similar conclusions but the latest research makes it even more unreliable. It is this 'imperfect' test that is the backbone of the existing system. Clearly it is not good enough. 
Scientists at Cambridge have used mathematical tools to develop models for estimating the efficiency of cattle-based controls for bovine tuberculosis (bTB). 
The models built by the team represent an advance over previous models as they are informed directly by extensive data on reported incidence and spread of the disease, rather than expert opinion. Importantly, they provide a first estimate of the quantity of infection missed by cattle testing and the contribution of this hidden burden of infection to the persistence of bTB within herds.
Applied to recent data, the models suggest that around one in five of British herds that have been cleared of restrictions, following testing for bTB, may harbour the infection. It also points to a higher incidence, and faster spread, of the disease in large herds. The research focuses on the cattle-to-cattle transmission of bTB within herds.
“Many aspects of bTB, and its transmission, remain a mystery – and it’s long been known that the protocol and testing methods used to diagnose the disease are far from perfect. One of our models suggests that up to 21 per cent of herds may be harbouring infection after being cleared from movement restrictions,” said James Wood, Alborada Professor of Equine and Farm Animal Science at Cambridge University.
“However, our models also estimate a high rate of re-introduction of infection into herds, particularly in high incidence areas. This rate of re-infection is high enough that even if improvements in testing eliminated the hidden burden of infection, rates of recurrence would not be reduced.”

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“Culling badgers could increase the problem of TB in cattle”

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Thu, October 18, 2012 18:16:00

Following the last minute advice from some of the leading scientists in the field that the proposed badger cull may make matters worse, Rethink Bovine TB has again called for the vaccination of cattle to commence.  

The vaccine (BCG) used for many decades on humans against the human strain of TB is ready for licensing for cattle, along with a test able to distinguish between infected and vaccinated cattle.

Only two obstacles stand in the way.   EU law forbids vaccination of cattle against Bovine TB, and because of this Defra have failed to carry out field trials to complete the licensing process.

Michael Ritchie, spokesman for Rethink Bovine TB said that “Defra seem to have got completely bogged down in a deadly mixture of their own and the EU’s bureaucratic inertia”.   “The new Defra Ministers have a unique opportunity to make a real difference to cattle farming in England and Wales by standing up to their officials and to Brussels.   With the political will we could be vaccinating cattle within months”

Defra admit that recent research indicates a protective effect for BCG of between 56% and 68%.   This vastly outperforms the most optimistic estimates for badger culling.(1)   No vaccine is perfect – the object when vaccinating herds is to give the herd a level of combined immunity which slows the spread of the disease until it reaches zero.   Cattle vaccination could be used alongside almost any other policies, including the vaccination of badgers which is underway in Pembrokeshire now that the Welsh Government has abandoned plans for a badger cull.

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Could DEFRA be pushing harder?

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Thu, October 18, 2012 18:14:31

Michael Ritchie, spokesman, Rethink Bovine TB writes:

"The only significant obstacle to a cattle TB vaccine is EU law, which forbids vaccination against BTB because it may interfere with the (woefully inaccurate) skin test. For this reason DEFRA has developed a test able to differentiate between vaccinated and infected cattle, the DIVA test.

"In 2010 DEFRA stated that it aimed to have BCG and the DIVA test licensed by 2012 but that "due to the need to change EU legislation which is a lengthy process we anticipate that a cattle vaccine and DIVA test could not be used in the field before 2015".

"It is now 2012 and both BCG and the DIVA test are ready to licence, but DEFRA is vaguely stating that use is "many years away". Why the change from 2015? It is because DEFRA is hoping that proposed new EU animal health legislation will allow vaccination.

"It is not clear what steps, if any, DEFRA has taken to change the law or get a derogation during the years it has been developing the vaccine. It is equally perplexing that DEFRA is just hoping that a major redraft of EU law will provide the solution, rather than demanding that existing law is changed and changed urgently to allow cattle farmers to protect their stock.

"Earlier this year DEFRA asked the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to licence the DIVA test. DEFRA was caught unawares when the OIE demanded UK field trials, trials that DEFRA claims it cannot do because use of the vaccine in the UK is illegal.

"There the matter is stuck - the vaccine is ready to licence but illegal to use. The DIVA test removes the reason vaccination is illegal, making the law pointless. But the DIVA test cannot be licensed until the vaccine is legal.

"What is now needed is nothing more than a strong DEFRA minister who will put an end to this farce and order officials to find solutions - not create more bureaucratic muddles - so as to deploy cattle vaccination without delay."

Extracted from Farmers Weekly article at

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BCG Cattle Vaccination

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Thu, October 18, 2012 18:10:31

Bovine TB and Cattle Vaccination


While vaccination is the response to most infectious diseases, with cattle and Bovine TB it is the one weapon in the disease management armoury which has yet to be deployed.


A vaccine against Bovine TB for cattle (along with the associated DIVA test which differentiates between infected and vaccinated animals) has been developed and is ready to licence, but is held up by regulatory and European legal obstacles.   Meanwhile farmers are being misled into believing that cattle vaccination is many years away.

Following a meeting of interested organisations and individuals the following Declaration has been put to Owen Patterson the new DEFRA Minister:


"Now that a cattle vaccine is ready for licensing, we are convinced that the only way to control bovine TB and hence avoid the devastating and costly current Bovine TB policy is to vaccinate all bovine animals and where necessary wildlife.


We therefore call on the Government to take immediate action to eliminate all legal and political obstacles preventing farmers from vaccinating their cattle against Bovine TB.


We represent a cross section of scientists, veterinarians, farmers and conservationists concerned about the impact of bovine TB on the farming industry and countryside."


We await his response with interest.


Yours faithfully


Nigel Finch, farmer, Gloucestershire

Kate McNeil, farmer, Yorkshire

Jean and Keith Morgan, farmers, Carmarthenshire

Steve Jones, farmer, stockman and lecturer on ethical farming, Glos

Peter Pennington Legh, farmer, Wiltshire

Cliff and Maureen Carnell        Farmers, Carmarthenshire

Chris and Mary Wheeler    Farmers, Pembrokeshire

Rebecca Hosking                    Farms for the Future

Dr Mark Jones, vet and Executive Director of Humane Society International

Brian Davies, Founder, Network for Animals

Sally Hall, campainging for the right to vaccinate cattle

Lorraine Platt, Founder, Blue Badger

Dr. Chris Cheeseman, Ecologist

Dr. Gordon McGlone, Chief Executive, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

Celia Thomas, Farmer and Chair of Pembrokeshire Against the Cull

Jeff Hayden,  Finance Director for the Badger Trust

Michael Ritchie,  Rethink Bovine TB

Lucy Borde,  Brock Vaccination

Chris Skinner, Norfolk farmer, conservationist and broadcaster

Carole Youngs, Smallholder Series

Wenda Shehata, cattle owners, East Sussex

Jean and Keith Morgan, farmers, Carmarthenshire 

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Boxster - the truth behind the bull

Bovine TBPosted by Susan Hooper Sat, June 16, 2012 14:19:19

There are not many cattle owners that dare to challenge Defra over bovine TB testing. This is the story of one very determined family who did fight back. Their story reveals just how badly families and their animals can treated by those whose only concern is to follow policy and procedures, whatever the consequences. All they wanted was for Defra to authorise a retest as the blood test on their pedigree champion bull, Boxster, had not been carried out properly. When Boxster was declared a reactor, they fought hard to get the retest but ended up embroiled in a legal case. 'Boxster's story; the truth behind the bull' tells of the hard and costly battle and its effects on the family. It reveals blunders, coverups and lies. Even when they won their case the family continued to be intimidated and the legal fees they were awarded ended up being significantly reduced. The treatment the family and their animals received at the hands of officials will be familiar to many who have to endure continuous bTB testing. Few dare complain as they did.  

£12, including postage and packing from

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Liver Fluke

Bovine TBPosted by Michael Ritchie Mon, May 28, 2012 16:28:29
It has been known for some time that the skin test for BTB loses sensitivity when cattle are infected with liver fluke. In a paper published last week (Fasciola hepatica is associated with the failure to detect bovine tuberculosis in dairy cattle) it is claimed that the loss of sensitivity may be so high that one third of infected cattle are not being detected in areas with high liver fluke occurrence. The authors go on to suggest that this may be causing entire areas, not just individual cattle or herds, to be falsely deemed of low incidence, with resultant spread of infection.

Rethink suggest that a further factor in the spread of BTB has been unmasked – the unwillingness of Defra to consider evidence if it upsets established views. Instead of hurrying to study the paper and consider the implications, Defra have (according to the BBC ) dismissed the research adding:

"The absence of positive cases of bovine TB in some areas co-inciding with large amounts of liver fluke cannot be used to claim liver fluke is hiding cases, as cattle carcasses are inspected in abattoirs and we would see evidence of TB in the slaughtered animals if this was the case."

If they had read the paper they would realise that is only part of the argument, and anyway other work quoted by the authors has suggested lesions may also be suppressed.

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Recognise the Obvious

Bovine TBPosted by Michael Ritchie Fri, May 18, 2012 20:07:46

The Farmers Guardian held an online debate on BTB and badger culling today. Most of the argument was repetition of wildly varied statistics of unclear origin and attempts to reinterpret the RBCT findings.

Several contributors tried to get cattle vaccination into the discussion, with limited effect. Few seem to recognise the obvious - if you are trying to reduce disease in cattle, you start with the cattle and that means vaccination as well as rigorous movement controls.

Some of us are left with the impression that the obsessive concentration on badgers by unions and government is a decoy from the real issues.

Why are the farming unions not demanding that EU law (which takes precedence over ours) banning cattle vaccination against BTB be repealed immediately, clearing the way for use of the BCG cattle vaccine and the DIVA test as soon as they are licensed?

Even a voluntary scheme would reduce the number of cattle seized from farmers, without any adverse effects. Ask the Ethiopians who are already using cattle BCG vaccine as they cannot afford, economically or politically, to slaughter cattle unnecessarily.

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