Caroline Allen

Caroline Allen

Monday, 9 March 2015

No evidence that badger culling has contributed to bTB reductions.

A recent letter from vets with a vested interest in the badger cull claimed that the culls had resulted in a reduction in bTB.
I am a signatory to this letter which explains why these claims are highly dangerous and misleading:

IN their letter entitled ‘Bovine TB in the pilot badger cull zone in Gloucestershire’ (VR, February 21, 2015, vol 176, p 208), Blowey and others claim that data derived from veterinary practices serving some farmers within the pilot badger cull zone in Gloucestershire show significant declines in bovine TB reactors. They appear to suggest the pilot badger culls may have resulted in dramatic reductions in TB in cattle. Mr Blowey has subsequently been quoted as saying ‘I can think of no other reason other than the culling of infected badgers as to why there should be such a decrease in the level of bovine TB in the county’.
Within a couple of days of the letter’s publication, Secretary of State for Environment Liz Truss announced at the National Farmers Union’s (NFS) Annual Conference that, if re-elected, the Conservative Party would roll out badger culling more widely. NFU president, Meurig Raymond, made reference to the data in his response to the announcement.
To infer benefits from badger culling through the dissemination of this kind of data is highly dangerous, particularly when it might be used in a policy context. By the Government’s own admission, the pilot badger culls were never intended to examine their effects on TB in cattle; they were designed to evaluate whether culling could be conducted effectively (in terms of reducing badger populations by a predetermined proportion) and humanely (Defra 2011a). Independent analysts have concluded that the pilot culls have failed on both counts (IEP 2014).
The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) remains the only source of credible scientific data on the impact of culling badgers on TB in cattle in the UK (ISG 2007). Data generated from the RBCT suggests it is extremely unlikely any substantial reductions in TB in cattle would have resulted from the pilot culls following two years of culling. Even had the pilot culls been carried out according to the proactive culling protocols employed during the RBCT (which they were not), the Meeting of Scientific Experts held at Defra on April 4, 2011 concluded that ‘benefits [from culling] would accrue over time and would be relatively small (if any) in earlier years’ (Defra 2011b).
The analysis by Blowey and others provides no control data against which the claimed reductions can be compared and takes no account of the fact that significant changes to the rules on cattle testing and movement have been introduced in recent years. Indeed, it fails to consider whether the claimed reduction in reactors within the cull zone reflects wider reductions across the county or region over the same period.
Examination of TB incidence data for Gloucestershire reveals a rapidly reducing recent trend, from 1922 reactors in 2012, to 1622 in 2013, and 993 in the year to November 2014; this trend is reflected across counties in the west of England, such as Dorset, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, where no badger culls have taken place (Defra 2014).
Furthermore, the analysis by Blowey and others infers a benefit from badger culling by considering data from a subpopulation of cattle within the Gloucestershire cull zone, which reportedly consists of only 7 per cent of the county’s land area. Their analysis makes no effort to compare these data with data from the edge of the cull zone where any negative impacts of culling are most likely to be seen. Their assumption that their data enable them to ‘allay the fears of those who allege that the current cull will lead to an increase in bovine TB’ fails to recognise that, during the RBCT, reductions in cattle TB within cull zones were offset by increases around the edge. In addition, it must be considered that the apparent reduction in the number of reactors in herds already under restriction and presumably following previous removal of reactors is not surprising.
The data presented by Blowey and others also compare reactors slaughtered at different times of year. It is widely accepted that there is significant seasonal variation in reactor numbers. The data also considers numbers of individual reactors, when most studies have used a reduction in the rate of herd breakdowns as an indicator of success. An examination of the trend in new herd breakdowns reveals a far less dramatic trend in TB incidence across Gloucestershire.
Any reduction in the incidence and prevalence of TB in cattle is of course to be welcomed. However, the use of a selective, incomplete and uncontrolled data analysis to infer a dramatic claimed impact of badger culling, which flies in the face of established scientific evidence, does not inspire confidence.
The Coalition Agreement promised a ‘science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis’ (HM Government 2010). The data presented by Blowey and others, and the conclusions they draw, do not represent a ‘science-led’ approach and should form no part of the evidence base on which future policy in relation to badger control is considered.

Caroline Allen, 226-228 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 3AP
Fiona Dalzell, Merivale 8146, Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
Bronwen Eastwood, Wilbury Veterinary Surgery, 20 Wilbury Avenue, Hove, East Sussex BN3 6HR
Richard Edwards, Foxfield, Slindon Bottom Road, Fontwell, West Sussex BN18 0SN
Phill Elliott, 9 Hunt Road, Earls Colne, Essex CO6 2NX
Geoffrey Hale, Geraldine Hale, Empress Business Centre, 380 Chester Road, Manchester M16 9EA
Mark Jones, c/o Born Free Doundation, Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood
Road, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 4QP
Andrew Knight, 189 Liberty Place, Sheepcote Street, Birmingham B16 8JZ
Jo Lewis, 138 Chobham Road, Sunningdale, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 0HU
Iain McGill, 81 Stanmer Park Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 7JL
Andre Menache, Flat 5, 49 Granville Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1HB
Peter Southgate, 61 Ferry Road, Sudbourne, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2BJ
Paul Torgerson, University of Zurich, Section of Epidemiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

References
DEFRA (2011a). The Government’s policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69463/pb13691-bovinetb-policy-statement.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2015
DEFRA (2011b). Bovine TB - Key conclusions from the meeting of scientific experts, held at Defra on 4th April 2011. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2015
DEFRA (2014). Incidence of TB in cattle in Great Britain – statistical notice. https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain
HM GOVERNMENT (2010). The Coalition: our programme for government. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/78977/coalition_programme_for_government.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2015
IEP (2014). Pilot Badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire: Report by the Independent Expert Panel. www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300382/independent-expert-panel-report.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2015

ISG (2007). Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence. A Science Base for a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle. http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/isg/report/final_report.pdf. Accessed February 3, 2015

Saturday, 17 January 2015

No Excuses Left for Supporting the Failed Badger Cull

I am a signatory to this letter from a group of vets who oppose the badger cull. It has been sent to the BVA (British Veterinary Association). 
It provides a good update of where we are now in terms of the ever mounting evidence against the cull, vindicating those of us who said- from the very beginning- that this cull would be a dismal failure resulting only in animal suffering and millions of wasted pounds.
Surely the BVA, and others, must now see sense and accept they made a terrible mistake in supporting the cull.

Dear Mr Blackwell,

Second year of pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire.

As you will be aware, on 18th December 2014 the government published the results1 from the second year of badger shooting in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire which took place under its Policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England2

The Government’s own results clearly show the second year of shooting has once again failed to deliver the required objectives for either effectiveness or humaneness, and the Government has failed to implement further independent analysis of the resulting data. Meanwhile, cattle measures introduced in Wales3 and across parts of England are resulting in significant reductions in bovine tuberculosis in cattle4.

We therefore strongly urge the British Veterinary Association, for the sake of its scientific, professional and public credibility, to withdraw its support for both controlled shooting as a method of badger control, and for the control policy itself.

Effectiveness:
The numbers of badgers reportedly killed during the second year of culling were 341 in Somerset, and 274 in Gloucestershire.
On the basis of advice from DEFRA5 Natural England set ranges for target numbers for the second year of culls with very low minimum levels. Some said this was a deliberate ploy to make them easier to reach, so the Government could claim the culls to have been ‘effective’. In the event, in West Somerset the cull company just managed to achieve the minimum target, whereas in Gloucestershire the cull company failed to reach half of the minimum target.

Taking the median point of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP)’s preferred estimated ranges for the populations of badgers present in the two zones before the pilot culls began in Autumn 2013 and making no account for recruitment through births or immigration since, the cull companies have, after two years of shooting including significantly extended periods in the first year, killed an estimated 59% of the original median estimated population in Somerset, and 54% of that in
Gloucestershire.

The Government’s Policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England, under which the pilot culls were set up, specifically required that a minimum of 70% of the initial population be removed in not more than six weeks of culling in the first year, and that culling in subsequent years should “maintain the badger population at the reduced level achieved through culling in the first year”.

These requirements were broadly based on the outcomes of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT)7, which was recognised by the meeting of key scientific experts8 convened by Government in July 2011 as providing the best scientific evidence available on which to predict the effects of any future badger culling policy. Those experts also stated that “the more that a future culling policy
deviates from the conditions of the RBCT… the more likely it is that the effects of that policy will differ”.

What has taken place over the past two years in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire is very far removed from what took place during the RBCT. Clearly the pilot culls have failed to deliver an effective cull, and any assumptions about the likely benefits from culling (in terms of reduced bovine TB risk to cattle) based on the outcomes of the RBCT cannot be considered valid.


Humaneness:
In its assessment of the first year of shooting in the pilot zones6, the IEP decided that in order to be considered ‘humane’, fewer than 5% of badgers targeted by controlled shooting should take more than 5 minutes to die. Following the first year of culling, the Panel concluded that “It is extremely likely that between 7.4% and 22.8% of badgers that were shot at were still alive after 5 min, and therefore at risk of experiencing marked pain. We are concerned at the potential for suffering that these figures imply.”

The Panel went on to recommend that, if culling was to be continued, standards of humaneness must be improved.

In the second year of culling, the Government removed the IEP, and instead published its own analysis of humaneness monitoring carried out by its own agencies9.
The data showed that of 63 controlled shooting incidents observed by Natural England monitors, 82.5% were shot once and retrieved, 8% had to be shot more than once, and 9.5% were not retrieved. In addition, of some 234 shot badgers that were subjected to post mortem examination, 17% did not have ‘major thoracic damage’ (as would be expected if they had been hit in the target area), and were hit outwith the target area, leading to associated concerns relating to extended time-to-death and associated suffering. It is notable that the majority of reported post mortems on badgers from shoots that were not observed did not have ‘major firearm injury identified in the thorax’10.

The methodologies employed by observers and the categorisation of observed outcomes, are not identical between the first and second years of culling, making direct comparisons more difficult, and therefore compromising our ability to establish whether or not the improvements in humaneness recommended by the IEP were been achieved in the second year.

However, pending the BVA’s own evaluations, we have provided some simple comparisons in the table below:

2013 pilot culls outcomes from 88 observed shooting events as per IEP protocol
Category
Description
Number of badgers
Proportion of observed incidents
A
shot at and observed continuously with thermal imaging equipment
until the last movement (which was taken as the time at which the animal died)
69
78.4%
B
shot at  and escaped  but their  carcasses were subsequently
retrieved. These animals were not observed continuously between the shot and last movement but death was determined from responses  tested when  the carcass was found
9
10.2%
C
shot at and escaped, and their carcasses were not subsequently
retrieved.  Consequently, these  animals were observed only for a limited  period after the shot
10
11.4%
2014 pilot culls outcomes from 63 observed shooting events as per Natural England data

Badger shot and retrieved (single shot)
52
82.5%

Badger shot and retrieved (multiple shot)
5
7.9%

Badger shot at but not retrieved
6
9.5%

It should be noted that while some further details of the behaviour of observed animals is given in Natural England’s report of the second year of culling, time to death is not estimated for those
animals that did not die instantly.

Clearly little has changed between the first and second year of culling, and the humaneness criteria established by the IEP have once again not been satisfied.


Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice:
While largely ignoring wider independent scientific opinion, much store seems to have been placed by Government on advice received from its own Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO). Indeed the controversial extensions to the first year’s culls were granted on the basis of unreferenced advice from the CVO.

In his assessment following the second year of culling11, the CVO stated that the outcomes in Somerset suggested that culling could “deliver the level of effectiveness required to be confident of achieving disease control benefits”.

The CVO seems to have abandoned the assumption in the Government’s policy, and Natural England’s licence conditions, that to be effective the culls were
required to deliver a 70% reduction in the badger population over a 6 week period in the first year, and that in subsequent years the numbers culled should “maintain the badger population at the reduced level achieved through culling in the first year”.
He also seems to have ignored advice the Government received from the meeting of key scientific experts convened in July 2011 detailed above.

In reference to humaneness, the CVO stated “Based on the evidence of two annual culls, my view is that the likelihood of suffering in badgers culled by controlled shooting remains comparable with the range of outcomes reported when other culling activities, currently accepted by society, have been assessed, such as deer shooting.” The CVO has made no effort to analyse whether the IEP’s requirement that “If culling is continued in the pilot areas… humaneness must be improved” has been met. Indeed the CVO appears to have abandoned the humaneness criteria set out by the IEP, and has instead reverted to simplistic comparisons to ‘other culling activities’, which involve very different animals and take place in very different circumstances, and are, as such, irrelevant to these considerations. He also fails to provide any evidence on which his assertion that the ‘other culling activities’ to which he alludes are ‘currently accepted by society’ – without good evidence we do not think this is an assumption the CVO is in any position to make.


BVA position:
In its Position on Second Year of Badger Cull Pilots in England published on 23rd July 201412, the BVA made it clear that its continued support for controlled shooting was conditional on the implementation of the IEP’s recommendations for improving effectiveness and humaneness, and that it “will make its own assessment of whether this [improvement in humaneness and effectiveness] has been achieved after the conclusion of the second year of the pilots before we could
support either the further use or wider roll-out of culling using controlled shooting”. The BVA also stated that “we continue to call upon the Secretary of State to put in place independent analysis in order to give confidence to the wider public”.

Quite clearly, the second year of culling has failed to deliver improvements to either the effectiveness of the culls or the humaneness of controlled shooting. Attempts by Government to blame the lack of effectiveness in Gloucestershire on “extensive unlawful protest and intimidation” have been refuted by the Gloucestershire Constabulary13
.
The BVA’s position of support for badger culling, and controlled shooting as a method of badger culling, does not reflect a consensus position within the BVA’s membership or among its member associations14.

With the second year of culling having failed to demonstrate any improvements in effectiveness or humaneness, and with the failure of Government to put in place the independent analysis called for by the Association, the BVA must now withdraw its support for the continuation of the pilot culls in future years, or the roll-out of culling across new areas.

Any other position would, in our view, seriously undermine the BVA’s scientific, professional and public credibility.

Sincerely,
Marc Abraham BVM&S MRCVS CEVA Special Recognition Award for Animal Welfare 2012.
Caroline Allen MA VetMB CertSAM MRCVS.
Fiona Dalzell BVSc BA (Hons) MRCVS.
Bronwen Eastwood BSc (hons) BVetMed CertGP (SAP) MRCVS.
Richard Edwards MSc, MA, VetMB, MRCVS.
Phill Elliott BVM&S MSc MRCVS.
Geoffrey Hale BVSc MA MSB CBiol MRCVS.
Geraldine Hale BVM&S PhD CertPM MRCVS.,
Mark Jones BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS.
Andrew Knight BSc (Vet Biol) BVMS Cert AW DipECAWBM (AWSEL) PhD MRCVS FOCAE.
Lewis BSc BVMS (hons) MRCVS.
Alastair MacMillan BVSc MSc PhD FRCPath MRCVS, former RSPCA Chief Scientific Officer.
Iain McGill BSc (hons) BVetMed MRCVS.
Andre Menache BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS.
Richard Saunders BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS CertZooMed DZooMed (Mammalian) CBiol MSB.
Peter Southgate BVetMed MSc MRCVS.
Paul Torgerson PhD DECVPH VetMB MRCVS, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Zurich.

1
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-measures-to-strengthen-bovine-tb-strategy.pdf 
2
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69463/pb13691-bovinetbpolicy-statement.pdf
3
http://wales.gov.uk/docs/drah/publications/140908tbhistoryen.pdf
4
http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/environmentandcountryside/2014/140815tb/?lang=en
5
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/347536/badger-cullsetting-min-max-numbers-2014.pdf
6
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/300382/independentexpert-panel-report.pdf 
7
http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20081107201922/http:/defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/culling/index.html 
8
http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404.pdf
9
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388649/annex-b-nehumaneness-monitoring.pdf 
11
12
http://www.bva.co.uk/uploadedFiles/Content/News,_campaigns_and_policies/Newsroom/Press_release_archive/BVA%20position%20on%20second%20year%20of%20badger%20cull%20pilots%2023%20July%202014.pdf 
13 
Simon Masters, Media and Communications Advisor for the Gloucestershire Constabulary released astatement on 18/12/14 saying: “There was not extensive criminal protest in Gloucestershire, there were only three arrests from criminal offences during the entire period of the cull and most protect activity was conducted lawfully. The offence of trespass is a civil offence. All reports made to Gloucestershire Constabulary of intimidation and harassment have been fully investigated and there are no prosecutions pending.”
1

Giving Animals a Voice.

I am delighted to be selected to continue in the role of Green Party Spokesperson on Animals, as part of a new slate of spokespeople announced last week.

This is a position I have held for a number of years and one that I believe is very important.
The Green Party has strong policies on animal protection and this is an issue I know very many people care passionately about.

I resolve to continue to highlight and campaign against cruelty to animals in all its forms, to support relevant campaigns and publicise the strong Green Party policies in this area.



With Natalie Bennet and Jenny Jones and World Animal Protection. We have supported their campaigns, in particular on funding of the Wildlife Crime Unit.
I've been heavily involved in campaigning against the badger cull, both as a Green and one of the 'Vets Against the Badger Cull', I've been interviewed on issues as diverse as Campylobacter in chickens and responsible pet ownership and lent my support and that of the Green Party to issues such as CCTV in slaughterhouses, tackling puppy farming, ending greyhound racing, opposing hunting and grouse shooting and opposing factory farming. Our European Election Animal Protection manifesto was very well received and out General Election one is in progress.

Out with the Wounded Badger Patrol in Gloucestershire.
Its been great to see the growth of Greens for Animal Protection, with more than 2500 likes on Facebook and more than 8000 followers on Twitter. We have plans for further expansion of this group which will  enable us to continue to grow and share important campaign information both within the Green Party and beyond. Many thanks are due to the team behind the scenes.

On the Badger March.

The is always a tension and frustration for me in this role as I know there is much, much more than could and should be done. However this is a voluntary role and I do work full time as a vet, which means I sometimes have to turn down opportunities to attend interviews, events etc. and on occasion an emergency at work can mean the best laid plans get upset. On balance though I think it is vital that politics is not dominated by the independently wealthy and people who have never held a proper job. I also think that my professional expertise and experience at the coal face is really useful in this role.

I look forward to continuing to ensure animals have a voice in this General Election and beyond.

Visiting Battersea Dogs and Cats Home with Jean Lambert MEP.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Fairer Fares and a Nationalised Railway.

Yesterday I joined Greens, including the party Leader Natalie Bennett, at Kings Cross. We joined other rail campaigners to highlight this year's fare rises and call for re-nationalisation of our railways and a cut in fares.


Greens were out across London, from Finsbury Park to Croydon, London Bridge to Stratford and at many more stations. Thanks to everyone who turned out early and in cold weather.
Ticket prices across the network increased by an average of 5% yesterday. The planned rise is above the level of inflation and follows successive years of ticket price increases. .

The Green Party believes that public services should be run for the benefit of the people that use them, not to make big profits for the people who happen to own them
We would increase the investment in our railways to cut ticket prices and would bring the entire network back into public hands, making sure that it delivers a quality and affordable service to passengers.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas has a Private Members Bill calling for the railways to be brought back into public ownership to parliament. Shamefully Labour refuses to back this highly popular call, preferring instead a meaningless fudge where a nationalised company could bid against private companies for a franchise. .

Friday, 28 November 2014

Why do we tolerate contaminated chicken?

Last night I was on LBC radio speaking about the latest in a string of food scandals. This time the focus is on factory farmed chicken.

This followed the publication of  this article in the Guardian, reporting on the shock findings of Food Standards Agency who have shown that 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from UK supermarkets this summer were contaminated with the food-poisoning bacteria campylobacter. 

Campylobacter infection causes more than 280,000 cases of illness per year, yet this figure is likely to be the tip of the iceberg due to many people not reporting food poisoning symptoms. 

One hundred deaths per year have been attributed to the bug, yet not a single supermarket chain is meeting national targets over the issue and is there no sign that the Government intends to take serious action.

This report is a national scandal and it is shocking that rather then deal with the factors that lead
to our food being dangerously contaminated, it is the consumer who is supposed to take responsibility for ensuring they don't get poisoned. Advice regarding cooking and hygiene is all very well but why are we tolerating this situation in our food chain? High levels of campylobacter are not a given in poultry production, far from it.

The fact that 90% of these chickens that end up in our supermarkets came from the factory farms of just five producers shows us very clearly where the blame lies. There is plenty of research in to the risk factors for campylobacter, but the cost cutting of the large food companies once again leaves the consumer and the tax payer paying the true price of cheap food. 

Intensive factory farms are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria- over-crowded animal sheds
and stressed, suffering animals sitting in their own faeces. Transport and slaughter is all about speed, efficiency and cost cutting; allowing the bacteria to further spread unchecked. Antibiotics are definitely not the answer as there is already evidence of use of certain antibiotics on poultry farms contributing to resistant strains of Campylobacter in people. 

Just as with the horse meat scandal this is clear example that our food system is broken and in need fundamental reform and repair. The old argument about food prices and that people want cheap chicken will no doubt be trotted out. Are we really saying that it is ok to sell not just unhealthy, but potentially dangerous, food to people because they have a low income? I would argue that not only do we need to ensure the hidden subsidies that unhealthy food receive are removed and divert to producing healthy food, but also we need to ensure that people are paid a living wage to allow them to buy food that does not damage their health.

The Government must ensure proper funding for investigations into these repeated food safety outbreaks and fines must be sufficient to act as a deterrent. Cuts to the FSA must be reversed so they can take a larger role in protecting our health. We must hold the producers to account but ultimately we need to change our system of food production. 
Industrialisation and factory farming is a system that produces unhealthy food, causes animal suffering, cost for the NHS, environmental damage, pollution and inefficient use of resources. The only winners are the big businesses who now control our food system and make the profits.
It is time to relocalise our food production, shift support to small scale farmers and act over unfair supermarket practices.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Supporting Demands for Free Education

The Green Party believes that higher education is a public good that should be funded by the Government and taxes. We oppose tuition fees, the only party to do so.

Greens support a business education tax levied on the top 4% of UK companies which would generate enough annually to abolish tuition fees and increase UK investment in higher education - while still keeping the UK's main corporation tax below that of France, Japan and the US.

Young Greens have been campaigning on this issue and I was glad to be able to my support at the Free Education march and rally in London.

With Young Greens and Green Party Deputy Leaders- Amelia Womack and Shahrar Ali.

I benefited enormously from six years of tuition fee education enabling me to follow my dream and become a vet. Coming from a family where no one had previously been to university I suspect that massive fees-even with the payment delayed- would have influenced my decision of what to study. Now I am seeing how the massive debts of newly qualified vets is limiting their choices and having a wider effect on the profession.

Aside from tuition fees the changes in our higher education system that are commodifying higher education and turning universities into businesses first and centres of learning second must be resisted.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Letter to the Prime Minister on bTB and the Badger Cull.

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

6  November 2014

Dear Prime Minister

Bovine tuberculosis control

We are concerned that whilst Wales has nearly halved the number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) over the last five years, there has been little change to the levels of bTB in England during this time.

Wales has reduced the number of cattle slaughtered per annum from 11,671 in 2009 to 6,102 in 2013 and the decline is continuing.  Similarly the number of new herd incidents in Wales since 2008/09 has reduced by approximately 36%.

The Welsh Assembly Government has achieved this reduction by undertaking a) a TB Health Check in 2008/09 which established with accuracy the level of infection across all the cattle in Wales in the shortest period of time; b) imposing strict annual testing and mandatory pre-movement testing across the whole of Wales since 2010 and c) enforcing robust biosecurity, among other cattle-focussed measures.

By contrast, the UK Government and Defra have expended considerable time, effort and resources on the promotion and implementation of badger culling, as a means of controlling bTB in England.  Furthermore, the modus operandi for badger culling adopted by Defra is markedly different from the protocol used in the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT). From the information available so far it is not clear whether the forecast net reduction of 12-16% in new herd incidence of bTB over the next nine years will be achieved or how this will be measured.  

While Defra has been steadily increasing the areas under annual and pre-movement testing in the South West and West of England since 2009, these measures were only extended across all the counties in the High Risk and Edge Areas in 2013.  It is important to note that in the West Region of England, which has been under annual and pre-movement testing since 2010/11, the number of cattle slaughtered due to bTB fell by 12% between 2012 and 2013 and this decline is continuing in 2014.                                                                                           

However, unlike Wales, England still has substantial parts of the country, with significant cattle populations, under a four yearly testing interval and not subject to mandatory premovement testing in what is termed the Low Risk Area.  Under this testing regime there is no way of accurately knowing what the disease status of the so called Low Risk Area actually is and there is a high probability of onward transmission of undetected disease

In addition, the high profile and significant resources directed at the badger cull by Defra appears to have led to a belief among many in the livestock industry, the NFU and farmers that such strict cattle measures are not necessary to control bTB.

If we are to control bTB in England, as Wales is showing it is able to do, we consider that a fundamental change in emphasis and direction is needed.  The time, effort and resources directed at the badger cull should be re-directed into a) a TB Health Check for England to establish the true extent and distribution of the disease in our cattle herds; b) considerably more testing in the Low Risk Area with the implementation of nationwide annual testing and c) the introduction of mandatory pre-movement testing and risk-based trading across the whole country.

At the same time the livestock industry, NFU and farmers must be made aware that such cattle controls are essential if bTB control is to be achieved. 

We therefore urge that no further badger culling takes place and that Defra now moves swiftly to implement an intensive cattle testing programme, as detailed above, across the whole of England.  Only then will the UK begin to achieve the substantial reduction in bTB that we all wish to see.  If it would be of any assistance to discuss these matters further representatives from the signatories would very much welcome the opportunity to do so.

We enclose with this letter an Appendix setting out the information and data submitted in support of the matters raised above.

Yours sincerely

List of signatories:

Marc Abraham  BVM&S MRCVS CEVA Special Recognition Award for Animal Welfare 2012. Grove Lodge Veterinary Group, 21 Southwick Street, Southwick, Brighton BN42 4AD

Caroline Allen  MA VetMB CertSAM MRCVS. 226-228 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 3AP

Heather Bacon BSc (Hons) BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS. 20/3 St Peters Place, Edinburgh EH3 9PQ Professor

Tim Blackburn, Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment, Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, Darwin Building Room 118, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Jan Bayley, Animal Welfare Group, Ashmead House, 3 The Common, Siddington, Cirencester, Glos, GL7 6EY

Chris Cheeseman BSc (Hons), PhD, St Annes, Brownshill, Stroud, Glos. GL6 8AP

Tim Coulson, PhD, BSc, Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK

Fiona Dalzell  BVSc BA (Hons) MRCVS. P.O. Box 36714, Merivale 8146, Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dr Sarah M Durant, Theme leader People, Wildlife and Ecosystems, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY, UK

Bronwen Eastwood  BSc (hons) BVetMed CertGP (SAP) MRCVS. Wilbury Veterinary Surgery, 20 Wilbury Avenue, Hove BN3 6HR

Richard Edwards MSc, MA, VetMB, MRCVS. Foxfield, Slindon Bottom Road, Fontwell, West Sussex BN18 0SN

Phill Elliott  BVM&S MSc MRCVS. 9 Hunt Rd, Earls Colne, Essex CO6 2NX Nigel Finch FIAgrE, Farmer, Vice President CRAG, Woodlands, Chedworth, Cheltenham, GL34 4NT

Tim Hounsome  BSc (Hons), MRes, PhD., MBOU, MCIEEM. 3 Lower Swainswick Cottages, Gloucester Road, Bath, BA1 7AR

Mark Jones  BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS   Born Free Foundation, Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road, Horsham, W Sussex RH12 4QP

Andrew Knight  BSc (Vet Biol) BVMS Cert AW DipECAWBM (AWSEL) PhD MRCVS FOCAE. 189 Liberty Place, Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8JZ

Jo Lewis  BSc BVMS (Hons) MRCVS. 138 Chobham Rd, Sunningdale, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 0HU

Iain McGill BSc (hons) BVetMed MRCVS. 81 Stanmer Park Road, Brighton, BN1 7JL

Alastair MacMillan   BVSc MSc PhD FRCPath MRCVS, former RSPCA Chief Scientific Officer. Pointers, West Chiltington Rd, Pulborough, W Sussex RH20 2EE

Andre Menache   BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS. Flat 5, 49 Granville Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1HB

Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY

Timothy J.Roper  MA PhD. Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QG.

Richard Saunders  BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS CertZooMed DZooMed (Mammalian) CBiol MSB. 33 Cleeve Road, Bristol BS4 2JR

Peter Southgate  BVetMed MSc MRCVS. 61 Ferry Road, Sudbourne, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2BJ

Paul Torgerson  PhD DECVPH VetMB MRCVS, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Zurich. Section of Epidemiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurestrasse, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Prof Rosie Woodroffe, Institute of Zoology, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, UK