Bovine TB, badgers, dogs, cats & cattle politics
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2008:
(Actual publication date 11-5-08.)
LONDON Unable to persuade the public and environment secretary Hilary Benn to cull badgers to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle, the British Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs is touting findings that bovine TB is also now occurring in cats and dogs, who may pass the disease on to humans.
Bovine TB was confirmed in forty-two British cats in 2005-2007, up from 15 in the preceding seven years, according to DEFRA data released in October 2008.
Given that these cases were only identified through post mortems or clinical intervention, the data suggests far greater levels of transmission than we have previously seen, said National Farmers Union animal health and welfare advisor Catherine McLaughlin.
Until one knows with some certainty how these cats got infected, it is scary but not meaningful, responded Martin Hugh Jones, livestock moderator for the ProMed electronic bulletin board maintained by the International Society for Infectious Diseases.
How many of these 42 cats were farm cats? Jones asked. How many were suburban cats normally only getting pasteurized milk? Did they get bovine TB from cheese? Rodents? How many were enthusiastic hunters?
The Badger Trust dismissed the claims as scaremongering, reported Caroline Davies of The Observer. DEFRA attributed the rise to increased reporting since TB in cats became a notifiable disease 18 months ago. The DEFRA figures, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that the M. bovis strain was also found in 21 pigs and farmed wild boar, 25 llamas, five alpacas, three ferrets, two sheep, two goats and one dog.
The dog case, London Times countryside editor Valerie Elliot noted in September 2008, was made public only after DEFRA confirmed that it had started an investigation into how the disease had crossed species.
Both the dog and the veterinary nurse who kept the dog developed bovine TB, Elliott wrote. The woman s identity was not disclosed, said Elliott, but it is believed that she was involved in testing cattle for bovine TB.
Bovine TB is increasingly frequent among British beef and dairy herds.
Last year there were 4,137 outbreaks, a record in modern times, Elliott recounted, and 28,175 cattle were slaughtered as a result. Farmers claim that badgers spread TB by urinating on the fields grazed by cattle. Conserv-ationists, though, believe that the disease is spread between cattle themselves, and exploded only after 2001, when farmers restocked their herds after the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Four million hooved animals were slaughtered during the British effort to control foot-and-mouth, even as DEFRA refused to allow farmers to vaccinate against it.
Continental European nations that used vaccination killed just a fraction as many animals, even though the foot-and-mouth vaccination protocol requires killing the vaccinated animals too, after the disease is eradicated from the host population, to prevent false positive results in food safety testing.
Dutch and Belgian veal farmers in July 2008 began refusing to accept British calves, after learning that 12 calves shipped to the Netherlands from Britain had tested positive for bovine TB in March 2008. The Netherlands eliminated bovine TB circa 2000.
Having no other market for newborn male calves, British farmers say they are having to shoot around 3,000 animals each week, reported BBC News rural affairs correspondent Jeremy Cooke.
The Dutch and Belgian boycott and the British shootings developed after the British cabinet, on the advice of Hilary Benn, accepted the arguments of the Independent Scientific Group on TB in Cattle, which opposes culling badgers, and rejected the recommendation of former chief science advisor David King that badger culling should proceed.