Posts Tagged ‘Independent Expert Panel’

Government attempt to bury badger bad news over Christmas

December 18, 2014

Government attempt to bury badger bad news over Christmas

The Government today has released the results of the 2014 badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

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In a clear attempt to bury bad news over Christmas, the report paints a picture of a disastrous policy which has clearly failed on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.

Although 341 badgers were killed in Somerset which met the minimum target figure, the target has been criticised as “rubbish” and “unbelievably easy” by a leading expert. Only 274 were killed in Gloucestershire from a minimum target of 615.

Commenting on the publication of the report Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild said:

“Despite spending millions of pounds of tax payers money the DEFRA Chief Veterinary Officer admits for the first time today that the badger cull is failing.

Despite the many recommendations of the Independent Expert Panel from 2013, the standards of training and competence of the cull contractors continues to fall short, badger cull targets have not been met in Gloucestershire and many badgers have taken up to 5 minutes to suffer long painful deaths.

A recent MORI poll showed that badger culling was the fifth most common issue of complaint to MPs in the last 12 months.

This was backed up by a ComRes poll from the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild that shows 9 out of 10 people believe badger culling is cruel and should stop in favour of cattle based measures to reduce the spread of bovine TB.

It’s now time for the Government to admit it has got it wrong and bring an end to this disastrous cruel policy once and for all.

It should now follow the example of Wales and introduce annual TB testing for cattle combined with tighter bio security and cattle control movements, with compliance linked to CAP single payments for farmers. This policy has delivered a 48% drop in the number of cattle slaughtered for TB in Wales in the last 5 years without killing any badgers at all.

Courtesy of a recent Badger Trust press release.

A recent article in the Guardian newspaper by Steve Backshall is certainly worth a read as it calls for the cattle TB vaccination being tested in Ethiopia to be brought to the UK for field trials as soon as possible.

The fact that the European commission has put in place a 10-year timetable for its approved use in relation to meat and dairy exports to the EU has the potential to cause disquiet amongst those with strong opinions of UK membership of the EU?

Despite poor results Liz Truss is determined to keep culling!  Read the report Bovine TB: summary of badger control monitoring during 2014

At what point, one might ask should Ministers be accountable for failing to deliver as well as the exceptional costs in terms of funding the failure in times of austerity measures?

So, it seems that the comedy of errors is to be compounded with “carry on regardless” approach to “the greenest Government (n)ever” evidence based policies?

Greenblobpride

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Defra’s in the news again ….

November 19, 2014

Defra Admits Only 6% of New TB Outbreaks Caused By Badgers, While TB Rates Continue to Drop Outside Cull Zones

Continuing reductions in the rate of bovine TB (bTB) in the south west of England – outside the badger cull zones – have been revealed, alongside a bombshell from Defra’s Chief Scientist who admitted this week that research says only 6% of new bTB outbreaks come directly from badgers.

At a TB conference hosted by the National Farmers’ Union on Monday, Professor Ian Boyd told farmers in no uncertain terms that it is cattle, not badgers, which are the key cause of the spread of bovine TB. To a hostile audience, he quoted from Imperial College research that says only 5.7% of TB infections in cattle were as a result of direct infection from badgers.

He also stated that bovine TB will never be completely eradicated and that more regular testing, improved TB tests and tighter movement controls were key to reducing the spread of the disease.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said “We welcome the DEFRA Chief Scientist’s statements at the NFU TB conference. Despite the howls of protest from some in the audience, it was absolutely critical that he laid the finger of blame for a majority of TB transmissions at cattle and not badgers.

It’s a great shame it has taken Ian Boyd four and a half years to accept the inconvenient truth. For too long he was willing to put politics above science and play the badger blame game. This has resulted in tens of millions of pounds of public money being wasted on a disastrous badger cull which has failed on scientific and humaneness grounds. Hopefully this means that at last the Government is moving its focus to the livestock industry where the long term solution to bovine TB reduction lies, rather than the pointless destruction of our precious wildlife.”

New bTB figures are also showing evidence that a focus on cattle, not badgers, is the way to beat the disease. Most of the West region of England was moved to annual and pre-movement testing in 2010/11. This is a policy which tends to lead to an initial spike in the number of animals slaughtered for TB, as more are found to be carrying the disease due to increased testing, followed by a drop in the figures as the benefit of removing the sick animals kicks in.

Figures show:

• A drop of 12% in the number of bTB cattle slaughtered in the West Region from 2012 to 2013 (prior to the badger culls taking place)

• A drop of 14% in the same area between Jan and August 2014

The West Region covers the whole of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Avon, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Hereford & Worcs, Warwickshire, West Midlands and the Isles of Scilly.

Meanwhile in Wales, where the focus has been on cattle measures, not badger culling, for five years, bTB rates continue to fall:

• The number of new herd incidents (39) reported this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.

• The number of cattle slaughtered (264) this month is the lowest ever recorded in any month since 2008.

Dominic Dyer added: “These reductions clearly show that an increased testing intensity is working in removing infected animals and reducing the rate of onward transmission and new infections. While everyone has been focusing on badger culling, they’ve missed the fact that over the last 20 months there has been a steady decline of the disease in the West Region.

“The UK government seemed reluctant to bring in more frequent and better testing in England, but it’s clearly paying off. While we need to be careful of making short-term judgments based on statistics, the drop in bTB rates in the West is becoming clear, as it’s been happening for 20 months, not just this year as is being claimed. The focus on cattle, as is also being shown dramatically in Wales, is paying off, and that’s where we must continue to concentrate our effort.

“Any claim that the badger cull is having an impact on these figures cannot be taken seriously, as the cull zones are a tiny part of the whole area. The NFU has dismissed claims that the vaccination of badgers in Wales has had an impact on the reduction of TB rates there, because the area is too small, and it’s too soon for it to have had an effect. Exactly the same goes for the cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire – any impact on bTB will not be shown in these figures – this is a success of cattle-based measures, pure and simple.”

After Ian Boyd’s statement on Monday, the NFU have called for the management of bTB to be taken out of the political arena, with an independent body in charge of the policy. Dominic Dyer said:

“We agree that the UK’s bTB policy should be non-political, but it’s ironic that the NFU are calling for this now that the government seem to be disagreeing with them. We’ve said all along that beating bTB must be based on science, not on politics. But bTB policy impacts on a lot of people, not just farmers – a case in point is the £10 million price tag to the tax payer for the 2013 cull. So anyone making the decisions should be accountable to the British public.”

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The suggestion of an ‘Independent body’, what a wonderful idea but one might be forgiven for asking why the Independent Expert Panel was ‘sacked’ or why the offer for a 2014 one was also declined by Defra?  A wider remit independent body might also be encouraged to look at lack lustre biosecurity measures which cause innumerable issues, the clean up of which is oft passed to the public purse rather than those actually responsible?  The idea of accountability to the public would also be a laudable ambition, but that would also need to apply to the politicians who are courted by capitalism and who sadly appear bereft of care or concern for the natural environment beyond its usefulness as a resource.

Greenblobpride

 

Defra has confirmed a case of avian flu in a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire.

On 16 November Defra confirmed a case of avian flu (bird flu) in a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire. The strain has now been confirmed as H5N8, which is a very low risk to human health and no risk to the food chain.

Reminiscences of Ministers eating burgers?  Images of politicians eating duck pate produced from these birds at agri-industry PR events then?

Selective reporting by Defra again …. this time on the true cost of 2013 badger cull

November 16, 2014

Leaked figures from Defra published on Friday last week have revealed the cost of the 2013 badger cull – but missed out £3.5 million spent on policing the operation.

Badger & mayweed

The front page of Friday’s Daily Telegraph reported that each badger killed during last year’s cull cost £3000, with 1,879 badgers being killed at the cost of £6.3 million. However, a glaring omission from the figures is the £3.5m cost of policing the cull. When this is added on, the cost per badger is actually £5,200.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust and Policy Advisor Care for the Wild, said: “If every badger killed last year cost the taxpayer£3000, that would be a horrendous waste of money on a policy that leading scientists say won’t work. But the reality is that every badger killed actually cost £5,200 – and that is simply beyond belief.

“The government claim they have to do something as bovine TB costs the country a lot of money, and they say that ‘doing nothing is not an option’. But just over the border in Wales, they have looked at the problem, thoroughly tested their cattle so they really understand how many actually have the illness, and brought in more frequent testing and better movement controls. By doing that, they have brought down the number of cattle slaughtered for bTB by 48% in five years. Wales has a policy that is far from doing nothing, and is actually working. England has a policy that is inhumane, unscientific and is throwing money down the drain.”

The cost of policing was included in Defra’s cost/benefit analysis prior to the 2013 cull, so should clearly be included in the cost of the cull. Defra had to pay for the policing costs, charged to them from the Home Office, so the true cost of the cull is much higher than has been reported.

What is it about selective reporting by politicians …. anyone might be forgiven for remembering that there is a General Election in 171 days? What offers are there on the table from any political party with a credible record of open transparent conduct, are there any with principles who put people and the natural environment before profit?

Lest we forget that these trial culls are set to continue for a further two years, with no Independent Expert Panel to monitor the process …. did Cameron once assert to being the “Greenest Government ever”?  Then business and the establishment decided to get rid of “green …. ” and revert to “greenest never”.

Greenblobpride

 

 

Defra …. fit for purpose following recent revised (again) bTB data?

September 14, 2014

Defra have recently released

Revisions to bovine TB statistics – September 2014

This two page document, is certainly worth scrutinising and makes quite astonishing reading with errors in Government reporting ranging from 27% to 233%.  Civil servants and Ministers might be tempted to blame IT systems but surely, ultimately it is they who were responsible for ensuring that at the start of the programme everything should have been beyond question and fit for purpose to evidence, openly and transparently, demonstrate robust methodology and professional delivery through humane practice with quality assurance in terms of reporting outcomes and outputs?  I suppose the words “should have” are sadly no longer applicable to Government Departments which are an inconvenience to the “higher politics” of political agendas influenced by industry advocates?

This is the most recent revision, released very quitely and something which appears to be an ongoing trend and something which raises the issue of a Government agency ability to provide accurate figures.  Perhaps this inability to accurately record data is one of the reasons that the new Minister Liz Truss has not reinstated the Independent Expert Panel?  No there is clear need for independence then one might reasonably expect their recall?

We can offer no better analysis that that provided by Miles King on his excellent blog posted today which concludes:

  • We obviously cannot believe anything Defra statistics say about the extent of Bovine TB breakdowns, or the trend in breakdowns.
  • Defra are trying to cover up their monumental statistical cock-up.
  • The very data used to justify the Badger Cull is so badly flawed that Natural England must reconsider whether the Cull can be allowed, given the rules that determine its legality.

One might wonder if a critical mass of correspondence were to make its way to Ministers and indeed local MPs on environmental issues then we might collectively bring about reform?

To that end I have written through my constituency MP to the Minister Liz Truss, I will keep you posted on any replies received.  If all readers were to do similar then perhaps …. just perhaps as a General Elections looms?

Thus far an expenditure of around £7.29m for just two areas and what has it achieved so far, flawed data, inhumane practice ….

The Wildlife Trusts and others are calling for more work to be done on vaccination programmes and the public have got behind that approach and made substantive donations to appeals.  Badger Vaccination Report 2011 – 13 clearly demonstrates an effective option which good science and logic would reason ought to be part of the tool kit operated to effect resolution of this problem?

Badger & mayweed

I recently tried to locate a copy of the 1997 Kreb’s Report , “Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers” via the Defra website only to learn that the full report was not available.  An executive summary page was available.  A sceptic might be forgiven for wondering why Defra would no longer wish to make that document publically available?  Their website does indicate that a full report is available in the Defra library, it does not indicate how one would obtain a copy!

Not to be deterred, Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers Report to the Rt Hon Dr Jack Cunningham MP  (1997) can still be located with persistence.

There is an epetition calling upon Liz Truss – call an immediate end to the badger cull, which readers might like to consider signing after they’ve penned some ‘poetic prose’ perhaps to their parliamentary representatives?  I suspect that sadly this petition may (no pun intended) go the same way as did Sir Brian’s, but that should not stop us campaigning?

Finally for this post …. to add the heartening news that the Badger Trust have been successful in their application to the High Court to appeal the Administrative Court decsion that the Minister Liz Truss and Natural England acted lawfully and that legitimate expectation was not binding upon the Minister or NE.

‘Moor’ badgering after Administrative Court rejects Badger Trust’s application?

August 31, 2014

Badger Trust court challenge rejected, but serious concerns remain over continuation of pilot culls

One might wonder what the atmosphere will be like at the Badger Trust Annual Meeting this coming week?  The gathering comes on the back of the reject rejection by the Administrative Court to permit the Trust to move to JR Natural England and the Minister Liz Truss.

Badger & mayweed

On 29 August the Administrative Court handed down its judgment in Badger Trust’s judicial review of the Secretary of State’s decision to continue the pilot culls without independent oversight.

In line with the precautionary approach adopted by the Secretary of State during the development and implementation of the policy, Badger Trust had understood from statements made by her predecessors that an Independent Expert Panel (IEP) would oversee, and analyse the results from, the pilot culls until a final decision was made on whether or not to roll out the culls to other areas.

However, despite the IEP finding [seven reports] that the first year of the pilot culls failed (by a significant margin) to achieve appropriate standards of both effectiveness and humaneness, the Secretary of State decided to continue the pilot culls with a view to a future roll-out, but without independent oversight to ensure such standards can actually be met. The Badger Trust therefore brought proceedings to prevent the Secretary of State from breaking her promise.

The Administrative Court has today found that, as a matter of law, the Secretary of State’s assurances did not amount to an enforceable legitimate expectation. However, the Court also rejected the Secretary of State’s attempt to argue that if there was a legitimate expectation she had properly considered whether she could resile from it.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust, commented:

“The Trust is considering its options in respect of an appeal against the Court’s decision. However, this judgment does not detract from the serious public concerns over the continuation of the cull, including the most recent leaks regarding potentially unlawful and unsafe activity undertaken by culling contractors during the 2013 culls. Given the indisputable failure of the 2013 culls, the still unresolved issues regarding safety and the significant uncertainty over the numbers of badgers to be killed in 2014, the only sensible option for the Secretary of State is to call a halt to these pilots, and the potentially unnecessary and inhumane deaths of hundreds of badgers.

“However, if she is not willing to do so, we call on Ms Truss to reinstate the IEP. As Counsel for the Trust, David Wolfe QC, observed during the hearing, the Secretary of State is not just moving the goal posts, but has banished the independent referee from the pitch. Whatever happens during the second year of the culls, in the absence of the IEP, it will be impossible to trust any findings supporting a wider roll out, not least because this is already clearly the preferred option of the Secretary of State.”

 

A case might be made that such a decision simply evidences that politicians are not particularly honourable when it comes to ‘promises’ and reasonable expactations of ‘normal’ people.  Why would a Government not want to monitor with robust science the impact and outcomes of trials?  The 2013 culls were a failure, the evidence coming out of Wales recently is demonstrating more efficient and cost effective options, so one might be forgiven for asking what on earth is actually behind the politicians motivation and why are they so obstinately sett in their ways?

As this post is being written the Badger Trust will be holding its annual conference at the University of Wales in Pontypridd from the 29th to 31st August.

The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales Professor Christianne Glossop, will be the opening speaker at a special session of the conference on the morning of Friday 29 August to focus on how the Welsh Government is tackling the bovine TB epidemic by a comprehensive approach including annual testing of cattle, strict biosecurity measures, movement control and a badger vaccination programme, with a longer term objective to also implement the use of TB cattle vaccines. This opening session will be attended by representatives from Badger Trust groups, conservationists and wildlife organisations and landowners and farmers.

By holding the event in Wales the Badger Trust is aiming to focus attention on the alternative strategy of the Welsh Government for eradicating bovine TB without culling badgers. This strategy is proving increasingly successful with the latest statistics collated by DEFRA showing an 18% drop in new Bovine TB incidents in cattle in Wales over the last 12 months to May 2014, the lowest level for six years.

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Moving goalposts and independent referees …. is democracy is at risk when there is no accountability nor credible science applied to decisions made (reputedly on the public’s behalf)?  

 

 

Natural England authorise ‘moor’ badger culls ….

August 26, 2014

We have just received the astonishing news that the agency responsible for advice to government on nature conservation matters have approved the next tranche of badger culls.  This despite the findings of the Government Independent Expert Panel findings and ahead of the outcome of the Badger Trust’s application to Judicially Review NE and the Minister Liz Truss MP.  See post of 21 August for details.  As Roderick Leslie commented on a Mark Avery post recently of Natural England – after all, what’s the point of having these useless, obstructive quangos if they can’t be thrust out on the end of the toasting fork at awkward moments ? 

 

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As a result Up to 1876 Badgers Targeted as New Culls Given the Green Light

Badger culling could resume in Gloucestershire and Somerset at any time now after the go-ahead by the government body, Natural England, today.

‘Letters of authorisation’ have been issued to allow cullers to kill badgers in the two counties. The letters stipulate that between 615 and 1091 badgers must be killed in Gloucestershire, and between 316 and 785 in Somerset.

Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild, said:

“As we speak, the High Court is still contemplating the Badger Trust legal challenge against the cull, so I consider Natural England have jumped the gun. At the same time, there is now a criminal investigation taking place by the police regarding reports of contractors who stalked badgers with loaded weapons on a golf course and close to residential housing. In the circumstances I fail to understand why the government feels it is acceptable to re-start the culls while these issues are unanswered. Confidence in the ability of badger culling to actually solve the problem of bTB was already low, but recently it has also collapsed in terms of humaneness and of public safety. It is now an utter shambles but it is apparent that there is a determination to proceed, come what may.

“Meanwhile in Wales, they have reduced bovine TB by 50% in five years, a figure farmers in England would be ecstatic about. But this has taken place without a badger cull, with the emphasis on farming measures and, crucially, annual testing of cattle – because you cannot beat the disease if you do not know how many cows have bTB. The Welsh government have made it clear that this is the reason for their success – but the National Farmers’ Union here in England refuse to do annual testing because they claim it costs too much. Yet they were prepared to spend £10m last year on killing 1861 badgers, and they are about to do the same again. It is a failure of judgement, a failed policy and it will fail their own members, the farmers who desperately need an effective solution.”

“The number of badgers to be killed also raises concerns, said Dyer, both because of the way numbers were counted last year, and also because of the alleged falsification of hair trap data (used to count the number of badgers) by AHVLA contractors last year – a story recently reported in the Sunday Times.

“Last year, the government estimated the total number of badgers in the two areas completely incorrectly – that is what led to Owen Paterson claiming the badgers had moved the goalposts. So how are we supposed to have any confidence that they have the numbers right this year? The number to be shot will be a percentage of the total number in the area – but if they have that wrong again, there is a danger of causing local extinctions. Ultimately though, these are sentient animals that are being slaughtered for a policy that simply will not work.”

Beleagured Badgers in Somerset & Gloucestershire still, but no roll out elsewhere ….

April 4, 2014

At long last …. the Government, through Defra have published the Independent Expert Panel’s Report on the Pilot Badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.  The Report  was presented to the Secretary of State Owen Paterson in March 2014.  It was apparently leaked ahead of the Parliamentary debate by the Backbench Business Committee through the Commons Select Committee on 13 March.  Pro-badger cull MPs boycott vote as Government loses 219 to 1, so will those who provaricated citing the need to read the findings now act to bring the debate back to Parliament and a free vote on whether or not more public money should be wasted on an inhumane and ineffective, unscientific cull?  Consider also the cost of the cull, per badger, and in times of cuts in public services – can we afford it when there are alternatives?

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By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Panel were appointed in 2012 and despite the findings of the Panel it appears that Owen Paterson still intends to continue the two pilot culls, only this time they will not be monitored.  This from a Minister who is reported to seek evidence based science.  This despite the cost per animal, this despite the IEP findings that the cull was inhumane and ineffective.  Perhaps a glimmer of hope on the horizon is the announcement that there is some £24.6m to be invested over the course of this parliament in the development of effective TB vaccines for both cattle and badgers.

The NFU are reported to be ‘bitterley disappointed’.  Surely they can appreciate the predicament that they are placing farmers who have ‘closed herds’ in, as well as those who practice good biosecurity?   Perhaps it is the role of such Unions generally to represent the masses rather than promote effective best practice?  This continued persecution of a much loved icon of the British countryside will not help the public perception of farmers who prefer to work with rather than persecute nature.  The agricultural welfare scheme (aka CAP) is not just there to subsidise monoculture across the countryside but to fund good environmental practice, and surely it is not beyond the wit of man as a scientist to develop and achieve an effective compromise?

What is perhaps aseonishing is the fact that the Minister does not deem it appropriate or necessary that there is a need for monitoring of the culls.  Prof Rosie Woodroffe of the  Institute of Zoology commented on that aspect: “I’m disappointed that this year’s culls will lack the independent oversight needed to provide confidence”.  A case could be made that this is a Goverment lacking in evidence based policy from a Minister and Department where such scince ought to be at the forefront of decisions? 

Another potential negative spin off consequential of the continuing cull  in Somerset and Gloucestershire, might be a drop in tourism – might the public think twice about visiting an area where its farmers do not value its wildlife?  Somerset Brie is delicious, it is a quality product that deserves our support, but for me at the moment at any rate there is a principle based on sound science and at the moment the Minister appears rather muddled?

bTB can be devastating, no one doubts that and there is understanding and sympathy for farmers who have lost herds to the disease. Generations of breeding over years whiped out in an instant.

Together, a collaborative coalition can achieve compromise, but continued culling is only likely to cause more problems than it resolves?

 

 


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