With Comments of an attendee, at disputed points.
Minutes of Welsh Government meeting with Badger Trust and Badger Trust Cymru regional representatives, Monday 14th November 2016 at 2.00PM, Llwynon Room, Welsh Government Office, Merthyr
Welsh Government (WG) OfficialsJackie Price (JP), Thomas McCabe (TM), Richard Griffiths (RG), John Morris (JM) and Huw Digby (HD)
Badger Trust Cymru (BTC) representatives from the following regional Groups were present:Gordon Lumby (GL) Badger Watch and Rescue Dyfed (BWRD)
Ray Jenner (RJ) Clwyd Badger Group (CBG)
Elaine Masci (EM) Swansea Badger Group (SBG)
Michael Sharratt (MS) Marches Badger Group (MBG)
Dewi Northway (DN) Glamorgan Badger Group (GlBG)
Larry Howe (LH) Gwent Badger Group (GBG)
Peter Martin (PM) Chairman Badger Trust (BT)
Steve Clark (SC) Badger Trust Cymru (BTC)
- Welcome, introductions and matters arising
The Chair welcomed the attendees to the meeting and introductions were made. The minutes of the last meeting were agreed and action points had been completed. It was clarified that the latest dashboard had been issued to the attendees, which is a quarterly snapshot of the Bovine TB situation in Wales. JP stated that she would be happy to answer any questions on it.
JM advised that there was no update with regards to vaccine and that WG was dealing with VMD and DEFRA on how to proceed.
JP stated that there had been a workshop with ecologists, inviting fresh suggestions. Nothing new was learnt, as there is nothing specific that WG are not already doing.
Since the previous meeting a new application process has been introduced, which includes OCVO officials reviewing documents received in regards to the cattle and wildlife situation so that a disease impact assessment can be made.
An update on slurry was given, which is ongoing – a survey was undertaken, and the results are awaited.
GL questioned whether there were any restrictions on slurry in terms of environmental impact. It was advised that this was a matter for Natural Resources Wales (NRW). It was stated that there was a potential impact on the water course. It was confirmed that there was no closed season for slurry.
GL mentioned that a farmer near him had spread slurry as many as five times recently, and that NRW didn’t seem interested. JP advised that they might not be aware of the situation, and may be interested if they were.
RJ stated that certain farmers were spreading slurry every day.
RG stated that farmers may be required to refrain from spreading slurry when it is linked to spreading disease.
EM stated that disposing of slurry is problematic.
RG advised that it is a question of application method as opposed to the act.
RJ questioned how long bTB lives in slurry.
RG stated that experiments show that it can survive for up to 6 months.
MS thanked JM for the minutes of the previous meeting. It was mentioned that WG-BT meetings were much friendlier than previously. It was stated that BTC does not share any information that is not agreed by the minutes and consequently requested that the minutes be produced more swiftly.
JP advised that the minutes would be turned around in a timely manner.
EM re-iterated that she was pleased with the atmosphere of the meetings.
- Bovine TB Eradication Programme update
The Chair gave an overview of the Bovine TB Eradication Programme progress, as outlined below:
- Cabinet Secretary’s Statement
JP advised that the Cabinet Secretary’s (CS) visit to Brussels and issues with the Steel Industry had held up the statement, which was delivered on 18 October. Following the statement the text, press release and link to the consultation were circulated to the stakeholder list which includes BTC.
- Refreshed Programme Consultation
JP talked the meeting through the dashboard and the disease picture of areas. Anglesey levels are low whilst there is high incidence in the east and west. It emphasised that not everything fits every farm. WG is currently consulting on the measures in these areas. There are two high incidence areas. The incidents in the west are primarily long term breakdowns. The consultation is looking at what measures need to be applied, for example there were three new incidents in Anglesey which have been closed. Suggestions are being made on each of the regions.
The consultation is open until 10 January 2017, and all comments are invited, as everything is up for consideration. The Regional Board structure is up for negotiation. The structure of the groups will be looked at. One consideration is capping the amount paid out for any animal. The valuation of the animal won’t be less, so the difference could be made up through insurance. There are cross compliance issues, the additional measures are intended to encourage compliance, but non compliance would have a financial penalty.
JP reported that the current TB strategy runs out at the end of 2016, and a new programme will be in place by the spring of 2017.
- Chronic Breakdown Herds
JP advised that Chronic Breakdown Herds consisted of persistent and recurrent breakdowns.
RG advised that the enhanced management of persistent herds work started four years ago. This was piloted for one year in order to establish if anything had been missed. Additional tests were introduced two years ago and it became business as usual.
Herds under restrictions for 18 month or more are selected for additional measures and the case vet engages with the farmer’s own veterinary practice and the farmer to identify disease pathways and ways in which to clear up the breakdown. Additional measures such as more use of the gamma interferon test. A lot of work is being done to increase bio security. There has been a lot of success, however a lot on the left on the list now are the really difficult farms to clear up. All long term breakdown herds are in the high incidence area.
GL stated that he is a bee keeper and that on the border with England people buy bees in England, and questioned if there was restrictions on animals from England. JP advised that if animals come into Wales, then they have to abide by WG rules. RG stated that when animals come to the Royal Welsh Show, they are subject to these rules.
EM stated that English badger groups were glad of the benefits in Wales and hoped that more vaccine could be obtained. RG stated that the benefits in terms of cattle had not yet been proven. EM mentioned that English farmers are buying Welsh cattle as they are more TB free.
RG stated that there have been fewer breakdowns across Wales including within the IAA.
EM questioned how farmers react when they come off restriction. RG stated that of the long term TB cases about two thirds stay free of disease when they are clear.
JP advised that it is never easy to get farmers to change their ways. It is important to get those changes in practices applied.
GL questioned if there was any evidence of reinfection? RG advised that there may be some evidence in purchasing animals. Geno typing is often clustered.
One measure being considered in the consultation is that if cattle moved under licence subsequently go down with TB, the farmer only gets 50% of their value. This is in an attempt to restrict cattle movement.
JP stated that some farmers say that they have done everything that has been asked of them, but that they still can’t get rid of TB where wildlife needs looking into.
RG said that there is lots of data on clear testing animals. Animals that have inconclusive results are more at risk of going down with TB – we are currently considering how to deal with IR’s going forward.
WG use APHA as an audit for TB testing by OV’s, so there is more transparency. Years ago there was just a reactive response, but now it is proactive. RG advised that there is a lot more Gamma Interferon testing being done.
JP advised that statistics are released on a monthly basis.
GL advised that there was an article in the Cambrian News where the NFU claim that there is a 38% increase in the number of animals culled. GL stated that he had tried to get an article in the paper, but they didn’t print it. There was a decrease in number of herds under restrictions during the period. It was asked if this information has been given to the NFU. JP confirmed that this was the case.
RG said that the overall goal was to remove bTB.
RG reported that WG had not gone down the zoning route, but does allow cattle movements.
JP stated that WG had a lot to do, which included holding meetings with various wildlife groups between now and the end of December.
It had been said by the CS that in a small number of breakdowns it would be necessary to look at the wildlife element.
JP said that there would be a checklist of evidence for all to agree with, and it will need the support of wildlife groups. JP said that there will be action plans for all holdings. It was also mentioned that badgers were implicated in disease spread in a very small number of long term breakdown herds.
It was reported that case vets say what is causing TB, but very few cite badgers. Where it is evidenced that badgers are part of the problem, it will be necessary to determine if the badgers on the farm have TB through an evidence based approach. EM asked how many farms this would involve. JP advised that it would be about 12 possibly, to start with.
MS questioned the science review of the programme, and that they felt pushed to one side. TM stated that there are three regional boards and that the Wildlife Trust is on board, but there is a need to possibly add more specific groups. The CS will be looking at problem herds.
JP reiterated that there are three regional boards and WG updates APHA who co-ordinated the boards which is beneficial, the boards should be industry led.
MS reiterated that they feel pushed to one side. JP said that WG are here now to include them and to take on board their views.
The TB Programme board consists of Professor Chris Gaskell1, a farmer from Pembrokeshire and a vet from Devon are the three people appointed board members. In addition the Regional Board Chairs attend in an observer capacity as does the Chair of the Animal Health and Welfare Framework Group. The Regional boards may be publicly appointed in the future, depending on the outcome of the consultation.
EM suggested that farmers are educated as well as vets. RG advised that Cymorth TB was there to help farmers. The tendering period for wellbeing and support and business advice to farmers has now closed, contract has been awarded and farmers can now avail themselves of this service, funded by WG. The livelihoods of some individuals are at risk. 100+ vets have been trained in in Wales.
JP stated that WG will require support from the wildlife groups and know their area of support. There should also be criteria to follow when considering what interventions with wildlife are needed
RJ commented that WG had vaccinated badgers for four years in the IAA and asked if it is possible to tell if a badger has been vaccinated or has TB. JP confirmed that this was the case.
TM advised that a selected cull would identify the affected animals in a timely manner. The test to be imposed will be a Dual Path Platform (DPP) test which will allow a differentiation between those vaccinated and not. Other laboratory blood tests will be available however this would mean holding the animal or marking and recapturing it, which is not an ideal option for US. (?)
(the Word CULL was never mentioned at that point in the meeting.) RJ. 27/02/2017
30% of animals captured are re-captured. TM stated that farmers are continuing to work with DEFRA and APHA. TM discussed the availability of vaccine – the Danish manufacturer is selling the plant to a Saudi Arabian company, the sale is still going forwards. They will continue the vaccine part of the business, but the upkeep and maintenance of the factory is not good. EM questioned if vaccine could be obtained anywhere else. TM advised that it is possible to get the vaccine from different manufacturers, but they are of a different strain. WG is currently looking at the options. Currently the company is dealing with a human vaccine order which it will prioritise. No vaccination will take place in 2017, but hopefully it will be in 2018. In the interim it may be possible to source alternative vaccine from Bulgaria. It is approved vaccine, but it may be in different dosages, application and packaging.
RJ asked about Test, Vaccinate and Release (TVR), JP advised that we were not currently doing that.
(That is NOT my recollection of the proceedings,Otherwise WHY would alternative sources of vaccine be discussed…ie Bulgaria as a supply source ? ) RJ 27/02/2017
MS questioned if APHA had said that 4 years vaccination in the IAA was enough. JP advised that the modelling work done by APHA had confirmed that this was the case and that the bulk benefit had been realised in 4 years. An alternative would be to go to year 6. The vaccine programme lasted 4 years as opposed to 5. TM advised that the original work was to apply vaccine over 5 years as a badger lifespan is 3 to 5 years. It was advised that the modelling work will be updated on the website in due course. It was reported that for every year vaccination is carried out, there is a benefit.
TM stated that no decision has been made as what to do in the absence of vaccine. It was advised that WG WOULD NOT EXPECT TO TAKE OUT LARGE NUMBERS OF BADGERS. (sic)
GL stated that he had two concerns if TVR was progressed, that it would give the suggestion of a cull, and may influence farmers to start culling the badgers. TM advised that WG would not condone that. JP advised that the CS had ruled out an England style widespread cull. JP also advised that the CS statement did not suggest that farmers dealt with the badgers themselves. This project would be Government as opposed to industry led.
JP advised the meeting that the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) was asked about culling in a meeting of the Regional Board as they wanted to lobby the CS. The CVO ascertained if they wanted to wholesale kill badgers and they responded that they did not, they only wanted to target the infected ones. This demonstrates that they are not entirely clear about what they are asking for. Ultimately farmers will see WG deal with the badgers on their land.
DN ascertained if WG was asking for support from wildlife group on long term breakdown farms and when the badgers are infected that they are dispatched. JP confirmed that this was the case.
DN advised that BTC would not obstruct WG from dispatching infected badgers.
(BUT NOT GROUPS OF UNTESTED BADGERS ) RJ. 27/02/2017
RJ stated that it was better to euthanize as opposed to releasing badgers that were established to be carrying the disease.
( ESTABLISHED, NOT SUSPECTED OF.) RJ 27/02/2017.
TM advised that it has never been brought to the attention of WG that farmers have been culling. WG operations are not meant to encourage that.
MS stated that the problem with the scientific group led by Professor Bourne need to concentrate on the cattle. JP advised that WG is doing that with cattle controls. 11,500 herds is a fraction – 9,700 cattle were culled between 1 August 2015 and 25 July 2016.
EM stated that it was a myth that vaccination is carried out annually as it doesn’t work according to some farmers.
TM advised that the badgers would be individually marked. In the areas that this work is undertaken the badgers will be anaesthetised in order to carry out the testing.
EM ascertained how the culling of some badgers would be combated. TM advised that only infected badgers would be dispatched, but further discussion was needed on the removal of social groups if there were some infected badgers discovered.
JP advised that WG operations would be publicised but not the location of the farms.
JM stated that vaccine could be sourced this year but there are currently issues with Public Health England over the vaccine. JP advised that when the Deputy Minister made her statement last year regarding the supply of vaccine, she stated that WG would not source any vaccine whilst there is a worldwide shortage to public health. It was discussed that the Republic of Ireland has been cascading out of date vaccine. WG is waiting for Public Health England to arrange adequate vaccine availability. JP advised that vaccine is not out of WG’s tool box.
RJ asked what the mechanics of the trapping programme were. RJ also stated that there would be a need for a badger holding area whilst awaiting test results. TM advised that the results are ready in about 20 minutes. Woodchester Park can hold badgers overnight if necessary. There is also the option of using gamma blood tests.
TM advised that with the trap side test that there was a risk that some low level infected animals could slip through. This work will obviously slow down the infection process, as the highest risk animals will be taken out. DN stated that we could find ourselves in a situation of a high incidence of TB which would result in taking out all the badgers i.e. culling a group of badgers. TM stated that it could come to that from the results, but if vaccine became available, the population would be protected around that.
TM stated that the perturbation of badgers does not prove a link to increased TB levels as there is a gap in the data. Rosie Woodruff and Chris O’Donnelly will be spoken to in order to fill in any knowledge gaps.
JP stated that WG was encouraged by the statement of support. JP asked BTC what was their inclination with regards to trap side testing. RJ questioned with regards to diseased animals. JP advised that set surveys would determine whether there were badgers on farms and the testing would determine the disease in the animals but the testing would not be so good on lower levels of the disease.
JP ascertained if BTC were content to support the DPP test. JP advised that there had been a delegation from WG to Northern Ireland to see the process of this.
EM asked why WG are not using expired vaccine. JM advised that WG are unable to obtain any.
GL asked if it would be possible for BTC to observe some testing. TM advised that this would be possible as long as the landowner was happy with it.
(BTC confirmed that they were fine with the DPP test.) NOT TRUE RJ 27/02/2017.
EM stated that they accept it in theory. They stated that they had concerns about it getting out in the media and the associated influence of that.
RJ stated that he did not think that there was much TB in badgers. JP advised that this testing may prove that.
DN asked if the DPP would be restricted to a certain time of the year. TM advised that there is a closed season when the badgers are breeding. TM also stated that Natural Resources (previously CCW) determine the closed season. This work will have to be licenced in regardless.
JP advised that in Northern Ireland the level of the disease in badgers is 17%.
JP asked BTC who would be the most appropriate representative to attend a Chronic Herd Wildlife Intervention meeting in Cardiff on 20 December. JM advised that an invite had been sent to Peter Martin.
JP expressed gratitude for BTC’s views and guidance.
- Badger Trust Cymru Update
EM passed a document and a book on badgers by Dr Richard Mayer to the chair, the book was to be passed on to the CVO.
Action: JP to pass the book on badgers to the CVO.
- All Wales Badger Found Dead Survey
JM advised that the data on infected deer, badgers and cattle breakdowns had been circulated. Whole Genome Sequencing was discussed. DNA changes over years with micro bacteria – mutations. This is molecular biology – whole genome sequencing – DNA analysis.
JM stated that dead badgers go through this process.
Maps were circulated at the meeting for sight only of positive / negative TB analysis of dead badgers.
JM reported that out of 885 samples, only 52 were positive.
RG advised that the Badger Found Dead survey will continue to the end of the year. There has been an increase in the number of badgers reported recently, which is believed to be due to the weather. JM advised that the survey is due to end in December, but WG will look at how the survey can continue. JP stated that specific areas would be targeted, and it would be looked at how to take this forward. APHA has said that this is a valued piece of work. The number of badgers found dead collected is relatively small. RG advised that it is not possible to draw conclusions as the amount is too small.
RJ stated that the figures show what the BTC feel, i.e. it is not necessarily the badger that causes all TB incidences.
DN ascertained if it would be possible for a male / female split to be provided of the dead badgers collected. JM confirmed that this was possible and the information would be sent to BTC.
Action: JM to provide badger found dead male / female split of those collected to BTC if it was available.
JM advised that dead badgers in the IAA will be collected up until April.
- Any Other Business
JM advised that the number of dead deer has gone up due to daylight saving.
EM thanked WG for their time.
JM advised that the South Wales Regional Board was undertaking a Wildlife Survey, which is being completed by farmers in collaboration with NRW, National Trust and the Wildlife Trust.
- Message Received from BTC following the Meeting
The following message was received from BTC following the meeting:
Welsh Government Bovine TB Team/ Badger Trust Cymru Meeting, Monday 14th November 2016
Merthyr Tydfil, Welsh Government Building 2pm-4pm.
Dear Welsh Government Bovine TB Team
We the Badger Trust Cymru have been pondering our reply to you on Monday 14th November 2016 regarding TVR in the IAA on certain problem Farms, where possible Wildlife cross infection is suspected.
The Dual Platform Test, which you quoted had a 55% accuracy, this confirming a decision to euthanize particular Badger as being positive for BTB.
In retrospect we now feel that some reinforcement of the ‘badger euthanasia’ decision should be in place, for Instance, a Post Mortem to confirm that the decision was correct, and that BTB is indeed present in the animal. This would involve no more expense than in the ‘Badger Found Dead Survey’ so the mechanics should already be in place. This is because 55% is not a very definite result, and only marginally better than flipping a coin. We would feel more comfortable with a more conclusive test, but if that can only be Post Mortem, at least whole social groups will not be exterminated because of one infected animal.
Badger Trust Cymru Attendees
Action: WG to provide a response to BTC. ???????????
1 Professor Chris Gaskell was formerly the Vice Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University and is a member of the Science Advisory Council for Wales (SACW). He was a member of the first SACW and chaired the panel which reviewed the scientific evidence for the eradication of Bovine TB in Wales for the Welsh Government in 2010-2011. He is a trustee of the Animal Health Trust.