State vets' claims about the causes of bovine TB are based on
anecdote rather than sound scientific evidence, the Badger Trust
warned Secretary of State David Miliband today.
In an open letter, accompanied by a short but detailed report,
the Badger Trust reveals that:
(i) State vets do not collect sufficient
evidence to explain the causes of bovine TB events. Furthermore,
the limited data that is gathered is held on paper, not data-processed
and never statistically analysed.
(ii) State vets rely on unreliable
farmer evidence about where livestock have been held on farms with
multiple land parcels. Consequently, state vets cannot say with
any authority where a TB outbreak was acquired. This, in turn,
means that it would be impossible for state vets to determine where
badgers should be killed, in the unlikely event of the Government
approving such a policy.
(iii) Animal Health (formerly the State
Veterinary Service) does not hold records on badgers collected
by state vets from farms for post mortem examination.
(iv) A wide
range of failings in the bovine TB testing programme was identified
by the European Union in 2005. Many of these allow the possibility
of undetected cattle-to-cattle, herd-to-herd transmission of TB.
(v) State vets have not been kept up-to-date with new scientific
research on bovine TB. We show that even the Introduction to the
online bovine TB practise manual has not
been updated for a decade.
Trevor Lawson, public affairs advisor
to the Badger Trust, commented: "We were astonished to discover
that state vets base critical TB management decisions on little
more than guesswork. They lack the fundamental data needed to understand
the spread of bovine TB amongst local cattle, their IT systems
are archaic and there appears to have been no attempt to keep staff
up to date with scientific research on bovine TB.
Animal Health, the state veterinary service is finally starting
to reform its systems and training. But the benefits will not be
seen for some years. Until then, claims by state vets that they
can explain any bovine TB outbreak or that they know how the disease
is best controlled should be treated with a great deal of caution.
Secretary of State's advisors are often state vets who have spent
years in this over-confident but under-resourced guesswork culture.
It is vital that Mr Miliband understands the impact that this could
have on the quality of their advice, compared to the advice he
receives from independent scientists."
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