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Lies, Damned lies, and (Defra) Statistics.

(or Duplicitous, Deceitful, Dross!)

If the current Government policy (of encouraging a prolific maintenance reservoir of bTb in badgers) remained unchanged, late last year Defra were predicting a 20% annual increase in bovine Tb, but in June Mr. Bradshaw announced a 14% drop Jan.-April 2004. So is bTb under control? Or are Defra managing the statistics rather than the disease? Is the press office producing duplicitous, deceitful, dross or were the previous predictions an overestimate?

Routine Tb testing was abandoned after February 2001 because of FMD, and Defra warn against using data from that year, or from 2002 and most of 2003 for comparisons. This was because either very little testing was done, or a backlog of tests meant that undiscovered breakdowns were producing bigger numbers of reactors. In other words those years were 'Extraordinary - Atypical - Unusual. Definitely 'not to be used for comparative purposes' Defra say. But having issued such a warning, the drop of 14% in bTB is achieved using comparisons to a period which Defra specifically warn everyone else not to use, and on 2,036 less herds, and 105,161 less cattle than were tested in that 'backlog' period of early 2003.

If Jan - April 2004 figures are compared with the most recent year which did not come with a Defra 'health warning' attached (Jan - April 2000) then the progression of the disease is even more devastating than the annual 20% forecast which shocked MP's, the farming community and the Treasury last autumn. Mr. Bradshaw is reported as saying bTb figures are comparable with those prepared before FMD. Really? In 2000 Jan - April new herd breakdowns numbered 711, but this year 1264 - an increase of nearly 80%. But cattle slaughtered as Reactors, inconclusives or dangerous contacts rose from 3,100 to 7,701. Up 149%. That isn't 20% annually, it is 25% and a doubling of bTb cattle casualties in just 3 years.

Farmers, cattle, taxpayers (and badgers) deserve better.

Paddy Swann