Hunt packs cover a lot of ground and hunts, along with all their followers and quad-biking terrier men, are happy to hunt across both infected and TB-free farms, with no regard to biosecurity
It is an uphill battle to get information out into public view when a government ministry is determined to sit on it. Such is the case of the Kimblewick Hunt hounds and bovine TB. Despite Freedom of Information requests, letters and phone calls, they are refusing to release any facts.
Dr Iain McGill, who as a MAAF scientist had experience of government blocking the publication of research into foxhounds and BSE, is now hitting the same stone wall of cover-up over hounds and bTB.
Defra initially told Dr McGill that the hounds had canine TB, but then admitted that it was in fact bovine TB. The Animal & Plant Health Agency told the Ecologist this was not a notifiable disease. But Defra has now admitted that it is.
As a notifiable disease, Defra not only has to inform all those who might be affected, but immediate investigation and testing should be carried out not just on the source of the outbreak but on places (or in this case other packs of hounds) that might be at risk.
Yet the bTB in Kimblewick hounds was kept secret for three months before any news got out. Of the mainstream media, only the Mirror covered the story. The Times limped in with the story after that, presumably because Theresa May, who was going to repeal the Hunting Act, has had to backtrack yet again following her disastrous election campaign.
Defra has told Dr McGill and his veterinary colleagues that they have ‘tested' other packs but give none of the information asked for of which hunts were tested, or the methodology and epidemiology involved. They have also said that 7 of the Kimblewick hounds were tested positive for bTB. So why have 50 hounds been killed?
On BBC Sussex Dr McGill pointed out that in the large area hunted over by the Kimblewick Hunt there are up to 90 active outbreaks of bTB in cattle. Well over half - 55 - of those outbreaks have occurred since bTB was found in the Kimblewick pack.
To justify the badger cull in 2013, the Chief Veterinary Officer claimed that pets and humans were at risk from bTB where environmental contamination was high. Now Defra claim that the threat posed due to contamination from infected packs of hounds is ‘low', although there is no evidence to support that.
As Dr McGill remarks, these are two diametrically opposing statements. Hunt packs cover a lot of ground and hunts, along with all their followers and quad-biking terrier men, are happy to hunt across both infected and TB-free farms, with no regard to biosecurity.
If the risk of infected foxhounds spreading bTB is low, then surely Defra should agree that the same must apply to badgers. Which means, as we all knew, that culling badgers has been a useless and terrible slaughter.
The new Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who has a record for voting against anything environmental, says that he has ‘inherited' the badger culling policy, as though, says Dr McGill, it was Defra's family silver. Gove also says he ‘listens to veterinary advice', which should not, but does, mean the advice of one vet.
He can expect a queue of determined and angry vets knocking on his door.
Lesley Docksey is a regular contributor to the Ecologist