Your Vet News Editors have put aside their UCAS applications, shelved thoughts of their own interview preparation and turned their focus to bringing you some more great news, stories and interesting vet and animal-related content to get your metaphorical teeth into.
This month sees us look at subjects as varied as GM Cows, Leptospirosis in Sea Lions and Horse Neglect. As ever, enjoy and we hope you find the articles of interest.
Allergy-free milk produced by GM cow
Els de Vrijer (Farm Vet News Editor)
Scientists in New Zealand have successfully produced a cow that has been genetically modified so that she produces milk which does not contain a protein to which some people are allergic. Around 3% of infants are allergic to the whey protein betalactoglobulin, or BLG. The symptoms are eczema, vomiting and diarrhoea, and often sufferers refrain from drinking cow’s milk.
Using a technique called RNA interference, the scientists successfully managed to inhibit the production of the protein. RNA interference, or RNAi, is a natural process that cells undergo to turn down the activity of specific genes. RNAi is triggered by an unusual kind of double stranded RNA, which destroys molecular messengers, mRNA, that carry information coded in genes to the protein-making centres of the cells. During their research, the scientists underwent the in vitro screening of 10 micro RNA’s in order to see how the knockdown of BLG could be achieved. They were successful in genetically modifying the cow using this technique, so that the double-stranded RNA which was added to the cell prevented the production of this BLG.
Although the calf, named “Daisy” was born without a tail, the researchers are certain that the technique is safe for the animal and that her lack of tail is purely a congenital defect. Normally, a cow would not start lactating until she is around 2 years of age, but in this case hormones were used to stimulate her lactation. Her milk had no detectable trace of the BLG protein. The scientists did notice, however, that levels of casein, another protein in the milk, almost doubled.
Whilst there are some obvious benefits of this milk, particularly to those who suffer from the allergy, there are several unknowns. We do not know what milk yield these cows will have, and whether the protein will be absent in the milk for the duration of the cow’s lifetime. Equally, whether it will be viable for farmers is another question; there is such pressure on dairy farming as it is, an expensive technology may not be worth the effort for many. Lastly, there are also ethical concerns, as the milk stems from a genetically modified organism. Ironically, this also leads to the issue of whether the milk will be safe to be consumed legally. Under the GM legislation that is currently in place in New Zealand, the consumption of this type of milk would be illegal.
www.pnas.org (Targeted microRNA expression in dairy cattle directs production of b-lactoglobulin-free, high-casein milk. Anower Jabed, Stefan Wagner, Judi McCracken, David N. Wells and Goetz Laible)
Live exports from Ramsgate resume
Emma Plowright (Farm Vet News Editor)
Last month, live exports were suspended from Ramsgate port following incidents which resulted in the death of 47 sheep. After the council’s decision to impose the ban was overruled by high court injunction, a councillor has described live animal export as “disgusting” and “indefensible.”
The ban was put in place by Thanet council in September when sheep died in two separate incidents. When one lorry was stopped, vets and RSPCA officers found that forty-two sheep were lame, one was seriously ill and one had a broken leg and none could access their drinkers. The port also lacked the proper facilities for the animals – In another case, two sheep were drowned when the floor of a temporary holding pen collapsed.
The environment minister, David heath, stated that he believed the incidents were “absolutely unacceptable” and that review into the events has been launched. The chief executive of the National Sheep Association also said that the incident “could have been avoided if regulations and controls, which are effective in the majority of cases, were followed”.
Ipswich port briefly took over Ramsgate’s exports, only to suspend them as they too lacked to necessary facilities.
Thanet council had stated that they would lift the ban when the required facilities were built but following an appeal by three Dutch companies, exports have already resumed from the port. It is anticipated that Thanet district council will appeal against this decision. Animal rights protesters have also staged demonstrations at the port to show their opposition.
Hannah Johnstone (Farm Vet News Editor)
Bovine Tuberculosis is a zoonotic disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. It is thought that the increasing prevalence in cattle is to be blamed on badgers transmitting the disease. The disease can take years to develop and there are few clinical signs e.g. lumps on the body, luckily it is unlikely that the whole herd will become infected. Cattle that are infected have to be slaughtered, in 2009, 25,000 were slaughtered; costing taxpayers £63 million, bovine TB is an expensive problem.
The government set up Randomised Badger Culling Trial for 9 years beginning 1998, the trials proved that culling badgers within affected areas saw a 16% decrease in cattle affected with TB. This then led to the decision to undergo science-led culls in the most affected areas particularly in the West and South-West, the plan was to eradicate 70% of badgers. Huge controversy was caused by the proposed plans to cull. Animal welfare groups set up an e petition so far gaining 160,000 signatures, in the hope for a debate in the House of Commons.
Recently this year in October 2012, the culls were announced to be postponed until summer 2013 as the ‘70% target cannot be met’ due to time, cost and also the recent hosting of the Olympics and Paralympics. This caused anger amongst farmers in TB endemic areas, but was a delight for animal welfare campaigners. It is said that there will be no change in the policy as there is still scientific reasoning for the culling to go ahead. It has been quoted by BVA president Peter Jones that ‘Scientists agree that culling badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds, and we know that no country has dealt with bovine TB without tackling the disease in wildlife.’ For example New Zealand had a similar TB issues with regards to the common bushtail possum.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant strongly disagrees with the culling and hopes that the postponement ‘marks an end to all cull plans’, he insists that ‘this is good news for badgers, cows, dairy farmers and animal lovers alike. Hopefully it marks the beginning of the end for these unscientific, foolish and cruel plans to cull badgers.’ On the other hand farmers are outraged by the recent news, although ‘the government is still committed to the policy’. One ‘angry dairy farmer, frustrated by bTB’ Phil Latham argues ‘That’ll be more diseased badgers, more cows with TB, more farming businesses/families/staff affected. Bigger problem! Is this good?’ Rob Wilcox also a dairy farmer added ‘The badger cull is being postponed; we’ll just keep culling cows instead then.’
The responses to the culling have caused yet again huge controversy in the farming world and within the animal welfare groups. There has been huge speculation about the cost of the culling and the bad news that this will bring for taxpayers. The question is, will this cause for further research in alternatives for eradicating TB e.g. vaccination for cattle and badgers, or will the culling carry on as planned?
Leptospirosis in Sea Lions
Georgie Holiday (Farm Vet News Editor)
Leptospirosis is the world’s most common zoonotic disease, spreading to humans when they come into contact with water contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The disease can affect a huge range of species, including dogs, mice, cows, sheep, rabbits and many more, but over the past several years it has been spreading throughout wild sea lion populations, causing irreversible kidney damage.
Spiral-shaped bacteria called Leptospira cause the disease and remain alive as longs as they stay moist, which is why they are so easily spread in urine. The disease was first documented in sea lions in the early 1970s, although it has become a major cause of death throughout the 2000s, with repeated epidemics occurring every few years.
Sea lions are often diagnosed with leptospirosis without any lab work. Because they are marine mammals, they rarely need to drink water- they get plenty of moisture from their food sources- but sea lions infected with Leptospirosis are usually observed drinking large amounts of water, and sometimes even sucking on sand to get as much water as they can out of it. This is because the Leptospira bacteria has infected their kidneys, making them unable to filter toxins and regulate their hydration, causing them to seek other ways to get water into their body.
In rare cases, when the disease is caught early enough, Leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics. Usually, however, it is fatal- it causes renal failure, which eventually leads to death.
Increase in case of horse neglect & abandonment
Pippa Lyon (Vet News Equine Editor)
The amount of horses being abandoned neglected or abused is on the rise with around 6000 horses at risk this winter. The number of horses in rescue centres has been increasing rapidly over the last 5 years and with all the centres full something needs to be done.
The RSPCA have released a crisis report seeking help from the government and public. The main causes for the increase are overbreeding and the current economic climate.
Irresponsible dealers are at the heart of the problem when it comes to the UK horse population, they are constantly breeding, buying and importing horses that no one wants to buy right now. They end up at markets where they can either end up sold at ridiculously low prices like £5 in homes that do not look after them, or sold to abattoirs as meat to be exported into Europe.
Horses are expensive animals to look after and require a lot of commitment, when the credit crunch hit many people were forced to cut back on veterinary costs, shelter and feed and some even chose to abandon their horses. Its cases like this when they end up at equine charities such as redwings or RSPCA, Unfortunately they no longer have enough space to take in everyone.
Government agencies and equine charities are working together to improve laws and enforcement of horse movement and dealership in order to control the reckless breeding of some horse dealers.
Meanwhile, the charities believe that the public can play an important role in tackling the growing equine population by not breeding from their own horse and taking responsibility for their animals. The World Horse Welfare Society is urging members of the public to offer a home to a horse if suitable whether it is riding horse or a non-ridden companion.
MRCVS online (horse crisis report published) http://www.mrcvs.co.uk/en/news-story.php?id=7973
RSPCA report (The approaching equine crisis in England and wales) http://www.rspca.org.uk/ImageLocator/LocateAsset?asset=document&assetId=1232730977252&mode=prd
The Cost of Animal Disease – A quick summary of the IFAH report
Ilakiya Guruswamy (Vet News Small Animal Editor)
The International Federation for Animal Health (IFAH) has released a white paper entitled The Costs of Animal Disease. It highlights the socio-economic impacts of animal diseases that go much beyond the direct costs of the diseases themselves.
‘Human health and animal health are inextricable linked.’ The report highlights the recent outbreaks of swine flu, foot and mouth in cattle, and bird flu, and uses these as examples of the wide impact animal diseases can have on both the animal and human population. As 61% of animal diseases are zoonotic, there is potential for many more pandemics.
However there has been much success with animal health control systems, and with private and public effort. The Rinderpest Virus has been eradicated (the second viral disease to be wiped out by humans – after Smallpox), foot and mouth and swine flu has been suppressed, and there is better control of avian diseases, such as Newcastle and IBD.
Having reached a point where many animal diseases are under control, it would be a mistake to conclude that further investments in disease monitoring and impact assessment is not needed. The costs of the diseases change as society evolves, and it is important to monitor these changes to be able to respond to outbreaks in a timely and proportionate manner.
The report illustrates the economic and social costs of animal diseases by examining:
- A purely animal disease – foot and mouth disease
- A disease that affects both animals and humans – rabies
- A disease that affects animals and humans and can be spread through food – salmonellosis.
- Visible losses. This includes animal deaths and illness or stunting that results from disease or subsequent control methods.
- Invisible losses. This includes less immediate impacts of animal disease such as reduced fertility or changes in herd which result in the need to have a higher proportion of animals in a breeding group rather than production.
- Mitigation and control costs. This includes the costs of drugs, vaccines, surveillance and labour needed to carry out control measures.
- Human health impacts. This includes the costs that arise when animal diseases affect human populations such as treatment costs and losses in productivity due to illness or death.
- Foregone revenues. This includes the indirect economic impacts of animal diseases resulting from curtailed market access, losses in consumer confidence, and knock-on effects on other sectors of the economy.
As with human diseases, there are difficulties in estimating the costs of animal disease globally as livestock product prices and productivity, and the costs of resources used for disease monitoring and control vary widely across countries and even across different regions within a country. Human health has partly navigated this problem by developing a unit known as a disability adjusted life year (DALY) which relates to the number of years of normal life lost either through early death or reduced ability to lead a normal life through being ill. No equivalent unit has been developed for livestock and there is a split of opinion about the need for such a unit. Economists would argue that, because animals are kept largely for production, costs of disease can be valued and priced through the market. On the other hand, veterinarians often feel that this is inadequate and that units need to be developed that both capture all impacts of disease and can overcome the challenges of disease impact assessment.