"Silence of the lambs, calves, sheep, cattle and mathematicians"An article to his fellow vets in the Veterinary Times, March 2006, by Bob Michell, BVetMed BSc PhD DSc MRCVS, Former President of the RCVS
Rapid Diagnosis RT PCR - " a transforming moment"
" ...the means to eradicate and control these diseases are now available ... ..." Read in full
Warmwell.com Archive ~ Bird Flu pages Contact the site How FMD crisis was turned into a disaster - Scotsman, TimesPlease use F5 button to refresh the page RPA latest bovine TB Harriet - latest --------------------------------
Archive March 2007
March 31 2007 ~ Margaret Beckett is apparently "too busy with the Iran situation" to address the concerns of the EFRA Committee. She shifts responsibility back to the civil service.
The Yorkshire Post "...There was a similar reaction from the top Whitehall mandarin who was also savaged over the botched handling of the Single Payments Scheme - suggesting that no one else would lose their jobs in the furore..." And so it goes on. The Cumberland News quotes Copeland MP Jamie Reed, whose family contains a number of local farmers,
"As a former member of the select committee I was present when the Rural Payments Agency chief executive gave evidence about his organisation's ability to pay farmers on time. He was confident in the ability of the RPA to deliver. We all know that the reality was in stark contrast to this."Reality on the ground often turns out to be in stark contrast to many of DEFRA's 'confident' assumptions - indeed it is their very "confidence" that is so frightening to so many. If Mrs Beckett's solution to the Iran hostage crisis is on a par with her confidence about the Single Payment Scheme back in 2005 we shudder for the consequences.
(EFRA report posting)
March 30 2007 ~ Bluetongue vaccine - " Killing 'infected' holdings is utter nonsense"
Merial is working on a vaccine for BTV serotype 8 and we are hoping to get information on this as soon as possible. They have already successfully produced an inactivated vaccine for BTV 4 Information from Merial. and the Bluetongue vaccination programme in Spain has as its objective
"vaccination of all the ruminant population (sheep and cattle) within the restricted zone so thatAs for the UK "solution" of slaughter, our German correspondent writes, "Killing "infected" holdings is utter nonsense as by the time the clinical signs are obvious the midges have had their field day already."
- the viral circulation diminishes (serotype 4)
- neither clinical signs nor deaths in ovine
- allowing movements to free zone
- achieving the eradication of the disease (More in pdf or here as html )
From ec.europa.eu/ Q and A section Can vaccination be carried out against Bluetongue?
"Yes - it is possible to vaccinate against Bluetongue, and EU legislation on Bluetongue contains the option of carrying out a vaccination policy using live attenuated or inactivated vaccines. The establishment of a vaccine bank by July 2000 facilitated rapid and successful intervention against Bluetongue in the Balearic Islands. The EU later supported the vaccination option whenever national authorities wished to adopt this policy. In addition, the EU modified the rules regarding financial contributions from the Community to cover not only emergency situations but also the long-term surveillance of Bluetongue and control actions (vaccination)".
March 30 2007 ~ Bluetongue - Is vaccination to kill yet again the only plan for the UK?
As long ago as September 9th 2003, a BBC report on Bluetongue said, "Veterinary experts told the British Association annual science festival that efforts were underway to develop new, more effective vaccines to protect the national flock should disease reach these shores....."
Three years later, in 2006, Bluetongue had infected animals in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and especially, Germany. There is no recognised treatment. As the Scotsman says today, "...there is nothing in terms of biosecurity that can be put in place to stop the vector midge being blown across the Channel and the balance of opinion appears to be not a case of if, but when BTV hits the UK." Both the midge species and the strain concerned are different from that affecting the Mediterranean (the midge is native to the UK) , but we understand that Britain has not applied for marketing authorisation for vaccines against Bluetongue. The most recent DEFRA Contingency Plan we can find online says that
"Vaccination could therefore only be used on a vaccinate to kill basis" (See pdf file section 10)There are millions of doses of vaccine at the EU Bluetongue Vaccine Bank, the EU Directive permits the use of vaccination as a control measure in certain circumstances - can it really be possible that it is, yet again, to be slaughter rather than the rapid diagnosis and vaccination vital to a modern animal disease policy that is to "cure" any outbreak?
The CVO, Debby Reynolds, in the Farmers Guardian on Friday wrote rather enigmatically, "Scientific evidence and veterinary service capabilities are essential and must be flexible to ensure the surveillance and prevention measures are suitable and flexible." Is "flexibility" to include making use of available technologies, listening to all sections of those affected by plans and making sure that scientific advice is clear and independent?
March 30 2007 ~ "DEFRA and the RPA must now publish a comprehensive reply to this report, demonstrating that they have learned from their many mistakes"
It is indeed ironic that while farmers are hauled over the coals for the smallest infringements, the big players have been promoted to dizzy heights or moved to similar positions - yet it is their own catastrophic failures that are costing the country up to £500 million in fines, "fixing" the failures and interest payments. A familiar story. To offset losses, as the CLA complains, "Defra has cut funding for valuable environmental projects as diverse as the new higher level stewardship schemes, maintenance of waterways, water quality improvement, flood defences and bat conservation...It talks green and cuts Natural England funding."
Dorothy Fairburn, regional director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in Yorkshire is quoted byYorkshire Dales News. She points out that
"... many of the farmers who also had to grapple with a new system and relied on RPA advice were penalised heavily for even the smallest of errors during the application process. The RPA originally said they would 'take a light touch' to minor infractions, but instead we have seen a consistently heavy-handed approach. Failure to make payments on time, poor communication, disproportionate penalties and an appeal system that remains fundamentally flawed have shattered confidence in both DEFRA and the RPA who must now publish a comprehensive reply to this report, demonstrating that they have learned from their many mistakes."
March 29 2007 ~ "Her apology is rather like a burglar who has entered the premises and run off with the swag before expressing anger that the accomplice smashed the window on the way."
The Western Morning News is emphatic about the new EFRA report and its recommendations Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon is quoted: "It is an utter denial of all responsibility of Orwellian proportions. ...." Similarly, Peter Kendall, president of the NFU: " our comments fell on deaf ears. ....this saga has cost farmers about £20 million of their money and untold stress."
The article gives the inevitable DefraSpeak response, mentioning only the RPA rather than itself
".... "A new management team is in place at the RPA. We are confident that the senior management team can deliver."(One might have thought that "confidence" could now be exchanged for humility. And since when has "deliver" been an intransitive verb? Can anyone enlighten us as to its meaning on the planet DEFRA?)
March 29 2007 ~ Hardly surprising that Devon is particularly outspoken. That county, like other rural areas, has been so badly hurt by DEFRA.
And the damage done by that inept Ministry just goes on and on. Two years on from the foot and mouth disaster, a very angry piece in the WMN thundered:
" ......Some of the casualties of MAFF ineptitude were obvious - the farming families who were subjected to bullying, brutality, bureaucracy and force majeure and saw their lives' work rotting outside their windows, then going up in smoke. Millions of others were unseen, unsung and uncompensated - the farmers isolated and starved of accurate information, unable to trade or to move stock for month after month; the animals thus stranded in mires without fodder; the children subjected to ineradicable trauma; the many, many small, struggling, agriculture-related industries. And when it was all over? It wasn't all over. It continues to this day. Hobbled businesses stagger into bankruptcy...."How little even that writer knew of the tragical mismanagement that was to continue. Almost exactly a year ago, when the RPA edifice crumbled, Simon Jenkins wrote in his Desperate dispatches from the banana republic of Great Britain that in former times, ".... The integrity of the civil service was taken for granted and the accountability of ministers was the rock on which the constitution was built. The traditional partnership between ministers and civil servants has collapsed, destroyed by Blair's sofa government and his miasma of agencies, consultancies and private firms. These lack continuity, leadership and accountability...."
The unwonted bluntness of today's EFRA report, its lack of tactful evasion, gives us hope that patience is running out. We are tired of so much talk of "improved delivery" . Reform after reform has failed. Government Departments are not businesses, DefraSpeak notwithstanding. Their job should be simply to administrate smoothly and fairly. Difficulties, unlike Gordian Knots, cannot just be cut through from the comfort of a sofa. Mrs Beckett told the National Farmers' Union conference in February 2006 she was "bloody livid" by the RPA's failures but taking responsibility should be the price of power.
March 29 2007 ~ "The Committee very much regrets the former Secretary of State's attempts verbally to distance herself from the consequences of policies which she herself must have approved "
The EFRA report on the Rural Payments Agency, published today (pdf) and expressed in the clearest and most unequivocal English, says that Margaret Beckett, Sir Brian Bender and Andy Lebrecht have not been held "personally accountable" for delays. The EFRA chairman, Michael Jack, said: "The reason that we are calling for people to consider their positions is because of Defra's failure to carry out one of its principal core functions. Those involved should examine their consciences about the role they played in this failed venture, which could well cost Defra and farmers up to half a billion pounds." The report calls the handling of the SPS a "catastrophe" and a "serious and embarrassing failure for Defra and the RPA"
It also recommends that the Cabinet secretary reappraises the work of the past and present members of Defra's senior management team to determine whether they should remain in post.
"decisions should not be made in isolation from practical realities," says the Committee. More on RPA page and see Reuters, www.politics.co.uk and Chris Huhne's comments( in which he points out that the last "honourable resignation" took place at the time of the Falklands war), and the BBC
The RPA disaster is likely to cost the country £500 million. (RPA)
March 28 2007 ~ "A clearly articulated business model; An innovative approach to citizen engagement. .."
We are not alone in our view that the sort of language emanating from Government departments, posing as "news", is a symptom of a deeper illness. Here are some examples of DefraSpeak that would have made George Orwell sigh gloomily at his own prescience:www.defra.gov.uk/news.
The writers of such garbage, who are neither civil nor serving, seem perversely unaware that people who give a damn about any of this want clear information. Self-congratulatory abstract nouns and high sounding adjectives are without meaning on their own - and it is contemptuous wishful-thinking to imagine that anyone who has knowledge of DEFRA is still taken in by such language. Perhaps DEFRA should learn from the failure of the £7 million campaign that might have been called "Renew Bernard Matthews". It has changed nothing because nothing there could be shown to have been changed. Marketing is no substitute for product quality.
- "Renew Defra - will create a department which is more responsive and innovative; where outcomes will be developed in true partnership, and policy making will be effective and consistent."
- "our refreshed strategy"
- "a clearer sense of direction"
- "a new mission of 'one planet living' "
- "delivered through high impact policies"
- "overarching strategic performance management framework" (sic)
- "a Defra Customer Intelligence Unit... a focus point for how we engage with our customers"
- "Developing closer relationships with Defra's delivery bodies through enhanced performance reporting and representation on the Departmental Management Board"
March 28 2007 ~ The combined acronyms would form the phrase "It's civil shrewd mess"- but the new agency is, in fact, to be called "Animal Health" .
In the name of efficiency and as per the Hampton Review, a new single agency will, beginning on April 1, amalgamate the State Veterinary Service (SVS) the Dairy Hygiene Inspectorate (DHI), the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS) - including (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Egg Marketing Inspectorate (EMI). An anagram of the acronyms would form the phrase "It's civil shrewd mess"- but the new agency is, in fact, to be called "Animal Health" .
In DefraSpeak, a contortion of the English Language that, on a bad day, deprives one of the will to live, we are told that
" the bodies have formed a consensus group to take the mergers forward as a coherent programme."Stackyard.com quotes Glenys Stacey, new Chief Executive of "Animal Health" who, using yet another dialect of English unrecognised by homo sapiens, proclaims her plan to
"become one organisation in every sense", "We all welcome this merger", it will " deliver more comprehensively and with the customer in mind."Although reminiscent of British Rail customer services at its most traindead, this is the authentic new voice of government; Politics become salesmanship.
Which "customers" does Glenys Stacey have "in mind", one wonders. Perhaps the animals of Britain, whose health is to be enshrined, if nowhere else, at least in the title or "single banner" of the brave new amalgam. One emailer with harrowing recollections of SVS "expertise" in the past, doubts it.
"This grisly euphemism recalls the disgraceful "Animal Health Bill", referred to in smallholding circles as the Animal Death Bill. So let's just call the new agency "Animal Death" and be done with it. Oh, and who exactly are "the industry" and "the customer"? Do smallholders feature in either category?"Animal Health takes its first steps on April Fool's Day. We hope our cynicism turns out to be unfair and unfounded. We hope too for the return, one day, of grace, grammar and gravitas in government language.
March 27 2007 ~ "Given that a key part of the remit of the FAO is to develop international agricultural trade, reticence to accept that this trade is the main agent of global dispersal of HPAI H5N1 is perhaps unsurprising."
The full text of the paper mentioned below, "Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review" is available at www.blackwell-synergy.com
"When bird densities are low, a very virulent subtype leading to high host mortality may disappear because of the impossibility of transmitting quickly to healthy birds before the death of sick ones. In Asia, densities of domestic birds are especially high. These ecological conditions favour the preservation and the fast transmission of very virulent strains.....The only wild birds in Asia found sick were victims of the virus circulating in domestic birds (FAO 2005). .......it is intriguing that the number of wild birds contaminated by the virus seems so small, and that the virus apparently passes from domestic birds to wild birds only with difficulty. ....If migrating birds mainly dispersed the virus, the virus should also spread by large jumps of thousands of kilometres, throughout the migratory stopping places of Asia and Africa....And unsurprising also is the whole attitude of EU, OIE and FAO at the Verona conference. In spite of all the evidence and in the face of common sense, the official line is still " no vaccination, unless the situation gets out of control". Mass killing and so-called "bio-security" is still the mind-set - just as it was at the time of the FMD tragedy. .
By May 2006, an international conference in Rome had recognized that the virus was mainly spread through the poultry trade, both legal and illegal, but OIE and FAO media releases (FAO 2006b, OIE 2006b) continued to focus on the possible contribution of spread by wild birds. Given that a key part of the remit of the FAO is to develop international agricultural trade, reticence to accept that this trade is the main agent of global dispersal of HPAI H5N1 is perhaps unsurprising."
Apart from the profit motive of globalised agricultural trade, it also seems that both politicians and pundits cling to ignorance about vaccination because it has a comfortable familiarity while challenging it can even define one as an "activist" - but the consequences of this may well be fatal.
March 26 2007 ~ "Within the area around the infected premises, there were enhanced levels of surveillance of wild birds."
In view of the findings of the paper (new window) below, confining surveillance to wild birds sites around Holton alone, as Ben Bradshaw's Parliamentary Answer (March 23) admits, is likely to have been of limited usefulness.
" While the investigation in the outbreak was under way, 25 wild bird locations comprising 73 sites in the area were regularly patrolled. Laboratory tests were completed on dead wild birds found in the area as well as on live wild bird droppings from the infected premises. All results were negative."In due course" we shall perhaps see if the right questions, about feed at the Bernard Matthews site, for example, were asked and answered..
We are currently developing our investigation into what might have caused the outbreak of avian influenza at Holton. The conclusion of the interim report is that importation from Hungary is the most plausible route. However, investigations are still ongoing and nothing can be ruled out at this time. The final epidemiological report will be published in due course."
March 26 2007 ~ As for the reality of "surveillance"
this article from FWi called "The True Cost of Scrapie" is revealing both about the competence of parts of the SVS and about the viability of all the legislation rushed into place about scrapie.
"...once the sheep had been genotyped the SVS sent through the genotypes with incomplete identification numbers. The EID boluses used have 16-digit identification numbers, but the paperwork we received only had 15-digit numbers on. The missing digit was the last one, which meant we were unable to match up the EID numbers with our own tag numbers, making it impossible to identify ewes of different genotypes."With only one scrapie-affected ewe out of more than 1700 sheep on the farm the farmers in the article wonder what on earth it is all for - and even whether the initial test was right. In view of the most recent research and the fact that even the government now admits that scrapie does NOT mask BSE and the ram genotyping scheme is worthless, the answer seems to be "Nothing"
March 26 2007 ~ "Paradoxically, the H5N1 virus coupled with a fear of transmission by wild birds could lead to a reversion to battery farming which increases risk of outbreaks."
Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review by Gauthier-Clerc, M., Lebarbenchon, C. & Thomas, F. is to be published in April in the British Ornithologists' Union's journal, Ibis ( Ibis 2007. DOI 10.1111/j.1474-919x.2007.00699.x) Blackwell Publishing comments:
"....No evidence for long distance transmission during seasonal migration has yet been found. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that human movements of domestic poultry have been the main agent of global dispersal of the virus to date. The occurrence of an outbreak at a commercial turkey farm in Suffolk, England, in February 2007 fits this wider pattern." ".... .... Paradoxically, the H5N1 virus coupled with a fear of transmission by wild birds could lead to a reversion to battery farming which increases risk of outbreaks. This would stall the current trend to better animal welfare resulting from free-range agriculture. Maintaining these trends, whilst controlling disease through strong veterinary scrutiny and control of trade, is more likely to be a successful strategy."What we find so alarming is that while rigorous research is concluding that it is the unnatural conditions of intensive production and global movement that are causing flu strains to mutate into dangerous pathogens, the political reaction of the West is still to put the trade and profits from such production first, dismiss at the technological advance that could protect both animals and people, repeat discredited nonsense about silent spread from vaccinates - and sit back and watch while poorer nations outlaw the very back yard practices that not only provide people with a livelihood but which are the hapless victims not the cause of H5N1.
March 25 2007 ~ "The conference recommended that poultry should be vaccinated against avian influenza.."
".. particularly in endemic countries and when other control measures such as stamping out, movement controls of poultry and biosecurity cannot stop the spread of the virus," says the OIE report of last week's Verona conference.
"...A successful vaccination campaign depends mainly on the use of high quality vaccines complying with OIE standards, appropriate infrastructure to ensure the rapid and safe delivery of vaccines (cold chain), monitoring of vaccinated flocks, movement control of poultry, and adequate financial resources. Efficient veterinary services complying with OIE standards on quality and evaluation is also very important for the suspension of the use of vaccination. Any vaccination policy should include an exit strategy so that countries do not rely on costly long-term vaccination campaigns. The tools differentiating infected from vaccinated animals such as DIVA strategy (i.e. by diagnostic test designed to detect antibodies against the field virus) or the use of sentinel birds ( i.e.non-vaccinated) are recommended in the field when possible.Other recommendations
There are no elements indicating human health implications related to the vaccination of poultry and to the consumption of poultry products from vaccinated animals.
....Participants of the Verona conference also proposed to develop communication strategies to improve the vaccination coverage, to avoid possible market shocks and to apply basic biosecurity measures."
March 25 2007 ~ "Well, Harriet had the last word."
The Reverend Patricia Pinkerton writes, "The family had her euthanased by the vet this afternoon following 4 days of discomfort. Her diagnosis from the vet was kidney failure. Within a few weeks , if not before, we should have the BSE results. We will put it on the website. I am sure everyone who knows Harriet thanks all who stood by.
Harriet's body after euthanasia was taken to an abbatoir in Devon where her brain stem was removed and taken to an independent laboratory where DEFRA has no authority. Harriet was "cremated" at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday She is still a part of a judicial enquiry. Those involved are committed to carry on the fight on Harriet's behalf and on behalf of all other healthy animals threatened by bureaucracy rather than sound risk assessment. (More on Harriet) If anyone feels able to give a donation- however small - to help Harriet's owners who are still faced with the considerable legal expenses incurred during the fight to save her from DEFRA , details of how to do so can be found on Harriet's web site at: http:www.harriet-thecow.co.uk (new window)
March 22/23 2007 ~ Richard Sanders at Verona: "Well, I think we are winning the argument..."
Richard Sanders from the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, is at the Verona conference and talked on the telephone to Farming Today "....There's nothing that is going to engage the minds of politicians in the developed world more than seeing that there's a linkage between vaccination in poultry and human health and human safety. "
As for the trade implications of vaccination, Mr Sanders was emphatic:
"It does seem quite ridiculous that we have seen papers where (there is ) absolutely no risk (when) vaccinated birds or vaccinated poultry products are being traded ..absolutely no human health risk - you can't find any virus dangers or any vaccine dangers as a result of vaccination.Warmwell transcriptand see also FAO news report on the conference. "There are no elements indicating human health implications related to the vaccination of poultry and to the consumption of poultry products from vaccinated animals."
The danger is that vaccination of poultry for avian influenza is being used as a non-tariff barrier. It is yet another excuse to interfere with trade and people to pursue political gains. .
... we're all keen, sitting in Europe and North America, to lessen the threat of emerging diseases or spreading diseases such as avian influenza coming from the likes of Vietnam. "Vaccination is good for those people," we say but then we won't use it un our own developed economies because of issues of trade or "consumer acceptance" .... ."
March 22/23 2007 ~ Verona Conference - Vaccination: a tool for the control of Avian Influenza
Today's press conference, to be held at 1 pm (Italian time) will be of great interest. The OIE press report , "There are no elements indicating human health implications related to the vaccination of poultry and to the consumption of poultry products from vaccinated animals. The conference called upon the commercial poultry industry to reinforce its engagement in the control of avian influenza under the supervision of national veterinary authorities. A call to international donors for the funding of vaccination in endemic countries, with particular focus on backyard poultry, was also made."
See also (Conference website)
March 21 2007 ~ "the main device under discussion at the meeting is a $1,000 mobile test system and reader the size of a small portable television"
Animal health experts from 15 nations, including the UK, are meeting today to discuss rapid diagnosis technology. The conference, The Early and Rapid Diagnosis of Transboundary Animal Diseases: Phase I- Avian Influenza is taking place in Vienna and is part of a $500,000 coordinated research project run jointly by the FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency ( www-naweb.iaea.org/nafa). The project aims later to field-test devices, identify areas where the kits can be used first and explore sources of funding.
John Crowther of the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme's Animal Production and Health section points out:
"The genius here is that such mobile testers can be used by anyone, with the most basic training. Even farmers could do a test and the result could immediately be processed back to a central point, like a mobile phone message. Within two years, such tests could revolutionize disease diagnosis. Ultimately the tests would be done locally by people in their own countries, making schemes much more efficient in everything including speed, costs and local knowledge."See more at www.un.org/apps/news/story
( It was in 2001 that Professor Fred Brown first argued for the UK to field trial such a device. As it was, with neither vaccination nor on-site diagnosis, carnage by computer, ruthlessly enforced, was the result of the UK's inability to pinpoint where the disease really was.)
March 21 2007 ~ "new life to the theory that mad cow disease started out in cattle, rather than crossing over from sheep."
The new research mentioned this week in the New Scientist carried out by the Italian scientist Fabrizio Tagliavini and his colleagues at the Carlo Besta Neurological Institute in Milan, suggests that the recently discovered disease called bovine amyloidotic spongiform encephalopathy, or BASE, is a natural prion disease of older cattle, which turned into BSE - and that all the speculation about scrapie "masking" BSE or having caused BSE may now be wholly discredited .
As we say below, all attempts to duplicate BSE by deliberately giving scrapie to cows have failed - and ministers have finally accepted that a fully-funded ram-genotyping scheme (costing a great deal in money and misery) is no longer "appropriate". SEAC defended the RGS as "an appropriate disease control policy based on the available scientific evidence..." (Defra ) - but the advice of Dr Alan Dickenson - independent expert scientific advice, given in January 2001 - was certainly available. A major recommendation of the Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report was that the so-called precautionary principle should "never be considered a substitute for thorough risk analysis which is always required when the science is uncertain and the risks are serious. It should not be used, in itself, to explain a decision or course of action."
(The assumption that BSE came from cows eating scrapie-infected sheep, discredited above, is very similar to the unproven conjecture that vCJD is caused by humans eating BSE-infected beef. Massive layers of legislation and bureaucracy based on that continue on their juggernaut path. See also Harriet - where the government's clinging to the precautionary principle is an evident absurdity) More comment on the New Scientist story at AllaboutFeed.net
March 2007 ~ The only innocent parties in the Dobbin story seem to have been the 583 slaughtered cattle
As more details emerge of the facts in the David Dobbin case described below, it seems that - although we continue to deplore the parking of the dairy herd on a farm which had no milking facilities, and then claiming 'welfare' to shoot them - things are more complicated than at first appeared.
March 20 2007 ~ Sainsbury's responds to consumer concern about factory farming.
Or, at any rate, it has announced that it will phase out eggs from caged birds by at least 2012. See Sky News Sainsbury's says " ...all its free range eggs were labelled with a code which can be traced back to the farm of origin." The company also says today ( good timing for the company, given the news below about egg fraud from abroad) "regular audits and checks to ensure free range standards are kept up".
At least this sort of news alerts more people to the fact that the cheapness of battery eggs carries a high price in terms of animal welfare and health and - given the ease with which factory farms like the Bernard Matthews plant can introduce and harbour pathogens - that it is no longer acceptable for such practices to be condoned.
March 19 2007 ~ "As public concern about cruelty to farm animals grows, there has been a huge surge in demand for such eggs, which can cost as much as 80p a dozen more than battery hen products." Daelnet.uk
The free-range egg swindle, said to have covered about two percent of free range egg sales in Britain, is reported on today by, among others, the Daily Telegraph, Farmer's Weekly Interactive, Reuters and the Guardian. The scandal raises even more questions about accurate labelling - and proper checks. But the fraud emphasises UK consumers' increasing reluctance to buy food from factory farms. As Daelnet.uk says, "Such has been the demand that British farmers have been unable to match the increase in production so millions of eggs are being imported from two as yet un-named European countries. ....by selling them as free range, the British egg packers and distributors will have racked up millions in fraudulent profits. There have been similar cases in the past - including prosecutions in Yorkshire several years ago - but nothing on the scale of the current investigation."
Meanwhile, it is determined individuals - such as those in the Hackney Environmental Health Services team - who are doing the real work in trying to stamp out the lucrative illegal meat trade. Such first hand work is dangerous and unpleasant - as are the criminals against whom they are fighting. (The descriptions and photos involved are not for the faint hearted.)
March 19 2007 ~ A variety of GM corn, legally imported into European Union countries since 2006, has produced signs of liver and kidney toxicity in rats
"....with the present data it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product" concludes the paper Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with MON863 Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity MON 863 has been allowed to be legally imported into European Union countries since 2006 as a food and feed product. As its name suggests, MON 863 is a GM maize developed by Monsanto. They maintain that genetically modified feed is harmless. Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen says he found that it produced around one kilogram of poisonous substances per hectare - more than farmers would use in pesticides. According to studies by his group, CRIIGEN, the maize caused symptoms of poisoning and liver and kidney damage in rats that had been fed the product during 90 day experiments.
March 18/19 2007 ~ Electronic tagging: "The appropriate technology is simply not yet reliable"
The sanguine words of Kelvin Pate, the chairman of the NFUS livestock committee, about the approaching end of the UK derogation on EU double tagging rules for sheep, are quoted in the Scotsman
"I think it is clear that double tagging just can't work in the Scottish situation. Aside from the massive financial bill that it would entail, it would be impossible to operate on the ground, given the structure of the industry. I think common sense will prevail "but the Scotsman says in connection to the compulsory introduction of electronic identification for all sheep, proposed for 1 January, 2008 : "The appropriate technology is simply not yet reliable" It adds that, "as ever, politics are likely to come into play" If an unreliable and unworkable system is imposed on the UK we may soon be seeing far more of the sort of disgraceful and distressing incidents described by Christopher Booker (see Sunday Telegraph story) - and that the one thing highly unlikely to prevail is common sense. On March 19, the ever-ready Ben Bradshaw said, "... We have yet to decide on what numbering system we will adopt should EID be introduced. Discussions with the devolved Governments and interested organisations in England are ongoing."
March 18/19 2007 ~ If rules could really be shown to be based on common sense there would be no argument.
But, as the Scotsman says, "as ever, politics are likely to come into play". There might be less argument about the difficulties and expense if it could be clearly shown that stapling plastic to both ears of unfortunate farm animals was helping to prevent disease, quickly pinpoint and cure disease outbreaks, or stop in its tracks the global movement of pathogens. But officials are, as is ever the way of officialdom, more concerned with the policing of the rules than with evaluating the rationale behind them and using common sense and judgement.
Of no apparent interest to officialdom is the rapid diagnosis technology to identify disease on-site. Slaughter, with no appeal allowed, is still the first response for FMD and Avian Influenza. Vaccination, which really would help, is still an issue of protectionism and not permitted in the UK. But the reams of identification rules have not been able to identify the source of the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak at Bernard Matthews factory-cum-slaughterhouse, paper trails have been shown to be more theoretical than real - while the TRACES database is a mess.
Juan Lubroth, head of the Infectious Disease group at the UN FAO, even said on Farming Today on Feb 19th
"I don't have a good idea of what percentage the informal or illegal trade represents to the world trade. I do have access to a lot of statistics through FAO on what a country exports but I don't know where they export to. I have a lot of information on which countries are importing but I don't know who they're importing from..."As for the draconian rules on BSE that seem to have been the root cause of David Dobbin's miserable encounter with DEFRA , the Countess of Mar in a recent TSE debate pointed out: ".. all regulation in this field is based on a hypothesis - not even a theory - that none of the "establishment" scientific community can prove, despite millions of pounds of taxpayers' money being thrown at the subject.... . "
March 18 2007 ~ "His only alleged offence was "non-compliance" with complex bureaucratic procedures, to an extent which Defra still cannot specify".
The Muckspreader story that so sickened us below, about the entire dairy herd killed by DEFRA, gets fuller treatment today in the Sunday Telegraph ".... Last November, on Defra's instructions, the officials seized all Mr Dobbin's passports, making it illegal for him to move animals off his farm and all but wiping out his income. Last month, serving him with a "notice to identify", they removed his herd to another farm, stating that, under EC regulation 494/98, it was their intention to destroy all 567 animals. .... Defra has never claimed that the paperwork for most of Mr Dobbin's cows was not in order, only that the officials had found "what they believed to be an unacceptable level of non-compliance with the regulations", and that this "could have serious implications for the protection of the human food chain". ..... it had no resources to look after the cattle properly, causing severe "animal welfare" problems. The judge felt he had little option but to give the go-ahead, and on March 8 and 9 the cows were destroyed.
All Mr Dobbin can now hope for is that the judicial review may confirm that Defra acted outside the law." Judging by emails read (example), this story has distressed and worried warmwell readers more than any other since the disgraceful scenes witnessed in 2001.
March 16 2007 ~ "We have been as frivolous about food as we have been about the environment and the planet..."
The magazine Country Living has launched a campaign with Waitrose and The Farmers Guardian to raise awareness of the need for fair trade for British farmers. (More about the campaign.) It is called Fair Trade for British Farmers and will also be supporting Farms Crisis Network. There is an excellent and well-illustrated article by Lisa Sykes in the March edition of Country Living (pp.37-42), describing the problems facing British farmers, using four telling slogans: No Farms no Fields, No Cows No Countryside, No Beef No Birds and No Flocks No Flowers. The article is one of the best explanations of the interdependence of farming and the countryside. In hearing about the seminar that launched the campaign, we were particularly struck by John Gummer's view that we have failed to recognise our responsibility as a species for the stewardship of the earth's natural resources - and that we have not treated these resources with the respect they deserve. "We are all in this together and we all have to get it right together......We have been as frivolous about food as we have been about the environment and the planet."
March 16 2007 ~ Free vaccination for 95 percent of cattle in Venezuela
4 million vaccinations were administered free of charge. Venezuela plans to set up dozens of animal health laboratories in the nation. See FMD news, a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis.
Five years ago the Royal Society said, "Important advances have been made within the last year, both technical and in the attitudes of the authorities and consumers, that should allow emergency vaccination to develop porton into a prime control strategy rather than one of last resort. Emergency vaccination should therefore be considered as part of the control strategy from the start of any outbreak of FMD."
As for Diagnostic methods: "Modern diagnostic methods, including penside tests, need to be developed that can shift the burden of diagnosis to veterinarians on the farm. Rapid diagnosis, particularly before clinical signs appear, would limit the size of any epidemic and improve the strategic deployment of resources."
Yet, even after so many years and so much patient argument, the UK continues to trail behind Latin America for reasons that remain unfathomable to this website - unless those reasons merely concern potential profits for Enigma Diagnostics Ltd (Porton Down).
March 15 2007 ~ " I hate academia. Most of the scientists who work there are not free men any more and they can't speak out. That's no way to do science. "
James Lovelock is quoted at length in today's Guardian ( link now working). We consider him to be wholly admirable, extraordinarily knowledgeable - and he answers to no one. What he says is deeply alarming - but the mildness and humour with which he says it we find both refreshing and cheering. In these days of wolves high on the narcotic of power leading sheep to slaughter it is nice to see that there is a wise and benign shepherd, towering above them, telling it like it is.
March 15 2007 ~ a "key question"
Last November, the EIG ( the oddly named England Implementation Group) gave, in its report (pdf), a prescient warning: "... old habits are hard to break, and Defra will need to guard against an instinct to return to its default position of "command and control" .... Whether Government is really ready to fundamentally change its ways of working is a key question. We have been encouraged by a very different approach from that which was heavily criticized during foot and mouth.... Key players have felt much more involved and in touch with developments and the rationale for decisions. .."
Mere wishful thinking. DEFRA's old habits - here described by Muckspreader in this week's Private Eye - continue,and in their arrogant, senseless callousness, destroy lives and livelihoods - and make strong men weep.
March 15 2007 ~ Notes on the Defra FMD & CSF stakeholders' meeting on 28 February 2007
Posted up on the "Disease control: Ideas for cost sharing between industry and government - Forum and discussion" page of the the FMD/CSF website are notes by Mary Marshall. Reading between the lines of the tactfully measured language, the February 28 stakeholders meeting seems to have been a classic example of command and control, telling and not listening. Cost cutting appears, for DEFRA, to have been the one important item on the agenda. At the same time, adding yet more layers of bureaucracy and dividing participants into sub groups is a time-honoured divide and rule tactic. This is not funny. At a time of ever-accelerating global movement of dangerous pathogens, DEFRA's attitude in a meeting about disease detection and control is both frivolous and dangerous. From the notes, it is evident that:
No business could support such serious inadequacies of management. But this centrally imposed incompetence and ignorance is putting the country, its animals and population in danger.
- Really crucial points about diagnostics and testing were interrupted by the Chair. A question about treatment of vaccinated meat was deferred to a private conversation at a later date. Urgent inquiries about the accessibility of on-site diagnostics were not answered.
- Communication issues, which have so often been referred to before by these stakeholders, are still not being addressed. It particularly rankles that when DEFRA communicates with media, they are not bothering to give these most concerned stakeholders the same information.
- In spite of the time for this meeting being drastically reduced at the last minute, a great deal of it was taken up by a reading aloud of material that participants could have read for themselves - and probably already had.
- Discussion of points raised was not allowed - while DEFRA's answers to urgent and relevant questioning betrayed either a woeful lack of knowledge or else an unwillingness to engage with the subject at all.
- The role of the Expert Group and the Science Advisory Council remains unclear in spite of constant requests for clarification.
- It seems that DEFRA is only now working on a contingency plan for BlueTongue - a disease that is playing havoc in Northern Europe and will, it is feared, arrive in the UK any day now .
March 14/ 15 2007 ~ "Why are politicians so clueless when it comes to rural matters?" Magnus Linklater in the Times
Times " Why do they impose regulations that don't work, using a bureaucracy that can't implement them?"
His article highlights the most recent depths of absurdity; that subsidy entitlements can be traded and anyone can buy them. "Even if you have never ventured from behind a city desk, all you need is to be classified as a farmer, which you can do through the simple expedient of taking out a lease on less than two acres of land, and holding it for ten months. ... It is becoming big business"
We are pleased to read that he too, like us, gives a Cassandra cry for sanity - and with about as much hope, one suspects, of its being heeded.
"As oil production peaks, and reducing carbon emissions becomes a key target in the battle against global warming, the demand will be for more local production rather than the long-distance trade in cheap food from abroad that keeps our superstores supplied at present. Neither Gordon Brown nor David Cameron mentioned it when they unveiled their separate green policies this week, but encouraging "localisation" - smaller units, less trucking of long-distance food, more self-sufficiency in farm production - is vital to a successful rural economy and essential if carbon emission targets are to be met."
March 14 2007 ~ Centralisation and "top-down" policies - the decline of local responsibility, good sense, economies, post officies, local services, the spread of Ghost Town Britain and the disappearance of democracy.
There is an arresting passage in Golding's "Lord of the Flies" where the bully, whose stone throwing has never done any real damage, comes to realise that there is no one to complain, no one to prevent his grabbing power, no one to stop him aiming in deadly earnest. In the past years, we have seen political "consultation" and "Stakeholder" meetings to be little more than a contemptuous charade. Where there is no genuine organised opposition to insane policies, people power is all that is left. Local Works org has this One Page Brief of the Sustainable Communities Bill
Consider also visitingTescopoly and Asda Watch (Asda in the UK is owned by Wal-Mart) - well organised campaigns for taking back local responsibility and protesting against unethical practices.
Consider checking whether your MP has yet signed Andrew George's EDM
"That this House recognises the vital and unique role that independent locally run shops play in communities and is concerned at the continuing decline in their number; supports a sustainable UK farming sector and food supply chain whilst seeking to ensure that overseas suppliers are treated fairly; believes that the major supermarkets are now abusing the power that they have in the food supply chain ..." More( Rebecca Solnit's article today in the Guardian on the subject of how horribly easy it is to do nothing beyond hand wringing is salutary.)
March 14 2007 ~ the five freedoms - "aspirations" rather than guarantees, it seems
So much for the RSPCA's "ethical" labelling - at least as far as the secretly filmed footage shown on 'Tonight with Trevor McDonald - The Truth about Ethical Food' is concerned. The ever more powerful RSPCA administers the Scheme - but with only 10 full-time officials to police it, farms can go up to 15 months without an inspection. The programme showed in distressing detail that life for farm animals - at any rate in the 'monitored' Freedom Food farms filmed on the programme - is as nasty, brutish and short as that for so many others in industrialised farms. Workers are so distanced from the reality of suffering that they were shown punching and kicking the animals in their charge. It was sickening. Both the ethics of industrialised food production and the newly politicised power of the RSPCA must surely now be scrutinised. It would appear that the whole thing is a scam. "Ethically produced" food can cost at least twice as much as its equivalent but people who believe that they are paying for a better life for the animals may simply be being conned. DEFRA has scornfully asserted that Britain is in a 'post agricultural' era . Such thinking ignores dangers of animal disease and zoonoses. Since labels have by recent events been shown to be worse than useless, knowing the provenance of decently produced local food and buying from local farmers and producers is more than ever necessary. We should keep our side of the bargain with the animals we use for food - if only to safeguard the health of the nation - by giving them a stress-free life and humane death.
March 14 2007 ~ UK farmers needed for window dressing
It will be interesting to see if the much respected CIWF reacts to last night's programme on their website. No one seemed to be at the end of their phone this morning.)Among reactions to last night's exposé of the ethical food scam programme above we have heard from one decent English farmer who has got out of mainstream production, who agrees with our reservations about the RSPCA's politicisation, who had (as did many others) to turn off the Tonight programme, and who has just written to say of the English countryside and farming, "we are still needed to provide a seductive window dressing for the grim reality of industrial food production."
Yes indeed. Bootiful. There is now a petition on the petitions.pm.gov.uk website (new window): " We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to hold a Public Enquiry into the polices and running of the RSPCA". There are well over a thousand signatures.
March 13/14 2007 ~ Rumours of warmwell.com's demise exaggerated...
Apologies - and many thanks for the concerned emails that have been arriving since Saturday. Warmwell's temporary absence has been due - not to a technical glitch, oversight, foul play nor Act of God - but to the sort of incompetence more often seen in a government department. However, there, the incompetence is generally followed by denials, bluster and promotion for those responsible. In the case of UK2.net, the mistake has been acknowledged. We have received an apology, token compensation - and matters have been rectified.
March 10 2007 ~ "Prevention and control of avian influenza: the need for a paradigm shift
in pandemic influenza preparedness" The current edition of the Veterinary Record carries a VIEWPOINT article by A. Martinot, J. Thomas, A. Thiermann, and N. Dasgupta. The "paradign shift" referred to refers to the need for a change in attitude towards both vaccination and diagnostics. Instead of merely preparing for an inevitable pandemic, they argue, we should instead be aiming to prevent the disease at source.
".......Controlling avian influenza, using vaccination when appropriate, is not only a mechanism to contain a potential global health crisis: it is a means to prevent income loss for both families and countries, to promote development and to protect the welfare of animals...The Abstract. is free to view.
...The strengthening of veterinary infrastructures worldwide will not only minimise the risks of avian influenza, but will also provide the early detection and rapid response capabilities for future emerging diseases. However, this will require a shift in thinking from preparation for an inevitable pandemic to pre-emption of the pandemic through prevention among animals."
(More on Vaccinating Birds against H5N1 on this warmwell page - updated as soon and often as possible.)
March 10 2007 ~ Agriculture ministers from six South American nations have agreed on a joint policy for improved cooperation in eliminating foot-and-mouth disease in the region
China Peoples' Daily reports "In a Friday meeting in the southern Bolivian city Santa Cruz, ministers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, agreed that under a framework of cooperation, the six nations will work to enhance common standards to strengthen the prevention of foot-and-mouth disease. The six nations will take control measures under the recommendations of the World Animal Health Organization. The policy will also mobilize the technical support of the Panaftosa laboratory, the Inter-American Agricultural Cooperation Agency, and the United Nations's Food and Agriculture Organization. .."
March 9 2007 ~"Together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) we're working hard to learn all we can from this episode." Bernard Matthews
Bernard Matthews' full page advertisements in several national newspapers today carry his personal claim that "my turkey is completely safe to eat". He thanks the public for their "support" . He insists that " I've never stopped instilling my core values of quality, value and customer care into every Bernard Matthews product." The adverts say that the products have undergone "the most rigorous independent scientific tests available"
The move is as predictable as the language is breathtaking. As an example of the spinmeister's art it is extraordinary - and was probably very expensive. (We now know it cost £7 million.) Now that a spotlight has been shone on his factory methods, little wonder that Bernard Matthews is anxious to persuade people that "Our standards of hygiene and bio-security are some of the most stringent in the world" - but the claim that it was the plant's "hygiene and biosecurity" that was instrumental in "detecting the virus, containing it and eradicating it in 72 hours" is without substance and the flaws in both have been well documented Free-range poultry keepers were inconvenienced and worried for weeks as a result. On it goes... "... we will not be complacent because bird flu did strike us. Together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) we're working hard to learn all we can from this episode " Unfortunately, in the area of animal disease, the UK's record on learning lessons is pitiful. In this outbreak, there are many unanswered questions and it is looking more and more as though as though answers are not ever going to be easy to extract. Perhaps there are those who would rather they remained unanswered. British taxes are going to be spent on paying the company its £600,000 compensation. Free range poultry owners are not going to be allowed to protect their birds because of a much repeated piece of nonsense. Intensive factory farms seem set to go on transforming the miserably short, unnatural lives of farmed poultry into vacuum packed meat products for the supermarkets. That the cost of all this is much too high must surely now be self evident.
March 9 2007 ~"I wouldn't be surprised if the last thing David Miliband wanted to do was debate the performance of his department"
The Western Morning News reporting on the fact that a full agriculture debate has not been held in the House of Commons for more than four years: "...Critics accused ministers of running scared from a catalogue of criticism on the handling of the foot and mouth crisis, tackling bovine TB and the botched new farm payments scheme.....the farming community has struggled with the aftermath of foot and mouth, faced the threat of bird flu and been hit with long delays in receiving EU grants in an administrative bungle. ......Shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said: "I wouldn't be surprised if the last thing David Miliband wanted to do was debate the performance of his department. We will look for an opportunity to have a debate on exactly this soon."
March 8 2007 ~ It would be useful know for certain that the Holton chicks were not infected via feed.
The government and the FSA are at pains to say that none of 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary had gone "near the sheds where infected birds were found and it was processed on other areas of the site" - but intensive farming tends to make use of everything in its desire for cheapness. Waste meat is put in a shredder, mixed with other "nutrients", and fed to turkeys. Both turkeys and chickens will eat meat. Even waste products from poultry are used as feed in the factory farming system. It would be useful to know both the provenance and precise contents of the feed given to the infected poults. A very obvious question is whether chicks could have been given feed that could have contained the virus. Presumably, if asked, that is a question that cannot be fobbed off with "we may never know".
March 8 2007 ~ 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary (unrecognised apparently by the TRACES database) were being processed in Holton at the height of the outbreak
BBC and ITV report that 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary, were being processed at Holton at the very time the H5N1 scare was at its height. Labour MP Roger Godsiff received this information from Caroline Flint the Public Health Minister - but it is absolutely at odds with DEFRA's Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) on January 24th about the outbreak in commercial geese at Csongrad in southern Hungary. The Preliminary Outbreak Assessment said:
"The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months."How could the TRAde Control and Expert System - a "system which provides automatic notification to the veterinary authority of a receiving Member State when an official veterinary health certificate is signed in a consigning Member State" have been so entirely wrong - and why was DEFRA relying on this in its assumption that the likelihood of the introduction of this disease from Hungary to the UK via legal trade before and after this outbreak is considered negligible ? We understand that TRACES is regarded as "hopeless" in Holland and that the Dutch government does not work with it. Neither David Miliband nor Lord Rooker referred to these Hungarian imports at the start of the scare. (See letter from Peter Ainsworth to David Miliband.) Did these DEFRA Ministers not know? Were they not told or did DEFRA really not know at that time? Was the omission deliberate? Trust in the veracity of government statements is not helped by this sort of uncertainty.
March 8 2007 ~ ".. vaccination. It has been decried for years, but perhaps its time has come."
As reported by FMD News, the service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis and summarising the article at www.cambridge-news.co.uk.
"Speaking to the Cambridge Society for the Application of Research, Dr. Mike Thrusfield said: "The millions of animals slaughtered last time were a tragic loss. Government scientists still claim that the episode was a success. To me it was a cull by computer....In the 1967 outbreak we slaughtered animals from infected farms - 440,000 in all. In 2001 the Government used computer models instead of vets as their source of advice. As a result they killed six-and-a half million farm animals, nearly 15 times as many, yet the epidemic subsided at the same rate. Next time there's an outbreak, we may well see the use of vaccination. It has been decried for years, but perhaps its time has come."Dr Thrusfield's talk last Monday was called: The Eternal Triangle: Science, Propaganda and Disease Control; the facts behind the 2001 Foot and Mouth Epidemic
March 8 2007 ~ " Is it not time to abandon this Buzzword, "BIOSECURITY", so beloved by Defra and government".
An emailer writes,"It is obvious to any one with clinical experience that no agricultural premise either intensive or extensive can ever be "secure" - with the frailty of humans and the occurrence of vermin, insects and birds, not to mention human activities of every description.
One glance at ITV pictures from the Hungarian incident must make this obvious.
Please can we use a simple term like " disease control measures",which describe the situation and are not designed to give a false impression to the public of the actual situation and the risks involved. "Biosecurity" is not an accurate description of this or any other outbreak situation."
March 7 2007 ~ " it is considered acceptable for us to risk contracting bird flu from our poultry"
A British poultry farmer has written to warmwell deploring the UK vaccination policy "surely vaccination of poultry should be allowed if only to protect those working with the birds?" he writes. "....It was a letter from NHS offering free (human) flu vaccination for me and my helpers which set me thinking. NHS wanted us to be vaccinated to reduce the chances of us suffering normal flu at the same time as we meet the HP bird flu virus. .... The NHS letter stressed the vaccine offered would NOT protect us against bird flu. In other words it is considered acceptable for us to risk contracting bird flu from our poultry, but we cannot be allowed to have normal flu at the same time because that would mean everyone else would be at risk...." Read in full
March 7 2007 ~ "Certainly the Chinese can investigate what is going on in Guangdong and if their (poultry) plants there contribute to those strains, they could so something to intervene"
A genetic analysis of the virus published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team at the University of California Irvine claims that China's southern Guangdong Province is a source of H5N1. The researchers' maps show China's north-west Qinghai Province to be another source of bird flu's spread. The Hong Kong Standard is just one paper to report on the study but the China Daily carries a denial from the Guangdong Province that its factory farms are to blame.
Local poultry farming in Hong Kong relies on day-old chicks supplied from China and, according to this USDA report, all live poultry supplies from China to Hong Kong come from Guangdong.
March 6 2007 ~ "Figures for imports into the United Kingdom of live day-old turkey chicks from outside the EU are not currently available. All consignments of live birds are liable to documentary and identity checks." Lord Rooker ( Hansard )
The government was not able, on February 8th, to answer questions about where turkey poults from outside the EU may have come from, how many and when - and yet implied that controls were adequate.
A question that must have occurred to many is the actual provenance of the chicks that succumbed to H5N1 at the end of January in a shed containing 7000 of them at Holton. Has any reader seen an answer to that question? If cheap poults were coming in quietly from countries such as Thailand, has that information been recorded?
Angela Browning - who, as a former Agriculture Minister, was certainly in a position to know all about control inadequacies - said in 2002, "It is all very well to try to source the cheapest of the cheap, but most people are looking for the reassurances on quality and safety that come with British standards. There does not seem to be a thorough enough checking system on imports to guarantee those standards....."
March 6 2007 ~ Hansard slip...
From the PQs below
"staff were required to shower on entry to the site and change footwear on entry to any particular House of Commons."As one emailer writes, "is this a typo, a serious description or a joke? Very wise whatever. Certainly we are having a flu A outbreak at present . Just in the last two weeks...."
(Good at any rate to know that Parliament is taking biosecurity so seriously.)
March 6 2007 ~"... what the remit is of the inquiry by his Department into the recent events at Bernard Matthews at Holton in Suffolk; and how the (a) proceedings and (b) conclusions of the inquiry will be communicated to the public"
The Parliamentary Questions from friday are at least as interesting for their content as are the officially worded answers. The fact that they are continuing is a hopeful sign. There has never been an official explanation of how the foot and mouth virus got into the UK . The widespread assumption that the Waugh farm was the index case is widely questioned and challenged. This time, the phrase "we may never know how it happened", may not so easily be allowed to stand. (Warmwell would very much welcome comments on the answers given to these PQs. They would not be published.)
March 6 2007 ~ Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London "made his name by advising government on tackling the spread of BSE and foot-and-mouth."
"He is now one of world's most influential experts on infectious diseases including pandemic flu" enthuses this BBC report on the setting up of the "Medical Research Council's new Centre for Outbreak Analysis" which will "work with international health bodies to identify dangerous new diseases and stamp them out as quickly as possible."
The reaction by many warmwell readers may well echo the final paragraphs of Private Eye's Muckspreader a year ago.
March 5 ~ "... the development of highly pathogenic strains of bird flu lies at the door of factory farming."
If the experts cited by CIWF in its report last month are right and " the development of highly pathogenic strains of bird flu lies at the door of factory farming" then much of the frantic killing of domestic birds has unfairly targeted them and attention should be focused instead on the factory farms. Perfect biosecurity is a myth as was shown at the Bernard Matthews plant at Holton with its open bins of meat waste. But production and trade were given the nod to resume almost immediately. Most experts agree that it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates into something approaching the 1918 killer and this should put the bland assurances of the influential factory farmers into perspective. They like to defend both the inhumane and unnatural conditions and the to-ing and fro-ing of product parts by saying that these places produce cheap meat for those on low incomes. The irony of this is heartbreaking. The virus' human victims are the poorest. The winners are those in the huge food industries watching the demise of independent farming. If nothing is done to analyse more fully the part played in the spread of H5N1 by the massive and ever-expanding intensive poultry industry the safety of millions could - in all seriousness - be in the balance. Recommended reading for those who have time is the Agroecology website 'Agroecology' - the discipline that "provides the basic ecological principles for how to study, design, and manage sustainable agroecosystems that are both productive and natural resource conserving, and that are also culturally-sensitive, socially-just and economically viable" .
March 5 2007 ~ Avian influenza targets those without a voice - An enquiry should be conducted into the role of the global, intensive poultry industry in the spread of H5N1
One consequence beyond Britain of the assumption that domestic and wild birds are the primary cause of H5N1 is that Jakarta has banned household poultry there. There were about 1.3 million backyard birds in Jakarta. Thousands of families were given until Feb. 1 to consume, sell or kill their birds. After that, in scenes that many of us will remember with a shudder from 2001, "inspectors" went from door to door to destroy any remaining birds. The Indonesian government pledged to pay about $1.50 for each infected bird but most birds were perfectly healthy. No one knows how Jakarta's poor will replace the income they once received from chickens and other birds - the only source of income for many women and children. But Indonesia has not got the funds to compensate properly.
The NewYork Times recently published an article by a group of 24 government officials, public health experts and scientists from 11 countries who recently met in Bellagio, Italy, to call attention to how pandemic planning affects the world's disadvantaged . The article points out that industrial-scale poultry producers - and it cites Bernard Matthews - usually have the resources to absorb the losses whereas when the birds of small-scale poultry farmers are culled, "entrepreneurs who were just beginning to move up the development ladder can be plunged right back into poverty..." While many in Britain are still reeling from the news that the Bernard Matthews plant, with its known breaches of bio-security, is in line for massive compensation, the poor countries, without proper resources, really are floundering.
March 5 2007 ~ Indonesia's actions "understandable" - poorer countries need affordable vaccines
Indonesia's decision to withhold human bird flu virus samples from the World Health Organization has caused international consternation, but The Lancet has called Indonesia's actions "understandable." There have been 63 human deaths from H5N1 in Indonesia. (Globally, at least 167 of the 277 people known to be infected with bird flu since 2003 have died.) The Health Minister, Siti Fadilah Supari, says she is waiting for a promise from the U.N. agency that any new specimens sent will not be used for commercial vaccines ( likely to be too expensive for Indonesia to buy) adding that she has no problem sending viruses to be studied if they will not be used commercially. The WHO has given no such undertaking.
Last January the US and donor nations pledged more than $2 billion for Bird Flu. We don't know how much has actually been spent but last June just $286 million had been used in the fight against the disease. Both Dr. David Nabarro, senior UN system co-ordinator for avian and human influenza and Dr. Joseph Domenech, head of the FAO's animal health service deplored the shortfall of funds saying agencies were being "run ragged".
The Lancet says " To protect the global population, 6.2 billion doses of pandemic vaccine will be needed, but under current manufacturing capacity the world can only produce 500 million doses... in a pandemic, it is industrialized countries that will have access to available vaccines, whereas developing countries -- where a pandemic is likely to emerge -- will be left wanting The fairest way forward would be for WHO to seek an international agreement that would ensure that developing countries have equal access to a pandemic vaccine, at an affordable price."
March 3/4 2007 ~"The massive international movement of livestock and their products - the only possible beneficiaries of such unnecessary movements are a few powerful individuals ..The rest of us pay the price ."
Alan Beat at smallholdersonline.blogspot.com makes some worrying remarks about the export trade so often used to justify the unjustifiable. He checked the official UK statistics for the last twelve months at http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/datasets/poultrade.xls
"The Bernard Matthews fiasco has once again exposed to public gaze this massive international movement of livestock and their products. In reality the so-called "export trade" is broadly counterbalanced by matching imports, at huge cost to the environment. The only possible beneficiaries of such unnecessary movements are a few powerful individuals and corporations who exploit the financial imbalances of international markets. The rest of us pay the price in environmental degradation..."The next update to the DEFRA statistics in the movement to and fro of chicks, turkey poults, live fowl and carcasses is due on March 29th. It will be interesting to see whether the Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak will have made even a small dent in these figures.
March 3/4 2007 ~ UC Davis research study aimed to protect the US from foot-and-mouth disease
The tide may at last be turning with this reference to vaccination in the news release from the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance (CADMS) in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. They have now launched a nationwide research study, asking american livestock producers to participate in an online survey. They will, they insist, keep confidential the vital information collected about the distribution of livestock nationwide, animal movements and husbandry practices in the US. An effective response strategy needs up to date information and, learning from the tragic inaccuracies of the UK 2001 modelling, the UC Davis team know that asking for cooperation (rather than demanding it) while at the same time assuring confidentiality and transparency is essential if modelling data is to be of any use in evaluating "alternative strategies for disease mitigation".
March 2 2007 ~ "If one cannot get to the bottom of how a disease has come in, it is not fair to expect the industry to carry the costs. "
Lord Rooker came under some pressure in the House of Lords on Tuesday Feb 22nd when repeating the DEFRA mantra that the origin of the outbreak "may never be found". The Countess of Mar spoke of DEFRA's "lack of assiduity in tracing where the virus has come from" while Baroness Byford insisted, "My Lords, will Defra be able to finalise where this disease has come from? At the moment, the Government's move within the industry is to share the costs of future animal disease outbreaks. If one cannot get to the bottom of how a disease has come in, it is not fair to expect the industry to carry the costs. ..."
Lord Dykes wanted to know of Lord Rooker; "... will the noble Lord confirm that the origin of this contamination now appears to be clear and that it was definitely not wild birds? Will he also reassure the House that the Government are coping with the worrying stories that keep coming along of very poor live-poultry care in the East Anglian turkey-processing factories, sloppy hygiene procedures and misleading origin advertising?" Read in full
March 2 2007 ~ Verona Conference. Ben Bradshaw says DEFRA "officials" will attend.
Hansard. Peter Ainsworth asked Mr Bradshaw yesterday " whom he expects to represent his Department at the Vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza conference in Verona on 20 to 22 March 2007" (See details below) Mr. Bradshaw's answer did not name anyone nor say how many 'officials' are going to attend this important conference on vaccination. He did however reveal that, "Officials from DEFRA's Exotic Disease Prevention and Control Division and Veterinary Exotic Diseases, Research and Official Controls Division will be attending."
March 2 2007 ~ Local Suffolk free-range poultry owners astonished by "snippet" of news announcing the end of some restrictions
Local people around Holton feel outraged by the announcement from the County Council in their Suffolk Snippet and by its tone of voice. The "snippet" wholly ignores the serious animal welfare concerns, the inconvenience and the cost to owners of having been forced to house their birds in unnatural conditions around the outbreak at the Bernard Matthews factory farm. Some restrictions were lifted yesterday. However, rather than being lectured on the need for vigilance or bio-security, many people would rather know that the origin of the outbreak is being properly pursued. As the virologist Ruth Watkins says below, " It is imperative that the highly pathogenic H5N1 is stopped from circulating round the world. It is dangerous to expose humans and wild birds to infected domestic poultry."
March 1 2007 ~ Parliamentary Question about recent imports from Hungary ignores assertion from DEFRA on January 24 2007
From Hansard we read that Bill Wiggin asked Ben Bradshaw on Tuesday " how much meat from (a) geese and (b) turkeys was imported into the UK from (i) Hungary, (ii) Europe and (iii) the rest of the world in each of the last six months" The answer gave a table showing imports from July to December 2006. Mr Bradshaw said that December 2006 figures are "currently the latest" which are available.
However, when H5N1 was discovered in domestic geese in Hungary in late January 2007, the DEFRA Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) dated January 24th, said: "The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months." (TRACES means "TRAde Control and Expert System - a system which provides automatic notification to the veterinary authority of a receiving Member State when an official veterinary health certificate is signed in a consigning Member State")
Just a couple of weeks before the virus appeared in the intensive factory at Holton, DEFRA's stated view was that
" the likelihood of the introduction of this disease from Hungary to the UK via legal trade before and after this outbreak is considered negligible."
March 1 2007 ~ Why did DEFRA think that there had been no legal imports from Hungary at the time of the Hungary infection?
Why did they insist that the likelihood of the disease passing into the UK was considered "negligible"? For DEFRA at least, the assumption seems to have been that the risk was purely from wild birds - an assumption that has, at last, been challenged by David Nabarro, the UN co-ordinator for avian and human flu, who said intensive poultry production was behind the spread of the virus this year. In spite of DEFRA's assumption at the beginning of the outbreak that wild birds were the cause, and even as free range birds were being forced indoors, there was no live bird sampling or surveillance going on in Suffolk. (See also letter from Dr Lucas MEP)
It does seem a little disingenuous of Mr Bradshaw to have told Mr Wiggin that there was no current information about January imports when DEFRA seems to have been so reliant on the TRACES database. In fact, as we now all know and as DEFRA was later to admit, lorries had been passing to and fro between the Bernard Matthews plants in Suffolk and Hungary all the time. It seems highly likely that the abattoir, the Gall Food abattoir in Kecskemet, that killed his turkeys had also processed infected geese. Is it conceivable that DEFRA really did not know about the UK and Hungary operations carried out by Bernard Matthews at the time of their Preliminary Outbreak Assessment - and does this not raise serious questions both about the paper trail, current controls and the extent of DEFRA's knowledge - particularly in view of the government's haste in allowing the factory to resume operations? And if, as Mr Bradshaw also said on Tuesday,"Scientists at the VLA together with DEFRA scientists, representatives of the Science Advisory Council and scientists in the Devolved Administrations provide regular advice through the Exotic Diseases of Poultry Experts Group" are owners and farmers satisfied that they are getting up to date and valid information from these experts?
March 1 2007 ~ Yesterday "severe biosecurity shortfalls" and " poor hygiene practices" - today news of £600,000 compensation
Fred Landeg has today talked about DEFRA's lack of complacency and the necessity for poultry keepers to practice good bio-security. Bernard Matthews claimed that his factory farm "meets and in many cases exceeds Defra's bio-security measures" - but the government reports revealed what the Guardian called a "string of flaws" and the company could still face prosecution. The latest news today (Sky) is that Bernard Matthews company is to receive £600,000 compensation for its slaughtered turkeys. Meanwhile, the free-range poultry owners around the plant who want simply to be allowed to protect their birds with vaccination and are not allowed to do so, are still being forced to keep them in unnatural conditions. Not surprisingly, Chris Huhne says, "I would prefer it if Defra were talking about fines and throwing the book at Bernard Matthews for sloppy practices and risk-taking."
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