"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 August 2006
Aug 26 2006 ~ Once again, senior scientists and health officials worldwide have called for Bird Flu data to be shared internationally.
Many leading avian influenza scientists have tentatively agreed to share data that were previously being kept behind closed doors as part of an effort called the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data (GISAID).
Nature " A letter outlining the agreement is published online today in Nature, signed by 70 scientists and health officials, including six Nobel laureates.
"...By storing all the sequences in a designated place and allowing more open access, the hope is that researchers will be able to carry out comparisons quickly of one new strain against many others from both animals and humans. This type of analysis can reveal whether a virus is acquiring mutations as it spreads between bird flocks, or - should the virus start spreading between people - whether it is becoming resistant to drugs."We have mentioned several times the plea by Dr Ilaria Capua, chair of the scientific committee of OFFLU ( the bird flu network set up by the FAO and OIE)
"Most of us are paid to protect human and animal health. If publishing one more paper becomes more important, we have our priorities messed up."The efforts of Dr Capua and others have now resulted in this GISAID agreement. Nature says that Dr Capua is very happy with the result and says that the same framework could be used to distribute data for other emerging infectious diseases in which information must be shared quickly. See also Bird Flu page
Aug 22 2006 ~ No one at DEFRA could explain what "agro-terrorism" was.
The radio programme The Silent Terrorist tonight will be available for a week on the Listen Again page. Radio 4's Simon Cox contacted DEFRA to ask what they thought about agro-terrorism but apparently and almost incredibly "they could not find anyone who knew what it was." ( It is tempting to suggest that possibly they thought any definition might be used against them in relation to the UK government's FMD policy in 2001, a form of agricultural terrorism that will never be forgotten.)
On the subject of terrorism by actual terrorists, the paper Betting Far More than the Farm, (pdf) in BIOSECURITY AND BIOTERRORISM: BIODEFENSE STRATEGY, PRACTICE, AND SCIENCE Volume 2, Number 4, 2004 by expert Roger Breeze, emphasises that
"... Traditional government responses to such an event - sweeping quarantines, mass slaughter and burning or burial of millions of carcasses under the ceaseless eye of television - together with staggering financial losses triggered by international trade embargoes are exactly what terrorists want to see and what makes these viruses potential biological weapons in the first place.. .... it is only the ways we have chosen to respond to foreign diseases in the past that allow terrorists to threaten us with them in the future.." (read in full)The BBC, reporting that Kansas is hoping to win the contract for the new federal bio- and agro-defence facility ( see below) to replace Plum Island also quotes John Feffer, of the magazine Foreign Policy in Focus, who believes the US government is scaremongering. John Feffer says
"What does sell is a threat perception, fear is what sells, unfortunately that's what agro-terrorism feeds into."
Aug 22 2006 ~ Bluetongue "looks like Foot and Mouth"
Bluetongue, found in the Netherlands on Aug 18th has up until now been thought of as a disease of Mediterranean and Southern Europe. The Scotsman:
"Until very recently the balance of opinion among veterinary experts was that Bluetongue was unlikely to spread to northern Europe. The Netherlands outbreak is 300 miles further north than any other previous incident. .."This is a worrying development for farming in North West Europe. Defra has announced " testing and additional surveillance" on all recent imports from affected countries into the UK.
In the Netherlands, Luxembourg and large areas of Belgium and Germany, an export ban for cows, sheep and goats now affects a radius of 150 kilometres around the infected farms. A transport ban has also been imposed - except to slaughter - within a radius of 20 kilometres.
The disease is spread by bloodsucking midges. Although it doesn't affect humans, it can be fatal to sheep. An email received today from Germany says, "....we are in the middle of BT and lots of cases in cattle are popping up. Authorities are behaving like headless chickens and until now there has been nobody able to tell us exactly what the main symptoms in cattle are. Rumours from Belgium say it looks like FMD..."
Europa.eu.int has a page of Q and A while Stackyard has a picture of the distressing symptoms in badly affected sheep.
Aug 18 2006 ~ Bovine TB a genuine drop in numbers?
In June, Debby Reynolds, the Chief Veterinary Officer, was asked by Ben Bradshaw to undertake a review of the apparent fall in the number of new TB incidents. She considered whether the switch in tuberculin supply from the VLA to that purchased from Holland ( ID Lelystad) could have caused this reduction. (The switch was made in June 2005 and the apparent decline dates from around this time.) The CVO in her report (Defra pdf) , notes a "small difference in performance" but VLA's own report refers to a but "statistically significant difference" and that "2mm difference in swelling will mean 24 % of incidents are missed, or detected later." In spite of the CVO's assumption that this is only a "small difference" the VLA says:
"....The data that we have gives some indication that there are subtle differences in performance between the Dutch and current Weybridge PPDs (suggesting that the Dutch bovine/avian PPD combination is not so good at detecting infection)..."Dr Reynolds does say " it is highly unlikely that it will be possible to explain the decline with any precision."
See also http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/2006/08/going-dutch-2mm-difference.html which goes on to examine the significance of the new TB 64 Interpretation Chart revised by Defra in February.
Aug 17 2006 ~ Once again, the "carrier" argument rears its head in the UK as a reason for not implementing Bird Flu vaccination.
A paper in Nature suggests that it is very hard to protect more than about of 90% of the birds in any given flock although, the authors concede, the use of unvaccinated sentinels can "mitigate the problem". Using computer modelling rather than field studies as evidence, the paper suggests that incomplete vaccination of flocks can contribute to the "undetected spread of the disease".
Reporting on this, the Herald's article by James Morgan today uses the attention grabbing headline "Bird flu vaccination can 'worsen spread' " It says the "..... UK government's fears appear to be borne out by the new study."
A letter in the Veterinary Record Sept. 3rd, 2005, detailing the vaccination strategy at the Singapore Zoological Gardens (an actual field study, and where all birds that are exposed to the public are vaccinated against bird flu), says
"assuming a 1/16 titre is protective this implies only a one in five chance of infection in one bird and a one in twenty five chance of it spreading to another bird in the same premises."Would "unseen spread" be able to happen with such odds? We remember the wise words of ProMed's Martin Hugh Jones
"I have a phrase I use on my students and those over-enamored of their computers and models, "Why should I believe you when you have a computer pallor and no mud on your shoes?" The truth is in the field, not in the computer. When models are checked and rechecked against reality they can be fine-tuned and may eventually become useful. .."
Aug 16 2006 ~ Remaining small abattoirs under threat (again)
Small local abattoirs in the UK - those that still remain after questionnable regulations have closed three quarters of UK slaughterhouses in the past 15 years - provide jobs in rural communities, minimise animal welfare problems and shorten the distances that animals are sent by lorry on their last journey. Smaller abattoirs are central to the drive to get people to buy locally-reared and locally processed meat. What is more, the existence of local abattoirs make the illegal trade in "dirty meat" far less likely. However, Foodproductiondaily.com reports today that proposed increases in vets' inspection fees could bring an end to small abattoirs in the UK . It quotes FPB spokesman Matt Hardman:
"The problem is the interpretation of the EU legislation where they [the UK government] basically gold-plated the situation," said Hardman. "Instead of a literal translation, where the EU asks for veterinarians, we have veterinary surgeons which are more costly."
"..... Full rates for a veterinarian surgeon are usually around £90 ( 133) an hour. Currently, small abattoirs pay a fixed fee for the inspection of individual animals. This would be a significant setback for the 230-odd small abattoirs across the UK. ..."Mr Hardman goes on to say, if the standards are to be changed it should be to the benefit of all. If that means lightening the load on larger abattoirs then it should be done for the survival of smaller abattoirs.
As Muckspreader said back in 2004 : "... Some of the best-quality meat still on the market will no longer be there to buy. And the only people rejoicing will be the supermarkets, who will have knocked out yet another tranche of their smaller competitors; and of course the regulators....." (read in full)
Email received on Aug 16th
Aug 15 2006 ~ Will Cockbain: "It is totally unacceptable as we approach the autumn sales period that many farmers are still awaiting HFA payments"
Some hill farmers in Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire STILL have not received payment from the RPA. (RPA latest)
Aug 15 2006 ~ US Homeland Security say that "state-of-the-art technology" is needed to combat zoonoses. The future of Plum Island is uncertain.
The Department of Homeland Security's new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is going to cost 450 million US dollars (or about 238 million pounds). This suggests that the US at least is taking very seriously the need to investigate infectious diseases properly and swiftly from whatever sources they may arise.
The existing Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York is not being considered for the location of the new facility and its future is in some doubt. The Department does not say it intends to close Plum Island, but what seems to be assumed is that the new facility will be "replacing" some or all of its present work.
The Associated Press reported a Homeland Security spokesman last week who said
"..... the new facility probably won't be completed for years, and in the meantime $35 million is being spent on infrastructure, equipment and security upgrades to Plum Island.(It may be remembered that the whistleblower at Plum Island, James McKoy, was fired when he raised concerns about security. Some cattle and pigs not involved in a vaccine trial showed symptoms of foot and mouth. When he was reinstated Mr McKoy said, "The guys who work there are working in a safer place, the community has a safer facility near it, and the country has taken steps to prevent bioterrorism. If I don't see a plugged nickel out of the whole thing, I did the right thing and I'm proud I was in a position to do it." See warmwell pages on the concerns about security at Plum Island. )
"We anticipate shifting some responsibilities from Plum Island to the new facility but that's another seven years down the line. What we are going to do soon is a full study examining Plum Island" and its possible future uses.".....".A 2003 congressional study found security flaws at the site but Homeland Security officials have since said those concerns have been addressed....."
Aug 10 2006 ~ Foot and Mouth in Vietnam: Europe to provide 2 million doses of vaccine
FMD has flared up in some southern provinces of Vietnam and vaccine is to be imported from Europe.
".....Authorities in these areas are now tightening control over transport and trade of cattle, disinfecting affected areas, and vaccinating animals.
The Vietnamese government has provided the provinces with tens of thousands of doses of FMD vaccine. It plans to import 2 million doses worth VND 36 billion [USD 2.3 million] from France and the Netherlands for the national reserve...." See ProMed
Aug 9 2006 ~ Consultation for DEFRA's draft Statutory Instrument, (SI) for the Zoonoses (Monitoring) Regulations 2006
( Statutory Instruments can amend, update or enforce existing primary legislation The Courts can question whether a Minister, when issuing an SI, is using a power he has actually been given in the parent Act, whereas they cannot question the validity of the Act itself.)
The Consultation package includes
The relevant DEFRA website page is http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/zoonoses-monitoring/index.htm
- A consultation document containing a summary of the consultation issues, background to the legislation and draft of "the Monitoring SI"
- A partial Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA)
The deadline for responses is Friday 27 October 2006.
Aug 6 2006 ~ " learning the practical lessons of 2001 and embracing the potential advantages offered by modern diagnostic technologies and data handling systems ."
A letter by Adrian Wingfield, Hugh Miller and Nick Honhold, FMD control strategies, in the current Veterinary Record, expresses disappointment that "the body of work cited by Keeling and colleagues as evidence for the beneficial effects of automatic compulsory contiguous culling" consists almost entirely of mathematical modelling papers, which are "by their own definition approximations to reality."
The letter draws attention to "the extensive post hoc evidence that compulsory contiguous culling was as unnecessary as it was ineffective " and makes a plea for a
"return to a more reasoned approach to infectious animal disease control based on solid science and sound veterinary epidemiological principles.."The letter concludes
" ".......There now seems to be no reason why DEFRA should not abandon wider culling policies (compulsory contiguous, 'firebreak' and area culling) and the enabling legislation (Animal Health Act 2002), revert to the tried and tested conventional control methodology as the cornerstone of FMD control, and refine future policy by learning the practical lessons of 2001 and embracing the potential advantages offered by modern diagnostic technologies and data handling systems."Read letter in full
Aug 6 2006 ~ " we don't encourage this sort of dramatic culling"
Reacting to the mass killing of all dogs except those useful to the state (Military guard dogs and police canine units) in the Chinese province of Shandong province (see below) the World Health Organisation says
"Rabies is a big problem for China and it is one that is probably under-reported," said Roy Wadia of the UN agency's Beijing office. "But we don't encourage this sort of dramatic culling. There would be no need for it if adequate vaccination and surveillance measures were in place." (See Guardian)ProMed comments, " To properly assess the (apparently excessive) control measures applied by the Shandong authorities, it would help to obtain data on the number of owned dogs vs. stray or abandoned dogs. In a rabies-stricken area, dogs are expected to be vaccinated, muzzled and leashed."
Aug 5 2006 ~ "After the public outrage at the killings in Yunnan, officials in eastern Jining have ordered a media blackout on the cull
giving permission only to one local newspaper to send its reporters to write about the slaughter. .." A distressing report from the Times on the Chinese city where rabies has killed 16 people. The destruction of dogs has been ordered.
It "could kill hundreds of thousands of pets"
Officials said that 16 people had died of rabies following dog bites in the eastern city of Jining in the past eight months and all dogs living within three miles of areas where rabies had been found would be killed.
".....Zhang Luping, founder of the Beijing Human and Animal Environmental Education Centre, said the culling should stop: "This really damages our national image and sets a really bad example to show how lazy and inconsiderate those local government officials are"Military guard dogs and police canine units are being spared - which raises questions about the need to slaughter rather than vaccinate.
Warmwell readers are likely to find that the article brings back vivid and upsetting memories of anguish when animals and pets were seized and killed in Britain while the protests of their owners - who knew that they were no threat - were, often arrogantly, ignored. The availability and efficacy of modern technologies including vaccination means that the argument "it's the animals or it's us" has no validity. It will seem to many thoughtful people that the strange but continuing mindset of killing to cure has consequences that go far beyond any supposed pragmatism.
Aug 2 2006 ~ "unexpected costs" leading to DEFRA's slashed budget have included "preparations for avian flu"
Even less money for DEFRA could have very serious consequences for animal health policies.
The Guardian says such preparations as have been made to prepare for avian flu "are believed to have cost more than £50million" They still have not, as far as we are aware, included the ordering of H5N1 vaccines the free-range sector. Caroline Lucas MEP, in her report (pdf new window) quotes
"... Patrick Holden, Soil Association Director, who sees direct comparisons with the outbreak of Foot and Mouth: "This gives me an awful sense of déjà vu. In the early days of the Foot and Mouth outbreak, the Soil Association met with the Prime Minister and urged him to adopt a vaccination policy to control the spread of the disease - our views were overruled by those putting their export trade ahead of science and animal welfare. The economic, human and welfare costs of that error of judgement are well known. Vaccination is now the adopted method of control for Foot and Mouth - it should also play a key role in any strategy to control an outbreak of bird 'flu ... action is required now to build up a vaccine bank."
Aug 2 2006 ~ DEFRA Budget to be cut by £200 million
The Guardian reports today that DEFRA
"....was in financial crisis last night after being told to cut its budget by nearly £200m over the next six months. The Guardian has learned that the 7% savings are expected to bite deeply into flood defence work, nature conservation and canal repair schemes as well as a host of scientific bodies and research groups..."Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat shadow environment secretary, evidently aghast that the environment is to suffer for the bungling of the RPA, said, "This cock-up by Margaret Beckett should be met from the contingency reserve not key budget lines for environmental spending."
See also RPA page. It looks as though these cuts are a direct result of the RPA bungle. A further £12m is being cut from "Natural England" the organisation for conservation that is to take over from the Countryside Agency in October. Sir Martin Doughty, its new chairman, is reported to have written to David Miliband,
"the scale of these cuts risks the wheels coming off the organisation even before it reaches October's launchpad".As well as the dire consequences for "Natural England" and flood defences, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the Central Science Laboratory, the National Forest Company are among those bodies to be affected.
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