"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 February 2007
February 28 2007 ~ "....we can't do anything to imperil that £370 million a year export trade, can we?"
Private Eye looks at the sequence of events following the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak and seems somewhat less than impressed with the UK government's response. Read in full
February 28 2007 ~ Vaccinated animals do not go visiting unvaccinated ones
We find it quite extraordinary that the FMD page of the EU Commission's website even now, still carries the sentence, so often quoted by those who, for various non-veterinary reasons, play down the proven efficacy of vaccination: "Vaccination with the use of conventional vaccines protects from disease, but does not prevent infection and consequently a carrier state" This assertion suggests that a vaccinated animal can pass on virus to an unvaccinated one. It ignores the fact that animals are vaccinated in herds and stay on farms. Unlike people, who constantly interact over wide distances, herds stay together.
As was pointed out in 2001 by an expert now holding a very senior international post indeed, (and then evidently exasperated by those who said that vaccination only prevents disease occurring and does not interfere with transmission), vaccinates "are not mixing and milling about the countryside".
" .... vaccinated animals produce little or any virus by routes that are expected to be involved in spread by people or objects" "... Experiments by Terpstra and colleagues in Holland were conducted to determine whether a well vaccinated animal might spread infection to a NON-vaccinate stabled in the same shed -and drinking from the same bowl. They used doses of virus which are huge compared to an expected level that might occur by a vaccinated animal meeting infection "over the fence". The results show that transmission can occur, but at low rates and were only shown to occur with NON-vaccinates. In reality, if virus infection is a risk in the area, ALL animals on a farm would be advised to be vaccinated. Only ridiculous disease control strategists would advise vaccinating only a few animals on the farm (as occur in the experiments such as Terpstra's), or mixing vaccinates and non-vaccinates when there is infection in the immediate area. ..."
February 27/28 2007 ~ EU to set up emergency rapid reaction veterinary teams ready to move within 24 to 36 hours
The International Herald Tribune quotes EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou who says that recent and past outbreaks of bird flu, swine fever or foot-and-mouth disease in the EU "highlighted the importance of having well-prepared, well-trained personnel available to provide their expertise in dealing with the problem." The Commission is setting up a veterinary expert team that can be deployed at short notice to respond to outbreaks of animal disease. "An EU panel of national veterinary experts approved the plan, allowing the commission to go ahead and draft a list of team members from across the EU. Experts will be drawn from the fields of laboratory testing, veterinary, virology, wildlife, risk management and other areas to be ready to move within 24 to 36 hours to affected areas ..." The European Business Guide adds that
".....The team will also collaborate closely with experts from international organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and International Office of Epizootics (OIE). Member States will submit lists of experts they propose for the emergency team, along with detailed profiles of these candidates, to the Commission. From these submissions, the Commission will select the team members and inform Member States of its choice through the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The list of experts will be updated on an annual basis, and the list will be available on the Commission's website."It will be interesting to see, on the Commission's website, which experts from the UK are selected. In the past, those advising government have too often been chosen from the ranks of ambitious researchers seeking funds or those unable to rise above narrow vested interest groups. Because of a lack of true independence, such 'experts' are unable to withstand political pressures - and politics has dominated animal health control for far too long.
February 27/28 2007 ~ Supermarket low prices spell doom for traditional dairy, beef and sheep farms
Farmers supplying the supermarkets receive around 18p per litre for milk. It is sold for 49p a litre, making milk cheaper than some bottled mineral water. The Independent : quotes NFU President Peter Kendall:
"It is encouraging that supermarkets are now falling over each other to paint themselves as the "greenest", the "most sustainable" or even the "most responsible". It is now a matter of urgency that this rhetoric becomes a reality ..."Justin King's reported response: "We cannot and will not prop up inefficient businesses" - seems an easy quip, ignoring the unfairness of the huge mark-up. It suggests, moreover , that his supermarket at least thinks that big profits made from cheap imports are of greater importance than safeguarding British farming.
Such a views ignores the prophetic words of Professor James Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia: "... Unfortunately our nation is now so urbanised as to be like a large city and we have only a small acreage of agriculture and forestry. We are dependent on the trading world for sustenance; climate change will deny us regular supplies of food and fuel from overseas. .. ... .. ......we need secure indigenous supplies of food and energy.... we cannot rely on supplies from abroad..."
The Independent reports (28th Feb)Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, " the television chef and champion of small producers, is fronting a new offensive against the supermarkets which he portrays as a "bullying" force destroying British food. He will denounce the supermarkets at a public meeting in Westminster tonight (Wednesday) and demand new powers to limit their growth. (More).
February 26 2007 ~ "it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination"
The Verona conference, taking place in March, reflects the feeling in both the OIE and the FAO that the strategic use of vaccination is now of great importance.
".... using the DIVA approach or the frequent monitoring of sentinel birds, vaccination has successfully controlled or prevented the disease on many occasions. Nevertheless, ensuring vaccine quality control and the appropriate use of vaccines is a significant issue in many countries, and should form part of the national intervention strategies of at risk or infected countries. ... The OIE and FAO consider that it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination with regard to international standards, regulations and the implementation of vaccination programmes..."There is no reference at all, by Dr Bernard Vallat, Dr Joseph Domenech or Dr Stefano Marangon, to the often quoted DEFRA contention that " Vaccination can mask disease and therefore could spread the disease further". (See below) It may be assumed that the Director General of the OIE, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the FAO and the Director of Science IZSVe are better informed than Ben Bradshaw and the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton. It is to be hoped that our policy makers will receive up to date information and advice straight from the conference itself.
February 25 2007 ~ Rapid Diagnosis for flu in birds: Multiplex test
From the latest report of the USDA/ARS Research Project: Development and Validation of Rapid Diagnostic Tests for Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease
".....We have also developed an internal control to be run as a multiplex test with both the AIV and NDV tests to assure that the RRT-PCR reaction was performed correctly. The internal control should help to eliminate false-negatives. We have also developed hemagglutinin subtyping tests for most of the 16 described subtypes of AI. We remain active in the evaluation of primer sets to assure they work well with outbreak viruses from around the world. Finally, the development of dried down reagents to aid in the stability of the reagents, increased quality control, and ease of use of the test has already developed interest from a number of different diagnostic laboratories. The Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (SEPRL) has been on the leading edge of use of real time PCR testing as a diagnostic test for viral pathogens of poultry with its work on avian influenza virus and Newcastle disease virus. Through collaborations with APHIS, the rapid diagnostic test for avian influenza and Newcastle Disease was validated and adopted by APHIS ...."
February 23 2007 ~ "Stakeholders are currently talking to DEFRA about vaccination delivery. A third meeting should eventually be held..."
Dr Chris Ashton, who represents the British Waterfowl Association on the DEFRA poultry stakeholders group, has asked warmwell to publish a document about vaccination against avian influenza and on the efficacy of vaccines. Elm Farm Research Centre produced a paper on this subject which they launched at a Parliamentary Reception in July while Dr Ashton herself gave a short presentation at a DEFRA meeting in June about the desirability of having a policy in place before the disease actually arrived. What needs to be made a lot clearer is the circumstances in which DEFRA would allow the vaccine to be used. For keepers of small numbers of birds, 'backyard birds', the question is urgent - although luckily these naturally reared birds are the ones least likely to get ill. Most of the cases - certainly in Laos and Holland - have been in industrial poultry, and it does seem to be becoming an inescapable conclusion that it is the global poultry industry and the unnatural rearing conditions which are the problem. As owners say, "Quite why our pets and pure breeds have to take the risk, we really don't know."
February 21/22 2007 ~ "There is little question that adequate vaccination will reduce shedding levels and thus the virus load.."
Dr Bernard Vallat, Dr Joseph Domenech and Dr Stefano Marangon have written the Introduction: to the Verona Conference taking place next month (20-22 March) Its title is Vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza. This is a scientific conference on vaccination, co-organised by the OIE, FAO and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, and supported by the European Commission to review the current methods and recent experiences in the use of vaccination against avian influenza.
".....a control strategy that is based only on the application of sanitary measures to increase biosecurity and the culling of animals that are infected or suspected of being infected, has proven not to be sufficient to avoid the spread of infection. The OIE and FAO consider that it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination...There is little question that adequate vaccination will reduce shedding levels and thus the virus load ....."
February 21/22 2007 ~ Vaccination of birds. Russia moves immediately. UK still dithers
Warmwell has recently posted several emails from leading virologists on the subject of vaccination. They are highly qualified, have no vested interests. Although the issue is complicated, the bottom line is simple.
Unfortunately, what has been described as "the obsessional focus by DEFRA" is that a few individuals who have partially responded but then, before protection is complete, meet ' wildtype' virus early after vaccine may have mild clinical disease and may possibly excrete some virus in to the surroundings. This does not matter because
- Vaccines protect a population against a ' wildtype' infection when sufficient number are vaccinated - a figure usually in excess of 80%.
- Vaccinees will take a given time (with current H5N1 vaccines the time is, according to Intervet, 1-2 weeks after the first injection in a course of two shots of killed vaccine) to raise a T-cell and antibody response whereupon the vaccinee will be protected. An annual booster may be required.
- The vaccine must be a close enough match in its surface proteins to the wildtype to evoke a protective response, create neutralising antibodies.
The earlier vaccination happens the safer for the flocks and the environment because they will have responded fully to the vaccine before their encounter with wildtype virus.
- the vaccinated flock puts a stop to the chain of infection. The whole exercise is to reduce spread and these hypothetical few cases, with much reduced virus shedding, would not, even if they existed, allow the virus to gain a foothold.
Without vaccination, one is left with the UK solution of racing after the virus, killing en masse, imposing draconian restrictions on healthy stock and trying to stop virus contamination in any local environment with disinfectant.
February 21 2007 ~ 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.
Although what we have seen in Suffolk seems the most economic option for the government when one poultry farm is infected, the real cost is borne by the farmers. They have been forced to take free range birds indoors, make temporary netted enclosures, buy disinfectant, and have had their production interrupted by restrictions. Their livelihood is also jeopardised by the inevitable public lack of confidence. Eventually the cost of this disease spread worldwide by trade in chicks, poultry dead or alive and its products, feathers and faeces will be borne by the world - and far more dearly than the gain of any trade in poultry. Supermarkets must accept some responsibility here and promote vaccinated poultry products without allowing a negative aura to be created or marking them down.
February 21 2007 ~ 1.1 million tonnes of foreign pork, beef and lamb was imported into the UK in 2006
The Yorkshire Postreports that foreign meat imports were 675,000 tonnes in 1995. In addition, 560,000 tonnes of poultry was imported last year. Foreign meat can be labelled British even if it was only processed in the UK - and processing could be merely smoking bacon or curing ham. Shoppers keen to buy British produce are misled by labels. The Government's refusal to introduce country of origin food labelling is not hard to understand in view of the profits involved - but when people hear (as they did in Farming Today This Week) of then extraordinary shuttling of the same turkeys, alive and dead, between England and Hungary and the present lack of adequate controls for welfare and safety, labelling is more and more urgently needed.
February 21 2007 ~ cavalier use of data in the Manchester Business School study on the environmental impact of organic farming
Letters in the Independent are forthright: " bad study, bad maths and bad conclusions.... Instead of computing meaningless comparisons between farming systems, let's engage some serious economic brains on how to feed a hungry world when we've "eaten" all the oil and all the gas" wrote Richard Sanders of Elm Farm, while Nigel Tuersley remarked dryly ".....MBS have removed at a stroke the dilemmas of policymakers as they grapple needlessly with the resolution of irreconcilable objectives. Unburdened by irrelevant externalities, agribusiness can, once again, reclaim its rightful crown as the only rational alternative. ...... Can we look forward to further groundbreaking studies from MBS demonstrating that rainforest depletion is "on balance" beneficial ....?" Read in full
February 20 2007 ~ New Meat Byproducts: Avian Flu and Global Climate Change
The Worldwatch Institute's report Vital Signs 20072008 says that sixty percent of global livestock production takes place in intensive "confined animal feedlot operations" (CAFOs) in the developing world. At least 15 nations have restricted or banned free-range and backyard production of birds in an attempt to deal with avian flu on the ground, a move that may ultimately do more harm than good, according to Danielle Nierenberg, a Worldwatch research associate:
"Locating large chicken farms near cities might make economic sense, but the close concentration of the birds to densely populated areas can help foster and spread disease. In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane. In Nigeria, the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation ...then quickly to neighbouring backyard flocks.....
...where animals are concentrated by the thousands, diseases erupt and spread quickly. Trade in poultry from these operations is a culprit in spreading the disease to smallholder farmers. Experts suggest that rather than culling smaller, backyard flocks, the FAO, WHO, and other international agencies should focus the bulk of their avian flu prevention efforts on large poultry producers and on stopping disease outbreaks before they occur.
"While H5N1...may have been a product of the world's factory farms, it's small producers who have the most to lose." says Nierenberg. ( See these two articles on the upcoming report.)
February 20 2007 ~ Russia to vaccinate all birds near Moscow
Science Daily "Russian officials are set to prevent a possible outbreak of the avian flu by vaccinating at least 1 million domestic birds in an around Moscow. While all Russian poultry is typically inoculated twice a year, Russian veterinary experts informed the press agency RIA Novosti that all birds near Moscow will soon be given free vaccinations to prevent an outbreak of the virus. The move comes as five cases of the avian flu were reported near Moscow, including one Monday in which the presence of the H5N1 virus was confirmed...."
February 19/20 2007 ~ "Where has the idea that there is long term circulation of H5N1 in a fully vaccinated flock in the absence of disease in the flock come from?"
Another email from the virologist Dr Ruth Watkins, commenting on paragraph 21 from the EU Directive, should be read in full by those who do not necessarily accept the received wisdom of the government on the subject of vaccination. ".....Where has the idea that there is long term circulation of H5N1 in a fully vaccinated flock in the absence of disease in the flock come from? What is the documentary evidence for it? I would have thought that if the virus were to continue to circulate in a fully vaccinated flock there would be the evidence of diseased birds as the immune cross reactivity of the vaccine virus would be so poor as to have failed to evoke the protective antibody, neutralising antibody to H5. .." Read in full
February 19 2007 ~ David Miliband now says that poultry in the protection zone have been "sampled"
Channel 4 ".....Tests had also been completed on poultry samples from 21 premises in the protection zone and in all cases there was no evidence of infection. ...MPs have been told that the earliest time at which bird flu restriction zones in Suffolk could be lifted was the second week of March - provided there were no further outbreaks or suspect cases in the area. ..."
February 19/20 2007 ~ MEP: "PREMATURE RE-OPENING OF SUFFOK FARM BREACHES EU LAW"
We have heard this afternoon from the office of the South-East England's Green MEP Caroline Lucas. Dr Lucas has demanded that the European Commission investigate the re-opening of the Bernard Matthews plant.
".....If the government doesn't follow EU rules it is British farmers who will pay the price, as this failure means the disease is more likely to strike again - and the EU will be able to blame the UK Government and deny any compensation claims. I have today demanded the European Commission investigate the Government's decision to allow the plant to re-open so soon."See Dr Lucas'Letter to Commissioner Kyprianou (pdf)
February 19 2007 ~ "It was a complete mess with dead birds still lying around the site - and tatty, torn, blown out buildings and made Bobby Waugh's look like the Hilton."
An emailer tells us that on Friday (16 Feb) ITV 6.30 and 10.30 news programmes both ran an extensive report "..showing the dire state of the farm in Hungary that had had bird flu in geese - it raises all sorts of questions about what the level of bio-security is in Hungary - and if birds slaughtered at the same abbatoir is the same one that dealt with this farm then it is very easy to see how the disease could be transferred. I just wonder if Defra saw the footage and is now acting upon it."
Bird flu seems quietly to be dropping out of the news. Intensive factory methods and the extraordinary to-ing and fro-ing across borders of chicks, slaughtered birds and carcasses continue. But Farming Today This Week (new window) was entirely given over to the subject of the bird flu crisis and raised some very important points about such issues as bio-security in the big plants, global movements, labelling issues and the likelihood of change. Interesting to notice the number of times Mr Fred Landeg emphasised the "humane" nature of the killing of the turkeys at Bernard Matthews, and the fact that Mr Alick Simmons said he was "perfectly happy" about the present situation.) There was even a hint that the political condoning of the always expanding multi-national poultry industry may well be at the very root of the crisis.
February 19 2007 ~ enshrined, as if in amber, is the back-covering rider that vaccinated poultry may become infected
While anxiety increases among the small free-range poultry owners, talk of "silent spread" continues to be allowed to fuel the justification for the UK's policy of non-vaccination. The EU Directive clearly says,
"Vaccination against avian influenza can be an effective tool to supplement disease control measures and to avoid massive killing and destruction of poultry or other captive birds. Current knowledge suggests that vaccination may be useful not only as a short-term measure in emergencies but also as a long-term measure to prevent disease in situations of higher risk of introduction of avian influenza viruses from wild life or other sources. Provisions should therefore be established for both emergency and preventive vaccination."But then, enshrined as if in amber, is the back-covering rider that vaccinated poultry "may become infected and thus contribute to the further spread of the infection" No wonder many of the talking heads are repeating it. The virologists, however, who understand how vaccination works, say that it is nonsense not to vaccinate.
".... there is now good scientific evidence on the efficacy of H5 vaccines available to the EU. Once poultry have had a full vaccination course it is known when they have the full protection offered by the vaccine. I believe this is about 3 weeks after the first injection. There should be information from Vietnam about vaccine efficacy in the field as well. It is inexcusable if this has not been obtained, for instance by the WHO."The UK shuts up free range birds and, even in an emergency, drags its feet on vaccination - but, as we see below, the Directive's rules on surveillance are not being followed by those who are so ready to quote it.
February 19 2007 ~ Of course no vaccination for any disease, animal or human, can ever be 100% but if enough individuals are vaccinated a virus infection can be eliminated.
(See below ) The Hong Kong paper cited on our H5N1 page clearly indicates that with that strain of the H5N1 virus and the vaccine used in 1997, infection could not be maintained because insufficient virus was being shed.
The infection chain was broken.
Italy has used vaccination to ring highly pathogenic H5 or H7 virus in years past with apparent success. What seems to be happening in the UK is that officials, who assume that it they say 100% success cannot be claimed for vaccination, will be justified in the public mind in warning against a near zero risk. The media seem most reluctant to point out that choosing instead to ignore the available vaccines which responsible poultry keepers are so anxious to be able to useis far more dangerous for the country .
And not only journalists. It seems that most public service scientists have a clause in their contract banning membership of outside groups that might have the courage to question current dogma. Must it always be a voice in the wilderness that cries foul?
February 19 2007 ~ UK fails to adopt minimum EU measures on avian influenza
The EU Directive says that the minimum control measures to be applied include Surveillance programmes to:
(a) detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry;
(b) contribute, on the basis of a regularly updated risk assessment, to the knowledge on the threats posed by wild birds in relation to any influenza virus of avian origin in birds.
As we now know, no surveillance of live birds in the Protection Zone has been undertaken at all to 'detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry'. Yet the Bernard Matthews plant has been allowed to continue as if nothing had happened. Free range poultry, however, has been forced indoors. The UK, so ready to use EU regulations to justify its sometimes coercive behaviour would appear to be reneging on its responsibility to the population. As for the Chief Veterinary Officer, Debby Reynolds, no sight or sound from her seems to have been in the media since February 3rd. Where is she? (Apologies. we hear that she is in hospital and hope she will have a speedy recovery.) The "vets" we do hear from, such as Mr Landeg and Mr Simmons, were heavily involved in overseeing the mass killing of animals in 2001, refuting the usefulness of available speedy diagnosis and vaccination. It is hardly surprising if farmers and smallholders are inclined to feel little confidence in their ability to protect the country or the countryside.
February 18 2007 ~ DEFRA "admitted late last week that they have not tested a live wild bird in Britain since the outbreak began three weeks ago."
Geoffrey Lean in the Independent on Sunday "... This appears to contradict repeated assurances from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that "wild bird surveillance" in the area has been "enhanced"....."
And although the Department claimed that "extensive surveillance from the infected premises and the surrounding area has not isolated any trace of H5N1 in wild birds" - which implies continuing careful surveillance, Geoffrey Lean's article shows that no live bird sampling has been done in Suffolk at all - the nearest live bird sampling has been at Welney in Norfolk, 50 miles away. Peter Ainsworth called it "staggering complacency" It is feasible that gulls have picked up the virus from the "trimmings" and plastic bags 'containing meat products and residual liquid' that the reports themselves said were a threat. And now even landfill sites may be infected. We read in the Sunday Telegraph that "Animal health specialists are alarmed at the possibility that contaminated meat might have found its way on to landfill sites, which are a haven for scavenging birds."
So while the free range birds are forced into unnatural conditions around the Bernard Matthews factory farm, the officials who demand such cooperation are failing to check whether it is even remotely necessary.
February 17 2007 ~ Discrepancies
While the newspapers rush to report what Fred Landeg, Alick Simmons and spokesmen from the Bernard Matthews plant itself are saying after the publication of the two full reports, the discrepancies leap off the pages - as does the familiar, safe-place-on-the-fence, conclusion "We may never find the exact cause of the disease outbreak "
First, on how the virus got to the UK. We read that, according to Fred Landeg, importation of poultry products from Hungary was "the most plausible route of transmission" but also that "no imports of turkey meat had come from the restricted area in Hungary" How can it be both?
Next, on breaches of regulations. What continues to be referred to as "the farm" was apparently given repeated verbal warnings about "waste trimmings" including polyethylene bags containing meat products and residual liquid, left in the open. It seems, however, both that
" in each case the problem was addressed and no further enforcement action was taken"and that
"MHS records of enforcement activity, from January 2006 to date, recorded a number of instances where verbal advice to Bernard Matthews about deficiencies and non-compliance was given". Again, how can it be both?As for the so-called "farm" itself, it is anxious to deny any loss of sales although the Telegraph reports that " Bernard Matthews has disclosed that sales of the company's products have slumped by 40 per cent since the outbreak was discovered almost three weeks ago." Both cannot be true. The plant even claims that the official reports supported the way it ran the Suffolk plant. (Meatinfo.co.uk) and that it both will and did comply with regulations "Today's report indicates that the authorities have identified ways in which biosecurity can be enhanced and Bernard Matthews will comply with any recommendations," the firm said in a statement, and "The detailed nature of the epidemiological report also confirms that Bernard Matthews followed all of Defra's biosecurity regulations at that time."
February 17 2007 ~ "It is vital that we learn the lesson from this incident that Britain's cheap food culture comes at a high price for animal welfare and food integrity."
Compassion in World Farming's CIWF Chief Executive, Philip Lymbery: "This Avian 'Flu outbreak underlines the need for a root and branch review of food policy in the UK and Europe. Intensive poultry production provides the ideal breeding ground for new and highly virulent strains of disease. It is vital that we learn the lesson from this incident that Britain's cheap food culture comes at a high price for animal welfare and food integrity."
But, as we have seen in the past six years, lessons do not get learned when profits and powerful reputations are at stake. All the same, increasing numbers of consumers are becoming aware of the need for a "root and branch review of food policy" - as the now 550 farmers' markets in the country bear witness. They are insisting on decently produced local food and, in particular, free range meat.
In the wake of the Suffolk outbreak and even as more thousands of young birds arrive to be "processed" at Holton, DEFRA is keen to proclaim its lack of "complacency". As if the forcing of free range birds into the very conditions likely to encourage the spread of disease is cause for self-congratulation, DEFRA says, "We are not complacent and we are still making it a requirement for poultry keepers in the restricted zone to house their birds inside and be vigilant." Many might say that vigilance would be better exercised by DEFRA itself in making sure that its own Codes of Practice are followed by those who just want to make profits from animal suffering.
February 17 2007 ~ I can't see any reason for there being all this world trade in live and raw dead animals and their products.
Dr Ruth Watkins writes, " . .. The international trade: legal, illegal, legal but poorly monitored, legal but cheating on the paperwork etc is just brilliant for spreading agents which are highly infectious round the world (if not attendant mosquitoes, midges, fleas and ticks etc.). It can happen innocently and unintentionally. Only a tiny amount, even one infectious particle or virion, can be sufficient to infect a susceptible host such as a fowl with HPAI H5N1....we cannot allow H5N1 and PMWS to spread unchecked. Politics and farming interests interfere with virology sleuthing. I do commend Ian Brown ( chief avian virologist at VLA) for sticking to his guns over the recent H5N1. .... .." Read in full
February 16/17 2007 ~ "DEFRA statements on the role of vaccination in the control of virulent livestock viruses could make better informed people weep"
Dr James Irvine in this Landcare.org article
".... We were assured yet again by David Miliband, ... in an interview with Andrew Marr on TV BBC1 Sunday AM 12th February, that he had followed scientific advice from DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and that "he had every confidence in the high standard of that advice, and that this was also the opinion of the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir David King", who had vouched for the high standards of the scientists involved...."Warmwell also recommends the clarity of Dr Colin Fink on the same subject: "... I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks. Vaccine for all the smallholders' birds would be very effective in preserving them clinically well and in lower density flocks transfer of wild type virus would be minimal or none."
"One really has to wonder who is giving the politicians so-called "excellent scientific advice".......What should have been learned is some basic immunology regarding vaccination as a front line of defence against the spread of viral diseases in livestock - or indeed in humans. ......"
February 16/17 2007 ~ DEFRA says that factory farmed animals should be free from hunger and thirst, get rapid diagnosis and treatment of disease, appropriate shelter and freedom from fear
We are told that for some, pictures of young turkeys in their overcrowded sheds, distressingly evoke the gaunt white figures of Belsen and Auschwitz. It is almost beyond belief that the DEFRA website tells us that the welfare codes, which have the approval of Parliament, take account of five basic needs: (1) freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition; (2) appropriate comfort and shelter; (3) the prevention, or rapid diagnosis and treatment of injury, disease or infestation; (4) freedom from fear; (5) freedom to display most normal patterns of behaviour. In all the wrangling about compensation and possible prosecution for lapses in "biosecurity" it might be as well to remember that according to John Webster, the highly respected professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University who first drafted the codes now appearing on the DEFRA site:
'It is absolutely not right that animals in the first few weeks of their life should be experiencing heart disease or be crippled....One quarter of the heavy strains of broiler chickens and turkey are in chronic pain for one third of their lives. Given that poultry meat consumption in the UK exceeds one million tonnes per annum, this must constitute in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man's inhumanity to another sentient animal."An article in the Observer "Ten Weeks to Live" made a huge impact on those who read it in 2002 . Little has changed in the way these unfortunate animals are treated for our convenience foods, DEFRA's so-called Five Freedoms notwithstanding. But perhaps there is some hope in the common sense of ordinary people, sickened by the thought of what really goes on behind the secure (but not necessarily bio-secure) gates and walls of factory farms.
February 16/ 17 2007 ~ "I believe we're at the beginning of major changes in our food culture which will, in turn, lead to profound changes in British farming." Peter Melchett
The Financial Times reports,
"...more consumers are shunning processed foods. Some 40 per cent buy free-range food products "whenever they can ", up from 33 per cent in 2002, according to a survey released in October by research group Mintel. Disease outbreaks on farms have also been seized on by proponents of organic farming as an example of why intensive industrial farming practices are flawed. Peter Melchett, policy director for the Soil Association, a certification organisation for organic food, said last month that outbreaks of disease were changing attitudes. "I believe we're at the beginning of major changes in our food culture which will, in turn, lead to profound changes in British farming, " he said.Meanwhile, Chris Huhne has written to David Miliband today, asking him to make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, and to clarify the continuing risks of infection to poultry and humans. See www.libdems.org.uk "How does he assess the Canadian and other evidence that intensive farming techniques make the spread of bird flu far easier?"
February 16 2007 ~ Sir John Krebs is one of six new non-party political peers recommended to the prime minister by the Lords Appointments Commission.
See Guardian"Internationally-renowned scientist Sir John Krebs is one of six new non-party political peers recommended..."
When appointed to the FSA Chair, Sir John said he wanted the Agency to be "a beacon of openness and a model for the best use of science". Sir John Krebs, specialist in bird behaviour, now ex Chair of the FSA, designer of the Krebs ill-fated experiment in badger culling, is on record as saying that criticisms of GM food were 'shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven'. As Lobbywatch comments when quoting Sir John's assertion that the FSA represented only consumers' interests:
"... it seems a little careless to have lost the confidence of both the Consumers' Association and the National Consumers' Council over his pro-GM campaigns. A review of the FSA's performance under Sir John -commissioned by the FSA itself and conducted by Baroness Dean - concluded that the 'vast majority' of people consulted felt that the FSA had 'deviated from its normal stance of making statements based solely on scientific evidence', when 'speaking against organic food and for GM food'. Baroness Dean stressed that 'This view was expressed not only by stakeholders representing organic and GM interest groups, but by those who would be regarded as supporters and natural allies of the Agency'...."Sir John Krebs was, of course, one of the quiet but key players in the FMD crisis. "The freemasonry of the Royal Society" was described by an anonymous contributor to warmwell as an unholy alliance Certainly, the same names do keep appearing whenever one hears of "scientific advice". The relevance of their specialisms and the independence of their advice is not always apparent.
February 16 2007 ~ Experts are to reveal the interim findings of a Government investigation into the source of the bird flu outbreak.
The Guardian today tells us that "Experts" are to reveal the interim findings of a Government investigation into the source of the bird flu outbreak. They are referring to Deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg and Food Standards Agency's veterinary director Alick Simmons. The full reports are now on line.
February 16 2007 ~ "we have noted with concern the sidelining of scientific expertise in the civil service"
The Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report, published in October 2006, is a fascinating document and it will be interesting to see whether any moves are being made to follow its recommendations. It would be easy to quote it at length. However, an extract from Section 3 gives a flavour:
"....The introduction of Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers has been welcome but, like the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (ie Professor Sir David King), their effectiveness depends on their independence and ability to contribute to policy making at the highest level as much as on their knowledge and skills. DCSAs also need effective support from officials but we have noted with concern the sidelining of scientific expertise in the civil service and highlighted the need to move towards a situation where specialist skills are once again valued in their own right...."
February 15/16 2007 ~ "the ability of government decision makers to make better-informed decisions.."
Guidelines on the Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making (pdf) updated in 2005, with an introduction by Professor Sir David King himself, address how "evidence should be sought and applied to enhance the ability of government decision makers to make better-informed decisions" The key messages are that departments, and the individual policy makers within them, should:
One can only wonder how far the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir David King, feels that GCSA's Guidelines have been applied in the current avian influenza situation. It is interesting to read what he said in oral evidence to the Select Committee for Science and Technology during their inquiry last May into scientific advice to government, how government gets its advice and whether it acts upon it, and how it assesses risk. Extract: ".... if there is an issue, such as avian flu, I will make sure that the leading scientists give me a full briefing on avian flu so that I am fully informed when I go in to give my advice."
- " think ahead and identify early the issues on which they need scientific advice and early public engagement, and where the current evidence base is weak and should be strengthened
- get a wide range of advice from the best sources, particularly when there is uncertainty
- publish the evidence and analysis and all relevant papers
(The recommendations of that report can be seen here.)
February 15 2007 ~ Tests on nearly 75 000 wild ducks, gulls and other birds have turned up no sign of dangerous H5N1 avian influenza in the United States
Independent online SA"The programme was unprecedented in scope in terms of the range of species of birds sampled, which included waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, among others," Hon Ip of the US Geological Survey said in an email posted to an infectious-disease message group..."
February 15 2007 ~ "this outbreak on one of my farms was immediately contained and did not spread further"
The Daily Mirror carries an article by Mr Matthews. He says, " I am eternally grateful to my hardworking and loyal staff, to the many vets and experts, to Defra and the other industry bodies that this outbreak on one of my farms was immediately contained and did not spread further."
One wonders how he can be so sure.
We have heard nothing about surveillance of the poultry in outlying districts, only some testing on wild birds. No use of the diagnostic on-site testing - the very first thing that should have been done to ensure that there was no further spread - has been mentioned. Indeed, in none of the news articles of the past days has there been any discussion of what Article 4 of the EU Directive calls Surveillance programmes.
Member States shall carry out surveillance programmes in order to: "detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry"If adequate surveillance is being done, where is it being done? What epidemiological risk assessment has been carried out as per the Directive and where may one read about it? These are urgent questions. Can it be that the UK will not use available technology until its own "lab on a chip" is up and running?
February 15 2007 ~ China joins Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and Japan in banning UK poultry
See FT. The UK export market for poultry is worth £300m, according to the British Poultry Council. Today, Reuters reports that Bernard Matthews is saying was sorry for the scare but insisted it was not his company's fault.
February 14 2007 ~ The Netherlands is allowing its free range birds out again from Feb. 19.
. (See Alertnet) The Dutch, at least, seem to have been listening to the many concerned voices of free range poultry owners in the Netherlands - who also have the option of vaccinating. The UK has, even now, avoided putting together any workable scheme for those who urgently want to protect their birds. Increasing evidence (See e.g. International Herald Tribune Feb 12) as well as common sense indicates that H5N1 is a disease of intensively farmed poultry, spread by the intensive poultry industry. Yet in the name of public health, UK officialdom imposed on healthy hens the very conditions under which the virus can flourish and spread like wildfire - confined, stressed flocks in close proximity. Professor Sir David King in particular, is already looking at a future where "organic and free-range farming would come to an end. ...."
Little wonder that free range owners are more and more sceptical of UK disease policy being applied fairly and as a result of balanced scientific knowledge - and less and less inclined to register their birds. Woe betide the owner of any hen found pecking around in the open air near Holton, but live turkeys are again being bussed in to the Bernard Matthews site for a very nasty end to their short lives.
February 14 2007 ~ Bernard Matthews"keeping the products back because they may contain meat from a restricted zone in Hungary."
Guardian In spite of resumed "production" of live turkeys into meat products, the Food Standards Agency tells the media today that Bernard Matthews has agreed to keep certain products back for 48 hours because they may contain meat, sent in frozen form, from a restricted zone in Hungary.
February 14 2007 ~ Two entirely separated and biosecure parts to the Holton site?.
The slaughter-line at Bernard Matthews has been described as an "adjoining and completely separate factory, which employs a total of about 1,000 staff " - but it was this building that was used for the slaughter of all 159,000 turkeys - both healthy and infected - by Monday, February 5 (see EDP24 Feb 13) while several of the, supposedly wholly separate, sheds were infected. Is anyone able to explain why it was considered safe to continue production at the site - or was this purely the following of EU rules in order to reduce financial losses?
It continues to astonish that production has continued at the site and we read on EDP24 (Feb 14) that "there were one or two raised eyebrows in Strasbourg yesterday that the factory in Holton had been allowed to open so quickly."
February 14 2007 ~ " He kept deferring to something called "the science", as a medieval monarch might defer to holy mother church. . There is no such thing..... "
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian "....The motto of the expert in a risk-averse society is: "I see a risk; give me a contract."......The word risk is now so abused as to render it near useless in political discourse. I forget how many radios I have hurled across the room listening to John Humphrys or Eddie Mair demanding: "Minister, why can't you be 100% sure there is no risk?" I heard two officials debating last week the difference between an unlikely, very unlikely, small, minuscule and infinitesimal risk from H5N1. Each term was then qualified if the turkey was "properly cooked". Properly? Here were scientists who dared not use such simple concepts as "one chance in a billion" or "let's change the subject", because they might not be asked back on the programme....
...As one virologist, Ruth Watkins, said on the radio this week: ask enough questions and you will soon find "there are too many questions still unanswered". Quite so.
..... Miliband seems to have behaved exemplarily in his role as protector of the turkey industry. He made only one mistake. He kept deferring to something called "the science", as a medieval monarch might defer to holy mother church. There is no such thing. ... "
February 14 2007 ~ 99.96% similarity of the RNA sequences of the genomes of the H5N1 avian influenza viruses
ProMed comment "The 99.96% similarity of the RNA sequences of the genomes of the H5N1 avian influenza viruses isolated from turkeys in the UK and from geese in Hungary, and the absence of an obvious precursor, justifies the conclusion that these viruses are isolates of the same strain of H5N1 avian influenza virus.
Questions which remain unresolved, and which may not be resolved by sequence analysis alone, are firstly the origin of this unique turkey/goose strain of virus and secondly the direction of travel of the infection -- from Hungary to England as presently supposed or from England to Hungary. - Mod.CP"
February 14 2007 ~ H5N1 vaccination: "I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks"
Dr Colin Fink writes on vaccination.
"...High density of birds increases the transmission rate of the infection between individuals. If they were all vaccinated , any virus infection introduced would have low flock spread with little if any subsequent shedding into the environment.. The birds would remain clinically well. However no symptoms in the birds together with no understanding by the handlers of even small risk of infection spread outside a flock could lead to some transfer of organisms out of the flock if the biosecurity was not strictly observed. No biological system is ever absolute especially when run by staff who do not understand transfer of infection .
I am not sure what is better for these hapless creatures and their factory bosses in high density rearing. Such a devastating outbreak with much virus shedding as we saw followed by immediate culling or no virus shedding but a minimal risk of ' wild type' viral carriage for short while only?
I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks. ."
February 13/14 2007 ~ Selective reporting from interviews with virologists "No one is asking the right questions and they all know that they are not"
The reopening of slaughter and packing at the Holton factory farm took most people by surprise. We note with concern that news reports quote "scientists" but they are not named and we get little input from named practising virologists. Both Dr Colin Fink and Dr Ruth Watkins have been interviewed by the BBC in the last 48 hours. Both discovered that what they considered to be important information had been cut.
In essence, Dr Fink said that the virus undoubtedly was from the Hungarian outbreak and brought in. As for how, he offers this possible explanation - which was not included in the broadcast:
I believe that the carcase material brought in was infected with H5N1. One way of transfer of this infection so rapidly to the flocks would be If the residue of the carcase meat has been ground up and fed to the new chicks as a high protein feed. That is one way the infection could be transferred into the turkey chick stock. I expect that if they wish to do this they will boil it now."As for the myths about vaccination "spreading the virus" so angrily refuted here by Colin Fink, the received - and wrong - wisdom is now appearing even in such otherwise sound papers as Western Morning News (new window). Journalists must talk - and listen - to the experts in virology. This is too serious a matter for pseudo-scientific error to be treated as fact .
.... "There are some serious political goings on here. No one is asking the right questions and they all know that they are not. "
February 13/14 2007 ~ "The Meat Hygiene Service cleared the slaughterhouse at Holton in Suffolk. It resumes work today, having been disinfected and relicensed under European Union rules." Telegraph
"One government official called the decision "incredible". But Defra said: "The company is within its rights to begin processing again as long as the birds come from outside the zone."
However, the EU rules from the latest Directive suggest that DEFRA, in using EU legisation to justify the UK government action, may be confusing production with transport. The language of a Directive should be clear for all to understand. It is far from clear.:
Latest EU Directive on Avian Influenza Article 22 - Prohibition on the movement and transport of birds, eggs, poultry meat and carcases
These EU regulations do not, surely, allow further slaughter and processing in the very plant where disease was so recently found?
- The competent authority shall ensure that within protection zones, the movement and transport from holdings on to roads, excluding private service roads of holdings, or by rail, of poultry, other captive birds, ready-to-lay poultry, day-old chicks, eggs and carcases are prohibited.
- The competent authority shall ensure that the transport of poultry meat from slaughterhouses, cutting plants and cold stores is prohibited unless it has been produced:
(a) from poultry which has originated from outside the protection zones and has been stored and transported separately from the meat of poultry from within the protection zones;
(b) on a date at least 21 days before the estimated date of earliest infection on a holding in the protection zone and which since production has been stored and transported separately from such meat produced after that date.
(The Telegraph article also says that "leaked minutes from a meeting of Cobra" revealed that it was "by accident" that a wrapper proved that the Suffolk plant had been receiving meat from a slaughterhouse 20 miles from the outbreak in domestic geese in southern Hungary. The Daily Mail in fact reported this link on February 10th )
February 13/14 2007 ~ Whatever the Hungarian government says... the virus outbreak in Hungary and UK are linked.
Dr Watkins writes, "Today's news on the Hungarian virus and its very near identity to the Holton virus is, I am sure, made by the laboratory at Weybridge based on sequencing information on many viruses and its analysis. This type of forensic matching has been done over the last 20 years in human virology and becomes ever more sophisticated as there are more viruses sequenced and longer segments if not the whole genome sequenced, and this is combined with greater mathematical power of the analysis programmes. There may even be a unique signature change in the sequence, a duplication or deletion that points the finger even more strongly than nucleotide sequence matching alone. It has to be accepted whatever the Hungarian government says about all the paper work being above board that the virus outbreak in Hungary and that in the UK are linked.
If there were no Matthews turkey farms in Hungary and no importing of any products from Hungary to Holton it would indeed be a mystery but nevertheless linked all the same. However, raw turkey carcasses were imported from Hungary and at least some had been slaughtered at that plant near the outbreak on the two geese farms. ..." read in full
February 13/14 2007 ~ The problem of spread of H5N1 virus worldwide by industrial farming and international trade has not been addressed and has not gone away.
Dr Watkins' comments about international trade spreading the virus were broadcast on the BBC - but, interestingly, comments that the Holton turkey rearing houses at Holton should not have been reopened were cut..
Dr Watkins says that vital evidence may not have been collected if cleansing and disinfection was not correctly done. In her opinion, it was unwise to re-open the Holton premises. Issues of breakdown in safe food handling and biosecurity have not been addressed. What is urgently needed is
- a review of protocols and procedures
- structural alterations to prevent contamination between processing to bird rearing facilities are needed and
- retraining of workers seems vital. (Some seemed unaware that the risk of infection to humans was by breathing in and thought a protective coat was adequate)
She casts doubt on the completeness of the clean-up,. Natural decay of the virus requires at least 30 days. " This was a very serious outbreak" she says.
February 12 2007 ~ "government must examine, restructure and support the infrastructure of the meat and livestock industry, so that once again it can be the main supplier of meat for the nation"
Caroline Cranbrook writes, in this email to warmwell:
"It is encouraging that the journalists are showing so much more initiative and commonsense than they did during FMD - but depressing that the government and its agencies are lagging behind..."She includes a copy of an article she wrote for Country Life during FMD which seems even more relevant today, Importing New Risks to Man and Beast
".....government must invest in preventing illegal meat imports. At the same time, meat imports should cease from all countries currently infected ....FMD is a warning to us all. ..... Unless we impose tighter controls on imported meat, our own and our animals' health remains at risk from the risk of imported lethal infection. We must also Buy British - and Buy Local. Supermarkets must shorten their supply chains. To make this possible, government must examine, restructure and support the infrastructure of the meat and livestock industry, so that once again it can be the main supplier of meat for the nation. " Read in fullThe email links to an interesting webpage showing ways in which illegal imports of bird flu-suspect poultry have been discovered. Rumania, (a neighbour of Hungary and quite close to the area where infected geese were found in January), confirmed the presence of the bird flu virus in 18 locations and detected 25 suspect cases of in eight counties last year. In May 2006, the manager of a major industrial poultry farm in Romania was arrested on charges of allowing the farm to sell chickens possibly infected with "a potentially lethal form of bird flu". As one ProMed moderator said in a recent ProMed post, ".....the temptation to import cheap replacement stock from a source which just happens to also have HPAI can be great. If such an importing country is a neighbor, many of us are at immediate risk."
February 12 2007 ~H5N1 Hungary's Agriculture Ministry denies any link
Reuters "There is indeed a turkey processing plant in Kecskemet which sent some meat to Sarvar which sent it on to various parts of western Europe," said Andras Dekany, spokesman at Hungary's Agriculture Ministry.
"This is true. But every item was checked and there were no problems reported in any other export destinations." Hungary will submit a report to the European Commission on Tuesday to prove there can be no link between the cases in Britain and Hungary.....Dekany said the virus being identical was not a convincing argument because the virus has been almost the same wherever it appeared around Europe. "The largest margin of difference has been 0.6 percent." ..."
However, the Daily Mail suggested that the slaughter house concerned did indeed slaughter both geese and turkeys. See below.
February 12 2007 ~ "The authorities have known about the situation for years, but have done nothing. There is evidence of not only negligence and utter incompetence, but cover-up, and the problem has grown unchecked."
John Vidal in the Guardian quotes Douglas Gowan, a pollution consultant who produced the first official report into the Brofiscin quarry in 1972 after nine cows on a local farm died of poisoning. The article that the UK government, which knew of the dangers of PCBs in the environment in the 1960s, allowed their production in Wales until 1977. Polychlorinated biphenyls used mainly as flame retardants and insulaters were manufactured at Monsanto's plant in Newport, south Wales, under the trade name Aroclor, and were accumulating in human milk, rivers, fish and seafood, wildlife and plants.
Meanwhile, today - as Robert Persey reveals in thisemail - increasing amounts of catering waste and Category 3 meat waste (feathers, offals etc.) are now being composted and spread on land. Mr Persey is concerned that some of the systems being authorised may not be capable always of meeting the criteria for safe use of such materials which is to treat them for 1 hour at 70oC. "I regard the risk as being even more serious now that Avian flu is amongst us." Read email.
February 11/12 2007 ~ It is vital that advice in controlling outbreaks is given by professionally qualified clinical virologists (in human medicine and ideally veterinary medicine as well of course) in conjunction with scientists.
An email from Dr Ruth Watkins, received today, strikes us as urgent and important
"....David Milliband and officialdom in general are looking for advice from scientists for their briefing when they should be looking for advice from clinical virologists experienced in outbreak management. With respect to John Oxford he is a scientist but he is not a clinician nor is he a scientist with clinical responsibilities at The Royal London and Barts. The key to a disinterested and balanced briefing for ministers is that the advice should come from someone with clinical experience in outbreaks as well as virus expertise, and this may involve a professional group rather than COBRA. ........(A BBC page of questions on 'avian flu and Hungary' with answers by Professor John Oxford has been added today.)
As you know when I was asked to comment for BBC News 24 on the first Saturday of the Matthew's outbreak on the 3rd Feb, I said that the main cause in spread of avian flu had been via humans, trading poultry and its products legally or illegally and in using poultry manure to feed warm fish farms etc. ...... It is vital that advice in controlling outbreaks is given by professionally qualified clinical virologists (in human medicine and ideally veterinary medicine as well of course) in conjunction with scientists. This is an animal virus with important human health considerations. ...." Read in full
February 11 2007 ~ "absurdly unscientific misinformation about why we cannot use vaccination..."
Booker's Notebook "... again we have expert virologists, such as Colin Fink of Warwick University" (see Dr Fink's email to warmwell) "staring open-mouthed as they point out how Defra could hardly be getting everything more wrong, above all in the absurdly unscientific misinformation it spreads about why we cannot use vaccination." Read in full
February 11 2007 ~ an international reappraisal of the role of factory farming and the poultry trade in the worldwide spread of the disease.
The Scotsman and the Independent are among the newspapers reporting that yesterday DEFRA admitted that it had known, since long before the crisis, that the Bernard Matthews plant regularly imported turkey meat from Hungary. David Nabarro, the UN co-ordinator for avian and human flu, has said the poultry trade is behind the spread of the virus "this year". Bernard Matthews has now confirmed that the factory did use the slaughterhouse at Kecskemet (see below)
The Sunday Telegraph says, "the British Government is to investigate claims that one farm just 30km (19 miles) from the epicentre of the Hungarian outbreak may have supplied Saga......demands for clear explanations from Bernard Matthews and the Government, grow more pressing by the hour. ....issues around who knew what, and when, and when they decided to make their knowledge public, appear disturbingly complicated "
February 10 2007 ~ the Government's handling of scientific advice, risk and evidence in policy making
Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report:" The Government must have sufficient expertise to ensure that it both asks the right questions and does not become an uncritical, unquestioning consumer of the advice it receives. ..... (Paragraph 79)
It would be more honest and accurate to acknowledge the fact that while evidence plays a key role in informing policy, decisions are ultimately based on a number of factors - including political expediency. Where policy decisions are based on other such factors and do not flow from the evidence or scientific advice, this should be made clear (Paragraph 90) .... " The Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report, prepared in November, into the Government's handling of scientific advice, risk and evidence in policy making, expresses some deep concerns. Its summary and recommendations would be of interest to all readers of this website and particularly any journalists who assume that "the best available scientific advice" is a phrase that has meaning. There is room only for a couple of extracts:.
It seems to us necessary that all senior officials and policy makers should have a basic understanding of the scientific method, the role and importance of peer review, the relevance of different types of evidence, and the way to evaluate it. (Paragraph 48)On the subject of the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's remit: " it is a challenge for one individual to cover such a disparate range of subject areas and disciplines."
It recommends that "the misconception that scientists in the civil service should be 'on tap, not on top' must be laid to rest once and for all." Recommendations in full ( The recommendations can be summed up as the urgent need to end to absurd protectionist and barricade views from within DEFRA and other organisations who eschew and resent anyone in the ' commercial ' sector ( vestiges of the English Victorian prejudice against "trade") and a need to end their unwillingness to use lines of communication to people witrh real expertise outside their departments.)
February 10 2007 ~ Turkeys from the Matthews farm were transported to within only 30 km from the infected geese cases in Hungary - the Gall Food abattoir in Kecskemet - which slaughters geese...
See Daily Mail's own investigation "... Officials are trying to establish whether the abattoir also handled geese from the Szentes farms and thus infected turkey meat which was then exported to the UK. Signs outside the abattoir have pictures of both turkeys and geese, suggesting the plant is used to slaughter both species. ...290 tons of turkey breast has been exported from Kecskemet to Britain. In addition, a further 1,000 tons of turkey product has been sent to SaGa, Matthews's subsidiary in Sarvar. Slaughtered birds are understood to be transported back to Sarvar before the meat is brought to Britain in the form of turkey breasts. ...." An estimated "two or three lorries a week" travelled to the UK direct from Kecskemet. ProMed commented on Feb 8th
".... questions arise: Has Defra implemented appropriate surveillance, especially given that the government vets were unable to identify this disease on clinical inspection? Was the "contaminated food" distributed to any other sites? What route did the lorry (or lorries?) take, and have other locations and countries been alerted? Is withholding this information (or failing to alert a suspicion on an un-named premises) because Defra considered it "commercially confidential" consistent with their duty of care to livestock, livestock keepers and the general public?"
February 10 2007 ~ Turkey bites Man
One emailer writes, " Is there anyone saying, "If we treat turkeys like that what do we expect?"...? The emailer's question today comments on the fact that "... honorable people are forced to make light of their suffering, hide it wherever possible, or make jokes about it. It's as if enjoying cruelty to animals is a badge of honour." In EDP24 we read about a turkey biting a worker on the first night of culling when apparently a small group of seven workers at the factory farm were set to "catch" them. Seven factory workers? Memories of the two Bernard Matthews catchers who were filmed using a live turkey as a baseball are still fresh (Guardian). Where was the humane killing about which we were reassured by Dr John Oxford - giving people the idea that the thousands of turkeys would somehow be expertly put to sleep ("humane conditions overseen by DEFRA")? What method of killing the unfortunate turkeys once caught really was applied no one seems to know but what has really enraged people is that once bitten, the young Portuguese worker was not ordered immediately to hospital.
Meanwhile, our Scientific Adviser in Chief, Professor Sir David King, whose areas of expertise cover neither virology nor wildlife,( a combination the lack of which one might have hoped would make him a tad more cautious in his pronouncements) said it was "quite feasible" the disease had been spread from hut to hut at the Holton plant," by vermin or wild birds which had come into contacted with infected carcasses . (See Yahoo news and the Guardian) The vermin and birds which can not only catch and spread H5N1 but also go sneaking from one bio-secure Stalag into two or three more bio-secure Stalags were not specified.
February 10 2007 ~ "Large poultry companies ... have been responsible for past outbreaks "
" investigations, including those carried out by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, show quite clearly that it is the large poultry companies that have been responsible for past outbreaks..." Times
"Wild birds" can no longer be the most likely cause of the outbreak as politicians and the "experts" were saying with such confidence earlier. A Canadian study that tested more than 12,000 live and dead wild birds for avian influenza viruses turned up no cases of H5N1 viruses in 2006, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced yesterday. (See CTV.canada) and not one of DEFRA's 5000 tests have found H5N1 on any bird here either.
February 10 2007 ~ Vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza - conference 20th -22nd March 2007 - Verona, Italy
For further information and registration please see - http://www.avianfluvaccine2007.org/ Co-organised and supported by the EC with The OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health), FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) IZSVe (Istituto Zooprofillatico Sperimentale delle Venezie, OIE reference laboratory for Avian influenza)
(Many thanks to Jane Barribal at farmtalking.com for spotting this.)
February 10 2007 ~ Bird flu, bluetongue, swine fever... CIRAD is working with major French and international research centres to develop therapeutic vaccines.
Therapeutic vaccines, as opposed to preventive vaccines, are designed for use on those already infected with disease. Therapeutic vaccines are based on using interfering RNA molecules and apply particularly to diseases ( including foot and mouth) affecting ruminants and pigs. Emmanuel Albina, immunology and microbiology researcher with CIRAD: "... This strategy completely changes all the concepts of disease control. The choice is no longer limited to eradicating the infected animal population or mass preventive vaccination. A third tool, therapeutic vaccines, could be used on infected animals."www.cirad.fr
February 9 2007 ~ "FSA confirmed today that it was investigating the possibility that turkey meat contaminated by bird flu at a Bernard Matthews poultry farm has entered the human food chain."
Guardian and 24Dash and BBC
(Warmwell's latest postings on Bird Flu can be seen in full on the Avian Influenza page )
February 9 2007 ~ "the authorities must work harder to present a balanced picture, and not allow automatic implication of wild birds as the likeliest vector every time an outbreak occurs."
statement from BirdLife International today "....In both the UK and Hungary, the media, 'expert' commentators and some officials, including Government ministers, have been quick to implicate wild birds. In the UK there were suggestions that a small wild bird could have entered the Suffolk farm through an air vent, or that faeces from infected gulls could have been tracked into the building.
If the UK outbreak is confirmed as being caused by transportation of poultry products, this will confirm just how easily this can happen. The spread of H5N1, and outbreaks of other high-pathogenicity forms in the past, have made it clear both how much movement there is of poultry and poultry products around the world, and how easily the virus can be carried in this way...."
February 9 2007 ~ "a claim without the least shred of evidence..... scientific investigation had yet to begin. But Bradnock's suggestions ran far and wide in the national media."
Jonathan Leake's excellent New Statesman article "...Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council..... "The most likely source is a wild bird," he declared firmly. "Faeces on the concrete outside could have been walked in by a worker or it could have been deposited on the roof."
It was a claim without the least shred of evidence. Confirmation of the H5N1 strain had come less than two hours earlier and the scientific investigation had yet to begin. But Bradnock's suggestions ran far and wide in the national media. A hint that the real answer might be more complex comes from a survey by Defra, whose inspectors have spent five years swabbing the rectums of 5,000 wild birds to see if any were carrying H5N1 to Britain. None were..." Well worth reading in full.
February 9 2007 ~ Poultry source now thought very likely
"38 tons of turkey meat from Hungary, where there was an outbreak of the most dangerous form of bird flu last month, has been delivered by lorry every week to a processing plant close to the company's sheds in Suffolk." Telegraph
Virus is preserved in protein rich material and although Bernard Matthews' commercial director, Bart Dalla Mura, is reported (Channel 4) as saying "vets agree it is just not a source of questioning at all" (which vets? what questioning?), that there was "not a remote possibility" that the outbreaks could be linked because "our farm is about 160 miles away from the outbreak" and "there is not a remote possibility it would have happened in that way " - these protests are now sounding like the wishful thinking of a company seeing its compensation payments looking shaky and some very awkward questions being asked. Peter Ainsworth spoke yesterday of "the version of events they have told so far".
As the Grain report below suggests, it is looking likely that H5N1 is a poultry virus killing wild birds, not the other way around.
One wonders if it can possibly be legal to recycle dead turkeys from one factory farm for use in another. The public may become more aware of how their cheap meat is being produced and the dangers inherent for humans if they allow mass production of sentient creatures. The future of battery cages looks secure, unfortunately, at least until 2012 unless there is more public outrage voiced. Asked about the banning of such cages Mr Bradshaw would only commit himself on Monday on "conventional" cages being banned from 1 January 2012.
February 9 2007 ~ We are told that vaccination for a current strain does indeed work.
" our vaccine each winter tries to predict what will be current" New vaccines are on the way which will act cross strain as well - as for the excretion story after vaccination, based on research that is considered questionable, this " does not stack up virologically".
February 9 2007 ~"...There are also questions to be answered about what ministers knew and when, and if they had information last Monday, why didn't they disclose that information?" Peter Ainsworth
Times "Today's recriminations follow the news that another three of the 22 turkey sheds at the Holton farm had tested positive for H5N1, raising fears that the virus was more entrenched than originally hoped. Government scientists are now trying to establish how the virus spread from hut to hut, or whether all four huts suffered separate, independent infections from the same source."
February 8/9 2007 ~ "government officials ... no longer believe that Britain's first outbreak of bird flu was spread by wild birds"
Guardian Observer " UK poultry contamination blamed on carcasses from Matthews' Hungarian factory....'The company involved have voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend the movement of poultry products between their outlets in the UK and Hungary until the investigation is complete"
The rumour that this is an internal infection only has been circulating for several days (see below). We hear now that traces of infection have been found in three more sheds. Wild birds do not flit from biosecure shed to biosecure shed. The implication is that the virus arrived at the factory farm - perhaps by lorry from Hungary - and was spread internally. Neil Ferguson of Roy Anderson's Imperial Epidemiological group was quoted by the Telegraph on Wednesday "There are only two ways it could have got into the Norfolk farm: people or wild birds. Both are equally feasible. This is going to require detailed investigation and we may never find out what the origin was." But the wild bird scenario is no longer looking 'feasible'. He also said recently that there would "inevitably be more outbreaks during the year" but if this was an isolated incident of contamination then the inevitability of more outbreaks can hardly be assumed - unless other factory farms are going to behave in similar ways. The Guardian Observer story says that the government "has known about the contaminated meat since Monday" - yet British health officials told the European Union last Tuesday they did not believe there was a link between the outbreak of bird flu at the Bernard Matthews farm and two recent cases in Hungary where Matthews also has poultry interests. Neither did David Miliband mention the carcasses when he made a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday.
As for cost-sharing, such a case adds weight to the idea that government should be willing to give up its authority on disease control to an independent board - or are real farmers going to be expected to pay for the consequences of such contamination?
February 7 2007 ~ The myth of the silent spread of virus by vaccinated birds ... is just that. - utter nonsense.
Dr Fink's email ".... The obsessional focus by DEFRA is on the period after vaccination and theoretically before a complete response has been made by the vaccinees. In fact any individual ( man or beast or bird) who has partially responded and then meets ' wildtype' virus early after vaccine may have mild clinical disease and may excrete some virus in to the surroundings. That does not matter because the whole exercise is to reduce the spread of 'wildtype' and this will be a partial result in these few cases with much reduced virus shedding. As one hopes to induce so called ' herd immunity' any flock or herd which has been vaccinated ( but perhaps a bit late !! back to indecision in DEFRA) will still achieve lower excretion levels into the environment and also will have only mild clinical disease - which most us thought was the object of the exercise. The myth of the silent spread of virus by vaccinated birds flying over DEFRA offices is just that. - utter nonsense. " The email is well worth reading in full.
February 7 2007 ~ " there is a danger that reliance on avian flu vaccination for birds could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous" Mary, As I am sure that you know, this is complete and utter rubbish
Dr Colin Fink writes that he is angry. Having read in the answer given by the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton to the Countess of Mar, (below) the comment that vaccination "could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous", he writes
" Mary, As I am sure that you know, this is complete and utter rubbish and shows that all the 'Virologists' invented by Fred Landeg in Page Street, in answer to a question from the Countess of Mar are a myth. DEFRA cannot be allowed to go on peddling this mis-information with such arrogance and insularity. They cannot even advise their representatives properly and know nothing of how vaccines work.Read Dr Fink's email in full. It is important that an expert practising virologist's understanding about vaccination is seen.
You may publish this comment if you wish - I am angry about this."
February 5/6 2007 ~ " Is she saying that Defra has no qualified virologists at the heart of the organisation?"
Hansard On February 1st, the Countess of Mar asked "How many qualified virologists are directly employed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?" but from the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton received the answer:"..returns from agency chief executives show that Defra employs 116 qualified virologists who work in the field of virology.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she saying that Defra has no qualified virologists at the heart of the organisation? How many of those virologists are from the veterinary, medical and scientific disciplines? In view of the importance of viral diseases to animals and humans, will Her Majesty's Government consider setting up a separate steering committee to bring together virologists and microbiologists from all the disciplines in order to give the Government proper advice and reduce their reliance on computer modellers?" Read in full
We should very much welcome comments on the extraordinary answer given of 116 virologists. If there were merely one knowledgeable and practising virologist listened to by the Department and the government there would be little further need for this website.
February 5/6 2007 ~ 10 million doses of vaccine?
See below. In fact, only 5 million are in the UK. The other 5 million are held in Spain.
February 5 2007 ~ Illegally imported chicks from Hungary?
Rumours are now rife that Bernard Matthews has been importing live chicks or eggs from Hungary. If this is so and turns out to be the source of the trouble then the outbreak will be an isolated incident from which the UK government can perhaps at last learn some lessons. Rules about illegal imports have been in place for a considerable time now - but as we have reported elsewhere ( in particular with regard to diseased meat) making rules to protect animal and human health legally enforceable, when breaking the rules can be so lucrative, is another matter. As one warmwell reader says, "Selfish greed puts farming at risk in this country and endangers the life of the farmers and the citizens."
If the rumours are true it not surprising that no one from Holton wanted to talk to Farming Today and that we have heard so little from those running the "farm".
February 5 2007 ~ Not much communication to concerned residents living near the factory
They have complained that there still had not been anyone in touch "to tell them what to do." According to the East Anglian EDP24 "...Suffolk County Council trading standards department said that it sent scores of officials into the surrounding area from Sunday morning to talk to people who may be worried and advise those with small flocks of chickens. But last night even small farms just half a mile away had not been visited by anyone from Defra or the council." We hear from someone living nearby of the "mutually self- congratulatory tone of Maff-Defra and the Suffolk District Councils"
One regular reader of warmwell writes in despair,
"One can only be astounded that the same old mistakes are being made: Government ignorance so no on-site diagnosis and no vaccination information; officials managing to sound both arrogant and complacent; negligence from the "vet" in charge of premises that no vet should countenance; delayed diagnosis; mass killing including the healthy and unaffected; lazy or hyped up journalism - including the wheeling out by the media of the dreadful old guard who know so very little about the virus and such a great deal about their own careers; leaking disposal lorries trailing across the country; lack of communication with ordinary people. As usual, it is the ordinary people and their animals who have most to fear but people are being frightened and reasssured by turns by those they have now learned to distrust. How can cooperation - vital in a crisis- exist in such circumstances?"Another wrote this morning,
" I find it hard to believe that NOTHING has changed since 2001. Why do so few people care about animal suffering? Any sane person could see what is wrong but those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. I would have liked to contribute to halting the madness, but I know now that no one will listen. .."We can only hope that the voices of reason who have been quietly trying to change things in the past six years will at last be listened to.
February 5 2007 ~ " it is disturbing that our officials are so biased and self deluded"
The virologist Dr Ruth Watkins BSc Hons, BFA Oxon, MBBS, MSc, MRCP, MRCPath has written an email to warmwell. She says that a disinterested risk assessment is vitally needed. The email has much to say on biosecurity (never total outside laboratories) and she expresses her wonder that
"animal health experts support these huge unnaturally intensive flocks that are actually fundamentally a risk to health. Outbreaks such as this produce huge concentrations of the pathogen. The lorries covered with tarpaulin cannot be said to be sealed, merely covered. .."(Aerial pictures on the news show birds being brought out of the sheds and tipped into so-called "sealed lorries" Only tarpaulins cover the lorries - and this was one lesson we thought actually had been learned from 2001 since such leaking lorries are such an obvious risk to health.)
Wild birds have not so far been shown to be spreading the virus in Western Europe, yet so often the first thing suggested by the talking heads (never practising virologists, it seems and often distressingly the same "experts" that landed us in such a mess in 2001) is that the outbreak could have been started by a "bird in the ventilation" However, says Dr Watkins, the first possibility is that someone has been breaking the rules and has somehow introduced the virus directly into the infected shed. She says, "Any rule breaking is likely to be concealed and any illegal activity hidden. However that should not affect a disinterested risk assessment..... Huge and guess-work restriction zones are not necessary and wasting everyone's money." Read in full
February 5 2007 ~ Delay in picking up the infection in the first place is shrugged off by the veterinary profession in a way it should not be. Rapid diagnostic PCR testing could be applied even if from a VLA lab with same day results faxed out.
Ruth Watkins explains that there should always be an agreed procedure for testing for pathogens from such a farm
Read in full
- First the Matthews vet should be making a diagnosis based on taking samples; that might have gained 2 days.
- Each sample taken for diagnosis should have a protocol applied to it and a number of infections screened for.
- Clinical assumptions must always be tested in the laboratory particularly in intensive farming conditions where infection takes hold like wild fire.
- Even if there was E coli infection as the vet suspected, it should not preclude testing for avian influenza as part of a standard protocol as both infections could be present.
- I suspect the veterinary testing is based on the vet's request for a specific pathogen and not a screening protocol.
- This is also likely as a cost cutting device as all veterinary tests must be paid for.
Secondly the rapid diagnostic PCR testing could be applied even if from a VLA lab with same day results faxed out. Once there is an outbreak then on site rapid PCR testing should be applied.
February 5 2007 ~ When bona-fide, certified, safety-and-efficacy- tested vaccines are used, the results do not disappoint.
Professor Van der Velden is quoted in this morning's Independent,"There should definitely be a debate about vaccination of poultry," said Professor Koos Van der Velden, the chairman of the European Inf luenza Surveillance Scheme.......The situation in Suffolk is expected to be top of the agenda at a meeting of the EU's veterinary experts in Brussels today". We are dismayed to see that the Independent adds, " UK scientists fear vaccination could mask the start of an epidemic because it reduces the infectiousness of birds and stops them dying but does not halt the spread of disease."
Many will find it sickening that the notion, put forward by Sir David King, that vaccination does not halt the spread of disease, seems to have been widely accepted by journalists. Such a statement is highly misleading. ProMed moderator "AS" makes clear that
"When bona-fide, certified, safety-and-efficacy- tested vaccines are used, the results do not disappoint.." ProMedThe UK does hold 10 million doses of vaccine for use in creating a buffer zone if further outbreaks occur but there are no signs yet that they are to be used and no plans at all to introduce routine vaccination.
February 5 2007 ~ possible links between the Suffolk bird flu outbreak and that in Hungary are now being investigated.
Farming Today's Mark Holdstock reported this morning, "There seems to be a genuine puzzlement about how the disease reached this plant although one villager told me that he had seen a lot of Hungarian lorries entering and leaving the site..."
The Telegraph tells us that only now are "tests to be carried out on wild bird droppings, the most likely source of the infection. Defra began a survey in which every movement of staff, food or bedding will be analysed to see whether there could be a link with the outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus in Hungary 10 days ago."
February 5 2007 ~ The costs of failing to heed expert advice
Britain now faces the loss of £370 million in export trade in meat and live birds. DEFRA will have to compensate the Bernard Matthews farm at the value of each bird just before slaughter and this could be over £500,000 just for this one farm. Under the Animal Health Act 1981, companies will be compensated for all healthy birds slaughtered.
At the time of the Scottish scare in April Dr Breeze wrote about on-site diagnosis being used for H5N1 detection and calculated that Scotland could be the best equipped country in Europe for between £350,000 and £400,000 :
Extract ".A RAPID PCR machine (www.idahotech.com) costs about £40,000 pounds. ..the RAPID replaces procedures that previously required very costly biological high containment laboratories with enormous fixed operating costs. ..There are hundreds of scientists and technicians... who know how to do PCR tests (a standard lab tool) and who could learn the works of the RAPID in an afternoon....... In January 2006 there was an avian influenza conference in Kiev Ukraine attended by over 350 medical and veterinary officials from the US, Europe and seven countries of the former Soviet Union: this was followed by hands on avian influenza H5N1 detection training on the RAPID for veterinary lab staff from six countries. ... ....Back in April, when the Norfolk outbreak of a mild strain of bird flu, the low pathogenic H7N3 caused the culling on suspicion of thousands of free range chickens, there were veterinary experts, Elm Farm, The Soil Association and many concerned poultry owners, all urgently trying to get their message across. (See entries from April below). Many months before, in October 2005, the Soil Association had written a personal plea to Mr Blair about fears that pressure was
"... bearing down on policy-makers and closing off options for currently viable and positive measures that science and sense suggests should be considered. . .." Read in fullThe free range sector's anxious voice remains unheeded. Professor Sir David King is already looking at a future where "organic and free-range farming would come to an end. It would change farming practices...." There are thousands of people in the UK who care deeply about raising birds in a natural environment - both for the birds' health and welfare and for our own. They are now aghast. The costs of this refusal to listen may far exceed the costs feared by the government for implementing the 'currently viable and positive measures that science and sense suggests should be considered.'
February 4/5 2007 ~".... the first 71 birds died last Tuesday. But the outbreak was not reported to government vets until Thursday evening, after another 1,000 died.
It took a further two days before European Union scientists managed to conduct tests and were able to confirm that the virus at the farm, in Holton, near Halesworth, was H5N1. Even after that, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) took until yesterday evening to impose the obligatory exclusion zone because legal wrangles meant the required forms had not been signed in time...." Telegraph
February 4/5 2007 ~ "H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices"
Speculation about the cause of this outbreak continues to focus on wild birds. The tricky fact that migration has not yet begun is explained by 'unseasonal warm weather'. However, we are reminded of the Grain report concluding that H5N1 is a poultry virus killing wild birds, not the other way around - an alternative hypothosis that got backing in an editorial in the Lancet medical journal last May. The Grain report said:
"... The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices. ... while wild birds can carry the disease, at least for short distances - its main vector is the highly self-regulated transnational poultry industry, which sends the products and waste of its farms around the world through a multitude of channels..."Bernard Matthews farms are an extremely intensive form of agribusiness and one wonders if it too sends products and waste of its farms ( including a very large turkey complex in Hungary operating under the SaGa Foods brand) around the world "through a multitude of channels".
In a recent ProMed post, the moderator said, ".....the temptation to import cheap replacement stock from a source which just happens to also have HPAI can be great. If such an importing country is a neighbor, many of us are at immediate risk."
February 4/5 2007 ~ question mark over where the infected birds' carcasses were taken to be disposed of
A local observer wrote today,
" The first infected birds from the original shed were sent into Norfolk and possibly into Lincolnshire, not to Staffordshire. Why?"
February 4/5 2007 ~ "I cannot help but wonder why we are slaughtering birds and then moving them many, many miles to be incinerated."
is a question asked by a free range farmer and quoted by the BBC. Elsewhere on the BBC answers to current AI questions are given by Professor John Oxford (profile) - explaining for example that "the carcasses will have to be moved in steel containers which are totally secure." It may be remembered that Professor Oxford, a leading virologist, commented after the infected dead swan was found at the end of March, that
vaccination - in conjunction with careful monitoring - would be a useful way to help to control the disease.
February 4 2007 ~ Additional Restricted Zone
DEFRA "This is in addition to the 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone introduced earlier today. The Restricted Zone covers east Suffolk and South East Norfolk bounded to the west and the north by the A140 and A47 respectively, and is approximately 2090sqkm. It requires the isolation of poultry from wild birds and movements to be licensed. As further information becomes available and in consultation with ornithological experts the restrictions in place may be adjusted."
February 4 2007 ~ Bird Flu: Sir David King ruled out vaccination a year ago
Like us, the Soil Association was "mystfied" and "dismayed" by the decision, given by the Chief Scientific Officer, not to vaccinate against H5N1. They called for the use of vaccination of all poultry close to any outbreak. As the BBC reported a year ago in February 2006
"They have got to bring in every weapon in their armoury," said the association's Robin Maynard. He said he had a sense of "deja vu", likening it to the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. "The end result was 11 million animals slaughtered and £8bn cost to the tax-payer. We just don't want to go down that barbaric, medieval route."As for the deployment of on-site rapid diagnosis, Dr Roger Breeze described last March how his team was building a chain of 30 laboratories in Central Asia to provide real time PCR diagnosis of avian influenza, linked by an electronic disease reporting system to the Chief Veterinarian in Tashkent and to the United States. PCR capability for avian influenza is now in place in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet in the UK rapid diagnostic testing is only dimly understood, it seems, and, as far as we are aware, there are no plans to use such existing technology. The unwelcome suspicion is that this is because it is not yet made by those in the UK who can profit from it financially.
February 4 2007 ~ "Killing infected poultry flocks ad infinitum, without adjunct vaccination..is a policy that has not been successful over the last decade"
Last April we received an important email from two virologists warning that the UK still has insufficient or no H5N1 influenza vaccine stocks to protect the poultry flocks. They pointed out that it is essential to have clinical virologists working alongside Veterinarians, advising the UK government. They made it clear, back in April, that "the failure to prepare reflects a lack of understanding of viral disease in DEFRA and government and has implications for human disease risk."
"We believe that it is essential to have Clinical Virologists with an understanding of human disease and the value of vaccination, working alongside Veterinarians, advising the UK government and making decisions about preparation and limitation of the H5N1 infection in birds. Killing infected poultry flocks ad infinitum, without adjunct vaccination, as a means to control infection carried by wild birds, is a policy that has not been successful over the last decade, in eradication of this highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza. The pronouncements this week by Professor Sir David King UK Chief Scientist are not encouraging.Read in full
Vaccination is the most useful weapon we have against epidemic viral disease. Further spread of infection is halted by a vaccinated population..."
February 4 2007 ~ CIWF has never been allowed to visit Matthews' factories
Media frenzy - driving political hot potatoes away from the front pages - is as predictable as it is dismaying. Scaremongering about human health ("public told not to panic") tends to silence protest at the mass gassing of birds. Behind the bureaucratic demands for poultry to be put indoors within a 10km protection zone and the nationwide banning of pigeon races one hears the slamming of the stable door. As we have often regretted, DEFRA has not chosen vaccination as even part of their strategy to combat this global pandemic. As Dr Ruth Watkins asked in an article written many months ago for the CLA,
"... Why not vaccinate free-range poultry and pheasants as well as hold vaccine in reserve to ring vaccinate an outbreak in a domestic flock? Vaccination may be found necessary in bio-secure flocks to prevent breakdowns of infection in intensive poultry systems. If we do not order or make any vaccine for birds then we can never use it. Are we heading for another disaster on the scale of 2001?"Pheasants are especially vulnerable to infection from wild birds. They are reared in Spring and then released into the local habitat. Vaccinating young pheasants before release would be the sensible option. As today's Independent on Sunday says, the outbreak
"casts doubt on the adequacy of defences against the disease, which the Government had said were the best in the world."Once again we hear of "increasing risks of it arriving through migrating birds" The Bernard Matthews farms are strictly controlled and impermeable. Not even the highly respected Compassion in World Farming has ever been allowed in to visit. One correspondent, after mentioning the Bernard Matthews farms all over Europe, including Hungary, writes, "And they are telling us that it was a little sparrow in the ventilation system? Don't make me laugh!"
February 3 2007 ~ Suffolk bird disease is H5N1
Guardian 12.28 pm
"Samples from the infected establishment were immediately sent to the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, which has this morning swiftly confirmed the disease to be the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.The EU Commission has backed calls from Euro-MEPs for a stockpile of bird flu anti-viral drugs to be set up - but only if national authorities are prepared to pay for it.
Reuters reports that "Government veterinary experts" were called out late on Thursday. A protection zone with a radius of 3 km (2 miles) and a surveillance zone of 10 km around the infected farm has been set up.
February 3 2007 ~ Bird disease in Suffolk. Bernard Matthews farm - 160,000 turkeys in close proximity
Tests for H5N1 are going on at the VLA. Meanwhile DEFRA's contingency plan involves killing all the birds. The BBC quotes Peter Jinman as saying ""I think we do have to be very cautious about this particular situation. It does seem on the face of it very surprising if it's a commercial flock which is obviously going to have high biosecurity, a considerable amount of checks going on and, as we know, predominantly the concerns have always been about wild bird spread of this disease."
See also ProMed
February 2 2007 ~ Ram Genotyping. Closure of the scheme at last?
Hansard Jan 31 Ben Bradshaw "... the prevalence of BSE in the UK sheep population is most likely zero, or very low if present at all, and consequently the current RGS would have little impact on public health.The rationale of the ram-genotyping scheme was to protect public health - even though the relationship between BSE, scrapie and variant CJD has always been unclear and conjectural. Dr Alan Dickinson, described by Professor Hugh Pennington as " an intellectually rigorous man who....resembles the image that the public has of the brilliant, unworldly scientist", warned over 20 years ago that measures to reduce scrapie should avoid genetical extremes. He said that from the late 1980s there had been a "plethora of research committees controlling the policy and funds, hardly any of whose members were familiar with the subject, but who were mesmerised by the hype surrounding the protein, PrP" The RSG is now in disarray. For example, sheep that showed the VRQ allele had been designated by SEAC "sheep that are highly susceptible to scrapie and should not be used for breeding" and eliminated under the NSP - yet this allele actually seemed to confer resistance to the atypical strain of the disease. A large proportion of cases with so-called atypical scrapie have the ARR/ARR genotype - that most favoured by NSP breeding programmes. (See Fwi) There is now to be yet another 'consultation' about the RGS.
Ministers have accepted the review's key recommendation that a fully-funded RGS is therefore no longer appropriate. Instead, Departments should consult on options for the future of the RGS - either a cost-shared genotyping scheme, or closure of the scheme...."
SEAC has defended the RGS as "an appropriate disease control policy based on the available scientific evidence..." (Defra ) But independent expert scientific evidence was available and was ignored. The advice of Dr Dickenson was quietly given in January 2001 and can be read in full. It included the advice that
".... basic research should be funded so as to ensure its objectivity and freedom from coercion - the Research Councils, as originally created, were well conceived to achieve this.."Such advice has never been more relevant.
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