"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 January 2006
Monday January 30th 2006 ~ If this technology can be moved forward, then the mindset that wide scale slaughter is an acceptable animal health strategy will be ended for good.
Dr Roger Breeze, Ph.D., MRCVS , the former director of Plum Island and eminent authority on bio-terrorism, has written to warmwell with some startling information. It is an outspoken and important letter. (new window) and helps give a partial answer to our many questions:
It is alarming to learn that some key players in formulating UK policy have never even heard of the portable on-site RT-PCR or else confuse it with laboratory based cell culture. The portable real time PCR test is, at present, the only way definitively and rapidly to identify pathogens in situ. (Read Dr Breeze's letter and related links in full.) Its efficacy and portability is such that it has for several years been used all over the world by the American Department of Defense. The UK government, anxious that government funded research must benefit "UK plc" - but five years too late for many decent British farmers, for Mrs Kremers, for Fred Brown, and the piles and pyres of unnecessary dead - will eventually validate the Enigma Light Cycler machine for commercial use.
- Why does animal health not seem to matter much to those who decide animal health policies?
- In whose interests has it been that existing technologies have not been used, that veterinary expertise has been sidelined?
- What are the government's desired outcomes when unaccountable and unknown interest groups direct policies ?
- Why were literally millions of healthy animals and their young slaughtered in 2001 when an effective, rapid, on-site test was available to determine which animals were actually infected?
- Why, when Uruguay was able to defeat FMD successfully in the same year, did the UK contend that vaccination "didn't work"?
- Why are TB reactors being summarily killed as a result of an imperfect and often imperfectly administered test for antibodies? How can it be even contemplated that healthy badgers be randomly killed by the inhumane method of snaring, when the sett itself can now be checked for the presence of m bovis by the portable RT-PCR diagnostic kit?
- "What about the ordinary people, those most affected by government policies? Why are they more and more suspicious of DEFRA , beset by paperwork and by phony consultations for which they have no time, and now expected to pay for policies and even for mistakes caused by them?
Monday January 30th 2006 ~ "The current U.S. animal health framework has been slow to evaluate, validate, and implement new scientific tools and technologies
that could significantly enhance animal disease prevention, detection, and diagnostic capabilities... Technological advances that are now available to the framework include.... vaccines as prevention strategies, and a range of rapid, automated, sensitive, and portable sampling and assay systems for early warning and diagnosis. "
It is evident that things are about to change in the US. We can only hope that this facilitates change in the UK. Dr Roger Breeze's letter to warmwell (new window) is particularly interesting in the light of the 2005 findings of the US Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) quoted above.
The report, in making its 11 recommendations, deplores the fact that, although the lessons learned from our own FMD crisis, make it evident that " marker vaccines and/or diagnostic tests.." are indeed a critical disease strategy "little or no progress has been made in this direction in the United States despite the availability of the technological tools."
The report: Animal Health at the Crossroads: Preventing, Detecting, and Diagnosing Animal Diseases (2005) can be read online. A very readable pdf summary can be viewed here. (new window)
The rapid real time diagnostic PCR kit proved its worth in the field in Uruguay as long ago as 2001. In the same year, Dr Breeze wrote on ProMed:
" Our research task will be completed when we have delivered to the US and international animal health community a suite of OIE-approved real-time diagnostic assays for the most important global animal disease threats."
Monday January 30th 2006 ~ Defra has no intention of using on-site PCR technology to identify infected badger setts
The page mentioning the "new measures to tackle bovine TB in England" (see DEFRA website) has the usual DEFRA ring of confidence, but the omission of the very technology that could preclude the killing of healthy badgers makes all the rest ring very hollow indeed. The farmers want culling and the badger groups don't. But putting down badgers that are infected and doomed to a very nasty death, and that infect other mammals that cross their path or graze the grass which their dribbled, highly infected urine has contaminated, is sensible and humane.
Without on-site PCR this will be impossible. Badgers do not stand around waiting to be tested.
The wildlife teams are being disbanded and in their place the Central Science Laboratory has advertised for applicants 'with 5 GCSE's' to" count badger setts".
DEFRA's preferred method of killing is by snare.
Sunday January 29th 2006 ~ Cats, dogs and all mammals with TB must be reported to DEFRA
We understand that Cornwall has now had 23 cats with confirmed TB.
See Extract from Tuberculosis in badgers; a review of the disease and its significance for other animals J.Gallagher and R.S. Clifton-Hadley Monies et al. (2000) confirmed tuberculosis in 4 of 12 cats on a premises in Cornwall where 3 months previously an emaciated tuberculous badger had been found. The badger was thought to have passed infection to the cats by contaminating the cats feed bowls outside the house when eating left over food scraps...."
Saturday January 28th 2006 ~ ".... ironic that those who attempt to exonerate badgers of being the reservoir of TB infection for cattle show such little concern for the suffering those badgers with TB undergo"
Warmwell.com is, and has always been, an unpaid, independent observer with no financial interest in any of the issues covered. We watch with increasing concern the ever increasing politicisation of bodies that should be impartial and expert. The fact that many tough, experienced family farmers will now openly admit to being frightened of DEFRA's bungling and bullying ways is a matter of deep worry.
Animal disease policy, now bovine TB in particular (see bovine TB pages in new window) - instead of being dealt with by vets able to inform government of the facts - has become such a political hot potato that, while shrill voices carry on arguing, cattle that are as yet uninfectious are slaughtered in their thousands and ill badgers have been dying in the most unpleasant circumstances.
One vet who has spoken out is D.J.B.Denny MRCVS. His letter in yesterday's Farmers' Guardian should be read in full It explains why badgers are both the victims and the villains in the spread of bovine TB. He concludes by asking
Extract:"..... Is it hypocritical of Martin Hancox and his ilk to allow the suffering of the infected badgers, never mind the mass slaughter of cattle and the despair of the farmers concerned, to be further prolonged? ." read in full
Saturday January 28th 2006 ~ "misinterpretation of the scientific facts" says SVS vet
Quoted in full on the Bovine TB Blog website is a letter from an SVS (veterinary) officer, for once, the voice of sanity
" ... you certainly can't keep badgers away from cattle.....(read in full)
Cheeseman and Bourne have lost all credibility in my eyes. The Krebs trials - what a farce, and a misinterpretation of the scientific facts. ....SVS staff on the ground are as frustrated as the farming community - NO-ONE wants to see the badger exterminated - just a HEALTHY and CONTROLLED population, so they can exist in harmony with cattle. ..... Any mammal can become infected with bTB, and there's no doubt that deer population is becoming seriously infected ..... It is no good just taking and killing cattle, the wildlife reservoir has to be tackled. Some farmers have lost more than 50% of their stock, and in some cases the last of blood-lines that have been bred by their forefathers. .......".
Friday January 27th 2006 ~ Talking about the FMD vaccine, Yadav said it was in advanced stages of development and testing.
Business Standard.com reports on a "major breakthrough" by Indian veterinarians. "The IVRI had used local ingredients to bring down the cost of this vaccine. The volume of a dose needed to be given to the animals would be relatively much smaller in the case of the IVRI vaccine. ..... Of the four strains of FMD-causing pathogens, one (called virus C) had already been eradicated from India. The new vaccine would be effective against the remaining three strains..."
Friday January 27th 2006 ~ " Pentalk, which emerged from a crisis, has become sustainable"
A paper by Chris Hagar and Caroline Haythornthwaite, both of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign entitled Crisis, Farming & Community
"......A cross-party report from the European Parliament stated that the government's handling of the crisis traumatized farmers, broke animal welfare laws, and generated miles of unnecessary red tape, and that burning pyres and mass burial sites damaged the environment and people's health (European Parliament, 2002; Osborn, 2002)......Visit Pentalk.org (new window) "The Pentalk Network - Helping Cumbrian farmers to acquire IT skills"
If networks similar to Pentalk can be replicated in other areas, then the farming community would be in a much better position to deal with a future animal disease crisis, should one occur again..."Read in full
Friday January 27th 2006 ~ Holstein's future "..balanced on an animal-welfare knife edge"
The Scotsman's Vic Robertson writes today that the Holstein cow, mainstay of the UK dairy herd and a major source of beef for the processing market, is balanced on an animal-welfare knife edge..." Successive moves to boost the breed's genetic potential, particularly in terms of milk production, have led to serious health and welfare problems, said Ian Barker of the Farm Animal Welfare Council..
" Beef cattle reared in a more natural way had a better life.... Barker made the case for improved herd health plans to include welfare considerations, but warned this was made difficult by the declining number of vets in farm animal practice. .... The impact was felt most severely among small farmers who were faced with rising bills and falling income, Barker said, adding: "Often the farmer must choose between animal welfare and his own family welfare. It would not be quite the problem it is if farmers were properly rewarded for their produce." ...."Read in fullSee also these comments on Holstein operations that emphasise animal welfare
January 26th 2006 ~ mass vaccination campaign in Vietnam working
Vietnam has not detected any new bird flu outbreaks in poultry in more than a month, and no human cases have been reported since November. The country is importing another 150 million doses of the vaccine for a new vaccination campaign expected to start in February. See H5N1 page
January 26th 2006 ~ "wild birds may introduce the virus, but it is through man and man's marketing systems (the poultry trade) that the disease spreads. ."
Juan Lubroth, the senior officer for infectious diseases with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been quoted by Reuters This, in turn, is quoted in ProMed's update on avian influenza. The avian influenza pages(new window) on warmwell have been updated
January 25th 2006 ~ Defra's Science Advisory Council (SAC) says badger culling is "unlikely to be an effective control measure" for bovine TB"
The advice is contained in a letter dated 20 January 2006 and sent to Defra's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Howard Dalton. See stackyard.com
" The SAC says that research "supports the hypothesis that a substantial proportion of infection of cattle in GB at present is not due to infection by badgers, but is associated with other mechanisms such as cattle-to-cattle transmission.. "Culling of badgers is therefore unlikely to be an effective control measure unless and until further measures to reduce breakdowns due to mechanisms such as cattle-to-cattle transmission have been implemented successfully."However, see also warmwell's bovine TB pages which deals with on-site testing, closed herds where cattle to cattle transmission is impossible and the view of a senior Pro_Med moderator. Here, for example, is the view of a farmer, Matthew, who has lost reactors and who shares the compassion genuine animal lovers have for badgers:
"the suffering of these delightful animals is immense and it is something the Badger groups and Wildlife Trusts fail to acknowledge. It is perfectly true that for up to 8 years the badger can thrive, maintain body weight, rear cubs (and infect them too) all the while shedding tb. That is why this animal is such a successful host of the disease.Read in full and, opening in a new window, the constantly updating bovine TB pages and Nine years going no-where with the TB Forum)
But it gets them in the end and the results are an affront to anyone who calls themselves an animal lover.
Starvation through generalised TB is their main exit, with animals crawling about, half their target body weight, overgrown claws so that they are unable to dig and are forced to seek shelter in barns and cattle sheds. .." (Matthew is one of the team that writes the Bovine TB Blog (opens in new window)
January 25th 2006 ~ The EFRA Committee to consult on Bovine TB: Badger Culling - again
The last report from the EFRA Committee on bovine TB was in September 2004. The Government Reply to the Committee's Report - containing the Committee's recommendations in bold print - can be read here (opens in new window) and a selection of oral evidence given then - only just over a year ago - is on the warmwell bovine TB pages. One of its many recommendations in September 2004 about proactive research into differential tests and vaccines was that the EFRA committee, while supporting a new strategy to deal with bovine TB, was
" less impressed by the decision to consult about the matter.It is to be hoped that those with clout on both sides of the badger argument will emphasise to the committee that rapid PCR diagnosis can detect Btb both in badger setts and in cattle well within the hour. Slaughter of uninfected animals is therefore not an option that should be considered in the light of modern technological advance. "The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has decided to examine the Government's proposals for introducing badger culling as a bovine tuberculosis control measure, as set out in the consultation paper issued on 15 December 2005. In conducting its inquiry, the Committee intends to focus on the key questions that Ministers must address in reaching conclusions on the issues set out in the consultation paper. The Committee invites interested parties to address these matters in writing. The deadline for submissions is Monday 6 February 2006. (More information ) The Committee intends to call selected witnesses to give oral evidence on Wednesday 15 February 2006.
Defra must surely know by now what its key stakeholders think about this matter; and repeated consultations are unlikely to shift entrenched attitudes in any event . Now is the time for decisions and actions." (Paragraph 46 in 2004)
January 25th 2006 ~MPs on the Committee were staggered that the Minister could still not give a definitive statement
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is "deeply unimpressed by the failure of Defra and the RPA to plan properly for the process of administering payments to farmers under the new Single Payment Scheme " and is scathing about the complacency of Lord Bach. He has refused to admit that any mistakes have been made or that anything could have been done differently. "MPs on the Committee were staggered that the Minister could still not give a definitive statement about when full payments would be made, or whether farmers would instead initially receive partial payments. It would be unacceptable if farms were put out of business due to delays by the RPA in making payments, and the Government should make clear what steps it intends to take to ensure that this does not happen."
The MPs spoke too of DEFRA's insufficient consideration, lack of foresight and failure to anticipate the complexity of the scheme. It was particularly concerned that little notice had been taken of its previous warnings MPs were alarmed to learn about the scale of the cost and that there has been no apparent remedial action by top management or by Ministers. . (Extracts)
The story is taken up by the Telegraph Lord Bach's failure to accept responsibility is evident from the way he blames the Labour majority on the Committee for being "unduly influenced by the Conservative chairman"......
"... Tim Bennett, the president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The agency's bungling has placed a massive financial burden on farmers and some are in grave danger of sinking as a result."(See a farmer reader's utter (but witty) frustration and also warmwell comment below.)
January 24th 2006 ~ 23 days for samples to be tested for avian influenza
As warmwell reported yesterday on the avian influenza pages the World Health Organisation is emphasising
"the vital importance of surveillance and effective early warning systems"It made clear that it is not exaggerating the risk of a human influenza pandemic and is calling for improved surveillance of birds globally to ensure early detection of the H5n1 virus. See Reuters report
In the UK, a question from Jim Paice;
"pursuant to her answer of 16 January 2006, Official Report, column 892W, on Avian influenza, on what date the testing of the 3,179 wild birds for avian influenza commenced; and on what dates the mallard and shelduck were (a) found or captured and (b) tested."received this answer from Ben Bradshaw: "Samples from the mallard were taken on 14 November 2005 and first tested on 25 November 2005. Samples from the shelduck were also taken on 14 November 2005 and first tested on 6 December 2005." Hansard
January 23rd 2006 ~ "by killing the sentinel cattle without listening to the song they are singing, government are exposing more and more of the population either directly, or via their pets, to a seriously infectious zoonosis"
An email today from "Matthew" who has studied the bovine TB problem in detail and with great compassion towards the badgers as well as the cattle, concludes:
The only good thing Bradshaw has done this February, (apart from a fictitious 'consultation' on culling badgers which contains in several places the words "Valued and cherished" when referring to tubercular badgers but emphasises "Valued and slaughtered - at vast cost to the taxpayer" re. cattle!) is to make tuberculosis 'Notifiable in any mammalian species" .Read in full
The public are being negligently misled into believing the m.bovis loop affects just cattle and badgers. It does not."
January 22nd/23rd 2006 ~ "one of the biggest threats to livestock producers for the past 25 years..worse than foot and mouth.."
DEFRA's requirement from February 20th that all cattle over 15 months old be checked at the farmer's expense for TB before movement off a holding will dramatically reduce the number sold through live auctions. DEFRA is proposing that live markets for untested cattle will have to be held on a different day from that of the normal auction - even though - as Chris Dodds, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers' Association says -
"the chance of transmission of TB between animals in a short period of time is minute."It will leave many producers little choice but to sell direct to slaughter and this, as Anthony Gibson points out, would give large abattoirs a stranglehold over beef prices. See FWI report
The end of farming for many smaller family farms.
It is hardly surprising that many now wonder if the end of livestock farming in the UK is to be a consequence or a deliberate aim of government policies. ( Warmwell's Bovine TB pages)
January 22nd/23rd 2006 ~ Bovine TB: "...why, when an error may have occurred, is there no appeal process and no opportunity for the farmer to be heard? Instead, verbal bullying, threats and intimidation have been levelled ..."
Bill Wiggin asked Mr Blair in Wednesday's Prime Minister's Question Time (Hansard)
"The Prime Minister will be aware that when cattle fail the TB test, they need to be destroyed. However, why, when an error may have occurred, is there no appeal process and no opportunity for the farmer to be heard?The PM's reply was that he did not know about the incident but said to Mr Wiggin " I am perfectly happy to look into it, discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and get back to him."
Instead, verbal bullying, threats and intimidation have been levelled at a constituent of mine, Mrs. Booton.
I wrote to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 5 December and I still have not had a reply. Will the Prime Minister investigate these appeals? I am worried that, if people do not co-operate, the Government's policy for sorting out this disease will be seriously undermined."
January 22nd/23rd 2006 ~ Bovine TB - a time bomb
Newly updated warmwell pages on bovine TB Of particular interest is what a ProMed moderator wrote in July "Contrary to views expressed by some interviewees, the spillover of bovine TB from the highly infected, dense badger population in Cornwall to other species, wild and domestic porcines included, should not be surprising. .... If the current situation continues, it might be only a matter of time before humans are infected.." More
January 22nd/23rd 2006 ~ unless you offer reasonable explanations and make it actually worth people's while to cooperate, you are left with mere coercion. This could be dangerous.
If knowing where animals are is important for disease control (rather than, as it seems to some, mere control-freakery), DEFRA needs cooperation. It is the most basic of basic management skills to recognise that people will cooperate fully only when they see that it is worth their while to do so. What is more, they need to be able to respect the reasoning behind the request.
"New sheep and goat identification rules now in force" says DEFRA - but what led to this legislation and what is the legislation? Why must the yearly census inventory now be returned to DEFRA? For what reason does the form ask for the stockowners' "profession"?
Intensely irritated by a letter from Defra about this, one farmer told warmwell :
"After experience of the massive incompetence of Defra in dealing with anything relating to animal keeping (BSE, FMD, TB, scrapie etc.), I am extremely reluctant to give them any information whatsoever about the animals on my farm - or my occupation. So I rang the information line number and asked to be told what was the "new legislation"... The chap who dealt with my enquiry couldn't tell me but volunteered to ring me back after making enquiries. He rang me back and still couldn't tell me.... "It might inspire confidence if information sent to stockholders is self-evidently based on a sound understanding of farming, veterinary science and animal husbandry, and incentives given to counterbalance the extra work. As it is, the stream of letters, forms and glossy handbooks are often regarded frankly as an unfunny joke (opens in new window). More
January 21 2006 ~ " hard work and long hours is no substitute for proactive research on world leading control programs and education of DEFRA staff on the technologies to prepare them for the worst eventuality."
At a time when rapid, portable on-site diagnosis and geographical pin-pointing, and differential tests and vaccines - used elsewhere in the world for several years - are at last within sight of acceptance, at a time when the collective amnesia about FMD 2001 is widespread and yet the risks of epidemics as bad as ever - and as we approach the FIVE YEAR anniversary of the outbreak that changed so many lives and destroyed so much irreplaceable livestock, some of the evidence given to the various inquiries can be shown to have stood the test of time - and yet remains largely unread.
This submission to the Royal Society of Edinburgh inquiry into FMD 2001 gave praise for the efforts made but made some devastating criticisms. Its advice was of enormous importance (read in full) and yet how far is veterinary officialdom making pro-active efforts to advise on what is available in terms of modern disease control? How much better prepared are we now?
Where is the Expert Group whose expert independent members would overcome the inevitable "reluctance of farmers and vets to accept the advice of a heterogeneous mix of scientists from London "?
As the authors say:
" The decline of veterinary educational significance in the minds of the politicians resulted in a dearth of scientific veterinary epidemiological advice at the divisional level."The evidence in the paper covers an extraordinary range of knowledge and understanding of both what went wrong and what needs to be done. It concludes:
"There is no point to any of these inquiries if the lessons are learned and forgotten again. It is the duty of all those involved in foot and mouth to remind the next government and those thereafter that we will not tolerate short-term cost cutting policies that cost the country dearly in the long run. Prevention is better than cure and that must be the focus for the future. "Read in full
January 19/20 2006 ~ 8 reactors at Pensax - the fight is lost
District Judge Bruce Morgan, sitting at Worcester Magistrates' Court, said he had no alternative other than to take the "sad decision" to grant the warrant. BBC
January 18 2006 ~ "I have a nightmare vision of farmers fighting running battles through the countryside with animal rights extremists;
of television news footage showing snared badgers struggling for hours to free themselves; and of TB getting worse, not better, as diseased badgers are dispersed across the countryside by incomplete control operations..." Anthony Gibson in the WMN
January 18 2006 ~ "absolutely no practical reason why tests could not be done"
An article (in FWi) by Owen Paterson on his visit to the USA in December to discuss Bovine TB Policy
"....The USA shows clearly that Bovine TB can be eradicated in cattle and wildlife by a combination of the following:It must be emphasised that only a combination of all of these will work. Picking only one or two of them will not eliminate the disease. ..."
- fast, accurate and modern diagnosis.
- rigidly enforced but workable pre-movement testing and movement restrictions.
- vigorous, if unpopular, campaign to bear down on disease in wildlife.
"...... new PCR kits, developed for the army in Iraq, are as small as a briefcase and there is absolutely no practical reason why tests could not be done on the environment on the environment from the back of a truck in less than two hours. A well equipped laboratory could do over 1000 a day. They believe that PCR would work on material around setts. It was felt that Ben Bradshaw's letter to me was quibbling....Read in full
(US vets were) ... utterly astounded by the grotesque dimensions of the TB epidemic in the UK. .... there was clearly no doubt that we should be pressing the Government to trial PCR technology as we have already proposed. "
January 18 ~ Bovine TB : Latest parliamentary questions on the issues re gassing and the culling policy .
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reasons gassing has been ruled out as a method of culling badgers. 
Mr. Bradshaw: Gassing has not been ruled out as a method of culling badgers. We are currently consulting on both the principle and method of a badger culling policy.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of the compatibility with the Berne Convention of the practice of licensing individual farmers to cull badgers. 
Mr. Bradshaw: We are currently consulting on both the principle and method of a badger culling policy. Any new culling policy would have to be sustainable and take account of legislation protecting the welfare of badgers. But no decisions have yet been made. Badgers are listed as a protected species under Appendix III of the Berne Convention, but they are not an endangered species. The Berne Convention allows regulated management of a protected species as long as this is not "detrimental to the survival of the population concerned".
January 18 2006 ~ Sheilagh Kremers wins public support
The Farmers' Weekly reports
The Devon farmer who is continuing her fight to save a bull calf from being slaughtered as a TB reactor has received many messages of support in her battle against DEFRA. Sheilagh Kremers, of New Park Farm, Ogwell, Newton Abbot, is refusing to allow DEFRA access to slaughter one of her 12 pedigree Dexter cattle on the grounds that the tuberculin skin test is unreliable and was poorly carried out.The Kremers' petition.
"Only 13-20% of cattle slaughtered for TB are positive, which simply isn't good enough," she said. "But DEFRA is refusing to allow us a second test, even if we do it privately."
Mrs Kremers has complained to the Royal Veterinary College, questioning the validity of the TB tests..." Read in full
January 18 2006 ~ Bovine TB. Ben Bradshaw says he doesn't have "information on the number of applications for private tests rejected by the SVS". Nor does he appear to understand that rapid PCR tests can already diagnose Mycobacterium bovis in live cattle.
Hansard Bill Wiggin asked
- about appeal procedures against the results of the tuberculosis test,
- when the use of a private tuberculin test would be approved
- how many cases the use of such a test has been refused in the last two years
- DEFRA's reasons for not using the gamma interferon test to support tuberculosis tests. Excerpts from Mr Bradshaw's replies:
Mr. Bradshaw:...any request to release tuberculin for a further private test will always be declined by the Department. Approval for private tests is generally granted in the context of a test for purchaser assurance, or as a condition for cattle export in herds not subjected to tuberculosis restrictions.
Information on the number of applications for private tests rejected by the state veterinary service is not held by the Department.
.....We are continuing to fund projects at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency to develop methods (including polymerase chain reaction-PCR) for detecting Mycobacterium bovis in clinical samples. At present it is unrealistic to consider PCR methods as a viable alternative to the existing primary surveillance tool for TB in live cattle
.. Defra does use the gamma interferon test in identified problem TB herds at a rate of about 6,000 animal tests a year. EU legislation allows the blood test only to be used to supplement the skin test. Preparations are now being made for wider use of the gamma interferon test, in prescribed circumstances. A working group has been established to prepare and deliver a policy for increased use of the test."
January 18 2006 ~ bovine TB "... the panel had done little more than "rubber stamp" government proposals. His own views had been excluded from its final report."
The Livestock Auctioneers Association is considering legal action against the Government. David Kivell, a prominent livestock auctioneer in Devon, is quoted by the Western Morning News today on government plans to test all cattle being moved - except those going directly for slaughter - still without agreeing a cull of TB-infected badgers
" ... I don't think Defra have quite understood the implications. As these rules stand they would cripple the markets in the South West - it has to change."The Livestock Auctioneers Association has warned that traditional markets, that still form the backbone of rural life in many Westcountry communities, are likely to be devastated. WMN
"Association vice-chairman Ben Messer-Bennetts : "The country's 137 livestock markets have a combined turnover of #1 billion. This is not some little industry - we are vital cog in the wheel of farming and the rural economy."He said that the rules would have little impact on the spread of bovine TB. He was himself a member of the independent panel that advised the Government on pre-movement testing, and the WMN reports that he said the panel had done little more than "rubber stamp" government proposals. His own views had been excluded from its final report.
January 18 2006 ~ Did he cite FMD in the UK as an example of the positive influence science has on political decisions?
The Public Keynote Lecture by Sir David King at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (new window) "Quality Control and Assurance in Scientific Advice to Policy" on January 12 focussed on the Chief Scientific Adviser's role in advice on policy making.
Readers of this website may share our bewilderment that Sir David still thinks the scientific advice to the government in 2001 was correct. It was Professor King who, in an interview on the Today Programme in December 2001, said
"What I was happy to achieve in the FMD outbreak was showing that science in real time could provide a sound basis for policy advice."yet evidently failed to understand the difference between the rapid diagnostic tests (that really can make accurate diagnosis in "real-time") and what he was being asked about - the test to distinguish vaccinated from infected animals.
The portable real time PCR test is the only way to identify FMD virus definitively on site within an hour and yet even now, five years on, still does not figure in UK Contingency plans. Sir David (whose speciality is physical chemistry) seemed not to understand what was being offered to the UK.
Had he put his weight behind it, the crisis could have been dealt with in a much shorter time, with minimal slaughter and far less disruption to country life.
As it was, the outbreak cost at least #8 billion in terms of money, while the cost in terms of human and animal trauma can only be hinted at. Such studies as that of Lancaster University " Psychosocial effects of the 2001 UK foot and mouth disease epidemic in a rural population: qualitative diary based study" show that the trauma continues.
Quality control and assurance in scientific advice to policy would seem to be long overdue - and we are still waiting for news that an Expert Group, "permanently operational" and "composed of epidemiologists, veterinary scientists and virologists in a balanced way", as the EU Directive demands, is yet a feature of UK FMD disease policy.
January16 2006 ~ "We could grow enough to feed ourselves on the diet of the Second World War, but the notion that there is land to spare to grow biofuels, or be the site of wind farms, is ludicrous."
James Lovelock writes today in the Independent "the most difficult I have written.. We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace... "
"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. .. ... Not only will wildlife and whole ecosystems go extinct, but in human civilisation the planet has a precious resource. We are not merely a disease; we are, through our intelligence and communication, the nervous system of the planet. ..... We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone, and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia. We must do it while we are still strong enough to negotiate, and not a broken rabble led by brutal war lords. Most of all, we should remember that we are a part of it, and it is indeed our home."(Defra's assertion that we are in a "post-agricultural era" looks catastrophic in the light of Professor Lovelock's wake-up call.)
January 15/16 2006 ~" Whether the virus is introduced by wild birds or poultry is irrelevant to my proposal...."
Dr Watkins has written a follow-up letter :
"....My suggestion is to restock with vaccinated domestic birds once the village or area has been completely culled to control the outbreak of H5N1 in domestic poultry in that village or area. It is possible there may be H5N1 infection in some of the local wild birds or that infected wild birds or even infected poultry are reintroduced to that village or area. However the vaccinated domestic birds would be protected from infection so there would be no outbreak in the domestic flock. The few infected individuals would die.....Read in full
It would be important to maintain vaccination, for example an annual vaccination of all adult and all young domestic birds in the summer if the vaccine gives protection for 12 months. Unfortunately, the apparent local elimination of H5N! from infected domestic poultry by culling all poultry is not enough to ensure the infection will not re-emerge...
...Whether the virus is introduced by wild birds or poultry is irrelevant to my proposal. It is likely that in an outbreak the virus circulates between wild birds and domestic birds, even felines and pigs may be infected too. The most important measure other than controlling new outbreaks is to prevent their reoccurrence thus reducing the opportunities for the virus to infect humans and mutate or reassort to produce a pandemic strain for humans.
It would seem that Turkey's exit strategy could be to eliminate the keeping of domestic poultry altogether- I have seen this on the latest ProMed bulletin. This may be very unfortunate for the nutrition and health of its poorer population who - if they ever get the meagre monetary compensation proposed - may be hard pushed to find it would cover another long term source of nutrition as valuable as poultry. ...."
January 15/16 2006 ~ Chief benefit of holding the avian flu Exercise Hawthorn exercise? "Demonstrating that the Government is taking the threat of avian influenza seriously'.
As Jim Paice points out in this press release, the first point under the heading "Benefits of holding the exercise' on the Defra website is "Demonstrating that the Government is taking the threat of avian influenza seriously'. He comments: "If Minister's are so keen to demonstrate that they are taking avian influenza seriously they might like to conduct Exercise Hawthorn now, rather than three months down the line."
See warmwell avian influenza page
January 15/16 2006 ~ "....... the need to improve early detection and reporting systems to help contain infections."
Turkey has reported 18 laboratory-confirmed avian flu cases, of which 3, all from the same family, were fatal.
January 15/16 2006 ~ H5N1 "a different policy for Turkey other than simply culling should be adopted."
An urgent email from the virologist Dr Ruth Watkins BSc Hons, BFA Oxon, MBBS, MSc, MRCP, MRCPath
Dr Watkins' points include:
".....Turkey's openness, the important nutritional value of poultry to poorer people especially children, the likelihood of persistence of H5N1 infection in domestic poultry in Turkey acting as a reservoir for human infection and wild bird infection, the leaky network of subsistence poultry keeping allowing extensive transmission even into neighbouring countries- a different policy for Turkey other than simply culling should be adopted. Is the World Health Organisation able to do something different?" Read in full
- Turkey's extensive network of domestic poultry acts like a leaky sieve allowing the transmission of a highly infectious virus for poultry to spread far and wide in a short space of time.
- The numbers of birds culled in Turkey is still small enough to make the replacing the culled birds with vaccinated ones a real possibility. The announcement of an effective vaccine developed by Dutch virologists makes this feasible. (see below).
- Because Turkey has been so much more open about bird flu than other SE Asian countries, says Dr Watkins, anti-virals can be supplied to suspect (human) cases before lab confirmation and - most importantly - valuable sero-epidemiology can take place
- Unlike in Western Europe there are many poor people in Turkey who are subsistence farmers or who live on the margins of malnutrition. What are they to do without any poultry? When are they to be allowed to restock? How can they ensure the virus will not return? Is there any exit strategy for this epidemic? For these people poultry, with their eggs, occasional meat and value for trade, must constitute a vital element in their nutrition, particularly for growing children. The essential amino acids in eggs are the best balanced for humans of any protein. Chickens lay even in winter.
- There is no proof, she says, no evidence at all that the infection arrived in Turkey by wild birds; she calls this"just glib talk". It is far more likely that the infection was spread by the movement of domestic poultry ....
January 14/15 2006 ~ The Parliamentary Ombudsman
is presenting her draft report at the end of January into the possible maladministration by MAFF with regard to the swill feeders and events surrounding Burnside Farm. An email from Robert Persey indicates that the situation is interesting to say the least. If - as the government has allowed to be widely believed - Burnside Farm was indeed the index case, then the granting of a licence there before the outbreak in spite of the Ministry's knowledge that the farmer failed to meet the requirements of the regulations suggests that MAFF must accept some heavy responsibility. If the Ombudsman finds that MAFF/Defra should not be censured this is ignoring an important precedent in the 1990s when the Ministry was forced to issue a public apology because it allowed a swill farm to continue in operation when the facilities and procedures of that farm failed to comply with the regulations.
January 14 2006 ~ Mrs Kremers' petition
The Devon farmer has sent us a copy of her petition. It asks "How many more healthy animals have to be slaughtered?"
To Margaret Beckett MP. We, the undersigned, want the government to cease this senseless slaughter of British cattle until:It would undoubtedly mean a lot to Sheilagh and Mark Kremers at this difficult time, if printed petition forms, duly signed, could be sent to her at New Park Farm, Rectory Road, Ogwell, Newton Abbot, TQ12 6AH
- An accurate test is in use
- New measures are introduced to combat the disease at source (e.g. wildlife)
- Vaccination of domestic and farm animals is allowed
January 13 2006 ~ possible farmers' rebellion unless badger cull is carried out by the most humane method - and by DEFRA
WMN "... at a private meeting of 60 of the most influential names in the Westcountry beef and dairy industry...... "Shooting and snaring were public relations disasters waiting to happen, particularly in holiday areas. "Organised the right way, a cull could clear TB in two years, and you would still be able to enjoy having fit and healthy badgers on your land at a sensible level of population," he said. Trapping would only catch healthy animals - the territory markers, he warned. "It is a lot better if the sick badgers simply go to sleep underground from the fumes of a tractor exhaust," he added...
....The meeting unanimously rejected two proposals made by Defra: to introduce a new compensation scheme for cattle slaughtered due to TB infection, which would reject local valuation of animals in favour of assessing them using a list of 47 categories drawn up by the Government; and to introduce pre-movement testing of cattle - to be paid for by farmers and scheduled to begin on February 20 - which would not allow cattle to leave farms if they test positive for TB.
The NFU is currently challenging both the pre-movement testing and the compensation tables legally - but at the meeting the farmers resolved that neither would happen if they did not get the badger cull by gassing.... "
January 12 2006 ~ Mrs Kremers continues to fight for her five-month-old TB reactor Dexter bull calf
Mrs Kremers says she is still planning on continuing her fight and is launching a petition to save Fern.
She told the WMN:
"They have forced me into choosing a valuer for the calf. They said that if I didn't decide on one they would come with the chartered surveyor's valuer, so I've chosen a local valuer. They will now inform me of a date when they will come to my gate and ask me to sign the form saying I accept the valuer which means I will accept the valuation. If I accept that I will be accepting the slaughter." Read in fullThe mindset of slaughtering farm animals as a "cure" seems to us as shameful an aspect of the UK policy today as was the needless killing of literally millions of healthy animals in 2001. But to do this while ignoring the wildlife reservoir of the disease is even more an affront to common sense. British veterinary authorities seem unable proactively to examine the advances of modern science for better ways of protecting animals in the UK. It seems that, instead of informing policy with an ethical and scientific understanding, they wait - as they waited in 2001- to be told what to do by those with no veterinary expertise, humanity or common sense. Modern technologies are being ignored in this cruel game of Blind Man's Buff in which the losers are the small stakeholders and the animals themselves.
January 12 2006 ~ Dutch to fight bird flu by mass poultry vaccination
Reuters 11.47 GMT
"The Dutch government wants to vaccinate its huge poultry population against bird flu in the face of growing fears of a major European outbreak, the farm ministry said on Thursday..Excellent news - particularly following Dr Vallet's words below.
....Last month, EU farm ministers agreed to update the bloc's existing bird flu law to increase controls and give governments greater flexibility to vaccinate poultry. The Dutch farm ministry said the European Commission -- the EU's executive -- still had to approve the vaccination.
.... The Dutch poultry industry unions have supported the government's plans.
Dutch virologist Albert Osterhaus, a leading world avian influenza scientist, said vaccination should be accompanied with a monitoring programme because of a two-week period needed for a vaccine to start working. "I would definitely recommend vaccination to be considered seriously. If you have a large (poultry) population like in the Netherlands and you leave them unprotected, you're running a high risk in the future," Osterhaus told Reuters. ." Read in full
January 12 2006 ~ "Neither country has experienced further outbreaks and that is despite hundreds of thousands of migrating birds visiting them"
What about the link between fish farming and this influenza, which doesn't seem to have been examined closely at all, asks Dr Richard Thomas of Bird Life International. BBC LIsten Again disagreeing strongly with Dr Keith Sumption on the Today Programme. Quoting an FAO report
"To date, extensive testing of clinically normal migratory birds in the infected countries has not produced any positive results for H5N1... "he says that the testing has been taking place for a decade.
Nor can Dr Thomas see on what Dr Bob McCracken (BVA) is basing his view that the danger of bird flu would be "at its greatest during the migratory season for wild ducks" As for the call in Russia for men to "grab rifles and shoot migratory birds" Dr Thomas calls it a "completely inappropriate response"
Dr Thomas said that after infected duckmeat had been imported into their countries from China, both South Korea and Japan stamped the disease out by culling the poultry and closing their borders to further imports. "Neither country has experienced further outbreaks and that is despite hundreds of thousands of migrating birds visiting them". He quoted the FAO report
"..recently livestock and fish have been implicated in the irregular occurrence of influenza pandemics. The global impacts on public health of promoting livestock and fish integration are huge if these claims are substantiated." The report continues " the role of cultured fish in the possible transfer of pathogens between livestock and humans is important, particularly in less developed countries."The same point about fish farms was made to us last week by the virologist Dr Ruth Watkins, who agreed strongly that migratory birds were unlikely to contribute to the spread of H5N1
January 11 2006 ~ Avian Influenza, Turkey: "you create a protective area around an outbreak through vaccination" Bernard Vallat
Reuters "... OIE Director General Bernard Vallat told Reuters in an interview. "If cases continue to come to light, the 2nd option is to use vaccination in the area around detected outbreaks. Of course, sick animals must still be culled," he added. "The idea is that you create a protective area around an outbreak through vaccination. This could involve an entire province," Vallat said. The international community should provide logistical support and vaccine stocks if Turkey took this option."
January 11th 2006 ~ The BBC picks up on Mrs Kramer's petition for new measures to stop senseless slaughter
The BBC this morning says in its report:
'A Devon farmer has started a petition calling for new measures to stop the "senseless slaughter" of cattle which may have bovine TB. ...'Anthony Gibson, the respected SW regional director of the National Farmers Union, said last week of Mrs Kramer's request for another test "If we get a 'no', there will have to be further discussions" (audio)
Yesterday's email to this website, about cattle destroyed by the government's present policy of killing the cattle while protecting the wildlife reservoir that spreads the disease, observed : "In our almost 5 year breakdown, 40 out of 43 carcasses of much valued incalf dairy cattle and yearlings had no sign (or culture) of the disease.... in a herd which had bought in no cattle, it should not have been there."
Those wishing to sign Mrs Kramer's petition and send messages of sympathy should write to her at New Park Farm, Rectory Road, Ogwell, Newton Abbot, TQ12 6AH.
January 10th 2006 ~ "Think of the cattle as sentinel 'canaries'. We would have lost a heap of coalminers, if the NCB had strangled any moping sentinel pit canary, while ignoring the presence of fire damp.
But that is exactly what this government is exposing the cattle to - and everything else that can be infected with tuberculosis..." An email from a farmer whose own experience with bovine TB testing provides useful insight into the skin test and what it does and does not do.
Extract: "PQ's gave us the answer that "in the absence of a wildlife reservoir, the Intradermal skin test and slaughter of reactors to it is all that is necessary to control bovine tb". ....... It is not designed to show clinical tb. It shows an animal's immune response to exposure to m.bovis, (in the UK by comparison to m.avium) which may or may not go on to develop into lesions. That process depends on the size of the dose and incubation period hence post mortem confirmation. .
Defra testing 4,5 million cattle per year cannot afford to repeat test cattle that have actually 'Reacted' to a world wide diagnostic tool. ....
the rest of her herd...will face tests every 60 days until they test clear. And if a pernicious drip feed of badger m.bovis is infecting them, that could take a considerable time - as we found. ." It is important to read the email in full
January 10th 2006 ~ TB protest to save bull calf could mean prison
story in Farmers' Weekly today
"....It's like a doctor telling me I must die and then they'll test me to see whether or not I had cancer."
It's wrong that cattle are being killed while TB is not controlled in wildlife, she added.
A DEFRA vet has so far failed to persuade her that the calf must be slaughtered. Ms Kremers said she was determined to refuse them access to kill the calf even if it meant going to jail. ...other farmers in the West Country are rumoured to be considering withdrawing their co-operation with DEFRA. Non-co-operation has been mentioned in protest at the changes to compensation valuations and at the introduction of pre-movement testing. "
January 9th 2006 ~ SVS refuses retest for Mrs Kremers' calf
Ministry vets are saying, apparently, they can "only be sure" of the existence or non-existence of bovine TB if the calf is dead. In view of the fact that in the Pensax case, the SVS spokesman said that "the disease could be present in the animal even if it was not detected at a postmortem examination," it would appear to be unlikely that there would ever be an admission that the calf was clear of disease.
Sheilagh Kremers has refused to let DEFRA officials on to her land. The Defra letter, which curtly informs Mrs Kremers that Fern will not be tested a second time for bovine TB, has the unpleasant tone of a bullying bureaucracy entirely out of touch with the feelings of welfare-conscious farmers:
"I am confirming that no re-test will be carried out. After informing the District Veterinary Network of the facts of this case I again confirm there will be no change in this decision."Mrs Kremers is as determined to save the pedigree calf from slaughter as ever. She is not interested in compensation and does not want to break the law. All she wants is some sensible, humane and sound science-based treatment for her calf; the second test to confirm or deny the disease.
The Western Morning News says
" Ultimately she could face six months in prison, a #5,000 fine, or both. ...."The WMN article also has details of the petition that Mrs Kremers hopes will be widely supported.
January 6th 2006 ~ "..that letter signed by more than 420 vets and scientists.."
Private Eye's Muckspreader points out the dottiness of a Times article by Lord Hattersley suggesting that it was solely owing to Prince Charles that DEFRA now contemplates allowing the culling of diseased badgers as a means to ending the epidemic of TB in Britain's cattle.
"....What seems to have escaped the attention of the noble lord is, first, as the Treasury is keenly aware, that the cost to taxpayers of the TB epidemic is now rapidly heading for #2 billion..... Second, the evidence quoted to Lord Hattersley by his "dissidents' was only that derived from the ministry's own notoriously inefficient "Krebs trials'. Much more reliable is the Irish evidence that a properly designed cull can cut TB in cattle by as much as 96 percent.Read in full
What Hatters further omitted to mention was the force of that letter signed by more than 420 vets and scientists.... Not only, they argued, was this the only way to save thousands of farmers and their cattle from disaster. It would also serve the welfare of the diseased badgers themselves, condemned otherwise to a lingering, unpleasant death...."
January 6th 2006 ~ " no scope for the fair and public hearing which Article 6(1) of the Convention (European Convention on Human Rights) requires. .."
"..The application to the magistrate will be made by the inspector in the absence of the farmer, and will not be a public hearing."
It is interesting, in view of the controversy surrounding the fight of several women farmers to protect their animals suspected of having bovine TB, to read the view of a Lincoln's Inn barrister, sent to this website in November 2001, about the implications of the entry and slaughter powers proposed in the new Animal Health Act. Extract:
"..... the inspector and the magistrate will have determined the civil rights and obligations of the farmer without any fair or public hearing, with no legal or practicable possibility of an appeal, in a way which cannot be described as anything other than final.Read in full
To cap it all, the farmer will commit an offence if he refuses admission to his premises to an inspector without lawful authority or excuse (proof of which is to lie on him, not the Minister).
Thus, instead of being able to present his case to a Judge at a fair and public hearing, the farmer's premises will have been entered forcibly, his animals will have been destroyed, and he will likely be a criminal..."
January 5th 2006 ~ Worcestershire Trading Standards, acting on behalf of the Government, will use legislation under the Animal Health Act 2002 to apply for a warrant to kill the cows at Pensax
"It is only the second time officials in the region have used the Act to take a farmer to court.Read in full It appears that the SVS spokesman suggests that the TB tests were "90 per cent accurate" and yet he also said that "the disease could be present in the animal even if it was not detected at a postmortem examination." Many readers will be only too aware that parallels with the FMD overkill are inescapable.
The legislation was introduced after the foot-and-mouth crisis and gives officials unprecedented powers to kill any animal they wish to and makes it a criminal offence for owners to object.
Ms Qureshi is insisting further tests should be carried out before the animals are culled. She said: "We want to go to court to defend ourselves and tell the judge why we don't want to give these animals up."
January 5th 2006 ~ Powers of entry
Those like Mrs Kremers who are unsure of their legal right under the new Animal Health Act of 2002 need to know that the SVS or Trading Standards, suspecting that there are animals suffering from a notifiable disease on the premises, have an automatic power of entry onto a premises to remove animals for slaughter only if they have applied for and been granted a slaughter warrant under section 8 of the Act. A Justice of the Peace may issue a warrant of entry providing that he is satisfied upon sworn evidence in writing that 3 conditions are met
- Condition 1 is that there must be reasonable grounds for an inspector to enter premises for that purpose.
- Condition 2 requires that each of the following applies to the occupier of the premises
a) that he has been informed of the decision to seek entry and the reasons for that decision;
b) that he has failed to allow entry to the premises on being requested to do so by an inspector;
c) he has been informed of the decision to apply for the warrant.
- Condition 3 a) an application for admission or giving notice of intention to apply for a warrant would defeat the object of entering,
b) the case is one of urgency,
c) the premises are unoccupied or the occupier is absent.
January 5th 2006 ~ A notice of Intended Slaughter cannot be served on a reactor animal unless
In this case, the owner does not consent to slaughter and is complying with the movement restrictions. The owner would like the calf retested, on the grounds that the test often results in false positives. The owner has isolated the animals and will allow DEFRA to monitor the animals' health. She is complying with the law.
- The animal (s) has been examined by a veterinary surgeon and is found to have one or more signs of clinical tuberculosis (affected animal), or on examination is suspected of having signs of tuberculosis. (ref: Chapter 23. S32 1981 AHA)
- Tuberculosis is being eradicated. (DEFRA no longer have an eradication policy for tuberculosis)
- The owner consents to the slaughter in order to enable movement restrictions to be lifted from his premises. (CD 64/432/EEC article 3 (3b) requires bovine animals involved in intra- Community trade (for breeding and production) to be from an officially tuberculosis free bovine herd, to be tuberculosis free and in particular to have reacted negatively to the tuberculin skin test.)
January 5th 2006 ~ Brazil "slavery is happening, rainforest development is happening and it is linked with beef entering this country..."
"Cheap Brazilian beef imports are 'subsidised by slave labour' " Charles Clover today in The Telegraph on the nasty reality of Brazilian beef production.
".....illiterate, landless labourers, housed in shacks, were deprived of medical assistance and sometimes chained to trees. ....The Ministry of Labour's Special Anti-Slavery Enforcement Team, set up to hunt down some of the world's last true slaves, managed to release 11,946 of these individuals between 2000 and 2004...Meanwhile, in the UK, farmers who care about the welfare of their stock and try to defend them against the crazier aspects of the inappropriately named "Animal Health" Act, find themselves at the centre of controversy and what seems to be an increasingly aggressive bureaucracy.
...Details of the report emerged as Lord Bach, the farming minister, attempted to reassure the Oxford farming conference that British farming could remain competitive in the face of increased global competition...." Read in full
January 4th 2006 ~ "Being diagnosed as a TB reactor still only means the calf has a 20 per cent chance of having TB
I'm not going to let them kill him with that small percentage risk..." Mrs Kremers Devon Herald Express
" A Defra spokesman yesterday confirmed that Sheilagh was breaking the law by not allowing the bull to be slaughtered. He said: "If an animal is tested and termed a TB reactor, as this was, the animal has been exposed to the TB virus...."However, the "slaughter notice" referred to is merely a Form B and, as Nicola Morris pointed out to Farming Today, one is not breaking the law if one refuses to go along with a Form B. It would seem that the DEFRA spokesman is as unsure of the law as many other people.
January 4th 2006 ~ " .. the judge said that if he'd been in the same position as us he'd have done exactly the same"
From the warmwell transcript of part of Farming Today
Anna Hill - Nicola went before a judge to decide on the fate of the cattle. She explained that her defence was very similar to that used by Sheilagh Kremers.Read in full
Nicola Morris - The line we used then was that the test was not very accurate and it was showing that about 70% of the animals tested, once they were slaughtered, had no sign of disease at all. Now the judge was very good and he picked that up and he was quite bemused that the tests appeared to be so inaccurate, but he said basically that it is the EU test and it's DEFRA's test and we have to go along with it. But he sort of said that if he'd been in the same position as us he'd have done exactly the same - which was really nice to hear, actually....
.... Anna Hill - How much pressure were you put under?
Nicola Morris - Oh horrendous. It was horrendous. They try to con you into thinking you've got no choice. We were threatened with imprisonment and a fine before the warrant was applied for - which we were pretty sure was wrong but we weren't 100% sure. We were the first case in the country for a slaughter warrant to be applied for under the new Animal Health legislation, that is the 2002 Act - and of course it's very difficult to get legal advice. You just have to go by the seat of your pants really and that is terrifying. ... "
January 4th 2006 ~ Anthony Gibson - support for farmer's fight for her calf
"I've applied to the divisional veterinary manager for Mrs Kremers' animal to get a second test. If we get a 'no', there will have to be further discussions " Anthony Gibson.
Farming Today was told by the SVS that there was "no retest available at all" for the pedigree calf, Fern. (They had not informed Mrs Kremers, however.) The BBC also reports today that Mrs Kremers "forced a stay of execution for the calf Fern on Tuesday by refusing to let officials on to her land near Newton Abbot. Anthony Gibson, regional director of the National Farmers Union said as long as Mrs Kremers was not breaking the law, it would support her. " See also below Mrs Kremers now faces being issued with a slaughter warrant and legal action if she continues to defy the authorities. (See also transcript)
January 3rd 2006 ~ "The potential advantages of the PCR cycler over the gamma interferon test..
..is that it should be able to differentiate between bovine TB and avian TB in blood and can be used on farm and give a result within 30 minutes. In the case of cattle this would save the wait of 3 days to read the skin test and the further wait of 6 to 12 weeks for confirmation of TB by culture test.
However the PCR cycle seems potentially to be of even more use in identifying bovine TB in badgers - which no other test can currently do satisfactorily. ..." ( From the National Beef Association's 18 point Paper for Discussion on Bovine TB control in Great Britain which made 18 recommendations, including "the obvious potential of a portable PCR cycler machine" )
The speed, efficiency and proximity to disease source of the rapid on-site diagnosis tests now available makes the UK's reluctance to use them for diseases such as bovine TB and foot and mouth disease incomprehensible. The Countess of Mar made this very point to Lord Bach in December.
In 2003, California state officials used rapid diagnostic tools to test animals for exotic Newcastle disease and reported to the GAO (see pdf) that the tools used at the time allowed diagnostic results within 6 hours and enabled them to test up to 1,500 samples per day, many more samples than traditional testing methods. The GAO report continues:
"....Once a sample is taken, it is inserted into a tube containing reagents that inactivate the virus if it is present. The tube, as well as the person who collected the sample, can then be decontaminated using a common solution, such as acetic acid in the case of FMD, and the sample can be tested using the rapid diagnostic tool in a mobile unit at, for example, the entrance to the farm...."
January 3rd 2006 ~ The pedigree calf "might" have TB - so it must be shot, says DEFRA
Today, the BBC has reported the case of Sheilagh Kreamers from Oxwell near Newton Abbot who has been told her pedigree calf has to be culled, because it might have TB.
"...Defra policy is to shoot the animal before carrying out a post-mortem tests to find out if it is infected..."......" It's absolutely breaking my heart.... It's ruined my Christmas, we've cancelled Christmas totally because it's just so sad." (BBC)Another case is that of Emma Booton and Samantha Qureshi. Eight of their cows have been in quarantine since testing positive at their farm in Pensax, Worcestershire, last November. Their owners refuse to have them slaughtered because, they say, the test is flawed. BBC December 23rd 2005
In February 2005, the National Beef Association's 18 point Paper for Discussion on Bovine TB control in Great Britain made 18 recommendations, including "the obvious potential of a portable PCR cycler machine"
Mrs Kreamers and the farmers at Pensax are not alone. Several farmers are prepared to fight for their animals in the face of a policy that seems to them illogical, unsound and, in view of the newest technology, out-of-date.
December 26th 2005 ~ China will produce one billion doses of a flu vaccine for birds by the end of the month.
China is already about halfway through the vaccination of its all domestic poultry of about 14 billion chickens and ducks. According to state media, China's scientists have been working on the new vaccine, which costs a fifth of current treatments, for four years. It might provide the basis for human protection against the H5N1 strain of flu.
"..The new vaccine -- 1 billion shots of which are expected to have been produced by year-end -- will be used alongside existing vaccines from next year, the China Daily said, quoting chief veterinarian Jia Youling.Mass production of the vaccine has been given the go-ahead.
The live vaccine, which will also work against another poultry disease, Newcastle disease, can be delivered orally, nasally or by spraying and will cost a fifth of existing inactivated vaccines, the newspaper said..."
BBC "The World Health Organisation has called for greater segregation between humans and poultry, if the spread of the virus is to be stopped." (See also Inbox page)
December 21st 2005 ~ "APHIS officials told us funds to support work on diagnostic tools remain insufficient."
From the December report to Congressional Committees of the US Government Accountability Office on Plum Island Disease Center "DHS and USDA Are Successfully Coordinating Current Work, but Long-Term Plans Are Being Assessed" (pdf)
" ...This work is vital to rapidly identifying diseases when outbreaks occur. ...Not surprisingly, the GAO concludes that "the transfer of Plum Island from USDA to DHS highlights the challenges that the agencies face in meeting diagnostic and research needs with available resources.."
.. because the agency did not receive an expected budget increase, their plans to expand development of diagnostic tools for high-priority diseases were curtailed. ... funds remain insufficient..
.. the 2001 FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom and the emphasis on bioterrorism prompted a shift from passive foreign animal disease surveillance to a more active approach.
..... DHS officials recently noted that while APHIS will validate rapid diagnostic tools for foreign animal diseases, DHS is coordinating the field validation of multiplexed diagnostic assays that include domestic diseases that can be confused with FMD.."
It seems extraordinary that nearly five years after the UK was hit by FMD, the new technology does not feature in Contingency Planning. Such innovative methods are potentially very lucrative indeed. We are not alone in feeling bewilderment at the delay in validation. It is interesting that Cepheid announced news of 3 new patents for its rapid diagnostic technology yesterday. .
December 20th 2005 ~ Live Cattle Export Refunds to cease immediately
Mrs Fischer Boel said today (Finfacts) :
"There has been lot of public concern about the respect of animal welfare during the long transports of these animals to third countries. We have imposed very stringent rules and controls in order to ensure that animal welfare is fully respected. However, experience has shown that 100% compliance with these rules cannot be ensured and that we cannot enforce those rules beyond our own borders. By putting an end to these exports refunds we clearly demonstrate that the European Commission considers animal welfare to be more than just words. ...."Mrs Fischer Boel's announcement comes only two days after the EU agreement to eliminate all exports subsidies in agriculture before the end of 2013 as part of a global deal in the current World Trade Organisations talks on promoting international trade. Inbox
December 20th 2005 ~ EU raises farmer compensation in battle on bird flu
EU Farm Ministers have agreed that, starting in January, the EU will pay half the bill presented by farmers who are battling against both high and low pathogenic strains of bird flu.
This decision is described as " a slap in the face for the European Commission" who, like DEFRA, did not see the need for such a level of compensation. See also below and warmwell's bird flu pages.
December 18/19th 2005 ~ "We are not advising consumers to avoid lamb; no BSE has been found naturally in sheep, but it could be there." Sir John Krebs in 2002
Following Sunday's Observer article Cover-up charge over 'cancer-risk' milk (see below) our attention has been drawn to a Guardian Talk online chat with Sir John Krebs in 2002. This exchange centred on the so-called theoretical risk of BSE in sheep, but other questions tried to probe Sir John's involvement in the Science Group in 2001 and the FSA stance on GM.
sodbuster: "...Do you think it is appropriate, Sir John, that so much of the taxpayers' money is being spent to counter a risk that it tenuous at best and which your own agency has admitted provides no direct risk to the public, when virtually no public money is given to research alternative theories to the cause of BSE, such as the work done by Prof. Dickinson and Mark Purdey?"The online chat can be seen at http://talk.guardian.co.uk but few of the most important and interesting questions received replies from Sir John. He apologised for lack of time. ( Warmwell's page on BSE/vCJD dissent here.)
Sir John: "Our view on BSE and sheep is the following. We are not advising consumers to avoid lamb; no BSE has been found naturally in sheep, but it could be there. Given this uncertainty, we think consumers have a right to know and make up their own minds. "
Another contributor immediately countered: "Then why instigate the National Scrapie Plan? It contradicts your last message as it will deprive people completely of the choice of eating meat from rare breeds which have tested as susceptible to scrapie. You have also failed to answer sodbuster's question concerning the appropriateness of matching funding for alternative BSE research.."
December 18/19th 2005 ~ Sir John Krebs says that Number 10 put the FSA "under pressure" over dioxins from FMD pyres
It seems, according to the Observer, that Sir John has given an interview to the Prospect magazine for next month (not yet online) in which he says he decided to tell the public that the risk from dioxins from slaughter pyres was "low, but scientists were unsure about it, and people buying milk from farms near the pyres should consider switching to supermarket milk."
'As soon as MAFF heard about this I had ministers on the phone telling me I was about to create a crisis in the dairy industry. When I didn't back down, the line became "Number 10 will be very unhappy about this" (Observer)In September 2001 the FSA concluded in an interim report that "the pyres have posed no additional risk to health through the food supply." The final report, issued in January 2002 at http://www.food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/44628repeated this reassurance, but has subsequently disappeared from the internet. The Royal Society of Edinburgh said in its report that, in view of the dioxin danger, "burial should be preferred over burning unless there are risks to the water supply".
A "crisis in the dairy industry" does not seem to have worried the government unduly in recent years. However, the Government's "unhappiness" over the public recognition of its inept handling of the crisis, in which Sir John Krebs and his circle played an important part, put paid to a public inquiry - in spite of the many eminent voices, quoted on this website, 2001- 2002, calling for one.
December 18/19th 2005 ~ "not advising against"
In the same article, the Observer reports that Sir Robert May makes similar claims to that of his associate, Sir John Krebs, about the "BSE in sheep" scare. Sir Robert "confirmed that Krebs had 'ministerial pressure put on him - in response to the worry that the rogue BSE prion had got into the country's sheep population - to say there was nothing to worry about'."
The idea that the so-called BSE prion has "got into" the sheep population of Britain has resulted in literally millions in research grants; for mathematical models, such as that of Imperial College's Neil Ferguson (which was funded by the FSA), and the widespread injecting of diseased brain material into healthy sheep in laboratories (relevant pages). Although the relationship between BSE, scrapie and variant CJD remains, in spite of all this research, unclear and largely conjectural, dissent tends to lead to exclusion and isolation from the scientific establishment. In spite of the fiasco of the ill-fated soup of mixed brains ( 2001) the money continues to flow "Our advice to consumers remains the same. We are not advising against the consumption of lamb and sheep meat." said Sir John in September 2003
( It is interesting to see how often there are links between the names, brought to our attention in 2001, of the scientific coterie advising the government. Links to the biotech lobby and the FSA's stance on GM resulted in this impolite award from the Norfolk Genetic Information Network See also andersongroup.html)
December 18/19th 2005 ~ The Observer implies that Sir John Krebs is still the Chair of the FSA.
Deirdre Hutton, former Chair of the National Consumer Council, is now the current Chair of the UK's Food Standards Agency as well as Vice Chair of EFSA. Sir John Krebs resigned in July 2004 and stepped down in April 2005. It was Deirdre Hutton's NCC which made very clear that vaccinated meat posed no problem and did not have to be labelled.(See email)
December 16th 2005 ~ Bovine TB "Is it not clear from other countries that Gamma Interferon and Polymerase Chain Reaction can significantly improve test results?"
James Paice put several questions to Ben Bradshaw about bovine TB including:
See also the Written Answers on Bovine TB in Hansard for 12 December
- Is it not clear from other countries that Gamma Interferon and Polymerase Chain Reaction can significantly improve test results?
- Why has the Government not published specific proposals for badger culling?
- Isn't it clear that the low level of trapping in the triplet studies has caused massive disturbance - making badgers move into adjoining areas thus spreading the disease?
December 15th 2005 ~ "....what is the point of having this statutory instrument until we have a definition of "infected premises" on the statute book?"
The Duke of Montrose asked Lord Bach at the beginning of the debate on Monday after the Junior Minister had said that this was a mere "tidying -up exercise" to comply with EU Council Directive 2003/85/EC
Two other Statutory Instruments containing the definition of "infected premises"are still being scrutinised, it seems, by DEFRA's legal team. However, as the Duke of Montrose points out, since "the concept of infection has yet to be defined" we do not yet know what the Minister will mean by "infected premise" or "dangerous contact".
The Countess of Mar felt the amendment was making the primary legislation "inoperable". The SI was still not making clear whether potentially infected premises will be confirmed on grounds other than clinical.
"To depend heavily for disease control upon clinical diagnosis alone in the event of further incursions of the foot and mouth disease virus would suggest that we have not learned many lessons from the 2001 epidemic.Referring to the fact that rapid diagnostic, pen-side tests were available in 2001 she asked
"What progress has been made in field-validating these tests for use in future epidemics?"As for the "discretionary powers" in relation to laboratories, zoos, and animals kept for scientific research, she asked why, If this discretionary approach is possible,
" ..why can the Government not exercise similar powers in other areas, for example, based upon species susceptibility? ""Similarly," she asked "if a farmer can demonstrate excellent biosecurity over a long period, is there any reason why there should not be an extension of discretionary powers to slaughter, thus enabling the Exchequer to make further savings? There really is a need for a bit more lateral thinking to target the effort, both scientifically and economically. .." Read debate in full
December 14th 2005 ~ "tests have to be validated by the OIE. We are waiting on that": Lord Bach
The Countess of Mar's frustration on Monday was evident.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, it is coming up to five years since the foot and mouth disease outbreak. If that has not been done, can the Minister say why not? I remember the late Fred Brown coming over from America and telling us that they were using the tests in America. Why has that not been done in this country in the past five years?One answer - not offered by Lord Bach - is that suggested by this website in late September. The Financial Times article headlined, "Pressure on Porton Down to commercialise Research" quotes a very senior biological defence system scientist saying that a 20kg "soldier-proof" gene detector, designed to test for anthrax and smallpox, could certainly have prevented much of the mass culling during the foot and mouth epidemic. Of course, as the Countess of Mar said in Monday's debate, such technology had already been invented by the start of the 2001 outbreak. However, the government's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), claiming that its own scientists have "invented and patented instrumentation and chemistries to speed up the detection of DNA sequences using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method", are hoping its spin off company, Enigma Diagnostics Ltd (Porton Down), will reap enormous commercial rewards as a result of its own PCR Light - "a portable real-time PCR platform for ultra-rapid, in-field detection of bio-threat agents" " ..... in-the-field testing for animal diseases including foot and mouth or tuberculosis (TB) in cattle within 30 minutes rather than taking samples back to a laboratory." (Press release)
Once commercially available and making a great deal of money, these Porton/DSTL kits will presumably find their way at last into the UK Contingency Plan. This explains why the UK - even five years on from the costly FMD fiasco - would not want any other test to be validated yet. If this is indeed the reason for the delay in the use of such a useful "soldier and farmer-proof" tool, it is a disgrace. If not, the delay of five years for the existing technology to be validated for use in Europe is, as the Countess of Mar implies, utterly incomprehensible.
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