"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 2007
January 31 2007 ~ " I think it's as likely to find infection with that protein as it is to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq"
See report at science.monstersandcritics.com. Laura Manuelidis, professor and head of neuropathology at Yale University Medical School, has just published a paper supporting her theory that the most likely explanation for TSE diseases is a stealthy, slow-acting virus. Professor Manuelidis has been working on TSE's for decades. Back in 2004, she was quoted on JSonline.com at the end of a story about the researches of another scientist, Frank Bastian, a professor of neuropathology, who also challenged the prion theory.
"I don't believe protein is infectious," she said. "I think it's as likely to find infection with that protein as it is to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."See also Newsday.com. Alternatives to the prion theory are not new and illustrate how scientists can work for years to justify their deeply held theories often in contradiction to each other. However, when the received wisdom about BSE has been challenged by alternate theories, however well argued and supported, the establishment has been quick to discount them. So much rests on the infectious prion theory being correct. But in the midst of doubt who can be sure that there is an infectious agent from "mad cows" able to cross the species barrier? If not, then there was no need for the European ban on British beef, no need for the OTMS rule, no need for the cull of so many healthy animals - and no need in short, for the mountain of regulations. (These included the demand for the killing of cohorts now amended by the EU acknowledging at last the need for flexibility). The whole thing could have been a ten year old multi-billion-pound blunder resulting in tractor-loads of extra paperwork and used to justify the draconian new powers of the 2002 Animal Health Act. The 1981 Act was amended in spite of protest, to make the FMD contiguous cull retrospecively legal and to make possible the criminalisation of anyone who stands up to forced entry and mandatory slaughter even when all common sense revolts - as in the Harriet case.
January 26-28 2007 ~ Ask Sir David King
The Independent invites readers to send questions for Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientist - but it is doubtful whether questions on FMD 2001 will be welcome. Professor King has, in the past, made clear his policy of "not engaging in public debate with members of the group that helped me deliver scientific advice to ministers on foot and mouth disease." His answers on the Today Programme in December 2001 appear to confuse on-site rapid diagnosis with the differential test for vaccinated and infected animals and acknowledge no doubt at all about the "sound basis for policy advice".
David King's committee was responsible for government policy in the crisis. They were criticised by Dr Paul Kitching,( termed a "Neanderthal" by the establishment in 2001), who, in a Channel 4 interview early in 2001, spoke of " very seductive graphs" produced by the modellers but "such little epidemiological investigation into the outbreak that the data which the modellers really require to input their model hasn't really been available" - i.e. rubbish in : rubbish out.
In Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom (pdf) Kitching RP, Thrusfield MV, Taylor NM. Rev Sci Tech. 2006 Apr;25(1):293-311 we read:
"The epidemic and its control resulted in the death of approximately ten million animals, public disgust with the magnitude of the slaughter, and political resolve to adopt alternative options, notably including vaccination, to control any future epidemics. The UK experience provides a salutary warning of how models can be abused in the interests of scientific opportunism.....Modelling should only be countenanced if veterinarians and scientists agree that the design of the model and the information used to generate its results are correct (and plausible, from the known biology of the disease). Otherwise, models: 'become exercises in mathematical sophistry'" (see links to OIE papers )See also Nick Taylor's (VEERU) Use of Models in Disease Control Policy.pdf and the succinct comment by Dr Martin Hugh Jones on ProMed "I have a phrase I use on my students and those over-enamored of their computers and models, "Why should I believe you when you have a computer pallor and no mud on your shoes?" The truth is in the field, not in the computer. When models are checked and rechecked against reality they can be fine-tuned and may eventually become useful..."
January 26-28 2007 ~ Questions about independent expertise on diagnostics, practical expertise in the use of vaccines, serology and virology are not going to go away
In 2001 Professor King's committee, according to the MAFF Chief Scientist at the time, David Shannon, " . .. had enormous power with no direct responsibility..the initial modelling was done without a full understanding of the disease and the nature of the industry and its practices.... it needed more independent expertise on diagnostics, practical expertise on the use of vaccines, expertise on serology ....The absence of the full range of sciences meant that many of these issues had to be debated elsewhere and subsequently."
Prof King was so affected by Dr Shannon's criticisms that he made an exception to his policy of "not engaging in public debate.."(here) Part of his answer, however, was that the group was "fully alive to the importance of serology, not least because one of its regular participants was the head of the laboratory concerned.."
That "regular participant", wrote recently,
"... one of the main reasons why many of us at Pirbright and elsewhere argued against the contiguous cull in 2001 was that it was based on poor science and not scientifically validated, although, of course, state approved ."It is not any wish to see heads roll that is prolonging the life of the warmwell.com website. What makes it impossible to stop is our continuing deep concern about the quality of some of the scientific advice driving UK government policy. The Harriet case, for example, is symbolic, demonstrating that lack of proper risk assessment and sound science are still an issue. Ministers continue to make extraordinary statements about risk and validation but have never acknowledged that the novel contiguous cull policy of 2001 was based on bad science, ignored risk, was never validated and resulted in misery throughout the areas where it was so rigorously carried out. Those who are still in positions of enormous influence continue to defend it - but the questions must never stop being asked.
January 26-28 2007 ~ Ben Bradshaw: "We are currently considering research proposals..."
James Paice asked yesterday when DEFRA "expects to undertake research on the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction technology to detect M. bovis in badger setts"
Unfortunately, Mr Bradshaw chose not to answer the actual question asked so we do not know when - or even if - scientific evaluation will follow up the Warwick work, reported on in March 2006. Dr Orin Courtenay from the University of Warwick's department of Biological Sciences said in the university department press release that the team did not advocate culling badgers to control bovine TB, particularly in light of the scientific results emerging from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial but that if the government did continue to cull badgers, culling should at least be targeted at diseased and infectious animals. Untargeted culling kills healthy and uninfected animals. "With some further scientific evaluation, a "sett test" based on state-of-the-art molecular technology could provide a tool towards achieving this aim," he said.
Mr Paice's question was evidently asking about progress on this further scientific evaluation. It seems evident, from Mr Bradshaw's answer, that in the past year, DEFRA has done nothing more than "consider" proposals towards bringing forward a technology that is so vitally needed in Britain.
January 26-28 2007 ~ Silence on validation
Readers of warmwell may share our bafflement about how the grail of validation is to be achieved, especially for the rapid diagnosis on-site technology for foot and mouth. Pirbright's rapid diagnostic strip test device for FMD was discussed at the 2000 conference in Bulgaria, but, after 7 years, there are no signs that it is to be used in the field - or even "considered". As for the ARS machine, offered to the UK and used successfully in Uruguay in the same year as our disaster, the US GAO ( Government Accountability Office) paper, Homeland Security: Much Is Being Done to Protect Agriculture from a Terrorist Attack, but Important Challenges Remain GAO 2005: contained lines which were on the advice of the former Associate Administrator for Special Research Programs at USDA's Agricultural Research Service
".... Importantly, the tools can detect disease before the animal shows clinical signs of infection...... rapid diagnostic tools would not only allow for a rapid diagnosis but would also permit the monitoring of nearby herds before symptoms appeared so that only infected herds would have to be killed......rapid diagnostic tools would be helpful because FMD would be detected in less than an hour, informed control measures could be implemented, and herds in the area would be under regular surveillance."But rapid diagnosis in the field seems as far away as ever. In 2005, when the Countess of Mar was told: "tests have to be validated by the OIE. We are waiting on that" her frustration was evident. " 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?"
It is now over six.
January 26 2007 ~ Harriet : Caroline Lucas, MEP, writes to Ben Bradshaw
"..... the regulations and their inbuilt flexibility can be implemented with sensitivity and common sense. I would hope that this case can be dismissed and Harriet and her owners can continue to live their lives in peace. Alternatively, perhaps you can issue instructions to review the case in a year or twos time...."Read in full on Harriet page.
January 24 2007 ~ "It remains to be seen whether government is willing to give up its authority on disease control to an independent board"
NBA chairman, Duff Burrell, is quoted by Stackyard.com, on the NBA 's cautious welcome to the idea of industry cost sharing. However, the proviso that the government proposal "does not automatically include taking a levy off farmers to fund the elimination of an exotic epidemic like FMD" is paramount, and "as long as a cross-UK system can be constructed and government is prepared to work seriously towards the adoption of a centralized disease control body, perhaps modeled on something like the Food Standards Agency, which can operate outside parliament and be truly independent."
" ......If a truly independent cross-UK committee could be assembled, and politics really were taken out of disease management, it would mean, for example, that a radically different approach could be taken...(Mr Burrell's view of the independence of the FSA is perhaps a little sanguine. Its apparent reluctance to act over the scandal of diseased meat in the food chain, its lack of teeth in the Bowland case, the involvement of Sir John Krebs in the FMD crisis, the acceptance of mathematical modelling of the "theoretical likelihood" of BSE in sheep - now happily laid to rest by the VLA, are just some examples suggesting that the Agency does not always have its hands entirely free. Untied hands - those able to demonstrate a truly independent veterinary and scientific expertise - are what is so urgently needed in UK disease control. One wonders, for example, how many practising virologists are at present employed in DEFRA or involved in advising the government. )
It is clear that the adoption of such an initiative will call for a massive shift in outlook from both government and industry. Ministers and senior civil servants will be required to abandon their well embedded, top down, parent-pupil, approach..."
January 24 2007 ~ Abuse of power in the supply chain is destroying dairy farmers
The Western Morning News today, reporting on the Competition Commission's latest findings, writes that "the vice-like grip major supermarkets have over rural communities was laid bare last night after figures revealed that most people in the countryside have virtually no choice about where to shop..." Farmers and suppliers may have been intimidated into silence over practices in the supermarket sector, it suggests. The WMN also reports the words on a third generation farmer who has been receiving around 16p a litre for his milk, while supermarkets have been selling four pints (2.2 litres) for about £1.11. He says,
"If they are going to say that it is all fair and hunky dory, then I am off. The amount that farmers get at the moment means that dairy farming is like a really expensive hobby. .... Farmers look after the countryside and if we stop doing that because of what the supermarkets pay, then they are affecting the countryside through what they are doing."Almost 1,000 dairy farmers threw in the towel last year. This government may think it is presiding over a "post agricultural era", but the warnings are there. Professor James Lovelock in The Revenge of Gaia: "... 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....our gas and oil will soon be gone and we can not rely on supplies from abroad..."
January 23 2007 ~ The real cost of the raid on Harriet, the pet cow
As one of the highly articulate supporters of Harriet has written; "I feel that Mr Bradshaw and his department are thus only antagonising the rural/farming community even further - something they cannot afford to do after the disastrous handling of FMD in 2001, and the later fiasco of the RPA/SFP. The buzz words should be cooperation and openness.... . When Ben Bradshaw in Parliamentary Answers stated that EU legislation demanded that Harriet be slaughtered but failed to mention the impending derogation, he was being less than open. This was puzzling as Mr Bradshaw was well aware of this, his department having been been involved in discussions with the EU on this very topic. "
Another, who took part in the extraordinary stand-off on January 10th, writes to warmwell to say,
"... Mr Bradshaw said that the raid cost the SVS £3,500 - that was just the 2 SVS people and the preparations.The Jaded mainstream media are reporting on how Britain - abandoning its historical sense of fair play and tolerant decency - is now, to our shame, showing its seamier side to the world. (See, for example, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in yesterday's Independent) The fate of Harriet is symbolic and will not pass unnoticed.
We still don't know how much it cost to have the Police and Trading Standards there (about 20 people), plus their preparations, vehicles, etc.
We also found out later that there was a police riot van and dog handler standing by out of sight, presumably in case the protesting mob - comprising an elderly couple, 4 middle-aged women and 2 middle-aged men - got nasty."
January 22 ~ The Daily Mail wades in
".... Officials discovered that Harriet - known to Defra as 'bovine animal UK OX056400177' - had lived on a farm where a calf, born five months later in a different herd, had contracted the disease. Despite written proof that Harriet had never come in contact with, or even shared food, with the infected calf, Defra insisted she must die. ..... Mr Harper, MP for the Forest of Dean, said: 'Given that I had a promise from the minister that Harriet would not be touched until the case had gone through the full legal process, I take a very dim view that this operation was planned in secret at great cost to the taxpayer.'..."(And we like this - sent today by an American reader of warmwell.)
January 21 2007 ~ Harriet
The Booker column says it " has reported many strange confrontations between officialdom and the British public over the years, but none more bizarre than the drama which unfolded ten days ago in a field near Newent in the Forest of Dean.... Last week more details emerged of the latest twist to a barely credible story which has been unfolding for many months ....."
The article is likely to raise even further the level of public concern about this case. It ends,
"... The yellow-jacketed officials departed in their fleet of vehicles, leaving Pat Innocent, the observer on whose evidence this account is based, to muse on the famous 1960s experiments by Stanley Milgram showing how easily people can be persuaded by authority to obey foolish orders which result in inflicting unnecessary pain on others."The Milgram experiments have been described as "a lesson in depravity, peer pressure, and the power of authority." Milgram's subjects were, of course,"just following orders" - just like the 22 officials who came to kill Harriet, who, like the millions of healthy animals before her in 2001 and since, has been sentenced not by veterinary nor scientific expertise nor even by EU inflexibility, but by a bureaucratic callousness that even now beggars belief.
January 20 2007 ~The financial cost of the raid was £3,500
The Gloucestershire Citizen quotes Mark Harper MP: "..... just looking at the costs to the taxpayer of the SVS, we are looking at £3,500 plus 72 man hours of work involved in this operation." They also make public that Harriet's case will be heard in the European courts in Brussels. Defra has agreed to "hold off until the outcome".
January 19 2007 ~ Harriet: "Given the public interest generated about this animal, the SVS informed Ministers of their intention to remove the animal on 8 January 2007. They were under no obligation to do so."
Given that officialdom felt no similar prompting to inform Harriet's owners, preferring secretly to arrive in force and destroy property in their attempt to kill the pet cow (here), we find this answer, to PQ 116111 yesterday, quite breathtaking in its unpleasant absurdity.
Public interest has indeed been generated. The case is symbolic. It has attracted the interest of the BBC's Farming Today and PM programme because it is not a straightforward case of protecting public health. Instead there is something in the case that raises public alarm about the motives of a government that cannot bear to carry out a proper risk assessment nor accept it might be wrong. Mr Bradshaw and his department contemptuously refuse even to consider the flexibility now allowed by the change in the EU rules. Protesters who, according to Mr Bradshaw in an answer to Mark Harper the day before, caused "public disorder and intentional obstruction" were, in fact, demonstrating that it is most certainly not in the public interest to stand idly by when officialdom behaves with chilling police-state tactics of the kind we saw in 2001. Many will feel that to retain the hard-won freedoms of the last century sometimes requires staunch protest.
Unnecessary cruelty is, as was proclaimed by Mr Bradshaw himself on 18 October 2006, (Hansard), an offence. Trust in the government cannot be served by attempting to smear those who, standing up for Britain's fairness and humanity, take the difficult course of turning out to protest instead of turning their backs. Killing Harriet would, to many decent-minded people, be an offence, even if the perpetrators do wear the uniforms of state officials.
January 18 2007 ~ Swill feeders to sue DEFRA
The 62 uncompensated former swill feeders who were put out of business in May 2001 by the Animal By-Products (Amendment) (England) Order 2001 have always maintained that it was Government negligence that created the conditions in which the foot and mouth outbreak became more likely. See Hansard and relevant warmwell page
The swill feeders have got tired of waiting for the Ombudsman's report into government maladministration over FMD. Robert Persey wrote to warmwell in November 2004, "The Parliamentary Ombudsman has promoted the case officer who was making good progress on the swill feeding case. Surprise, surprise, he has not been replaced and so the investigation has conveniently stopped. Is somebody pulling strings with the Ombudsman?"
Having now been told that, yet again, the Ombudsman's report has been 'delayed', the swill feeders have now decided to go ahead and sue DEFRA to beat the six year cut off point for litigation. The FWi report links to the TWO trading standards videos taken at Heddon on the Wall but there seem to be difficulties in viewing them online.
Although the conditions at the Waugh Farm were indeed distressing and squalid, the received wisdom that it was untreated and infected swill at Bobby Waugh's farm that began the FMD crisis is thought highly questionable by some and, significantly, was not one of the charges at the Waugh trial. After nearly six years, we are still waiting for the real story of the origins of FMD 2001 to emerge. As the regional director of the Countryside Alliance, Richard Dodd, is quoted as saying in the Newcastle Journal
"I'd rather they spent £40m finding out exactly what caused foot-and-mouth and making sure it can't happen again."
January 18 2007 ~ RPA ".... this is about accountability. Here we have got mounting complexity and problems.. and yet onward sailed the ship heading towards the iceberg. What I want to know is who was on the bridge?"
The uncorrected oral evidence of Johnston McNeill to the EFRA committee was put up yesterday and makes for interesting reading. The bungle has cost farmers something like £21 million, DEFRA went way over budget and is now cutting back on financing important rural agencies and research (see below.) The process of applying for the Single Farm Payment has been in many cases very stressful indeed and the whole RPA fiasco would be a laughing stock were the consequences not so serious. Mr McNeill has borne the entire burden of responsibility - but it will be remembered that it was Margaret Beckett's decision to introduce a complex hybrid system. Both the WMN and the Liberal Democrats today carry comments that might be thought rather predictable - but the oral evidence does need to be read in full before any fair judgement can be made.
As for the warning that the cuts in research, caused by the RPA overspend, could leave the UK more vulnerable to animal disease, please see the discussion on www.fmd-and-csf-action.org/forums Extract: "We need to start with a clear public statement by the Head of DEFRA on what is needed technically to respond effectively to foreign disease outbreaks in the UK, what technologies are already available in the world today, and what needs to be devised."
January 17 2007 ~ Harriet - Judicial Review. "A judge will weigh up the facts on both sides"
Farming Today had, as its first item today, an interview with David Price and Mark Harper MP. Here is the unofficial transcript made by warmwell.
"...This is one of the things that constituents frankly find so annoying - in fact very reminiscent of the Foot and Mouth debacle six years ago. They sent at least twelve police officers, eight trading standards officers, two state veterinary officials - so you had about 22 state officials trying to seize and cull one cow.A first hand account of the attempt mentioned by Farming Today and below on warmwell, can be read in full on www.harriet-thecow.co.uk.
.... effectively we had a stand-off for about four and a half hours. .... until the legal process had been exhausted I didn't think it was appropriate that his officials were behaving in this way.....eventually the police recommended at the local level that DEFRA would be very sensible to back off and not try and pursue things...." Read transcript in full
Mark Harper mentioned the new derogation, news of which was sent to this website by an EU official who, it may be remembered, ended his email "I hope this helps. All the best, for you and Harriet."
January 2007 ~ The number of farmers still waiting to have their botched subsidy payments resolved is around ten times the latest figure given by RPA
The Western Morning News reveals that around 19,000 farmers who received incorrect subsidy payments last year are still waiting for their cases to be brought to an end. Richard Haddock is quoted: "...we are having to squeeze this information out of them instead of Defra being totally straight with us". See RPA pages.
January 2007 ~ Zero risk - but no flexibility
In answer, on January 9th, to a Parliamentary Question by Mark Harper, Mr Bradshaw admitted that the EU rules about cohort culling are changing this month. As we reported in November, slaughter is no longer required. However, Mr Bradshaw's department show no inclination to exercise flexibility; "we are required to enforce the legislation that is currently in place " they repeat through their Ministers - as if confidence in UK beef really needs to be underpinned by unnecessary cruelty to a tame Jersey cow and her distraught owners.
"... Any changes to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy control legislation must be carried out on the basis of a thorough risk assessment, based on sound science. It is unlikely that any change could be made before 2008 at the earliest....." (read in full)Unfortunately, the UK's record on risk assessment in the area of animal health regulations has been, frankly, a farce, while "science" underpinning legislation has sometimes been anything but sound. "Politicking" (as John Ryan says below) has somehow overridden veterinary science. We have seen "experts" threatening, in the name of risk assessment, to destroy the entire national flock of 36 million sheep because of an assumption that scrapie can mask BSE. The findings of the VLA have exploded that conjecture at last with nearly 3,000 scrapie samples having tested negative for BSE. Mr Bradshaw himself, a few days ago, being obliged to admit that
"the prevalence of BSE in the UK sheep population is most likely to be zero, or very low if present at all." (Hansard)But who will dismantle the mountain of regulations resting on the molehill of that wrong assumption? Or even dare to report it? And who are the beef eaters who, in their right mind, could really consider a pet cow, who will never enter the food chain, to be a risk?
January 11 2007 ~ Harriet: "Just doing their job"... Just following orders again
Yesterday, there was an attempt to kill Harriet, the healthy, harmless pet Jersey cow, - and a failed attempt to ensure that no interference from protesters got in the way. We have been sent a full first hand report which gives details of names, registration numbers and quotes from Trading Standards officers and police that - after the debacle of 2001 - suggest that nothing at all has been learnt about the social and psychological effects of enforced entry and unnecessary slaughter. More detail to follow - if that is what Harriet's owners and supporters request. We are, however, able to report that for the present, Harriet is safe. The background to this extraordinary story of inflexible UK officialdom can be found on the Harriet page and, at the request of Harriet's friends and supporters, there is now a dedicated website for Harriet www.harriet-thecow.co.uk.
January 9 2007 ~ Foot and Mouth tests in Northern Ireland are clear
Samples taken from pigs at an abattoir in County Antrim have tested negative for foot-and-mouth disease and swine vesicular disease at the Institute of Animal Health. BBC See also http://www.fmd-and-csf-action.org/news-archive/fmdni07
(We note that the BBC continues to quote the wrong figure of 6.5m animals killed in the UK in 2001. The real figure was a minimum of 10 million and it is curious that journalists persist in downplaying the extent of the slaughter of animals, a huge number of which were uninfected. As Dr Alex Donaldson wrote recently, " the responsibility for diagnosis fell entirely on field veterinarians, most of whom had never seen FMD. We now know that this led to many herds and flocks being needlessly slaughtered with errors being compounded by the model-driven contiguous cull policy which meant that when disease was diagnosed the animals on five neighbouring premises, on average, were slaughtered for every infected premises diagnosed.")
January 2007 ~ Research project for most effective FMD response strategy, including vaccination, underway in America
With its accurate and up-to-date information and the fact that the modelling will be done by experts in the field of animal disease control, this model will be very different from the one that in the UK drove the infamous contiguous cull policy of 2001. Livestock producers throughout the US are being asked to take part in an on-line survey to gather data to be used in an FMD simulation model. The aim is to determine the best strategies for containing the disease - which is taken extremely seriously there and indeed is on the top of the Department of Homeland Security's list for a bio-terrorist attack.
"Our model will provide decision-makers with a valuable tool for rapid response and will help determine the best strategies, including vaccination, to contain an outbreak and minimize impact to the livestock industry" said Dr. Tim Carpenter, director of the study (see article in the Prairie Star.)The project, based at the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance (CADMS) in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC-Davis in California, is being conducted in collaboration with the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Diseases (FAZD) and is supported by USDA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Interestingly, CADMS has guaranteed that all the information offered by participants will be kept confidential and will only be used for modeling purposes.
January 2007 ~ Aesop, and the art of good communication between Ministry and stakeholder
Warmwell's comments on the way DEFRA replied to the recommendations of the SAC committee, back in 2005 (responses and comment here) - (that DEFRA "missed the point" of several recommendations, certain replies were "pure Sir Humphrey" , some answers were "vague and woolly in the extreme" or "mere optimistic statements of intent for an indeterminate future time") - were perhaps a little harsh. We implied that DEFRA's responses showed more defensiveness than understanding. All the same, our deep concern was justifiably expressed at lack of progress in such areas as the need for independent experts to be involved; that readable, clear documents should be accessible; that inadequate IT systems did not seem to be much improved; that apparent UK ignorance of internationally accredited state of the art technologies and vaccines was not reassuring. There seemed an over-reliance on the expensive Risk Solutions analysis which, when it finally appeared, itself suggested SEVEN areas of further work to be done before any "best approach" to FMD control could be assumed. Perhaps the greatest worry and that needing urgently to be addressed was the state of the relationship between DEFRA and those most involved with the on-the-ground realities of serious animal disease.
Looking back, SAC's tactful hints (recommendations 15, 16 and 17) that a rebuilding of trust was urgently required, stand out. Actively seeking friendly engagement with people and offering incentives towards cooperation have always ensured a much more positive result than coercion - as Aesop was probably not the first to demonstrate. It is yet another lesson that those who like power to be centralised seem perversely slow to learn.
It seems that DEFRA now favours a move towards clearer and franker communication. We should very much like to hear more. What other progress has been made that can be acknowledged? What, for example, DID happen to the Exotic Disease Control System? It has now been 2 years since the SAC Committee made its recommendations. They still seem extremely important and relevant.
January 2007 ~ "Trust between Whitehall and the countryside has collapsed."
RPA page latest quotes Clive Aslet in the Telegraph. "The disasters of BSE and foot and mouth show that the Whitehall-Knows-Best approach does not work. A supervisory culture is needed: one that sets and monitors farm outcomes, but does not insist on inspecting every step of the way."
January 2007 ~ Two cheers for the new animal welfare in transport rules
The new European Union regulation on animal welfare in transport came into force on January 5th 2007. It is a start. All the same, because of the failure of the European Council of Ministers to reach a compromise, the new EU rules do not limit travelling times nor stocking densities, as had been hoped and envisaged. European Health Commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, has at least made a commitment that these two aspects of animal transport will be returned to before the end of 2009. He says "This important animal welfare legislation aims to reduce the stress and harm that animals can experience during land and sea journeys."
January 2007 ~"....Even in countries that consider themselves humane, animals can be treated as little more than objects.."
The founder of Compassion in World Farming, Peter Roberts, died a few weeks ago aged 82. The very readable Economist obituary reminds us that
"....Even in countries that consider themselves humane, animals can be treated as little more than objects...Compassion may not touch our policy makers and yet we are seeing that informed and determined force of argument can have an effect - as can the economic and political threat of disease. But very, very slowly. Environment News (www.ens-newswire.com) reminds us that three years before FMD struck the UK, the FAO itself was one of the strong voices warning of the growing threat of "devastating" animal disease epidemics as a result of long distance transport of animals and increasingly dense livestock populations. More recently, the
(In 2001) Britain almost insouciantly culled about 6 million cows, sheep and pigs during an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Bird flu now brings the prospect of the wholesale slaughter not just of poultry but of wild birds too....Yet politicians in most places are unmoved...."
".. opening of trade routes between Europe, the Near East and the Commonwealth of Independent States could allow animals infected with diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease to enter Central or even Western Europe if they escape detection by official border controls..."Zoonoses are no respecters of border controls. Relying solely on existing controls, plans and policies has been shown in the past to be a grave mistake, but changing them for the better is proving to be a long, painfully slow process.
January 2007 ~ Much still to be done.
One of the reforms that Peter Roberts' influence helped bring about is that under the new EU regulation, animal welfare in transport, special attention must now be paid to young animals and the newborn during transport. Females within one week of giving birth may not be moved. It may seem extraordinary that the need for such reforms even exists - and that they still are so limited in scope. Many will never forget their despair when one of the consequences of the lack of accurate diagnosis in 2001 - the transportation and killing of heavily pregnant females and newborn or unborn lambs among the doomed animals at such sites as Great Orton - took place. This was not a humane, necessary euthanasia following proof of disease but "a messy scramble to kill terrified sheep and lambs as quickly as possible." 451,000 healthy sheep and lambs were slaughtered at Gt Orton . There were no clinical signs of disease. On only 1 of the 115 farms was there a positive test result. (It showed that 9 sheep had recovered from the virus.)
Risk Solutions. An accurate analysis of 2001 from experts is, even after six years, still needed. Risk Solutions looked at a range of possible scenarios rather than an evaluation of the actual 2001 pre-emptive ' firebreak', '3km', 'contiguous' and 'slaughter on suspicion' culls. What FMD expertise there was within Risk Solutions has yet to be identified and one wonders how (indeed, if) they validated and interrogated the FMD data. Their CBA failed to investigate the costs incurred as a result of pre-emptive slaughter. In fact, FMD costs are likely to continue for more than a decade, not least because of the poor construction of some of the burial pits and the sheer numbers of animals buried in such sites as Great Orton.
January 2007 ~ A simple working outbreak manual is needed
DEFRA's current Foot and Mouth Disease: Outbreak Management (last modified at the end of November), although containing some improvements, continues to lay heavy emphasis on slaughter, implies a government distrust of farmers that bodes ill for any proposed partnership, and there is still absence of clarity about such vital issues as the definition of dangerous contacts (see also below), accurate diagnosis and vaccination:
Example "On farm slaughter will only take place when animals cannot be licensed off the farm or when the animals cannot be transported because they are unfit for transport e.g. heavily pregnant animals or newly born calves, piglets and lambs. Each case will be evaluated to ensure that welfare standards are maintained. There will be no payment made to farmers for animals slaughtered under such a scheme. This is in line with the policy set out in the Government's response to the FMD Inquiries (November 2002). This states that "experience has shown that payments to farmers under such schemes can provide a disincentive for them to take responsibility for looking after their animals, and may also create a false market".Reassurance that only positively diagnosed animals are to be killed is nowhere to be seen because one of the first essentials for disease control, provision for accurate diagnosis based on rapid tests performed at regional centres and/or mobile labs as well as Pirbright, has yet to be put in place. The only centre for diagnostic testing mentioned in the document is still - as in 2001 - IAH Pirbright. A straightforward simple working manual for use during an outbreak, drawn up after close and democratic collaboration between those involved in disease control, in which absolute clarity about vaccination - what will actually be vaccinated, when and where - has still to be made available. As the Countess of Mar said over a year ago, "There really is a need for a bit more lateral thinking to target the effort, both scientifically and economically..."
January 2007 ~ Ring vaccination stopped a new FMD strain in its tracks
Last February 2006 an outbreak of a new variant of FMD occurred in Turkey. An article appeared in late December on the FAO website, describing the successful vaccination programme. Keith Sumption: "FMD is a virus that propagates incredibly quickly -- when it discovers a new niche where there is no immunity among animals, it just rips through them. Europe is FMD free, and animals there aren't vaccinated against it - so they have no immunity."
Extract from article: ".. The EU's vaccine bank, one of the largest in the world, had stocks of an antigen on hand that could be rapidly turned into an effective vaccine, and production of 2.5 million doses for use in Thrace began immediately.Read in full on FAO website.
At the same time a team of FAO and EU experts was deployed to the field to help provincial authorities plan their counterattack... Follow-up blood monitoring conducted in May by Turkey's FMD Institute showed that vaccination had been successful, and sufficient to ensure a protective barrier against repeat invasions from infected areas to the east..."
January 2007 ~ "One of the main reasons why many of us at Pirbright and elsewhere argued against the contiguous cull in 2001 was that it was based on poor science and not scientifically validated, although, of course, state approved..."
This letter to ProMed was written by the much respected Dr Alex Donaldson, Head of Pirbright from 1989 to 2002 and was sent to warmwell on December 24. Extract:
"... there is no doubt that lessons can be learnt from experiences during the epidemic of 2001.... Unfortunately, confirmatory laboratory diagnosis during the UK 2001 epidemic was largely abandoned in March 2001 when slaughter on suspicion, a policy based on clinical judgement only, came into operation. ... suggestions of more rapid methods of transport, such as the use of helicopters, fell on deaf ears.... In many cases testing was not done at all or else samples were received after animals had been culled.... We now know that this led to many herds and flocks being needlessly slaughtered with errors being compounded by the model-driven contiguous cull policy...."Another new year. Nearly six years on from the misery of the FMD crisis - and it is still vitally important, as Dr Donaldson says, that lessons be learnt. Many at Pirbright, then, were only too aware that the "state approved" contiguous cull was based on poor science and was not scientifically validated. The responsibility for a humane animal disease policy rests on all who both care about livestock and have knowledge of disease. Those prepared to try to convince the policy makers (who tend to be far removed from the realities of both) deserve enormous thanks and very best wishes for the new year.
January 2007 ~ "Unfortunately, confirmatory laboratory diagnosis during the UK 2001 epidemic was largely abandoned in March 2001.."
This was most certainly not the impression given by a Defra submission to the OIE for Disease Free Status (now missing from the DEFRA website) that implied that all Infected and Contiguous Premises had been tested for FMD. It is a claim - by implication - that does however still exist on the internet in Mr Scudamore's Origin of the UK Foot and Mouth Disease epidemic in 2001 in which he wrote that "... each of the 2,026 FMD cases was subjected to a detailed clinical and epidemiological investigation." In fact, as Dr Donaldson points out, from March 2001 animals were killed first and only some premises were tested afterwards. The consequences of this led to such carnage as the killing in Wigtownshire, (part of Dumfries and Galloway). As we read in the answer to Parliamentary Question 2164 in Wigtownshire, 15 Premises were clinically diagnosed as having FMD. 13 only were tested; 2 only actually had FMD confirmed. The total number of animals on these 2 Premises was 1129. A further 88,446 animals were automatically slaughtered because of the infamous 15 March decision to cull all contiguous and 3 km premises.
Wigtownshire is the part of the country where Carolyn Hoffe, trying to protect her 5 uninfected pets, was subjected to treatment that made many wonder if the UK had become a police state run mad. First hand contemporary accounts - in their anguished hundreds - collected together in Fields of Fire remind us of how important it is that there should never be a repetition of such scenes. Members of the EU Temporary Committee Inquiry, including English MEPs, were visibly in tears at the end of their tour and these are human memories that must never be dismissed as irrelevant. Many of the perpetrators of FMD 2001 have been moved on or (unbelievably) up, and present incumbents may be hearing only the loudest voices. John Ryan's final recommendation (see below) that "the process of learning from disease events and the history of the disease must be institutionalised and genuinely acted upon" seems more important than ever.
January 2007 ~ "The only effective defence against such politicking is sound science, hard information, good communication and good emergency preparation "
John Ryan was the Irish veterinary scientist who, five months before the FMD disaster struck the UK, addressed a United Nations agriculture conference in Bulgaria and warned that FMD was certain to hit Europe - a warning that had already been given to Jim Scudamore by Pirbright three months earlier. The same Borovets conference reported on the rapid diagnostic strip test device developed at Pirbright that "could potentially achieve a more immediate diagnosis at the site of a suspected FMD outbreak to allow control procedures to be effected more rapidly". Bearing in mind the commercial cachet of any successful rapid diagnostic breakthrough it is perhaps not so surprising that the UK, in the person of an apparently harassed Jim Scudamore, vetoed the assistance of USDA's new rapid diagnostic technology early in the outbreak. It seems now, as it did then, extraordinarily tragic that at a time of chaos, mass slaughter and grief, any equipment offered to help rapidly identify sub-clinically infected animals should have been ignored. Instead, responsibility for the disease was left to the hastily gathered army of foreign and volunteer vets, most of whom who had never seen the disease in their lives and who were fearful of missing the slightest possible sign when they made their clinical diagnoses. The Hammond Report had warned in 2000 that the veterinary service could not cope with a serious disease outbreak, yet nothing was done to make those with power to change things sit up and take notice - and even now, of course, there remains a disastrous shortfall of farm vets.
A government memorandum to the Lessons Learned inquiry claimed that a contingency plan had been in place at the time of the outbreak but as Dr Iain Anderson said (to no outrage whatsoever): "We did not find this to be so."
After the disaster Mr Scudamore was not the only one to have said - and with so little justification, "It is easy to be wise with hindsight, but at the time there seemed no other measures that we could have taken."
There were and are other measures. We can only hope that DEFRA's apparent new policy of openness and communication means that animal health policies will depend on sound veterinary and scientific understanding - and that commercialisation and politics will no longer be allowed to intervene. Surely, one of the most powerful lessons that must be learned from the foot and mouth crisis before the next disaster strikes is that
"The provision of hard information and good science not only makes decision making easier, but has a nice side effect of de-politicising the decision-making process..... The only effective defence against such politicking is sound science, hard information, good communication and good emergency preparation where these issues have already been discussed with key stakeholders...." (FMD, Risk and Europe by John Ryan)
January 2007 ~ Test rules - and if necessary challenge and change them
David Cameron's speech at the Oxford Farming Conference will refer to the fact that many people now want to eat British food wherever possible.
"...They're not just supporting British farmers out of a sense of solidarity or a desire to limit carbon emissions. They also realise that food that has been preserved and flown or driven long distances often tastes second rate.Interestingly, the Farmers Weekly's Letter of the Week is also on the subject of food security, arguing that the proposed cost sharing 'partnership' in animal health and welfare between British agriculture and government should be (as the paper Industry Cost Sharing so cogently lays out) an equal partnership, "not an opportunity for government to shirk its responsibility for national food safety."
I know that this may raise issues with the European Union. But the role of a Government that cares about British farming is not to sit on its hands and say "there's nothing we can do", but instead to test these rules and if necessary challenge and change them..." (More)
January 2007 ~ responsibility for national food safety
"Fuelling a Food Crisis - The impact of peak oil on food security" by Caroline Lucas MEP, Andy Jones and Colin Hines makes clear that
"... Relocalising our food systems will ultimately require a complete change in direction away from the policies of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and the rules of the World Trade Organisation, both of which are based on ever greater international trade and globalisation of the food system. Instead, the central aim of trade and food policy should be a just and environmentally sound food security programme, for all nations, through the prioritisation of self-reliance and reduced energy use...."There should, the report says, be a reduction in profit margins for the hugely powerful food processors and supermarkets - and a new, but this time legally enforceable Code of Conduct.
January 2007 ~ "We just can't put up with the rules, regulations and red tape any longer"
These words, quoted by the Farmers Weekly in December, were from the Managing Director of Cornwall's only abattoir licensed to slaughter older cattle, the Madron Meat Company, commenting on the fact that it has been forced to close. The welfare and food safety implications of livestock having to travel greater and greater distances to slaughter has been highlighted by popular chefs such as Gordon Ramsay who are helping to remind the public that buying fresh, humanely and locally produced foods is well worth the extra expense. Supporting local food markets and local food production results in healthier, tastier food but, even more importantly, it assists traceability and food safety as well as helping to revitalise rural communities. This matters in the UK but it matters everywhere in the world too to get rid of the wasteful and destructive globalisation of food production.
Current Front Page
Advanced SEARCH warmwell
ARCHIVE of FRONT PAGES
General Archive Page (new window)
Archive December 2006
Archive November 2006
Archive October 2006
Archive September 2006
Archive August 2006
Archive July 2006
Archive June 2006
Archive May 2006
Archive April 2006
Archive March 2006
Archive February 2006
Archive January 2006
See also warmwell pages on concern about wind turbines, on oil depletion, on BSE/vCJD, on rapid diagnosis, on GM
Towards a new, sane, animal disease policy, warmwell goes " from failure to failure with great enthusiasm" (Winston Churchill's definition of "success")