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ARCHIVE 2008 ~ January

January 29 2008 ~ Margaret Beckett has been appointed as chairman of the government's intelligence and security committee.

January 29 2008 ~ "No one can give any specific situations where recording the individual identities of sheep will show a benefit or will be required"

    Peter Morris of the National Sheep Association on the subject of the compulsory double tagging rule that threatens the sheep sector (source):
      “ The extra costs that will be incurred will not be picked up by anyone else in the food chain and, with virtually every sheep farmer already losing money, for many it will be the final straw. ... All we hear time and time again is that there is a regulation in place and we have to obey it. What is the point when it does not offer benefit to anyone?"
    The fear of BSE gave a sort of spurious justification for many EU measures costing millions. The specific fear about scrapie and vCJD can no longer be sustained. MEP Struan Stevenson warns that when we "have no industry left and rely on imported mutton and lamb" such imports will lack "the rigorous regulations and controls we impose on our own farmers."
    And for how long can the UK import its food? EU culture commissioner Jan Figel may talk glibly of "our increasingly competitive, globalizing world" (source) but this is mere fiddling as Rome starts to smoulder. Richard Heinberg said bluntly last week ( See oil pages) , "Get thee to the productive side of the economy. Grow something, or learn to make or repair something useful."

January 28 ~ "We've got to make some very radical lifestyle changes in the next fifteen or twenty years if it's going to have any effect at all"

    Hoping to apply lessons of the past to the future, Dr James Bellini on the PM programme last week
      ".. ..we got used to a different kind of lifestyle after the Second World War and that's what's under challenge now, that's what's coming home to roost. We've got to make some very radical lifestyle changes in the next fifteen or twenty years if it's going to have any effect at all - including becoming very localised...a new term "localisation" - and "localvores" who now advocate the growing of food locally - that's what life was like before the industrialisation of food; we only ate what the seasons provided for us. We need to change our mindset."
    It is now a whole year since the report "Fuelling a Food Crisis" by Green Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas warned that oil stocks and EU trade and energy policies were threatening food price hikes – and could cause the UK to be vulnerable to food shortages for the first time since the Second World War.
    (See also warmwell's oil depletion pages)

January 27 ~ "...the enormous pleasure I had from growing my own vegetables in the garden at Buckingham Palace"

    A highly cheering article by HRH the Prince of Wales in today's Observer He writes about the Year of Food and Farming of which he is patron. In addition to his worry about the way "agriculture turned into agri-industry" and we are " no longer working with Nature but against her", Prince Charles understands that agriculture is
      "... vitally important in terms of food security in an ever more insecure world.... Instead of trying to compete in the global commodity markets, we can focus first on producing quality food for ourselves - and in this uncertain world there is much to be said for every country recovering greater control over its own food strategies, with the added benefit of reducing food miles. ... let us remember agriculture's extensive and valuable ecosystem services, including properly managed water catchments and the ability of land to store carbon......
      .... I have long been a supporter of school farms, many of which have been shut down throughout the UK, but which give children of all ages and abilities the opportunity to experience caring for animals and growing food for themselves ..."
    As one emailer from abroad remarks today, Prince Charles' article:" ...made my day, if he needs a job I would happily support monarchy in Germany.."

January 26 ~ 6th mute swan positive for H5N1 - movement restrictions to remain in place.

    DEFRA's news bulletin says only:
      "a sixth mute swan collected on 21 January as part of wild bird surveillance in the same area in Dorset has tested positive for highly pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza. This is not unexpected, and our enhanced surveillance of wild birds in the area is continuing including active patrols to look for dead wild birds. There is currently no evidence to suggest widespread disease in the wild bird population, but poultry keepers in the area are reminded to remain vigilant and report any signs of disease immediately. There remains no evidence of disease in domestic birds. Live swans were also sampled on the premises and all results are negative. As of 3pm on 25 January, the restrictions on the movement of poultry or other captive birds in the Wild Bird Monitoring Area fell, and such movements no longer require a licence. Movement restrictions in the Wild Bird Control Area remain in place."
    There will be many who would appreciate rather more information than this. What does “in the same area in Dorset” mean? Within or outside the reserve? Was the swan dead when collected? How it is that the BBC is able to give more information than Defra is a mystery See BBC where we learn the swan was on the reserve itself.

January 25 ~ What criteria are used by DEFRA to identify sites for testing for the H5N1 virus?

    Peter Ainsworth asked for clarification and got this answer from Jonathan Shaw.
    An emailer writes, "Good question, but it’s a pity Peter Ainsworth didn’t go further...
    • Are there any independent and/or international experts providing advice on the surveillance strategy?
    • Who is on the AI Expert Group?
    • Questions to Defra remain unanswered and even unacknowledged. There is also a potential conflict of interest with regard to the wildlife representatives, as they are quite understandably interested in protecting wildlife. It is therefore all the more important to have a balanced expert group that includes independent epidemiologists. It seems a waste of effort to concentrate so heavily on dead wild birds. You only find the large easily spotted birds like white swans, not the small birds that will disappear within minutes ...."
    More

January 25 ~ bTB "... If the High Court backs the case for a re-test .. it could force Defra to offer re-tests to other farmers and lead to a review of how the test is used."

    The Farmers Guardian today "The credibility of Defra’s TB testing system will come under scrutiny in the High Court next month in a case that could have far-reaching implications for use of the gamma interferon (gIFN) blood test. A Somerset organic farming partnership, battling to save cattle that tested positive to the gIFN bovine TB test, this week won the right to a full High Court hearing of their case. A Judicial Review of Defra’s refusal to allow the animals to be re-tested will be heard on February 12..... Defra will mount a vigorous defence of its uses of the gIFN test that it insists is reliable and is a vital tool in the battle against bTB." See also below

January 25 2008 ~ FMD prevention and preparedness - decisions based on trade rather than on food security and animal welfare?

    Canada is to make generous contributions towards FMD eradication in South America (see www.marketwire.com) to include "laboratory equipment and training in FMD diagnostic technologies and computer simulation modelling to assess, predict and mitigate FMD outbreaks". No mention of vaccination for FMD here - nor have we ever seen much about vaccination against foot and mouth in the North American or European press. Lately in the US, however, a certain Dr. VanWie of Wisconsin seems to have been very active in telling US farmers that slaughter is the only policy, that FMD is "getting closer", that animals infected with foot-and-mouth disease must be killed "quickly and cleanly" and that they "suffer greatly as the skin on their tongues peel off and their hooves fall apart " - a statement that is true only with the most virulent strains. ( In the 2007 UK outbreaks cattle showed such mild symptoms that many would have passed undetected without the blood tests that condemned them.)
    Effective FMD vaccines have now existed for many years. The US Department of Homeland Security announced last September an additional grant of 5.6 million US dollars to Genvec to continue its development of FMD vaccines. But is any reader able to direct us to a US expert actually advocating their use on home ground? As an emailer remarked this week, "We should consider whether it is appropriate for most decisions to be based on trade rather than on food security and animal welfare …"

January 25 2008 ~ "when Brussels learned that most of the money it had given the Treasury had not been passed on to farmers. ..."

    Private Eye's Muckspreader is not amused by the RPA fiasco. For the column, see RPA page Extract:
    ".... Two years running the EU Commission fined the UK for late payments and other breaches of the rules. But what then became something of a mystery was the precise size of the bill UK taxpayers were left to pay as a result, and it was this figure that Lord Stoddart asked the government to reveal..."

January 24 2008 ~ Vaccines for bovine TB

    Jonathan Shaw announced on Monday (Hansard), "Identification of candidate vaccines and development of differential diagnostic tests started in 1999 and is ongoing. Experimental investigations of vaccination protocols are progressing, including a natural transmission study in cattle looking at various candidate vaccines. Badger vaccines are further advanced with a three and a half year vaccine field trial to gather safety data and assess the efficacy of injectable Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), and a project on the development of oral formulations.
    Badger vaccines are likely to be available sooner than cattle vaccines. An injectable badger vaccine could be available within three to five years, and an oral badger vaccine in five to seven years. It will probably be at least eight years before a cattle vaccine is available. As with all research there is no guarantee of success..." (See also comment below)

Jan 23 2008 ~ The bottom line on factory chicken farms

    Independent comment today from Alex James
      "......Poor old Hugh, he's having a tough time. He's right, though. Chickens farms just ain't glamorous. The nature of chicken farming is intensive and chickens, being birds, tend towards the extensive. If you're paying less than eight quid for a chicken, you can be sure you're giving your money to an arsehole, which is up to you, of course, but it's my New Year's resolution not to give money to arseholes."

Jan 23 2008 ~ Update on the Arapawa goats

    From the last refuge of these few rare ancestors of Old English goats on the Island, Betty Rowe asks New Zealand for a proper census before anything irrevocable is done. Arapawa goats updates. In early January, the RBST wrote to the New Zealand PM, "... Stopping the cull will send a significant signal about the value which the modern world places on its livestock heritage..."

Jan 22 2008 ~ Journalists and the "deadly strain"

    In spite of Bernard Vallat's recent message that the risk of a human pandemic from H5N1 was overestimated, that the strain was remarkably stable, and that
      "concerns a few years ago that a flu pandemic from H5N1 might be imminent lacked scientific proof"
    one still reads daily in the press such statements as (Reuters today)
      "Experts say the H5N1 strain could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person, leading to a pandemic."
    The killing of millions of birds "as a precautionary measure" continues. Italy has successfully used ring vaccination against H5 or H7 for several years but in the UK Hilary Benn says, "While our policy on vaccination is kept under continuous review, experts advise us that it would not assist disease control in this case." These experts are certainly saying what the intensive producers want to hear - but 100% success can never be claimed for vaccination and the near zero risk in using vaccines is far less dangerous than the UK's present default position of averted gaze and tightly crossed fingers - followed by mass slaughter and inflexible shut-down when the various viruses hit. (More)
    The exception is the UK's commendable position on ordering bluetongue vaccine and we must hope that a policy of compulsory, paid-for vaccination follows since nothing short of that will have any chance of success.

Jan 22 2008 ~ H5N1 in India - stamping-out policy or implementation of mass vaccinations

    The ProMed Moderator comments, "..The Indian authorities will have to make soon a decision between continuing the stamping-out policy and the possible implementation of mass vaccinations."
    (See H5N1 vaccination page) Once again we are reminded of those who are on the receiving end of decisions to kill "as a precautionary measure" taken far away. As the English farmer Alastair Davy said recently in Brussels with reference to the FMD culling in 2001 and 2007 - these are decisions that
      "will be made by others who can not realise what it is like to be at the receiving end of those decisions. The feeling of helplessness will last for a lifetime and the torture and anguish of a cull will always be a nightmare."
    The West Bengal government has now raised the culling target to 2 million "scheduled to be killed as a precautionary measure" but only 150 000 have been killed so far. The policy can hardly be said to be being effective - particularly when, because these birds represent a family's entire capital, many will hide the disease rather than invite slaughter.

Jan 21 2008 ~ Defra animal health specialists begin industrial action today

    They are refusing to work above and beyond their contracted terms. Farmers Guardian reports: "The action will see Defra vets and animal health staff begin action short of a strike in the form of a ‘work-to-rule’ action."
    The low morale in DEFRA is very understandable and unfortunate. Through no real fault of its own DEFRA has not won adequate funding from the Treasury and has dwindled into what is perceived as an unpopular and disfunctional bureacracy. Thus we see the winding down of proper surveillance and research - and policies that tend to be based on trade considerations alone.
    Animal Health policy development needs urgently to return to the care of veterinary and scientific experts, as in other northern European countries. Because of a chronic lack of funding, the very agencies whose practical input should be advising and guiding policy - such as the VLA, IAH and Environment Agency and so on - have been uncoupled from DEFRA, leaving that Department lacking both the practical expertise and the scientific understanding of disease.

Jan 21 2008 ~ EU targets on biofuels are "putting up food prices and threatening food supplies for the poor"

    The Environmental Audit Committee says that most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment and that the UK government and the EU have been "misguided" in prioritising biofuel for road transport. See BBC. The EU is stipulating that biofuels should achieve a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings....
      "But these figures have been contested, and it looks as though the calculation will exclude the carbon released by disturbing soil when the biofuels are planted. .. also unclear how the EU will ensure that its biofuels production on agricultural land does not push up food prices or displace food production, forcing peasants or other agri-businesses into felling other virgin forest to grow crops."
    Read in full TheSelect Committee thinks that the EU and the UK government should concentrate on the use of "sustainable" biofuels such as waste vegetable oil and the development of more efficient biofuel technologies.

January 21 2008 ~ Tesco has pledged to phase out its sales of imported veal.

    Sunday Express " Tesco will instead stock British meat from calves bred to higher welfare standards. The switch is possible because farmers which supply the supermarket with milk have agreed not to export their dairy calves. That means the calves will stay in the British supply chain instead of being reared abroad. ..."
    More recent postings on calves in the UK. Waitrose too wants all aimals raised in its farms to be "reared within the existing fully integrated supply chain." If trials prove successful, Waitrose aims to roll out the scheme across all the 65 dairy farms that supply it.

January 20 2008 ~ Bovine TB - like FMD and Bluetongue, the problem is money, politics and trade

    It seems that DEFRA are testing whole herds in certain areas when there is one positive cow by post mortem, or skin test even, in a desperate bid to stop the spread of bTB.
    The gIFN test gives about 80 gamma interferon positive animals to one PM case or skin test positive. Farmers, some of whom are challenging the results in court or refusing to kill the animals said to be positive in large numbers with the gamma interferon test, are getting quite desperate.
    DEFRA gives the farmer only £400 but then sells the animals into the food chain. Some feel this is a policy of overkill that mirrors that used to control FMD and one that might well be giving underfunded DEFRA a much-needed boost in funds. See Lord Rooker's reply to the EFRA Committee in December
      "...a set of new policy options start to cost money. We have reached a limit. We are not going back to the Treasury".
    A change of emphasis would allow the boon of modern virology and technology to come to the aid of farmers.

January 20 2008 ~ BTb vaccination - ' a trade catastrophe and illegal under EU law'

    According to comment on the BovineTB Blog
      "... Lord Rooker was asked at the EFRAcom meeting why he was funding the development of vaccines for bTb if there was no possibility of using them. His reply was the same as our veterinary pathologists' .... ' a trade catastrophe and illegal under EU law', but he added, that doesn't preclude 'us' working on them. 'Us' being multi national pharmaceutical companies operating from the UK and Defra's science departments.."
    One sees that money, politics and ignorance of the science once again result in a policy that can only consist of killing. Vaccination against bovine TB would probably - like FMD - result in a trade ban if the UK were to use it unilaterally (other Member States do not have our huge problem) However, badger vaccination could go ahead as the animal is not a food producing species. But, as in the case of Bluetongue, appropriate vaccine will not be produced unless a firm commitment for orders precedes the work involved. So funding for research work on BtB vaccines continues, as politically it must, but with very little likelihood of the vaccines ever being used.

January 19 2008 ~ Gamma interferon (gIFN) test alongside the skin test is throwing up spurious results. DEFRA is challenged.

    The Farmers Guardian is reporting on the bid by Clarke Wilmott, acting on behalf of the Higher Burrow Organic Farming Partnership, Somerset, which supplies organic milk to Waitrose, to challenge DEFRA on these bovine TB results and get 100 threatened cows retested.
      "Lawyers were due to issue proceedings this Thursday ...Clarke Wilmott is seeking an injunction to prevent Defra culling around 100 animals that tested positive to the gIFN blood test, at least until they have been re-tested."
    The farm is resisting the cull. According to the experienced agricultural lawyer, Tim Russ, this could cost it £100,000 but because it strongly questions the validity of the gIFN results it is going ahead. Since the gIFN has been used, hundreds more cows have been slaughtered than would have been under the skin test alone. Several other farmers are now questioning the accuracy of the gamma test used and fighting for a retest - including one anguished farmer whose cows are pedigree Guernseys, "virtually irreplaceable" and which "would all be calving over the next two or three months" DEFRA, who has now dropped farming from its title, is as deaf as ever to all such requests. But the accuracy of the test itself really must be questioned. We welcome comments.

January 19 2008 ~ " cynicism, guilt, compassion fatigue and the moral distance between purchase and production..."

    Letters in the Guardian "....Meat has become very cheap - too cheap - due to the postwar intensification of animal husbandry and the complacency of governments that have allowed the introduction of many cruel practices. Society has become used to the low prices, encouraged by supermarkets, and consumption of meat has increased. We have to reverse this process, but this type of change is hampered by factors which, as well as cynicism, include guilt, compassion fatigue and the moral distance between purchase and production..." One of two other thought-provoking letters in response to a Guardian piece by Zoe Williams :
      "Cheap supermarket chicken is not only bad for animal welfare, but also for farm workers and for the environment. As a small-scale farmer earning very much less than the £24k median income mentioned by Zoe Williams, I'd like to suggest that if she considers the affordability of chicken to be a marker of a fair society she should be lobbying the government to improve its anti-poverty efforts rather than castigating those who are exposing the obscenities of industrial agriculture..."

January 19 2008 ~ Bring back pig swill

    Telegraph letter "Sir - Andrew O'Hagan (Comment, January 15) is perfectly correct in deploring the massive amount of foodstuffs we waste in this country. Supermarkets reject huge quantities of fruit and vegetables in their incessant and pitiless search for perfection of appearance - not, alas, taste. Of greater magnitude, however, is the end of day dumping from bakeries, hot food purveyors, hospitals and many other institutions of a significant size, wasting hundreds of tons of good food each day. A silly and typical government overreaction closed off recycling these foodstuffs to pigs a few years ago. Foot and mouth disease was never caused by properly prepared pig swill. If the Conservatives are passionate in their adherence to green issues, then here is an issue.
    Tony Hacker, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland"

January 19 2008 ~ A 5th swan at a sanctuary in Dorset has tested positive

    news.bbc.co.uk ".....John Houston, of Abbotsbury Tourism, said: "We are expecting to have a run of positives and negatives while [the virus] works its way through the herd." Restrictions on the movement of birds, imposed last week [7-11 Jan 2008], remain in place. Earlier, Defra said there was currently no evidence to suggest the disease was widespread among wild birds in the area, but officials were closely monitoring the situation. The Abbotsbury Swannery will be given the all-clear if no birds test positive for the virus after 21 days. The 1st cases of the disease were found on 10 Jan 2008."

January 18 2008 ~ £28.3 million refurbishment for DEFRA offices in York to make the buildings more "sustainable".

    York Press reports that the work, which includes the installation of solar thermal hot water, rainwater harvesting and ultra-efficient gas-fired boilers, will save 15 tons of carbon a year - but quotes Graham Bowers, of the PCS union who claimed carrying out the work "would in itself create carbon emissions, for example, through the transportation of materials, equipment and workers to the site, negating the benefits.... He claimed the project came at a time when the Government was cutting expenditure elsewhere, resulting in fewer civil servants doing more work, with a resulting drop in morale."
    An emailer today wrote,
      "At last it is clear as to why the Govt wants to get rid of agriculture and food production in the UK .... because it will reduce the UK greenhouse gas emissions.
      What short sighted insanity is this - and how does this equate to the lunatics' other idea of massive airport expansion?
      This approach typifies how ill informed and naive are the decisions that Govt are taking; to externalise UK food production. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions without factoring in the emissions that will be created by even further food miles shows the bankcruptcy of an administration that appears to be absolutely clueless as to how to really tackle the crucial issues of climate change."
    £28.3 million pounds to refurbish buildings only 14 years old does indeed seem rather steep when DEFRA is apparently unable to direct adequate resources on animal disease control and the environment.

January 18 2008 ~ "Tagging wouldn't come close...."

    At a time when livestock farming is at its lowest ebb and we discover that DEFRA really doesn't want to include farming in its remit any more and that the UK 's self-sufficiency can go hang, that there is apparently no money to spare to cushion the blow of massive losses caused to ordinary farmers through no fault of their own and EU regulations such as double tagging are imposed to further cause frustration and misery - we read this article by Matthew Norman in the Independent on a kind of surveillance that all except MPs themselves might well rejoice to see. (It may, at least, give some wry amusement.)

January 18 2008 ~ "biofuels ultimately might not help fight climate change at all..."

    According to euobserver.com, an unpublished internal report by the European Commission's own scientific institute, the Joint Research Centre "buttresses worries over biofuels expressed by environment commissioner Stavros Dimas and research from environmental campaign groups that suggests biofuels may actually contribute to global warming through the deforestation and peat bog burning that is required for biofuel sources such as corn or oil palm trees.
    Development NGOs are also concerned that already the growth in the use of biofuels is pushing up food prices..."

18 January 2008 ~ DEFRA sacrificing livestock farming to greenhouse gas reduction targets?

    Dan Buglass in the Scotsman quotes Frank Langrish, chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board (BWMB) at that organisation's annual conference in Bradford. The gloomy suspicion held by many was put forcibly into words by Mr Langrish:
      "The UK government no longer wishes to have anything more to do with agriculture; and thoughts of food security have, for the time being, disappeared."
    Mr Langrish feels that if livestock numbers are drastically reduced then targets being chased on greenhouse gas reduction can be met.
      "It's all part of Defra's policy to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. The UK government believes a reduction in livestock numbers will have a marked effect on the statistics. This is the logic of the asylum, where the lunatics are now completely in charge." .
    James Withers, the deputy chief executive of NFU Scotland, is also quoted: "There is a culture within the UK government of target-chasing, particularly on environmental and energy issues. Fewer livestock will, obviously, mean less greenhouse gas emissions, but how on earth can presiding over a demise of livestock production be consistent with the other big national and international challenges? Environmental protection and reducing food miles, food security, healthy eating and high animal welfare standards rely on a sustainable farming industry throughout the UK."

18 January 2008 ~ So much for "consultation"

    The Scotsman article is also interesting for Mr Langrish's comment about the July 2006 consultation on the future role of his board, the British Wool Marketing Board. He says that because the majority of answers to a DEFRA consultation about the future role of the BWMB were not what DEFRA wanted to hear, those answers have been simply ignored. A decision that was promised for a year ago has simply faded away. "The submissions received were, whilst acknowledging the concern about current prices, almost universal in their support for the board's activities. However, this was apparently not what Defra wished to hear and following a further 17 drafts it seems the whole process has been a waste of time. It is clear to anyone with an understanding of the sheep industry that the BWMB should continue."

18 January ~ "our enhanced surveillance of wild birds in the area is continuing, including active patrols to look for dead wild birds..."

    Hilary Benn has made a slight adjustment to his statement. See Defra webpage Criticism and concern about the UK level of surveillance is perhaps being noticed. It is better late than never, some would undoubtedly say, noticing the curious use of the future tense.
    "We will also be carrying out sampling of live swans in the swannery in order to investigate whether any others are infected. In addition, we will be carrying out sampling of other species of wild bird, by testing their droppings, for evidence of virus within the area of the swannery."

18 January 2008 ~ Welsh Assembly report concludes the UK Treasury should compensate Welsh farmers.

    The BBC reports,"The foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2007 may have cost Welsh farmers more than £40m, a Welsh assembly committee has found. The finance committee also highlighted an ongoing dispute between the governments in Cardiff and London over who should pay any compensation. A separate assembly report concluded the UK Treasury should compensate Welsh farmers." See also Farmers Guardian which quotes FUW's Gareth Vaughan, “In November, Hybu Cig Cymru estimated Welsh losses to be of the order of £33 million, without the inclusion of consequential losses, and the problems faced by Wales are effectively identical to those in Scotland.”

18 January ~ 857,733 people from 239 countries had, by the end of yesterday, signed the petition to put an end to whaling.

    The goal of the petition is a million signatures - and it looks as though they will make it. (The Greenpeace protesters have now been released from the ship that was holding them prisoner.)

January 17 2008 ~ H5N1 What is the justification for the UK's policy of non-vaccination?

    The EU Directive clearly says,
      "Vaccination against avian influenza can be an effective tool to supplement disease control measures and to avoid massive killing and destruction of poultry or other captive birds. Current knowledge suggests that vaccination may be useful not only as a short-term measure in emergencies but also as a long-term measure to prevent disease in situations of higher risk of introduction of avian influenza viruses from wild life or other sources. Provisions should therefore be established for both emergency and preventive vaccination."
    The idea that vaccinated poultry "may become infected and thus contribute to the further spread of the infection" is not accepted by the virologists who understand how vaccination works. Yet the UK continues to shut up free range birds and to drag its feet on vaccination - to the deep frustration of all but the intensive farmers. What is more, in spite of the EU Directive on the minimum control measures to be applied, the UK has actually cut down on surveillance.

January 17 2008 ~ H5N1 Must it always be a voice in the wilderness that cries foul?

    Italy has used vaccination to ring highly pathogenic H5 or H7 virus in years past with success. What seems to be happening in the UK is that officials assume perhaps that if they say 100% success cannot be claimed for vaccination, they will be justified in the public mind in warning against what is actually a near zero risk. The media seem most reluctant to point out it is far more dangerous for the country to ignore the available vaccines which responsible poultry keepers are so anxious to be able to use . And not only journalists. It seems that most public service scientists have a clause in their contract banning membership of outside groups that might have the courage to question current dogma.

January 17 2008 ~ H5N1 "While our policy on vaccination is kept under continuous review, experts advise us that it would not assist disease control in this case."

    Hilary Benn has issued a written Ministerial Statement on the Avian Influenza case in Dorset. He does not say who the experts are who advise against vaccination. The statement is now available online "...... no poultry or other captive bird movements from premises are permitted, all birds must be housed or otherwise isolated from contact with wild birds, no wild birds may be hunted, and all bird gatherings are banned. Biosecurity measures apply on premises where poultry or captive birds are kept. We are currently working with industry to determine the availability of licenses for movements from premises and for hunting of wild birds...."

Jan 2008 ~ "the risk was overestimated," said Bernard Vallat, director general of the OIE

    After the slaughter of literally millions and millions of birds worldwide because of fears of a human pandemic we now hear from Paris that Bernard Vallat considers the fear "just nonscientific supposition". Dr Vallat said the H5N1 virus has proved extremely stable, despite concerns that it could mutate into a form that could spread easily among humans.
    See MSNBC "We have never seen such a stable strain," Vallat said.
    He said concerns a few years ago that a flu pandemic from H5N1 might be imminent lacked scientific proof.
    "It was just nonscientific supposition," he told reporters.

January 17 2008 ~ Problems accessing warmwell?

    A regular reader writes, "For some reason warmwell is “not available” using Firefox on my desktop computer, but it is available using Internet Explorer on my desktop and Firefox on the laptop! Weird, but at least it’s available! I wonder if anyone else is having trouble?"
    We should be interested to know if this problem is widespread. Please do email if you are having similar problems.

January 16 2008 ~ Another dead swan in Abbotsbury

    A fourth swan from the Abbotsbury swannery in Dorset has tested positive H5N1 avian flu virus. See Guardian"....Wild birds are the likely source of infection, but Andre Farrar, of the RSPB, said it was "slightly odd" that the outbreak happened outside a migration period."
    The Times:
      "The new outbreak has renewed calls for the routine vaccination of all free-range, organic and hobby birds against the deadly flu virus.
      The Elm Farm Organic Research Centre has been campaigning for such a preventive strategy for more than two years. Defra has a stock of 10 million does of vaccine but so far they have been offered only for use to save rare birds and collections in zoos..."
    Richard Sanders, the senior policy researcher at Elm Farm, believes that the latest outbreak is a definite indication the virus is circulating in wild birds and, as we say below, has urged Defra to release its stocks of vaccine. The alternative - to to lock up all birds - is, he says, "unacceptable, impractical and with some species such as geese, impossible"
    (A survey of samples collected from Dorset since 12 January is now available at www.defra.gov.uk and will be updated regularly. See also DEFRA bulletin pdf.

January 16 2008 ~ H5N1 " renewed calls for the routine vaccination of all free-range, organic and hobby birds..." which now have to be "kept indoors"

    OIE report from January 11th sent by DEFRA:
      ".....According to EU and national legislations wild bird control and monitoring areas are now set up. The boundaries of these areas are set with reference to the places where the birds were found, while also taking into account the location of local bird reserves and the presence of wild bird populations along the Dorset coastline towards Portland Bill. The boundary of the control area is set at 3 km [1.86 miles] from the relevant points where the birds were found; the monitoring area at 10 km [6.2 miles].
      No evidence of disease has been found in domestic birds.
      Epidemiological inquiry is underway."
    According to the Times ".. All birds inside the control zone - which extends 15 miles southeast of Abbotsbury and includes Weymouth, Chesil Beach and Portland Bill - must be kept indoors. ...... some 32 premises within the zone, of which 19 are free-range operations, involving a total of 24,588 birds.
    In the wider monitoring area there are 34 farms, of which 17 are free- range, with a total of 111,488 chickens."

January 16 2008 ~ EU refuses delay on battery cage ban

    Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming's Chief Policy Advisor, : "The Directive gave farmers a very generous 12 years to move away from battery cages. It's a scandal that the industry has been pressing for even more time. Now that the Commission has ruled that there should be no delay, we hope the egg industry will stop fighting the ban and belatedly knuckle down to getting their hens out of cages and into barn and free-range systems."

January 16 2008 ~ "paying lip service to the process of consultation..."

    Daelnet.html quotes the Tenant Farmers Association's National Chairman, Reg Haydon:
      " ..There is a worrying queue of new regulation parked up on the slip road and ready to roll at the government's behest.
      The analysis which underpins much of this new legislation is seriously flawed and the increased costs that they will bring will not be reflected in farm gate prices. "The government must listen to the industry's concerns on these issues rather than simply paying lip service to the process of consultation."
    Yorkshire Dales Country News asks for comment

January 15 2008 ~ "Clearance by the FDA allows both reagent kits to be used to help ensure that the country is better prepared to respond to a bioterrorism attack..."

    Latest news from prweb.com is that Idaho Technology Inc's Joint Biological Agent Identification and Diagnostic System (JBAIDS) for use as an aid in the diagnosis of anthrax, the JBAIDS Plague and JBAIDS Tularemia Detection Kits has now received clearance from the US FDA so that tests can yield results in less than four hours whereas "The current method of growing, isolating and identifying a culture can take as long as a several days for results."
    Todd Ritter, who is Idaho's Chief Corporate Development Officer is quoted:
      "This is a great example of how private industry and the government can work as partners to protect our nation and those who defend it..." Read in full
    The RAPID device is the forerunner of this JBAIDS military software and is what is used in former Soviet countries ( Caucasus and Central Asia) to detect, on-site, diseases such as foot and mouth.
    All that is needed for these tests to be used for our own animals is the political will to do so.

January 15 2008 ~ Pirbright is a charity...

    We hear from America that "in the US, foot and mouth is regarded as the # 1 potential terrorist threat to the US livestock industry as well as the # 1 natural disease threat. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the Plum Island lab's activities these past 5 years and plans are afoot to replace the current lab with a $600 million facility. Just amazing the differences on two sides of the Atlantic - here a top priority threat to national security and in UK something supported with spare change...."

January 14/15 2008 ~ NAIS register - conflicting views

    World Net Daily describes how the controversial US National Animal Identification System is far from "voluntary": "... U.S. meat exporters, and manufacturers of electronic tags and tag-reading equipment, have been the driving force...These are people who will profit...."
    An interview at Cattlenetwork.com gave two anti NAIS campaigners a chance to give their views. Sharon Zecchinelli:
      " .. the reason to locate livestock in 48 hours is to kill them... The kill zone, by the way, is 12.4 miles in diameter. That means everything inside that kill zone is going to be destroyed, ....the EU has an FMD vaccine bank offering at least some protection against all known FMD strain types and is regularly updated. I see the reluctance to use vaccinations as an industry problem. ..."
    Although the USDA arguments: " we must be able to quickly and effectively trace an animal disease to its source" are plausible, the arguments against are passionately felt and deserve very serious consideration from those convinced that NAIS is vitally important in the control of an outbreak and that, after all, one does need to know what animals are where and where they have come from, at shows for example. That there is so much deep suspicion and unease ought to be of concern to governments, who need perhaps to ask themselves why. (See also yesterday's Los Angeles Times for a balanced article.)

January 14 ~ Overheard in the supermarket. "I couldn't bear to watch. Those poor chickens..."

    There seems little doubt that consumers are taking the anti-intensive campaign seriously. One farmer correspondent from Wiltshire asks if there is any way of finding out the corporate membership of the NFU, who they are, and what proportion of the subscription income of the NFU they contribute. (Corporate Watch is interesting on this subject but gives few details and its pages on the NFU may be out of date.) "I believe," he wrote,"that a whole raft of businesses whose interest in farming is not altruistic have this type of membership. Grain traders? Feed companies? Even supermarkets? It would be interesting to know." And, again from a different part of Wiltshire, we have received this email of links to " innovation in the field of broiler research" with suitably ironic comment, concluding, "This just confirms that Hugh and Jamie are correct." .

January 14 ~ "EFSA does not have a mandate to consider ethical, moral or other societal issues beyond its scientific remit..."

    remarks the Beef Site here. It may strike some as strange that a "mandate" is required in order for ethical, moral and other societal issues to be considered. EFSA has published a draft scientific opinion which declares that genetically modified foods are safe to eat and that:
    • "....Although death and disease rates of clones are significantly higher than those observed in conventionally reproduced animals, healthy clones and their offspring indicate that somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT)[4] can be successfully used as a reproductive technique in cattle and pigs. Based on a number of parameters including physiological and clinical ones, healthy clones and healthy offspring do not show any significant differences from their conventional counterparts.
    • The health and welfare of a significant proportion of clones have been found to be adversely affected. The proportion of unhealthy clones is likely to decrease as the technology improves..."
    You may read the draft in full and comment on the implications of animal cloning on food safety, animal health and welfare and the environment. Perhaps even on the ethics.

January 14 ~ "There is a clear and urgent need to relocalise food production and distribution, given the challenges we face from climate change and peak oil..."

    We are grateful to the current Smallholders Online Newsletter (Number 231) for this link to the Soil Association pdf "Where's the Beef?" Phil Stocker, the Soil Association’s Head of Food & Farming, says
      "....Countries like the UK should be building their food supplies around their indigenous population, with limited trade to fill the gaps. Organic farmers should play their part by joining organic marketing groups, if they have not already done so. This approach is essential to give greater collective activity and organisation in the market place - smaller scale spot trading into national markets is not sustainable or desirable for anyone in the longer term.”
    Read report in full. More on the disappearance of cheap oil here.

January 14 2008 ~ Misinformation about FMD 2001 continues - and poor Sir David's unshakeable ego continues to preen itself...

    BBC's "Hard Talk" with the outgoing (sic) Chief Scientific Adviser, implied to viewers yet again that the 2001 carnage by computer was a painful but brave decision. Sir David King repeated, "I believe that the action we took was necessary." Commenting on the story below, one emailer to warmwell today writes drily:
      "thanks for putting yet another eye opener on your frontpage. Especially brilliant is this sentence ... It showed the government what science could do. .
      I don't know why I am not the head of the OIE, I chopped plenty of wood today (without mathematic modelling). If killing cattle is a scientific achievement, chopping wood to avoid getting power from a nuclear plant certainly is super science..."
    Saturday's Guardian commented: "King infuriates people not just when they disagree with his interpretation of the science, but when his adherence to science seems impervious to public opinion. He learned that when he successfully argued for "contiguous culling"...."
    Let it never be forgotten that the political madness for which Sir David was responsible rode roughshod over expert advice, veterinary knowledge, public opinion, and all ethical considerations - and that the disease was already in retreat before the shameful policy began.

January 14 2008 ~ H5N1 in Dorset: " there appear to be no wild bird outbreaks positively linked to reported H5N1 outbreaks indicative of spill-over or spill-back infections.."

    Surveillance in wildlife deserves enhancement, says ProMed
    "Though this moderator will be surprised if feedborne infection is incriminated (since chickens, regarded the usual sentinels for clinical HPAI, would have been expected to be affected earlier than swans), should feed-borne route be confirmed, it would mean that commercial and backyard poultry in the area fed from the same source are at risk.
    At this time in the UK there appear to be no wild bird outbreaks positively linked to reported H5N1 outbreaks indicative of spill-over or spill-back infections between UK poultry and wild bird populations. Surveillance in wildlife deserves enhancement. ...."

January 14 2008 ~ "Stringent veterinary checks in France - now on "moderate" alert following Dorset swan deaths

    ProMed moderator "...following the detection of this H5N1 disease focus, adjacent to the British Channel's coast, France has elevated its bird flu risk alert from "weak" to "moderate" on all of its territory. There are 6 levels of risk in France: unimportant 1, unimportant 2, weak, moderate, high and very high. The order took effect immediately, according to the French ministry of Agriculture. Domestic birds and poultry are being protected in an attempt to prevent contact with wild birds. There will also be stringent veterinary checks...

January 13 2008 ~ "Be vigilant" demands the Government - and then cuts down heavily on surveillance and testing

    The Independent on Sunday reveals that not only has testing for the spread of H5N1 in Britain been heavily cut but there is disturbing evidence that even such testing as is carried out is seriously flawed.
      "...Official figures show that the number of wild birds tested by the Government has fallen by 17 per cent over the last year.... figures were running far behind similar monitoring levels in other European countries..."
    It is quite extraordinary that this should be happening at the very time that bird flu is feared to be endemic in Britain's wild bird population. That British test samples are not kept in a preservative solution as in other countries might cause the virus to decompose before it can ve verified. It is more than ever vital now that the Government release its stocks of H5N1 poultry vaccine and "start an orderly programme of preventive treatment" as Elm Farm request

January 13 2008 ~“It looked terrible,” he recalled, “but almost immediately the epidemic began slowing down. It showed the government what science could do..."

    Sir David King's understanding - and that of most political comment about FMD 2001 - is mistaken. As Dr Alex Donaldson's submission to the Lessons Learned Inquiry pointed out:
      "....The epidemic had been in decline by the time of the introduction of the contiguous cull policy on 29 March. .."
    The King policy ignored the hard work of the 1968 Northumberland Report, which had advised vaccination and testing to check for disease before slaughter. The Sunday Times today asserts that Sir David, the "independent" scientist, "was horrified by the ignorance of science shown by mandarins across Whitehall" but his own ignorance of veterinary science together with an ability to be blind to the reality on the ground (see below) resulted in post code slaughter, based on flawed data and software.
      "civil servants tackling foot and mouth in 2001 remember with bitterness how he ripped up their carefully drawn plans for dealing with a new outbreak."
    The disease was already in retreat, the policy was a tragic mistake of the greatest magnitude but Sir David is happy: " I could never have had such power in government if FMD had not happened,” he says.

January 12 2008 ~ H5N1 - real concern voiced about Defra's future moves on outdoor birds.

    Elm Farm, one of the leading organic research bodies in the country, is urgently asking for a programme of preventive vaccination to allow organic, free range and hobby birds to remain outside. Like Elm Farm, we very much hope that DEFRA will bear in mind that if vaccination is delayed, it cannot then create the firewall needed since, with H5N1, vaccination takes six weeks to become effective. Richard Sanders writes,
      "The alternative to preventive vaccination, as suggested in the past by Government advisers and Defra, is the shutting up of all poultry in housing.
      Housing all poultry is completely unacceptable, impractical and with some poultry species such as geese, impossible. When the national mood, as voiced so loudly by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is for quality, high welfare poultry production, then we must do everything in our power to protect and grow the sector."
    Read in full There are now many voices calling on Defra to release its stocks of H5N1 poultry vaccine now and to "start an orderly programme of preventive treatment".
    UPDATE two more dead swans found in the Abbotsbury Swannery have tested negative for the H5N1 strain. See H5N1 page

January 12 2008 ~ Severely rattled

    The WMN reports on the words of the chairman of the National Farmers' Union's South West poultry board, John Riddell, who said the need to step up bio-security measures would cost farmers money, and "the industry had been damaged by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's series of programmes urging people to buy free- range". He said that the campaign "could contribute to the poultry sector dying out in the UK."
    Charles Bourns too, national chairman of the poultry board of the NFU, and seen holding a somewhat aghast looking hen in the Mail, defends the intensive poultry farmers and expresses anger at the programme.
    However, on another WMN page, butcher and farmer Peter Greig, who took part in the recording of the Jamie Oliver programme, Jamie's Fowl Dinners, is quoted:
      "I was impressed that Jamie seemed to understand the implications for the farming industry in this country of the relentless industrialisation of chicken production. The future cannot be constantly cheaper food....."
    And Andrew Maunder, commercial director of Lloyd Maunder, Britain's biggest specialist chicken producer, was filmed for Hugh's Chicken Run as well as the Jamie Oliver programme and challenged consumers, " to put their hands in their pockets for the sake of better chicken welfare."

January 11 2008 ~ DEFRA Early Retirement will cost £47 million

    Hansard for yesterday: "Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to the answer of 29 November, Official Report, column 616W, on early retirement, what estimate he has made of the cost to his Department of the early retirement schemes being offered to staff; and if he will make a statement. [173413]
    Jonathan Shaw [holding answer 11 December 2007]: The total cost of early departure schemes being run by this Department during financial year 2007-08 is estimated at £47 million."
    The Evening Standard had this comment, back in November:
      "They can't believe their luck. There are retirement parties all the time stretching into next spring. It seems an odd way to save money but no one is complaining. Some intend to take the money and then work in the private sector."

January 11 2008 ~ Surrey ~ "continuing problem with keep out signs and tapes being ripped down unofficially "

    The frustrations of people living around 11 sites near Egham with the restrictions on their free movement have resulted in Surrey County Council's decision that "some restrictions will remain until next September". See BBC
      "Enforcement patrols were set to continue and anyone found breaching restrictions could be prosecuted and fined or jailed...People have been urged to report any breaches of restrictions..."
    Councils get irate at having their signs ignored. Although FMD virus can in theory persist in certain conditions for weeks and even months, all this must seem more than a trifle draconian to many ordinary residents. They are unlikely to understand - because it has not been gently explained by any competent authority - why their unrestricted movement might just possibly, even now, cause problems.

January 11 2008 ~ "....Scottish farmers are getting £25million and English farmers are sharing £14million – but farmers in Wales have yet to receive £3million."

    Mick Bates in Wales is frustrated that the minutes of meetings between the Assembly Government and Defra on the subject of proper compensation for farmers hit by compensation for farmers hit by foot-and-mouth disease restrictions are being kept secret in spite of his two months' attempt to know details. Assembly officials said it had been decided the information was exempt from disclosure under Section 28 of the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. See Farmers Guardian.

January 10 2008 ~ Bernard Vallat: "We have never seen such a stable strain."

    It is tragically ironic that that the director general of the OIE now says that concerns a few years ago that a flu pandemic from H5N1 might be imminent actually lacked scientific proof.
    This comes after literally millions of birds have been slaughtered across the world, usually in ways that have involved slow suffocation or other suffering before death, for fear that the strain H5N1 might mutate and cause a world pandemic among humans.
    "It was just nonscientific supposition," Dr Vallat told reporters. See www.msnbc.msn.com Dr Vallat still maintains that vaccination campaigns should be carried out since bird flu "will always be a risk". Other strains could mutate and become more virulent for animals says the OIE - but the reluctance to allow vaccination in the UK continues. The illogicality of this defies belief. See H5N1 page

January 10 2008 ~ H5N1 at Abbotsbury - "likely that all free-range and organic birds will now be ordered indoors in the area."

    Three mute swans were discovered dead by staff at the Dorset estate on Tuesday and tests have found the lethal strain of the virus. The Times has a report. We are also told that there is less restriction on movements when wild birds - as here - are involved and the incident will not stop bird gatherings nationally. The Guardian says, " It appears likely they caught the virus from other wild birds or ducks that came into the swannery for the winter months."
    The BBC says that "a Wild Bird Control Area and Monitoring Area has been set up around the Swannery, covering Chesil Beach and Portland Bill. Culling of wild birds has been ruled out because experts fear this may disperse birds further."
    Reuters reports, "In the latest incident, no disease has been found in domestic birds and a surveillance programme is being carried out in the local wild bird population."

January 10 2008 ~ "If it means they have managed to recruit a better quality of senior management able to avoid some of the problems Defra has run into in the past, that might be money well spent."

    Michael Jack (EFRA Select Committee) is quoted in the Western Morning News on the subject of the big salaries (in excess of 100,000) to be paid to the top brass at DEFRA. Referring to the Department's RPA problems likely to result in fines totalling £292 million, he says:
      " ... if it's some of the people with errors on their hands just accumulating more money, farmers would rightly have something to say about that."
    It would be interesting to know which staff at DEFRA are considered to be worth paying such high salaries at a time of stringent cost cutting elsewhere. Richard Haddock is quoted (WMN) as saying " ... things have not got any better on the ground. Since the number of highly paid staff has rocketed, the service has definitely got worse."

January 9 2008 ~ "every MP must write to Hilary Benn imploring him to do the right and proper thing, because if he does not, then what is the point of having an Ombudsman?"

    UPDATE on the story below. The Ombudsman's report on the Swill feeders' dispute with Defra is now in the public domain. We have received an email from the National Co-ordinator of Associated Swill Users
      "....I now call upon all members of the ASU to go to their MPs with the document in hand pointing out that the Ombudsman has found in their favour ..."
    Read email in full and our report on the judgement at the time is below.

January 9 2008 ~ It's time - urgently - to revisit the swill feeding ban

    The UK dumps 6.7 million tonnes of domestic food a year according to last Sunday's Food Programme. There was a frosty and somewhat complacent response from Defra on the programme at the suggestion that it would be far safer if those trained and practised in converting waste food into swill were again licensed to do so. DEFRA asserted that the ban would stay in place and was anyway "based on veterinary advice." Unfortunately, that 'advice' was predicated on the assumption that foot and mouth virus had been present in the swill that the Waugh brothers fed to their pigs. Bobby Waugh did not process swill. He was only licensed to feed swill to pigs. He broke the rules about feeding - and no evidence of FMD was found at any other farms processing swill. If the swill at Waugh's farm had ever tested positive for FMD the Waugh brothers would almost certainly have been convicted of starting the 2001 epidemic. However, that charge was significantly absent when they were prosecuted for 'failing to report foot and mouth' and the origin of FMD 2001 is still not publically known (background). The swill-feeders, innocent of any wrongdoing, have not had the ban lifted nor been compensated (see below) for their loss. One of them, Robert Persey, writes:
      " ....I note Fred Landeg telling farmers to increase biosecurity. He should look at what his officers are condoning with regard to meat composting...A recent VLA report identified that crows had transferred botulism infected meat 200 metres from a heap of chicken muck to a group of 60 cattle...." ( The email makes other alarming observations)
    The irony is that under the guise of "health and safety", livelihoods have been ruined while lives are put at risk of potentially lethal disease.

January 8 2008 ~ "Who will rid us of this pestilent farming?"

    Defra has dropped the word 'farming' from its title. The Telegraph today reveals that
      "Defra and the Treasury's joint vision document of 2006 presented to the EU argued that supports for farming should be completely abandoned.."
    and the article reinforces the conviction in many minds that for the government, and for the Treasury in particular, farming is a drain on the country's finances and we are in a "post agricultural era". We can only repeat what we have already said today: at a time when oil industry executives themselves are admitting it isn't going to be easy to meet future world oil demand, and the globalised system that brings in cheap food is increasingly unsustainable, the values of local food production and of self sufficiency need urgently to be reconsidered. We need good farmers more than ever.

January 8 2008 ~ Could it be that the message is actually getting across?

    Last night's Channel 4 programme is being much commented upon and Farming Today is also covering the poultry industry at present.
    Who better than Mr Hilary Benn - a vegetarian - to be inspired by the work of such as Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall to push for a more ethical approach to the sentient animals reared for food. There are many politicians, whose short sightedness is perhaps due to the constant anxiety about re-election, who maintain that the UK is in a "post agricultural era". For them food production happens only on paper. But they might perhaps ask themselves if the people they serve are really to be happier, healthier and more self reliant if cheap food is all to be shipped in from abroad. The departing and arriving Chief Scientific Advisers' enthusiasm for a GM future notwithstanding, globalisation itself has its sell-by date. As we pass the 100 dollar a barrel oil price and oil industry executives themselves are admitting it isn't going to be easy to meet future world oil demand, the values of local food production and of self sufficiency need urgently to be reconsidered.

January 8 2008 ~ Enlisting the help of a rundown Council estate in Axminster

    The approach by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall included enlisting the help of a rundown Council estate in Axminster whose residents have agreed to clear some old allotments and raise some free range hens for eating. They have been given some of Hugh's layers for eggs. The community at Axminster - single mothers and men who seem not to be working - have suddenly found a sense of purpose - or so it appeared from the programme. They are also growing vegetables. It is the transformation of this community, as they clear the ground and put up fencing and roosting sites, which is a most fascinating and uplifting element of the campaign. Chicken Out

January 8 2008 ~ Fearnley-Whittingstall's experiment, dividing a shed into half free-range and half intensive poultry

    Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall was alerted to the disgrace of intensive production when he worked with an Essex maggot farmer who, for his maggots, collects truckloads of "farmed" birds who die in droves, crammed 19 together per square metre. In his programmes, the chef will be seen to cry - unable to face killing yet another ailing bird in the intensive shed. "I would count it a success if we got the 3%-4% that is currently free-range up to 20%," he says, aware how slowly things change. But it is a start. Already, the supermarkets who treated him with " typical corporate doorstepping, the prevarication and pretending to listen and the calling off of meetings at the last moment" are beginning to see that, although determinedly blind to the plight of the 95% of the chickens eaten in the UK, once people are alerted to the nasty truth, they will demand a decent method of production. Hugh's Chicken Run 8th and 9th January 2008, 9pm on Channel 4

January 6 2008 ~ Where there's muck...

    The Sunday Telegraph quotes from the Farmers Weekly article in which Prince Charles says: "There is also real potential to create renewable energy from farm waste... Perhaps what we need is a new farming model whereby farmers collaborate not just in the production of food, but also in the production of energy to supply their local community."

January 6 2008 ~ "Morally wrong" to treat poultry this way - and the Sunday Times adds three strong assenting voices in praise of the campaign

    There are also three articles on the same subject in the Sunday Times:
      “morally wrong” for animals to be raised in this way Leader"...the £2.50 table chicken. Thousands of chickens genetically designed to grow into full-size birds in just five weeks were huddled together. There were no windows or places to perch or bales of hay to peck..." More
      "....Sainsbury, Morrisons and the Co-op said this weekend that they would ban or phase out the sale of eggs from caged hens.." More
    The leading article concludes: "many who buy £2.50 chickens fill their baskets with expensive junk food. Paying a bit extra will result not only in better standards, but also better meat. It is a small price to pay to ensure that these creatures at least have a bearable, if short, existence.*

January 5 2008 ~ Persuading "the mighty supermarkets to reject the rock-bottom poultry that reek of a valueless life"

    Channel 4 this week is attempting to bring to the notice of decent people the unnecessary cruelty of intensive chicken production with the serious hope of putting pressure on supermarkets. And as an article in the Telegraph today says,
      "Three decades after Jane Grigson urged her readers to ask where their food had come from, Britons are at last beginning to care about these issues. And given that four giant companies - Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons - account for 75 per cent of grocery sales, it is easier to put pressure on them: increasing interest in ethical production and a growing acceptance of higher prices for "premium food" may yet force the mighty supermarkets to reject the rock-bottom poultry that reek of a valueless life."
    A short film on www.ciwf.org.uk shows just one of the farms supplying Sun Valley Foods. Please consider signing up to River Cottage's Chicken Out if you have not already done so. (On the food safety angle see also below).

January 4 2008 ~ Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) for F&M detection in the field.

    Pirbright researchers are now thought to be rather closer to producing Pirbright's own rapid diagnostic on-site test for Foot and Mouth. Unlike the lateral flow device, described this year as being "like the pregnancy test"- a non-validated device which gave results "in about an hour of samples from a farm getting into the laboratory", the LAMP device is said to support clinical diagnosis without waiting for laboratory results. Farmers Weekly today says that "a number of methods are at the prototype stage".
    While one welcomes news like this it is hard not to feel astonished that the UK feels it must reinvent the wheel.
    US developed RT-PCR kits the size of toasters are being successfully used in the field in former Soviet Bloc countries, and should have been our first line of defence in 2007. The cartridges are light and safely disposed of after use. Training is minimal - "as I know because my own training took five minutes," says Mary. Tests can be done simply on nose swabs of animals 2 or 3 days before they show any outward signs of disease and before virus can be identified by any other means. (More)
    (Even so, comparisons are not as simple as might first appear and any diagnostic test that prevents the unnecessary slaughter of uninfected animals must be commended whatever its origin. As we say above, we warmly welcome this news from the experts at Pirbright.)

January 4th 2008 ~ "Vigilance" plea repeated yet again

    Fred Landeg's repeated mantra of "vigilance" in his plea to farmers to "learn the lessons of 2007" might be considered somewhat worse than tactless in the circumstances when so many farmers are reeling from the Pirbright virus leak and the disastrously far-reaching effects of the attempts to cope with it. A campaign to push for full compensation may rumble on for months.
    Meanwhile, Hilary Benn's speech at the Oxford Farming Conference, according to the Farmers Guardian, "contained little new in terms of ideas or policy." It did, however, show a government pressing on against all the odds to insist on cost sharing.

January 4 2008 ~ The Arapawa goats win a reprieve until March

    The shooting of the goats on Arapawa Island in the Eastern part of the Marlborough Sound of New Zealand has been postponed. They were to have been exterminated in a 3 week-long shoot from helicopters next Monday.
    The desire of the Department of Conservation to preserve native NZ species at all costs can be understood - but it is very much to be hoped that their second thoughts in this case can be gratefully built upon.
    An extract from the book, "Flight of the Huia: Ecology and Conservation of New Zealand's Frogs, Reptiles, Birds and Mammals" by Kerry-Jane Wilson ( See www.fishpond.co.nz ) offers, if the DOC decides to remain adamant, a possible alternative to the plan to wipe out the animals:
      " Prior to extermination animals from some islands have been removed and taken into captivity on the mainland, thus preserving them for future use where appropriate."
    The veteran campaigner Betty Rowe of the Arapawa Wildlife Sanctuary who has spent 35 years protecting these rare goats, plans as a first step, to get an independent audit of the goat population. She writes in relief to say, "I plan to use the time wisely...the Department of Conservation have been working without any real idea about the numbers of animals. .. We only have until March to finally get a plan into place and the first step is to get an accurate count and then go from there."

January 3 2008 ~ GMOs "contribute negatively to poverty alleviation and food security"

    José Bové, the farmer hero to so many in France and elsewhere has launched an anti GM hunger strike today in Paris. (José Bové is the force behind the Confederation Paysanne, the 2nd largest farmers' union in France.) The majority opinion in France is that GMOs could harm humans and wildlife by triggering an uncontrolled spread of modified genes. The government has only suspended the commercial use of GM maize seeds reliant on the MON 810 technology until Feb. 9 by which time a new law allowing for GMO use is expected to have been passed.
    According to Reuters, senior government officials had said France would extend its ban beyond Feb. 9 and use the safeguard clause if doubts about safety lingered.

January 3 2008 ~ "quality balanced information on agricultural biotechnology"

    The FAO's Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture has now been running for over seven years with the aim of providing "quality ba lanced information on agricultural biotechnology in developing countries" and its statement can be read here. Genetic modification is not necessarily an all-or-nothing issue. One can be glad, for example, that human insulin is capable of being grown in GM yeast but still feel deep misgivings about a possible biotech monopoly of the food chain. Interesting then that a contributor to the FAO's Forum, Professor El-Tayeb, Ph.D.