"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
Archive June 2007
Current Front Page
June 25 2007 ~ ".... scientific experts must be accountable, not only to government ministers but also to other experts. To date, this has not occurred in the context of the 2001 epidemic. ..."
So said Kitching, Thrusfield and Taylor in their important paper "Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom".
We hear that Prof Sir Roy Anderson, after having been appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence in 2004 and then, last year, knighted, ( according to Imperial College news release "... for epidemiological research, studying the spread of infectious diseases such as AIDS, BSE, foot and mouth and SARS, and providing the government with advice on how to tackle them..."), has now been named the next Rector of Imperial College, London, and will take over next summer.
June 25 2007 ~ Thursday was the sixth anniversary of MAFF v Upton, the Grunty the Pig case
In a court case brought by MAFF during the Summer of Foot and Mouth, Mr Justice Harrison ruled that Grunty and 11 prized sheep at Rosemary Upton's farm had shown no sign of disease and that it was sufficient for them to be monitored. Grunty was nine days into the incubation period with no sign of infection. The ruling can be said to have taken away the Ministry's appetite to pursue owners of healthy animals condemned by the then illegal mass cull policy into the courts. It undoubtedly contributed to the notorious amending of the 1981 Animal Health Act to ensure that killing animals on the grounds of "animal health" would from then on be declared "lawful". The Bishop of Hereford, who described the new legislation as "harsh, unjust and untimely" was just one of many eminent voices raised against it; vets and farmers too were aghast - but, in spite of all attempts to tone it down, including its temporary defeat in the House of Lords, the Act was nodded through Parliament by MPs who arrived at the almost empty House just in time to vote and who had very little understanding of what they were doing.
June 25 2007 ~ " I am forced to take action myself....I have launched a claim against Devon and Cornwall Police and DEFRA officials in the Courts"
The inflexibility and ignorance of senior DEFRA figures has been deplored by many veterinary experts in animal disease, and yet their disproportionate power over farming continues. In 2001, many anguished people who tried to stand up against intimidation and unlawful killing of animals were often treated with discourtesy and even violence. (See here). The land agent involved in the Grunty case, Tom Griffith-Jones, was also involved in one of the most unpleasant instances of unnecessary and unlawful slaughter; this time of healthy alpacas belonging to his elderly clients. Evidence shows that camelids are not even susceptible to FMD - but they were summarily condemned. The extraordinary behaviour of both police and officialdom has never been properly examined. As Tom Griffith-Jones says of the 2001 FMD policy."
"... In the absence of a proper closure of this horror .. there is the inevitability that it will all occur all over again when the next outbreak of a foreign disease arrives. That may or may not be Foot and Mouth...Defra officials clearly wanted to pre-empt the role of the Courts to decide this issue. As I was an inconvenient obstruction to their unlawful intent, they enlisted the help of the police to remove me unlawfully, so that they could bully and intimidate my elderly and frail Clients..... the events at Helewood Farm were part of a much wider and more systematic pattern of behaviour."Impertinent and callous officialdom and the illegality of the 2001 cull are features of FMD control that the Government has attempted to airbrush away. We entirely sympathise with Mr Griffith Jones' continuing frustration with DEFRA and with his wish to protect others from what happened to him and to his clients. Press release
June 22 2007 ~ "This information could only be obtained at disproportionate cost..."
Yesterday, Peter Ainsworth asked (Hansard) what proportion of DEFRA's administration costs was spent on running public consultations in 2006-07 , how many civil servants in his Department worked on public consultations in the 2006-07 financial year; and how many public consultations his Department has undertaken since its institution. Barry Gardiner's answer was that there were one hundred and eight last year and that DEFRA had undertaken 581 public consultations since its inception in 2001.
With no apparent awareness of irony he added. ".... information is not held centrally about the number of civil servants in the Department who worked on public consultations in the last financial year. This information could only be obtained at disproportionate cost."
June 22 2007 ~ "...breeding for scrapie resistance has little or no impact on a number of commercial traits."
As we reported below in February, even Mr Bradshaw now reluctantly admits that the ram genotyping scheme - as many were warning from the start - is of no use and deserves no further funding. Today, the Farmers Guardian, in a very carefully worded article, does in its later paragraphs quote Kay Boulton of the Meat and Livestock Commission : "Preliminary results from extensive research suggests breeding for scrapie resistance has little or no impact on a number of commercial traits, most importantly muscle depth, growth from birth to slaughter and reasons for death or disposal from a flock."
See "Don't miss chance to have your say on scrapie plan" " ....breeders should take ownership of any future scheme and maximise the benefits of blood testing."
It is interesting that the NSA chief executive, Peter Morris, is so circumspect in what he says about the NSP - but it is surely unlikely that sheep farmers will fail to read between the lines.
See also scrapie pages
June 22 2007 ~ Fears expressed for the future of farming in the South West of England and other hotspot areas
Alistair Driver in the Farmers' Guardian today on the TB report by the Independent Scientific Group. He quotes ISG chairman John Bourne "The ISG conclude that rigidly applied control measures targeted at cattle can reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical spread" - but adds that John Bourne admitted that there was no cost-benefit analysis to back up the recommendations made in the report. Paul Griffith, Devon NFU county chairman, has warned of 'massive' illegal badger culling if the Government accepted the recommendations." More on bovine TB page, including the research done at Warwick on the rapid diagnostic testing to target setts that really are infected in order to avoid mass killing.
June 20 2007 ~ "a further sad fact about science in the UK and in some other countries that the scientists' career is largely dependent upon him or her not antagonising the wishes of the main source of his funding -
- government agencies or rich lobby groups. It would be easy to get a peer review of an article that was in favour of badgers, rather than cattle. Anyway, what scientist is going to stick his neck out to criticise a government appointed committee that has been deliberating for 10 years? He would have to live on Mars."
James Irvine, in his Land Care website, points the finger of common sense straight at what is going wrong in the relationship between science and politics. He does not refer only to the present controversy about control of TB in cattle when he describes "a very sad situation for both UK science and for UK animal health."
".....A clear example of this was seen in the mismanagement of the UK Foot and Mouth epidemic in 2001. The logical advice from those working with livestock was ignored in preference to that of scientists with no practical experience with livestock. The result was that the strategy that was established was based on flawed data. Epidemiological models with their persuasive but flawed graphs, so convincingly displayed by Professor Roy Anderson and his colleagues ruled the day (5). Millions of livestock were unnecessarily slaughtered. Available science was ignored. ..."The article should be read in full at land-care.org.uk.
June 19 2007 ~DEFRA had "taken a sledgehammer to crack the wrong nut" says Judge, but only DEFRA's one-sided version is picked up by journalists
In a dramatic summing up that should have been splashed across front pages last week, a Senior Crown Court Judge called for an inquiry against DEFRA . On June 13th, at the end of a case brought by DEFRA against an independent importer of chemicals, the judge said that DEFRA, through its agent the Pesticides Safety Directorate, had "unwittingly or wittingly collaborated with chemical companies to maintain a cartel". (See news release from Hill Dickinson.)
His Honour Judge Onions also recommended that a report should be sent to the Competition Commission.
John Rawlings had been accused of bringing pesticides into the UK from Italy and the Netherlands in breach of Defra controls. Elsewhere in the EU such chemicals are permitted and the products produced with their help are legally imported into the UK.
However, what is particularly alarming about this case is the less than frank version given by DEFRA on the Government News Network. Nowhere does it mention that, found technically guilty on only three of the 14 counts, the defendant had been ordered to pay only 20% of DEFRA's costs. Nor does it mention that the judge had castigated the Department after an eight day case costing the taxpayer £10,000 a day, nor that he, in exasperation, had even threatened to "witness summons the Minister" for 10.00 a.m. the following morning if DEFRA continued to prevaricate.
DEFRA's wholly one-sided version, also posted on the Pesticides Safety Directorate website, blackens the name of John Rawlings while adopting a sanctimonious tone that threatens farmers, if they obtain products not "approved for use in the UK as part of their good agricultural practice", with losing part of their Single Farm Payment (whereupon it disappears, presumably into the PSD itself since Objective 4 of their 16 page 'business plan' is "To ... recover the full cost of our operations from the industry " and to " contribute to the government's efficiency agenda." ) Other news agencies, including www.farminguk.com and one (media.netpr.pl) even as far away as Poland, faithfully reproduce, word for word, the DEFRA version. Yet Judge Onions had said he would be writing to Kerr Wilson, the Chief Executive of the Pesticides Safety Directorate, asking why the prosecution had been brought and what lessons PSD and Defra had learned from the case. And he said he expected an answer within 21 days.
Update June 20th. It is pleasing to see that the real story is now on Farmers Weekly online. (Incredibly, Defra is reported as saying that Judge Onions' comments were "irrelevant" to the PSD and Defra.)
Update July 9 - 14 2007 ~Private Eye takes up the story. (As Muckspreader rightly says, "don't worry if you have a bias against pesticides, that's not the point of the story.")
".... True to form, when Defra and the PSD came to report the case on their websites, they left out everything remotely detrimental to their case, including the fact that the taxpayers were being left to foot most of Defra's £42,500 bill. They presented it as if they had won a glorious victory and reminded farmers that it was a criminal offence to use pesticides not approved by the PSD, for which they could lose their EU subsidies. The chances of Defra doing anything to end the illegal cartel seem remote. After all, it is not long since Defra helped to cover up the disaster inflicted on thousands of sheep farmers by their use of OP sheep dips, which of course were manufactured by its pharmaceutical friends." Read in fullThe version of the story reported in Farmers Weekly, shortly after our own, quoted a Defra spokesman as saying that Judge Onions' comments were "irrelevant" to the PSD and Defra. Such a comment is either a worryingly impertinent snub to Judge Onions or yet another example of DEFRA's apparent difficulty with understanding and writing the English language . Judge Onions' demanded an inquiry into why the prosecution had been brought and what lessons PSD and Defra had learned from the case. One wonders whether, since the 21 days allowed are now nearly up, the judge has received an answer.
June 18 2007 ~ "Agflation" - a warning
The article in today's Independent by Andreas Whittam Smith warns : "Already food costs are rising at 6 per cent per annum, twice as fast as the cost of living. ... there is worse to come." Not even dairy farmers will be able to take comfort from this. The big exception for producers remains fresh milk
"........ It is impossible to find any wholesale milk prices even though dairy farming is Britain's most important agricultural activity.......... The thing you notice is the sharp contrast between what a food giant like Nestlé is saying - "the global cost of milk is rising so fast that it is impossible to raise shelf prices fast enough to match " - and what British farmers find; persistent low prices. ..."Using food crops as a source of energy in place of oil, gas and coal to supply the so-called biofuel industry may turn out to be a grim mistake. David Strahan sums up the case against biofuels in his new book The Last Oil Shock when he writes that they offer the prospect of "starving to death in a traffic jam". Food prices are rising fast. DEFRA's actions point to its assumption that the UK is now in a "post agricultural era" and it may soon be too late to wake up from this political fantasy.
As Professor James Lovelock says in The Revenge of Gaia: "... Unfortunately our nation is now so urbanised as to be like a large city and we have only a small acreage of agriculture and forestry. We are dependent on the trading world for sustenance; climate change will deny us regular supplies of food and fuel from overseas.. we can not rely on supplies from abroad..."
The UK now imports 40% of our food (it was 15% in 1983). Dwindling available energy supplies (see peak oil) - and the increasing demands of China and India for the high protein diet their forefathers never had are leading us into the very situation Lovelock describes - and even climate change is almost irrelevant here. When food becomes prohibitively expensive localized growing will be the only option we have. ( When Malthus first warned of the overpopulation of the Earth in 1800, there were only one billion people. Today, it stands at 6.3 billion. By 2025, it is forecast to be 8 billion, and by 2050, 9.8 billion.)
June 17 2007 ~ Scientists rule out return to badger culls
Observer ".... Environment Secretary David Miliband is expected to accept the recommendations, and make it clear that culling will not be reintroduced into Britain......" More on Bovine TB page
June 16 2007 ~ " It would be an absolute crime to put that animal down...."
A prominent member of the International Zoo Veterinary Group, David Taylor, who has examined Shambo and his quarantine arrangements at the Skanda Vale temple, is quoted in icwales: "The risk to the public or to the Welsh cattle farming community is less than zero."
Spokesmen for the opposition parties in the Welsh Assembly have called on new Welsh rural development minister, Jane Davidson, to give the order for Shambo to be culled. Something of a relief then, to see an expert comment on the case and remind people of the true nature of the "risk". See Shambo latest
June 15 2007 ~ The UK Government is still resisting the sensible amendments of the EU on BSE cohorts
Regulation (EC) No.1923/2006 allows Member States to permit the use of BSE cohorts until the end of their productive lives following such a request from a Member State. Permission is dependent upon a favourable risk assessment taking into account the control measures in that Member State. The TSE Roadmap http://ec.europa.eu/food/food/biosafety/bse/roadmap_en.pdf
Point 2.6 :The answer (Hansard) given yesterday by Ben Bradshaw does not answer the question from David Drew about the "scientific rationale" behind the culling of cohorts.
".... The derogation to defer the culling would be the Member States' decision. This relaxation would not endanger the current level of consumer protection. A relaxation would not only reduce the economical impact but also the social consequences following the complete destruction of the cohorts being often one of the main reasons to object to the culling policy.
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the scientific rationale is for continuing to cull bovine spongiform encephalopathy cohort cattle.How much scientific rationale (as opposed to financial and political consideration) underpins the Veterinary Risk assessment (pdf new window) may be seen by reading the relevant pages. Indeed, the conclusions of the "risk assessment" seem to be driven more by considerations of "additional expense" and trying to prop up confidence in the government's policy (or "consumer confidence in UK beef") than on scientific veterinary risk assessment. One wonders if Ben Bradshaw has actually read any of the relevant documents in full or questioned the answers DEFRA gives him on such important issues.
Mr. Bradshaw: A Veterinary Risk Assessment (VRA), published on 21 May 2007, concluded that culling cohorts of cattle affected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) as soon as possible:
- supports the Government's challenging target of eradicating BSE in Great Britain by 2010;
- promotes consumer confidence in UK beef; and
- avoids the need for expensive additional control measures to monitor cohorts."
15 June 2007 ~ ... the murky world of international trafficking, animal cruelty, black magic and even cannibalism..."
Aura Sabadus' article can be read in full on the illegal meat pages Extract:
..... Sophie Leney, assistant head of the county's Trading Standards Agency tried to allay fears, claiming the trade was not a "big issue" in Norfolk. She insisted the body was involved in carrying out traceability checks on meat products whose origins may not be clearly stated on labels. A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs explained: "We continue to recognise that we can only tackle the illegal imports with a combined effort across all relevant government departments and enforcement agencies and by raising public awareness and understanding the risks."Professor Hugh Pennington is quoted in the article
But speaking from London, Dr Teinaz is not convinced. "Unless there are more environmental health officers to enforce the law and to produce a co-ordinated approach to tackling food crime, Britain will remain exposed to all sorts of diseases and the Government could be accused of indirectly allowing this to happen," he concluded.
".... Consumers are exposed to some health risks that they are not used to. The trade involves some products that are not subject to any proper checks and there is the important issue of detecting the products as well as finding the right evidence to stand the cases up in court."
15 June 2007 ~ The Tenant Farmers Association has rejected Defra's latest plans on animal health and welfare policy
According to the Farmers' Guardian the chairman of the Tenant Farmers Association, Reg Haydon,
" believes the consultation document start with completely the wrong assumption that costs are not already shared between the Government and industry. Speaking at the Royal Cornwall Show, he said:Dr Roger Breeze's paper on the same subject of cost sharing is well worth reading: ".... Industry cannot negotiate meaningfully if its "negotiation" comments are only responses to proposals and goals of the government...." and he proposes that the government should meet agreed "Performance Benchmarks" if farmers share costs for a responsibility retained by the government.
"The costs of complying with regulations, regular testing, under-compensation for animals taken for disease control purposes and consequential loss are all borne by the industry but do not appear to be recognised by Defra. Any policy must start from the reality that there is already significant cost sharing between Government and industry and that applying further costs on the industry is not justified."
13 June 2007 ~ "We are committed to learning any lessons," says Ben Bradshaw
Yesterday, Mr Bradshaw gave a written Ministerial statement on "events since the recent case of low pathogenic avian influenza near Corwen in North Wales". He said, "..... The WAG (Welsh Assembly Government) intend to lift the restricted zone around the infected premises in Corwen on 15 June which is the required period of 21 days following the completion of preliminary cleansing and disinfection. Once we have completed our tracings and testing, we intend to publish an epidemiological report into the origins of this disease in the next month. We are also conducting a lessons learned exercise which we hope to publish in September. We are committed to learning any lessons...." Hansard.
13 June 2007 ~ "I think we had to wait too long for the results."
The suspected case of bird flu or Newcastle Disease in Chard has been given the all-clear. We reported below that the results were due on May 31st. The wait has seemed interminable to those directly concerned. The local paper quotes the mother of the owner of the suspected premises. The page on rapid diagnosis quotes John Crowther of the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme's Animal Production and Health section on the subject of rapid diagnosis:
"The genius here is that such mobile testers can be used by anyone, with the most basic training. Even farmers could do a test and the result could immediately be processed back to a central point, like a mobile phone message. Within two years, such tests could revolutionize disease diagnosis. Ultimately the tests would be done locally by people in their own countries, making schemes much more efficient in everything including speed, costs and local knowledge."It remains to be seen when such technology, available for at least six years and used extensively by the military, will be part of our own routine armoury against animal disease.
12/ 13 June 2007 ~Rapid diagnosis via automated multiplexing platform: "we have always known that the platform's flexibility confers benefit in other markets, such as veterinary diagnostics and the monitoring of bioterror threats such as foot and mouth"
A news release from Nanogen, Inc reports on new funding and "collaborative agreement" with Canadian agencies which include the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA)
".... The purpose of the funding and collaborative agreement is to develop diagnostic tools for the detection of natural or potential bioterror threats to livestock, such as foot and mouth disease and avian flu, employing the company's NanoChip® platform ... The NanoChip® 400 is the company's second generation automated multiplexing platform....the system provides a simple, fast and cost effective means for performing molecular testing.."( Thanks for news of this link to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis )
12 June 2007 ~ More coverage of EFSA's positive conclusions about bird flu vaccines
On June 6th warmwell reported on the European Food Safety Authority's opinion on currently available avian accines that
"the AI vaccines meet quality standards and are safe and effective in vaccination against AI in domestic flocks in Europe......The Panel recommended the implementation of good AI vaccination practices using safe and effective EU authorized vaccines when required by the epidemiological situation but also added that their use should be defined in advance of any potential direct AI threat..."We are grateful to Pat Gardiner for the link to an article at cordis.europa.eu published today, which comments: "as new scientific developments and vaccination data become available, vaccination is moving more and more to the forefront as a complementary tool to control and prevent the propagation of the disease."
No mention in the article of the "nonsense" we have heard recently. One reader's MP, Steve Webb, had a letter in May from Ben Bradshaw which was still saying vaccination of birds increases the risk of spreading infection. It is a relief that EFSA is putting the record straight at last.
12 June 2007 ~ A "protecting virus" used to protect from new flu strains
See Farmers' Weekly on the work of Professor Nigel Dimmock at the University of Warwick "....Prof Dimmock's new approach developed over the last 20 years overcomes this by using an entirely new method, that uses a 'protecting virus'. This virus contains genetic material that has been altered, rendering the virus harmless and unable to spread like a normal flu virus. If it is joined in the cell by another influenza virus, it starts to reproduce at a much faster rate than the new influenza virus. This fast reproduction rate - spurred by the new flu infection - means that the new invading influenza is effectively crowded out by the 'protecting virus'. Prof Dimmock explains that this slows the progress of the new infection, prevents flu symptoms and gives the body time to develop an immune response to the harmful new invader. ..."
12 June 2007 ~ "diagnostic equipment that can be used in the field and sensitive enough to detect virus in pre-clinical cases"
Over two years ago, concern was expressed by the Royal Society's Infectious Disease in Livestock Inquiry Follow-Up Review about progress after the 2001 foot and mouth disaster. Issues that were considered " fundamental work" included :
The review, published in December 2004, said that the crucial challenge for Defra was to ensure that it has "brought together the many strands of its work on infectious diseases in livestock into a coherent structure".
- ... The surveillance arrangements.
- The arrangements for active Parliamentary scrutiny of the contingency plans, possibly by the Environment, Food and Rural Affair Select Committee.
- The arrangements for a wider interim review of arrangements for handling infectious diseases in livestock.
- The capture and handling of data during an outbreak.
- The completion of the various projects analysing the data from the 2001 outbreak and other research to inform the decision making process on whether pre-emptive action beyond the culling of infected premises and dangerous contacts is required to control the outbreak.
- The structure of technical input into the handling of an outbreak of an infectious disease.
- Further action to ensure that emergency vaccination is a viable option for pre-emptive action, including the validation of Non Structural Protein (NSP) tests and a better understanding of the implications of vaccination by all stakeholders.
- The development of portable RT-PCR diagnostic equipment that can be used in the field and sensitive enough to detect virus in pre-clinical cases.
- The need to ensure that animal health research is given the support it requires and is co-ordinated with support provided by research councils.
- Training, especially of farm workers and an increase in the overall number of large animal veterinarians.
12 June 2007 ~ "The lack of a centralised, riskbased sampling and monitoring plan has compromised the import control system..."
Whether or not the disaster of foot and mouth in 2001 was caused by imports, concerns about the effectiveness of import controls have been voiced ever since. The outbreak of H5N1 at the Bernard Matthews plant in Holton also "posed questions about import controls" to many, including Richard MacDonald, of the National Farmers' Union (BBC). The report published in March this year, by the EU's Food and Veterinary Office inspectors ( pdf report), found that in the UK, "the level of official supervision and control in the application of the veterinary legislation covering intra-Community trade" in live farm animals and animal products was inadequate, " leaving the increased potential for entry into free circulation of consignments which do not comply with EU requirements."
This month, an article in the current Veterinary Record (June 9, 2007) describes the FVO report's conclusion that there were
"shortcomings in the performance of veterinary checks and the veterinary decision on the consignment to lack of clear guidance and training of Border Inspection Post staff..." These shortcomings were "potentially serious".Read article in full
The FVO recommended that the UK should " review the transposition of Art. 4 of Directive 91/496/EEC regarding the requirement to check all live animals entering from third countries at a BIP. To also review the implementing measures for Art. 3 of Regulation (EC) No 282/2004 regarding the authorisation to issue CVEDs, and the implementing measures for Art. 5 of Decision 97/794/EC regarding the physical checks on live animals." When the risk of animal disease and zoonoses is now so great, and when the government is so voluble on the subject of other people's "biosecurity", its own progress in some of the areas above might be thought worryingly slow.
12 June 2007 ~ "Cattle are killed anyway"
Trevor Lawson of the Badger Trust on BBC Radio 4 Farming Today on June 9th. It is all too reminiscent of the excuses during 2001 for the mass killing of animals - forgetting that the majority of these animals were healthy and very many were irreplaceable breeding stock or even pets. As an emailer writes today,"We hear depressing echoes of the deafening silence from the animal rights 'agencies' during Defra's FMD carnage, excused by the self righteous air brushing of cattle as sentinel beings, because 'they will ultimately be slaughtered'. What sort of animal lovers are these people for goodness sake?" It may perhaps be remembered that the 650000 Iraqi men, women and children estimated last July by the Lancet to have been killed by the chaos in Iraq "would have died anyway" too. Not much comfort.
12 June 2007 ~ Bluetongue has re-emerged in Germany, according to the UK's Institute for Animal Health
BBC DEFRA's "Update on European situation - stakeholder note" can be read on their website "....The 1st new case of this year  has been reported in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany (within existing restricted area). A cattle sentinel herd was tested throughout April and May 2007, and serological tests indicate that one of the animals became infected in this season. This may suggest that virus is once again circulating in that region. Defra continues to monitor the situation...."
11 June 2007 ~ Talk of vaccine supplies when the disease arrives is of little help - Fogging of poultry houses costs around 15p/bird annually and yet it is deadly to the H5N1 virus
Last July, we reported on Nvirox and other bioflavonoid based products whose "....active ingredient has been tested independently by DEFRA and found to be effective against viruses such as those causing Avian Influenza and Newcastle disease..."
A Powerpoint presentation on Nvirox can be viewed here According to the (English) manufacturers, Nvirox ingredients, mainly extracted from bitter oranges during flavour manufacture, are compliant with regulations EU 2092/91. It has no harmful allergic effects and can be bought in 250ml, 1litre, 5litre and 20litre quantities. It should be used at a 2-3% dilution with water at least weekly and preferably 3 times weekly It is "safe for personnel and stock to be present without protection" - and yet it is deadly to the H5N1 virus
Fogging poultry houses costs around 15p/bird annually
June 8 2007 ~ Farmers kept in the dark over new case of Bluetongue
We hear from a trusted source that there has been confirmation of the first "new" case of Bluetongue in Germany. The farmer writes, "Although this has not been published yet I have learned Brussels and the MS have been briefed already. Why don't they tell our farmers who should in the first place have a right to know? ...."
June 8 2007 ~ The TRACES (TRAde Control and Expert System) database was " not currently functional" on June 6th
See Hansard. Information Technology in Government is not impressive. When the TRACES electronic database indicated that there were no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK in the early months of 2007, DEFRA relied on this erroneous information to assert that the possibility of the introduction of H5N1 from Hungary to the UK via legal trade before and after this outbreak was "negligible" As we say below, we understand that TRACES is regarded as "hopeless" in Holland and that the Dutch government does not work with it. Neither David Miliband nor Lord Rooker referred to the Hungarian imports at the start of the Bernard Matthews scare. (See letter from Peter Ainsworth to David Miliband.) Did these DEFRA Ministers not know about the imports? Were they not told or did the Department really not know? Was the omission deliberate? With such uncertainty about the level of knowledge and expertise it is hardly surprising that faith in the competence of those who formulate policies is low.
June 8 2007 ~ Not all over. More H7N2 bird flu confirmed after Chelford market.
DEFRA says that a small non-commercial smallholding in St Helen's (Merseyside) has tested positive during the extensive tracings activity for the low pathegenic strain of avian flu after the Corwen Farm, Conwy outbreak. Although it is a low risk disease and is not thought to be a threat to human health, all the birds there will be killed whether or not they have become infected. See DEFRA website
" The 1km zone restricts the movement of poultry and eggs, additional biosecurity measures must be taken and gatherings can only take place under licence from Animal Health. No national ban on bird gatherings will be put in place. Poultry keepers within the zone will not be asked to house their birds. However, good biosecurity measures are encouraged." " Birds at the holding were purchased from the same market held in Chelford on Monday 7th May associated with the recent outbreak of H7N2 low pathogenic avian influenza in Conwy, North Wales."
June 8 2007 ~ Opposition parties in the Welsh Assembly seem to want Jane Davidson, the new Welsh rural development minister, to give the order for Shambo to be killed
However, according to the BBC a Welsh Assembly statement says: "It is important to emphasise that the legal context for this case is complex and many issues have to be taken into account. In assessing this case the Welsh Assembly Government is required to consider and comply with the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects the right to freedom of religion. ..... There is currently no timetable for the slaughter of the bullock, though the slaughter notice remains in force." The BBC report concludes, "According to temple spokesman Brother Michael, a vet has visited Shambo and declared him to be in excellent health."
June 7 2007 ~ Indonesia's fear about possible mutation of the H5N1 virus has been countered by WHO's statement that they have 'seen no evidence' of this. Not surprising....
We read in CIDRAP "Wayan Teguh Wibawan, a microbiologist from Indonesia's avian flu commission, told Reuters that the suspicions are based on preliminary results of genetic tests at laboratories in Indonesia. The amino acid structure of poultry H5N1 samples is becoming increasingly similar to that seen in human H5N1 samples." (See also Reuters report)
The World Health Organisation, however, told Reuters that the WHO has not seen any evidence that the virus has become more transmissible to humans. But, as we report below, it will be remembered that Indonesia's decision between December and mid May was to withhold human bird flu virus samples from the World Health Organization. There have now been 79 human deaths from H5N1 in Indonesia and they wanted a promise from WHO that any new specimens sent would not be used (without the country's consent) in the production of commercial vaccines - likely to be too expensive for Indonesia to buy. The Lancet defended Indonesia's approach and said the World Health Organization must find a way to help poorer countries benefit more from medical research done by rich companies.
The WHO's new resolution (See article at CIDRAP for May 23) would appear to give no such undertaking. It expects that vaccine makers "should have full access to viruses from the WHO during a public health emergency". Indonesia has sent three samples since the middle of May. (Update June 8th on www.news.com.au
June 7 2007 ~"..the origin of the H7N2 avian influenza virus that initiated the outbreak in poultry in north Wales has not yet been traced further back than the market."
Health officials say that the outbreak of H7N2 has ended. The Shropshire Star reports
"The announcement was made yesterday nearly two weeks after the disease was discovered at a farm near Corwen....Dr Marion Lyons "The risk to the health of the general public was low."But, as the ProMed moderator points out, "...The outbreak of human disease may have ended, but the origin of the H7N2 avian influenza virus that initiated the outbreak in poultry in north Wales has not yet been traced further back than the market, where the diseased birds were purchased."
Dr Ruth Watkins says in her recent email , "I hope the investigation of the small flock at the infected holding was thorough as they might be able to answer the question of whether the virus was already present there or not. It is possible that influenza viruses from wild birds infect small free range flocks, the infected birds do not become noticeably ill and the infection dies out coming to a dead end in the small flock..." - reminding us that healthy free range flocks can be less susceptible to disease with low pathogenicity influenza virus. It will be remembered that we are no nearer knowing the source of the 2001 FMD outbreak, and the source of the H5N1 outbreak at Holton has not yet been traced either. At least theEFSA press release mentioned below suggests that "the implementation of good AI vaccination practices" is at last being seriously talked about.
June 6 2007 ~ Avian Influenza " AI vaccines meet quality standards and are safe and effective in vaccination against AI in domestic flocks in Europe." EFSA.
EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) has produced an opinion on currently available avian influenza (AI) vaccines for poultry, such as chickens and ducks. According to the Panel's experts,
"the AI vaccines meet quality standards and are safe and effective in vaccination against AI in domestic flocks in Europe......The Panel recommended the implementation of good AI vaccination practices using safe and effective EU authorized vaccines when required by the epidemiological situation but also added that their use should be defined in advance of any potential direct AI threat. In terms of any potential human health impact of the animal vaccines, the Panel noted that the use of authorized EU vaccines is safe and has no negative effect on poultry products for consumers..... According to the Panel, in order to be able to differentiate between vaccinated birds and those that are infected by a field virus, the DIVA strategy, combined with the use of sentinel birds in order to detect possible AI transmission after vaccination, must be employed to allow the detection of a possibly circulating field strain. However, more research and (field) validation are required to optimise the DIVA strategy."See EFSA press release today.
June 5 2007 ~ "There are many Ministers who will not envy what will, no doubt, be one of Mrs Davidson's first jobs, and that is dealing with the issue of the TB-infected Skanda Vale bullock..."
It is odd that someone of the stature of Gareth Vaughan, president of the Farmers' Union of Wales, should - in such a peremptory tone in the Western Mail today - both assume and assert that Shambo is definitely "infected" and add to the voices calling for his death. All visual evidence suggests that the bullock is very healthy indeed. The test which DEFRA used to condemn him is erratic in its accuracy. The FUW might more helpfully be calling for better testing under the supervision of experts - but Mr Vaughan writes," I have made the position of the FUW clear. We expect the animal concerned to be treated as any other would under domestic and EC law, in order to minimise all risk of bovine TB transmission. If the law is not upheld in this case, it will undermine the credibility of the entire TB control regime."
Many would argue that the credibility of the "entire TB control regime" is already in tatters. Trying to force the issue at Skanda Vale seems an illogical way to proceed. Killing a bullock, kept in isolation, is hardly going to " minimise all risk of bovine TB transmission." Mr Vaughan simply wants him to be killed so that other human victims of the policy feel better.
June 5 2007 ~ Bovine TB - the whole system needs an overhaul from people on the ground (not the centre of London) who know what they are doing - but it seems that farmers are on their own
Few would argue that, with the UK now sustaining one of the highest incidences of TB in the EU (EU data), there needs one of the highest incidences of TB in the EU (EU data), there needs to be a radical rethink - with the re-thinking done preferably by those with some knowledge of the subject and of the technology now available to help. The bovinetb.blogspot comments that "Realistic 'supervision' can only come from the experienced Wildlife team operatives, operating out of Aston Down in Glos., and Polwhele in Cornwall and under direction from local AHO offices" but that last spring Defra,
"...sacked most of the Wildlife teams capable of operating or even overseeing such a policy. Hence the veiled comment in the Times report, (aka John Bourne?) that any such policy would "involve significant cost to the farming industry". We read this that 'farmers' are on their own. And if they succeed then government will say it was preMT (Pre movement testing) wot did it. But if they fail ... well it'll be all our fault. Either way 'government' look to be on the point of handing over to individual farmers via a licensing system, control of a serious, notifiable zoonotic disease - the first country in the western world to do so.Mrs Jane Davidson, the new Welsh Minister for Sustainability and Rural Development, will have to be an expert in "multi-tasking". Her brief includes climate change, sustainable development, environment, energy and planning in addition to everything to do with agriculture. Rather a plateful for a former Education and Lifelong Learning Minster.
And we call that a shameful abdication of responsibility."
June 5 2007 ~ WHO report on H7N2 in Wales
"Following the confirmation on 25 May 2007 by Health Authorities of the United Kingdom, of influenza A/H7N2 virus infection in four individuals (two in Wales and two in north-west England) exposed to infected poultry at smallholding, Corwen Farm, Conwy, Wales, the National Public Health Service (NPHS) for Wales is continuing with the investigation of the incident and with the implementation of public health measures. For more information .."
June 4 2007 ~ "hundreds of independent farm stores are springing up, seeking to provide an alternative and cash in on shoppers' desire to be closer to the land.."
Reuters "..."The prices of locally sourced products tend to be slightly higher than imported products, but being able to tell the provenance of food is important to consumers today," said Andrew Richards, senior policy advisor at the National Farmers' Union. "And when you twin that with the need to combat climate change, then you have a case for a local food store that cuts food miles and supports local farmers."
June 4 2007 ~ H7N2 " ... I think the authorities have behaved well over this H7N2 outbreak, the measures taken were proportionate."
An email from Dr Ruth Watkins (farmer and virologist) defends DEFRA's handling of the H7N2 outbreak. She has some interesting points to make:
".. the period between purchase and slaughter was 7 to 24 of May so that is 17 days. It reflects badly on farming that the man selling the birds has not come forward, but perhaps he was not a farmer.More
I have seen people buying chickens out of cardboard boxes for instance at the Royal Welsh when a known poultry breeder is exhibiting and brings extra stock to sell. Of course, who they were would be known.
I think the authorities have behaved well over this H7N2 outbreak; the measures taken were proportionate. It always takes a little longer to get a negative result as on the second holding that had a connection with the market, as culture would be done as well as RT-PCR.
I hope the investigation of the small flock at the infected holding was thorough - as they might be able to answer the question of whether the virus was already present there or not.
It is possible that influenza viruses from wild birds infect small free range flocks, (but) the infected birds do not become noticeably ill and the infection dies out coming to a dead end in the small flock.
One would never know of its presence unless susceptible birds that developed disease were brought in- the Rhode Island Reds could have been in fairly poor condition and have been more susceptible to disease with the low pathogenicity influenza virus (rather reminiscent of Norfolk when it was the intensively reared birds that became ill - not the free range flock) As far as I can gather it is the brought in birds that were unwell and not the resident birds on the small holding."
June 4 2007 ~ " It is hoped that as these vaccines are rolled out around the world, that at last this damaging disease can be brought under control."
PMWS is now endemic in UK pigs. We hear from Mike Meredith http://www.pighealth.com of a significant breakthrough in control of the PMWS (Post-weaning Multisystemic Wasting Syndrome (aka PCVAD - "Porcine Circovirus Associated Disease"). The recent 2007 American Association of Swine Practitioners (AASP) meeting revealed that new porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV2) vaccines have an outstanding protective effect on reducing mortality associated with the disease.
Full review papers of these new developments, illustrated with photographs & graphs, are available now on the Octagon Services website: http://www.octagon-services.co.uk/articles/PCV2control.htm (opens in new window) and http://www.octagon-services.co.uk/articles/PCVAD.htm (new window)
"The reduction of viraemia, both in percentage of pigs affected and in viraemic levels, following vaccination were highlighted in the papers given at the AASV conference....When an animal/man is infected by that organism and the disease is caused, the proof is termed fulfilling 'Koch's postulates'. Now, the N. Americans have demonstrated a 'converse postulate', by using a vaccine against an organism and preventing the disease developing. It is hoped that as these vaccines are rolled out around the world, that at last this damaging disease can be brought under control."
June 4 2007 ~ Mass cull of badgers - healthy or not - could now be on the cards
The Telegraph reports that "Ministers are considering lifting the ban following a report by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, to be published on June 15, which will conclude that a mass cull over a large area could help." David Miliband is said to be in favour even though he recognises that "the public may be outraged". We see once again, as in the Shambo case, the polarised positions taken by those who are sick and tired of doing their best to protect their cows while the disease rages unchecked in wildlife - and those who understandably hate the prospect of the mass killing of a mammal who has always seemed so attractive to non-farmers.
However, there is a vaccine that has been shown to work. See below. and we are left once again wondering why - if the trials are successful and the vaccine found to be safe and effective - it has to "take at least 5 years before the vaccine could be administered to the general badger population outside the lab through microcapsules mixed with peanuts."
There are also rapid on-site diagnostic tests to determine whether badger setts are infected or not. See press release from Warwick university "without technology such as this its is very difficult to differentiate "clean" setts containing uninfected badgers from "problem setts" containing infected badgers."
Until it can be adequately explained why neither of these options is being used in the UK we will remain baffled. The irreconcilable positions of the pro- and anti- cull camps look set to continue - as does the spread of bovine TB.
June 3 2007 ~ "The new product is the first FMD vaccine produced in the U.S....it could allow the federal government to plan a strategic stockpile in case of an outbreak".
Like the UK, the US has been reluctant to make vaccination part of any prevention policy for foot and mouth. Now we read at www.heartlandcoop.com that a new vaccine, developed in the US by "Agricultural Research Service scientists, the Department of Homeland Security, and a U.S. biopharmaceutical company", is "proving effective in tests" on cattle and pigs, apparently showing effectiveness within seven days. Immunity is retained for at least 21 days and scientists expect that "more studies will shows at least the six months of immunity provided by current vaccines in cattle and swine."
ARS Administrator Edward B. Knipling is quoted: ""This signals tremendous promise. Although this is still an experimental vaccine, it has made significant developmental progress, and we are optimistic about its prospects."
See fuller report this morning (Sunday) at www.fmd-and-csf-action.org (new window)
June 3 2007 ~ "The results were due yesterday, (Thursday, May 31) but are now expected on Monday."
The suspected outbreak of bird flu or Newcastle disease in Chard is reported in Chard Minster News DEFRA is reported to have said that the long delay in diagnosis is " because laboratory officials are still stretched by a confirmed outbreak of bird flu in North Wales."
The owner concerned said "I've got about 20 hens in isolation in a barn. They are showing respiratory distress - coughing and sneezing - but they are not sick enough to be put down."
In an emergency, a wait of more than five days to diagnose disease could well be catastrophic. DEFRA policy is that until test results are available no restrictions are placed on the movement of people or animals to and from suspected premises. A DEFRA spokesman is reported as saying, "We carry out about 20 tests for suspected avian flu in the Somerset area every year. At this stage, there is nothing to raise concerns."
Those who cannot understand why rapid diagnostic equipment is not being used in the UK might not agree that there is nothing here to "raise concerns". (See also below)
June 3 2007 ~ "the basic flaw of not calculating the effects of wind on GM pollen..."
June 2 2007 ~ Bovine TB: "while we do everything to minimise the risk on our farm from cattle-to-cattle contamination, nothing is being done to eradicate the spread from wildlife to cattle.."
Yesterday's Stackyard article is sobering. So is an email from yet another closed herd farm yesterday: "....We've just gone down with TB which we are disputing after 2 inconclusives followed by a positive blood test. ... If we do turn out to have TB then this will be yet another case of a closed herd coming into contact with badgers." The Stackyard article emphasises the suffering incurred by the whole herd - and by the badgers themselves.
(Harrowing pictures below also show the real misery of TB in badgers.)
On the subject of recent badger vaccine trials, we are left once again wondering why - if the trials are successful and the vaccine found to be safe and effective - it has to "take at least 5 years before the vaccine could be administered to the general badger population outside the lab through microcapsules mixed with peanuts." Why so long when the situation is so desperate? (More today on bovine TB page)
A leaked email publicised by the Daily Mail on May 29th does make one wonder whether there could be some truth in Sean Poulter's article "The secret plans to turn us all vegetarian". Meanwhile, the voices raised from justifiably angry farmers for the death of the bullock Shambo might be more usefully raised in demands for a humane UK animal health policy - one that stops dragging its feet over available vaccination and, in the case of TB, the accurate testing of badger setts, so that a solution need not involve the random killing of healthy animals.
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