"Silence of the lambs, calves, sheep, cattle and mathematicians"An article to his fellow vets in the Veterinary Times, March 2006, by Bob Michell, BVetMed BSc PhD DSc MRCVS, Former President of the RCVS
Rapid Diagnosis RT PCR - " a transforming moment"
" ...the means to eradicate and control these diseases are now available ... ..." Read in full
Warmwell.com Archive ~ Bird Flu pages Contact the site How FMD crisis was turned into a disaster - Scotsman, TimesPlease use F5 button to refresh the page RPA latest bovine TB Harriet - latest --------------------------------
May 30 2007 ~ US: Rapid diagnosis mobile laboratory to offer a rapid diagnosis for animal diseases like avian influenza, foot and mouth disease
To respond more quickly to potentially dangerous animal health emergencies, the Department of Agriculture has begun using a new mobile laboratory. As part of the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System, the mobile laboratory has a bio-safety Level-3 (BSL-3) containment space, meaning its air handling system prevents the escape of any pathogens that could endanger humans or animals. In addition, it is equipped with a showering facility, bio-safety cabinets, refrigerators and freezers, and decontamination equipment. The laboratory is being fitted with other testing instruments to offer a rapid diagnosis for other animal diseases like avian influenza, foot and mouth disease or mad cow disease, among others.
( Thanks for this link to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis ) FULL TEXT: http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/news_press_release,113793.shtml
May 30 2007 ~ H7N2 outbreak. No virus at the farm on the Llyn penisular - test result took three days to appear..
CIDRAP News (Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy) reported the negative test result yesterday May 29th three days after the tests were carried out. Three days for a result to be publicised seems somewhat long - especially when, as Dr Roger Breeze noted over a year ago
"The means to detect on the farm has got even better since 2001 - it did not disappear just because responsible officials had their heads in the sand hoping it would go away..."The latest news today from Reuters gives an example of the big devices now being tested for use in hospitals. "We detected and correctly identified 92 mammalian and avian influenza isolates, representing 30 different H and N types, including 29 avian H5N1 isolates," Reuters But there are several portable "plug and play" machines, such as those described below by Dr Breeze, to be found and viewed on the internet. This Applied Biosystems page is an interesting example. In over 30 countries, the TaqMan® Influenza A/H5 Detection Kit Version 1.0 is being used to detect the Influenza A virus and identify the H5 subtype from a variety of sample types.
".....the imminent availability (2006) of a test cassette format (the machine has been on the market for some time) that will allow a sample from a single animal to be tested by real time PCR for up to 12 disease pathogens simultaneously in about 20 minutes (this is known as multiplex testing). This machine is about the size of a small loaf of bread and operates when slung over the shoulder or in a moving vehicle. It is ideally suited for investigative use on farm or at the site of the dead swan. The PCR tests, cassette format and device are state of the art for the U.S. military on land, sea or air, or underwater ...." Read in full
When an outbreak could have such grave consequences it seems more and more irresponsible of the UK not to be telling us whether or not it is using the best possible means of testing, diagnosis and surveillance.
May 30 2007 ~ Dr. Marion Lyons : "Investigations also show that, when it spreads from person to person, the illness experienced becomes milder."
CIDRAP News quotes Dr Lyons who is the Lead Consultant in Communicable Disease Control for the National Public Health Service for Wales.
Today, a ProMed moderator said (CP) :" There is no unequivocal evidence to suggest that the H7N2 virus exhibits an enhanced ability to spread from person to person..
CIDRAP news quotes other experts, who say the focus on the H5N1 subtype's pandemic potential is justified. "We know that H7 can cause outbreaks in chickens and that it can occasionally jump the species barrier, but it has not done it nearly to the extent of the H5N1 virus," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
David Halvorson, DVM, a veterinarian in avian health at the University of Minnesota in St Paul, told CIDRAP News that H5 and H7 subtypes both have the ability to generate a highly pathogenic virus of the same subtype, but there's no way to project when and if such evolution will occur."
May 30 2007 ~ E-petition to scrap the fallen stock disposal scheme and reinstate on farm burial as a green initiative.
Deadline to sign up by: 17 June 2007 Signature total stood at 221 on Tuesday evening. The ban on the burial of fallen stock on farms has resulted in the expensive and compulsory to-ing and fro-ing of lorries carrying dead livestock. This is far more of a danger than the immediate burial on the farm by the farmer of animals that die there. See warmwell's fallen stock scheme pages The rationale for the ban was the fear that scrapie might mask BSE which in turn might be linked to vCJD. As we note below, the government's own spongiform encephalopathy advisory committee (SEAC) conceded that the chances of BSE being present in the sheep flock are as close to zero as it is possible to measure and this quiet admission was reported in Hansard in January. The NSP has cost taxpayers at least £100 million and the reason for the ban on on-farm burial no longer exists, and yet - ludicrously - the ban continues.
May 29 2007 ~ "a reminder that the next flu pandemic could be sparked by a virus other than the feared H5N1 strain..."
In spite of the downplaying of the H7N2 outbreak, it is good to see an Associated Press article implying that we should be using the current problem as a dry run for what could be a very serious emergency. The AP quotes World Health Organization bird flu expert Dr. Michael Perdue who says
"There may be a bit of complacency when it comes to recognizing the pandemic potential of H7 viruses. Here, we're talking about a small number of birds and yet we still have four cases. Unless there's something unusual about the contact with birds, that suggests the virus is finding new ways of getting into humans"The UK's patchy surveillance and apparent lack of random sampling, the reluctance to use protective vaccination ( or encourage research, development and validation. see for example the potential of the findings at journals.cambridge.org ) and above all, the apparent refusal to use available rapid diagnotic technology must surely all now be urgently looked at and reviewed.
We continue to find it utterly bewildering that the very technology that can protect animal and human health is so ignored for what appears to be economic or political pressures.
As Dr Purdue says, "If you have an H7 virus causing mild symptoms, that might give the virus the chance to reassort into a more dangerous virus before anybody notices." In the very real likelihood of a pandemic - since humans simply do not have antibodies to cope with a reassorted virus strain - we should be inspiring trust and cooperation by proving that we can get on top of an outbreak such as the present one with all the tools available and with everybody concerned kept properly informed with accurate information. We have still not, for example, seen any report of the results of testing at the holding on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd. Can anyone enlighten us as to the results? By Tuesday evening (Channel 4) health officials were saying that 221 people may have been in contact with the virus.
May 29 2007 ~ "It's not right these animals should be killed. They are breeding cows. They aren't to be sent for the human food chain."
The continuing sorry story of Gary Newburn's cows, doomed by DEFRA because they were sedated, apparently under Trading Standard's supervision on behalf of DEFRA, with drugs that must not enter the human food chain. DEFRA is now deaf, as it was with Harriet, to the argument that killing a healthy animal not destined for human consumption, makes no sense when the rationale for killing is that it must not enter the food chain.See today's Halifax Courier and, for the earlier report, see below.
UPDATE July 14th 2007 The row continues. The unfortunate cows remain alive. It is still contended that the drugs used were " used every day and perfectly legal" - but DEFRA continues to insist - in spite of the fact that Mr Newburn has told Defra he is prepared to have the cattle tested or mark their passports to ensure they do not enter the food chain - that the cows should be killed. The Halifax Courier has the story.
May 28 2007 ~ While officialdom is full of reassurance, the latest H7N2 bird flu outbreak does not reassure us.
ITV news quotes Dr Marion Lyons: "We believe the risk to the health of the general public is low." The human symptoms may well be mild but H7 passes more easily to humans than H5, and low pathogenicity A-type avian influenza strains of the H5 and H7 type are noted for their ability to transform into highly pathogenic counterparts. A pandemic can start when a novel A-type virus, to which almost no one has natural immunity, emerges and begins spreading. 36 people so far have been identified as being possible contacts and eleven of them have symptoms of a flu-like illness or conjunctivitis. It is looking as though infected patients may have contracted the virus from another person rather than poultry although, according to the Public Health Service for Wales, there is not yet laboratory confirmation of such human-to-human transmission.
Finding the source of potentially serious disease outbreaks is vitally important - and virtually impossible where surveillance is patchy even where it is happening and where there is no rapid on-site diagnostic testing going on. If sources and contacts can't be quickly tracked down and a vaccination policy is not in place either, transmission will flourish and the disease will spread. What's more, when testing relies on the responsibility of the owner of a dead bird to pay for a vet to arrange a test, disease is going inevitably to be missed. As Dr Ruth Watkins wrote in February, testing for avian influenza should be part of a standard protocol - but an effective active surveillance programme, with targeted sampling of poultry, should be going on anyway.
DEFRA is still perceived, by many of the very people whose willing cooperation matters most, as being weak in management skill and competence yet highly jealous of its power to control and command, hostile to criticism and capable of intimidation. It's hardly surprising that a registration system offering no incentives for cooperation is feared more than trusted ("We know where you and your animals live") but in the interests of effective surveillance this needs urgent revision ( as described below) so that the testing of both birds and humans can be quickly carried out in an emergency.
May 27 2007 ~ A 2nd possible case on the Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd,
about 35 miles away from the Conwy smallholding, was under scrutiny on Saturday, with birds being tested because of links to the market. See ProMed posting and its moderator comment ".....The market which is regarded as their common infection origin is in Cheshire, demonstrating the potential of wide-scale spread of diseases through animal markets. And, it is reminiscent of the foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus spread through sheep traded in UK markets in February 2001." And he repeats the comment made below about private sales without identification or inspection "Seems deserving a thought" he adds.
May 26 2007 ~ misleading claim that the "source" of the H7N2 outbreak has been "destroyed" appears on Sky News
Sky News quotes Dr Marion Lyons, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control at the NPHS for Wales. She makes the extraordinary statement:
"The source of the outbreak of illness is clearly identified as the chickens on the smallholding. These have all been culled so the original source has been destroyed."How can such an assertion pass without protest? Can Dr Lyons seriously be suggesting that the hens on the smallholding in Corwen, brought in from Chelford Market, Cheshire on 7 May, became infected in isolation; that the virus appeared in them and nowhere else and that killing these hens therefore kills the source of the infection? It is quite extraordinary that such a claim should have been made.
At least Wales's chief vet, Dr Christianne Glossop, is quoted by the BBC as saying it was a "top priority" to find the source of the disease.
Once again, as with the FMD outbreak and the H5N1 Holton outbreak, this is easier said than done. We now discover that there is no traceable paperwork about the infected birds. They were apparently bought from a private dealer at Chelford Market. One can only agree in despair with the comment that accompanies this information: " I find it quite incredible that after everything that has happened with regard to avian notifiable diseases in the past few years, auctioneers allow private sales out of the back of a van to go on at their premises on a sale day without any formal identification or inspection."
Once again, and contrary to Ben Bradshaw's complacent words below, we are witnessing a lack of leadership, failure of communication and lack of preparedness that could prove catastrophic when our luck runs out.
May 26 2007 ~ A mutually beneficial system of livestock registration is urgently needed - Four human cases of mild bird flu confirmed.
Nine people having connections with the Welsh farm where H7N2 bird flu was confirmed have been tested and four have tested positive for the H7N2 strain of the virus. The Welsh health authorities say that one of the cases may have been transmitted from person to person. Although we read (www.wtopnews.com) that "Officials are now following up all close contacts of the people who were ill as a precaution..." it is not going to be easy for other close human contacts to be traced.
The government wants a centrally controlled database, saying that it would be too costly to insist on the registration of those having fewer than 50 birds.
In the paper for the OIE Making better use of technological advances to meet stakeholder needs by Mary Marshall, Paul Roger and John Bashiruddin, (available online at: www.oie.int/eng/publicat/RT/2501/PDF/20-marshall233-251.pdf ) we read
"Currently, there is a perception amongst many livestock keepers that registration with the government will be a fast track to slaughter in the event of a disease outbreak......The authors therefore suggest a mutually beneficial system of livestock registration, in which owners could choose to register with the government or a private veterinary scheme. Those who register their livestock with the government would:The suggestions in the paper surely deserve close consideration. Easily accessed regionally kept registers of poultry would also make sense. It is not going to be easy for first response officials to take action in a real emergency if the only information is in a vast and incomplete database controlled by DEFRA. Information Technology has had a poor record at Whitehall. In 2001 for example, there was data for up to 500 foot and mouth disease infected premises still missing from the disease control system database until 18th December. (see warmwell summary)
- have access to rapid diagnostic testing as soon as suspicious clinical signs are reported. If their animals test negative for the presence of antibodies against the disease, they would have the option of vaccination or quarantine, subject to further testing;
- be able to have their livestock vaccinated if vaccination is authorised (eliminating complicated schemes of rare breeds requiring a specific number of breeding males and females to be eligible for vaccination);
- be able to have their livestock slaughtered at a pre-agreed rate of compensation.
Those who register with a private veterinary practice or group would have the option of quarantine and testing in an outbreak, but at their own expense, possibly through an annual insurance agreement," Read this section in full
May 25 2007 ~ "It's farcical. It makes it impossible for us farmers to even question what they are doing. They are bloodthirsty vigilantes who want rid of the cattle."
SVS ( aka Animal Health ) condemns 7 cows not intended for the human food chain. In what the farmer concerned calls "bullying tactics on the part of Defra" 7 healthy cows are now doomed to an untimely slaughter because the SVS state claim "an illegal substance" was used to sedate them. Immobilon was used on 3 cows and Rompun on the other four cows intended solely for breeding. They were sedated after four months of fending for themselves after escaping their farm. It was an operation actually overseen by Trading Standards on DEFRA's behalf . If the farmer does not slaughter the seven cows by midnight tonight (Friday) they will be killed by officials. The farmer is reported by the Halifax Courier "It's farcical. It makes it impossible for us farmers to even question what they are doing. They are bloodthirsty vigilantes who want rid of the cattle." The farmer , who says he is prepared to have the cattle tested and have their animal passports and tags marked to ensure they are never killed for meat, was told the news at 3pm on Tuesday. This gave him only four days in which to appeal - if he could afford to - to the High Court. It seems very likely that the SVS is unaware of legislation that exempts cows not destined for human consumption from this unnecessary slaughter. The new name given to the SVS vets looks as inappropriate as ever.
May 24 2007 ~ The strain identified is H7N2 low pathogenic avian influenza. Free range birds are not being moved indoors.
The 30 remaining birds on the farm are being slaughtered today. DEFRA says that "GB and Wales contingency plans have been activated .....the farm has been placed under restriction and a 1km restriction zone has been placed around the infected premises. Within this zone, birds and bird products cannot be moved, bird gatherings can only take place under licence from Animal Health..."
See latest Guardian report ".... chickens had been dying at the North Wales smallholding over the past two weeks. Fifteen 22-week-old Rhode Island chickens were bought by the smallholding two weeks ago, bringing their total number of birds to 45 chickens and two geese. But one of the birds died the day after they were taken to the site, and by May 17, 10 birds were dead, all from the new group of chickens." The Guardian quotes Dr Christine Glossop: "We are not yet asking bird keepers within the zone to bring their birds indoors."
The smallholding is north of the town of Corwen in Denbighshire but is actually in the county of Conwy.
The 15 Rhode Island Red chickens were brought onto the holding on May 8th. Samples were first sent for testing on 17 May after the tenth bird from the new hens had died.
May 24 2007 ~ Tests are being carried out on dead birds in north Wales over fears of a possible bird flu outbreak.
Latest news ( Reuters around noon) is that the Welsh assembly is saying merely
"We are investigating a notifiable disease in birds at a location in North Wales. Reports are not confirmed and tests are ongoing,"A spokesman said the suspected outbreak was at a farm but gave no further details and declined to describe the symptoms of the sick birds or say whether they resembled bird flu.
We should be grateful to know if rapid on-site equipment is being used as a preliminary and vital first step - or whether, as before. samples are, as a first measure, being sent to the laboratory which will inevitably involve a wait of at least 24 hours. As for plans for vaccination, should a high pathogenic strain of virus be confirmed, a correspondent tells us, "the final vaccination special working party meeting is on June 21. They have been so slow ..."
We find all this incredible given Mr Bradshaw's complacent words below.
The Chief Vet (Wales) is to make a statement to the Welsh Assembly this afternoon.
May 23 2007 ~ Canada is stockpiling avian flu vaccines for poultry "vaccine would be something that might be used to be more effective and dampen down the opportunity for the disease to spread"
CTV.ca " The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has purchased five million doses apiece of poultry vaccines against H5 and H7 avian influenza viruses as a hedge against a possible outbreak of H5N1 or another highly pathogenic strain in domestic flocks. ... Dr. Jim Clark, the national manager of the agency's avian influenza working group: "If there was an inability to control the disease using traditional stamping out methods, vaccine would be something that might be used to be more effective and dampen down the opportunity for the disease to spread so that we had an opportunity to get ahead of it." Clark said..."
May 22 2007 ~ UK's unilateral decision to kill BSE cohorts - "This time they can't blame it on Brussels."
We question the scientific basis for the " veterinary"risk assessment which has chosen to endorse the continued killing BSE cohorts in spite of the fact that European regulations were amended to allow Member States to apply for derogation status. (This would permit keepers the use of cohorts until the end of their productive lives). The risk assessment appears to take more notice of convenience and economic factors than any veterinary or scientific ones - and of course allows DEFRA to continue to assert that its policy, so deplored by so many, is not flawed.
Yet Harriet's post mortem, it will be remembered, tested negative for BSE - but if DEFRA had had its way she would have been forcibly slaughtered when 22 officials descended on her field on October 9th - only to be met by the protesting mob - comprising an elderly couple, 4 middle-aged women and 2 middle-aged men - whose courage was endorsed by the Reverend Pat Pinkerton, the MP Mark Harper and many others. Even Conservative MP Anne Widdecombe signed a petition to help save Harriet and said, "If she will never enter the food chain, then it seems to me reasonable to keep her alive."
The killing of BSE cohorts would not be an issue if it had ever been proved that a) BSE really does have a link with vCJD and b) that those cattle who grew up with a cow subsequently developing BSE really were likely to be similarly infected. No such proof has ever been found.
Farmers Weekly today claims that "BSE monitoring has indicated that cohorts have a significantly higher level of BSE infection than normal healthy slaughtered cattle." Does this refer to the European Union's BSE monitoring programme between 2003 and 2005? If so the EU evidently does not share this view now.(See also the sympathetic email from Brussels received on November 22 2006 from a policy adviser at the European Parliament.) The "monitoring" has never, to our knowledge, been used as an argument to support such killing in answer to PQs. As the reader who directed us to the Farmers Weekly link remarks, "This time they can't blame it on Brussels."
May 22 2007 ~ " robust and tested disease control plans"?
In a technological age and in a country with high levels of resources, expertise and infrastructure, not to be using the benefits of technology in the fight against animal disease is simply extraordinary. We have Ben Bradshaw talking about "robust and tested disease control plans and instructions in place to address an outbreak of avian influenza" (Hansard 18th May) but what is "robust" about a plan in which the virus cannot be contained by vaccination? Its use as a preventative measure is still prohibited by the UK government. Emergency vaccination procedures are still vague - and vaccination itself still made difficult for farmers because of continuing OIE trade rules. The rapid on-site diagnostic equipment that would ensure that culling is carried out only where necessary is still not even mentioned.
"Tested" the plan may have been but it was luck rather than judgement that kept the virus contained. There are still many outstanding questions about the Bernard Matthews outbreak.
The source is still unknown and a lack of tact towards Hungary strained relations just at the time when full cooperation was needed. Questions continue to hang over the responsibility for the outbreak, many are unhappy about the £589,356.89 (sic) compensation and wondering about the reasons - possibly pressure - for the lack of any prosecution or enquiry. The difficulties endured by free-range poutry owners around Holton must not be conveniently forgotten.
EU rules continue to stipulate that the 3 kilometre quarantine zone around any infected area must be backed up by a further 10 km surveillance zone in which healthy animals including free-range poultry must be kept indoors and not be moved anywhere except to a slaughterhouse. The "absurdly unscientific misinformation about why we cannot use vaccination..." (Booker) continues to be used by Ben Bradshaw to justify the UK stance but emails from UK virologists shows this stance to be wholly unjustified.
May 21 2007 ~ "perfect efficacy result" in trials of H5N1 flu vaccine
See The Age (Australia) "Pharmaceutical company Imugene Ltd has achieved a perfect efficacy result in recent trials of its bird flu vaccine. The Australian company has on Monday announced that 100 per cent of broiler chickens included in a trial of the avian influenza drug survived exposure to the deadly H5N1 virus. The first dose of the drug was injected into the eggs of the trial group, and an oral booster was then given when the chickens were seven days old. The birds were then exposed to a highly pathogenic Asian strain of the H5N1 avian influenza virus, with all showing no signs of the disease. Seven out of eight unvaccinated chickens died when exposed to the virus as part of the trial, which took place in the United States....
".....we have proven that Imugene's vaccine works when administered orally as well as when injected into chicken eggs and that we can protect birds from a young age. ..... Dr Lamb refused to speculate as to when the drug would appear on the market, but said Imugene was looking to licence the technology to one of the major animal health companies. Imugene is developing two vaccines, one for broiler or meat producing birds, and the other for breeding and egg layer birds.... "
See more detail at www.imugene.com/products_avian_flu.asp (new window) and warmwell's bird flu vaccination pages
May 19 2007 ~ FMD continues to threaten the FMD disease-free areas of Europe.
For those who have not seen it, here is the link for the Foot & mouth disease - Worldwide: update on ProMed. Extract:
"In particular, in the past 3 months [Feb - Apr 2007] there have been separate outbreaks of 2 FMD serotypes (O and A) in Turkey close to the borders of Greece and Bulgaria. The 1st of these outbreaks (serotype A: Iran 05 lineage)...
For Europe and Asia, the issue of greatest concern is the emergence of a highly transmissible lineage of the PanAsia strain of serotype O which has spread from India to the east, north and west causing recent epidemics in a number of countries in the Middle East. This picture somewhat mirrors that seen prior to 2000-2002 when another O PanAsia strain spread into several normally FMD-free countries including Taiwan, Japan, South Africa, UK, France, Netherlands and South Korea. ..."
May 19 2007 ~In 2000 the then CVO, Jim Scudamore, wrote a warning memo about "lack of progress on contingency planning exercises", lack of staff training and his worries about the "capability of the government's agents to deal with outbreaks of disease, in particular their ability to investigate the origin and spread".
In spite of hindsight and some progress, his concerns still seem relevant today. In 2001 the contiguous cull policy was instigated after the disease was already in decline. Had Mr Scudamore's letter been taken seriously and adequate preparations made, it is unlikely that there would have been the panicky reliance on mathematic models in 2001 resulting in so much unnecessary killing, waste and heartache.
As Dr Alex Donaldson's submission to the Lessons Learned Inquiry said,
" An average infection to confirmation period of 8 days had been used by the modellers but this had been a gross over-simplification since several cycles of infection with incubation periods ranging from 2 to 14 days had been possible.The epidemic had been in decline by the time of the introduction of the contiguous cull policy on 29 March. (In a publication by Keeling and co-authors, it was stated that the epidemic peaked on 26 March with 54 outbreaks per day.).."
May 17 2007 ~ Does the Dutch research really advocate culling pigs in any FMD outbreak rather than vaccinating?
This week, Dutch research by Karin Orsel has been reported as suggesting that
"the culling of pigs at production sites is more efficient to prevent an outbreak from spreading than vaccinating when the pressure of infection is very high"There seems to be no English translation of the CIDC-Lelystad news release but a quick skim of the Dutch suggests that the research is more concerned about dosage than with dismissing vaccination. By quoting only the first part of the statement above, the website www.pigprogress.net gives the impression that culling instead of vaccination is "better" in any outbreak. The article does at least quote Aldo Dekker, from the Dutch Central Insititute for Animal Disease Control in Lelystad, who says that the result in pigs is related to a high pressure of infection, and that "When there is a lower dosage of virus, the vaccine can protect pigs as well".
Dr Ruth Watkins makes clear in a brief email that it is in the high density intensive systems that the virus aerosol produced by pigs (greater certainly than other species) can cause such problems but when the mother sow is fully vaccinated the piglets will be protected by the mother's antibodies. They too should then be vaccinated as early as possible.
"I don't think there is anything new or any reason to be perturbed by the pig article. It is unfortunate that vaccination in intensive rearing conditions does not work so well especially in piglets...it is a bonus that a highly potent vaccine has been developed for FMD effective after one dose." Read emailIn the EU, even after the catastrophe of FMD 2001, the preference for slaughter instead of vaccination seems to be hard to shift. Its rarely mentioned cause is the economic value of the "FMD-free without vaccination" status.
The justification for this trade restriction rests upon a mistaken and discredited idea: that meat from vaccinated animals is somehow different. Even the FSA and the Consumer Council agree that there is no cause for FMD vaccinated products to be labelled. Even with the present EU Directive a derogation exists to allow untreated vaccinated meat on to the domestic market if zones remain in place for more than 30 days. Protectionism is at the heart of the continuing suspicion of vaccination. There is no medical or veterinary reason why animals should not be vaccinated against FMD just as naturally as they are vaccinated against other diseases - and if they were vaccinated as a precaution there would be not even be any perceived problem, after emergency vaccination, about the time taken for immunity to kick in . Treating animal disease as if it were a mere matter of economics continues. Zoonoses are a matter of global health. Using legislation for the forced culling of animals that are merely suspected of having come into possible contact with disease will one day be seen as abhorrent - and it will scarcely be believed that the best available technology for rapid on-site diagnosis, prevention and cure were there but their use constantly shunned.
May 16th 2007 ~ "even today I meet people who comment about the livestock bereft countryside and fail utterly to make the connection...."
An unexpected article on http://technocrat.net from someone who worked for six months in 1997 as furnaceman burning cattle carcasses - most of which were killed merely for being 30 months old. He concludes, "It sounds trite, but this job with its pervading sense of wrongness is PRECISELY the reason I'd rather be unemployed during the next year or three... " and what he says deserves to be read in full as a sobering reminder (as he intends) of how easy it is to have inhumane policies carried out.
" ... As anyone who works with cattle knows, a cow is a smart as a dog, and has just as much individuality, personality and character as a dog, yet thanks to the BSE scare at 30 months it was Arbeit Macht Fry time for Buttercup..... The bureaucratic state of play was as expected; every UK cow has tags, one on the ears and so on, BSE suspected had extra tags on the anus ...Alan Bennett, writing about the foot and mouth slaughter (Untold Stories p293) says: "In fifty years' time I am sure that we will not handle animals the way we do now - and to succeeding generations our behaviour will seem as barbarous as bear baiting...."
...a shift rota of MAFF bods on duty were supposed to oversee and check every animal and every operation. In the six months I was there none of them did anything except sleep in the caravan outside, after all, they had day jobs, this night shift was free extra money for them.... I can TOTALLY understand how the Nazi ovens came about, how people operated them, how people played the tallyman, how people living 2 miles away were in blissful ignorance... .."
As we have seen in recent years and months and days, no one has to take responsibility; not slaughtermen, not Trading Standards, not the SVS, not the enforcers, not the mathematical modellers - and Ministers least of all. All can sound regretful but justified. All are behaving "sensitively". And even when a crazy policy is quietly reversed or discredited no one of course says "Sorry. We got it disastrously wrong." ( the OTM scheme cost more than £3 billion.)
May 15th ~ Bluetongue: " It was eventually revealed that the results of the sentinel surveillance were compromised by the inclusion of old, serologically positive animals."
The latest ProMed post reports the doubts being voiced concerning the German surveillance in sentinel animals and the impression given of the possible overwintering/recurrence of the bluetongue virus. Sabine Zentis, having clarified the details with the local authorities, comments,
"...the 31 positive animals tested during routine screening and are not indicative of recent virus activity. From the sentinel animals earmarked as result of the sampling campaign so far to my knowledge no animal has tested positive for BTV. The 2 "positive" sentinel animals are the result of a mix up of eartag numbers on the holdings. As sentinel animals have been sourced on holdings with known disease history, sampling a wrong animal is likely to yield a positive result.For a reminder of the consequences of the extraordinary errors of a government department ( this time in Germany ) see Bluetongue page.
I refrain from commenting on the quality of the data made available ..."
May 15 2007 ~ The RPA needs to pay out about another £280m over the remaining seven weeks to meet its deadline this year
Well over a year ago the Earl of Arran called the RPA situation (Hansard March 30 2006) "probably the most incompetent piece of government administration ever known in a government department. It certainly rivals that of foot-and-mouth disease. It is utterly deplorable." See RPA page.
May 14 2007 ~ Parallels between the site inspections at Heddon on the Wall just before FMD and those at the Matthews plant just before the discovery of H5N1 are inescapable.
Hungary's deputy Chief Veterinary Officer feels no hesitation in blaming Bernard Matthews for the UK avian flu outbreak (see below) because of flaws in hygiene. The word "biosecurity" is constantly on the lips of officials - but when it is evident that premises were far from being kept to the highest standards, the transparency of what was inspected, when and how, should be made quite clear. Instead, all seems obscure. Were inspections done properly, taken seriously and were breaches immediately put right - or not?
In 2001, the outbreak at Waughs foreshadowed the loss of more than ten million animals. Parallels between the site inspections at Heddon on the Wall by the unfortunate Jim Dring before FMD and those at the Matthews plant before the discovery of H5N1 are inescapable.
As Lynda Davies writes, in response to an email from Robert Persey,
"As I see it, if DEFRA enforce that section of the above order (2005 Animal By-Products Order, section 11, para 4) at the Bernard Matthews farm, or at any other farms in the future, then they would be admitting that they were responsible for the FMD outbreak for NOT enforcing that same regulation at Bobby Waugh's farm in 2001...."Ben Bradshaw said of the Holton outbreak: ".. this episode reflects the need for constant vigilance, high levels of biosecurity and robust and well developed contingency planning in dealing with animal disease outbreaks." But questions about how far 'constant vigilance and high levels of security' are taking place when they are most needed must be asked and answers publicised if we are to learn anything at all from what happened.
May 14th 2007 ~ "In the past two decades, veterinarians have helped to slaughter more than a billion so-called diseased animals to support factory farming and the edicts of global trade. .."
Coming home to roost is an article in Canada's Globe and Mail by Andrew Nikiforuk. He is reviewing The Chickens Fight Back - Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump From Animals to Humans by David Waltner-Toews
"..The majority of these animals showed no evidence of infection and were simply murdered out of convenience, because nobody could cope with crowds of confined livestock during an epidemic. Some critics have called this wanton and careless slaughter "a crisis of veterinary medicine."Andrew Nikiforuk maintains that it is a real and present danger to the health of all that "small-witted men in white coats have laboured to turn animal health and human health into separate kingdoms that never visit each other " and "this gross separation of animal and human health largely explains why the chickens are valiantly fighting back with avian flu and why outbreaks and epidemics of animal diseases are running amok."
I would have liked a voice as moral and important as that of Waltner-Toews to address this crisis if only to support one of his most important admonitions: "We must, above all, care." You just don't hear professionals of any stripe use words like that any more."
Warmwell and its readers have watched in dismay while politicians, officials and research-grant-greedy scientists have fretted impotently over BSE, Foot and Mouth, bovine TB, avian influenza, Bluetongue and all the rest - yet for all their regulations and restrictions, and for all the draconian powers of the ludicrously named "Animal Health Act" of 2002 have failed to get to the heart of the problem - the treating of animal disease as if it were separate and of only economic importance.
It was the virologist Dr Ruth Watkins who, in an article written for warmwell, in 2003 wrote, "The control of disease by killing farm animals is promoted unashamedly and no apology made for failing to apply methods in human medicine to the care of farm animals.... the advice of the Royal Society and EU inquiries have fallen on deaf ears blocked by the cotton wool of defensive self-justification."
May 13 2007 ~ Bird Flu in Suffolk - The Hungarian Connection
The Sunday Telegraph's headline is that "Hungary admits link with UK bird flu outbreak" although the actual report makes clear that Bognar Lajos, Hungary's deputy chief veterinary officer,
"... insisted that ultimately the blame for the British outbreak must lie with Bernard Matthews, which was criticised for shortfalls in its biosecurity in the wake of the scare. Mr Lajos said: "It is possible that the virus was still in an incubation period in a flock and no symptoms would have been seen. Such a flock could have been sent to slaughter and the meat transported to the UK. The problem was not with Hungary though. The problem was Bernard Matthews and its biosecurity."See also the relevant warmwell page on the Suffolk outbreak and the UK Government's response.
May 13 2007 ~ Evidence suggests that China's farmers routinely misuse pesticides
Reuters "All agree that China needs to implement a comprehensive system to clean-up the sector...part of the problem lies in the web of agencies who share responsibility for food safety." See below for Contaminated wheat gluten - still few answers
May 11 - 13 2007 ~ Shambo - attitudes unfortunately polarised
The BCVA has chosen to support the policy that has caused its own members widespread grief. According to the BBC, the BCVA president, Graham Brooks, said: "To achieve effective control those animals testing positive [for TB] must be removed from the cattle population." Shambo has indeed been removed from the cattle population. He is being kept isolated in a shrine where, in view of the unlikely positive result, he ought at least to be retested, as should others when the results seem suspect. ( As were those of Worcestershire farmer Richard Bown last Thursday - see below)
The Telegraph quotes a Welsh farmer who is understandably bitter that public concern has centered on this one non-commercial animal when thousands die as a result of being suspected of incubating TB: "We are more used to the frustrating situation where badgers are effectively treated as sacred..." - but again, it is illogical that this attitude should also cause farmers to unite in condemning an animal considered sacred by those who consider all animal life worthy of protection.
The Hindu Forum of Britain has called for all Hindus to form a human chain around the temple, preventing the authorities from getting at Shambo - and thus some degree of confrontation looks inevitable since farmers who have had to go along with slaughter would feel justifiably outraged if the matter is dropped. Attitudes will polarise disastrously and it may well be forgotten that the inflexibility of so much UK animal health policy is really at the root of all this. It is the disease that needs to be properly tackled - and given the advances in technology and the areas of diagnosis and vaccination this sould be done without recourse to inflexible "one size fit all" regulations. It seems a great waste that the case is not being cited by all sides as another reason to push for greater independent scientific input into reviewing current policies. As for the test given to Shambo, the Guardian says that the bull " has undergone three tests for TB: two were inconclusive but the third was a reactor " This seems to many to cast doubt on the accuracy of the test. See also email from Dr Colin Fink.
May 11-13 2007 ~"another beacon lighting the Byzantium attitutudes from the government veterinary service and DEFRA "
Also in the email from Dr Colin Fink is a reminder that a human TB test now available and " which demonstrates active disease is not yet licenced for animal use and there is the usual resistance to anything new from the usual 'authorities' .."
He mentions also how long overdue is a second skin test; an interferon test and the system sold by Immunotec . Immunotec has just won Best Healthcare Innovation Award for its one-step blood test against TB.
Dr Fink says, " ... Any other improvement in diagnosis is long overdue. This hapless but apparently perfectly well animal, and attendants are another beacon lighting the Byzantium attitutudes from the government veterinary service and DEFRA." (Read email)
May 11 2007 ~ Contaminated wheat gluten - still few answers
More on the toxic imports to the US. (see below) The Los Angeles Times now reports that Xuzhou Anying, one of the two Chinese factories from which contaminated protein was exported to the US, was razed to the ground by its owner, Mao Lijun, who has now been arrested, before it could be investigated. Complaints that residues from the factory had killed crops were ignored by the Chinese Environment Protection Bureau (the equivalent, in perhaps more ways than one, of our FSA and the American FDA). Researchers now believe that cyanuric acid, which can block kidney function, was in the feed as well as the cheap melamine scrap. An estimated 4000 pets are dead and the product was fed to 6000 pigs and 3.1 million chickens. Feed for farmed fish in Canada is also affected - and has been exported into the US. (See reports on ProMed.) All this raises many questions about safety - but the transcript of yesterday's FDA-USDA Update on Adulterated Animal Feed reveals just how few questions from reporters got clear or confident answers.
We will never forget the case of the late Phil Brown in this country, whose pigfeed was contaminated bringing even more horrific consequences. Even after years of struggle there has been no redress in that case. At least the scale of the US toxic feed problem finally brought questions out into the open. Should not more be asked of ChemNutra the importer who are presenting themselves as victims? They apparently maintain offices only forty miles from the Xuzhou Anying factory. Their website speaks of "ultra-competitive pricing on high-quality chemicals and ingredients from quality-assured manufacturers in China" Among those in the US and Canada worried by all this will be at least 4000 grieving pet owners wondering just how "quality was assured" .
May 10 2007 ~ Credibility of TB tests is called into question
Farmers Guardian (Alastair Driver) ".....his experience has raised questions about the credibility of the TB testing and valuation regimes .......Roxy came within 48 hours of being culled in February after she was deemed to have reacted to a pre-movement test performed by a private vet. Two days later, Defra informed Mr Bown that the four-year-old cow was to be TB tagged the next day and slaughtered the day after that. But adamant a mistake had been made, he refused state vets permission to enter his farm.
At his own request, his whole herd was then tested by local state vets and shown to be in the clear.
He then persuaded the Department to grant a re-test of Roxy and 11 other animals tested at the same time on the grounds that the vet had not followed the correct procedures laid out by Defra in performing the tests. This took place last week and all 12 animals were negative. .."
May 10 2007 ~ Killing the bull "in the usual way..... to protect animal health" is to be done "as sensitively as possible," , say officials
The BBC reports on the death threat to the Hindu sacred bull, Shambo (see also below)
Reuters is also reporting on the case. quoting the Welsh National Assembly's spokeman ".... these measures are in place to protect public health and animal health and prevent the further spread of the disease" The spokeman , evidently unaware of the irony of the use of the adjective holistic, went on to say, "regrettably a holistic approach to the eradication of this disease is essential if we are to stop the spread of TB"
More time, resources and expertise put into DEFRA's M.Bovis TB Vaccine Steering Group might make such expressions of regret sound less hollow. The Steering Group appears to meet only every six months and, with its own Chairman's negative comments about vaccination, seems curiously hamstrung.
Britain's large Hindu community, holding as it does that killing the bull " will violate our faith, tradition and desecrate our temple. It goes against all accepted norms of our faith" is appalled. Hindus are converging on Camarthen from all over the UK - and the monk interviewed on the BBC PM programme yesterday said that even if Shambo had foot and mouth they would not allow him to be culled. None of the animals at the Skanda Vale multi-denominational monastic centre where Shanbo has been isolated is ever killed.
That DEFRA continues to be deaf to the veterinary success of vaccination was further underlined today by a warmwell reader whose MP told her that Ben Bradshaw is still saying vaccination of birds increases the risk of spreading infection. While this sort of nonsense continues to be circulated by the Minister we can feel no confidence in any claims to "a holistic approach to the eradication of disease."
May 8 2007 ~ "She feels, he says, simultaneously hungry, tired, full up and sick."
The tagged calves mentioned below remind us that pressure on milk prices in the UK has turned more than half a million healthy male calves into what a Guardian article today calls " the disposable scraps of dairy farming". They are shot as useless. As for the majority of dairy cows now, Felicity Lawrence quotes John Webster, emeritus professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol. He has described the modern high-yielding modern cow "as the archetypal exhausted mother".
"Her mammary glands have been bred to make more milk than her body can cope with. She feels, he says, simultaneously hungry, tired, full up and sick. Breeding for maximum milk yield has left these cows unfit for much else. As many as half of all dairy cows may go painfully lame in any one year after being made to stand on concrete, their udders too heavy for their hind legs. ..... A few decades ago, the average lifespan of a cow was 10 lactations. Today it is three. ..."One can only hope that the voices of dismay at this situation, echoing the indefatigable CIWF - such as Molly Dineen's "lyrical and brutal documentary film about rural life, The Lie of the Land" shown on Channel 4 last week - are starting to be heard so that our remaining dairy farmers, paid properly, can get back to the sort of farming they love - and this does not include the killing of healthy young animals. As Ghandi so wisely said, "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
May 8 2007 ~ Traceability "just a sick joke"
As for identification after slaughter, and further to the NAIS story from the US below, one farmer writes: "Tagging calves is a nightmare but on the other hand, I am attaching clips to the tags for fly/midge protection ( which are promised to last for up to 5 months) so maybe they are at least of some use. Poor little things look terrible with the plastic attached to their ears and I'd rather prefer microchips. At farm level you have to do everything strictly by law but once the hide is off traceability is just a sick joke."See also the 'Meat Crimes' pages which suggest that those willing, on our behalf, to take on the highly lucrative trade in unhealthy and illegally slaughtered meat are fighting a very lonely and often dangerous battle. Meanwhile, to the distress of many, DEFRA is planning the slaughter of a Hindu sacred bull, isolated in a temple in Wales. Shades of poor Harriet who was also a soft target. The hard targets - the meat crime criminals whose activities do actually threaten public health - seem to be left to the heroic few to tackle .
May 8 2007 ~ Rapid diagnosis of FMD "Several real-time PCR instruments are available with various capabilities, such as portability and high sample volume analysis."
The paper in 1: Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation Vol. 19 Issue 1, 9-20 (See abstract)
".... real-time polymerase chain reaction has facilitated rapid detection of FMDV. .... Assay performance was compared on the LightCycler 1.2 (Roche), the SmartCycler II (Cepheid), and the SDS 7900HT (ABI). These assays successfully identified the FMDV genome and beta actin mRNA from several sources of infected nasal and oral swabs, as well as probang samples."Yet the UK Contingency plans still won't say that such rapid diagnosis is to be deployed. And if it is not, then in an emergency we could be back with the 2001 guesswork and panicky culling of healthy animals. Roger Breeze's comment here was made over a year ago. Yet, even after the very close call at Holton, there seems no cause for optimism that things are changing.
"What's alarming about failure to deploy rapid PCR tests even to regional diagnostic labs since 2001 is that technology has moved on significantly while nothing was being done. The means to detect on the farm has got even better since 2001 - it did not disappear just because responsible officials had their heads in the sand hoping it would go away. We cannot afford to find ourselves in 2012 still waiting for officialdom to formally approve the technology..."(Read in full)
May 7 2007 ~ "For any voluntary animal identification system to work, it must be constructed on simplicity, efficiency, compatibility, flexibility and trust...."
We have noticed that the NAIS system in the US, originally designed as a clear labelling system, soon began to raise suspicions among stockholders there. FMD News, the service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davism sends us this link to concerns now expressed by the newly-formed U.S. Cattlemen's Association
"... originally NAIS was proposed with the single goal of providing an effective animal-health trace back system. Along the way, USDA drifted far from this goal. Privatizing the animal records data base, source verification and other value-based programs were never part of the original plan, and neither was international competitiveness.Read in full at cattlenetwork.com. Their web site is under construction and is expected to be fully operational in mid-May.
Under the current proposed plan, it's cattle producers who will be saddled with the costs and regulatory burdens. Currently, only about 25 percent of livestock premises nationwide have registered for premises numbers and most of these folks do not support a mandatory national animal identification system. The fact that producers are rejecting the proposed system should come as no surprise. ..... For any voluntary animal identification system to work, it must be constructed on simplicity, efficiency, compatibility, flexibility and trust...."
May 6 2007 ~ "...a disaster made incomparably worse by the callous incompetence of a Government which has treated our farmers like dirt."
Booker's Notebook today
".....Channel 4 broadcast another documentary, The Lie of the Land, on the disaster which has overtaken British farming in recent years. Molly Dineen reported her shock, as an outsider, at discovering just how grim life has become for many of Britain's 350,000 farmers, who see themselves being driven to extinction, not least thanks to the ever-rising tide of bureaucracy from Brussels and our own officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.See too the Times review of The Lie of the Land "We now spend just 8% of our income on food yet 30 years ago that figure was far higher. This is regarded as a triumph by the government, which worships the supermarkets who have brought the price of food down but, in doing so, have destroyed British farms. .." Worth reading in full.
I have chronicled the unfolding of this catastrophe for 15 years in this column. Its lowest point was the nightmare of the foot-and-mouth crisis of 2001, a disaster made incomparably worse by the callous incompetence of a Government which has treated our farmers like dirt.
In that year alone, the suicide rate of British farmers rose to more than 28 per 100,000: a rate four times that of their Indian counterparts. If what is happening in India is "a disaster of epic proportions", how should we describe what is happening nearer home?.."
May 3-6 2007 ~" If vaccination is seen as an option in contingency plans, the availability of vaccines needs to be addressed."
Paul van Aarle, writing about emergency preparedness from the point of view of those who make the vaccines, says ( pdf new window - link mended)
"..... Emergency vaccination is included in most contingency plans and the availability of a licensed vaccine would greatly facilitate the political decision to use vaccination. It is recommended that special and simplified legislation be developed for vaccines that are only used in case of emergency. Alternatively, governments should support the industry financially to fully license emergency vaccines. There is no regulatory framework in the veterinary field for a speedy update of influenza vaccine strains.Mr van Aarle makes an obvious but easily overlooked point: Vaccines for the appropriate strain are simply not going to be available quickly enough at time of need if no contract has been arranged when they are not needed.
For every vaccine strain and for every update of the vaccine strain, a new registration is required. It is recommended that legislation is developed that allows, as is the case for human influenza vaccines, a speedy update of vaccine strains, should the need arise. " "Making Avian Influenza Vaccines available, an Industry Point of View"
May 2 2007 ~ Testing was not complete until 14 days after the Bernard Matthews plant was re-opened.
Yesterday's Parliamentary Question, its answer and the relevant part of the final epidemiological report can be read here.
Mr Bradshaw's answer reveals that the testing of live poultry within the protection and surveillance zones had not in fact been completed until 26 February whereas the Bernard Matthews slaughterhouse plant in Holton was re-opened on 12 February.
( He says that the slaughterhouse was under restrictions only while the culling was taking place while the meat processing plant had never been placed under restrictions.)
DEFRA does not seem to have realised that poultry meat was still coming in from Hungary.
Although DEFRA's Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) on January 24th, about the outbreak in southern Hungary, said:
"The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months."- as we show below, this was entirely wrong. The public health minister, Caroline Flint, revealed in early March that 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary passed through the Bernard Matthews plant and went into the food chain between February 2 - when the outbreak was confirmed - and February 12. EU rules (Article 22) say that the "competent authority shall ensure that the transport of poultry meat from slaughterhouses, cutting plants and cold stores is prohibited unless it has been produced....at least 21 days before the estimated date of earliest infection on a holding in the protection zone and which since production has been stored and transported separately from such meat produced after that date."
All this suggests that DEFRA was not able properly to assess the risk before re-opening the plant. Meanwhile, other poultry owners were kept under restrictions until March 1st. See below)
May 2 2007 ~ "I am genuinely concerned that short term financial expediency brought about by the recent debacle within the Rural Payments Agency is what has brought this upon us."
A recent letter in the Vet Record repeats the general concern in the veterinary profession that routine brucellosis testing has ceased without consultation. The knock-on effects both for adequate disease surveillance and for young vets who had hoped to be involved in farm animal work are liekly to be far-reaching. "... this present decision adds to one's apprehension that there are going to be insufficient experienced people left to carry on this essential work." Read in full
May 2 2007 ~ The EU is sending 12.6 million euros to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi to fight foot and mouth disease
These southern african countries will receive 12.6 million euros (about 8.6 million pounds) and the project, which started on April 1 this year, will run for the next three years. The Principal Director in the Department of Veterinary Services in Zimbabwe, Stuart Hargreaves, said the lack of vaccines, equipment and other drugs had been the major factors hampering the effective control of foot and mouth there. See more
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