Farming Today BBC November 2 2007
The government's announced it is to tender on a bluetongue vaccine bank. DEFRA's looking for between ten and twenty million doses of the vaccine against the strain of the disease circulating in Britain.
Such a vaccine hasn't yet been developed. (it has, of course) but several companies are working on one. The Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, says he hopes the tendering process will reassure farmers, that DEFRA is "committed to having a supply ready as soon as the vaccine becomes available and that the benefits of vaccination will make real economic sense to many farmers".
None of which impresses the Shadow Farming Minister, Jim Paice. He says it's taken the government too long:
It's over a fortnight since I tabled some Parliamentary Questions asking the government what it was doing. On Tuesday, just before Parliament rose for four days, they told me in a written answer that it was not possible to answer the question. Yet here we are, just 48 hours later, with them putting out what I can only describe as a very, very vague statement saying that they "will be" issuing tenders. Well, they then go on to say that between ten and twenty million doses - well frankly they are not going to be issuing any tenders until they can be far more precise than that - so I think this is a bit of a panic reaction from the pressure from the industry and myself to actually reassure farmers that there will be actually vaccine available.
Well DEFRA say this is part of ongoing work, that it hasn't been rushed out and it is sensible to plan ahead and tender.
Well they would say that, wouldn't they? Of course it's sensible to plan ahead and it's sensible to tender but the fact is the French we know for a fact and the French Minister himself has confirmed it have confirmed an order of 33 million doses having been already out to tender; the Dutch have ordered a million and the Germans have also made orders. These are firm orders, not "going out to tender" now.
What really worries me is that when this vaccine becomes available, we hope some time in the Spring or early Summer, we may well find that Britain will be at the back of the queue and if our farmers go short they'll want to know why.
Isn't this just an opportunistic attack on your part because DEFRA say they are committed to having a vaccine supply "as soon as the vaccine exists" and the news that they are tendering will reassure farmers
News that they are intending to tender - don't say they are - they are going to is obviously some reassurance, of course it is, but I know, because I speak to the same people they do -that they have been under huge pressure from the industry for some time now - ever since it became known that the other governments in Europe had already placed the orders. People were concerned that our government was dragging its heels. The fact is they could have had all this up and running at least a fortnight ago. As I say, I tabled Parliamentary Questions and they weren't able to answer them and I can tell you that on Tuesday afternoon a number of MPs who are affected in their constituencies which also includes me, had a briefing with officials and with Jeff Rooker and we were told then, "Well we are in technical discussions" and when I put to them that in fact the French and the others had ordered the vaccine they said, "Well we don't think they have actually made any orders" Well the fact is they had. We have proven it. The government is way behind on this and what matters is that we have that vaccine available next year.
It isn't yet clear if vaccination will be compulsory or how much each dose will cost; it is thought it will be about 35 pence but Terry Jones from the National Farmers Union told me that while the details still have to be discussed, the important thing is that the process has started. I asked him how the vaccination programme would work.
It's quite early to say but of course but what we do know is that sheep will have to be vaccinated just once and cattle will need to be vaccinated twice and of course there will need to be a fairly well coordinated programme to do that. What isn't clear of course at this stage is whether vaccination will be compulsory or voluntary, which areas we'll be allowed to vaccinate in - because of course this is a European control strategy that we've got for Bluetongue and the Commission will have a lot to say on what areas can be vaccinated. It's quite likely that it will be just the control zone and the protection zone, the two designated areas that we currently have in addition to the free area if you like - and indeed how many doses we have because clearly we are not going to be the only country that is after bluetongue virus 8 vaccine and given that it could potentially be a limited resource we'll need to plan accordingly.
Surely this has to be compulsory? Or it's meaningless.
Well, we need a coordinated approach and quite clearly, given the effects that bluetongue can have on sheep and cattle = particularly in the second year - and we have seen it on the continent where we have seen mortality rates shoot up in sheep on the continent, quite clearly it is completely in farmers' interests to vaccinate. Quite how that will manifest itself in terms of the legality is just far too early to say but I think there will certainly be a willingness to get involved in vaccination and there's certainly a willingness to get the disease out of the country because economically speaking it is very very debilitating
Well economically speaking obviously the price of a sheep is falling and so people are surely going to wonder if it's actually worth spending the money on the vaccine.
The vaccine is going to be priced at a level where even with low beef and lamb prices one would assume that people will still do it. That said, it is still very, very difficult for farmers at the minute to look into the medium to long term. Of course people are looking at the short term and the problems in the control zone. particularly in the South East of England are incredibly acute and particularly in th sheep sector.
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