Tuesday, 30 October 2007

We have to write

Dr Iain Anderson is once again going to chair a review of the Government's reaction to the 2007 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak. He has been asked to review lessons drawn from the 2001 outbreak and identify any others arising from the current outbreak. Comments have to be received by 16th November. See also www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

The decision not to use emergency vaccination was astonishing. The handling by DEFRA illustrates the woeful lack of understanding within the Department of viral disease. All the conditions for immediate success had been met.
We knew the source.
We knew the strain.
We had the laboratory within arms length
and we knew the timescale.
The virus could have been stopped in its tracks within days by ring vaccination from the outside in.

2000 animals in Surrey would not have had to be slaughtered and nor would the obscenely termed "welfare culls" of half a million healthy hill lambs have been needed.

It seems highly likely that the EU would have been sympathetic to such emergency action and would have looked with favour on regionalisation of the immediate area so that the absurd situation of a general country-wide shut down need never have arisen. It could well have led to the outdated regulations receiving critical re-evaluation.

Because rapid on-site testing was not done except for antibodies, only a handful of the 2000 animals killed turned out to have been infected.

If people do not make these points there will be no barriers at all against yet another anodyne report being written and self-congratulation all round.
More at warmwell.com,

Monday, 29 October 2007

Lies, Science and the death of Bees

When he was at its helm, that eminent expert in bird behaviour, Sir John Krebs, and the FSA itself, were selected winners of the prestigious "Pants on Fire" award by the Norfolk Genetic Information network - for
'their complete failure to live up to their billing as a "force for change" in consumer protection'
The Food Standards Agency has now ordered a review into its advice that
"the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food."
Sir John was well known to be an advocate of GM foods before his surprise appointment to the FSA, dismissing anyone who disagreed as "shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven". He was also a member of that inner circle of scientists from the Dark Side, King, Anderson, May, Woolhouse, Ferguson and co. who between them perpetrated and then defended the horrors of the 2001 contiguous cull. Sir David King has recently expressed concern that the public is not always on board with the best scientific advice:
"If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem..."
How cynical some of us have become to be less than impressed with his new code of "seven principles aimed at building trust between scientists and society." But it is not words that build trust. And how devalued has that phrase "best scientific advice" become too. It has been wielded in order to bludgeon into silence the perhaps "unscientific" but nevertheless gut level wisdom of the grass roots.

So the FSA is going to look again at last at the best scientific advice that has kept them contemptuous of organic farming for nearly a decade. As if to support such a move, we read today that an ongoing four year Newcastle University study has found that
"Fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 per cent more nutrients if they are grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides, organic milk contains 80 per cent more antioxidants and organic produce also had higher levels of iron and zinc, vital nutrients lacking in many people's diets."

Did we really need a £12 million project to tell us that? People do not need to be scientists to have an instinctive grasp of what is good.

So Geoffrey Lean's article in the Independent today came as a nasty shock. It revealed that the government has been using taxpayers' "tens of millions of pounds a year to boost research into modified crops and foods" Constant claims of impartiality on GM technology and repeated promises to promote environmentally friendly, "sustainable" farming are, quite simply, lies. Internal documents obtained by the Independent under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that DEFRA (which will not allow farmers to vaccinate their animals against foot and mouth even though the vaccines are safe and effective) have allowed the biotech giant BASF to plant 450,000 modified potatoes in British fields. DEFRA officials ..
"..repeatedly went to remarkable lengths to make sure the trial conditions, supposed to protect the environment and farmers, were "agreeable" to BASF"

How ironic that the Times today asks who will regulate the regulators.
".. “Health and Safety” seems now to be the universal excuse to ban anything that was once enjoyable: bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, conkers contests, diving boards in public swimming baths, festive lights, amateur dramatics – and scores of other traditions embedded in the fabric of life..."
But the nanny state does not stretch its neck into the dark alleys of the biotech industry. The Health and Safety police are not shining their flashlights onto the fact that stringent tests are not required for 'biopesticides' produced continuously in open fields; nor for the herbicides and herbicide residues accumulated by herbicide-tolerant GM crops. "The two traits, biopesticides and herbicide tolerance now account for practically all GM crops grown in the world today,"says www.i-sis.org.uk

Those who have a deep seated worry about the way genes are manipulated by the biotech companies are often derided. And indeed as an advocate of vaccine production involving some degree of genetic engineering I can hardly want to throw the baby out with the bath water. But this is not an all or nothing issue. Nothing need stop me from being glad that human insulin can be grown in GM yeast. The baby can be kept happily in the tub and still the question of the possible biotech monopoly of the food chain be raised with deep misgivings.

A fierce GM debate is raging in Europe. In France, where 80 percent of the public are against GMO foods, President Sarkozy has said no more will be grown until an evaluation has been considered. When one type of GM maize was fed to rats in a laboratory study at the University of Caen, their immune system was weakened, a finding that echoes the study done 10 years ago by Dr Arpad Putzai whose research at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen found that rats developed stomach lesions after eating GM potatoes.

He was vilified. Being a heretic of today's scientific authodoxy is not much healthier than it was in the days of Galileo.

Hungary banned the planting of Monsanto's MON 810 seed in January 2005. Germany says maize grown from MON 810 seeds can only be sold if there is an accompanying monitoring plan to research its effects on the environment. Austria could soon be facing an attempt by EU regulators to force it to lift bans on two GMO maize types. See www.dw-world.de

Plans for full commercial go ahead in the UK are not far away. Farmers will be allowed to plant GM oilseed rape just 35 metres from non-GM crops, forage maize will be able to be planted 80 metres away and grain maize will be allowed within 110 metres of conventional crops. Pollen can be carried by insects or wind for miles (a pine tree's pollen has been shown to spread 400 miles away.)
In Canada, the introduction of GM oilseed rape has all but wiped out the organic oilseed rape industry by cross contamination.

And what of the bees? The so called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)could well be laid at the door of the biotechnicians. It has been seriously suggested that bees are disappearing because of exposure to the unnaturally large quantities of the naturally occurring pesticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is produced in GM crops. In the GM plant Bt is produced by every cell including roots, stems, leaves and flowers - and the pollen.
It is not clear if the quantities of Bt produced by GM crops are themselves to blame for bee deaths. We know that the parasitic varroa mite that carries the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, has put paid to many millions of bees. However, what is clear is that organic farmers such as those at Sheepdrove go out of their way to nurture plants that redress the balance and help the bees.

Albert Einstein said,
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

On the issue of GMOs the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is defiant. It says its funding for the research on GM crops would continue even if there was "a Europe-wide ban" on growing them commercially. (It may be remembered that the BBSRC, which also owns the land and buildings on the Pirbright site, was not so keen to shell out for some drain repairs. As Jonathan Shaw told the House of Commons this month, funding of the effluent drainage system, "whether remedial or replacement" was their business as much as IAH's or Merial's.)

Tony Blair put Labour Party donor, Lord Sainsbury, on the government's GMO regulatory committee - a clear case of clash of interests. Labour's legislation covering GMO trials has been risible and no one bothers to deny any more that Governments and big business work hand in hand. And where does that leave small business? The UK government seems to be facing up to the end of traditional farming with an extraordinary stoicism. It is hard not to speculate on the reasons why.
Monsanto and its rival giants maintain that biotech foods are the only solution to global hunger. And acting on the best scientific advice no doubt, our government wants a cut of the huge profits to be made in the course of carrying out this altruistic aim.

There is a truth here that is so obvious it somehow never gets mentioned
He who controls the food has control of the people
What a heady thought to those high on power already.

Friday, 26 October 2007


Time is ticking away. And we feel like passengers on a rapidly sinking ship who are not being given access to the lifeboats we can see lined up on the davits because there has not yet been an official drill.
The UK has NOT put in any order for Bluetongue BTv-8 vaccine because, say DEFRA, it isn't yet available.

Well it won't be if they don't order it.

Is somebody with a bit of clout yet understanding all this and realising the lunacy of inaction and demanding that urgent decisions be made? Well, it is just possible that there are some within the Opposition parties who are on the case at last. We watch and hope.

We can only hope too that someone at Page Street was listening to Intervet's Paul van Aarle on Farming Today this morning.

"It's not a matter of difficulty. We have good production capacity and can handle quantities (if they are certain). The main issue there is when we get the commitment from the government..."
Merial, of course, were further on in production even than Intervet - but when DEFRA banned further work on the vaccine in Surrey everything ground to a halt. Merial's vaccine now has to be produced in France.

We hear from an organic sheep farmer in Germany that the third company, Fort Dodge, is also developing an inactivated BTv-8 vaccine in Spain. He was told:

"We are aware, that there is an urgent need for vaccine and we would be happy for you if we already had one. We can only succeed in producing the necessary amount of doses by working together,"
Working together does seem the only possible way for Europe to emerge from this and it looks as though the vaccine companies are prepared to work in collaboration to prepare adequate doses of vaccine in the face of a threat that involves us all.

Are the European countries able to get together too? It is vital to ensure that a coherent plan is drawn up Europe wide. The affected organisations in the UK are now strongly urging the UK government to take the necessary steps - and how bizarre that things are moving so desperately slowly. But Kim Haywood, NBA director, made a very pertinent observation:

"There are suggestions that government is uneasy about approving a vaccination
programme because it has never done so with FMD.."

All too likely. What a terrible irony it is that foot and mouth, for which there have been modern marker vaccines available which have proved their worth since long before 2001, is still being "cured" with the unrepentant UK's blunt instrument of mass slaughter - yet it is Bluetongue , which does not yield to anything except eradication via vaccines, that is causing the UK finally to examine its mediaeval mindset. All the same, the process is tortuous and it is moving at the pace of a reluctant snail.

Ms Haywood, also at Brussels last week, is under no illusions about the necessity of putting in vaccine orders at once.

"..without it the UK's farmers will find it impossible to protect both their livelihoods and their stock."
As for the Zones with which parts of the country are now swathed and strangled, is DEFRA, in a misplaced determination to control the virus, actually killing farming itself? Should the whole of the British Isles bite the bullet and accept that the disease is well and truly with us?

It seems to be being assumed in the UK that Bluetongue spread faster in Holland and Belgium, where they extended the control zone to the entire country, than it did in France, where control zones were adhered to for as long as possible. But with the wildfire spread of BTv in Europe - and the fact that the infected midges have been around in the UK certainly since early August - it would seem very unlikely indeed that the control zones are not going to have to spread out wider and wider in the next weeks and months. It's the next days though that are of vital importance to those who are stuck. Those such as Frank Langrish, chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board, who think that unless the zone is extended to the whole of the country, "we in the CZ are all finished"

He says

"...I have spoken to people in Holland and Belgium about it. They all said it’s just a waste of time trying to control it. You just accept you have got it and if we are confident we are going to have a vaccine by next summer, we can live with it until then. The disease is not going to kill animals but the restrictions are going to kill thousands unless we move to one CZ."
It is a very persuasive view. All the same, there are those in the Welsh Assembly for instance who are not at all keen voluntarily to share the restrictions even if their extension would alleviate much of the problem. The NFUS' Nigel Miller too says:

"Scotland has no intention of becoming part of a UK-wide Bluetongue Control Zone, unless the disease situation changes significantly..."
Perhaps Mr Miller is unaware of just how close BTV is to Scotland now; since it has been discovered in Denmark, Poland and Scandinavia it is certainly now winging its way inexorably nearer.

German Bluetongue expert, Sabine Zentis, remains deeply sympathetic but adamant in her advice:
"... they really shouldn't extend the zone but rather give permission for all movements directly to slaughter. .. once the vector activity ceases, animals for breeding can be moved after blood tests giving a negative result for the virus. We have been living with these restrictions for 14 months now - and they are not as bad as watching animals go down with BT in large numbers..."

True. But watching healthy animals go down in large numbers because there is no other humane course - seeing them slaughtered, wasted and burned or buried because movement is impossible - this is also a black misery that seems out of all proportion to the disease itself. We really need to know whether the livestock controls are actually playing any useful part at all in preventing spread of the disease.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

DEFRA's Disastrous Dithering

Merial and Intervet say that, between them, they could meet demand in 2008, provided there is a plan. If there is no coherent plan, they will have to produce vaccine based on 'first come - first served' basis, which is most certainly not the best strategy for the EU. Merial indicates they will not raise vaccine prices in case of shortages

"Don't let people confuse you," we are told by the insider who told us the above, "It is just a matter of political will".

If the EU Commission is short of funds, they should go to the European Parliament and ask for more.(Jan Mulder is a member of the budget committee. He spoke kindly to me in Brussels after the four hour session in the Parliament.)

The key points we have to get the politicians to understand are these:

  • The Commission promised to pay for the vaccines themselves
  • The Commission promised to pay 50% of the vaccination costs during the first year.
  • Our European neighbours are much further up the learning curve. Michel Barnier, the excellent French Minister of Agriculture, has put in an order for 33.4 million doses of vaccine. Germany plans to order 5 million doses and says "eradication of BT can only be achieved by vaccination of all susceptible farmed ruminants..."

    Holland is ordering 1 or 2 million vaccine doses for sheep while the decision will be taken on the 6th of November for cattle.

    Both Merial and Intervet have prototypes of vaccines available. They need only firm orders in order to get producing. After production, they need time for safety testing of vaccines. It should be possible to produce vaccines by May 2008.

    DEFRA is at the very bottom of this steep learning curve and is dithering.

    This, says an observer at the meeting in the Hague in early October, was very apparent. Any suggestion that DEFRA was told by vaccine companies that it was then too late for an order to be delivered in the spring is not the case. It is simply a matter of political will.

    Heartbreakingly, neither DEFRA nor even the British MEPs are up to speed. Precious time is being frittered away while defeatist nonsense is being spread about on the subject of bluetongue vaccine. Talk of a mere 'firefighting' amount or that vaccines will be terribly expensive "due to demand" or that since the EU is offering support out of a "very limited pot" - all this is DEFRA defeatism and bewilderment and is leading to no action at all. In short, an excuse for a headless chicken to run about in circles.

    Dr Ruth Watkins - who most certainly is up to speed - gave a talk yesterday to the Pedigree Beef Society Group at an emergency Bluetongue meeting at Stoneleigh.

    The Powerpoint presentation that she gave as an illustration to her talk really is a crash course in 'all you need to know about Bluetongue'. She concludes that inactivated vaccine is absolutely vital for us and a firm order must be made - now.

    (FOOTNOTE We hear this morning from a reliable source that DEFRA may, after all, be ordering vaccine "or will do shortly". One wonders, as always, at the entrenched mindset where everything must be kept secret. Paranoia reigns - usually a symptom of a deeper illness. But if this is true - if - then at least we can stop banging on about ordering vaccine.)

    Wednesday, 24 October 2007

    The Midges arrived, safe and well, on August 4th

    Informed voices are starting to be raised in earnest about the desperate Bluetongue situation.
    (The culicoides wing looks like this, actually)
    The increasingly vocal European Livestock Alliance has put forward a Resolution to which governments other than my own are most certainly listening:
    "the disease situation does not allow further inaction... European Governments must act swiftly and decisively in order to ensure large scale vaccine production as soon as possible ...Governments, European Commission/ European Parliament, and the various stakeholder groups" should "immediately develop Plans of Action regarding the species to be vaccinated, vaccination schedules, required vaccination coverage and allocation of available vaccine stocks within Europe as soon as they become available."
    One of the leading lights of the ELA is that most experienced and world renowned expert in fighting animal disease, Paul Sutmoller. An opinion on BTV biosecurity sent to Dr. Sutmoller by fellow scientist Geoff Letchworth, DVM, Ph.D, makes very clear that the present stymying of BTV vaccine production by DEFRA is potentially catastrophic.

    Professor Letchworth wrote:
    "The unfortunate situation of one of the world's preeminent vaccine companies being precluded from producing a bluetongue vaccine to protect animals against an ongoing epidemic prompts me to weigh in on the subject of bluetongue biosafety."
    He says that the virus is not going to be killed by an English or even the most extreme Arctic winter. It is here to stay.

    Yet DEFRA is still expressing worries about the possible escape of a virus that cannot infect animals unless actually injected. Prof Letchworth is tactful but adamant:
    "...worries about rigorous biocontainment requirements would be counterproductive if they delayed or prevented the use of vaccine ... the past year's experience has shown that not having a vaccine is a major risk."
    (See Prof Letchworth's opinion.)

    But how grateful we must be for the knowledge that IAH and the seconded Met Office man can, with such expertise, observe, analyse and chart the movements of the bluetongue virus carrying midge:

    "Overnight on 4/5 August was considered ideal in respect of conditions for midge take-off, safe transit and landing."
    The culicoides, then, evidently enjoyed a pretty carefree passage to our shores.

    The IAH seems not to be aware that their pride in all the data collected "to monitor the likely midge development in the area and help to identify areas for further spread of disease in the area..." is of precious little help to the livestock farmers in the straitjacket of DEFRA restrictions. They are caught far more tightly than any midges could have been in DEFRA's inspired but non-existent sticky nets.

    Can it really be possible, as it is most certainly rumoured to be, that DEFRA believes it can do without vaccine? That under the banner of the egregious Fred Landeg, the Battle of Britain against the Midge can be won without weapons? Vaccination languishes impotently at the Merial site at Pirbright - so now nothing is left except the lives and livelihoods of those on the front line.

    And now for another food scare, courtesy of the Food Standards Agency

    Just when sheep farmers felt that there could be nothing left to hurl at them, the Food Standards Agency has chosen to create another lamb scare. The BBC article and that of the Telegraph this morning create more confusion than they clear up.

    In the past, idiotic warnings about the risks from eating lamb have caused problem after problem for producers but we really thought the nuisance must cease once Ben Bradshaw finally and quietly at the end of January admitted,

    "the prevalence of BSE in the UK sheep population is most likely zero."
    But no. Today we read news that will have people avoiding lamb like the proverbial plague. Any mention of babies will do it and, sure enough, this latest "food alert" is that humans and babies could be at risk if they eat lamb.

    An abattoir "vet" apparently thought he could possibly smell sheep dip on one carcase - but even then there had not been enough time for any drug to have passed into the meat. What will certainly not register as warnings fly from shopper to shopper is the fact that the relevant drug (that never had time to reach the meat) has never been shown to cause harm to humans, the risk of contamination is negligible and that any meat that could even possibly have been suspect was removed on Friday.

    Cynical onlookers may well be watching with satisfaction. See warmwell.com

    POSTSCRIPT I have been taken to task - quite possibly correctly - over this last paragraph. Chris writes, "Credit to the vigilant officers I say - the public deserve protection from these chemicals; the villains of the piece are the abattoir buyers; this may have been a careless oversight, although I doubt it.
    Needless to say, the timing is dreadful!"

    However, another update via email is even more interesting: "I heard this week (before this story broke) that a lorry load of sheep for slaughter had been impounded at an abattoir in the North, due to 'taint' . This turned out to be the use of strong anti - midge disinfectant, sprayed all over the lorry in accordance with Defra guidelines - of course - before it could travel with slaughter stock to an abattoir outside the bluetongue zones. The smell had been picked up in their fleece from the lorry.
    Don't know if this could be the basis for this bit of mischief as well?"

    A weakness in the system

    Hilary Benn has chosen this precise moment to tell the EFRA Select Committee that that there are swingeing cuts to be made in animal health...
    So in spite of the looming death of livestock farming, the threat of bluetongue, foot and mouth, TB, and a host of other zoonoses on the move towards us, some of which could affect or even kill humans, animal health doesn't really matter.
    "I am keen to make progress on savings in animal health..."
    As for the escape of virus - it was just a
    "weakness in the system"

    Yes. One could say that.

    Aghast to hear that animal health doesn't really matter would have been those gathered in Washington for the OIE conference They are, dare we say, more influential than Mr Benn, and not only know the opposite to be true but are saying so loud and clear:
    "Healthy animals are crucial for the future of human race"
    said Dr. David Nabarro, United Nation System Influenza Coordinator

    "emerging animal diseases, three quarters of which are zoonotic, are set to become more and more part of the world landscape...the international community will be required to take an increasingly active long-term role in a global system of animal disease prevention and control."
    said Dr. François Le Gall of the World Bank.
    "only one country which does not comply may endanger the entire planet"
    said Bernard Vallat, Director General of OIE,

    The OIE conference brought together the eminent voices of specialists of both animal and public health, World Bank economists and experts in development. All renowned worldwide. They had gathered to discuss ways of dealing with zoonoses in the globalised world - and one of their major conclusions?
    The costs of preventing major animal diseases are significantly less than those associated with outbreaks

    Hilary Benn is widely acknowledged to be a nice man. He is nice, gentle and earnest, his father is liked and admired even by former enemies - and Hilary himself is a good man and, whisper it quietly, a vegetarian. What rotten luck to be handed the poisoned chalice of DEFRA just in time for the floods, pestilence and plagues to arrive.
    But he is the wrong man, pursuing the wrong policies in the wrong government. We are seeing some wretched decisions being made.

    Can the government really be watching the demise of farming with complacency and even satisfaction? Can those who talk blithely of the need to get rid of farmers really not know that the end of traditional livestock farming means the end of UK self sufficiency, the end of the much loved rural landscape, the end for many dependent wildlife species who need livestock farming and the end of unique skills and family traditions that will change for ever the heart and face of Britain?

    The crisis in farming, particularly in the hilly areas of England, Wales and Scotland, is of enormous importance to Britain as a whole. It can never be put into reverse once it reaches a critical point. The fact that the opposition parties appear ignorant of these vital matters too is yet another indication of the depths to which the parliamentary system has sunk - a 'weakness in the system' that threatens even greater danger to us all than the escape of virus that could, with vaccination, have been contained and remedied within days.

    Monday, 22 October 2007

    This could finish us

    The BTV-8 strain of Bluetongue has been a problem in Northern Europe for over two years but the EU, for all its macho, centralised strength and influence, will not in this instance take control. Instead, the big boss leans back in his swivel chair and says to his now impotent underlings, "It is up to you. Decide what to do. Get on with it."

    But the UK is dithering.

    The virus, carried by thousands upon thousands of adult female midges must be zapped fast. If BTV-8 vaccine production at Merial is still being held up by an edict from DEFRA then the whole of livestock farming in the UK is at risk and we are in deep trouble. The anti-vaccination mindset at DEFRA is very heavily entrenched. Even if lip service is being paid to the undeniable truth that only vaccination works on Bluetongue - nothing is at present being done. Like the EU itself, the tiny culicoides midges are experts in vast empire building. Their destructive power is not going to be stopped by boundaries - and this power, like the boundaries themselves, is growing all the time.

    Germany has realised the urgency of the situation and an emergency meeting has been held so that firm orders for BTV-8 vaccines can be dispatched. Are the Germans getting their towels on the deckchairs first? If so, good for them.
    They have understood that actual supplies of vaccine do not magically appear without firm orders. Vaccine producers cannot be expected to work blind without knowing how many million doses are going to be required. They are not funded as a public service - and can get their fingers badly burned. Intervet could not claim compensation a little while ago when CSF vaccines had to be thrown away because the presumed orders never materialised.

    The Chief Veterinary Officers of all affected European countries are the ones - whether they realise this or not - who are responsible for giving vaccine companies a firm commitment for vaccine orders. Getting adequate supplies will depend on those adequate firm orders.

    The EU seems to be prepared to be generous in funding - but it is down to each member state to order supplies. Contact Debby Reynolds or Fred Landeg to request that a firm commitment for supplies be ordered. Merial at Pirbright is furthest on with this work. It will be catastrophic if DEFRA continues to delay permission when there is in this work, as Professor Spratt pointed out, no danger to man nor beast.

    Is farming being left to die because DEFRA and its masters thinks all the meat needed to feed the UK can be imported?

    I was told, off the record in Brussels, that the UK would prefer to import all meat and want to be shot of their own farmers. Perhaps it is thought that they cost too much in political embarrassment, subsidies and compensation.

    Well, there are a few problems. Such a sanguine view of the future fails to appreciate record-high oil prices and turbulent financial markets. The Financial Times today is warning
    "a rise in inflation would trigger global interest rate increases, and this in turn could mark the beginning of a severe global recession"
    When warmwell first began to track the price of oil in April 2004 (See oil page) we were amazed by the fact that the price of a barrel was edging towards 50 dollars. Today, bets being taken on its reaching 100 look safe. It had reached 90 dollars on friday.

    As for wheat, the notion that wheat will always be available somewhere has been proved wrong. Bad harvests or outlooks in Australia, India, Pakistan, Texas and elsewhere have left countries who depended on reliable supplies scrambling for it. The price has skyrocketed. When other foodstuffs become scarce the politicians who have turned their backs on home-grown food are going to be in trouble. Hungry crowds are not interested in words.

    "We have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act"

    James Lovelock, that gentle, brilliant scientist whose fear for Gaia is more and more justified, has been warning us for some time now:
    "our nation is now so urbanised....we are dependent on the trading world for sustenance; ...we have to keep in mind the awesome pace of change and realise how little time is left to act, and then each community and nation must find the best use of the resources they have to sustain civilisation for as long as they can."
    A top Defra adviser recently spoke disparagingly to a farmer about how the UK is now in a
    "post agricultural era"
    This might well explain the catastrophic ignorance among those directing policy. What they cannot see are the dangers of allowing livestock farming to die a slow death.

    Dying a fast death is what a heartbreaking number of lambs on Frank the Wool's farm are pretty certain to face. His "diary of a bluetongue farmer" ought to be being read by everyone. You can read such things at www.fwi.co.uk/Community/forums - but not in the newspapers. Most of them, it seems, are colluding in keeping silent about the death of lambs and of agriculture. The public are not being made aware that hundreds upon hundreds of healthy animals are, yet again, paying the price of ineffective disease controls. The price the farmers are paying is causing them to say, "This could finish us."

    Frank the Wool says
    " If the government will not order the BTV8 vaccine this week (and pay for it) then we might as well accept that there is little point in trying to continue sheep farming..."
    He says, if, as is all too likely, it becomes impossible to sell his sheep on Friday
    ".... we will be forced to resort to on farm slaughter and burial for the store lambs.I doubt we will be given the luxury of a £15.00 disposal scheme as they have in Scotland and Wales. We will also have to make the hard decision to slaughter the ewe lambs and assess the maximum number of ewes that we have a chance of putting to the Tup. The surplus ewes will also have to be killed."
    Most heartbreaking of all, we read now that infected midges have probably long since moved on to bite more animals. All the sheep tested on Frank's farm were negative but his two Rams had been bitten by infected midges. His 19 cattle were extremely healthy but 5 of them were both sero positive and also positive to antibodies. This means, of course, that they were infected some time ago (at least ten days). They are not contagious to other animals but midges can get infected - and move on. Midges should be allowed to bite only vaccinated immune cattle and therefore not get infected!

    Next year not only will cattle be infected but also many more sheep as there will be many, many more infected midges.

    The UK's present pitiful stable-door-slamming disease controls are killing animals not the virus.

    But there is even worse. Disease control depends on farmers. They are the front line defenders because they can spot the first symptoms. If farmers feel they are going to be stuck and stymied and harassed as a result of reporting notifiable disease, going to have to slaughter and waste the animals they have looked after, then they are going to stop reporting disease.

    Saturday, 20 October 2007

    Counting for something

    At the start of our two-day conference, (the combined ELA/EU FMD&CSF Coordination Action meetings held in Brussels on 17th and 18th of October 2007) farmers, vets, stakeholders and scientists, were welcomed to that semi-circle of seats, each with its own headset and microphone that is the Parliament chamber in Brussels.
    United in a tentative optimism, we had come together from Holland, Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and even the USA to listen and to question. In the UK, an unaccountable Ministry that gives the impression that animals count for nothing and that it is farming families who should bear the brunt both of animal diseases and the arbitrary controls to slap them down and stamp them out, is getting increasingly hard to stomach - but the fact that the MEPs had wanted us to come seemed a very promising start. Lily Jacobs of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, opened the afternoon's discussions with some statements that seemed promising too:
    "animals must be seen as more than mere animal products"
    and that
    "vaccination should not affect value"
    So optimism seemed at last to be justified. However, as some of us were able to say, emergency FMD vaccination (always so frustratingly "considered") is not going to be acceptable to those who resist it while the EU rules continue to penalise it. Insistence that trade is held up for a further three months, together with the complex meat treatments demanded, is simply not underpinned by the science. There were murmurs of support from behind and around when this was said but, to general dismay, grim shakings of the head by several of those facing us could be seen. The extra three month ban was defended in terms that made no sense at all to the scientists among us.

    There are, it seems, persistent carriers of the dogma that FMD infection, stamped out at any cost in blood and unhappiness, is better than FMD elimination by the safe, potent, modern vaccines that can so successfully distinguish diseased from vaccinated animals.

    It was a blow - the more so since it doesn't seem credible that this can be anything more than a thin disguise for protectionism. But the harm it causes to farm animals, farming families and to farming itself is incalculable and, as one of the gentle farmers at the conference later told us with such passion, the effects of 2001, let alone this latest misery, are still taking their economic and emotional toll. He said that in 2001, DEFRA had said that lambs had to be starving to qualify for the payments of the welfare cull
    "We chose to feed them and ended up almost starving ourselves."

    We were cheered by the robust assertion that expecting the farming families to foot the bill when they have no say in policy nor guarantees of efficiency is mere "taxation without representation" and unacceptable. But gloom returned at the news that the "Community Animal Health Policy" document, in its draft form, had actually had many references to "welfare" crossed through by the CVOs themselves. It made some of us very thoughtful.

    This is not the place for a detailed report of the rest of the two day meeting. A great deal of ground was covered; there were experts with a refreshing manner and a grasp of their subjects that made listening a pleasure. Topics ranged from the practicalities of vaccine production to the importance of the genetic pool in rare breeds, from the skills on the ground needed in a crisis to the little known habits but boundlessly successful spread of the culicoides midge - and much in between. New friendships were forged, assumptions challenged without rancour, questions raised and answered - and a forum for change in the evolving European Livestock Alliance began to look increasingly possible. The speakers joined together at the front for a final question and answer session, the sun beamed in and everyone expressed warm appreciation towards ELA and the Coordination Action organisers for the hard work that had paid off so handsomely.

    Even the disasters were not as bad as they might have been. Two of the most eminent of the party had been stuck in a traffic jam for six hours while the rest of us were in the EU parliament but had safely arrived and were smiling wryly at us on our return to the hotel. British Airways had managed to mislay both Roger Breeze's suitcase and the rapid diagnostic machine that was to have been demonstrated to all. It finally arrived at the Hotel reception area, safe and sound, the day after most delegates had left and very early on the morning of Dr Breeze's own departure. Roused at an ungodly hour to see it in operation after all, I was grateful to the French train strike that meant I too was still at the hotel. I can personally attest that getting a sample into the machine (it looked like a large toaster) is easy and safe. Once inside, the sample is locked irreversibly into its small cassette and can later be disposed of with no danger of cross contamination or leakage. My training took less than five minutes but I could operate such a machine in the field, see the results transmitted by the internet and then dispose of the sealed sample with as much confidence as any enthusiastic young operator in Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan.

    Why there? Because, although not yet in sophisticated Europe, a paradigm shift in disease control is taking place. Irony of ironies it is happening in the former Soviet bloc countries. Driven by the need to protect the world from the biological warfare threats of former times, countless dollars and expertise are being poured into Eastern Europe. The Cold War development of pathogens and biological warfare is being sent into reverse there with the result that we are going to see diseases eliminated actually within our own lifetimes - many of those very diseases that are at present merely being swatted at by Europe with its regulations, arbitrary controls, agribusiness interests and absurdly centralised control freakery.

    This progress from the East is unstoppable. The overall system that uses such machines will soon be in operation everywhere to pinpoint disease and target it efficiently. It isn't going to be stopped by DEFRA disapproval. It isn't going to be stopped by anything. Like the amazing success of Wikipedia, Google and the Internet itself - the opportunity to claim information without its having been channelled or diverted first will give back to ordinary people a large measure of control over their lives. Will we have long to wait before we see such a transformation happening in our own countries? Rather than years I think we can start counting the months. The impertinence of bureaucratic interference can be consigned to its inevitable obscurity. When technology allows to everyone who needs it access to information, democracy is alive and well - and it seems certain that this particular access to information will soon help ensure that our animals remain so too.
    Photos: Moira Linaker

    Wednesday, 17 October 2007

    More bluetongue

    Reuters reports that new cases of livestock disease bluetongue have been confirmed in Cambridgeshire and Kent, prompting the Defra to expand the area in which it controls animal movements.

    "This is obviously unwelcome news for the farming industry, however, given the nature of this disease and its means of spread, this is not entirely unexpected," Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Fred Landeg said in a statement.

    The new cases were near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and Ashford, Kent. The country's first ever case of bluetongue was reported in Suffolk on September 22.

    Landeg confirmed an outbreak of the disease in the country on September 28 after several subsequent cases of the disease which quickly spread from Suffolk to neighbouring county Essex.

    Defra said there were 41 confirmed premises affected by bluetongue, as of 4:30 pm on Tuesday. Control Zones have been put in place around these two new cases and the existing Protection Zone has been extended accordingly.

    In a separate statement, NFU President Peter Kendall said: "It is obviously deeply disappointing to learn the disease has spread as far west as Peterborough and that the Protection Zone has moved further across the country."

    "As an organisation we need to look carefully at the implications of this news, and will be consulting urgently with our members, because it will have a major financial impact on a huge number of livestock farmers, particularly those in the Midlands."

    Well, that is certainly one way of putting it!

    Tuesday, 16 October 2007

    Scare over

    According to Reuters, the temporary control zone in East Sussex was lifted today after negative laboratory tests for foot and mouth disease. Movement controls had been imposed on Monday after suspect signs of the disease in sheep.

    Monday, 15 October 2007

    New FMD case in East Sussex?

    The news of yet another 3 kilometre Temporary Zone, this time centred on Beckley and Peasemarsh in East Sussex, could not have come at a crueller time. If the suspected sheep prove to be positive then bang goes the lifting of the restrictions so desperately awaited on Wednesday.

    The DEFRA site just baldly points the way to its new Declaration in which, in the inimitable language and tone we have had to expect from DEFRA "keepers of a susceptible animal in the Zone"... "shall take all such steps as are necessary to prevent it from straying from the premises on which it is kept..." Warmwell.com has put a slightly enlarged and clearer map of the new temporary zone here.

    The BBC - which seems to get information long before anyone else, says that the:

    "3km foot-and-mouth temporary control zone has been put in place around premises in East Sussex. It follows a veterinary assessment of suspected signs of the disease in sheep. Tests are in progress on livestock at the site near Rye.

    The government had planned to lift the movement ban in low-risk foot-and-mouth areas on 17 October. The plan also to lift the Surrey foot-and-mouth protection zone was dependent on no further outbreaks."
    If this proves to be a positive case will anyone still dare to suggest that the non-vaccination gamble paid off?

    And now for some hot air...

    DEFRA says methane emissions from dairy cattle should be reduced by 60 per cent within 15 to 20 years while refrigeration of fresh milk should be phased out:
    "Officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made a serious proposal that consumers switch to UHT (Ultra-High Temperature or Ultra-Heat Treated) milk to reduce greenhouse gas emissions"
    explains Valerie Elliott in The Times this morning.

    Michael Greaves, who alerted us to this, comments that it is yet another "example of the Kafkaesque world inhabited by DEFRA". Valerie Elliott quotes Ionwen Lewis, President of the Women's Food and Farming Union: "We are very privileged in this country to be drinking fresh pasteurised milk..." and this is very true.

    In France, for example, fresh milk tended only on to be on sale where there were enough British immigrants to make it worthwhile but many of the French are now buying it too. The dairy adviser at the NFU says the DEFRA target could be achieved only by destroying half the national dairy herd. The Chairman of the NFU’s dairy board, Gwyn Jones' comment:

    "I believe there are people inside the Government who are trying to destroy our industry. Here we are in the middle of fighting two diseases and this pops up from Defra. You have to wonder what is going on if our own people are plotting against us.."
    Conspiracy? Or an insensitivity and incompetence of such breadth and depth that it amounts to the same thing.

    More than hot air: One cannot help thinking about the discharges of intestinal gas - somewhat more of a threat to the ozone layer than the cows - produced by the human population of the UK . A mass cull perhaps? The excess population - especially the obese - could be turned into biofuel in a final solution for their welfare. Several of DEFRA's irritating little problems would disappear in one fell swoop.

    "a fair number of these tough, resilient men tell me that they have had enough..."

    An article today in the Herald warns that hill farmers in Scotland, men well able to withstand one of the harshest environments in Europe, are not going to be able to withstand the ravages of Bluetongue if it become endemic. They are talking about giving up. And, as the article predicts, (and not only in Scotland of course) if hill farming dies out there will be "one of the biggest environmental and demographic disasters yet".

    Many will remember the miserable (and tragically unnecessary) Brecon Beacon cull of hefted sheep in 2001. Hefted sheep know their area and their shepherds are highly skilled. When this knowledge goes, it goes for ever. Bluetongue is not going to go. Without a vaccine it will become endemic and the ancient skills of the hill farmers are going to be lost. And BTV-8 vaccine production at Merial is still languishing under the intransigent command of DEFRA.

    Sunday, 14 October 2007

    ".....The Dutch and Germans ...must be weeping at the delay"

    "by a malign stroke of fate....work there is now at a halt while the clapped-out buildings are brought up to scratch." So says Clive Aslet on the subject of DEFRA's indefinite and groundless hold-up of Bluetongue vaccine at the Merial plant on the Pirbright site. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph he says that when a vaccine for Bluetongue is finally ready, there is no doubt that it will be used.
    "This ought to pave the way for foot and mouth vaccine to be used as a matter of course throughout Europe.
    He reminds readers that in those far-off days of August, it appeared that the Brown government had learnt the lessons of 2001. "Vaccination was talked of sympathetically. Since then, Defra has reverted to type" adding that it was the UK who pressed for Europe to be treated as a foot and mouth free zone in the first place and echoes what warmwell has always maintained,
    "It is only the financial interest of a small number of livestock farmers - who would, for a time, be prevented from exporting their animals - that prevents vaccines from being used."
    It is cheering to find that there are commentators talking about the ethical dimension to so-called welfare culls of animals. ".. For the meat won't be sold in supermarkets (we consumers are said to be too finicky to buy it). It will be incinerated. Won't the Third World goggle at us in appalled disbelief?"

    Bluetongue hits goats in Holland

    From ProMed update email
    "...In a group of more than 100 goats, 10 have been found to be seriously sick. Up to now, it was not known if goats, infected with BTV-8, would develop a clinical disease.."
    The UK would do well to learn from our European neighbours.

    We have, also in the Sunday Telegraph, the misleading headline "Bluetongue spreads from cattle to sheep" which suggests that cattle can pass the disease on to sheep. The article fails to explain clearly enough that the only vector is the midge. Bluetongue is not contagious and it is worrying that there are still journalists writing about animal disease in the UK who appear not understand much about it and who are in danger of misleading the public. Sheep can be infected only if an infected female midge feeds on it while in the viraemic stage. They cannot be infected by cattle.

    Bluetongue outbreak detected in Denmark

    Denmark has had its first case of Bluetongue - in a sheep herd near Sakskobing on the island of Lolland, south of Zealand, the European Commission said today (See Alertnet.) Denmark has reported this first case as an outbreak.
    It will be remembered that the UK dithered from the time of its first case on September 22 until - finally - on September 28 Defra, in the person of Fred Landeg, accepted that the UK "had an outbreak".

    Saturday, 13 October 2007

    In the midst of a serious crisis gripping agriculture, he chose to make a statement about banning energy-sapping light bulbs

    The FWi reports that poor Hilary Benn, when confronted by some very anxious and angry farmers at Skipton Auction Mart, could do no more, than try to defend himself behind Defra Spinspeak. But with people who have no problem with actual English, such phrases as "we are working closely with supermarkets" and "we want to increase the promotion of British meat" cut no ice.
    "Mr Benn was generous with platitudes..."

    As the FWi says, they "served only to expose the minister's failure to grasp what is really at stake here..."
    "But, then, this is a man who in the midst of a serious crisis gripping agriculture, chose to make a statement at his party's annual conference about the banning of energy-sapping light bulbs by 2012.."
    Not much illumination from that quarter. But we are reaping a very grim harvest. The centralisation of agriculture - all the ropes having been delivered up into the hands of DEFRA - and the UK's increasing dependence on the Brussels "one size fits all" mentality has led only to mistrust, confusion and the erosion of common sense. Scotland is at breaking point with England over what it sees as duplicity. Wales, in parlous plight, can get no sense from its Minister of State.

    "I have no knowledge of your allegations, nor does my office, and I do not accept them." Peter Hain

    icWales quotes the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, who last night accused Peter Hain of dismissing her concerns about compensation payments. She says that Mr Hain ".. is quick to exonerate himself from any blame on this issue." Mr Hain had replied to a letter from Ms Gillan by saying
    “I have no knowledge of your allegations, nor does my office, and I do not accept them. Our Government and the Welsh Assembly Government recognise the huge damage caused by foot-and-mouth and will continue to support those farmers affected. As Secretary of State for Wales I will continue to ensure that the interests of Welsh farmers are properly represented."
    And that was all. It left her wondering whether he had even bothered to discuss the matter with DEFRA and the Treasury. But he has so little time. Peter Hain is a man so busy that he must cope with the two jobs Gordon Brown gave him; Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Quite a plateful. He "cannot accept allegations of which he has no knowledge"? Such bizarre use of English makes one wonder yet again about how far our political masters still have mastery over their own language - or anything else.

    "We orders the time of their birth and the time of their death - an' inbetween times we has a duty."

    The waste of the horribly named "welfare cull" is criminal - but many think that the live export of young lambs is too.
    A memorable line in one of Terry Pratchett's novels is the wisdom of the old shepherd of the chalk downs who tells her granddaughter:

      "We orders the time of their birth and the time of their death. In between times we has a duty."
    We kill our livestock for our food certainly - but while they are alive and in our care would anyone dare to deny that "we has a duty"? Prolonged treatment that hurts or frightens them is callous exploitation; many would think that live export is just that. One comment today received by email gives pause for thought perhaps:

    "The light lamb market is very heavily dependent on exports, as it is said that the British Consumer does not like small joints (no one has asked me..) It seems that some rationalisation of the sheep market and our 40 million sheep is long overdue.
    If we were geared to exporting lamb as dead meat we could have supplied the starving of Darfur and achieved two humanitarian aims at a stroke - some help for starving humans and a more welfare friendly approach to lambs.
    A third benefit would have been a better market price for farmers and this might be the one that appeals to the industry."
    What does the UK think it is doing justifying the killing and burning of lambs, such as the Scottish Blackface and the Cheviot, with the unquestioned assumption, as in the Herald, that "the consumer here demands a 15kg to 16kg deadweight carcass"? In 2005, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, said,
    "Blackface Lamb is some of the most delicious I have ever tasted. There is no question in my mind that the diet of heather and moorland grasses give it a distinctive and special flavour,and the two year old mutton hung for a full two weeks is particularly outstanding"
    If the River Cottage Chef thinks such breeds delicious at two years could these animals not have more of a life and be spared the horrors of the journey to the Mediterranean slaughterhouses? Who decided that we no longer care for mutton?

    A kind-hearted emailer, Roger, wrote yesterday:
    A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Brecon area of Wales doing some business. Obviously, these "light" lambs were everywhere.
    I`ve stayed at various places in West Wales and evenings I like to take a walk across hills and down dales where these innocents are in abundance.
    You can sit to take in the view and these little things will appear from nowhere. They will wander up to you with no fear and some will even let you give `em a tickle under the chin whilst mum watches close by. Although enjoying the experience and admiring their beauty and friendliness, I have to have it ruined by the knowledge that they are mostly destined to be herded into huge trucks to be carted off to goodness knows where in Europe and possibly beyond - often without proper care nor food and water. It is a horrible business.
    So, I am beginning to wonder if it is not kinder to have them culled over here. At least they will not have to suffer that awful journey.
    I know that Waitrose take these lambs. Why can`t other supermarkets?"

    Much to ponder here.

    Friday, 12 October 2007

    Official case numbers have reached a staggering 30 thousand plus

    (red areas show bluetongue Zone F i.e. BTV-8 affected areas)
    Astonishing and alarming spread in Europe Warmwell is very grateful to Sabine Zentis for this overview of present numbers of BTV-8 cases in Europe.
    As she says,
    ".. the official case numbers have reached a staggering
    30,000+ it is incomprehensible that so far no common strategy for the countries affected has been published."

    We too are wondering what conclusions can be reached about possible future strategies from the various consultations that have been going on throughout Europe to combat "this major crisis for the livestock sector of Western Europe"

    DEFRA agrees to movement to abattoirs - but the French system is still much more free

    "new measures to relieve pressure within the Bluetongue zones" announces DEFRA (Oct 12) "Markets within the Bluetongue Control and Protection Zones will be permitted from midnight Sunday 14 October. The movement of susceptible animals from within the Control and Protection Zones to approved slaughterhouses outside the Bluetongue Zones will also be permitted from this time."

    This news was greeted by the Core Stakeholders - but there are complications. "Approved" slaughterhouses means that those outside the Bluetongue Zones have to apply to the Meat Hygiene Service to be allowed to take animals from within the Control and Protection Zones. The conditions under which animals are going to move to slaughter are looking very stringent.
    They have to move before dusk - and the time limits, soon to be announced, look very difficult to fulfil.
    This contrasts greatly with the situation in France where animals from the PZ can be sent into the BT free zone for breeding or finishing after they have been serologically tested and a "desinsectisation" begun at least 28 days before being removed.
    Abattoirs in France must give priority to animals from PZ but they are given 48 hours to process the animals after they leave the restricted zone. See (in french) Fièvre Catarrhale Ovine (FCO)
    Note d'Information N° 7

    IAH's "rapid diagnosis and detective work" still fails to find active pre-clinical FMD virus quickly enough

    IAH BBSRC's Statement14 claims of rapid diagnosis do not make clear that the pen-side tests being used do not - as the state-of-the-art machines used elsewhere do - indicate the presence of pre-clinical desease
    "..tests for the presence of virus on infected premises 6 and 7 were done in the evening/night time and daytime, respectively. On both occasions Test 1 (using a lateral flow device, rather like a pregnancy test gave a positive result within an hour. Interestingly, this test was actually performed on the farm (“pen-side”) in the case of IP7"
    Perhaps so, but the positive result the test found was for antigen. What we have needed all along was the rapid on-site RT-PCR tests that can find disease in animals before they show any clinical signs at all. It doesn't matter how quickly the penside lateral flow device is used at the lab or on the farm - it is designed to detect antigen and this can only be detected from lesions. The animals must have developed lesions, hence the instruction to look for lesions twice a day, before the penside test can be used at all.

    It is so obviously better to pick up infection before it reaches the stage when a number of animals can be seen to be clinically infected.

    So although IAH's statement claims that
    "A positive result in the very rapid Test 1 is of itself sufficient to show that FMD virus is present. Consequently IAH was able to tell Defra within an hour of the test being started that a premises did indeed have FMD virus, enabling Defra to take action"
    the "action" was always going to be along the lines of stable door slamming after the horse was already far away.

    "a pretty shabby way to treat a national emergency"

    Is Westminster going to rue the day it quietly airbrushed away an allocation of nearly £15 million in foot and mouth compensation for Scotland and Wales once it had been decided not to call an election?
    Alex Salmond says, "This is a pretty shabby way to treat a national emergency. It flies in the face of the Prime Minister's rhetoric on facing the emergency of foot and mouth"
    In Wales, Rural Affairs minister Elin Jones said the decision was "disappointing" adding that the costs of foot-and-mouth should be met by the UK government: "I hope the Treasury will accept its responsibility."

    And the MP for Shewsbury,Daniel Kawczynski, was particularly unamused to see Gordon Brown "sitting through the debate smiling and laughing...totally inappropriate to an issue is of such gravity"
    "We must all work together to ensure that the Government is held to account over this disaster and their wholly inadequate response to it."

    Now that literally thousands of cattle destined for slaughter in the Bluetongue zone cannot cross the DEFRA imposed line to the abbatoirs, we are going to see meat shortages in the supermarkets. People will at last begin to notice that something in our green and pleasant land is deeply wrong. Although meat exports were allowed to resume today from areas considered at low risk from both FMD and Bluetongue - which excludes parts of south-east England and East Anglia, there are nevertheless so many exceptions to this that the volume of exports will not be great. The limited lifting of the export ban will come too late for producers of light lambs. They are in no fit condition to be processed and, even if they could be, the backlog could not be processed quickly enough.
    From next Wednesday (October 17) the 20-day standstill rule is likely to be relaxed in the Low Risk foot-and-mouth area of England. That too will be a relief but within the Bluetongue zone things are dire.
    An estimated 8,000 cattle inside the bluetongue control zone are normally killed for meat every week but within the zone there are only enough slaughterhouses to process 2,500. On the other side of the imaginary line abbatoirs are operating at only 25 per cent capacity because so many of the cattle they need are on the wrong side of the line.

    DEFRA, as incarnated by Fred Landeg, has said that current control and protection zones will remain in place until the end of summer 2008 "at the earliest"

    He is apparently closing his mind to the fact that bluetongue does not spread from animal to animal.
    The Farmers Guardian quotes the National Beef Association vice-chairman, Frank Momber:

    "Government seems to have no appreciation of just how many cattle are on big feeding units in the East of England and just how meagre the slaughter facilities are. It must, at the very least, allow finished cattle to be transported out of the BT zone for processing...."

    Something must be done or farmers will go out of business in droves. Supermarkets will stock their empty shelves with cheap imports and, as Frank Momber says,

    "a vital section of our national industry will be suffocated"

    Rather than extending the zone the government should give permission for all movements directly to slaughter to be allowed outside the zone to the nearest abbatoirs.
    (Update Late today Oct 12 DEFRA announced that movement outside the zone to slaughter will, after all, be allowed. See above.)
    The French allow movements from any area in their bluetongue zone to slaughter "desinsectisation + abbatage dans les 48hrs" Clearly if this had been foolish their zone would have extended over the whole of France by now.

    When midge activity stops in the colder weather,a few weeks at most, animals for breeding could be be allowed to be moved once blood tests have given a negative result for the BT virus.

    it has been a costly and bloody gamble not to vaccinate - and madness not to use state-of -the -art diagnosis

    But the costs of disease, like a hand grenade whose pin has been pulled out by Pirbright, is being tossed to the farmers. It is almost beyond belief that the "cost sharing" plan has not been shelved in deep embarrassment following the escape of virus from Pirbright. But no. We hear today that Kevin Pearce told the NFU council this week that although the consultation due for September had been suspended there will come a time when talks will resume. Many farmers think the farming industry should refuse to enter into talks until 'the polluter pays in full' for the damage caused by the Pirbright foot-and-mouth leak - and even then to expect the farmers not only to pay the piper but have a chaotic department like DEFRA calling the tune is a nonsense too far.

    The very best plan we have seen to make shared costs and responsibility between government and farming actually work is one which involves proper bench marks to be adhered to by both sides. It can be read in full here

    Since IP6, IP7 and IP8 had fresh disease present (FMD lesions discovered were only between 1 and 4 days old) one cannot be certain of anything and it has been a costly and bloody gamble not to vaccinate; it will not be forgetten that DEFRA announced that the virus had been contained after IP2 only to have it reappear on September 12.

    This strain of the virus, 01 BFS1860, has produced such mild symptoms that many animals recovered before the slow UK tests showed they had had the disease. That has not prevented the killing of about 2000 animals, mostly negative post mortem. What is so hard to bear - quite apart from the vaccination question - is the fact that for six years the UK has ignored available rapid diagnostic on-site tests that can diagnose pre clinical disease. These portable, simple kits would have saved the healthy animals, including the hand-reared pet lambs culled out near IP8, and saved so much of the misery we'd hoped after 2001 never to see again.

    The whole affair has highlighted yet again the fact that foot and mouth is a political and economic disease

    Thursday, 11 October 2007

    "Man has decidedly botched up the planet"

    Most of the media continues to behave as if there is no problem. There is. An ever-descending black despair is with us. You cannot "snap out of" this one.

    The stranglehold restrictions put in place to "control" foot and mouth and bluetongue show what happens if you allow animal health to pass out of the hands of those who know and care and into the surreal dreamworld of politics.
    First came the EU legislation, the Directives and the Statutory Instruments. Then the 2002 Animal Health Act tidied up the loopholes. And then April Fool's Day this year saw the creation of "Animal Health" an outpost of Defra-world that merged - in the name of efficiency and as per the Hampton Review - the State Veterinary Service (SVS) the Dairy Hygiene Inspectorate (DHI), the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS,including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES), and the Egg Marketing Inspectorate (EMI).
    Does anyone pretend that this was more than a money saving confidence trick?

    Better animal health policies were not the aim. Just the determination to keep ever tighter controls on those producing food.
    "We all welcome this merger," enthused Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of the monster, using a Defra-dialect unknown in the civilised world, "it will deliver more comprehensively and with the customer in mind."
    So, like passengers of British Rail, like wrongs hushed up, we are "customers", herded into a corner and comprehensively delivered into the iron grasp of DEFRA - for which we do indeed pay but for which there is no customer service. The only communications are glossy pamphlets with mind numbing demands for compliance or expressions of self congratulation (The Defra-slogan now seems to be "Enabling everyone to live within our environmental means" a piece of meaningless Defra-drivel for which we also undoubtedly paid.)
    There is no remorse and no apology in Defra-world. And no criticism allowed. The 2002 Animal Health Act saw to that.

    And so, with extreme sadness, we turn to this extract from an article online at www.countrylife.co.uk/blogs by Carla Carlisle with her ultimately doomed non-customer approach:
    I am advised to 'check livestock twice daily'.
    And this I do, taking buckets of extra feed, an apronful of windfalls, treats that make me welcome. We have two breeds. The Shetlands, small and gentle, look like the 'earth colours' section on paint charts. Born black, they evolve into taupe, chestnut, dark chocolate. If I sit on the ground, they come up to me, curious, concerned, and if I stay long enough, the older ewes lie down beside me. Then there are the Jacobs, dappled, scatty sheep with attention deficit disorders, courteous but wary.

    I cannot claim that these sheep are vital to the financial future of this farm, but they provide a rhythmic sympathy with the earth that justifies everything we do here. They provide the grazing essential to the maintenance of the wildflower meadow.... Morning and evening, I check for signs of swelling and listen to the breathing beneath the symphony of crunching sheep nuts. And I pray for cold and rain. This depression doesn't feel like cowardice. It feels like the despair that André Gide described when he wrote that 'melancholy occasionally wins out: man has decidedly botched up the planet'. It is the despair of knowing that last winter was the second warmest on record, and there is no health in it.

    A coming national catastrophe - hidden away in the Letters pages

    "We must seriously consider vaccination - soon..." writes a farmer, Sarah Birchall, from inside what she calls "Bluetongue Island". This is in the Telegraph - but the crisis she describes, which is no less than the possible end of farming in the UK, is still confined to the letters pages
    ".....Does anybody care or even begin to understand the predicament the industry is now in? Customers for these animals lie to the west of the zone, as does the winter grazing.
    Normal trade has ceased. Ten livestock markets are unable to trade, and risk extinction. Countless jobs and livelihoods will be lost.
    Do those who spend their whole lives working the land count for so very little? Is most of our food destined to come from abroad?
    ....The aid announced following the foot and mouth crisis has done nothing to help those in the bluetongue zone. Bluetongue is much worse, and will probably never completely go away. We must seriously consider vaccination - soon..."
    Many people are so cut off from the realities of food production as they wander up and down the aisles of their supermarket tossing plastic wrapped packets into their trolleys that they never give farming a thought. Soon it will be too late. Before the general public are given to understand the dire position into which we are sliding, farmers will have given up in despair and this will lead to a change the consequences of which can hardly be imagined.

    "....more than 30 animals have been put down."

    Animals put down because of Bluetongue? See /ukpress.google.com The lack of information from DEFRA is disgraceful - see latest Declaration (pdf). All we are getting from the egregious Mr Landeg is an inappropriate tone of command. "I continue to urge all farmers to remain vigilant, check their animals twice daily and report any sign of disease immediately." The impertinence of this is truly staggering. Farmers are to report immediately - but DEFRA's communication with them is virtually non existent.
    What species are infected? What is the mortality rate? Where are the confirmed cases? Why should animals be being put down when culling serves no purpose? Why does the DEFRA map not show confirmed cases? Why is DEFRA information so at odds with others we have seen such as that on the Swiss veterinary website (see below)? Why has the lack of proper testing and surveillance led to such ignorance of the true picture? There may be perfectly adequate and reasonable answers to these questions - but without those answers one is left with a question that towers over all the rest: Why is this distressing situation being exacerbated by an incompetent, secretive Ministry that seems to be doing as much harm as good?

    "Mystery of the Missing Millions"
    Reported in the Herald, is a Scots farmer watching not only his own livelihood slip away but the future too.
    ".... if the politicians don't act there won't be hill farms here any more. If that happens, I simply don't know what I would do, nor does my son."
    London support? The wooden hearts and heads at Westminster are embarrassed to find that a particularly cynical decision has come to light. The draft copy of Hilary Benn's Ministerial Statement (the one with which Mr Benn seemed strangely unfamiliar - see here) said "...Scotland should receive £8.1million and Wales £6.5m to assist them in countering the impacts of foot and mouth on their livestock farmers...." But once a decision had been reached not to call an election, this changed to
      "I am announcing today a package of assistance for the English livestock sector, amounting to £12.5m. The devolved administrations are proposing to introduce their own schemes."
    Those eight millions have evaporated. Scotland's SNP "Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself" - (here) is demanding an explanation. Wales in is the same miserable boat.

    Rules bending with the wind

    An email from Alan Beat points out the curious case of the bending rules. Although EU rules state very firmly that exports may resume only when - in the case of non-vaccination - three months have elapsed since the last case -(rules that are agreed internationally by the OIE)- we now see Brazil (using vaccination)facing a 2 month ban only, for the FMD affected region only; while the UK (using slaughter only) can start trading again from unaffected regions just a few days after the latest case on October 12 (And there is of course no certainty that it will prove to be the last case, the bloody firebreak killing that went on around IP8 notwithstanding).
    So Alan Beat asks why, if the rules can be broken to regionalise the affected and vaccinated area and restart trading everywhere else, this cannot happen in the UK too and vaccination be adopted instead of merely considered. "Or am I missing something?" he asks.

    Oct 11 2007 ~ Dispatches from the front line 2007 October
    "I regret that we are finding DEFRA absolutely unbending on almost every issue. We are having the threat of closure waved at us almost every day by jumped up little officials behaving like Nazi prison guards. Somehow they think we can control what clothes farmers wear to come ..... We understand the need for waterproofs but short of having a gate guard who examines each farmer, I am not sure what we can do.
    Most of us feel that the continued imposition of the 20 day rule is unnecessary especially since we could not really be further from the source of the (DEFRA cock-up) outbreak but no, they will not budge...."

    2001 November (Westmorland Gazette)
    "....Come on ministers, surprise me and tell us the way forward for British Agriculture.
    You say you want a strong, vibrant agriculture, well you could have fooled me; so come on show me how wrong I have been.
    You may remember I told you about the government taking powers to seize one's cattle and sheep with no right of appeal.

    If that would not mean we were living in a police state, well you could have fooled me.

    I also said that what Elliott Morley (minister) would be better doing, was adopting the test for foot-and-mouth disease perfected by Professor Fred Brown of the United States Research Centre at Plum Island....."
    Six years on. And the same frustrations expressed. The same arrogant, jack-booted mentality that "knew best" in 2001 is still goose-stepping over the efforts and advice of those who want to help keep Britain farming. And what was written by the same farming commentator, six years ago in October 2001, on the subject of emergency ring vaccination, makes DEFRA's lack of progress seem even more unbelievable, incomprehensible, tyrannical.