Monday, 8 October 2007

A dry statistical exercise - or flesh, blood, tears, sweat and heartbreak

Oct 8 2007 ~ John Beddington and "the job from hell"
    In January, John Beddington, a professor of applied population biology at Imperial College, and present Chair of the SAC committee, takes over from David King - (now, as is the nature of these things when one has been considered a safe pair of hands by the government, Sir David King.)
    An article in the Guardian today by Tim Radford sounds a warning note:
      "For a hint of what is to come, simply contemplate the procession of horrors, heartaches and howlers that have mugged the world's scientific advisers during the last three decades.."
    ~ but Mr Radford's assumption that because Prof Beddington comes from Imperial College and has been a scientific adviser to DEFRA he must therefore "... already know a bit about foot and mouth, bluetongue virus.." etc does not, unfortunately, follow. We have the example of the be-knighted David King, alas, to prove that it aint necessarily so.

Oct 8 2007 ~ While Professor King may be an international expert in many, many things it is a tragedy for the UK that he has been directing policy on Foot and Mouth ..

    about which he has displayed such distressing ignorance. He has continued to defend both the contiguous cull and the failure to use vaccination in 2001. He even went so far as to say that the on-site rapid portable diagnostic kit turned down in 2001- (it performed extremely well in Uruguay in 2001, similar devices are now used in many countries, and a prototype of a "next generation" device intended for point of need PCR testing across all of animal and plant agriculture and the food industry will be demonstrated in Brussels next week) was "not capable of being validated" (Radio 4 transcript) This small selection of the many warmwell files on the subject of Prof King's bizarre pronouncements from the past 6 years includes a quotation from Jason Groves, London editor of the WMN from 24 January 2005

      "....Government's plans for tackling a future outbreak of foot and mouth disease have been thrown into disarray after the government's Chief Scientist suggested that vaccination was still not a practical option for controlling the disease.
      .... His comments will fuel fears that the Government has done little more than pay lip service to vaccination... appear to directly contradict the official policy of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which suggests that it would give early consideration to using vaccination in any future outbreak.."
    The NFU's Anthony Gibson - little dreaming it was all to happen again within 30 months - said that Sir David appeared to have no understanding of farming or what was suffered by farmers who were forced to watch the destruction of entire pedigree herds in their farmyards
      "To him it appears to be a dry statistical exercise, whereas to those involved it was flesh, blood, tears, sweat and heartbreak."
    We can only hope that, in contrast, Professor Beddington can prove himself to be capable of what Tim Radford describes: a "smart scientist with profound knowledge of everything." It is a tall order.

Monday Oct 8 2007 ~"...powerless
to stop it, while pointlessly disrupting the habits and interests of livestock owners by bringing commercial transactions to a standstill"

    It has been said many times that the policy now imposed within the EU against Foot and Mouth turns an outbreak into a national catastrophe - but it is,as Abigail Woods so clearly explained, a manufactured catastrophe following a manufactured plague. Instead of taking full advantage of the miracles of modern veterinary expertise, the understanding of 21st century virology in the creation of excellent vaccines, and state of the art technical ability to give - actually on-site - an almost immediate diagnosis, the EU policy gives preference to the "stamping out"of life - a process that is eradicating decent small livestock farmers too.
    One man sums it up:
      "In rural
      areas where foot and mouth disease holds sway, nothing, at least up to the present day, has
      been able to halt its progress. Suffice it to say
      that, among the regulatory sanitary measures
      applicable to contagious diseases in general, none apart from the obligation to declare the presence of the disease to the authorities, could reasonably be applied to this disease: no matter how benign the measure, it would undoubtedly be excessive, or would be powerless to stop it, while pointlessly disrupting the habits and
      interests of livestock owners by bringing commercial transactions to a
      standstill” (Translated from the french Reynal J. Traite´ de police sanitaire des animaux domestiques. Paris: Asselin; 1873. p. 1012.)
    130 years on and the dinosaur mentality at the top of DEFRA ensures that nothing has changed.

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