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

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?"

No comments: