Sunday, 7 October 2007

"No, we can do better than that"

Virologist Dr Colin Fink replies to the paragraph on about last Wednesday's edition of Farming Today. Extract from email:

"The epidemiologist's views about vaccine do not accord with my own. If you ring vaccinate, of course new animals could not be moved into the ring unless also vaccinated, for safety reasons concerning vaccination being complete. There would have to be a pause whilst the vaccine took effect and was completed ....newer vaccines would create an unsusceptible population and the infection would simply melt away. ..... I do not share the concern about 'accidents with vaccine' and the contention that some of the vaccine is actually live virus, surely can be discounted..... The question of 'expense' has several interpretations: How do you put a price on a family's generations of work in breeding stock or the loss for marginal farmers and the burden for all of us of their lives ruined..."
Dr Fink concludes with a reference to what he feels is "the medieval approach from DEFRA " and says, "No, we can do better than that."
On the Farming Today website itself, it is good to see Lawrence Wright's comment about ring vaccination and the "ridiculous and outdated trade penalty on the use of vaccination" He says "...It would also allow movement rules for animals outside the area of the infection to be relaxed with confidence. The NFU should be joining the voices asking for a change.."

Oct 7 2007 ~ Counting the cost

With IP6, IP7 and IP8 indicating disease newly caught, it is perhaps a little surprising to hear such bland assurances from the Landeg camp that all is now probably over. They may be right. We all hope so. According to the NFU's Anthony Gibson, since August:

...we think the total cost to the farming industry is around 250 million pounds in terms of lost exports and lower meat prices.
Quite apart from the money spent on all the scurrying work of SVS ("Animal Health") vets and surveillance work, the vaccinating teams too have been kept on a fruitless standby in order to fulfil the terms of the government's own requirement in the Animal Health Act to be seen to be "considering vaccination".

As for the wasted animals themselves; the official total in slaughtered animals - pedigree cattle, calves, sheep, pigs and one lone goat - is now over 1800. These figures include over 800 pigs - all of which tested negative.

The cost in human stress and anxiety can hardly be measured - but some small indication comes from the account written by Rachel Archer from her farm near Maidenhead and published in Farmers Weekly. At one point she says:

Word is that the cattle that were culled on Friday (i.e.Sept 21) were given the all clear by DEFRA just two days previously. Also, because this is a laboratory strain of the virus, they say it is not behaving like the 2001 outbreak.
One of the features of this 1967 virus is the very mildness of its symptoms. Not unnaturally is it hard to detect. It affects the animals only slightly. They recover fast and from then on the miracle of the immune system, shared by all mammals, ensures that they cannot get reinfected by that strain.

It is these animals, recovered and invulnerable, that have to be tracked down and slaughtered, along with their healthy fellows and any so-called "dangerous contacts" so that the UK may retain its coveted "FMD free" status. The other victims, never mentioned, are the several thousand animals, many of them exported for breeding, that were trapped in transit on the occasions in August and in September that FMD was discovered. They too were summarily killed.

Oct 7 2007 ~ "information on the DEFRA web site is no good to those of us farming within the control zones"

Mrs Archer's account (Farmers Weekly) mentions a fact that will resonate in the memories of all who suffered in 2001 where she has to,

... speak to another friend within the Protection Zone. This is the only way to find out what is really going on, the information on the DEFRA web site is no good to those of us farming within the control zones.
Perhaps the saddest of all is the realisation at the end of her account that while her own farm seems miraculously to be safe, that of her friends, Nigel and Sally, is to be sacrificed:

Their youngstock on two units are being culled as a firebreak. Even though they have all been tested this week and are clean. As we end the call my eyes are full of tears. Why didn't DEFRA stamp on this outbreak two weeks ago?"
Or, as we would say, why was the escape not contained 60 days ago when we had knowledge of the strain, the supply of appropriate vaccine and the ability to stop the spread. The phrase "Protection Zone" would then have had some meaning.

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