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 - 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.

1 comment:

Farmtalking said...

Please sign the petition to the Prime Minister calling for Bluetongue
vaccines now! -

We need over 200 signatures for it to be presented to the Prime
Minister so please sign up before 22nd November . The vaccine is
urgently needed