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.

No comments: