Friday, 2 November 2007

Their brains are in their pockets

With the news that England (alone) is at least "tendering" for Bluetongue vaccine, we can see that the stable door is at least being approached. But those who would lock it are doing so in blindfolds and the horse is a speck on the horizon.

As always, the notion of actually using vaccination - the one method that works - seems to be simply too much for DEFRA to cope with. It has not ordered any vaccine. It has put out tentative feelers to both Merial and Intervet to ask how much money they want for their vaccines. How can the vaccine companies possibly give an answer if they don't know how much is going to be ordered across the EU? And how - we ask it through a megaphone - can DEFRA continue to keep Merial from its vital work at Pirbright when DEFRA's own appointed expert,Professor Spratt, says it has always been perfectly safe to work with Bluetongue virus there? Is Merial having to send its vital supplies away to France? This seems utterly absurd when every minute counts.

Inter-governmental sharing of information is not happening. DEFRA clearly does not know what other governments are doing in the matter of vaccine. Not surprising then that the Opposition is talking about Britain being "at the end of the queue"

But what queue? Why a queue? There is a lot of money available from the EU to cover costs. It is there to be applied for. Why all this talk of farmers paying? All governments affected by Bluetongue ought to be conferring and acting together - they ought to have done it months and months ago - to ensure that the vaccine companies were primed and ready to supply as much vaccine as needed for all. Without vaccine - for once all agree with this - there really is no hope of getting rid of the BTv-8 strain of virus.

"With every passing day, this map looks more like the opening credits of Dad’s Army..." said the NFUS. Even now, as the midges become more and more infected, European cooperation would help, would it not? Are governments talking to each other or not? It would seem not - since they are not acting in unison. comments today:

"It would appear that the EC, who controls the use of vaccines throughout the EU, has been wasting endless time arguing about trade matters, rather than trying to get to grips with the disease itself. Why were our UK representatives at Brussels not insisting on a logical vaccination programme that could be delivered at a time when it would be most effective?"
It will have occurred to many others apart from ourselves and Land Care to wonder what the European Union is for if not to help Member States act in unison at such a time of crisis. The EU Commission had promised to pay 100% costs of vaccine and half the administration costs if a proper and coherent plan could be demonstrated. But practical help and expert advice cannot be expected from them. Member States are on their own. The onus therefore is on Member States to apply for this compensation and to comply with all that the EU demands.

Supporters of the EU claim that all this centralisation exists to facilitate issues of common advantage. The EU involves itself in everything from foreign policy to immigration. It has created a mountain of laws and a monstrosity of regulation. Why - with its huge budgets and expertise - can't it help its apparently hapless member states to formulate a policy - to get them talking and sharing information? What on earth is it really for?

Government spokesmen will sniffily assert that they are always acting in partnership "with industry". The truth is though that DEFRA tends to keep all its little consultation groups separate. Neither effective communication nor true consultation can really be said to be happening. DEFRA, like the EU itself, is now asking its "core stakeholders" to sort out its own response to Bluetongue.
It was Ruth Watkins who, as a working farmer herself but also a virologist, concerned at the piecemeal nature of the vaccination policy that seems to be envisaged, said this morning:
"...People will move unvaccinated (and possibly unknown to them infectious) animals out of the zone if they possibly can, illegally or legal movements or bust.. I shall be sorry if the unions let this happen. They are not guardians of the livestock industry but defenders of the interests of a few rich farmers.
Their brains are in their pockets..."
The vast majority of farmers are given no say at all over their own livelihoods. Real understanding of the disease and what should be being done seems as elusive as ever. Responsibility has been dumped onto farmers who are as in the dark as anyone else and now depending on the "core stakeholders" to know best. And it is the farmers, it seems, who must - in all senses of the word - pay the price.

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