Saturday, 13 October 2007

In the midst of a serious crisis gripping agriculture, he chose to make a statement about banning energy-sapping light bulbs

The FWi reports that poor Hilary Benn, when confronted by some very anxious and angry farmers at Skipton Auction Mart, could do no more, than try to defend himself behind Defra Spinspeak. But with people who have no problem with actual English, such phrases as "we are working closely with supermarkets" and "we want to increase the promotion of British meat" cut no ice.
"Mr Benn was generous with platitudes..."

As the FWi says, they "served only to expose the minister's failure to grasp what is really at stake here..."
"But, then, this is a man who in the midst of a serious crisis gripping agriculture, chose to make a statement at his party's annual conference about the banning of energy-sapping light bulbs by 2012.."
Not much illumination from that quarter. But we are reaping a very grim harvest. The centralisation of agriculture - all the ropes having been delivered up into the hands of DEFRA - and the UK's increasing dependence on the Brussels "one size fits all" mentality has led only to mistrust, confusion and the erosion of common sense. Scotland is at breaking point with England over what it sees as duplicity. Wales, in parlous plight, can get no sense from its Minister of State.

"I have no knowledge of your allegations, nor does my office, and I do not accept them." Peter Hain

icWales quotes the Shadow Welsh Secretary, Cheryl Gillan, who last night accused Peter Hain of dismissing her concerns about compensation payments. She says that Mr Hain ".. is quick to exonerate himself from any blame on this issue." Mr Hain had replied to a letter from Ms Gillan by saying
“I have no knowledge of your allegations, nor does my office, and I do not accept them. Our Government and the Welsh Assembly Government recognise the huge damage caused by foot-and-mouth and will continue to support those farmers affected. As Secretary of State for Wales I will continue to ensure that the interests of Welsh farmers are properly represented."
And that was all. It left her wondering whether he had even bothered to discuss the matter with DEFRA and the Treasury. But he has so little time. Peter Hain is a man so busy that he must cope with the two jobs Gordon Brown gave him; Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Quite a plateful. He "cannot accept allegations of which he has no knowledge"? Such bizarre use of English makes one wonder yet again about how far our political masters still have mastery over their own language - or anything else.

"We orders the time of their birth and the time of their death - an' inbetween times we has a duty."

The waste of the horribly named "welfare cull" is criminal - but many think that the live export of young lambs is too.
A memorable line in one of Terry Pratchett's novels is the wisdom of the old shepherd of the chalk downs who tells her granddaughter:

    "We orders the time of their birth and the time of their death. In between times we has a duty."
We kill our livestock for our food certainly - but while they are alive and in our care would anyone dare to deny that "we has a duty"? Prolonged treatment that hurts or frightens them is callous exploitation; many would think that live export is just that. One comment today received by email gives pause for thought perhaps:

"The light lamb market is very heavily dependent on exports, as it is said that the British Consumer does not like small joints (no one has asked me..) It seems that some rationalisation of the sheep market and our 40 million sheep is long overdue.
If we were geared to exporting lamb as dead meat we could have supplied the starving of Darfur and achieved two humanitarian aims at a stroke - some help for starving humans and a more welfare friendly approach to lambs.
A third benefit would have been a better market price for farmers and this might be the one that appeals to the industry."
What does the UK think it is doing justifying the killing and burning of lambs, such as the Scottish Blackface and the Cheviot, with the unquestioned assumption, as in the Herald, that "the consumer here demands a 15kg to 16kg deadweight carcass"? In 2005, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, said,
"Blackface Lamb is some of the most delicious I have ever tasted. There is no question in my mind that the diet of heather and moorland grasses give it a distinctive and special flavour,and the two year old mutton hung for a full two weeks is particularly outstanding"
If the River Cottage Chef thinks such breeds delicious at two years could these animals not have more of a life and be spared the horrors of the journey to the Mediterranean slaughterhouses? Who decided that we no longer care for mutton?

A kind-hearted emailer, Roger, wrote yesterday:
A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Brecon area of Wales doing some business. Obviously, these "light" lambs were everywhere.
I`ve stayed at various places in West Wales and evenings I like to take a walk across hills and down dales where these innocents are in abundance.
You can sit to take in the view and these little things will appear from nowhere. They will wander up to you with no fear and some will even let you give `em a tickle under the chin whilst mum watches close by. Although enjoying the experience and admiring their beauty and friendliness, I have to have it ruined by the knowledge that they are mostly destined to be herded into huge trucks to be carted off to goodness knows where in Europe and possibly beyond - often without proper care nor food and water. It is a horrible business.
So, I am beginning to wonder if it is not kinder to have them culled over here. At least they will not have to suffer that awful journey.
I know that Waitrose take these lambs. Why can`t other supermarkets?"

Much to ponder here.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Official case numbers have reached a staggering 30 thousand plus

(red areas show bluetongue Zone F i.e. BTV-8 affected areas)
Astonishing and alarming spread in Europe Warmwell is very grateful to Sabine Zentis for this overview of present numbers of BTV-8 cases in Europe.
As she says,
".. the official case numbers have reached a staggering
30,000+ it is incomprehensible that so far no common strategy for the countries affected has been published."

We too are wondering what conclusions can be reached about possible future strategies from the various consultations that have been going on throughout Europe to combat "this major crisis for the livestock sector of Western Europe"

DEFRA agrees to movement to abattoirs - but the French system is still much more free

"new measures to relieve pressure within the Bluetongue zones" announces DEFRA (Oct 12) "Markets within the Bluetongue Control and Protection Zones will be permitted from midnight Sunday 14 October. The movement of susceptible animals from within the Control and Protection Zones to approved slaughterhouses outside the Bluetongue Zones will also be permitted from this time."

This news was greeted by the Core Stakeholders - but there are complications. "Approved" slaughterhouses means that those outside the Bluetongue Zones have to apply to the Meat Hygiene Service to be allowed to take animals from within the Control and Protection Zones. The conditions under which animals are going to move to slaughter are looking very stringent.
They have to move before dusk - and the time limits, soon to be announced, look very difficult to fulfil.
This contrasts greatly with the situation in France where animals from the PZ can be sent into the BT free zone for breeding or finishing after they have been serologically tested and a "desinsectisation" begun at least 28 days before being removed.
Abattoirs in France must give priority to animals from PZ but they are given 48 hours to process the animals after they leave the restricted zone. See (in french) Fièvre Catarrhale Ovine (FCO)
Note d'Information N° 7

IAH's "rapid diagnosis and detective work" still fails to find active pre-clinical FMD virus quickly enough

IAH BBSRC's Statement14 claims of rapid diagnosis do not make clear that the pen-side tests being used do not - as the state-of-the-art machines used elsewhere do - indicate the presence of pre-clinical desease
"..tests for the presence of virus on infected premises 6 and 7 were done in the evening/night time and daytime, respectively. On both occasions Test 1 (using a lateral flow device, rather like a pregnancy test gave a positive result within an hour. Interestingly, this test was actually performed on the farm (“pen-side”) in the case of IP7"
Perhaps so, but the positive result the test found was for antigen. What we have needed all along was the rapid on-site RT-PCR tests that can find disease in animals before they show any clinical signs at all. It doesn't matter how quickly the penside lateral flow device is used at the lab or on the farm - it is designed to detect antigen and this can only be detected from lesions. The animals must have developed lesions, hence the instruction to look for lesions twice a day, before the penside test can be used at all.

It is so obviously better to pick up infection before it reaches the stage when a number of animals can be seen to be clinically infected.

So although IAH's statement claims that
"A positive result in the very rapid Test 1 is of itself sufficient to show that FMD virus is present. Consequently IAH was able to tell Defra within an hour of the test being started that a premises did indeed have FMD virus, enabling Defra to take action"
the "action" was always going to be along the lines of stable door slamming after the horse was already far away.

"a pretty shabby way to treat a national emergency"

Is Westminster going to rue the day it quietly airbrushed away an allocation of nearly £15 million in foot and mouth compensation for Scotland and Wales once it had been decided not to call an election?
Alex Salmond says, "This is a pretty shabby way to treat a national emergency. It flies in the face of the Prime Minister's rhetoric on facing the emergency of foot and mouth"
In Wales, Rural Affairs minister Elin Jones said the decision was "disappointing" adding that the costs of foot-and-mouth should be met by the UK government: "I hope the Treasury will accept its responsibility."

And the MP for Shewsbury,Daniel Kawczynski, was particularly unamused to see Gordon Brown "sitting through the debate smiling and laughing...totally inappropriate to an issue is of such gravity"
"We must all work together to ensure that the Government is held to account over this disaster and their wholly inadequate response to it."

Now that literally thousands of cattle destined for slaughter in the Bluetongue zone cannot cross the DEFRA imposed line to the abbatoirs, we are going to see meat shortages in the supermarkets. People will at last begin to notice that something in our green and pleasant land is deeply wrong. Although meat exports were allowed to resume today from areas considered at low risk from both FMD and Bluetongue - which excludes parts of south-east England and East Anglia, there are nevertheless so many exceptions to this that the volume of exports will not be great. The limited lifting of the export ban will come too late for producers of light lambs. They are in no fit condition to be processed and, even if they could be, the backlog could not be processed quickly enough.
From next Wednesday (October 17) the 20-day standstill rule is likely to be relaxed in the Low Risk foot-and-mouth area of England. That too will be a relief but within the Bluetongue zone things are dire.
An estimated 8,000 cattle inside the bluetongue control zone are normally killed for meat every week but within the zone there are only enough slaughterhouses to process 2,500. On the other side of the imaginary line abbatoirs are operating at only 25 per cent capacity because so many of the cattle they need are on the wrong side of the line.

DEFRA, as incarnated by Fred Landeg, has said that current control and protection zones will remain in place until the end of summer 2008 "at the earliest"

He is apparently closing his mind to the fact that bluetongue does not spread from animal to animal.
The Farmers Guardian quotes the National Beef Association vice-chairman, Frank Momber:

"Government seems to have no appreciation of just how many cattle are on big feeding units in the East of England and just how meagre the slaughter facilities are. It must, at the very least, allow finished cattle to be transported out of the BT zone for processing...."

Something must be done or farmers will go out of business in droves. Supermarkets will stock their empty shelves with cheap imports and, as Frank Momber says,

"a vital section of our national industry will be suffocated"

Rather than extending the zone the government should give permission for all movements directly to slaughter to be allowed outside the zone to the nearest abbatoirs.
(Update Late today Oct 12 DEFRA announced that movement outside the zone to slaughter will, after all, be allowed. See above.)
The French allow movements from any area in their bluetongue zone to slaughter "desinsectisation + abbatage dans les 48hrs" Clearly if this had been foolish their zone would have extended over the whole of France by now.

When midge activity stops in the colder weather,a few weeks at most, animals for breeding could be be allowed to be moved once blood tests have given a negative result for the BT virus.

it has been a costly and bloody gamble not to vaccinate - and madness not to use state-of -the -art diagnosis

But the costs of disease, like a hand grenade whose pin has been pulled out by Pirbright, is being tossed to the farmers. It is almost beyond belief that the "cost sharing" plan has not been shelved in deep embarrassment following the escape of virus from Pirbright. But no. We hear today that Kevin Pearce told the NFU council this week that although the consultation due for September had been suspended there will come a time when talks will resume. Many farmers think the farming industry should refuse to enter into talks until 'the polluter pays in full' for the damage caused by the Pirbright foot-and-mouth leak - and even then to expect the farmers not only to pay the piper but have a chaotic department like DEFRA calling the tune is a nonsense too far.

The very best plan we have seen to make shared costs and responsibility between government and farming actually work is one which involves proper bench marks to be adhered to by both sides. It can be read in full here

Since IP6, IP7 and IP8 had fresh disease present (FMD lesions discovered were only between 1 and 4 days old) one cannot be certain of anything and it has been a costly and bloody gamble not to vaccinate; it will not be forgetten that DEFRA announced that the virus had been contained after IP2 only to have it reappear on September 12.

This strain of the virus, 01 BFS1860, has produced such mild symptoms that many animals recovered before the slow UK tests showed they had had the disease. That has not prevented the killing of about 2000 animals, mostly negative post mortem. What is so hard to bear - quite apart from the vaccination question - is the fact that for six years the UK has ignored available rapid diagnostic on-site tests that can diagnose pre clinical disease. These portable, simple kits would have saved the healthy animals, including the hand-reared pet lambs culled out near IP8, and saved so much of the misery we'd hoped after 2001 never to see again.

The whole affair has highlighted yet again the fact that foot and mouth is a political and economic disease

Thursday, 11 October 2007

"Man has decidedly botched up the planet"

Most of the media continues to behave as if there is no problem. There is. An ever-descending black despair is with us. You cannot "snap out of" this one.

The stranglehold restrictions put in place to "control" foot and mouth and bluetongue show what happens if you allow animal health to pass out of the hands of those who know and care and into the surreal dreamworld of politics.
First came the EU legislation, the Directives and the Statutory Instruments. Then the 2002 Animal Health Act tidied up the loopholes. And then April Fool's Day this year saw the creation of "Animal Health" an outpost of Defra-world that merged - in the name of efficiency and as per the Hampton Review - the State Veterinary Service (SVS) the Dairy Hygiene Inspectorate (DHI), the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS,including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species CITES), and the Egg Marketing Inspectorate (EMI).
Does anyone pretend that this was more than a money saving confidence trick?

Better animal health policies were not the aim. Just the determination to keep ever tighter controls on those producing food.
"We all welcome this merger," enthused Glenys Stacey, Chief Executive of the monster, using a Defra-dialect unknown in the civilised world, "it will deliver more comprehensively and with the customer in mind."
So, like passengers of British Rail, like wrongs hushed up, we are "customers", herded into a corner and comprehensively delivered into the iron grasp of DEFRA - for which we do indeed pay but for which there is no customer service. The only communications are glossy pamphlets with mind numbing demands for compliance or expressions of self congratulation (The Defra-slogan now seems to be "Enabling everyone to live within our environmental means" a piece of meaningless Defra-drivel for which we also undoubtedly paid.)
There is no remorse and no apology in Defra-world. And no criticism allowed. The 2002 Animal Health Act saw to that.

And so, with extreme sadness, we turn to this extract from an article online at by Carla Carlisle with her ultimately doomed non-customer approach:
I am advised to 'check livestock twice daily'.
And this I do, taking buckets of extra feed, an apronful of windfalls, treats that make me welcome. We have two breeds. The Shetlands, small and gentle, look like the 'earth colours' section on paint charts. Born black, they evolve into taupe, chestnut, dark chocolate. If I sit on the ground, they come up to me, curious, concerned, and if I stay long enough, the older ewes lie down beside me. Then there are the Jacobs, dappled, scatty sheep with attention deficit disorders, courteous but wary.

I cannot claim that these sheep are vital to the financial future of this farm, but they provide a rhythmic sympathy with the earth that justifies everything we do here. They provide the grazing essential to the maintenance of the wildflower meadow.... Morning and evening, I check for signs of swelling and listen to the breathing beneath the symphony of crunching sheep nuts. And I pray for cold and rain. This depression doesn't feel like cowardice. It feels like the despair that André Gide described when he wrote that 'melancholy occasionally wins out: man has decidedly botched up the planet'. It is the despair of knowing that last winter was the second warmest on record, and there is no health in it.

A coming national catastrophe - hidden away in the Letters pages

"We must seriously consider vaccination - soon..." writes a farmer, Sarah Birchall, from inside what she calls "Bluetongue Island". This is in the Telegraph - but the crisis she describes, which is no less than the possible end of farming in the UK, is still confined to the letters pages
".....Does anybody care or even begin to understand the predicament the industry is now in? Customers for these animals lie to the west of the zone, as does the winter grazing.
Normal trade has ceased. Ten livestock markets are unable to trade, and risk extinction. Countless jobs and livelihoods will be lost.
Do those who spend their whole lives working the land count for so very little? Is most of our food destined to come from abroad?
....The aid announced following the foot and mouth crisis has done nothing to help those in the bluetongue zone. Bluetongue is much worse, and will probably never completely go away. We must seriously consider vaccination - soon..."
Many people are so cut off from the realities of food production as they wander up and down the aisles of their supermarket tossing plastic wrapped packets into their trolleys that they never give farming a thought. Soon it will be too late. Before the general public are given to understand the dire position into which we are sliding, farmers will have given up in despair and this will lead to a change the consequences of which can hardly be imagined.

"....more than 30 animals have been put down."

Animals put down because of Bluetongue? See / The lack of information from DEFRA is disgraceful - see latest Declaration (pdf). All we are getting from the egregious Mr Landeg is an inappropriate tone of command. "I continue to urge all farmers to remain vigilant, check their animals twice daily and report any sign of disease immediately." The impertinence of this is truly staggering. Farmers are to report immediately - but DEFRA's communication with them is virtually non existent.
What species are infected? What is the mortality rate? Where are the confirmed cases? Why should animals be being put down when culling serves no purpose? Why does the DEFRA map not show confirmed cases? Why is DEFRA information so at odds with others we have seen such as that on the Swiss veterinary website (see below)? Why has the lack of proper testing and surveillance led to such ignorance of the true picture? There may be perfectly adequate and reasonable answers to these questions - but without those answers one is left with a question that towers over all the rest: Why is this distressing situation being exacerbated by an incompetent, secretive Ministry that seems to be doing as much harm as good?

"Mystery of the Missing Millions"
Reported in the Herald, is a Scots farmer watching not only his own livelihood slip away but the future too.
".... if the politicians don't act there won't be hill farms here any more. If that happens, I simply don't know what I would do, nor does my son."
London support? The wooden hearts and heads at Westminster are embarrassed to find that a particularly cynical decision has come to light. The draft copy of Hilary Benn's Ministerial Statement (the one with which Mr Benn seemed strangely unfamiliar - see here) said "...Scotland should receive £8.1million and Wales £6.5m to assist them in countering the impacts of foot and mouth on their livestock farmers...." But once a decision had been reached not to call an election, this changed to
    "I am announcing today a package of assistance for the English livestock sector, amounting to £12.5m. The devolved administrations are proposing to introduce their own schemes."
Those eight millions have evaporated. Scotland's SNP "Alas, poor country! Almost afraid to know itself" - (here) is demanding an explanation. Wales in is the same miserable boat.

Rules bending with the wind

An email from Alan Beat points out the curious case of the bending rules. Although EU rules state very firmly that exports may resume only when - in the case of non-vaccination - three months have elapsed since the last case -(rules that are agreed internationally by the OIE)- we now see Brazil (using vaccination)facing a 2 month ban only, for the FMD affected region only; while the UK (using slaughter only) can start trading again from unaffected regions just a few days after the latest case on October 12 (And there is of course no certainty that it will prove to be the last case, the bloody firebreak killing that went on around IP8 notwithstanding).
So Alan Beat asks why, if the rules can be broken to regionalise the affected and vaccinated area and restart trading everywhere else, this cannot happen in the UK too and vaccination be adopted instead of merely considered. "Or am I missing something?" he asks.

Oct 11 2007 ~ Dispatches from the front line 2007 October
"I regret that we are finding DEFRA absolutely unbending on almost every issue. We are having the threat of closure waved at us almost every day by jumped up little officials behaving like Nazi prison guards. Somehow they think we can control what clothes farmers wear to come ..... We understand the need for waterproofs but short of having a gate guard who examines each farmer, I am not sure what we can do.
Most of us feel that the continued imposition of the 20 day rule is unnecessary especially since we could not really be further from the source of the (DEFRA cock-up) outbreak but no, they will not budge...."

2001 November (Westmorland Gazette)
"....Come on ministers, surprise me and tell us the way forward for British Agriculture.
You say you want a strong, vibrant agriculture, well you could have fooled me; so come on show me how wrong I have been.
You may remember I told you about the government taking powers to seize one's cattle and sheep with no right of appeal.

If that would not mean we were living in a police state, well you could have fooled me.

I also said that what Elliott Morley (minister) would be better doing, was adopting the test for foot-and-mouth disease perfected by Professor Fred Brown of the United States Research Centre at Plum Island....."
Six years on. And the same frustrations expressed. The same arrogant, jack-booted mentality that "knew best" in 2001 is still goose-stepping over the efforts and advice of those who want to help keep Britain farming. And what was written by the same farming commentator, six years ago in October 2001, on the subject of emergency ring vaccination, makes DEFRA's lack of progress seem even more unbelievable, incomprehensible, tyrannical.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Tilting at Windmills

DEFRA in Dreamland
Commenting on the announcement that the PZ for Bluetongue has indeed been expanded, deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg, quoted in Farmers Weekly, said: "Finding further cases is not unexpected, particularly given the nature of the disease, and we expect to see more cases before the end of the active midge season this winter. If we are to contain the disease within the Control and Protection Zone, we must have an accurate picture of how far the disease has spread."
But even for Fred Landeg midges will not behave in a regimented and acceptable manner. Unlike the rest of his department midges dare to cross red lines. Which is precisely why random blood checks around the control zone, preferably in cattle, should have been carried out long ago. Surveillance and testing has been woeful and this applies to Foot and Mouth too. DEFRA's position is still "wait and hope" and their location - according to commentators at one EU meeting who must remain anonymous - is "dreamland".
Will Mr Landeg be ordering men in white suits to place sticky nets around the perimeter of the new zone?"Unless one plans to concrete the whole country these isolated measures won't have any influence on vector numbers..." writes Sabine Zentis from the heart of midge infested Germany.
While one would not put it past the present incumbents to want to concrete over the whole country, the unfortunate fact remains that bluetongue is not going to be fought off by anything short of vaccine. There may be some short term measures and an interesting article appeared in the Farmers Guardian today on the subject - but our German correspondent, about as experienced as we're going to find, has written a commentary which warns
....the use of these products only had a very minimal, if any effect on infections....The problem is the vast amount of culicoides, there are gazillions around and because of their numbers these measures don't work satisfactorily My private view :
The whole insecticide exercise gave people the feeling of at least doing SOMETHING but the use as a means to prevent Bluetongue is questionable. We did it all - from as early as April, - pour on, ear clips containing deltamethrine, Ivermectine - but with approx. 20% of animals clinically affected and an unknown number of subclinically infected animals I don't see this as a big success.
It is a Don Quixote fight...."

The massive accumulation of red dots says it all

Far more revealing than anything seen on the DEFRA website is this bluetongue map - (pdf slow link works eventually on IE- but Firefox still seems unwilling to open this file. Apologies) available on line as a pdf file from the Bvet. admin site in Switzerland, showing the relentless march of bluetongue across Europe. (As the pdf file opens the red dots appear with a rapidity that mirrors the cases themselves.) Switzerland is anxiously awaiting its first case and sees the whole picture - including the new cases in Essex and outside London that reveal the scale of the impending disaster.

Meanwhile there are unconfirmed reports that the UK Bluetongue Protection Zone has been expanded (34 cases now . We note the four red dots in the vicinity of Folkstone and wonder why DEFRA has not thought to mention Kent. But clear, trustworthy communication is another lesson unlearned by DEFRA - which is, of course, why this website came into being in the first place.)

UPDATE Oct 11 We hear from a reliable source that there are no cases in Kent. Some crossed wire it seems - but we hope this is going to be made officially clear.
Alistair Driver writes in the Farmers Guardian

"If confirmed by Defra today, it will be the first clear indication that the disease has spread beyond the local area near Ipswich where it was first discovered. While this is a worrying development, particularly for those now drawn into the zone, it will reportedly bring two more abattoirs into the Protection Zone."

Of course there is a desperate shortage of slaughter houses throughout Britain let alone in the Bluetongue Protection Zone - as per the legacy of a succession of lunatic policies involving spurious health and safety concerns for "EU export standards". In reality the enthusiasm of MAFF vets to increase their power and influence in the 1980s was gleefully supported by the big slaughterhouses who were delighted to see - as a result of the one-size-fits-all "harmonisation" of regulation 91/497/EEC - the medium sized and the small family abattoirs go to the wall.

" If it indeed it is a true case of infection in situ in England, I would fully expect the epidemic to take off next year."
Professor N. James MacLachlan, of the School of Veterinary Medicine University of California Davis, says that the virus proved between 2006 and 2007 that it could overwinter in northern Europe, "so I don’t think the English winter will exterminate it." (See egghead Blog at UC Davis)

MacLachlan says that the btv-8 strain is unusually virulent in cattle and goats and also
"appears to have found a new insect partner to transmit itself....The sobering reality is that this might just be a portent of things to come regarding climate change and the spread of vector borne diseases, especially other Culicoides transmitted viruses like African horse sickness...."

Meanwhile, another sobering reality - the mass killing of light lambs and the price crash for lamb both at the abattoir and the sale of breeding ewes and ewe lambs is a portent of miseries to come.
The media are steering well clear of reporting distressing scenes and so the general public have simply no idea of the desperate seriousness of the present situation for all livestock farmers - not only those completely stalled in the various zones.

Will the lambs simply be left there?

Ruth Watkins sums it up

"...went to our white faced ewe sale yesterday to sell a pen of 10 ewe lambs.
They were as good as I can produce... I got £19 a head for my ewe lambs, I was last and decided I had to sell them otherwise I could not sell my heifers next week in the annual sale of pedigree Welsh Black cattle at Llandovery. 2 buyers bid against each other so that £17 went up to £19.

Would I have had any buyers at all if others had sold their ewe lambs? Most did not sell and were not even bid £20 for a ewe lamb - and most farmers would not contemplate selling below £30 or even £25. They might get £29 now at the abattoir (mine were not quite ready for the abattoir but I do hope mine will be used for breeding. I know they will make lovely ewes, my shearling ewes this year are my best ever and I am keeping them all). The farmers were shell shocked.

If they take them back what will they do with them? Some farmers had gone by the time their ewes came into the pen. Will the lambs simply be left there? The auctioneers were selling them at any price subject to approval by the farmer, and if the farmer couldn't be contacted then they were sold for the auctioneer Christmas fund...."

"The attempt to pin the blame on Merial was shabby and dishonest"

In Monday's debate (Hansard) , Peter Ainsworth went on the attack, accusing the government of picking on a scapegoat to mask its own negligence: "Will the Secretary of State confirm that, by a cruel twist of irony, work on a vaccine to protect against bluetongue has been put on hold? When does he now expect a bluetongue vaccine to be available?"
But no answers to his questions were forthcoming.

None of Hilary Benn's ponderous replies throughout the next hour gave any hint that he was even aware that his Department had stopped production. Is it possible he not quite taken in that part of his own Ministerial Statement that spoke of the "rigorous Improvement Plan" for the Pirbright site, to be
"implemented before full operations with live viruses can recommence"?
Apparently unable to see that his "rigorous plan" was putting an indefinite stop to production, he even followed Henry Bellingham's warning that bluetongue had the capacity totally to devastate the livestock industry with this blithe assertion:
      "...the best route for preventing the
      situation that the hon. Gentleman
      describes is to develop a vaccine as quickly as
      possible, and to make sure that it is used to protect livestock."
Well yes Minister - but in the course of the hour long debate on FMD and Bluetongue, nothing more was said to answer Peter Ainsworth's questions about when that vaccine was going to be allowed to see the light of day.
We learnt only that the review Sir Bill Callaghan is to carry out does not even report until which time the overwintering midges will be on the point of gathering themselves for a new assault on the unprotected livestock of Europe.

Oct 10 ~ " ...vaccination was rejected then, and it appears that vaccination has been rejected once more. Will the Secretary of State tell me why it has been rejected and under what circumstances we will use vaccine in the future?"

    In Monday's debate, Carlisle's MP, Eric Martlew, tried to highlight the extraordinary doublethink that has been going on in the past weeks. Those who oppose vaccination for FMD on economic grounds tie themselves in knots ( Hilary Benn's attempt to answer Mr Martlew takes some wading through) trying to suggest that vaccination for bluetongue is somehow 'better'. We note with great dismay that certain MEPs - the very people who could help change the outmoded rules that penalise vaccination - have been writing to constituents such objections to FMD vaccination as "it does not cure the disease" and "vaccinated animals are often still culled" or that vaccination is only really of use in a "massive outbreak"
    One thin ray of light however came from the Animal Health and Welfare Adviser of the NFU who wrote to Jon Dobson (after his complaint at the misleading information warmwell highlighted last week)
        "We will amend the NFU vaccination Q&A to clarify the issue of safety around an FMD vaccine and thank you for pointing out the potential confusion that could have been caused by our original text."
    If the NFU is taking seriously " its obligations and commitments to present accurate and balanced information" it is managing rather better than it did in 2001 and considerably better than those making such a miserable hash of FMD in 2007

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

"clear shortcomings" - clear to all but Mr Benn

Oct 9 ~ "We have absolutely no faith in Defra.."

    "...which must own up to its legal and moral responsibility to compensate farmers for its clear shortcomings. If we do not receive some better news [on livestock movements] there is every prospect that we will be out on the streets before the end of this week, and that has not happened for a very long time."
    Jim McLaren, president of NFU Scotland is quoted this morning in the Scotsman in an article that centres on the ever-deepening frustration in Scotland as a £1 billion loss for the UK as a whole is estimated.

    In theory, exports of beef and lamb to Europe are now permitted,
    "but the strictures on livestock movements make it all but impossible"
    Dan Buglass describes the "fractious nature of the communications" between farming unions and DEFRA. Jim McLaren's warning of angry demonstrations looks set to be realised - perhaps one more step towards a breakaway from England.

Oct 9 ~ DEFRA's "professionalism, dedication and commitment" is praised by the Minister

    In a Parliamentary statement, Hilary Benn admits somewhat unnecessarily
    "It cannot be said with complete certainty exactly how the virus escaped from the Pirbright site..."
    The media has already prophecied that the new Anderson review would criticise and blame DEFRA " for failing to fund improvements to the site, which was described as "shabby" and "unsatisfactory" by parliamentary committees earlier this year..." (Telegraph) and Hilary Benn is in a very uncomfortable position.
    "....we are determined that it does not happen again," asserts poor Mr Benn,"I have accepted all of the recommendations in the reports from the HSE and
    Professor Spratt."
    But DEFRA's record in accepting and acting upon the recommendations of various reports has hardly been professional, dedicated or committed in the recent past and Mr Benn may well be finding himself completely out of his depth.

    As for Professor Spratt's recommendations concerning the hold-up to the now vital Bluetongue vaccine production at Merial, it would seem that DEFRA has no intention of listening. (See Bluetongue page at ) Hilary Benn's "Rigorous Improvement Plan" has, he says, to be implemented at the Pirbright site "before full operations with live virus can re-commence" - which would seem to suggest that Merial must continue to sit on its hands until granted the go-ahead by a Ministry that was the source of the problem in the first place.

Monday, 8 October 2007

A dry statistical exercise - or flesh, blood, tears, sweat and heartbreak

Oct 8 2007 ~ John Beddington and "the job from hell"
    In January, John Beddington, a professor of applied population biology at Imperial College, and present Chair of the SAC committee, takes over from David King - (now, as is the nature of these things when one has been considered a safe pair of hands by the government, Sir David King.)
    An article in the Guardian today by Tim Radford sounds a warning note:
      "For a hint of what is to come, simply contemplate the procession of horrors, heartaches and howlers that have mugged the world's scientific advisers during the last three decades.."
    ~ but Mr Radford's assumption that because Prof Beddington comes from Imperial College and has been a scientific adviser to DEFRA he must therefore "... already know a bit about foot and mouth, bluetongue virus.." etc does not, unfortunately, follow. We have the example of the be-knighted David King, alas, to prove that it aint necessarily so.

Oct 8 2007 ~ While Professor King may be an international expert in many, many things it is a tragedy for the UK that he has been directing policy on Foot and Mouth ..

    about which he has displayed such distressing ignorance. He has continued to defend both the contiguous cull and the failure to use vaccination in 2001. He even went so far as to say that the on-site rapid portable diagnostic kit turned down in 2001- (it performed extremely well in Uruguay in 2001, similar devices are now used in many countries, and a prototype of a "next generation" device intended for point of need PCR testing across all of animal and plant agriculture and the food industry will be demonstrated in Brussels next week) was "not capable of being validated" (Radio 4 transcript) This small selection of the many warmwell files on the subject of Prof King's bizarre pronouncements from the past 6 years includes a quotation from Jason Groves, London editor of the WMN from 24 January 2005

      "....Government's plans for tackling a future outbreak of foot and mouth disease have been thrown into disarray after the government's Chief Scientist suggested that vaccination was still not a practical option for controlling the disease.
      .... His comments will fuel fears that the Government has done little more than pay lip service to vaccination... appear to directly contradict the official policy of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which suggests that it would give early consideration to using vaccination in any future outbreak.."
    The NFU's Anthony Gibson - little dreaming it was all to happen again within 30 months - said that Sir David appeared to have no understanding of farming or what was suffered by farmers who were forced to watch the destruction of entire pedigree herds in their farmyards
      "To him it appears to be a dry statistical exercise, whereas to those involved it was flesh, blood, tears, sweat and heartbreak."
    We can only hope that, in contrast, Professor Beddington can prove himself to be capable of what Tim Radford describes: a "smart scientist with profound knowledge of everything." It is a tall order.

Monday Oct 8 2007 ~"...powerless
to stop it, while pointlessly disrupting the habits and interests of livestock owners by bringing commercial transactions to a standstill"

    It has been said many times that the policy now imposed within the EU against Foot and Mouth turns an outbreak into a national catastrophe - but it is,as Abigail Woods so clearly explained, a manufactured catastrophe following a manufactured plague. Instead of taking full advantage of the miracles of modern veterinary expertise, the understanding of 21st century virology in the creation of excellent vaccines, and state of the art technical ability to give - actually on-site - an almost immediate diagnosis, the EU policy gives preference to the "stamping out"of life - a process that is eradicating decent small livestock farmers too.
    One man sums it up:
      "In rural
      areas where foot and mouth disease holds sway, nothing, at least up to the present day, has
      been able to halt its progress. Suffice it to say
      that, among the regulatory sanitary measures
      applicable to contagious diseases in general, none apart from the obligation to declare the presence of the disease to the authorities, could reasonably be applied to this disease: no matter how benign the measure, it would undoubtedly be excessive, or would be powerless to stop it, while pointlessly disrupting the habits and
      interests of livestock owners by bringing commercial transactions to a
      standstill” (Translated from the french Reynal J. Traite´ de police sanitaire des animaux domestiques. Paris: Asselin; 1873. p. 1012.)
    130 years on and the dinosaur mentality at the top of DEFRA ensures that nothing has changed.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

"This contempt for agriculture will produce a crisis beside which everything seen so far will pale into insignificance"

Christopher Booker's column in the Sunday Telegraph today concerns the plight of the sheep farmers who are about to see "huge quantities of perfectly safe meat, from animals in Scotland, Wales and parts of England.... incinerated, at further cost to farmers, who will see most of their year's income go up in smoke." The article illustrates Mr Booker's ability to see not only the plight of the UK trees under the shadow of the EU wood - but also to project that vision into the bleak future.
"With this latest foot and mouth disaster, bluetongue, the farm payments fiasco (which has cost Britain £400 million in lost EU subsidies), the bovine TB epidemic estimated to cost taxpayers £2 billion by 2014, and much else, there seems no end to the crises our farmers must endure. Most have been caused, or made far worse, by our Government's own limitless incompetence.

A large part of the problem is that farming and the need to provide the nation with food could scarcely have been pushed further down this urban Government's agenda."

Warmwell knows that each of these issues is of concern to readers of the site. The RPA page's latest entry almost defies belief, the bluetongue page continues to illustrate the UK's deafness and insularity. The TB page deplores the UK intransigence over rapid diagnosis and its preference for killing cows than for seeking solutions. As for the "need to provide the nation with food" this will be more and more urgently understood - as we explained below. And the contemptuous fiddling at DEFRA can only bring closer the burning problems of the future.

Escape is possible from the mad, bad destructive regulations over which we have so little control. There are now so many voices crying in the wilderness that the combined roar must surely soon wake the sleepwalking nation from its nightmare slide towards ruin - but time is short.

"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.