Saturday, 3 November 2007

Scotland the brave

The virus-carrying midges of Northern Europe, deterred and terrified by brave words from the Scots farming union bosses, are going to make a U turn at Hadrian's Wall.
Scotland is a country where midges are virtually unknown.

None of this is true, alas, but to hear a spokesman for the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, evidently appalled that his English counterpart advocates a survival package that would bring Scotland into the Surveillance zone, you would think that it was. He says,
"The SBCA could not be party to a policy which could expose the Scottish livestock industry to this most dreadful disease."
The National Beef Association, the British Pedigree Beef Society's Group, the Livestock Auctioneers Association, and British Camelids are trying to do something to defend their members and protect the animals. They have all asked the Chief Vets of England, Scotland and Wales - in a bid to rescue their members from the consequences of the DEFRA restrictions -
  • to extend the protection zone to cover the whole of Great Britain - or at least
  • to allow the movement of pre-tested pedigree stock from a protection zone to a free zone,
  • and to make sure that the use of an inactivated BTV vaccine does not result in trade barriers being erected against vaccinated stock.
(Actually this is likely to happen the other way round, Vaccinated stock will be at a premium. In Spain a vaccinated calf makes on average 100 EUROS more on the market than an unvaccinated calf.)

NBA director, Kim Haywood says of the four organisations:
"They want to see a compulsory vaccination programme for GB and full government backing for a European Community vaccination policy that covers all Member States."
A compulsory scheme would, of course, be ideal. All the same, even - best case scenario - with Intervet and Merial pulling out all the stops following firm committed orders, no one knows how far vaccine supplies are going to be able to stretch and it is still of vital importance that all the affected governments work together to ensure that vaccine policies are in line with EU requirements. We want to make sure that the pot of funding available from EU taxpayers can be shared by all who need it. Scotland is not included in DEFRA's tendering for vaccine supplies (nor is Wales) and one hopes that they will not assume invulnerability to the point that they fail to make quick and urgent orders for vaccine.

Dan Buglass in today's Scotsman writes,

"Scotland is perceived to be less at risk because of its cooler climate and more northerly latitude..."

"Perceived to be at less risk by whom?" one wonders wearily. Do they really not remember that the rest of the UK was saying that a little while ago too. Indeed, Debby Reynolds said much the same thing on the Today Programme on the 19 Aug 2006. When the Dutch authorities had identified the presence of the blue tongue virus in the Netherlands, our CVO said that although it was "a significant development" the risk to British sheep was "low overall".

For Scotland to stand similarly aloof, assuming that this is a disease that can only affect them if infected animals come into Scotland from elsewhere, is bravado on a par with that of King Canute.

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.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

"Culling" is far too cosy a word to describe what goes on.

It is a measure of how docile the public will be if glaring facts are kept quietly away from them with the collusion of the media. The whole country should be up in arms at the utter idiocy of the situation. But DEFRA continues to pursue its crazy path and its edicts are obeyed as if it were acting in the public interest.

It is Orwellian.

"Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure. On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility. No one believes more firmly than Comrade Napoleon that all animals are equal. He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be?"

Well, if the decisions were made by the virologists, by the vets, by the farmers and by the decent people all over the country we would have a policy that protects instead of one that kills.
Animal Farm's Squealer can turn black into white, day into night, suffering farmers can be turned into hypocritical whingers, and a Department incompetent to the point of gibbering lunacy can somehow still be taken seriously. And now farmers are to help pay for the policies that are forcing them out of business and causing them such grief. But they will be as helpless as ever. They will not share in the decision-making. That is for the "core stakeholders", some of whose trotters, one suspects, are cosy warm.

"We should use the word killing not the euphemism..." The farmer and vet Carl Boyde, in yesterday's BBC report from the killing fields of Surrey, said that "culling" is far too soft a word to describe what goes on.
It was one small step towards giving the public a glimpse of the the sheer misery of the situation in Surrey when DEFRA's FMD policy wrought its havoc.

Carl Boyde:
"We should be looking at the whole situation - vaccination - is that not a better way?"
As that kindly farmer/vet reminded us, in 1923, the 2nd Duke of Westminster had a herd of Dairy Shorthorns at his Eaton Hall estate in Cheshire. He sidestepped the draconian killing regulations, successfully nursed the herd back to health and several of the cured animals went on to win prizes at The Royal Show the following summer. But in the 1967 outbreak no such permission was received and the 300-strong Eaton herd of pedigree Dairy Shorthorns dating back to 1880 and containing champions, all were slaughtered.

This is the policy that against all scientific and ethical considerations persists to this day. Foot and Mouth is indeed a Manufactured Plague - as Abigail Woods so cogently explains in her book.

Arguments backed by knowledge of disease, understanding of modern vaccines, availability of state of the art on-farm diagnosis - in short, all pleas for sanity - fall on the defra ears and closed mind of the authorities.

The EU regulations are mad and bad. They are not founded on scientific knowledge. Their proclaimed precautionary principles are nonsense. Far from existing to protect the health and safety of animals and people, they protect the trading profits of the few. The victims are the rest of us - and the many decent farmers who care about their animals.

This BBC clip shows the continuing distress in Egham of the couple whose misery was recorded on on September 21st.
Carl Boyde is their local vet and what he says rings with the authentic tones of one who sees that the Emperor has no clothes:

" If we can buy and eat meat from countries which practise vaccination why on earth shouldn't we do it here with our own animals? It seems to me a great anomoly that even now in 2007 we still have the same mid-Victorian killing policy which has persisted in successive Ministries of Agriculture and persists in DEFRA to this day."
The BBC interviewer obediently trots out the mantra that Defra "have to abide by European law which states that to keep the highest level of international trading status we cannot routinely vaccinate" and the non-sequitor that vaccination "wouldn't protect against all the different strains of foot and mouth."

Give us strength, oh Lord. No one is arguing that it would. Vaccine protects against the strain for which it is designed - and in Surrey that strain was known (hardly surprising but accidents happen especially when government funding and regulatory care is so abysmal) There were, of course, supplies of the exact match vaccine to hand. Nor is anyone arguing at this stage for routine vaccination - although it will undoubtedly come one day.
The escape of virus is one thing. Turning that accident into a national disaster when the application of vaccination could have contained and eradicated the problem within days is utter, staggering insanity.
Until the public at large realise the miserable absurdity of our current policy and raise their voices against it, the big players of the meat industry, with the dead-eyed collusion of DEFRA and the EU protectionism, will continue to stamp out and stamp on people like the Hepplethwaites.

The horrors and terror and waste of 2001 cost the country £8 billion. The costs this time are still being calculated. Meanwhile, Rob Lawrence, the Hepplethwaites and all those others like them in Surrey, mourn the untimely deaths of their animals, the lonely fields, the changed landscape. They contemplate the future with bewilderment and grief. We contemplate it with anger and a determination that things can will and must change.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

We have to write

Dr Iain Anderson is once again going to chair a review of the Government's reaction to the 2007 Foot and Mouth Disease Outbreak. He has been asked to review lessons drawn from the 2001 outbreak and identify any others arising from the current outbreak. Comments have to be received by 16th November. See also

The decision not to use emergency vaccination was astonishing. The handling by DEFRA illustrates the woeful lack of understanding within the Department of viral disease. All the conditions for immediate success had been met.
We knew the source.
We knew the strain.
We had the laboratory within arms length
and we knew the timescale.
The virus could have been stopped in its tracks within days by ring vaccination from the outside in.

2000 animals in Surrey would not have had to be slaughtered and nor would the obscenely termed "welfare culls" of half a million healthy hill lambs have been needed.

It seems highly likely that the EU would have been sympathetic to such emergency action and would have looked with favour on regionalisation of the immediate area so that the absurd situation of a general country-wide shut down need never have arisen. It could well have led to the outdated regulations receiving critical re-evaluation.

Because rapid on-site testing was not done except for antibodies, only a handful of the 2000 animals killed turned out to have been infected.

If people do not make these points there will be no barriers at all against yet another anodyne report being written and self-congratulation all round.
More at,

Monday, 29 October 2007

Lies, Science and the death of Bees

When he was at its helm, that eminent expert in bird behaviour, Sir John Krebs, and the FSA itself, were selected winners of the prestigious "Pants on Fire" award by the Norfolk Genetic Information network - for
'their complete failure to live up to their billing as a "force for change" in consumer protection'
The Food Standards Agency has now ordered a review into its advice that
"the current scientific evidence does not show that organic food is any safer or more nutritious than conventionally produced food."
Sir John was well known to be an advocate of GM foods before his surprise appointment to the FSA, dismissing anyone who disagreed as "shrill, often ill-informed and dogma-driven". He was also a member of that inner circle of scientists from the Dark Side, King, Anderson, May, Woolhouse, Ferguson and co. who between them perpetrated and then defended the horrors of the 2001 contiguous cull. Sir David King has recently expressed concern that the public is not always on board with the best scientific advice:
"If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem..."
How cynical some of us have become to be less than impressed with his new code of "seven principles aimed at building trust between scientists and society." But it is not words that build trust. And how devalued has that phrase "best scientific advice" become too. It has been wielded in order to bludgeon into silence the perhaps "unscientific" but nevertheless gut level wisdom of the grass roots.

So the FSA is going to look again at last at the best scientific advice that has kept them contemptuous of organic farming for nearly a decade. As if to support such a move, we read today that an ongoing four year Newcastle University study has found that
"Fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 per cent more nutrients if they are grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides, organic milk contains 80 per cent more antioxidants and organic produce also had higher levels of iron and zinc, vital nutrients lacking in many people's diets."

Did we really need a £12 million project to tell us that? People do not need to be scientists to have an instinctive grasp of what is good.

So Geoffrey Lean's article in the Independent today came as a nasty shock. It revealed that the government has been using taxpayers' "tens of millions of pounds a year to boost research into modified crops and foods" Constant claims of impartiality on GM technology and repeated promises to promote environmentally friendly, "sustainable" farming are, quite simply, lies. Internal documents obtained by the Independent under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that DEFRA (which will not allow farmers to vaccinate their animals against foot and mouth even though the vaccines are safe and effective) have allowed the biotech giant BASF to plant 450,000 modified potatoes in British fields. DEFRA officials ..
"..repeatedly went to remarkable lengths to make sure the trial conditions, supposed to protect the environment and farmers, were "agreeable" to BASF"

How ironic that the Times today asks who will regulate the regulators.
".. “Health and Safety” seems now to be the universal excuse to ban anything that was once enjoyable: bonfires on Guy Fawkes night, conkers contests, diving boards in public swimming baths, festive lights, amateur dramatics – and scores of other traditions embedded in the fabric of life..."
But the nanny state does not stretch its neck into the dark alleys of the biotech industry. The Health and Safety police are not shining their flashlights onto the fact that stringent tests are not required for 'biopesticides' produced continuously in open fields; nor for the herbicides and herbicide residues accumulated by herbicide-tolerant GM crops. "The two traits, biopesticides and herbicide tolerance now account for practically all GM crops grown in the world today,"says

Those who have a deep seated worry about the way genes are manipulated by the biotech companies are often derided. And indeed as an advocate of vaccine production involving some degree of genetic engineering I can hardly want to throw the baby out with the bath water. But this is not an all or nothing issue. Nothing need stop me from being glad that human insulin can be grown in GM yeast. The baby can be kept happily in the tub and still the question of the possible biotech monopoly of the food chain be raised with deep misgivings.

A fierce GM debate is raging in Europe. In France, where 80 percent of the public are against GMO foods, President Sarkozy has said no more will be grown until an evaluation has been considered. When one type of GM maize was fed to rats in a laboratory study at the University of Caen, their immune system was weakened, a finding that echoes the study done 10 years ago by Dr Arpad Putzai whose research at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen found that rats developed stomach lesions after eating GM potatoes.

He was vilified. Being a heretic of today's scientific authodoxy is not much healthier than it was in the days of Galileo.

Hungary banned the planting of Monsanto's MON 810 seed in January 2005. Germany says maize grown from MON 810 seeds can only be sold if there is an accompanying monitoring plan to research its effects on the environment. Austria could soon be facing an attempt by EU regulators to force it to lift bans on two GMO maize types. See

Plans for full commercial go ahead in the UK are not far away. Farmers will be allowed to plant GM oilseed rape just 35 metres from non-GM crops, forage maize will be able to be planted 80 metres away and grain maize will be allowed within 110 metres of conventional crops. Pollen can be carried by insects or wind for miles (a pine tree's pollen has been shown to spread 400 miles away.)
In Canada, the introduction of GM oilseed rape has all but wiped out the organic oilseed rape industry by cross contamination.

And what of the bees? The so called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)could well be laid at the door of the biotechnicians. It has been seriously suggested that bees are disappearing because of exposure to the unnaturally large quantities of the naturally occurring pesticide Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is produced in GM crops. In the GM plant Bt is produced by every cell including roots, stems, leaves and flowers - and the pollen.
It is not clear if the quantities of Bt produced by GM crops are themselves to blame for bee deaths. We know that the parasitic varroa mite that carries the Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, has put paid to many millions of bees. However, what is clear is that organic farmers such as those at Sheepdrove go out of their way to nurture plants that redress the balance and help the bees.

Albert Einstein said,
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

On the issue of GMOs the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is defiant. It says its funding for the research on GM crops would continue even if there was "a Europe-wide ban" on growing them commercially. (It may be remembered that the BBSRC, which also owns the land and buildings on the Pirbright site, was not so keen to shell out for some drain repairs. As Jonathan Shaw told the House of Commons this month, funding of the effluent drainage system, "whether remedial or replacement" was their business as much as IAH's or Merial's.)

Tony Blair put Labour Party donor, Lord Sainsbury, on the government's GMO regulatory committee - a clear case of clash of interests. Labour's legislation covering GMO trials has been risible and no one bothers to deny any more that Governments and big business work hand in hand. And where does that leave small business? The UK government seems to be facing up to the end of traditional farming with an extraordinary stoicism. It is hard not to speculate on the reasons why.
Monsanto and its rival giants maintain that biotech foods are the only solution to global hunger. And acting on the best scientific advice no doubt, our government wants a cut of the huge profits to be made in the course of carrying out this altruistic aim.

There is a truth here that is so obvious it somehow never gets mentioned
He who controls the food has control of the people
What a heady thought to those high on power already.