Archive for the ‘FMD’ Category

Pirbright’s leaky valves

22 November, 2007

Today’s confession that Merial have ‘probably’ had a leak is alarming. The official ministerial statement by Hilary Benn draws attention to a weakness at the facility – leaky valves.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs summarises the sequence of events that led to the suspicion of valves. It seems that the announcement of the leak was reliant on the honesty of Merial. The discovery of the leak was almost accidental. Merial made extra checks when their total virus harvest did not add up to the expected volume. Some was missing! Only checks by an engineer afterwards led to the conclusion that it was valves.

Has this pointed out a new possible explanation for the leaks that caused FMD outbreaks earlier this year? Was the escape route leaky valves?

Renovation of the drainage and waste system is the only reason they can assure us that the virus has not escaped this time. So what happened when they had cracked pipes? How long have these hidden leaks been going on?

Pirbright strikes again? + more H5N1 culling

22 November, 2007

Merial’s ‘probable’ FMD leak

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has admitted that an “internal” leak has taken place at the Merial laboratory at Pirbright. Mr Benn says it’s “possible that live FMD virus had entered the contained drainage system”. They think Foot and Mouth Disease escaped through a leaking valve last week, but according to an inspection team the virus was not released into the environment.

That’s fine. We know Pirbright has the best biosecurity systems in the world. At least as good as the government’s data management.

Culling at suspect site 5

Defra yesterday declared a fifth site to be a ‘Dangerous Contact’ and began culling thousands of birds there. This cull will include 56,000 ducks, 9,000 turkeys and 3,000 geese. Bird flu has been confirmed at the original site of this autumn’s outbreak and another nearby site owned by the same company.

Get the latest updates from Defra here. To view the latest restriction zones, see their interactive map here.

New Scientist – slaughter doesn’t work

15 October, 2007

We’re not the only ones who see vaccination as the best way to stop FMD. New Scientist magazine’s article – Slaughtering animals is no way to stop disease – is quoted below:

The first thing to note is that animal diseases are bound to spread sooner or later. There are several reasons for this. One, intensive animal agriculture is a disaster waiting to happen. Close-quarter conditions make it easy for infections to spread – witness the emergence of H5N1 flu in battery chickens in China. Also, the globalised economy means that people, animals and food travel far more widely than before, and they bring their pathogens with them. To make matters worse, global warming is allowing diseases to flourish in areas they previously could not. …

…Clearly this is no longer a satisfactory way of dealing with animal diseases. It may have worked in the 1950s, when there were fewer opportunities for bugs to spread, but today it is like trying to kill a plague of mosquitoes with a fly swatter.

What is the answer? Simple: routine vaccination. Modern “marker” vaccines exist that allow scientists to distinguish between animals that are vaccinated and animals with the disease. The Italians are already using one for bird flu. Encouragingly, the European Commission is recommending much broader use of vaccination as part of the new animal health strategy it is proposing.

Of course vaccinating and monitoring will cost money, but that is the price of meat production in the modern world – that is, if you don’t want the countryside blotted by smoke from burning pyres.

Link. From issue 2623 of New Scientist, 29 Sep 2007, page 3.

Scottish lambs still to be burned

12 October, 2007

Despite the lifting of some Defra restrictions, aimed at controlling FMD, hundreds of thousands of lambs raised in the Scottish uplands will go to incineration rather than being offered as food, their lives wasted. There is also a welfare cull in Wales beginning next week.

BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today programme on Wednesday 10th Oct discussed welfare slaughter. The cull project will cost the Scottish Executive £6million, it’s estimated. Jim Maclaren, president of the National Farmers’ Union in Scotland, thinks that the responsibility for that cost lies with Defra, despite devolution. He said the lambs are worth eating, and argues that the NFUS has been working with a range of bodies to resolve the problem, including sale and not just cull-and-burn. 

The difficulty with sale for food was emphasised by Alan Young who farms in the Cairngorms, pointed out that we’re over-subscribed for lamb in this country, which is why lamb producers rely so much on export to make a profit. Another farmer reckoned that supermarkets might get 45% profit on the retail price. Most supermarkets in the UK have not, however, felt able to take on these tiny light lambs as a product.

This morning’s Farming Today investigated the issue of meat imports from countries such as Brazil, where Foot and Mouth Disease is endemic. There seems to be strange difference in policy by the EU which allows Brazilian meat to be traded, while UK meat is banned following a small number of outbreaks.

You can listen again to these Radio 4 programmes.

Vaccination is the key issue that the BBC forgot. Immunisation to ring-fence all outbreaks could have helped prevent spread, and thus reduce the prolonged period of restrictions. Perhaps if Defra had used vaccines as soon as possible, we would not have this situation now.

FMD 2007 – epidemiological enigmas

9 October, 2007

The recent epidemiology report about 2007’s Foot and Mouth Disease is about as clear as mud to the non-expert. But there are some very interesting parts of the document, published 30th Sept by the National Emergency Epidemiology Group to inform Defra. A few examples follow. (Key: IP = infected premises. An outbreak.)

The report mentions Windsor Great Park – with famous Red Deer herds – has some areas within the Protection Zone and those have been closed to the public. But epidemiologists warn that FMD in the deer “may be mild and inapparent” as with sheep. However it says very little about wild deer, admitting, “The role of wildlife in this outbreak remains under review.”

The text highlights the way this strain of FMD (01 BFS) spreads rapidly and goes unnoticed. By the time lesions (ulcers) are 2 days old, the animal may have spread virus for 4 days. Defra’s advisors made it clear that lesion ages observed indicate some cases had been through ‘more than one generation’.

Point 21 says that at the 8th outbreak, only one animal was found with lesions typical of FMD, and these seemed to be 3 days old. It’s interesting that there were not many animals with Foot and Mouth Disease. {So these animals could have been cured.}

Point 27 states that epidemiological evidence suggests secondary spread has occured from IP5 to cause the later incidents IP6 – IP8, and perhaps some earlier cases too.

Point 29 exposes some of the evidence from gene studies. Pirbright scientists examined the genetic structure of FMD viruses found at different outbreak sites (IPs). Defra’s report states, “The results of full genome sequencing by colleagues at IAH Pirbright indicate the viruses isolated from IP3B, IP3C, IP4B, IP6, IP7 and IP8 are descendants of the isolate from IP5.” 

So the virus at site 5 went on to cause FMD outbreaks at several other places – and recent cases were not discovered in the same order they had occured. A spreadsheet on page 12 (Figure 2) shows a hypothetical account of how the disease spread from IP5. They describe the causal route to IP5 from Pirbright as being under investigation.

Download the epidemiology report HERE. (Adobe PDF)

FMD 2007 – Scottish lambs wasted

9 October, 2007

The slaughter and disposal of hundreds of thousands of lambs in Scotland has been described as an “awful necessity” by the National Farmer’s Union for Scotland. Despite the re-opening of trade with the EU from Low Risk areas planned for 12th October, apparently it’s all too late for these lambs – the latest victims of Defra’s FMD fiasco.

There is a wide variation in the numbers quoted. The NFUS website says tens of thousands await starvation, the BBC report a quarter of a million, and the Times state up to 400,000 animals will be culled.

FMD trade restrictions prevented the movement of these animals off the hills, where the grazing is not sufficient to sustain them. Now the farmers claim they will starve, and therefore must be culled out. The meat will go to waste, which must be very upsetting for the farmers.

These lambs are of a specially-bred variety of small sheep, intended for a continental European market where they are cooked whole, and known as light lamb in the trade. According to the NFUS there is no market for such small animals in the UK, and because export of the immature lambs is prohibited, they are of no use.

Defra’s compensation package for the welfare cull offers the farmers values each lamb at just £15 each. This tiny figure, and the fact that the government aren’t paying for the cost of the slaughter, contrast with Hillary Benn’s proud announcement of a £12million compensation package for England’s farmers affected by this year’s Foot and Mouth Disease outbreaks.

Autumn of Hell
NFUS President Jim McLaren said, “This is another dark day in what is turning out to be the Autumn from hell for Scotland’s livestock industry.  To have reached the point where we have to dispose of lambs because they are facing starvation is just horrendous.  We have been calling for this scheme, which is an awful necessity. 

“Many farmers will struggle with the concept of the lambs, which they helped come into the world this Spring, being disposed of.  However it will at least bring some relief to them as the welfare crisis they are facing can now be eased.

“We have had reports coming in of lambs dying already because the grass is gone and the weather is closing in.  The condition of tens of thousands of lambs that are still on farms is  rapidly deteriorating because of the lack of feed and, worse still, they are eating the grass that the ewes rely on over the Winter.  If our breeding flock suffers losses over the Winter, the consequences for the long-term future Scottish sheep industry don’t bear thinking about.

“The fact that the UK Government has still refused to pick up the cost of this scheme is nothing short of a disgrace.  The Scottish Government has stepped in and that is absolutely critical, but the negligence and inaction in London will not be forgotten by Scottish farmers.”

NFU Scotland published a report at the end of September. They said there was no market for “10kg lambs” and yet they also asked for the 25kg limit to be lifted, which suggests they must have larger animals in mind.

Welfare must come first
Compassion in World Farming have called for animal welfare to come before trade. They reported that chaos broke out during a slaughter on 15th September and have empasised that we must remember these culls are stressful events for sentient animals, and must be carried out with due care.

> BBC News
> Times Online
> the NFUS website
> Compassion in World Farming

FMD 2007 – EU trade rules fall

3 October, 2007

The biggest excuse for not vaccinating against FMD is gone. The idea that we cannot export meat and livestock until after an ‘all-clear’ has dissolved. And with it Gordon Brown’s political integrity, surely? He has u-turned on this policy and secretly agreed a get-out-clause for meat traders.

The unchangeable EU trade rules have changed. Read more…

Defra proudly announced today that they have a new agreement with the EU. They will allow export of meat from the UK, despite the fact that FMD is still at large in our countryside. We do not have an ‘all clear’ as yet. New cases were discovered only a few days ago! But apparently Defra are confident that they have everything under control.

So that’s what all the map work was about. That’s why they divided counties into ‘FMD Risk Area’ and ‘Low Risk Area’ status. It wasn’t about helping farmers to assess risk. It’s all about trade. Map here.

Surely now there is no barrier to vaccination? A safe, scientifically approved, identifiable vaccine could be used. Vaccination need not extend restrictions much more than the slaughter system, as pointed out by Dr Paul Sutmoller of the European Animal Health Association in yesterday’s letter to the Telegraph.

Come on Gordon. Let farmers vaccinate to prevent FMD 2007 from dragging on, and recurring. We look forward to your policy change on vaccines… maybe later this week?

FMD – The Duke of Westminster’s Tale

3 October, 2007

It is well known that many types of livestock can be treated for and cured of Foot and Mouth Disease. The classic tale of the Duke of Westminster, whose cattle herd was nursed to health by dedicated staff, carries an important lesson for modern farming.

The tale begins with an epidemic of FMD in this country that lasted 1922-1924. The British government had recently re-confirmed a policy of mass slaughter, following recent doubts from a Chief Scientist about Britain’s ability, at the time, to produce and use vaccines effectively. At the same time, countries with endemic presence of the disease took a different line. India, for instance, recognised the natural resistance to Foot and Mouth Disease lay with their indigenous livestock breeds.

The 2nd Duke of Westminster had a herd of Dairy Shorthorn at his Eaton Hall estate in Cheshire, which was diagnosed as having Foot and Mouth Disease during November 1923. He appealed to the Ministry of Agriculture to allow his herd to be exempted from the slaughter. They eventually agreed to this single case, stipulating that all costs and expenses had to be met by him, and that their isolation standards must be adhered to. No compensation was on offer for his lost animals. At the time they were only offering the market value to farmers anyway, and this was never going to be sufficient recompense for the loss of a pedigree herd of cattle.

The herd manager, Henry Pakenham Hamilton, and vets, quickly had to learn from old cowmen what they had done before the days of mass culling. Recommended procedures from the Ministry were too complicated. They began caring for the animals with intensive diligence, bathing wounds and syringing the mouth and feet with salty water. Any burst ulcers on the feet were coated in Stokholm Tar, but mouth ulcers cleared up naturally.

They kept the cattle sheds clear of cow pats and urine which could infect open sores. Septic feet were the biggest problem and so pro-active prevention of re-infection turned out to be the key. Within a few weeks the cattle overcame the disease. Several of the cured animals went on to win prizes at The Royal Show the following summer!

Hamilton wrote a pamphlet about their methods and decades later, when another FMD disaster struck in 1967 he shared the details of the curative process and even used the word “easy” to describe it! Hamilton pointed out that early intervention, sufficient labour, hygiene and good stockmanship were the essential factors.

Unfortunately again the government did not change strategy, and on 21st November 1967, the BBC tragically reported: “Yesterday, 60 of the Duke of Westminster’s 300-strong Eaton herd of pedigree Dairy Shorthorns on one of his farms near Chester were slaughtered after the disease was confirmed there. The herd dates back to 1880, and included current show champions.”

There are countless other examples we can learn from. Albert Howard, one of the founders of the Soil Association, would let his cows graze next to FMD cattle in Africa and they never got it. He put it down to good nutrition. German farmers traditionally took a sack, wiped the mouth of the infected cow, and then infected the rest of their herd so they all had immunity.

Sadly, even today the beureaucrats at Defra refuse to listen to even the best scientific opinions that recommend vaccination should be readily used as a tool against FMD. They do not seem to trust farmers to be able to look after their animals and to be watchful for signs of disease.

We know they don’t care about the personal impact on rural communities and farmers, and they obviously don’t care about the slaughter of innocent animals as collateral damage. Isn’t it more about protecting political relationships and the big meat traders? Or is it perhaps no more than ignorance and a fear of what they just don’t understand?

FMD 2007 – October and it’s still here

1 October, 2007

This is outbreak number 8 since August. Today Defra announced they will also kill animals at 4 farms next to the site of the latest case, at a farm near Wraysbury in Surrey which was confirmed positive yesterday. This slaughter was avoidable, as were many others, if we had vaccinated. This Foot and Mouth Disease fiasco is still bubbling away under the noses of Defra’s science team.

LINK: Defra’s interactive map of protection zones.

Defra said on it’s website:
Following the confirmed case of FMD at this premises near Wraysbury (IP8) and taking account of the epidemiological advice on the nature of the spread of FMD in the northern part of the Egham Protection Zone, veterinary experts have concluded that a number of cattle on four (4) premises in the vicinity of IP8 have been exposed to infection of FMD to such a degree that they are likely to develop disease.

Are they trying to tell us that they missed more cases? Have more animals had the disease, and recovered, as they have at Egham farms? Warmwell asks how old the cases are, and why has that factor not been mentioned?

Defra also said: Our objective remains to stamp out FMD in this area.
The objective remains… that’s the key word – the objective has not been achieved! Their efforts are not working. So why not vaccinate? And will Defra once again tell us to stop taking animals to slaughter? What happens next?

Meanwhile with regard to Bluetongue, Defra have declared an official outbreak. That’s helpful! And it seems the foul-up at Pirbright has reduced the UK’s capacity to deal with it. Vaccines for Bluetongue could have been produced at Merial if the pipework wasn’t being repaired! Read more…

Past articles:
Bad Science
Let us Vaccinate

Pirbright’s Pathetic Pipework

Bluetongue – 5th new case

26 September, 2007

Bluetongue, the newest livestock disease in the British countryside, has been found 50 miles away from the first outbreak. This third discovery, and the condition of the animals, both indicate that Bluetongue was carried to the UK by midges weeks ago. A Belgian ministry vet has told Radio 4’s Farming Today that the UK must learn to live with a disease which is impossible to contain. Surely not advice that Defra want to hear. But how do you cope with a fly-borne illness? Will Defra send pesticide squads to our wetlands and farms?

Meanwhile no new FMD outbreaks have been found this week, and temporary control zones have been disbanded following negative test results.

UPDATE 28th Sep.
A 5th new case of Bluetongue has been confirmed at Burstall, Suffolk.
We were very worried about the suspected outbreak (and temporary control zone) near Maidenhead. Thankfully it’s been discounted, when negative tests came through yesterday. 
We are able to take animals to slaughter, as usual, and our direct delivery to customers means that we are not trading animals in markets. So as long as no more outbreaks occur, it’s business as usual for our customers.

News links: