Sunday, June 12, 2005

"Defra wanted 'yes men' to rubber-stamp its proposals..."

...and with one exception - it got them".

In the post below, To Test or not to Test, we explained why we felt that pre movement testing of cattle as a disease management aid was weak, that this site favoured a post movement test of breeding cattle (if anything) but that while a wildlife reservoir of bTb remained to re infect, and reinfect and reinfect... nothing would work at all. We also gave examples of both pre and post movement testing regimes, cohort slaughter of cattle and licensed movements, which others had diligently applied at great cost - but to absolutely no benefit whatsoever.

But now the whole pre movement testing strategy and the group who were tasked with its implementation has been labelled a 'total sham', by - one of its members.

Ben Messer-Bennetts, an auctioneer from Truro, Cornwall had been a member of the 9 strong 'stakeholder' group but refused to endorse its report, delivered to the Minister for Conservation and Fisheries this week. His criticisms include:

* The Chairman's reluctance to allow open discussion or debate in the meetings, which appeared to be heavily swayed by the presence of two Defra 'observers'.

* No detailed minutes of meetings, on which the presence of Defra's people seemed to have a "disproportionate effect".

* The report's ommission of any member's dissenting views to its conclusions or calculations.

* The cost/benefit calculations done by Defra's Economics Department and the report admits much of the RIA (Regulatory Impact Assessments) 'guesswork' (new calculators then? You really couldn't make this up could you?)

* No robust independent scrutiny of the group's recommendations, or input from those most affected by the pre-movemnt testing proposals.

Mr. Messer-Bennett points out that:

The proposal it (the group)arrived at, was effectively what the Department had wanted from the very beginning. I believe that farmers have been let down very badly. Defra wanted a lot of 'Yes men' to sit and rubber stamp its proposal, and with one exception - it got them".
In his own report forwarded to the Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Debbie Reynolds, Mr. Messer-Bennett outlined his unease with the report which in fact mirrors our own criticism.

He also emphasises his anger at Defra's denial of the group's access to RTA Tb- infected badger casualty figures which when overlaid onto cattle bTb incidence areas show a 'striking correlation'. The request for these figures "was firmly turned down", he said.

He concluded:

It will be impossible to contain bTb in cattle, if we do not contain it in the wildlife. This is the biggest issue facing farming and to lumber the industry with the proposal this group has produced, would be nothing short of disaster.
Off topic slightly, there were many 'conspiracy' theories rampant when FMD was allowed to become 'carnage by computer', and as we've pointed out many millions pf animals were 'modelled' to death. Personally I don't buy it.

But... when a crisis erupts and no pre-emptive measures are taken...? When the mistakes of the past are ignored...? This sort of cock-up can only continue and grow, when good men sit on their hands and say - nothing.

So to Mr. Messer-Bennett, this site says - thank you.


Anonymous said...

Good for him. Independent thinkers are definitely not what Defra wants on its committees. Far too much trouble.
Most of these 'stakeholder' and focus groups seem to operate along the same lines, and Defra are advertising for members of another.

It will be known as the England Implementation Group - or EIG, and has been appointed to 'advise' government on implementing the new Health and Welfare Strategy.

Nice little sideline though - the Chairman will be remunerated at the standard rate of £500 / day and 12 members at £300. The group will meet 6 times a year - and if Mr. Messer-Bennetts' experience is anything to go by, it can be reliably expected to rubber stamp Defra policy.

Matthew said...

We assume Ben Messer-Bennett need not apply?

George said...

This is a red herring. The answer lies inside the bad TB areas, reducing the risk of the cattle getting the disease in the first place. Once in the cattle, TB might be taken out of the bad area into a clean area, but most of this seems not to spread and so maintain itself (see previous posts).

Post movement testing would identify and remove these almost eliminating the risk. The chance of pre movement testing finding the infection is much lower.

Matthew said...

Thanks George. We agree. But we're not talking 'common sense' here and certainly not 'disease control'. If Ben Messer-Bennett's experiences are anything to go by, and I suspect they are fairly typical of most of these 'stakeholder' groups - it's no wonder we're in such a mess.

Farmers in the Peak district are telling us that their vets are under the impression that by 'doing nothing' about bTb in the wildlife, Defra can achieve a significant reduction in the UK livestock industry. The suffering of badgers doesn't figure in this of course. Nor the spill over of endemic tuberculosis into other animals including domestic.

Red herrings? A shoal, actually to trawl urban votes. What did you expect from Rear Admiral Ben? He's the Minister for Fisheries.

George said...

Now spill over of tuberculosis into other domestic animals could be a real problem. Dogs and cats can and do get it, not just farm dogs and cats either.

Environmental contamination of suburban gardens could cause tuberculosis to get into the house via infected pets. It might even infect children playing in the garden.

DJBD said...

It is regrettable, but a fact, that such is the lack of integrity of some, that their 'science' particularly that on controversial issues, e.g. hunting / bTb is so deliberately flawed that they fit the description:- "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his NOT understanding it".

These scientists, together with their statisticians, instead of being impartial, allow their own opinions and/or those of their funders to influence their work. The result is pseudo science,which is certainly abundant in the Tb / badger field.
Being a Professor, does not give them a monopoly on knowledge, or make them exempt.