Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Benn fiddles while the cattle industry burns...

... or in this case, faces another European ban. As he uttered those weasel words from the safety of the Westminister bubble last week, Hilary Benn wavered between "it might work, but then again it might not" when considering targeted culling of tuberculous badgers to halt the spread of cattle TB. Far better to have a go at something that 'might' work, than carry on doing nothing - which most definitely does not, but let that pass.

But as he uttered the words, while at the same time enmeshing cattle farmers tighter into a cats' cradle of bio security measures, and refusing them the protection of the law to control TB in badgers, he knew full well - assuming his staff had informed him of course - that the UK was facing a backlash of trade bans from Europe having exported to Holland, a batch of TB positive calves.

The story broke last night and today, Timesonline reported that both Dutch and Belgian farmers were imposing their own 'unofficial ban', on cattle from the UK.
Furious Dutch farmers have imposed their own commercial ban after 12 calves imported to veal production farms in March tested positive for the disease. The country has been free of the disease since 1999 and the Dutch Agriculture Ministry is said to be appalled at the breach of bio security.

Unofficially, Belgian farmers are also refusing to take British calves and adult cattle. Exporters fear that a complete ban on the trade of live cattle throughout the EU could be in force by next week.

Britain's' exports only restarted to Europe in 2006, after a ten year shut down following BSE problems. And after Pirbright's FMD fiasco last year, it was only in December that exports began to trickle out again.

Reports indicate that calves were exported in mid-March to the Netherlands, and that a subsequent TB test on the exporting farm revealed at least one lesioned reactor. This meant that Defra's animal tracing clanked into action and located some calves which had been exported to the Netherlands. Calves up to 42 days of age do not need to be TB tested prior to movement - in fact it would be a futile exercise as the latency of the skin test is 30 - 50 days, and only 12 days less for the gamma blood test. The Times sets out the time frame for notification of the Dutch authorities thus:
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) informed the Dutch authorities about the possibility of TB infection on May 22. The animals have since been traced and 27 Dutch farms are under restriction pending testing and results.

The Dutch Farmers’ Union is angry that it was informed about the outbreak only this week. Its members are boycotting British cattle and calves.

The Times, as do we, also remarks - but far more politely - on the timing of Benn's cop-out announcement, given the framework of exported calves (March), positive TB test( ??), tracing calves (May 22nd) and their subsequent testing in Holland.
The incident is particularly embarrassing for the Government and Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, who rejected last week any cull of badgers to control the disease.

'Embarrassing' is not the word we would use - but this is a family blog. But then we warned of this in 2004 when, as a result of a bit of Russian sabre rattling, a new EU export document was drawn up specifically to protect the EU markets from member states who refused to comply with their responsibilities in the eradication of tuberculosis. The actual document link has been 'archived' in the labyrinthine Defra website, but we hope to resurrect it. The gist of the ban for which documentation exists already, and which could be imposed on the UK is here and here and here.

After recent disease fiascoes, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) had a name change. Same muddled thinking, but this time with an 'Environmental' twist and a supermarket bias. Defra's new acronym contains no mention of 'Agriculture', an industry it seems at pains to destroy. One might even say after this latest debacle - of which we can only repeat 'we told you so' - the Department allegedly responsible for the nation's food supplies has proved once again that it is 'not fit for purpose'.


Anonymous said...

We should stop pussy footing around regarding trying to keep our farms clean, go to the Europian courts now with the strong case of not being able to farm as is directed because we are not allowed to protect our cattle from infected wildlife.What a laugh and how stupid is Benn to waste our tax payers money on looking after bl--dy badgers when the world is getting short of food and cash. It is constitutionally against the EU law to allow badgers to infect time and time again. Forget about the farming bodies, they just pussy foot around, go to the E.U. now, we have a strong case to protect our cattle. Take a leaf out of the very brave farmer who took on Defra regarding his valuations, well done him.

P.S I also took on Defra several years ago regarding valuations and won a substancial amount without the help of our farming bodies who said I should not try as I would not get anywhere!!

Matthew said...

Commentators and industry leaders alike are saying this is just the catalyst needed to push Defra into action, without getting its collective hands 'dirty'.

Management of this dreadful disease would be to the mutual benefit of badgers and cattle alike. And of course to all the other spillover victims which an 'eradication policy' is supposed to protect.

A comment received points out:
"The export of TB infected calves to Holland must be the catalyst which concentrates minds and stimulates the EU to activate their directives that will compel the UK to cull our reservoirs of infection in wildlife. Whilst the inevitable ban on exports to the EU will result in short term pain for farmers, once there has been an efficient cull of infected badgers there will be long term gain."

After describing the infectivety of badgers found in a 1986 to 1998 MAFF survey, the writer concludes:

" Our Minister, who out of Political cowardice, failed to sanction cull of these TB infected badgers would no longer be the scapegoat."

The timing of this announcement / leak is certainly 'fortunate', and that alone gives us a niggle of concern. Does the story stack up? It is certainly unusual for a batch of calves to be so affected, unless fed pooled milk from a cow with udder lesions - which is in itself, err unusual. Or a common infection source via infected / contaminated feedstuffs.

We have reported a Times' announcement. Other publications have followed. Originally the story leaked from a Dutch farming newspaper - in Dutch on the 12th. July.
Only future events, and Defra / EU reaction will tell the whole story.