Monday, April 05, 2010

Vaccination hiccoughs...

Defra's idea to vaccinate badgers against TB in hotspot areas, where most / many candidates are already 'endemically infected' with tuberculosis (and before any of our BT friends start jumping about, that was the answer to a PQ) has got off to a rocky start. Or perhaps no start at all ?

We were alerted by a comment on a previous post to a Farmers Weekly report on the progress (or chaos) of the proposed trial thus far. There is no online link for this so we will type the relevant bits.
"The approval of the first ever tuberculosis vaccine for badgers has been overshadowed by doubts that the July start date for Defra's vaccination trial can be met. While almost 600 farmers have signed up to have their land included in the trial, recruitment of contractors and surveying of target areas has slowed."
That may be because the smoke and mirrors bunny hops which passed for 'policy' on this project were slowly but surely exposed, contradicted and often changed as we pointed out in this posting. But many salient points have yet to be answered and the FW report describes delays in surveying and contractor training which could ..
".. push the start date back to the autumn in four of the [target] areas. "The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) has suggested, behind closed doors, that the start in these areas could be September" an industry insider said.
The Stroud area of Glos is likely to be the area which starts first with Cheltenham also beginning in July. "It is the Hereford/Worcester site , the Staffordshire site and the two Devon sites which face delays" he added.
"If FERA's suggestion of a September start date is correct, that leaves just two months until vaccinating must stop again, ahead of the breeding season in November. The time pressure will be huge and contractors will have to throw a huge amount of extra resource into the project."
We understand from previous posts that contractors bear the cost of traps and labour but will not be responsible for their own surveying. Defra have now kindly agreed to fund vaccine and FERA operatives will survey the land for what they hope will be badger setts. But the insider also points out that:
Some companies are already voicing their concern that the increasing number of traps and personnel required could cause costs to spiral.
"Surveying land for badger setts has also taken time. In some areas only 20 per cent of the land has been surveyed so far. Contractors are having to base tenders on too little information to give accurate costs. Even if they cope this year, they may decide to opt out in 2011," he warned.

And now for the latest 'top up' to this unholy farce latest prevarication from our comments section:
Apparently (and we say this guardedly as it is unsubstantiated thus far) as well as the delays and problems described above, we understand from our contributor that:

* Contractors will only be allowed to operate within 3 hours of daylight and two nights trapping only.
(To put this in context, the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial operatives were allowed almost double that 'daylight' time and eight nights trapping.)

* They will have to pay two visits to each sett, in order to determine how many badgers have been caught before they can prepare the vaccine. (Are the badgers waiting patiently in their traps while all this is going on, one wonders? Cue cartoon? We understand that what this means is the traps must be visited and examined, then the operative must return to his / her vehicle, prepare the vaccine and return, so yes, the badgers are waiting in their traps. You really couldn't make this up.)

* Contractors cannot be sure of what they are tendering for, as FERA have to check their own figures and will not tell them whether it is within budget. ( That sounds very professional.)

* The cut off date for tenders is 7th May. (The election is the 6th May, not that we would presume to draw any conclusions whatsoever from that, you understand)

and finally:

* Contractors will operate on 30 day notice contracts with Defra paying nothing until the first traps are set.

So vehicles, traps and labour must be provided, organised and in place - relying on surveys done by others and with Defra having the option of refusing to cough up?

Our commentator who added this last gem has decided that trying to cost out vaccinating badgers for Defra on such a tenuous basis is not for him, and has pulled out. And he suggests that a different administration, not bound to any contract may just do that too after May 6th.

"The blind leading the blind, in an attempt to waste even more money on our behalf" was how our first contributor described it.

And on that, we couldn't possibly comment.

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