Tuesday, October 09, 2012

He who pays the piper ..

.. calls the tune. And now the European Union is dipping into its coffers to assist Defra's so-called bTB eradication plan, then we sing to the European tune. Harmonisation of controls across the member states is also in the mix, which means that all the measures which the State Veterinary Service and now Animal Health have allowed over the 15 years to enable 8,000 cattle farmers to 'live' with herd restrictions, are being dismantled with indecent haste, and some retrospectively. These measures were there, we are sure, purely to avoid the thorny question of how to deal with tuberculous badgers. Now, thanks to our EU partners, although we still have the thorny problem, increasingly, we have no means of trading our cattle.

The pyramid of licensed movements and exemptions to herd restriction grew following the 1997 moratorium on Section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act which prevented culling 'to stop the spread of disease'. This saw herd restrictions rise, sometimes continuing for years, as farmers struggled to maintain viable businesses - with no control at all on wildlife..

We referred to Jim Paice's thinly veiled hints, earlier this year in this posting. And sure enough, the threats restrictions have kept coming, compounded by a new computer system with hiccoughs which still appears unable to dispense paperwork. But whose operators follow up with promises of fines for non compliance. An excellent way to build a 'partnership'.

After their visit last September, the alleged breaches are contained in this DG SANCO paper.

Some of the tightening up measures, we have referred to already; but after reading this document, we feel sure that more may be in the pipeline. Which would be fair enough if bTB was affecting a few herds and if action was taken to clear the source of their problems. Restriction should mean precisely that. But last year, these restrictions applied to 8,108 farms. Over ten per cent of herds in GB. And some areas, despite frantic attempts to redraw borders, have up to a quarter of their herds under restriction. So if the EU imposes some of its more stringent measures, we would solve this county's unemployment problem, if not its budget deficit.

The executive summary of this SANCO paper explains:
While the approved eradication programme is broadly applied as described, the audit identified a number of potential weaknesses. These include numerous movement derogations, pre-movement test exemptions (including extended time intervals between testing and movement), the operation of "linked" holdings over large geographical areas, incomplete herd testing and the operation of specialist units under restriction, which lacked the necessary bio-security arrangements.
By this we assume the preMT exemptions for shows and the use of isolation facilities, which Paice and co have already closed down. But the 'extended time intervals' is a new one. At the moment, tested animals may be moved for up to 60 days from jab day, which in effect means about 50 - 55 days. Later in the document, SANCO mention 30 days, and we may have that to look forward to that. (p.8 5:2:3)
Incomplete herd testing, we assume is the exemption of young calves from testing. Given that the latency of the skin test is 30 days, it's pretty futile to jab anything under that age, but nevertheless, stacking up the payments, numbers, many vets do. In future they may have to. And in any testing area other than annual, yearlings may be exempt too. No doubt that too will cease.

 The summary continues;
Furthermore, despite efforts by the CA – some of their key targets could not be met in relation to the removal of reactors from breakdown herds and the instigation of epidemiological enquiries. There is a fragmented system of controls, involving a number of responsible bodies. This combined with a lack of co-ordination (particularly with Local Authorities) makes it difficult to ensure that basic practices to prevent infection/spread of disease (such as effective cleaning and disinfection of vehicles and markets) are carried out in a satisfactory way.
We have covered this fragmentation many times, and the installation of Defra's new toy, an all singing, all dancing computer system known for no particular reason as 'SAM', which is still failing farmers.

Only last week one cattle farmer was put under immediate movement restriction (by snail post) for failing to conduct a contiguous test - a test for which no notification had ever been received. Add to that a splitting up of responsibility between the various Animal Health offices, with no-one except the computer jockey in overall charge, and it is a recipe for chaos. Why should anyone be surprised?

With sporadic bTB outbreaks in the rest of the EU, a system very like FMD is in place, with a CA (Competent Authority) overseeing cleansing and disinfecting processes on farm. We suspect SANCO would like to see this too, on every one of  the 8,100 farms under bTB restriction last year. Hence our comment about halving unemployment.

 In May 2012 C&D notices were resurrected for reactors with no lesions and no culture. This even though the animals may have been slaughtered months ago. And a herd clearance form cannot be issued without it.

SANCO also mention the confiscation of passports from restricted herds and no licensed restocking until at least one 'satisfactory' whole herd test.The intensive biosecurity area of Wales is held up as pattern for the rest of GB - if it shows results.

So all in all a few more nails in the poor old cattle, and their owner's ability to trade at all. But the bit the Badger Trust and their assorted followers missed, is near the end:
Measures to prevent re-infection from other sources focus on the risk presented by wildlife (badgers). The CA maintains that the delay in implementing the proposed wildlife controls (i.e. a managed cull of badgers), which is a significant element of the approved eradication programme, remains the major obstacle to progress.

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