Thursday, June 13, 2013

Taking it seriously.

"Exposure to M. bovis can be a serious health hazard." So said an executive from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), after slapping AHVLA on the wrist, censuring AHVLA for breaches in handling live samples of m.bovis, the causative agent of Zoonotic tuberculosis, over a period of two years.
"The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) completed a Crown censure procedure against the Weybridge-based organisation following an investigation into the handling of samples containing Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) - the causative agent of bovine TB, which in some circumstances can be harmful to humans."
Given the seriousness of the disease known as 'tuberculosis', a group term which includes Zoonotic tuberculosis (bovine TB) that's a bit of an understatement, but let that pass.
Farmers Weekly, reported last month an HSE investigation into the handling of live samples for further testing collected at Starcross, Exeter and submitted to Weybridge AHVLA. Their findings included:
* Standard operating procedures were not fit for purpose - they lacked clarity and detail, and did not take proper account of the equipment at Starcross used to inactivate M. bovis, or the experience of personnel at that laboratory.
* The wrong equipment was provided - the equipment provided to the staff at Starcross for the M. bovis inactivation procedure was not the right equipment for the task

. * Training for Starcross technicians was inadequate - personnel undertaking the M. bovis inactivation procedure received no formal training on the process.

* Effectiveness of the inactivation process was not monitored - personnel at Starcross did not routinely check that the inactivation process was working and that the M. bovis samples were safe to handle.

* Managers failed to resolve issues - some operators at Starcross raised concerns about the inactivation process and equipment, but no action was taken.
If a private company or individual had acted in a such a reckless matter during the handling of a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen, prosecution would be inevitable. However, the report explains:
Crown bodies such as AHVLA, an executive agency of DEFRA, must comply with the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act. However, they are excluded from the provisions for statutory enforcement, including prosecution and penalties.
The Protection of Badgers Act (1992) made provision under Section 10(2)(a) for 'culling to prevent the spread of disease'. The 'disease' carried by these animals, being the very same Zoonotic tuberculosis for which HSE have censured AHVLA so heavily in respect of their employees.

 In his raft of Parliamentary Questions lobbied in 2004, Owen Paterson asked "What was the current policy on the issuing of licenses under this section of the Act, and how many the Secretary of State (then Madame Beckett) expected to issue in the next 5 years. [158605]

The answer given on 18th March 2004, Col 431W was;
Under section 10 (2) (a) - to prevent the spread of disease: "It is current policy not to issue any licenses under sub section 10 (2) (a) to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, except for animals held in captivity."
And since that moratorium on Section 10(2)a) (purchased in 1997 with PAL lobby cash) we have culled no badgers 'to prevent the spread of disease' , except a very few in the RBCT, the operating protocol of which ensured not the control of Zoonotic tuberculosis, but its spread.

 However to the end of 2012, AHVLA have slaughtered 354,084 cattle. They have also been responsible for the slaughter of several thousand 'other species' TB victims, in their quest to eradicate TB from everything else - except badgers. Species affected include alpacas, llamas, bison, pigs, goats, deer and sheep.
Transmission of Zoonotic tuberculosis from these animals, particularly domestic pets and companion animals to their owners, has already been recorded.

How culpable does that make Defra / AHVLA?

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