Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Playing Mind Games?

This post has been updated. Please see link at the end.

We import much from America but one such product, we could do without. Arriving during the 'cold war' in the 1950s and known as the DELPHI technique, it cleverly drives a meeting to pre-determined end. Once you've been to a meeting set up under these conditions, the symptoms are quite recognisable. They are a method of achieving a consensus for what Government want to achieve without actually bothering to ask the participants.

Group gatherings, by invitation only, are arranged and selected participants invited to “help determine” policy in one field or another. These valuable people are supposedly there to provide input which will then help officials make final decisions. Sounds a ground breaking democratic system doesn’t it? Localism in action.

Unfortunately, surface appearances are often deceiving and the 'facilitator' who steers and often records the meeting,  while pretending to be helpful, neutral, non directing and friendly, is actually there for exactly the opposite reason. To see that the conclusions reached during the meeting are in accord with a plan already decided upon by those who called the meeting. In this case Defra.

 A series of such meetings have been arranged to 'plan' Defra's next zTB strategy, presently out for a 'consultation' and which is due to end on September 26th. These gatherings are interesting, if only to see which way the apparatchiks who run Defra, plan to drive their next round of cattle measures carnage forward. And it isn't pretty.

In fact it is brutal, suicidal and with no reference to historical failures, which although casually mentioned, lacked a fuller explanation as to why they didn't work. You'll find that here where we discuss what has become known as the 'Downie era' in the Republic of Ireland.

The meetings are held under Chatham House rules, so we can't say who said what - just the gist of the discussion which we list below.

* Vets present pointed out that although 'lay testing' was up for discussion, as far as they were concerned, that subject was a 'done deal' with tenders already out. So not so much a consultation as a mission statement?

* As more and more responsibility for dealing with past governments' prevarication over this disease (Zoonotic tuberculosis) appears to be passed to cattle farmers, the message was pretty clear. No. Not until wildlife control is a key part of any strategy.

* The thorny question of cost, which Defra want to offload too, was neatly sidestepped as "hugely important", "will be discussed in detail at the end" .... and then ooops, 30 seconds remaining, we've run out of time. Really?  What a surprise. So who is willing to pay? We don't know, but it is not the Department which signed up to an International TB Eradication Strategy, and failed to carry it out..

* Compensation for reactors was something Defra make no secret of wanting to reduce: but if there were less reactors the question would not arise of course. Insurance is still a big no say the loss adjusters. This will continue while levels remain so high and are hemorrhaging the mainly  profitable farm insurance budget. And that is both for farmer's individual insurance, or some type of mutual scheme black hole.

* The New Zealand model appears to take a lot of time and space in the Consultation documentation, and was discussed pushed at these meetings. But which one? There have been two, and we take a lead here from TB who reveals that the Kiwi's second effort appeared much more successful than the earlier one. And it is the earlier one, they point out, which Defra are following.

* Wildlife management, particularly of badgers in the European Union member states, was mentioned. But not how it is achieved.  And there was a predictable slippage of the 'V' word into most Defra-ese, at every opportunity. Our views on the use of BCG vaccination of either badgers or cattle are well known so we won't repeat them. Suffice to say we've read the paperwork, seen that derogatory 'Pump Priming' phrase, (used regularly to get farmers to accept the 'V' concept) and have experienced the 'hard sell' of this idea, with no acceptance that the reality is not living up to that dream.

 * Many participants wanted a more targeted cull of badgers, using information already gathered by AHVLA at the beginning of a breakdown. Also mentioned was the PR catastrophe of a widespread indiscriminate cull, which it was said, had been appallingly handled.

* And the main conclusion was the lack of trust both farmers and vets now had in Defra; without which no policy can be operated at all.

Brutal, top down cattle measures have failed in the past, and they look set to be introduced again, with no noticeable effect when the cause of the problem is still roaming free. The difference now is that farmers will be asked to pay for them..

 This chart was first aired at the Killarney Epidemiological Conference, and shows the AHVLA risk assessments results drawn from new confirmed breakdowns in Devon, during 2004.

These AHVLA maps and their vital information  remain unused.

Responsible for those new breakdowns were not 30 per cent badgers, not even 50 per cent badgers as is being bandied about by successive mathematical modelers and the ISG. No less than 76 per cent of those breakdowns were identified as being caused by badgers and only 8 per cent purchased cattle. Unknown original accounted for 16 per cent of breakdowns.

So, why are Defra adding extra goldplating to the European Union's already brutal cattle measures?

Update: From the Worcester meeting, Alistair Driver reports similar comments to those expressed above, including that lack of 'trust' in Defra. And particularly the absolute need for realistic measures involving wildlife before any more pain is heaped on beleaguered cattle farmers. Full article with contributor comments is on this link.

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