Sunday, February 12, 2017

Brexit, UK exports and zoonotic Tuberculosis

One of the reasons given for leaving the clutches of the European Union was red tape. Happily, a bonfire of regulations will occur shortly. But this will be replaced for the farming community by another pile of Regulations - [link]

 Entitled REGULATION (EU) 2016/429 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL, this 208 page pdf contains over 300 Directives or 'Articles' concerning animal diseases, animal welfare and, with relevance to the UK, imports from third countries into the EU.

 It comes into force on 21st April 2021.

Article 9 (Annex IV on p. 177) is particularly relevant, as are Articles 229 / 300 which end with this gem:
"The Commission shall be empowered to adopt delegated acts in accordance with Article 264 concerning derogations from paragraph 2 of this Article, limiting the possibility for Member States to decide from which third countries and territories a specific species and category of animal, germinal product or product of animal origin may enter the Union, where necessary due to the risk posed by that specific species and category of animal, germinal product or product of animal origin."
That sounds suspiciously like a European Beef Ban to us. And we've been there before, have we not?

And the European Union is not without form on the thorny question of zTB . In 2004 when Russia - [link] was sabre rattling about quality of imports, zTB was used as a stick to beat three EU states. These were listed as Spain, the Republic of Ireland and the UK. To offset that threat, the EU drew up an export note, which, like the Beef Ban was a cascade of products ranging from milk powder, through gelatin to hides for tanning. In fact anything and everything - [link] that can be produced from a bovine animal. There is more clarification. [link]  on the this as answers to our questions were dragged from the Department of Trade.

And our apologies for the broken links in the first piece on Russia. As readers probably know, the Defra website is pretty rubbish at the best of times, and articles / notes and information are archived very quickly. In this case, the export document. But it exists. It is in someone's drawer and with herd TB incidence now over 10 per cent in the UK, for sure it will be used.

But if no one else is on the case, the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales) are up to speed. Yesterday's lead article on the Welsh lobby group's website, giving details of  Tb in Wales - [link]  and well written by FUW's policy director, Dr. Nick Fenwick gives a potted history of TB non policy by successive political leaders. It then points out the risks to exports from the current levels of TB in herds. Dr. Fenwick concludes:
The situation would be bad enough under normal circumstances, but with Brexit looming, competitors in other countries have one eye on our TB status, and how it might be used to their benefit – and our detriment – in trade negotiations. The clock is ticking.
And that point is made today by our sister site, with emphasis on exports of agricultural products and including several paragraphs from those new EU Regulations - [link] to which we refer above.

 Nick Fenwick is quite correct - for eradication of zTB and the security of our exports, the clock is ticking.

'Build that Wall'

News has been trickling in over the last couple of months of a cow in Canada, slaughtered in the USA and found to have lesions by the US meat inspectors. Cultures - [link] subsequently confirmed zoonotic tuberculosis.

We won't go into too much detail on this story, leaving readers to follow these links - [link] for in depth reporting from Alberta. And our grateful thanks to the cattle farmer who sent them.

 But one snippet caught our attention.
 zTB is practically unheard of in Alberta, and as such treated very seriously. Tracing is going back five years, and so far just 6 cattle have proved positive to zTB - all with the same strain of the disease.

After culture and spoligotyping (strain typing of the bacteria) it was found that the strain of zTB in these cows had not been found in Canada before, and was genetically very similar to a strain predominate in Central Mexico. The latest information from Alberta tells us that:
Genetic analysis has shown that the bovine TB organism from the infected cows is not the same as any strains detected in Canadian domestic livestock or wildlife or humans to date. All six currently confirmed positive cows have the same strain of TB. This strain of TB identified in these confirmed cows is closely related to a strain first found in cattle in Central Mexico in 1997.
Mexican herdsman with a cough? Just a thought.

And please, don't tell President Trump.

(No) Common Sense and COSHH

COSHH- or the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health - is a legal requirement of those employing people in any capacity, or the  letting of property - [link]
 It involves a detailed risk assessment to identify and remove, as far as possible, risks to health from hazardous substances.

With holiday lets, often gas appliances are the most likely suspects, with carbon monoxide emissions the 'hazardous substance' to be avoided at all costs. Dodgy wiring and badly maintained flues are all on the hit list for COSHH - [ link] But so are any 'substances known to be injurious to health'.

So the recent experience of a holidaymaker staying in a self catering cottage has shocked us.

 Upon entry to the property he noticed a stainless steel bowl and four cans of dog food.

"I don't have a dog" remarked the visitor.
"Oh, they're for the badgers" replied the hostess, glibly explaining that part of the 'countryside experience' she offered, was to encourage local badgers and for guests to view their 'dining table' - which doubled as the property's patio. 

Now the conversation became a bit heated, as her guest was a veterinary surgeon, well versed in zoonotic Tuberculosis and its primary wildlife hosts. So when the cottage owner proceeded to tell him, with all the arrogance of the totally stupid, that zTB had nothing at all to do with badgers, and it was a cattle disease, he was able to inform her with the degree of certainty that his qualifications bestowed, that badgers were the main wildlife host of zTuberculosis in this country.

 And for good measure he added that as her cottages were situated within one of the worst hot-spots for that disease in the country, not only was she putting her guests at risk, she was breaking every COSHH rule in the book, by doing so. And as such had laid herself wide open to litigation should any of her guests, contract zTuberculosis  from a badger bowl which she had provided, swilled in tepid water along with the family's breakfast dishes.

This is one of those occasions where words really do fail us.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Going in circles, or another Trojan horse?

As Wales prepares to implement yet another round of cattle measures, bearing down hard on compensation levels and 'risks' of restocking in the post EU Brexit era, some stirrings can be heard in the farming community.

 Enough is enough ... reports Wales on line - [link] with the strap line pointing out that cattle controls alone, will not halt TB.

The Daily post - [link] gives a thumb nail sketch of what is to come for Wales' remaining cattle. If not for the infected wildlife they have to live alongside.

And thus we are reminded of what the chairman of the ISG (Independent [it wasn't] Scientific [ not unless you mean political science] Group [maybetold the EFRA Committee - [link] in 2007.
“What we are saying is that badger culling in the way it can be conducted in the UK, we believe, cannot possibly contribute to cattle TB control, and in using the word ‘ meaningfully’ what we mean there, is that if it is the only inducement that would encourage farmers to co-operate fully, and introduce effective cattle controls, it could have an effect”.
This was questioned, somewhat more politely than we would have done, by the EFRAcom Chairman.

He said:
“Can I make quite certain that my ears did not deceive me a moment ago, when you said with your almost impish smile, “Left to its own devices, culling is not the silver bullet but if it induced some other activity as a quid pro quo, it might have a role to play?”. Is that what you are saying to me?”

Prof. Bourne (left) replied:

“It would be most unfortunate if that happened but that is exactly what I was communicating to you, because farmers have made it clear they will not co operate unless they can kill badgers. Farmer co operation is absolutely essential to get this disease under control. It will be appalling thing for us if farmers were given the opportunity of knocking off a few badgers, just to get their co operation.”
So as the cattle measures, futile as they are, rain down on us, think of John Bourne's words, delivered with a smirk, that if farmers can knock off a few badgers, they will accept more draconian cattle measures.
Quid pro quo. Where have we heard that before?.
And will we accept them? Will we really?

So laid on the line,  imagine the map of England and Wales, with small disparate chunks of a few hundred sq km. allowing farmers to cull badgers for six weeks in a year, for a four year period only. And paying for the privilege.

We've snuck the map from Facebook, but you get the picture. It's a minute effort. Tiny.

Is it Bourne's Trojan horse?

 Compare those tiny patches on the map above to the area now affected by zoonotic tuberculosis, stretching from Cheshire in the north to the eastern borders of the Midlands, through Wiltshire and Dorset in the south and right down to Lands End in Cornwall - for England.

And of course,  the whole of Wales, conveniently missing from Defra's latest picture postcard.

 Meanwhile the Farming Unions are not happy with the spin being put on the 36 per cent increase in Welsh cattle reactors. Farmers Guardian - [link] has the story.