Letter September 20 2008 from Chester beef farmer Huw Rowlands
It is utterly incredible that farmers are still importing Bluetongue-infected livestock from Europe. If the Dutch can hastily impose a voluntary ban on calves from the United Kingdom because of the risk of Bovine Tuberculosis, why cannot British farmers react the same way in the face of the arguably far more damaging Bluetongue disease? What motivates these people who continue to bring reservoirs of the disease into the country, putting at risk not only their own livelihoods, but also those of thousands of others? Is it ignorance, selfishness, idiocy, gross stupidity, or a combination of the above?
For once, and to its credit, DEFRA has, by opting for a voluntary vaccination strategy, enabled the protection of all the livestock in England to take place within a few short months, and the strategy appears to have worked in the South and East where a high take-up of vaccine is reported. Sadly, the strategy has failed in the North and West, where far fewer have vaccinated their livestock. The refuseniks are risking everything, and using scaremongering pseudo-scientific claims to justify their inactivity. Having vaccinated all my cattle at the earliest opportunity in September, I am happy to report no side-effects.
The combination of continued imports and lack of vaccination will have pernicious effects. The stage is being set for a massive outbreak in 2009 or 2010, in a repeat of the pattern seen in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. It is like watching a well-known Shakespearean tragedy unfold. You know what is going to happen, are willing the outcome to be different, and are powerless to change it. And whilst the British public is more sympathetic to farming than it used to be, the way in which Bluetongue is being collectively mishandled is permeating the public perception and eroding that hard-won sympathy. Thoughtless farmers will, when Bluetongue hits them and they cry for government aid, forfeit any moral entitlement to such help. DEFRA has given farmers a chance to show that we can act collectively and responsibly to prevent Bluetongue from gaining hold, and farmers have blown it, thereby giving ministers and mandarins the perfect excuse for imposing further red tape, regulations and costs at will. Congratulations!