ANIMAL HEALTH BILL - SECOND READING
Thank you very much for receiving our concerns via previous communications and for questioning Elliot Morley directly on Tuesday at the Select Committee hearing. We note that he was unable to provide adequate figures to justify his claim that resisting farmers had increased the spread of disease, in the face of massive evidence that nearly all contiguous premises in fact remained disease free, and that he is to provide further information to you.
May we briefly qualify some of the areas where confusion still exists? Alayne Addy's two hundred cases that remained disease free were mostly farms where the cull was resisted, the appeal was refused, but no legal action resulted from either side. There are many hundreds more such cases all over the country; very few went before the courts. Our own case was not untypical. Having taken sensible biosecurity precautions to protect our flock, we were confident that disease had not spread from our neighbouring farm. We refused the cull and also refused to appeal, as we believed the legality of the cull to be doubtful anyway, and simply stated that no access would be granted without a court injunction. DEFRA did not pursue any legal action against us, nor did it do so in the great majority of cases. Nevertheless, our "appeal" was rejected twelve days later, even though we had never made one, and no site visit or assessment had been carried out, as required under the appeals procedure. The grounds for refusal were that our premises were "adjudged to be contiguous" - in other words, the appeal process was simply a rubber-stamp to authorise blanket CP culling, without impartiality or proper veterinary input. We see nothing in the new Bill to modify this totally unnacceptable process.
We note further Elliot Morley's claim that justification for the contiguous cull was provided by "two independent reports" that , of course, turn out to be the papers published by the two modelling teams. This is all that remains now that he has stated, in a Commons written reply to Tim Yeo that "As at 22 October a total of 7,294 Dangerous Contacts (DC) and 255 Slaughter on Suspicion (SOS) cases, which had not been recognised as Infected Premises, had laboratory tests conducted. Of these, five yielded positive results and subsequently became IPs and were recorded as such." In other words, just five contiguous premises have been verified by laboratory test as having disease, out of a total of 7549 slaughtered. That is all the scientific evidence he has, and lamentable it is.
So, to return to the modelling teams, the two are not "independent" by any definition of the word. Woolhouse and Anderson, the respective team leaders, were formerly close colleagues at Oxford University before Anderson's disgrace and forced resignation from his post there; and since both teams have promoted the novel concept of contiguous culling from the start of their involvement, they are hardly going to expose flaws in their earlier work at this late stage. Their two reports are not peer reviewed, they merely offer a one-sided perspective for the original culling strategy based on false assumptions and inadequate data. We have independent verification from virologist Dr Colin Fink that our criticism of the modellers work is correct, as evidenced by this unsolicited E-mail message:
Dear Mr Beat, I have read your data on the internet with interest. I have spoken to Professor Woolhouse and also to Professor Anderson and both agree that the data input without sensitive molecular testing for the organism was unsatisfactory. Unfortunately none of the contigious culled animals were tested and so we have no data on the efficacy of the policy which they promulgated. This is of course convenient. I agree that the modelling must be very poor because of the inadequate data . Yours sincerely, Dr Colin Fink Micropathology Ltd Tel 02476 323222
As the predictions of the modelling teams are the only "evidence" to support the contiguous cull, it is vital that these models are subject to proper scrutiny. That this has not been done so far is a disgrace; for new, draconian legislation to be based upon it is an outrage. You already have a list of key issues that we believe need to be urgently addressed, but of these, perhaps the most significant and most readily grasped by the non-specialist is this: that the peak of the epidemic had already passed, and the steady decline in daily case numbers become well established, BEFORE any possible impact of the new culling policies could have taken place. Even if the 48 hour target for CP culling had been met (which it was not, especially so when first introduced), the incubation and early infectious stages of the disease allow an average of nine days to pass between exposure to virus and the appearance of clinical signs for farm diagnosis (stated by Woolhouse). To recap, the key dates are:
23rd March Contiguous culling introduced
26th March Epidemic peaks with 54 cases in one day
29th March 24/48 hour culling policy introduced
9th April First impact of 24/48 hour culling, cases already down to 32 per day
The impact of contiguous culling could not have begun to take effect on reported new cases of infection until 11 days following the 29th March (48 hours plus 9 days incubation). On that date, 9th April, the daily case numbers had already declined to an average of 32 per day and Professor David King was expressing "cautious optimism" that the new measures were starting to "turn things round" (Veterinary Record, 14th April). Yet clearly this was not, and could not be, the case.
If the new culling policies were to make any impact on the course of the epidemic, this would show as a marked decline in daily case numbers commencing on or around 9th April. That did not happen, in fact there is no significant change in the pattern of decline at any point that can be attributed to the contiguous cull. There is no evidence in the modellers own graph of decline that demonstrates any effect whatever. This is the challenge that must be made to the Minister in the Commons on Monday.
Please make that challenge and bring out the facts. There is too much at stake not to do so. You will know well enough, from the devastation of your own constituency, the basic truth of this statement by your Cumbrian colleague on the Select Committee to Margaret Beckett:
"I have to tell you that if you were to try and implement a slaughter policy again next year, it would not be acceptable to the people of Cumbria. You would not be able to implement it because we would never want to live through that again."
We would echo that here in Devon, and we know that the same applies in every affected region of the UK. The Bill is simply unworkable because the mass of ordinary people recognise the extended slaughter policy for what it is - a non-existent "cure" that is immeasurably worse than the disease itself.
Alan & Rosie Beat
Bridgerule, Devon EX22 7EL
Tel: 01288 381341