Go to the start of the outbreak
The H5N1 bird flu outbreak at Bernard Matthews
Holton Suffolk February 2007
warmwell.com postings from the beginning
UK trade restrictions due to Avian Influenza (AI)
DEFRA's interim report (pdf new window )
A trade in disease? - important article at Country Smallholding (UK)
Final epidemiological Report (new window) published 19 April 2007
26th February 2009 ~ Bird Flu at Bernard Matthews again
BBC "... DEFRA has carried out tests at Bernard Matthews breeder sites in Ubbeston, near Halesworth, and near Yaxham, close to East Dereham. The birds tested positive for avian influenza but not the highly pathogenic H5 or H7 types. Defra has not advised a cull of the birds but has placed a movement restriction on them."
It will be remembered how in 2007, testing was not complete until 14 days after the Bernard Matthews plant was re-opened. Bernard Matthews was close to being prosecuted for alleged breaches in hygiene regulations but - to the astonishment of many, far from facing charges, the company was even granted £589,356.89 in compensation, funded by the taxpayer.
Although it seems as though today's reported case of a notifiable disease may not be as serious as first feared, it is to be deeply regretted that DEFRA has not chosen vaccination as even part of their strategy to combat Bird Flu. As Dr Ruth Watkins asked in an article written many months ago for the CLA,
"... Why not vaccinate free-range poultry and pheasants as well as hold vaccine in reserve to ring vaccinate an outbreak in a domestic flock? ..."
November 3 2007 ~ Bernard Matthews chief's mysterious departure
Bart Dalla Mura, the UK chief executive of Bernard Matthews, has left the business reports the Telegraph today.
Bart Dalla Mura was taken on as commercial director only in March last year. He was formerly with Allied Bakeries and before that he held sales and marketing jobs at Nestle and Unilever respectively The appointment came as Bernard Matthews' marketing director Andy Watts left to join the cosmetics company Avon.
October 12, 2007 ~ Bernard Matthews avian flu report casts doubts
The Times says, "An official report has cast doubt over the decision to allow Bernard Matthews, the poultry company, to avoid prosecution for hygiene failures at its plant in Suffolk that was at the centre of the avian flu outbreak.
It suggests that the decision should be reviewed by specifically calling for new mechanisms to be put in place by the Government “to review cases where prosecution was explored but not pursued”.
This recommendation is in a report by Det Norske Veritas (DNV), the consultants, that was sent to the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on July 25, and was published yesterday. ...the DNV report.....shows that Bernard Matthews was close to being prosecuted for breaches in hygiene regulations. It also disclosed that a senior barrister was approached to give an opinion on the evidence. This legal opinion and the report into breaches was discussed by the FSA with Defra’s legal team. An investigation report was then sent to a number of people - though it is not disclosed if these were ministers, officials, government vets or law officers - but the legal opinion of the barrister was not circulated to them..."
July 24 2007 ~ "....a fantastic ingredient for a range of everyday meals and snacks, said Sharron, after Bernard Matthews handed over a big cheque to her..."
News that Sharron Davies has been endorsing Bernard Matthews' turkey can be read in an article called Everything's big including bribes in the Norfolk Evening News. The firm's efforts to reassure consumers of the quality and provenance of products cannot however expunge the memories of cramped conditions and mass slaughter. There is still no word on the source of the H5N1 outbreak at Holton.
June 18 2007 ~ "They are well aimed kicks at individual birds. He is not just using his feet to gently move them out of the way."
Daily Mail ".....The latest video is another embarrassment to Matthews managers who had claimed they did not tolerate workers abusing poultry. The new film shows a balding worker in overalls delivering eight separate kicks to turkeys in a shed on a farm at Wreningham near Wymondham, Norfolk. ..."
May 14 2007 ~ Parallels between the site inspections at Heddon on the Wall just before FMD and those at the Matthews plant just before the discovery of H5N1 are inescapable.
Hungary's deputy Chief Veterinary Officer feels no hesitation in blaming Bernard Matthews for the UK avian flu outbreak (see below) because of flaws in hygiene. The word "biosecurity" is constantly on the lips of officials - but when it is evident that premises were far from being kept to the highest standards, the transparency of what was inspected, when and how, should be made quite clear. Instead, all seems obscure. Were inspections done properly, taken seriously and were breaches immediately put right - or not?
In 2001, the outbreak at Waughs foreshadowed the loss of more than ten million animals. Parallels between the site inspections at Heddon on the Wall by the unfortunate Jim Dring before FMD and those at the Matthews plant before the discovery of H5N1 are inescapable.
As Lynda Davies writes, in response to an email from Robert Persey,
"As I see it, if DEFRA enforce (2005 Animal By-Products Order, section 11, para 4) at the Bernard Matthews farm, or at any other farms in the future, then they would be admitting that they were responsible for the FMD outbreak for NOT enforcing that same regulation at Bobby Waugh's farm in 2001...."Ben Bradshaw said of the Holton outbreak: ".. this episode reflects the need for constant vigilance, high levels of biosecurity and robust and well developed contingency planning in dealing with animal disease outbreaks." But questions about how far 'constant vigilance and high levels of security' are taking place when they are most needed must be asked and answers publicised.
May 13 2007 ~ Bognar Lajos, Hungary's deputy chief veterinary officer, conceded that the H5N1 virus could have gone undetected in a Hungarian turkey flock which was sent to slaughter.
The Sunday Telegraph reports, "the meat might then have been exported by Bernard Matthews, the British poultry company, to its plant in Holton, Suffolk, before the virus infected birds there. Despite the admission, Mr Lajos insisted that ultimately the blame for the British outbreak must lie with Bernard Matthews, which was criticised for shortfalls in its biosecurity in the wake of the scare. Mr Lajos said: "It is possible that the virus was still in an incubation period in a flock and no symptoms would have been seen. Such a flock could have been sent to slaughter and the meat transported to the UK. The problem was not with Hungary though. The problem was Bernard Matthews and its biosecurity."
May 2 2007 ~ Testing was not complete until 14 days after the Bernard Matthews plant was re-opened.
Yesterday's Parliamentary Question, its answer and the relevant part of the final epidemiological report can be read here.
Mr Bradshaw's answer reveals that the testing of live poultry within the protection and surveillance zones had not in fact been completed until 26 February whereas the Bernard Matthews slaughterhouse plant in Holton was re-opened on 12 February.
( He says that the slaughterhouse was under restrictions only while the culling was taking place while the meat processing plant had never been placed under restrictions.)
DEFRA does not seem to have realised that poultry meat was still coming in from Hungary.
Although DEFRA's Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) on January 24th, about the outbreak in southern Hungary, said:
"The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months."- as we show below, this was entirely wrong. The public health minister, Caroline Flint, revealed in early March that 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary passed through the Bernard Matthews plant and went into the food chain between February 2 - when the outbreak was confirmed - and February 12. EU rules (Article 22) say that the "competent authority shall ensure that the transport of poultry meat from slaughterhouses, cutting plants and cold stores is prohibited unless it has been produced....at least 21 days before the estimated date of earliest infection on a holding in the protection zone and which since production has been stored and transported separately from such meat produced after that date.
All this suggests that DEFRA was not able properly to assess the risk before re-opening the plant. Meanwhile, other poultry owners were kept under restrictions until March 1st. See below)
April 30 2007~ Questions must continue about the Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak
As we say below, a large quantity of breast meat was thrown out because it had been dropped on the floor on 15th January. 60 kilograms of it. DEFRA's interim report (pdf new window ) said
"Pest control reports from the whole premises on January 10 and 24 2007 specifically comment that there had been an ongoing problem of gulls on uncovered waste bins and of them roosting on the finishing units (turkey sheds). Similar comments had been made...in 2006."H5N1 virus was in shed 10 and we do not yet know how. In addition to concerns that Bernard Matthews was importing meat from the Gall Foods abattoir (two or three lorries a week were travelling to the UK direct from Kecskemet) farmers in the Csongrad area of Hungary alleged that SaGa Foods had received poultry from a farm 19 miles west of the infected Hungarian goose farms. (See Telegraph Feb 11) The origin of this unique turkey/goose strain of virus is still unknown. We are not even certain of the direction of travel of the infection. The to-ing and fro-ing of an enormous quantity of meat and animal carcasses had been taking place between Bernard Matthews and Hungary. There is even a possibility that some poultry imported from Hungary was goose, subsequently packaged as turkey breast. There have been cases of meat substitution in the past. The 60 kilos of breast meat dumped into insecure bins should not be forgotten.
April 30 2007~ The mystery that still surrounds the Bernard Matthews avian flu case must continue to worry us - for several reasons
First, there seems to be a willingness to drop further exploration into the source. It is beginning to look as though Robert Persey's point about a letter sent to MPs from the Bernard Matthews factory farm plant is important and worrying. The decision not to prosecute the company could have been because of fears that details of incompetence would emerge in court.
Secondly, although the Hungarians stoutly deny the connection, the VLA at Weybridge found that the UK virus was 99.96% similar to the strain that infected birds in the outbreak in Southern Hungary. The Gall Foods abattoir, at Kecskemet 30 miles from the infected farms at Szentes, slaughtered 13,000 geese from those infected farms in January and ALSO slaughtered turkeys from the Matthews farm up to 12 January 2007. To believe that there can be no connection calls for a most energetic leap of faith - and although the DEFRA's epidemiological report of April 5 makes no firm conclusions it still says that H5N1 might have got into shed 10 " by contaminated feed or other material that then entered the shed (through normal procedures or carried in by vermin)"
We have seen no answers to questions about what was put into in feed but we do know that on 15 January approximately 60kg of breast meat was discarded into waste bins, we know that there were breaches of good practice that made waste material available to wild scavengers and we also know that shed 10 was old and not very secure.
The Hungarians are annoyed with Britain. Perhaps approaches were less than tactful and it certainly seems an extraordinary lack of courtesy on the part of our own authorities that the Hungarians were not sent the epidemiological report before it appeared on the internet for all to see.
In this sort of case there can be no blame when everyone is behaving in good faith and virus is accidentally spread. What remains deeply worrying is that investigations have closed down because of pressure being exerted - an approach that defiles both science and integrity.
April 25 2007 ~ Hungary denies any connection with UK bird flu outbreak
Robert Hodgson of the Budapest Times reports that according to Hungary's Agriculture Minister, Zoltán Gögös there is "no evidence of a link" and that Hungary has not even yet received the DEFRA report of the epidemiological findings by the National Emergency Epidemiology Group from the UK into the bird flu outbreak at Bernard Matthews. He said that even if the two virus strains showed similarity, this proved nothing, as bird flu strains are often similar to each other.
".... As UK reporters flew en masse to Hungary, muddled reports began appearing in the UK press about, for example, connections between Bernard Matthews "farm" (it is a turkey meat processing plant) in "Sarkov" and the bird flu outbreaks, which were, in fact, on goose farms on the other side of the country. Suspicions deepened as reports of regular movements of unprocessed turkey meat between Hungary and the UK gradually came to light, and there was increased pressure from UK journalists eager to establish a direct link between the outbreaks in the two countries and pin the blame of Bernard Matthews Ltd. The official Hungarian position was that migrating ducks must have carried the virus into both the UK and Hungary, probably from Russia. The UK position was that the most probable route was into Hungary by duck then on to the UK in turkey meat, by truck........at a press conference held by the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture, chief veterinarian, Miklós Süth, asked foreign, especially British, journalists to "leave our experts alone," and let them get on with their jobs. He also criticised the UK press for printing misinformation, although he did not single out any one newspaper. Eventually, as no evidence of a truckload of infected meat being illegally driven to the UK could be found, interest in the story faded. Now the slanging match between the two farming ministries is set to start again."Could it be that the British authorities have acted in a high handed manner rather than working tactfully with their Hungarian counterparts? A "slanging match", when it is so important to establish the facts, is surely the last thing that should be happening.
April 23 2007 ~ Hungarian agriculture ministry say that EU experts said "it was impossible that the Hungarian outbreak was in any way related to the British."
On Thursday the Hungarian Agriculture Ministry denied a Hungarian link with the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak.
April 20-22 2007 ~ "as with foot and mouth, the Government have failed to establish the cause of the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk.."
On Thursday, Peter Ainsworth, asking whether it is not time to look again at the regulations concerning the importation of poultry meat, reminded the House of Commons (Hansard) that "there must have been a serious breach of bio-security at the Bernard Matthews plant", but that nobody will be held responsible and the company will receive £589,356.89 in compensation. Barry Gardener sidestepped any engagement with the serious question of what the Countess of Mar referred to in February as " DEFRA's "lack of assiduity in tracing where the virus has come from" (See below)
The Government's insistence that the cost of future animal disease outbreaks should be shared with farmers looks wholly unreasonable when, with all its resources, it cannot or will not get to the bottom of how a disease has come in and thus be better placed to protect the country.
What Barry Gardener did say was that the Government had "received many plaudits for the way in which the whole matter of avian flu has been handled". One is reminded that in April 2004 it was the Labour member, Mr. Huw Edwards, who said of Ben Bradshaw's self congratulation:
"I was rather surprised when the Minister opened his speech by applauding the fact that the foot and mouth outbreak was contained within seven months. That seemed like a bit of positive spin that was perhaps written by a special adviser. There was more than a year of absolute hell in my constituency..."It is unfortunate that the government seems unwilling to do anything but preen itself over its handling of disease. It is yet another reminder of the disastrous policies in 2001 - from which so few real lessons for the present and for the future seem yet to have been learned.
April 19/20 2007 ~".. we are left with the possibility that meat products from pre-clinically infected turkeys, infected from a common source with the Hungarian outbreaks in January 2007, might have been slaughtered and exported to the Holton site"
The DEFRA report of the epidemiological findings by the National Emergency Epidemiology Group: "Our conclusion is that infection was most likely introduced to GB via the importation of turkey meat from Hungary."
Guesses about a possible common cause of "wild bird infection" are, of course, just that - mere guesses.
The Guardian quotes Jack Straw,
"All of us are uncomfortable about the reports of high levels of compensation to Mr Matthews' firm."Peter Ainsworth said the government had "once again" failed to establish the cause of the outbreak of a serious animal disease.
"....The fact that the government cannot ascertain precisely how bird flu got to Suffolk must surely be a case for looking again at the adequacy of existing regulations dealing with imports of poultry meat. Bearing in mind that there must have been a serious failure of bio security at the Bernard Matthews plant, many people will be absolutely astonished that no one will be held responsible for the outbreak. Instead the company will receive £589,356.89 in compensation funded by the taxpayer."We should very much like someone to be made to answer the question, "What exactly were the infected turkey poults being fed on at the time of the outbreak?"
We should also very much like to know whether an alleged document from Bernard Matthews criticising DEFRA's handling of the outbreak, claimed by Robert Persey to have been sent to MPs, ever existed and if so, whether it was the cause of DEFRA's reluctance to allow any prosecution of Bernard Matthews to take place for fear that such criticisms should come to light.
April 19 2007 ~ Ben Bradshaw: "The key to effective disease control is good surveillance, early detection and rapid response"
Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley, Labour) asked Ben Bradshaw (Hansard April 16) " what strategies his Department has in place to combat (a) avian influenza and (b) foot and mouth disease in the North West."
A short definition of strategy is "the art of distributing and applying means to fulfil the ends of policy." The Minister's given reply, along with the inevitable reference to bio-security (see below for comment), was that the key to effective disease control is good surveillance, early detection and rapid response - yet no "strategies" were outlined. Still less did the Minister mention that the surveillance needed, already inadequate, has been much decreased; for example, by the scrapping this month of routine testing for brucellosis (where vets, until April 9th 2007, were paid by the State for this service, and could have a quiet look round for signs of other disease problems). Strategies for "early detection" and "rapid response" are not helped by the UK's inexplicable reluctance to use such effective and available technologies as on-site rapid diagnostic tests and vaccination.
April 19 2007 ~ "Planning was tested by the avian influenza case in Suffolk earlier this year and it coped well..."
said Mr Bradshaw in answer to the question above. It has been suggested that Bernard Matthews has circulated a report to MP's highlighting the fact that far from 'coping well', DEFRA's work in dealing with the Avian flu outbreak was deficient, and one of the reasons that there is not to be a prosecution is that the Department was not prepared to risk these details being made public in Court. In spite of DEFRA's assumption at the beginning of the outbreak that wild birds were the cause, and even as free range birds were being unnecessarily forced indoors, there seems to have been no live sampling either of wild birds nor commercial poultry until the media highlighted this. The Bernard Matthews factory imported the virus itself as a result of the to-ing and fro-ing of carcases and meat products between the UK and Hungary - or so it would certainly seem. Dangerous practices were ignored, and the factory - in spite of all this - is not only not to be prosecuted - but compensated by taxpayers to the tune of something like £600,000.
Perhaps Mr Hoyle's question was asked in order for the draft North West Exotic Animal Disease Plan (pdf) to get a mention.
Emergency plans need plain English, and must surely be written in a way that all can immediately understand - but here is an extract:
"LDCC - SVS lead, interfaces with the Local Resilience Forum which is the recognised mechanism under CCA for multi-agency coordination at the local level. Depending upon the nature of the outbreak the LRF will convene or set up a Strategic Co-ordination GroupAre we alone in being baffled? A straightforward simple working manual for use during an outbreak, drawn up after close and democratic collaboration between those involved in disease control is what is needed. Hoped for outcomes are not the same as clearly defined strategies.
The LRF will decide upon the scope of consequence management and the need for a Recovery Working Group. .....
LDCC / LRF / RWG will work in tandem. A liaison officer will be appointed...."
April 12 2007 ~ "Animal welfare is an issue of great importance for Europeans..."
says last month's EU Factsheet on Animal Welfare Ensuring the humane and responsible treatment of farmed animals (pdf)
"The farming of animals is no longer seen as merely a means of food production, but also as an ethical concern. Increasingly, there is a public sense of responsibility for animals which are under human care. Moreover, in consumers' minds, the well-being of farmed animals is strongly associated with the quality, and even safety, of food..."It was Peter Melchett in the Guardian in February who reminded us that
" ...Agri-business knows that if they told the truth about the food they flog us, still less let us see the inside of one of those turkey factories, the chances are no one would ever buy the stuff again. ..."Perhaps the message that it really does matter to people how animals are kept and looked after is starting to get through even to the most cynical. The Bernard Matthews brand, as we read in MarketingWeek, now plans organic, free-range meats in order (may they be forgiven) to be "relevant to today's consumers". One can only hope (for without irrational optimism one might despair) that this is more than a smoke screen behind which to hide the continuation of such practices as came to light in February. The fact that Bernard Matthews escaped prosecution (and Robert Persey's email is instructive here) has not put a stop to a slow awakening of public revulsion.
Peter Melchett here describes the difference in stance between Sir David King, most of the NFU and urban politicians with that of those who advocate organic farming. "....The hi-tech brigade assume world-wide trade in farm products and food is the norm..." (More)
Friday April 6th ~ wild birds and access to waste meat...should the law be changed?
Robert Persey writes to ask for reader comments abut the apparent absurdity in the law regarding access of wild birds to waste meat.
".......your report that Bernard Matthews is not going to be prosecuted - even though it has been identified that wild birds etc had access to waste meat at the processing plant. .... I have just been reading the Animal By Products Order 2005 and section 11 para 4 identifies that it is an offence to allow wild birds to have access to a carcase or part of a carcase 'that has not been slaughtered for human consumption'. The law is therefore saying that it is lawful for wild birds to have access to a carcase or part of a carcase that has been killed for human consumption. Please could you ask your readers to comment. Should the law be changed?"Read email and relevant paragraph of the Statutory Instrument in full. The email also refers to a possible reason for DEFRA's reluctance to take Bernard Matthews to court.
April 4 2007 ~" ...what they are saying is inhuman, stupid and Neanderthal.."
Christine Bijl, an influential stakeholder featured on the FMD and CSF Coordination Action website, reacts with deep consternation at the report from Imperial College (again) of the mathematical model (another one) into H5N1 that asserts (yet again) that killing healthy stock is the "only" method of disease control
"...standard measures to stop spreading - enhanced bio-security, movement restrictions and culling of infected birds - did not succeed in making the number drop below that threshold. Instead, "pre-emptive" culling of healthy birds on nearby farms was the only method that brought the level below one and completely eradicated the spread." lse.co.ukIt is as if the now discredited mass culling in 2001 had never happened. But mathematical modellers, whose data is not sentient, receive generous grants to model disease, and Dr Martin Hugh Jones' apt advice too often goes unheeded:
"Why should I believe you when you have a computer pallor and no mud on your shoes?" he asks. "The truth is in the field, not in the computer. When models are checked and rechecked against reality they can be fine-tuned and may eventually become useful..."Where are the questions asking why vaccine cannot be used "pre-emptively" and why has the nonsense about silent spread, silencing opposition among the anxious but ignorant, not been contradicted? As Christine wrote a year ago in the Netherlands, people ".. have a fundamental right to protect their animals as well as themselves." /hobbydierhouder.nl
April 2 2007 ~ The FSA are not going to prosecute the Bernard Matthews factory - "insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction "
"Defra said the FSA had been investigating Bernard Matthews on its behalf. There are no outstanding inquiries into the turkey firm which could lead to a prosecution, a Defra spokeswoman said. The FSA's investigation focused on possible breaches of Animal By-Products Regulations 2005, Animal By-Products (Identification) Regulations 1995 and Food Hygiene Regulations 2006. Defra expects its own scientific investigation into the bird flu outbreak to conclude after Easter. But that probe will not lead to any legal action, spokeswoman added."Compare this to the treatment meted out to the little firm Bowland - forced to close because of very questionable"evidence" indeed. One question that might occur to the more cynical is to ask, "Is the FSA a watchdog or a poodle?"
Insufficient evidence seems an odd conclusion to reach in the Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak when we look at the string of flaws revealed: holes in the turkey sheds where birds, rats and mice could get in and out, leaking roofs and uncovered bins where seagulls were seen carrying off meat waste. And no one yet seems to have asked the key question about what the turkey poults were being fed on.
March 27 2007 ~ "Given that a key part of the remit of the FAO is to develop international agricultural trade, reticence to accept that this trade is the main agent of global dispersal of HPAI H5N1 is perhaps unsurprising."
The full text of the paper mentioned below, "Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review" is available at www.blackwell-synergy.com
"When bird densities are low, a very virulent subtype leading to high host mortality may disappear because of the impossibility of transmitting quickly to healthy birds before the death of sick ones. In Asia, densities of domestic birds are especially high. These ecological conditions favour the preservation and the fast transmission of very virulent strains.....The only wild birds in Asia found sick were victims of the virus circulating in domestic birds (FAO 2005). .......it is intriguing that the number of wild birds contaminated by the virus seems so small, and that the virus apparently passes from domestic birds to wild birds only with difficulty. ....If migrating birds mainly dispersed the virus, the virus should also spread by large jumps of thousands of kilometres, throughout the migratory stopping places of Asia and Africa....And unsurprising also is the whole attitude of EU, OIE and FAO at the Verona conference. In spite of all the evidence and in the face of common sense, the official line is still " no vaccination, unless the situation gets out of control". Mass killing and so-called "bio-security" is still the mind-set - just as it was at the time of the FMD tragedy. .
By May 2006, an international conference in Rome had recognized that the virus was mainly spread through the poultry trade, both legal and illegal, but OIE and FAO media releases (FAO 2006b, OIE 2006b) continued to focus on the possible contribution of spread by wild birds. Given that a key part of the remit of the FAO is to develop international agricultural trade, reticence to accept that this trade is the main agent of global dispersal of HPAI H5N1 is perhaps unsurprising."
Apart from the profit motive of globalised agricultural trade, it also seems that both politicians and pundits cling to ignorance about vaccination because it has a comfortable familiarity while challenging it can even define one as an "activist" - but the consequences of this may well be fatal.
March 26 2007 ~ "Within the area around the infected premises, there were enhanced levels of surveillance of wild birds."
In view of the findings of the paper (new window) below, confining surveillance to wild birds sites around Holton alone, as Ben Bradshaw's Parliamentary Answer (March 23) admits, is likely to have been of limited usefulness.
" While the investigation in the outbreak was under way, 25 wild bird locations comprising 73 sites in the area were regularly patrolled. Laboratory tests were completed on dead wild birds found in the area as well as on live wild bird droppings from the infected premises. All results were negative."In due course" we shall perhaps see if the right questions, about feed at the Bernard Matthews site, for example, were asked and answered..
We are currently developing our investigation into what might have caused the outbreak of avian influenza at Holton. The conclusion of the interim report is that importation from Hungary is the most plausible route. However, investigations are still ongoing and nothing can be ruled out at this time. The final epidemiological report will be published in due course."
March 26 2007 ~ "Paradoxically, the H5N1 virus coupled with a fear of transmission by wild birds could lead to a reversion to battery farming which increases risk of outbreaks."
Recent expansion of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1: a critical review by Gauthier-Clerc, M., Lebarbenchon, C. & Thomas, F. is to be published in April in the British Ornithologists' Union's journal, Ibis ( Ibis 2007. DOI 10.1111/j.1474-919x.2007.00699.x) Blackwell Publishing comments:
"....No evidence for long distance transmission during seasonal migration has yet been found. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that human movements of domestic poultry have been the main agent of global dispersal of the virus to date. The occurrence of an outbreak at a commercial turkey farm in Suffolk, England, in February 2007 fits this wider pattern." ".... .... Paradoxically, the H5N1 virus coupled with a fear of transmission by wild birds could lead to a reversion to battery farming which increases risk of outbreaks. This would stall the current trend to better animal welfare resulting from free-range agriculture. Maintaining these trends, whilst controlling disease through strong veterinary scrutiny and control of trade, is more likely to be a successful strategy."What we find so alarming is that while rigorous research is concluding that it is the unnatural conditions of intensive production and global movement that are causing flu strains to mutate into dangerous pathogens, the political reaction of the West is still to put the trade and profits from such production first, dismiss at the technological advance that could protect both animals and people, repeat discredited nonsense about silent spread from vaccinates - and sit back and watch while poorer nations outlaw the very back yard practices that not only provide people with a livelihood but which are the hapless victims not the cause of H5N1.
March 25 2007 ~ "The conference recommended that poultry should be vaccinated against avian influenza.."
".. particularly in endemic countries and when other control measures such as stamping out, movement controls of poultry and biosecurity cannot stop the spread of the virus," says the OIE report of last week's Verona conference.
"...A successful vaccination campaign depends mainly on the use of high quality vaccines complying with OIE standards, appropriate infrastructure to ensure the rapid and safe delivery of vaccines (cold chain), monitoring of vaccinated flocks, movement control of poultry, and adequate financial resources. Efficient veterinary services complying with OIE standards on quality and evaluation is also very important for the suspension of the use of vaccination. Any vaccination policy should include an exit strategy so that countries do not rely on costly long-term vaccination campaigns. The tools differentiating infected from vaccinated animals such as DIVA strategy (i.e. by diagnostic test designed to detect antibodies against the field virus) or the use of sentinel birds ( i.e.non-vaccinated) are recommended in the field when possible.Other recommendations
There are no elements indicating human health implications related to the vaccination of poultry and to the consumption of poultry products from vaccinated animals.
....Participants of the Verona conference also proposed to develop communication strategies to improve the vaccination coverage, to avoid possible market shocks and to apply basic biosecurity measures."
March 22/23 2007 ~ Richard Sanders at Verona: "Well, I think we are winning the argument..."
Richard Sanders from the Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, is at the Verona conference and talked on the telephone to Farming Today "....There's nothing that is going to engage the minds of politicians in the developed world more than seeing that there's a linkage between vaccination in poultry and human health and human safety. "
As for the trade implications of vaccination, Mr Sanders was emphatic:
"It does seem quite ridiculous that we have seen papers where (there is ) absolutely no risk (when) vaccinated birds or vaccinated poultry products are being traded ..absolutely no human health risk - you can't find any virus dangers or any vaccine dangers as a result of vaccination.Warmwell transcriptand see also FAO news report on the conference. "There are no elements indicating human health implications related to the vaccination of poultry and to the consumption of poultry products from vaccinated animals."
The danger is that vaccination of poultry for avian influenza is being used as a non-tariff barrier. It is yet another excuse to interfere with trade and people to pursue political gains. .
... we're all keen, sitting in Europe and North America, to lessen the threat of emerging diseases or spreading diseases such as avian influenza coming from the likes of Vietnam. "Vaccination is good for those people," we say but then we won't use it un our own developed economies because of issues of trade or "consumer acceptance" .... ."
March 18/19 2007 ~ If rules could really be shown to be based on common sense there would be no argument.
But, as the Scotsman says, "as ever, politics are likely to come into play". There might be less argument about the difficulties and expense if it could be clearly shown that stapling plastic to both ears of unfortunate farm animals was helping to prevent disease, quickly pinpoint and cure disease outbreaks, or stop in its tracks the global movement of pathogens. But officials are, as is ever the way of officialdom, more concerned with the policing of the rules than with evaluating the rationale behind them and using common sense and judgement.
Of no apparent interest to officialdom is the rapid diagnosis technology to identify disease on-site. Slaughter, with no appeal allowed, is still the first response for FMD and Avian Influenza. Vaccination, which really would help, is still an issue of protectionism and not permitted in the UK. But the reams of identification rules have not been able to identify the source of the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak at Bernard Matthews factory-cum-slaughterhouse, paper trails have been shown to be more theoretical than real - while the TRACES database is a mess.
Juan Lubroth, head of the Infectious Disease group at the UN FAO, even said on Farming Today on Feb 19th
"I don't have a good idea of what percentage the informal or illegal trade represents to the world trade. I do have access to a lot of statistics through FAO on what a country exports but I don't know where they export to. I have a lot of information on which countries are importing but I don't know who they're importing from..."As for the draconian rules on BSE that seem to have been the root cause of David Dobbin's miserable encounter with DEFRA , the Countess of Mar in a recent TSE debate pointed out: ".. all regulation in this field is based on a hypothesis - not even a theory - that none of the "establishment" scientific community can prove, despite millions of pounds of taxpayers' money being thrown at the subject.... . "
March 9 2007 ~"Together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) we're working hard to learn all we can from this episode." Bernard Matthews
Bernard Matthews' full page advertisements in several national newspapers today carry his personal claim that "my turkey is completely safe to eat". He thanks the public for their "support" . He insists that " I've never stopped instilling my core values of quality, value and customer care into every Bernard Matthews product." The adverts say that the products have undergone "the most rigorous independent scientific tests available"
The move is as predictable as the language is breathtaking. As an example of the spinmeister's art it is extraordinary - and was probably very expensive. (We now know it cost £7 million.) Now that a spotlight has been shone on his factory methods, little wonder that Bernard Matthews is anxious to persuade people that "Our standards of hygiene and bio-security are some of the most stringent in the world" - but the claim that it was the plant's "hygiene and biosecurity" that was instrumental in "detecting the virus, containing it and eradicating it in 72 hours" is without substance and the flaws in both have been well documented Free-range poultry keepers were inconvenienced and worried for weeks as a result. On it goes... "... we will not be complacent because bird flu did strike us. Together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) we're working hard to learn all we can from this episode " Unfortunately, in the area of animal disease, the UK's record on learning lessons is pitiful. In this outbreak, there are many unanswered questions and it is looking more and more as though as though answers are not ever going to be easy to extract. Perhaps there are those who would rather they remained unanswered. British taxes are going to be spent on paying the company its £600,000 compensation. Free range poultry owners are not going to be allowed to protect their birds because of a much repeated piece of nonsense. Intensive factory farms seem set to go on transforming the miserably short, unnatural lives of farmed poultry into vacuum packed meat products for the supermarkets. That the cost of all this is much too high must surely now be self evident.
March 8 2007 ~ It would be useful know for certain that the Holton chicks were not infected via feed.
The government and the FSA are at pains to say that none of 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary had gone "near the sheds where infected birds were found and it was processed on other areas of the site" - but intensive farming tends to make use of everything in its desire for cheapness. Waste meat is put in a shredder, mixed with other "nutrients", and fed to turkeys. Both turkeys and chickens will eat meat. Even waste products from poultry are used as feed in the factory farming system. It would be useful to know both the provenance and precise contents of the feed given to the infected poults. A very obvious question is whether chicks could have been given feed that could have contained the virus. Presumably, if asked, that is a question that cannot be fobbed off with "we may never know".
March 8 2007 ~ 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary (unrecognised apparently by the TRACES database) were being processed in Holton at the height of the outbreak
BBC and ITV report that 93 tons of turkey meat from Hungary, were being processed at Holton at the very time the H5N1 scare was at its height. Labour MP Roger Godsiff received this information from Caroline Flint the Public Health Minister - but it is absolutely at odds with DEFRA's Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) on January 24th about the outbreak in commercial geese at Csongrad in southern Hungary. The Preliminary Outbreak Assessment said:
"The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months."How could the TRAde Control and Expert System - a "system which provides automatic notification to the veterinary authority of a receiving Member State when an official veterinary health certificate is signed in a consigning Member State" have been so entirely wrong - and why was DEFRA relying on this in its assumption that the likelihood of the introduction of this disease from Hungary to the UK via legal trade before and after this outbreak is considered negligible ? We understand that TRACES is regarded as "hopeless" in Holland and that the Dutch government does not work with it. Neither David Miliband nor Lord Rooker referred to these Hungarian imports at the start of the scare. (See letter from Peter Ainsworth to David Miliband.) Did these DEFRA Ministers not know? Were they not told or did DEFRA really not know at that time? Was the omission deliberate? Trust in the veracity of government statements is not helped by this sort of uncertainty.
March 8 2007 ~ " Is it not time to abandon this Buzzword, "BIOSECURITY", so beloved by Defra and government".
An emailer writes,"It is obvious to any one with clinical experience that no agricultural premise either intensive or extensive can ever be "secure" - with the frailty of humans and the occurrence of vermin, insects and birds, not to mention human activities of every description.
One glance at ITV pictures from the Hungarian incident must make this obvious.
Please can we use a simple term like " disease control measures",which describe the situation and are not designed to give a false impression to the public of the actual situation and the risks involved. "Biosecurity" is not an accurate description of this or any other outbreak situation."
March 7 2007 ~ " it is considered acceptable for us to risk contracting bird flu from our poultry"
A British poultry farmer has written to warmwell deploring the UK vaccination policy "surely vaccination of poultry should be allowed if only to protect those working with the birds?" he writes. "....It was a letter from NHS offering free (human) flu vaccination for me and my helpers which set me thinking. NHS wanted us to be vaccinated to reduce the chances of us suffering normal flu at the same time as we meet the HP bird flu virus. .... The NHS letter stressed the vaccine offered would NOT protect us against bird flu. In other words it is considered acceptable for us to risk contracting bird flu from our poultry, but we cannot be allowed to have normal flu at the same time because that would mean everyone else would be at risk...." Read in full
March 6 2007 ~ "Figures for imports into the United Kingdom of live day-old turkey chicks from outside the EU are not currently available. All consignments of live birds are liable to documentary and identity checks." Lord Rooker ( Hansard )
The government was not able, on February 8th, to answer questions about where turkey poults from outside the EU may have come from, how many and when - and yet implied that controls were adequate.
A question that must have occurred to many is the actual provenance of the chicks that succumbed to H5N1 at the end of January in a shed containing 7000 of them at Holton. Has any reader seen an answer to that question? If cheap poults were coming in quietly from countries such as Thailand, has that information been recorded?
Angela Browning - who, as a former Agriculture Minister, was certainly in a position to know all about control inadequacies - said in 2002, "It is all very well to try to source the cheapest of the cheap, but most people are looking for the reassurances on quality and safety that come with British standards. There does not seem to be a thorough enough checking system on imports to guarantee those standards....."
March 6 2007 ~ Hansard slip...
From the PQs below
"staff were required to shower on entry to the site and change footwear on entry to any particular House of Commons."As one emailer writes, "is this a typo, a serious description or a joke? Very wise whatever. Certainly we are having a flu A outbreak at present . Just in the last two weeks...."
(Good at any rate to know that Parliament is taking biosecurity so seriously.)
March 6 2007 ~"... what the remit is of the inquiry by his Department into the recent events at Bernard Matthews at Holton in Suffolk; and how the (a) proceedings and (b) conclusions of the inquiry will be communicated to the public"
The Parliamentary Questions from friday are at least as interesting for their content as are the officially worded answers. The fact that they are continuing is a hopeful sign. There has never been an official explanation of how the foot and mouth virus got into the UK . The widespread assumption that the Waugh farm was the index case is widely questioned and challenged. This time, the phrase "we may never know how it happened", may not so easily be allowed to stand. (Warmwell would very much welcome comments on the answers given to these PQs. They would not be published.)
March 5 ~ "... the development of highly pathogenic strains of bird flu lies at the door of factory farming."
If the experts cited by CIWF in its report last month are right and " the development of highly pathogenic strains of bird flu lies at the door of factory farming" then much of the frantic killing of domestic birds has unfairly targeted them and attention should be focused instead on the factory farms. Perfect biosecurity is a myth as was shown at the Bernard Matthews plant at Holton with its open bins of meat waste. But production and trade were given the nod to resume almost immediately. Most experts agree that it is only a matter of time before the virus mutates into something approaching the 1918 killer and this should put the bland assurances of the influential factory farmers into perspective. They like to defend both the inhumane and unnatural conditions and the to-ing and fro-ing of product parts by saying that these places produce cheap meat for those on low incomes. The irony of this is heartbreaking. The virus' human victims are the poorest. The winners are those in the huge food industries watching the demise of independent farming. If nothing is done to analyse more fully the part played in the spread of H5N1 by the massive and ever-expanding intensive poultry industry the safety of millions could - in all seriousness - be in the balance. Recommended reading for those who have time is the Agroecology website 'Agroecology' - the discipline that "provides the basic ecological principles for how to study, design, and manage sustainable agroecosystems that are both productive and natural resource conserving, and that are also culturally-sensitive, socially-just and economically viable" .
March 5 2007 ~ Avian influenza targets those without a voice - An enquiry should be conducted into the role of the global, intensive poultry industry in the spread of H5N1
One consequence beyond Britain of the assumption that domestic and wild birds are the primary cause of H5N1 is that Jakarta has banned household poultry there. There were about 1.3 million backyard birds in Jakarta. Thousands of families were given until Feb. 1 to consume, sell or kill their birds. After that, in scenes that many of us will remember with a shudder from 2001, "inspectors" went from door to door to destroy any remaining birds. The Indonesian government pledged to pay about $1.50 for each infected bird but most birds were perfectly healthy. No one knows how Jakarta's poor will replace the income they once received from chickens and other birds - the only source of income for many women and children. But Indonesia has not got the funds to compensate properly.
The NewYork Times recently published an article by a group of 24 government officials, public health experts and scientists from 11 countries who recently met in Bellagio, Italy, to call attention to how pandemic planning affects the world's disadvantaged . The article points out that industrial-scale poultry producers - and it cites Bernard Matthews - usually have the resources to absorb the losses whereas when the birds of small-scale poultry farmers are culled, "entrepreneurs who were just beginning to move up the development ladder can be plunged right back into poverty..." While many in Britain are still reeling from the news that the Bernard Matthews plant, with its known breaches of bio-security, is in line for massive compensation, the poor countries, without proper resources, really are floundering.
March 3/4 2007 ~"The massive international movement of livestock and their products - the only possible beneficiaries of such unnecessary movements are a few powerful individuals ..The rest of us pay the price ."
Alan Beat at smallholdersonline.blogspot.com makes some worrying remarks about the export trade so often used to justify the unjustifiable. He checked the official UK statistics for the last twelve months at http://statistics.defra.gov.uk/esg/datasets/poultrade.xls
"The Bernard Matthews fiasco has once again exposed to public gaze this massive international movement of livestock and their products. In reality the so-called "export trade" is broadly counterbalanced by matching imports, at huge cost to the environment. The only possible beneficiaries of such unnecessary movements are a few powerful individuals and corporations who exploit the financial imbalances of international markets. The rest of us pay the price in environmental degradation..."The next update to the DEFRA statistics in the movement to and fro of chicks, turkey poults, live fowl and carcasses is due on March 29th. It will be interesting to see whether the Bernard Matthews H5N1 outbreak will have made even a small dent in these figures.
March 2 2007 ~ "If one cannot get to the bottom of how a disease has come in, it is not fair to expect the industry to carry the costs. "
Lord Rooker came under some pressure in the House of Lords on Tuesday Feb 22nd when repeating the DEFRA mantra that the origin of the outbreak "may never be found". The Countess of Mar spoke of DEFRA's "lack of assiduity in tracing where the virus has come from" while Baroness Byford insisted, "My Lords, will Defra be able to finalise where this disease has come from? At the moment, the Government's move within the industry is to share the costs of future animal disease outbreaks. If one cannot get to the bottom of how a disease has come in, it is not fair to expect the industry to carry the costs. ..."
Lord Dykes wanted to know of Lord Rooker; "... will the noble Lord confirm that the origin of this contamination now appears to be clear and that it was definitely not wild birds? Will he also reassure the House that the Government are coping with the worrying stories that keep coming along of very poor live-poultry care in the East Anglian turkey-processing factories, sloppy hygiene procedures and misleading origin advertising?" Read in full
March 2 2007 ~ Local Suffolk free-range poultry owners astonished by "snippet" of news announcing the end of some restrictions
Local people around Holton feel outraged by the announcement from the County Council in their Suffolk Snippet and by its tone of voice. The "snippet" wholly ignores the serious animal welfare concerns, the inconvenience and the cost to owners of having been forced to house their birds in unnatural conditions around the outbreak at the Bernard Matthews factory farm. Some restrictions were lifted yesterday. However, rather than being lectured on the need for vigilance or bio-security, many people would rather know that the origin of the outbreak is being properly pursued. As the virologist Ruth Watkins says below, " It is imperative that the highly pathogenic H5N1 is stopped from circulating round the world. It is dangerous to expose humans and wild birds to infected domestic poultry."
March 1 2007 ~ Parliamentary Question about recent imports from Hungary ignores assertion from DEFRA on January 24 2007
From Hansard we read that Bill Wiggin asked Ben Bradshaw on Tuesday " how much meat from (a) geese and (b) turkeys was imported into the UK from (i) Hungary, (ii) Europe and (iii) the rest of the world in each of the last six months" The answer gave a table showing imports from July to December 2006. Mr Bradshaw said that December 2006 figures are "currently the latest" which are available.
However, when H5N1 was discovered in domestic geese in Hungary in late January 2007, the DEFRA Preliminary Outbreak Assessment (pdf) dated January 24th, said: "The TRACES electronic database indicates that there have been no imports of poultry or poultry products from Hungary to the UK for the past three months." (TRACES means "TRAde Control and Expert System - a system which provides automatic notification to the veterinary authority of a receiving Member State when an official veterinary health certificate is signed in a consigning Member State")
Just a couple of weeks before the virus appeared in the intensive factory at Holton, DEFRA's stated view was that
" the likelihood of the introduction of this disease from Hungary to the UK via legal trade before and after this outbreak is considered negligible."
March 1 2007 ~ Why did DEFRA think that there had been no legal imports from Hungary at the time of the Hungary infection?
Why did they insist that the likelihood of the disease passing into the UK was considered "negligible"? For DEFRA at least, the assumption seems to have been that the risk was purely from wild birds - an assumption that has, at last, been challenged by David Nabarro, the UN co-ordinator for avian and human flu, who said intensive poultry production was behind the spread of the virus this year. In spite of DEFRA's assumption at the beginning of the outbreak that wild birds were the cause, and even as free range birds were being forced indoors, there was no live bird sampling or surveillance going on in Suffolk. (See also letter from Dr Lucas MEP)
It does seem a little disingenuous of Mr Bradshaw to have told Mr Wiggin that there was no current information about January imports when DEFRA seems to have been so reliant on the TRACES database. In fact, as we now all know and as DEFRA was later to admit, lorries had been passing to and fro between the Bernard Matthews plants in Suffolk and Hungary all the time. It seems highly likely that the abattoir, the Gall Food abattoir in Kecskemet, that killed his turkeys had also processed infected geese. Is it conceivable that DEFRA really did not know about the UK and Hungary operations carried out by Bernard Matthews at the time of their Preliminary Outbreak Assessment - and does this not raise serious questions both about the paper trail, current controls and the extent of DEFRA's knowledge - particularly in view of the government's haste in allowing the factory to resume operations? And if, as Mr Bradshaw also said on Tuesday,"Scientists at the VLA together with DEFRA scientists, representatives of the Science Advisory Council and scientists in the Devolved Administrations provide regular advice through the Exotic Diseases of Poultry Experts Group" are owners and farmers satisfied that they are getting up to date and valid information from these experts?
March 1 2007 ~ Yesterday "severe biosecurity shortfalls" and " poor hygiene practices" - today news of £600,000 compensation
Fred Landeg has today talked about DEFRA's lack of complacency and the necessity for poultry keepers to practice good bio-security. Bernard Matthews claimed that his factory farm "meets and in many cases exceeds Defra's bio-security measures" - but the government reports revealed what the Guardian called a "string of flaws" and the company could still face prosecution. The latest news today (Sky) is that Bernard Matthews company is to receive £600,000 compensation for its slaughtered turkeys. Meanwhile, the free-range poultry owners around the plant who want simply to be allowed to protect their birds with vaccination and are not allowed to do so, are still being forced to keep them in unnatural conditions. Not surprisingly, Chris Huhne says, "I would prefer it if Defra were talking about fines and throwing the book at Bernard Matthews for sloppy practices and risk-taking."
February 28 2007 ~ "....we can't do anything to imperil that £370 million a year export trade, can we?"
Private Eye looks at the sequence of events following the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak and seems somewhat less than impressed with the UK government's response. Read in full
February 28 2007 ~ Vaccinated animals do not go visiting unvaccinated ones
We find it quite extraordinary that the FMD page of the EU Commission's website even now, still carries the sentence, so often quoted by those who, for various non-veterinary reasons, play down the proven efficacy of vaccination: "Vaccination with the use of conventional vaccines protects from disease, but does not prevent infection and consequently a carrier state" This assertion suggests that a vaccinated animal can pass on virus to an unvaccinated one. It ignores the fact that animals are vaccinated in herds and stay on farms. Unlike people, who constantly interact over wide distances, herds stay together.
As was pointed out in 2001 by an expert now holding a very senior international post indeed, (and then evidently exasperated by those who said that vaccination only prevents disease occurring and does not interfere with transmission), vaccinates "are not mixing and milling about the countryside".
" .... vaccinated animals produce little or any virus by routes that are expected to be involved in spread by people or objects" "... Experiments by Terpstra and colleagues in Holland were conducted to determine whether a well vaccinated animal might spread infection to a NON-vaccinate stabled in the same shed -and drinking from the same bowl. They used doses of virus which are huge compared to an expected level that might occur by a vaccinated animal meeting infection "over the fence". The results show that transmission can occur, but at low rates and were only shown to occur with NON-vaccinates. In reality, if virus infection is a risk in the area, ALL animals on a farm would be advised to be vaccinated. Only ridiculous disease control strategists would advise vaccinating only a few animals on the farm (as occur in the experiments such as Terpstra's), or mixing vaccinates and non-vaccinates when there is infection in the immediate area. ..."
February 26 2007 ~ "it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination"
The Verona conference, taking place in March, reflects the feeling in both the OIE and the FAO that the strategic use of vaccination is now of great importance.
".... using the DIVA approach or the frequent monitoring of sentinel birds, vaccination has successfully controlled or prevented the disease on many occasions. Nevertheless, ensuring vaccine quality control and the appropriate use of vaccines is a significant issue in many countries, and should form part of the national intervention strategies of at risk or infected countries. ... The OIE and FAO consider that it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination with regard to international standards, regulations and the implementation of vaccination programmes..."There is no reference at all, by Dr Bernard Vallat, Dr Joseph Domenech or Dr Stefano Marangon, to the often quoted DEFRA contention that " Vaccination can mask disease and therefore could spread the disease further". (See below) It may be assumed that the Director General of the OIE, the Chief Veterinary Officer of the FAO and the Director of Science IZSVe are better informed than Ben Bradshaw and the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton. It is to be hoped that our policy makers will receive up to date information and advice straight from the conference itself.
February 25 2007 ~ Rapid Diagnosis for flu in birds: Multiplex test
From the latest report of the USDA/ARS Research Project: Development and Validation of Rapid Diagnostic Tests for Avian Influenza and Newcastle Disease
".....We have also developed an internal control to be run as a multiplex test with both the AIV and NDV tests to assure that the RRT-PCR reaction was performed correctly. The internal control should help to eliminate false-negatives. We have also developed hemagglutinin subtyping tests for most of the 16 described subtypes of AI. We remain active in the evaluation of primer sets to assure they work well with outbreak viruses from around the world. Finally, the development of dried down reagents to aid in the stability of the reagents, increased quality control, and ease of use of the test has already developed interest from a number of different diagnostic laboratories. The Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory (SEPRL) has been on the leading edge of use of real time PCR testing as a diagnostic test for viral pathogens of poultry with its work on avian influenza virus and Newcastle disease virus. Through collaborations with APHIS, the rapid diagnostic test for avian influenza and Newcastle Disease was validated and adopted by APHIS ...."
February 23 2007 ~ "Stakeholders are currently talking to DEFRA about vaccination delivery. A third meeting should eventually be held..."
Dr Chris Ashton, who represents the British Waterfowl Association on the DEFRA poultry stakeholders group, has asked warmwell to publish a document about vaccination against avian influenza and on the efficacy of vaccines. Elm Farm Research Centre produced a paper on this subject which they launched at a Parliamentary Reception in July while Dr Ashton herself gave a short presentation at a DEFRA meeting in June about the desirability of having a policy in place before the disease actually arrived. What needs to be made a lot clearer is the circumstances in which DEFRA would allow the vaccine to be used. For keepers of small numbers of birds, 'backyard birds', the question is urgent - although luckily these naturally reared birds are the ones least likely to get ill. Most of the cases - certainly in Laos and Holland - have been in industrial poultry, and it does seem to be becoming an inescapable conclusion that it is the global poultry industry and the unnatural rearing conditions which are the problem. As owners say, "Quite why our pets and pure breeds have to take the risk, we really don't know."
February 21/22 2007 ~ "There is little question that adequate vaccination will reduce shedding levels and thus the virus load.."
Dr Bernard Vallat, Dr Joseph Domenech and Dr Stefano Marangon have written the Introduction: to the Verona Conference taking place next month (20-22 March) Its title is Vaccination: a tool for the control of avian influenza. This is a scientific conference on vaccination, co-organised by the OIE, FAO and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, and supported by the European Commission to review the current methods and recent experiences in the use of vaccination against avian influenza.
".....a control strategy that is based only on the application of sanitary measures to increase biosecurity and the culling of animals that are infected or suspected of being infected, has proven not to be sufficient to avoid the spread of infection. The OIE and FAO consider that it is timely to convene the best renowned experts to address the issue of global guidelines for vaccination...There is little question that adequate vaccination will reduce shedding levels and thus the virus load ....."
February 21/22 2007 ~ Vaccination of birds. Russia moves immediately. UK still dithers
Warmwell has recently posted several emails from leading virologists on the subject of vaccination. They are highly qualified, have no vested interests. Although the issue is complicated, the bottom line is simple.
Unfortunately, what has been described as "the obsessional focus by DEFRA" is that a few individuals who have partially responded but then, before protection is complete, meet ' wildtype' virus early after vaccine may have mild clinical disease and may possibly excrete some virus in to the surroundings. This does not matter because
- Vaccines protect a population against a ' wildtype' infection when sufficient number are vaccinated - a figure usually in excess of 80%.
- Vaccinees will take a given time (with current H5N1 vaccines the time is, according to Intervet, 1-2 weeks after the first injection in a course of two shots of killed vaccine) to raise a T-cell and antibody response whereupon the vaccinee will be protected. An annual booster may be required.
- The vaccine must be a close enough match in its surface proteins to the wildtype to evoke a protective response, create neutralising antibodies.
The earlier vaccination happens the safer for the flocks and the environment because they will have responded fully to the vaccine before their encounter with wildtype virus.
- the vaccinated flock puts a stop to the chain of infection. The whole exercise is to reduce spread and these hypothetical few cases, with much reduced virus shedding, would not, even if they existed, allow the virus to gain a foothold.
Without vaccination, one is left with the UK solution of racing after the virus, killing en masse, imposing draconian restrictions on healthy stock and trying to stop virus contamination in any local environment with disinfectant.
February 21 2007 ~ It is imperative that the highly pathogenic H5N1 is stopped from circulating round the world. It is dangerous to expose humans and wild birds to infected domestic poultry.
Although what we have seen in Suffolk seems the most economic option for the government when one poultry farm is infected, the real cost is borne by the farmers. They have been forced to take free range birds indoors, make temporary netted enclosures, buy disinfectant, and have had their production interrupted by restrictions. Their livelihood is also jeopardised by the inevitable public lack of confidence. Eventually the cost of this disease spread worldwide by trade in chicks, poultry dead or alive and its products, feathers and faeces will be borne by the world - and far more dearly than the gain of any trade in poultry. Supermarkets must accept some responsibility here and promote vaccinated poultry products without allowing a negative aura to be created or marking them down.
February 21 2007 ~ 1.1 million tonnes of foreign pork, beef and lamb was imported into the UK in 2006
The Yorkshire Postreports that foreign meat imports were 675,000 tonnes in 1995. In addition, 560,000 tonnes of poultry was imported last year. Foreign meat can be labelled British even if it was only processed in the UK - and processing could be merely smoking bacon or curing ham. Shoppers keen to buy British produce are misled by labels. The Government's refusal to introduce country of origin food labelling is not hard to understand in view of the profits involved - but when people hear (as they did in Farming Today This Week) of then extraordinary shuttling of the same turkeys, alive and dead, between England and Hungary and the present lack of adequate controls for welfare and safety, labelling is more and more urgently needed.
February 20 2007 ~ New Meat Byproducts: Avian Flu and Global Climate Change
The Worldwatch Institute's report Vital Signs 2007 - 2008 says that sixty percent of global livestock production takes place in intensive "confined animal feedlot operations" (CAFOs) in the developing world. At least 15 nations have restricted or banned free-range and backyard production of birds in an attempt to deal with avian flu on the ground, a move that may ultimately do more harm than good, according to Danielle Nierenberg, a Worldwatch research associate:
"Locating large chicken farms near cities might make economic sense, but the close concentration of the birds to densely populated areas can help foster and spread disease. In Laos, 42 of the 45 outbreaks of avian flu in the spring of 2004 occurred on factory farms, and 38 were in the capital, Vientiane. In Nigeria, the first cases of avian flu were found in an industrial broiler operation ...then quickly to neighbouring backyard flocks.....
...where animals are concentrated by the thousands, diseases erupt and spread quickly. Trade in poultry from these operations is a culprit in spreading the disease to smallholder farmers. Experts suggest that rather than culling smaller, backyard flocks, the FAO, WHO, and other international agencies should focus the bulk of their avian flu prevention efforts on large poultry producers and on stopping disease outbreaks before they occur.
"While H5N1...may have been a product of the world's factory farms, it's small producers who have the most to lose." says Nierenberg. ( See these two articles on the upcoming report.)
February 19/20 2007 ~ "Where has the idea that there is long term circulation of H5N1 in a fully vaccinated flock in the absence of disease in the flock come from?"
Another email from the virologist Dr Ruth Watkins, commenting on paragraph 21 from the EU Directive, should be read in full by those who do not necessarily accept the received wisdom of the government on the subject of vaccination. ".....Where has the idea that there is long term circulation of H5N1 in a fully vaccinated flock in the absence of disease in the flock come from? What is the documentary evidence for it? I would have thought that if the virus were to continue to circulate in a fully vaccinated flock there would be the evidence of diseased birds as the immune cross reactivity of the vaccine virus would be so poor as to have failed to evoke the protective antibody, neutralising antibody to H5. .." Read in full
February 19 2007 ~ David Miliband now says that poultry in the protection zone have been "sampled"
Channel 4 ".....Tests had also been completed on poultry samples from 21 premises in the protection zone and in all cases there was no evidence of infection. ...MPs have been told that the earliest time at which bird flu restriction zones in Suffolk could be lifted was the second week of March - provided there were no further outbreaks or suspect cases in the area. ..."
February 19/20 2007 ~ MEP: "PREMATURE RE-OPENING OF SUFFOK FARM BREACHES EU LAW"
We have heard this afternoon from the office of the South-East England's Green MEP Caroline Lucas. Dr Lucas has demanded that the European Commission investigate the re-opening of the Bernard Matthews plant.
".....If the government doesn't follow EU rules it is British farmers who will pay the price, as this failure means the disease is more likely to strike again - and the EU will be able to blame the UK Government and deny any compensation claims. I have today demanded the European Commission investigate the Government's decision to allow the plant to re-open so soon."See Dr Lucas'Letter to Commissioner Kyprianou (pdf)
February 19 2007 ~ "It was a complete mess with dead birds still lying around the site - and tatty, torn, blown out buildings and made Bobby Waugh's look like the Hilton."
An emailer tells us that on Friday (16 Feb) ITV 6.30 and 10.30 news programmes both ran an extensive report "..showing the dire state of the farm in Hungary that had had bird flu in geese - it raises all sorts of questions about what the level of bio-security is in Hungary - and if birds slaughtered at the same abbatoir is the same one that dealt with this farm then it is very easy to see how the disease could be transferred. I just wonder if Defra saw the footage and is now acting upon it."
Bird flu seems quietly to be dropping out of the news. Intensive factory methods and the extraordinary to-ing and fro-ing across borders of chicks, slaughtered birds and carcasses continue. But Farming Today This Week (new window) was entirely given over to the subject of the bird flu crisis and raised some very important points about such issues as bio-security in the big plants, global movements, labelling issues and the likelihood of change. Interesting to notice the number of times Mr Fred Landeg emphasised the "humane" nature of the killing of the turkeys at Bernard Matthews, and the fact that Mr Alick Simmons said he was "perfectly happy" about the present situation.) There was even a hint that the political condoning of the always expanding multi-national poultry industry may well be at the very root of the crisis.
February 19 2007 ~ enshrined, as if in amber, is the back-covering rider that vaccinated poultry may become infected
While anxiety increases among the small free-range poultry owners, talk of "silent spread" continues to be allowed to fuel the justification for the UK's policy of non-vaccination. The EU Directive clearly says,
"Vaccination against avian influenza can be an effective tool to supplement disease control measures and to avoid massive killing and destruction of poultry or other captive birds. Current knowledge suggests that vaccination may be useful not only as a short-term measure in emergencies but also as a long-term measure to prevent disease in situations of higher risk of introduction of avian influenza viruses from wild life or other sources. Provisions should therefore be established for both emergency and preventive vaccination."But then, enshrined as if in amber, is the back-covering rider that vaccinated poultry "may become infected and thus contribute to the further spread of the infection" No wonder many of the talking heads are repeating it. The virologists, however, who understand how vaccination works, say that it is nonsense not to vaccinate.
".... there is now good scientific evidence on the efficacy of H5 vaccines available to the EU. Once poultry have had a full vaccination course it is known when they have the full protection offered by the vaccine. I believe this is about 3 weeks after the first injection. There should be information from Vietnam about vaccine efficacy in the field as well. It is inexcusable if this has not been obtained, for instance by the WHO."The UK shuts up free range birds and, even in an emergency, drags its feet on vaccination - but, as we see below, the Directive's rules on surveillance are not being followed by those who are so ready to quote it.
February 19 2007 ~ Of course no vaccination for any disease, animal or human, can ever be 100% but if enough individuals are vaccinated a virus infection can be eliminated.
(See below ) The Hong Kong paper cited on our H5N1 page clearly indicates that with that strain of the H5N1 virus and the vaccine used in 1997, infection could not be maintained because insufficient virus was being shed.
The infection chain was broken.
Italy has used vaccination to ring highly pathogenic H5 or H7 virus in years past with apparent success. What seems to be happening in the UK is that officials, who assume that it they say 100% success cannot be claimed for vaccination, will be justified in the public mind in warning against a near zero risk. The media seem most reluctant to point out that choosing instead to ignore the available vaccines which responsible poultry keepers are so anxious to be able to useis far more dangerous for the country .
And not only journalists. It seems that most public service scientists have a clause in their contract banning membership of outside groups that might have the courage to question current dogma. Must it always be a voice in the wilderness that cries foul?
February 19 2007 ~ UK fails to adopt minimum EU measures on avian influenza
The EU Directive says that the minimum control measures to be applied include Surveillance programmes to:
(a) detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry;
(b) contribute, on the basis of a regularly updated risk assessment, to the knowledge on the threats posed by wild birds in relation to any influenza virus of avian origin in birds.
As we now know, no surveillance of live birds in the Protection Zone has been undertaken at all to 'detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry'. Yet the Bernard Matthews plant has been allowed to continue as if nothing had happened. Free range poultry, however, has been forced indoors. The UK, so ready to use EU regulations to justify its sometimes coercive behaviour would appear to be reneging on its responsibility to the population. As for the Chief Veterinary Officer, Debby Reynolds, no sight or sound from her seems to have been in the media since February 3rd. Where is she? (Apologies. we hear that she is in hospital and hope she will have a speedy recovery.) The "vets" we do hear from, such as Mr Landeg and Mr Simmons, were heavily involved in overseeing the mass killing of animals in 2001, refuting the usefulness of available speedy diagnosis and vaccination. It is hardly surprising if farmers and smallholders are inclined to feel little confidence in their ability to protect the country or the countryside.
February 18 2007 ~ DEFRA "admitted late last week that they have not tested a live wild bird in Britain since the outbreak began three weeks ago."
Geoffrey Lean in the Independent on Sunday "... This appears to contradict repeated assurances from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that "wild bird surveillance" in the area has been "enhanced"....."
And although the Department claimed that "extensive surveillance from the infected premises and the surrounding area has not isolated any trace of H5N1 in wild birds" - which implies continuing careful surveillance, Geoffrey Lean's article shows that no live bird sampling has been done in Suffolk at all - the nearest live bird sampling has been at Welney in Norfolk, 50 miles away. Peter Ainsworth called it "staggering complacency" It is feasible that gulls have picked up the virus from the "trimmings" and plastic bags 'containing meat products and residual liquid' that the reports themselves said were a threat. And now even landfill sites may be infected. We read in the Sunday Telegraph that "Animal health specialists are alarmed at the possibility that contaminated meat might have found its way on to landfill sites, which are a haven for scavenging birds."
So while the free range birds are forced into unnatural conditions around the Bernard Matthews factory farm, the officials who demand such cooperation are failing to check whether it is even remotely necessary.
February 17 2007 ~ Discrepancies
While the newspapers rush to report what Fred Landeg, Alick Simmons and spokesmen from the Bernard Matthews plant itself are saying after the publication of the two full reports, the discrepancies leap off the pages - as does the familiar, safe-place-on-the-fence, conclusion "We may never find the exact cause of the disease outbreak "
First, on how the virus got to the UK. We read that, according to Fred Landeg, importation of poultry products from Hungary was "the most plausible route of transmission" but also that "no imports of turkey meat had come from the restricted area in Hungary" How can it be both?
Next, on breaches of regulations. What continues to be referred to as "the farm" was apparently given repeated verbal warnings about "waste trimmings" including polyethylene bags containing meat products and residual liquid, left in the open. It seems, however, both that
" in each case the problem was addressed and no further enforcement action was taken"and that
"MHS records of enforcement activity, from January 2006 to date, recorded a number of instances where verbal advice to Bernard Matthews about deficiencies and non-compliance was given". Again, how can it be both?As for the so-called "farm" itself, it is anxious to deny any loss of sales although the Telegraph reports that " Bernard Matthews has disclosed that sales of the company's products have slumped by 40 per cent since the outbreak was discovered almost three weeks ago." Both cannot be true. The plant even claims that the official reports supported the way it ran the Suffolk plant. (Meatinfo.co.uk) and that it both will and did comply with regulations "Today's report indicates that the authorities have identified ways in which biosecurity can be enhanced and Bernard Matthews will comply with any recommendations," the firm said in a statement, and "The detailed nature of the epidemiological report also confirms that Bernard Matthews followed all of Defra's biosecurity regulations at that time."
February 17 2007 ~ "It is vital that we learn the lesson from this incident that Britain's cheap food culture comes at a high price for animal welfare and food integrity."
Compassion in World Farming's CIWF Chief Executive, Philip Lymbery: "This Avian 'Flu outbreak underlines the need for a root and branch review of food policy in the UK and Europe. Intensive poultry production provides the ideal breeding ground for new and highly virulent strains of disease. It is vital that we learn the lesson from this incident that Britain's cheap food culture comes at a high price for animal welfare and food integrity."
But, as we have seen in the past six years, lessons do not get learned when profits and powerful reputations are at stake. All the same, increasing numbers of consumers are becoming aware of the need for a "root and branch review of food policy" - as the now 550 farmers' markets in the country bear witness. They are insisting on decently produced local food and, in particular, free range meat.
In the wake of the Suffolk outbreak and even as more thousands of young birds arrive to be "processed" at Holton, DEFRA is keen to proclaim its lack of "complacency". As if the forcing of free range birds into the very conditions likely to encourage the spread of disease is cause for self-congratulation, DEFRA says, "We are not complacent and we are still making it a requirement for poultry keepers in the restricted zone to house their birds inside and be vigilant." Many might say that vigilance would be better exercised by DEFRA itself in making sure that its own Codes of Practice are followed by those who just want to make profits from animal suffering.
February 17 2007 ~ I can't see any reason for there being all this world trade in live and raw dead animals and their products.
Dr Ruth Watkins writes, " . .. The international trade: legal, illegal, legal but poorly monitored, legal but cheating on the paperwork etc is just brilliant for spreading agents which are highly infectious round the world (if not attendant mosquitoes, midges, fleas and ticks etc.). It can happen innocently and unintentionally. Only a tiny amount, even one infectious particle or virion, can be sufficient to infect a susceptible host such as a fowl with HPAI H5N1....we cannot allow H5N1 and PMWS to spread unchecked. Politics and farming interests interfere with virology sleuthing. I do commend Ian Brown ( chief avian virologist at VLA) for sticking to his guns over the recent H5N1. .... .." Read in full
February 16/17 2007 ~ "DEFRA statements on the role of vaccination in the control of virulent livestock viruses could make better informed people weep"
Dr James Irvine in this Landcare.org article
".... We were assured yet again by David Miliband, ... in an interview with Andrew Marr on TV BBC1 Sunday AM 12th February, that he had followed scientific advice from DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and that "he had every confidence in the high standard of that advice, and that this was also the opinion of the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir David King", who had vouched for the high standards of the scientists involved...."Warmwell also recommends the clarity of Dr Colin Fink on the same subject: "... I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks. Vaccine for all the smallholders' birds would be very effective in preserving them clinically well and in lower density flocks transfer of wild type virus would be minimal or none."
"One really has to wonder who is giving the politicians so-called "excellent scientific advice".......What should have been learned is some basic immunology regarding vaccination as a front line of defence against the spread of viral diseases in livestock - or indeed in humans. ......"
February 16 2007 ~ Experts are to reveal the interim findings of a Government investigation into the source of the bird flu outbreak.
The Guardian today tells us that "Experts" are to reveal the interim findings of a Government investigation into the source of the bird flu outbreak. They are referring to Deputy chief veterinary officer Fred Landeg and Food Standards Agency's veterinary director Alick Simmons. The full reports are now on line.
February 15/16 2007 ~ "the ability of government decision makers to make better-informed decisions.."
Guidelines on the Use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making (pdf) updated in 2005, with an introduction by Professor Sir David King himself, address how "evidence should be sought and applied to enhance the ability of government decision makers to make better-informed decisions" The key messages are that departments, and the individual policy makers within them, should:
One can only wonder how far the Chief Scientist, Professor Sir David King, feels that GCSA's Guidelines have been applied in the current avian influenza situation. It is interesting to read what he said in oral evidence to the Select Committee for Science and Technology during their inquiry last May into scientific advice to government, how government gets its advice and whether it acts upon it, and how it assesses risk. Extract: ".... if there is an issue, such as avian flu, I will make sure that the leading scientists give me a full briefing on avian flu so that I am fully informed when I go in to give my advice."
- " think ahead and identify early the issues on which they need scientific advice and early public engagement, and where the current evidence base is weak and should be strengthened
- get a wide range of advice from the best sources, particularly when there is uncertainty
- publish the evidence and analysis and all relevant papers
(The recommendations of that report can be seen here.)
February 15 2007 ~ Tests on nearly 75 000 wild ducks, gulls and other birds have turned up no sign of dangerous H5N1 avian influenza in the United States
Independent online SA"The programme was unprecedented in scope in terms of the range of species of birds sampled, which included waterfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns, among others," Hon Ip of the US Geological Survey said in an email posted to an infectious-disease message group..."
February 15 2007 ~ "this outbreak on one of my farms was immediately contained and did not spread further"
The Daily Mirror carries an article by Mr Matthews. He says, " I am eternally grateful to my hardworking and loyal staff, to the many vets and experts, to Defra and the other industry bodies that this outbreak on one of my farms was immediately contained and did not spread further."
One wonders how he can be so sure.
We have heard nothing about surveillance of the poultry in outlying districts, only some testing on wild birds. No use of the diagnostic on-site testing - the very first thing that should have been done to ensure that there was no further spread - has been mentioned. Indeed, in none of the news articles of the past days has there been any discussion of what Article 4 of the EU Directive calls Surveillance programmes.
Member States shall carry out surveillance programmes in order to: "detect the prevalence of infections with avian influenza virus subtypes H5 and H7 in different species of poultry"If adequate surveillance is being done, where is it being done? What epidemiological risk assessment has been carried out as per the Directive and where may one read about it? These are urgent questions. Can it be that the UK will not use available technology until its own "lab on a chip" is up and running?
February 15 2007 ~ China joins Ireland, Russia, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea and Japan in banning UK poultry
See FT. The UK export market for poultry is worth £300m, according to the British Poultry Council. Today, Reuters reports that Bernard Matthews is saying was sorry for the scare but insisted it was not his company's fault.
February 14 2007 ~ The Netherlands is allowing its free range birds out again from Feb. 19.
. (See Alertnet) The Dutch, at least, seem to have been listening to the many concerned voices of free range poultry owners in the Netherlands - who also have the option of vaccinating. The UK has, even now, avoided putting together any workable scheme for those who urgently want to protect their birds. Increasing evidence (See e.g. International Herald Tribune Feb 12) as well as common sense indicates that H5N1 is a disease of intensively farmed poultry, spread by the intensive poultry industry. Yet in the name of public health, UK officialdom imposed on healthy hens the very conditions under which the virus can flourish and spread like wildfire - confined, stressed flocks in close proximity. Professor Sir David King in particular, is already looking at a future where "organic and free-range farming would come to an end. ...."
Little wonder that free range owners are more and more sceptical of UK disease policy being applied fairly and as a result of balanced scientific knowledge - and less and less inclined to register their birds. Woe betide the owner of any hen found pecking around in the open air near Holton, but live turkeys are again being bussed in to the Bernard Matthews site for a very nasty end to their short lives.
February 14 2007 ~ Bernard Matthews"keeping the products back because they may contain meat from a restricted zone in Hungary."
Guardian In spite of resumed "production" of live turkeys into meat products, the Food Standards Agency tells the media today that Bernard Matthews has agreed to keep certain products back for 48 hours because they may contain meat, sent in frozen form, from a restricted zone in Hungary.
February 14 2007 ~ Two entirely separated and biosecure parts to the Holton site?.
The slaughter-line at Bernard Matthews has been described as an "adjoining and completely separate factory, which employs a total of about 1,000 staff " - but it was this building that was used for the slaughter of all 159,000 turkeys - both healthy and infected - by Monday, February 5 (see EDP24 Feb 13) while several of the, supposedly wholly separate, sheds were infected. Is anyone able to explain why it was considered safe to continue production at the site - or was this purely the following of EU rules in order to reduce financial losses?
It continues to astonish that production has continued at the site and we read on EDP24 (Feb 14) that "there were one or two raised eyebrows in Strasbourg yesterday that the factory in Holton had been allowed to open so quickly."
February 14 2007 ~ " He kept deferring to something called "the science", as a medieval monarch might defer to holy mother church. . There is no such thing..... "
Simon Jenkins in the Guardian "....The motto of the expert in a risk-averse society is: "I see a risk; give me a contract."......The word risk is now so abused as to render it near useless in political discourse. I forget how many radios I have hurled across the room listening to John Humphrys or Eddie Mair demanding: "Minister, why can't you be 100% sure there is no risk?" I heard two officials debating last week the difference between an unlikely, very unlikely, small, minuscule and infinitesimal risk from H5N1. Each term was then qualified if the turkey was "properly cooked". Properly? Here were scientists who dared not use such simple concepts as "one chance in a billion" or "let's change the subject", because they might not be asked back on the programme....
...As one virologist, Ruth Watkins, said on the radio this week: ask enough questions and you will soon find "there are too many questions still unanswered". Quite so.
..... Miliband seems to have behaved exemplarily in his role as protector of the turkey industry. He made only one mistake. He kept deferring to something called "the science", as a medieval monarch might defer to holy mother church. There is no such thing. ... "
February 14 2007 ~ 99.96% similarity of the RNA sequences of the genomes of the H5N1 avian influenza viruses
ProMed comment "The 99.96% similarity of the RNA sequences of the genomes of the H5N1 avian influenza viruses isolated from turkeys in the UK and from geese in Hungary, and the absence of an obvious precursor, justifies the conclusion that these viruses are isolates of the same strain of H5N1 avian influenza virus.
Questions which remain unresolved, and which may not be resolved by sequence analysis alone, are firstly the origin of this unique turkey/goose strain of virus and secondly the direction of travel of the infection -- from Hungary to England as presently supposed or from England to Hungary. - Mod.CP"
February 14 2007 ~ H5N1 vaccination: "I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks"
Dr Colin Fink writes on vaccination.
"...High density of birds increases the transmission rate of the infection between individuals. If they were all vaccinated , any virus infection introduced would have low flock spread with little if any subsequent shedding into the environment.. The birds would remain clinically well. However no symptoms in the birds together with no understanding by the handlers of even small risk of infection spread outside a flock could lead to some transfer of organisms out of the flock if the biosecurity was not strictly observed. No biological system is ever absolute especially when run by staff who do not understand transfer of infection .
I am not sure what is better for these hapless creatures and their factory bosses in high density rearing. Such a devastating outbreak with much virus shedding as we saw followed by immediate culling or no virus shedding but a minimal risk of ' wild type' viral carriage for short while only?
I am sure that vaccine would break the transmission cycle even in high density flocks. ."
February 13/14 2007 ~ Selective reporting from interviews with virologists "No one is asking the right questions and they all know that they are not"
The reopening of slaughter and packing at the Holton factory farm took most people by surprise. We note with concern that news reports quote "scientists" but they are not named and we get little input from named practising virologists. Both Dr Colin Fink and Dr Ruth Watkins have been interviewed by the BBC in the last 48 hours. Both discovered that what they considered to be important information had been cut.
In essence, Dr Fink said that the virus undoubtedly was from the Hungarian outbreak and brought in. As for how, he offers this possible explanation - which was not included in the broadcast:
I believe that the carcase material brought in was infected with H5N1. One way of transfer of this infection so rapidly to the flocks would be If the residue of the carcase meat has been ground up and fed to the new chicks as a high protein feed. That is one way the infection could be transferred into the turkey chick stock. I expect that if they wish to do this they will boil it now."As for the myths about vaccination "spreading the virus" so angrily refuted here by Colin Fink, the received - and wrong - wisdom is now appearing even in such otherwise sound papers as Western Morning News (new window). Journalists must talk - and listen - to the experts in virology. This is too serious a matter for pseudo-scientific error to be treated as fact .
.... "There are some serious political goings on here. No one is asking the right questions and they all know that they are not. "
February 13/14 2007 ~ "The Meat Hygiene Service cleared the slaughterhouse at Holton in Suffolk. It resumes work today, having been disinfected and relicensed under European Union rules." Telegraph
"One government official called the decision "incredible". But Defra said: "The company is within its rights to begin processing again as long as the birds come from outside the zone."
However, the EU rules from the latest Directive suggest that DEFRA, in using EU legisation to justify the UK government action, may be confusing production with transport. The language of a Directive should be clear for all to understand. It is far from clear.:
Latest EU Directive on Avian Influenza Article 22 - Prohibition on the movement and transport of birds, eggs, poultry meat and carcases
These EU regulations do not, surely, allow further slaughter and processing in the very plant where disease was so recently found?
- The competent authority shall ensure that within protection zones, the movement and transport from holdings on to roads, excluding private service roads of holdings, or by rail, of poultry, other captive birds, ready-to-lay poultry, day-old chicks, eggs and carcases are prohibited.
- The competent authority shall ensure that the transport of poultry meat from slaughterhouses, cutting plants and cold stores is prohibited unless it has been produced:
(a) from poultry which has originated from outside the protection zones and has been stored and transported separately from the meat of poultry from within the protection zones;
(b) on a date at least 21 days before the estimated date of earliest infection on a holding in the protection zone and which since production has been stored and transported separately from such meat produced after that date.
(The Telegraph article also says that "leaked minutes from a meeting of Cobra" revealed that it was "by accident" that a wrapper proved that the Suffolk plant had been receiving meat from a slaughterhouse 20 miles from the outbreak in domestic geese in southern Hungary. The Daily Mail in fact reported this link on February 10th )
February 13/14 2007 ~ Whatever the Hungarian government says... the virus outbreak in Hungary and UK are linked.
Dr Watkins writes, "Today's news on the Hungarian virus and its very near identity to the Holton virus is, I am sure, made by the laboratory at Weybridge based on sequencing information on many viruses and its analysis. This type of forensic matching has been done over the last 20 years in human virology and becomes ever more sophisticated as there are more viruses sequenced and longer segments if not the whole genome sequenced, and this is combined with greater mathematical power of the analysis programmes. There may even be a unique signature change in the sequence, a duplication or deletion that points the finger even more strongly than nucleotide sequence matching alone. It has to be accepted whatever the Hungarian government says about all the paper work being above board that the virus outbreak in Hungary and that in the UK are linked.
If there were no Matthews turkey farms in Hungary and no importing of any products from Hungary to Holton it would indeed be a mystery but nevertheless linked all the same. However, raw turkey carcasses were imported from Hungary and at least some had been slaughtered at that plant near the outbreak on the two geese farms. ..." read in full
February 13/14 2007 ~ The problem of spread of H5N1 virus worldwide by industrial farming and international trade has not been addressed and has not gone away.
Dr Watkins' comments about international trade spreading the virus were broadcast on the BBC - but, interestingly, comments that the Holton turkey rearing houses at Holton should not have been reopened were cut..
Dr Watkins says that vital evidence may not have been collected if cleansing and disinfection was not correctly done. In her opinion, it was unwise to re-open the Holton premises. Issues of breakdown in safe food handling and biosecurity have not been addressed. What is urgently needed is
- a review of protocols and procedures
- structural alterations to prevent contamination between processing to bird rearing facilities are needed and
- retraining of workers seems vital. (Some seemed unaware that the risk of infection to humans was by breathing in and thought a protective coat was adequate)
She casts doubt on the completeness of the clean-up,. Natural decay of the virus requires at least 30 days. " This was a very serious outbreak" she says.
February 12 2007 ~ "government must examine, restructure and support the infrastructure of the meat and livestock industry, so that once again it can be the main supplier of meat for the nation"
Caroline Cranbrook writes, in this email to warmwell:
"It is encouraging that the journalists are showing so much more initiative and commonsense than they did during FMD - but depressing that the government and its agencies are lagging behind..."She includes a copy of an article she wrote for Country Life during FMD which seems even more relevant today, Importing New Risks to Man and Beast
".....government must invest in preventing illegal meat imports. At the same time, meat imports should cease from all countries currently infected ....FMD is a warning to us all. ..... Unless we impose tighter controls on imported meat, our own and our animals' health remains at risk from the risk of imported lethal infection. We must also Buy British - and Buy Local. Supermarkets must shorten their supply chains. To make this possible, government must examine, restructure and support the infrastructure of the meat and livestock industry, so that once again it can be the main supplier of meat for the nation. " Read in fullThe email links to an interesting webpage showing ways in which illegal imports of bird flu-suspect poultry have been discovered. Rumania, (a neighbour of Hungary and quite close to the area where infected geese were found in January), confirmed the presence of the bird flu virus in 18 locations and detected 25 suspect cases of in eight counties last year. In May 2006, the manager of a major industrial poultry farm in Romania was arrested on charges of allowing the farm to sell chickens possibly infected with "a potentially lethal form of bird flu". As one ProMed moderator said in a recent ProMed post, ".....the temptation to import cheap replacement stock from a source which just happens to also have HPAI can be great. If such an importing country is a neighbor, many of us are at immediate risk."
February 12 2007 ~H5N1 Hungary's Agriculture Ministry denies any link
Reuters "There is indeed a turkey processing plant in Kecskemet which sent some meat to Sarvar which sent it on to various parts of western Europe," said Andras Dekany, spokesman at Hungary's Agriculture Ministry.
"This is true. But every item was checked and there were no problems reported in any other export destinations." Hungary will submit a report to the European Commission on Tuesday to prove there can be no link between the cases in Britain and Hungary.....Dekany said the virus being identical was not a convincing argument because the virus has been almost the same wherever it appeared around Europe. "The largest margin of difference has been 0.6 percent." ..."
However, the Daily Mail suggested that the slaughter house concerned did indeed slaughter both geese and turkeys. See below.
February 11/12 2007 ~ It is vital that advice in controlling outbreaks is given by professionally qualified clinical virologists (in human medicine and ideally veterinary medicine as well of course) in conjunction with scientists.
An email from Dr Ruth Watkins, received today, strikes us as urgent and important
"....David Milliband and officialdom in general are looking for advice from scientists for their briefing when they should be looking for advice from clinical virologists experienced in outbreak management. With respect to John Oxford he is a scientist but he is not a clinician nor is he a scientist with clinical responsibilities at The Royal London and Barts. The key to a disinterested and balanced briefing for ministers is that the advice should come from someone with clinical experience in outbreaks as well as virus expertise, and this may involve a professional group rather than COBRA. ........(A BBC page of questions on 'avian flu and Hungary' with answers by Professor John Oxford has been added today.)
As you know when I was asked to comment for BBC News 24 on the first Saturday of the Matthew's outbreak on the 3rd Feb, I said that the main cause in spread of avian flu had been via humans, trading poultry and its products legally or illegally and in using poultry manure to feed warm fish farms etc. ...... It is vital that advice in controlling outbreaks is given by professionally qualified clinical virologists (in human medicine and ideally veterinary medicine as well of course) in conjunction with scientists. This is an animal virus with important human health considerations. ...." Read in full
February 11 2007 ~ "absurdly unscientific misinformation about why we cannot use vaccination..."
Booker's Notebook "... again we have expert virologists, such as Colin Fink of Warwick University" (see Dr Fink's email to warmwell) "staring open-mouthed as they point out how Defra could hardly be getting everything more wrong, above all in the absurdly unscientific misinformation it spreads about why we cannot use vaccination." Read in full
February 11 2007 ~ an international reappraisal of the role of factory farming and the poultry trade in the worldwide spread of the disease.
The Scotsman and the Independent are among the newspapers reporting that yesterday DEFRA admitted that it had known, since long before the crisis, that the Bernard Matthews plant regularly imported turkey meat from Hungary. David Nabarro, the UN co-ordinator for avian and human flu, has said the poultry trade is behind the spread of the virus "this year". Bernard Matthews has now confirmed that the factory did use the slaughterhouse at Kecskemet (see below)
The Sunday Telegraph says, "the British Government is to investigate claims that one farm just 30km (19 miles) from the epicentre of the Hungarian outbreak may have supplied Saga......demands for clear explanations from Bernard Matthews and the Government, grow more pressing by the hour. ....issues around who knew what, and when, and when they decided to make their knowledge public, appear disturbingly complicated "
February 10 2007 ~ Turkeys from the Matthews farm were transported to within only 30 km from the infected geese cases in Hungary - the Gall Food abattoir in Kecskemet - which slaughters geese...
See Daily Mail's own investigation "... Officials are trying to establish whether the abattoir also handled geese from the Szentes farms and thus infected turkey meat which was then exported to the UK. Signs outside the abattoir have pictures of both turkeys and geese, suggesting the plant is used to slaughter both species. ...290 tons of turkey breast has been exported from Kecskemet to Britain. In addition, a further 1,000 tons of turkey product has been sent to SaGa, Matthews's subsidiary in Sarvar. Slaughtered birds are understood to be transported back to Sarvar before the meat is brought to Britain in the form of turkey breasts. ...." An estimated "two or three lorries a week" travelled to the UK direct from Kecskemet. ProMed commented on Feb 8th
".... questions arise: Has Defra implemented appropriate surveillance, especially given that the government vets were unable to identify this disease on clinical inspection? Was the "contaminated food" distributed to any other sites? What route did the lorry (or lorries?) take, and have other locations and countries been alerted? Is withholding this information (or failing to alert a suspicion on an un-named premises) because Defra considered it "commercially confidential" consistent with their duty of care to livestock, livestock keepers and the general public?"
February 10 2007 ~ Turkey bites Man
One emailer writes, " Is there anyone saying, "If we treat turkeys like that what do we expect?"...? The emailer's question today comments on the fact that "... honorable people are forced to make light of their suffering, hide it wherever possible, or make jokes about it. It's as if enjoying cruelty to animals is a badge of honour." In EDP24 we read about a turkey biting a worker on the first night of culling when apparently a small group of seven workers at the factory farm were set to "catch" them. Seven factory workers? Memories of the two Bernard Matthews catchers who were filmed using a live turkey as a baseball are still fresh (Guardian). Where was the humane killing about which we were reassured by Dr John Oxford - giving people the idea that the thousands of turkeys would somehow be expertly put to sleep ("humane conditions overseen by DEFRA")? What method of killing the unfortunate turkeys once caught really was applied no one seems to know but what has really enraged people is that once bitten, the young Portuguese worker was not ordered immediately to hospital.
Meanwhile, our Scientific Adviser in Chief, Professor Sir David King, whose areas of expertise cover neither virology nor wildlife,( a combination the lack of which one might have hoped would make him a tad more cautious in his pronouncements) said it was "quite feasible" the disease had been spread from hut to hut at the Holton plant," by vermin or wild birds which had come into contacted with infected carcasses . (See Yahoo news and the Guardian) The vermin and birds which can not only catch and spread H5N1 but also go sneaking from one bio-secure Stalag into two or three more bio-secure Stalags were not specified.
February 9 2007 ~ "FSA confirmed today that it was investigating the possibility that turkey meat contaminated by bird flu at a Bernard Matthews poultry farm has entered the human food chain."
Guardian and 24Dash and BBC
(Warmwell's latest postings on Bird Flu can be seen in full on the Avian Influenza page )
February 9 2007 ~ "the authorities must work harder to present a balanced picture, and not allow automatic implication of wild birds as the likeliest vector every time an outbreak occurs."
statement from BirdLife International today "....In both the UK and Hungary, the media, 'expert' commentators and some officials, including Government ministers, have been quick to implicate wild birds. In the UK there were suggestions that a small wild bird could have entered the Suffolk farm through an air vent, or that faeces from infected gulls could have been tracked into the building.
If the UK outbreak is confirmed as being caused by transportation of poultry products, this will confirm just how easily this can happen. The spread of H5N1, and outbreaks of other high-pathogenicity forms in the past, have made it clear both how much movement there is of poultry and poultry products around the world, and how easily the virus can be carried in this way...."
February 9 2007 ~ "a claim without the least shred of evidence..... scientific investigation had yet to begin. But Bradnock's suggestions ran far and wide in the national media."
Jonathan Leake's excellent New Statesman article "...Peter Bradnock, chief executive of the British Poultry Council..... "The most likely source is a wild bird," he declared firmly. "Faeces on the concrete outside could have been walked in by a worker or it could have been deposited on the roof."
It was a claim without the least shred of evidence. Confirmation of the H5N1 strain had come less than two hours earlier and the scientific investigation had yet to begin. But Bradnock's suggestions ran far and wide in the national media. A hint that the real answer might be more complex comes from a survey by Defra, whose inspectors have spent five years swabbing the rectums of 5,000 wild birds to see if any were carrying H5N1 to Britain. None were..." Well worth reading in full.
February 9 2007 ~ Poultry source now thought very likely
"38 tons of turkey meat from Hungary, where there was an outbreak of the most dangerous form of bird flu last month, has been delivered by lorry every week to a processing plant close to the company's sheds in Suffolk." Telegraph
Virus is preserved in protein rich material and although Bernard Matthews' commercial director, Bart Dalla Mura, is reported (Channel 4) as saying "vets agree it is just not a source of questioning at all" (which vets? what questioning?), that there was "not a remote possibility" that the outbreaks could be linked because "our farm is about 160 miles away from the outbreak" and "there is not a remote possibility it would have happened in that way " - these protests are now sounding like the wishful thinking of a company seeing its compensation payments looking shaky and some very awkward questions being asked. Peter Ainsworth spoke yesterday of "the version of events they have told so far".
As the Grain report below suggests, it is looking likely that H5N1 is a poultry virus killing wild birds, not the other way around.
One wonders if it can possibly be legal to recycle dead turkeys from one factory farm for use in another. The public may become more aware of how their cheap meat is being produced and the dangers inherent for humans if they allow mass production of sentient creatures. The future of battery cages looks secure, unfortunately, at least until 2012 unless there is more public outrage voiced. Asked about the banning of such cages Mr Bradshaw would only commit himself on Monday on "conventional" cages being banned from 1 January 2012.
February 9 2007 ~ We are told that vaccination for a current strain does indeed work.
" our vaccine each winter tries to predict what will be current" New vaccines are on the way which will act cross strain as well - as for the excretion story after vaccination, based on research that is considered questionable, this " does not stack up virologically".
February 9 2007 ~"...There are also questions to be answered about what ministers knew and when, and if they had information last Monday, why didn't they disclose that information?" Peter Ainsworth
Times "Today's recriminations follow the news that another three of the 22 turkey sheds at the Holton farm had tested positive for H5N1, raising fears that the virus was more entrenched than originally hoped. Government scientists are now trying to establish how the virus spread from hut to hut, or whether all four huts suffered separate, independent infections from the same source."
February 8/9 2007 ~ "government officials ... no longer believe that Britain's first outbreak of bird flu was spread by wild birds"
Guardian Observer " UK poultry contamination blamed on carcasses from Matthews' Hungarian factory....'The company involved have voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend the movement of poultry products between their outlets in the UK and Hungary until the investigation is complete"
The rumour that this is an internal infection only has been circulating for several days (see below). We hear now that traces of infection have been found in three more sheds. Wild birds do not flit from biosecure shed to biosecure shed. The implication is that the virus arrived at the factory farm - perhaps by lorry from Hungary - and was spread internally. Neil Ferguson of Roy Anderson's Imperial Epidemiological group was quoted by the Telegraph on Wednesday "There are only two ways it could have got into the Norfolk farm: people or wild birds. Both are equally feasible. This is going to require detailed investigation and we may never find out what the origin was." But the wild bird scenario is no longer looking 'feasible'. He also said recently that there would "inevitably be more outbreaks during the year" but if this was an isolated incident of contamination then the inevitability of more outbreaks can hardly be assumed - unless other factory farms are going to behave in similar ways. The Guardian Observer story says that the government "has known about the contaminated meat since Monday" - yet British health officials told the European Union last Tuesday they did not believe there was a link between the outbreak of bird flu at the Bernard Matthews farm and two recent cases in Hungary where Matthews also has poultry interests. Neither did David Miliband mention the carcasses when he made a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday.
As for cost-sharing, such a case adds weight to the idea that government should be willing to give up its authority on disease control to an independent board - or are real farmers going to be expected to pay for the consequences of such contamination?
February 7 2007 ~ The myth of the silent spread of virus by vaccinated birds ... is just that. - utter nonsense.
Dr Fink's email ".... The obsessional focus by DEFRA is on the period after vaccination and theoretically before a complete response has been made by the vaccinees. In fact any individual ( man or beast or bird) who has partially responded and then meets ' wildtype' virus early after vaccine may have mild clinical disease and may excrete some virus in to the surroundings. That does not matter because the whole exercise is to reduce the spread of 'wildtype' and this will be a partial result in these few cases with much reduced virus shedding. As one hopes to induce so called ' herd immunity' any flock or herd which has been vaccinated ( but perhaps a bit late !! back to indecision in DEFRA) will still achieve lower excretion levels into the environment and also will have only mild clinical disease - which most us thought was the object of the exercise. The myth of the silent spread of virus by vaccinated birds flying over DEFRA offices is just that. - utter nonsense. " The email is well worth reading in full.
February 7 2007 ~ " there is a danger that reliance on avian flu vaccination for birds could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous" Mary, As I am sure that you know, this is complete and utter rubbish
Dr Colin Fink writes that he is angry. Having read in the answer given by the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton to the Countess of Mar, (below) the comment that vaccination "could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous", he writes
" Mary, As I am sure that you know, this is complete and utter rubbish and shows that all the 'Virologists' invented by Fred Landeg in Page Street, in answer to a question from the Countess of Mar are a myth. DEFRA cannot be allowed to go on peddling this mis-information with such arrogance and insularity. They cannot even advise their representatives properly and know nothing of how vaccines work.Read Dr Fink's email in full. It is important that an expert practising virologist's understanding about vaccination is seen.
You may publish this comment if you wish - I am angry about this."
February 5/6 2007 ~ " Is she saying that Defra has no qualified virologists at the heart of the organisation?"
Hansard On February 1st, the Countess of Mar asked "How many qualified virologists are directly employed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?" but from the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton received the answer:"..returns from agency chief executives show that Defra employs 116 qualified virologists who work in the field of virology.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she saying that Defra has no qualified virologists at the heart of the organisation? How many of those virologists are from the veterinary, medical and scientific disciplines? In view of the importance of viral diseases to animals and humans, will Her Majesty's Government consider setting up a separate steering committee to bring together virologists and microbiologists from all the disciplines in order to give the Government proper advice and reduce their reliance on computer modellers?" Read in full
We should very much welcome comments on the extraordinary answer given of 116 virologists. If there were merely one knowledgeable and practising virologist listened to by the Department and the government there would be little further need for this website.
February 5/6 2007 ~ 10 million doses of vaccine?
See below. In fact, only 5 million are in the UK. The other 5 million are held in Spain.
February 5 2007 ~ Illegally imported chicks from Hungary?
Rumours are now rife that Bernard Matthews has been importing live chicks or eggs from Hungary. If this is so and turns out to be the source of the trouble then the outbreak will be an isolated incident from which the UK government can perhaps at last learn some lessons. Rules about illegal imports have been in place for a considerable time now - but as we have reported elsewhere ( in particular with regard to diseased meat) making rules to protect animal and human health legally enforceable, when breaking the rules can be so lucrative, is another matter. As one warmwell reader says, "Selfish greed puts farming at risk in this country and endangers the life of the farmers and the citizens."
If the rumours are true it not surprising that no one from Holton wanted to talk to Farming Today and that we have heard so little from those running the "farm".
February 5 2007 ~ Not much communication to concerned residents living near the factory
They have complained that there still had not been anyone in touch "to tell them what to do." According to the East Anglian EDP24 "...Suffolk County Council trading standards department said that it sent scores of officials into the surrounding area from Sunday morning to talk to people who may be worried and advise those with small flocks of chickens. But last night even small farms just half a mile away had not been visited by anyone from Defra or the council." We hear from someone living nearby of the "mutually self- congratulatory tone of Maff-Defra and the Suffolk District Councils"
One regular reader of warmwell writes in despair,
"One can only be astounded that the same old mistakes are being made: Government ignorance so no on-site diagnosis and no vaccination information; officials managing to sound both arrogant and complacent; negligence from the "vet" in charge of premises that no vet should countenance; delayed diagnosis; mass killing including the healthy and unaffected; lazy or hyped up journalism - including the wheeling out by the media of the dreadful old guard who know so very little about the virus and such a great deal about their own careers; leaking disposal lorries trailing across the country; lack of communication with ordinary people. As usual, it is the ordinary people and their animals who have most to fear but people are being frightened and reasssured by turns by those they have now learned to distrust. How can cooperation - vital in a crisis- exist in such circumstances?"Another wrote this morning,
" I find it hard to believe that NOTHING has changed since 2001. Why do so few people care about animal suffering? Any sane person could see what is wrong but those whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. I would have liked to contribute to halting the madness, but I know now that no one will listen. .."We can only hope that the voices of reason who have been quietly trying to change things in the past six years will at last be listened to.
February 5 2007 ~ " it is disturbing that our officials are so biased and self deluded"
The virologist Dr Ruth Watkins BSc Hons, BFA Oxon, MBBS, MSc, MRCP, MRCPath has written an email to warmwell. She says that a disinterested risk assessment is vitally needed. The email has much to say on biosecurity (never total outside laboratories) and she expresses her wonder that
"animal health experts support these huge unnaturally intensive flocks that are actually fundamentally a risk to health. Outbreaks such as this produce huge concentrations of the pathogen. The lorries covered with tarpaulin cannot be said to be sealed, merely covered. .."(Aerial pictures on the news show birds being brought out of the sheds and tipped into so-called "sealed lorries" Only tarpaulins cover the lorries - and this was one lesson we thought actually had been learned from 2001 since such leaking lorries are such an obvious risk to health.)
Wild birds have not so far been shown to be spreading the virus in Western Europe, yet so often the first thing suggested by the talking heads (never practising virologists, it seems and often distressingly the same "experts" that landed us in such a mess in 2001) is that the outbreak could have been started by a "bird in the ventilation" However, says Dr Watkins, the first possibility is that someone has been breaking the rules and has somehow introduced the virus directly into the infected shed. She says, "Any rule breaking is likely to be concealed and any illegal activity hidden. However that should not affect a disinterested risk assessment..... Huge and guess-work restriction zones are not necessary and wasting everyone's money." Read in full
February 5 2007 ~ Delay in picking up the infection in the first place is shrugged off by the veterinary profession in a way it should not be. Rapid diagnostic PCR testing could be applied even if from a VLA lab with same day results faxed out.
Ruth Watkins explains that there should always be an agreed procedure for testing for pathogens from such a farm
Read in full
- First the Matthews vet should be making a diagnosis based on taking samples; that might have gained 2 days.
- Each sample taken for diagnosis should have a protocol applied to it and a number of infections screened for.
- Clinical assumptions must always be tested in the laboratory particularly in intensive farming conditions where infection takes hold like wild fire.
- Even if there was E coli infection as the vet suspected, it should not preclude testing for avian influenza as part of a standard protocol as both infections could be present.
- I suspect the veterinary testing is based on the vet's request for a specific pathogen and not a screening protocol.
- This is also likely as a cost cutting device as all veterinary tests must be paid for.
Secondly the rapid diagnostic PCR testing could be applied even if from a VLA lab with same day results faxed out. Once there is an outbreak then on site rapid PCR testing should be applied.
February 5 2007 ~ When bona-fide, certified, safety-and-efficacy- tested vaccines are used, the results do not disappoint.
Professor Van der Velden is quoted in this morning's Independent,"There should definitely be a debate about vaccination of poultry," said Professor Koos Van der Velden, the chairman of the European Inf luenza Surveillance Scheme.......The situation in Suffolk is expected to be top of the agenda at a meeting of the EU's veterinary experts in Brussels today". We are dismayed to see that the Independent adds, " UK scientists fear vaccination could mask the start of an epidemic because it reduces the infectiousness of birds and stops them dying but does not halt the spread of disease."
Many will find it sickening that the notion, put forward by Sir David King, that vaccination does not halt the spread of disease, seems to have been widely accepted by journalists. Such a statement is highly misleading. ProMed moderator "AS" makes clear that
"When bona-fide, certified, safety-and-efficacy- tested vaccines are used, the results do not disappoint.." ProMedThe UK does hold 10 million doses of vaccine for use in creating a buffer zone if further outbreaks occur but there are no signs yet that they are to be used and no plans at all to introduce routine vaccination.
February 5 2007 ~ possible links between the Suffolk bird flu outbreak and that in Hungary are now being investigated.
Farming Today's Mark Holdstock reported this morning, "There seems to be a genuine puzzlement about how the disease reached this plant although one villager told me that he had seen a lot of Hungarian lorries entering and leaving the site..."
The Telegraph tells us that only now are "tests to be carried out on wild bird droppings, the most likely source of the infection. Defra began a survey in which every movement of staff, food or bedding will be analysed to see whether there could be a link with the outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus in Hungary 10 days ago."
February 5 2007 ~ The costs of failing to heed expert advice
Britain now faces the loss of £370 million in export trade in meat and live birds. DEFRA will have to compensate the Bernard Matthews farm at the value of each bird just before slaughter and this could be over £500,000 just for this one farm. Under the Animal Health Act 1981, companies will be compensated for all healthy birds slaughtered.
At the time of the Scottish scare in April Dr Breeze wrote about on-site diagnosis being used for H5N1 detection and calculated that Scotland could be the best equipped country in Europe for between £350,000 and £400,000 :
Extract ".A RAPID PCR machine (www.idahotech.com) costs about £40,000 pounds. ..the RAPID replaces procedures that previously required very costly biological high containment laboratories with enormous fixed operating costs. ..There are hundreds of scientists and technicians... who know how to do PCR tests (a standard lab tool) and who could learn the works of the RAPID in an afternoon....... In January 2006 there was an avian influenza conference in Kiev Ukraine attended by over 350 medical and veterinary officials from the US, Europe and seven countries of the former Soviet Union: this was followed by hands on avian influenza H5N1 detection training on the RAPID for veterinary lab staff from six countries. ... ....Back in April, when the Norfolk outbreak of a mild strain of bird flu, the low pathogenic H7N3 caused the culling on suspicion of thousands of free range chickens, there were veterinary experts, Elm Farm, The Soil Association and many concerned poultry owners, all urgently trying to get their message across. (See entries from April below). Many months before, in October 2005, the Soil Association had written a personal plea to Mr Blair about fears that pressure was
"... bearing down on policy-makers and closing off options for currently viable and positive measures that science and sense suggests should be considered. . .." Read in fullThe free range sector's anxious voice remains unheeded. Professor Sir David King is already looking at a future where "organic and free-range farming would come to an end. It would change farming practices...." There are thousands of people in the UK who care deeply about raising birds in a natural environment - both for the birds' health and welfare and for our own. They are now aghast. The costs of this refusal to listen may far exceed the costs feared by the government for implementing the 'currently viable and positive measures that science and sense suggests should be considered.'
February 4/5 2007 ~".... the first 71 birds died last Tuesday. But the outbreak was not reported to government vets until Thursday evening, after another 1,000 died.
It took a further two days before European Union scientists managed to conduct tests and were able to confirm that the virus at the farm, in Holton, near Halesworth, was H5N1. Even after that, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) took until yesterday evening to impose the obligatory exclusion zone because legal wrangles meant the required forms had not been signed in time...." Telegraph
February 4/5 2007 ~ "H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices"
Speculation about the cause of this outbreak continues to focus on wild birds. The tricky fact that migration has not yet begun is explained by 'unseasonal warm weather'. However, we are reminded of the Grain report concluding that H5N1 is a poultry virus killing wild birds, not the other way around - an alternative hypothosis that got backing in an editorial in the Lancet medical journal last May. The Grain report said:
"... The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu is essentially a problem of industrial poultry practices. ... while wild birds can carry the disease, at least for short distances - its main vector is the highly self-regulated transnational poultry industry, which sends the products and waste of its farms around the world through a multitude of channels..."Bernard Matthews farms are an extremely intensive form of agribusiness and one wonders if it too sends products and waste of its farms ( including a very large turkey complex in Hungary operating under the SaGa Foods brand) around the world "through a multitude of channels".
In a recent ProMed post, the moderator said, ".....the temptation to import cheap replacement stock from a source which just happens to also have HPAI can be great. If such an importing country is a neighbor, many of us are at immediate risk."
February 4/5 2007 ~ question mark over where the infected birds' carcasses were taken to be disposed of
A local observer wrote today,
" The first infected birds from the original shed were sent into Norfolk and possibly into Lincolnshire, not to Staffordshire. Why?"
February 4/5 2007 ~ "I cannot help but wonder why we are slaughtering birds and then moving them many, many miles to be incinerated."
is a question asked by a free range farmer and quoted by the BBC. Elsewhere on the BBC answers to current AI questions are given by Professor John Oxford (profile) - explaining for example that "the carcasses will have to be moved in steel containers which are totally secure." It may be remembered that Professor Oxford, a leading virologist, commented after the infected dead swan was found at the end of March, that
vaccination - in conjunction with careful monitoring - would be a useful way to help to control the disease.
February 4 2007 ~ Additional Restricted Zone
DEFRA "This is in addition to the 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone introduced earlier today. The Restricted Zone covers east Suffolk and South East Norfolk bounded to the west and the north by the A140 and A47 respectively, and is approximately 2090sqkm. It requires the isolation of poultry from wild birds and movements to be licensed. As further information becomes available and in consultation with ornithological experts the restrictions in place may be adjusted."
February 4 2007 ~ Bird Flu: Sir David King ruled out vaccination a year ago
Like us, the Soil Association was "mystfied" and "dismayed" by the decision, given by the Chief Scientific Officer, not to vaccinate against H5N1. They called for the use of vaccination of all poultry close to any outbreak. As the BBC reported a year ago in February 2006
"They have got to bring in every weapon in their armoury," said the association's Robin Maynard. He said he had a sense of "deja vu", likening it to the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. "The end result was 11 million animals slaughtered and £8bn cost to the tax-payer. We just don't want to go down that barbaric, medieval route."As for the deployment of on-site rapid diagnosis, Dr Roger Breeze described last March how his team was building a chain of 30 laboratories in Central Asia to provide real time PCR diagnosis of avian influenza, linked by an electronic disease reporting system to the Chief Veterinarian in Tashkent and to the United States. PCR capability for avian influenza is now in place in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Yet in the UK rapid diagnostic testing is only dimly understood, it seems, and, as far as we are aware, there are no plans to use such existing technology. The unwelcome suspicion is that this is because it is not yet made by those in the UK who can profit from it financially.
February 4 2007 ~ "Killing infected poultry flocks ad infinitum, without adjunct vaccination..is a policy that has not been successful over the last decade"
Last April we received an important email from two virologists warning that the UK still has insufficient or no H5N1 influenza vaccine stocks to protect the poultry flocks. They pointed out that it is essential to have clinical virologists working alongside Veterinarians, advising the UK government. They made it clear, back in April, that "the failure to prepare reflects a lack of understanding of viral disease in DEFRA and government and has implications for human disease risk."
"We believe that it is essential to have Clinical Virologists with an understanding of human disease and the value of vaccination, working alongside Veterinarians, advising the UK government and making decisions about preparation and limitation of the H5N1 infection in birds. Killing infected poultry flocks ad infinitum, without adjunct vaccination, as a means to control infection carried by wild birds, is a policy that has not been successful over the last decade, in eradication of this highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza. The pronouncements this week by Professor Sir David King UK Chief Scientist are not encouraging.Read in full
Vaccination is the most useful weapon we have against epidemic viral disease. Further spread of infection is halted by a vaccinated population..."
February 4 2007 ~ CIWF has never been allowed to visit Matthews' factories
Media frenzy - driving political hot potatoes away from the front pages - is as predictable as it is dismaying. Scaremongering about human health ("public told not to panic") tends to silence protest at the mass gassing of birds. Behind the bureaucratic demands for poultry to be put indoors within a 10km protection zone and the nationwide banning of pigeon races one hears the slamming of the stable door. As we have often regretted, DEFRA has not chosen vaccination as even part of their strategy to combat this global pandemic. As Dr Ruth Watkins asked in an article written many months ago for the CLA,
"... Why not vaccinate free-range poultry and pheasants as well as hold vaccine in reserve to ring vaccinate an outbreak in a domestic flock? Vaccination may be found necessary in bio-secure flocks to prevent breakdowns of infection in intensive poultry systems. If we do not order or make any vaccine for birds then we can never use it. Are we heading for another disaster on the scale of 2001?"Pheasants are especially vulnerable to infection from wild birds. They are reared in Spring and then released into the local habitat. Vaccinating young pheasants before release would be the sensible option. As today's Independent on Sunday says, the outbreak
"casts doubt on the adequacy of defences against the disease, which the Government had said were the best in the world."Once again we hear of "increasing risks of it arriving through migrating birds" The Bernard Matthews farms are strictly controlled and impermeable. Not even the highly respected Compassion in World Farming has ever been allowed in to visit. One correspondent, after mentioning the Bernard Matthews farms all over Europe, including Hungary, writes, "And they are telling us that it was a little sparrow in the ventilation system? Don't make me laugh!"
February 3 2007 ~ Suffolk bird disease is H5N1
Guardian 12.28 pm
"Samples from the infected establishment were immediately sent to the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, which has this morning swiftly confirmed the disease to be the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.The EU Commission has backed calls from Euro-MEPs for a stockpile of bird flu anti-viral drugs to be set up - but only if national authorities are prepared to pay for it.
Reuters reports that "Government veterinary experts" were called out late on Thursday. A protection zone with a radius of 3 km (2 miles) and a surveillance zone of 10 km around the infected farm has been set up.
February 3 2007 ~ Bird disease in Suffolk. Bernard Matthews farm - 160,000 turkeys in close proximity
Tests for H5N1 are going on at the VLA. Meanwhile DEFRA's contingency plan involves killing all the birds. The BBC quotes Peter Jinman as saying ""I think we do have to be very cautious about this particular situation. It does seem on the face of it very surprising if it's a commercial flock which is obviously going to have high biosecurity, a considerable amount of checks going on and, as we know, predominantly the concerns have always been about wild bird spread of this disease."
See also ProMed
365 tonnes of turkey products were moved from the SaGa site in Sarvar to England between November 2006 and February, while 622 tonnes moved the other way
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