In Search of the Truth
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Roger Green Esq BvetMed
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
By e-mail 8 May 2002
Dear Mr Green
Mrs Elaine Coulthard of Four Oaks, Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire has brought this account of the scrapie testing of her sheep to the attention of the FMD Forum. As a member she has asked us to circulate this for comments to Societies who are at present being consulted by DEFRA on the laws for the future of farm animals.
The account speaks for itself. It hi-lights the many failings of the system in one fell swoop.
Unfortunately this is not an isolated case, but is unique in that the lady in question has agreed to supply her name, something so rarely achieved during the FMD outbreak for fear of reprisals. It particularly calls into question the ability of DEFRA personnel towards the animals in their care. It accentuates the lack of humility and overbearing attitude of those people ‘in charge’ towards owners. This was a fact repeatedly complained about in the FMD outbreak. It would seem nothing has been or is being learnt by these various inquiries and consultations. The worst is that there is no-one or no ‘body’ to turn to for help in such man-made emergencies. We would appreciate if among others the following points were addressed in you answer to us:
1. Who interviews and what practical tests do would-be DEFRA veterinarian employees have to undergo when recruited? Is their professional status taken as adequate qualification for them to deal with farm animals?
2. To whom can an owner turn for help in the emergency that arises, when DEFRA practitioners display woeful inadequacies in their professional abilities, or exhibit a complete lack of common sense?
3. To whom can an owner turn when the DEFRA authorities display a flagrant disregard of the law - ‘when it suits their purpose’. In this particular case in the laws of transport. In innumerable other cases, during the FMD outbreak, in those of slaughter and animal welfare?
4. Please explain the reluctance to tackle the overall appalling cruelty inflicted on these sentient farm animals. Compare this with the handling of domestic animals and explain why as animal organisations, there should be allowed to be a difference, in a civilized society, in the name of trade? Why for example risk using a bolus instead of a micro-chip?
5. Surely, even had the whole operation been carried out efficiently, the inadequacies of the system are obvious to people with knowledge of and sympathy with animal behaviour? A more humane and workable system should be thought through for the future of sheep farming.
Chairman: Bill Eykyn
Executive Director: Alicia Eykyn Veterinary Director: Wendy Vere MA VetMB MRCVS Research Director: Jon Dobson
As you will be aware the SI 843 - all 200 pages of it, will have the effect of bringing in the amendment to the Animal Health Bill by the back door. We would be grateful to be assured assured with chapter and verse that you and the other organisations receiving this letter, are doing all in their power to prevent this situation occurring.
I am sending a copy of this to the RSPCA and to the President of the BVA, Mr Scott, for their comments.
Cc The Countess of Marr
Lord Willoughby de Broke
Mr Peter Ainsworth MP
Scrapie Testing - a cautionary tale
I have spoken by telephone with a sheep-keeper in the Midlands who recently had her small flock tested for scrapie. This is the procedure that was to become compulsory under the proposed powers contained within the Animal Health Bill, until the House of Lords derailed it, only to re-surface within Statutory Instrument 843 that is currently before parliament. The flock-owner "volunteered" on the advice of the RBST, who had persuaded her that a scrapie-free flock was desirable (she breeds Shetlands and Dorset Downs).
A team of two DEFRA personnel turned up on the appointed day to carry out the tests. Blood samples were taken from the neck vein using standard "vacuum" tubes, but the first few sheep sampled proved such a struggle for the operator, with blood everywhere, that the owner insisted upon the older, more experienced person taking over. After this change, the blood samples were taken correctly.
The second part of the procedure involves the insertion of a bolus into the rumen of the sheep. The bolus contains microchip technology that enables a unique indentity number to be read by passing a sensor over the outside of the sheep's body - like reading a bar-code. It is "about the size of a shotgun cartridge" and is administered by mouth using a special "gun" to place it at the back of the throat for immediate swallowing. The purpose is apparently to ensure the correct correlation between blood sample and individual animal, with no scope for cheating as with ear tags or other external identification marks.
The owner reports that the bolus was administered to the larger Dorset Downs without mishap, with the reader confirming the prescence of the bolus in the rumen. However, the owner was concerned that the bolus was too large for her Shetlands to swallow, and asked if they proposed to change to using a smaller size. No, they saw no reason to change and administered the first bolus, which stuck part-way down the throat of a ram. Undeterred, they tried a second ram and this bolus also became stuck. At this point the owner flatly refused to proceed any further unless a smaller size was used. The operators changed to a smaller size (there are apparently two standard sizes) and worked through the rest of the Shetlands without further problems.
The whole process took six hours from start to finish, for just 23 Dorset Downs and 30 Shetlands. The owner commented that at this rate, a national testing programme would be a physical impossibility.
DEFRA advised that the two rams be given some feed to help them swallow the bolus. There was no change and the animals soon lost interest in food, since they were unable to swallow it. They were walked about for exercise, but nothing changed. They sat around without cudding. The next day the situation had still not changed, whereupon DEFRA announced the rams would have to be put down. Compensation was agreed and and in due course a huge lorry arrived to take them away. The owner refused to load them, as there was no provision inside the lorry for partitioning into a suitable small space, so they would simply be sliding around all over the place.
It was agreed they be slaughtered on site, and this was done. The DEFRA vet said that this was extremely unusual and that it was only the second time that any animal had needed to be put down. The lorry driver, on the other hand, said that he had collected thirty carcases already - some with a stuck bolus, and others with damage to the back of the throat caused by the administering gun.
The owner said that the DEFRA operators were "useless" and she had been disgusted by the whole episode. She wanted a scrapie-free flock, but found the results of her tests confusing. For instance, Shetland parents that were both in the higher category genotypes produced offspring that were down at the lower end of the scale!
Alan Beat - www.smallholders.org