Friday, November 02, 2007

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? Oh for heaven's sake!

A fleeting post this, but I think you'll appreciate it!

The politics of bluetongue vaccination in the UK are growing increasingly acrimonious. While I don't necessarily agree with everything that this blogger writes, one thing is fairly certain: If Merial aren't allowed to resume work on a bluetongue vaccine at Pirbright within the next few days, it will be a cheerless spring for many UK livestock farmers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water... FMD again

Less than 48 hours after the all-clear was sounded, the movement restrictions are back, new control zones are in place and more cattle are being culled as I type.

This is the last thing that the UK farming industry needed. More foot and mouth.

And in Egham of all places?

Egham in Surrey, for those of you who don't know it, is pretty much the heart of leafy outer London commuter territory. I was quite surprised to learn that there are actually still farms in the area. I suspect (but I admit I dont know) that these are not significant commercial operations but hobby farms and smallholdings.

Initial lab tests have confirmed that the suspect herd was infected with foot and mouth. The strain has, I understand, yet to be confirmed. But obviously the likelihood is that it's the same one that escaped from the Pirbright site and triggered last month's outbreak 30km away.

We thought it was all over. It isn't now.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Dog bites man: well where do you think the foot and mouth leaked from?

We had the anti-big business voices decrying Merial from the word go, with not so much as a skerrick of evidence, on the basis that a big profit-driven corporation was obviously not going to care as much about releasing a nasty virus as much as a decent public-service laboratory.

Well I've met folks from both establishments and I'm happy to stand up and say that they're equally nice, equally conscientious, equally well qualified.

The facilities they occupy are about equally well-designed. One is knocking on a bit. One isn't.

And the other area where the two are not entirely equal is in terms of finance. Merial is well-funded. IAH isn't.

That's not to say that Merial isn't efficiently managed. Of course it is or it wouldn't be the size that it is today. But IAH has been run on a shrinking government shoestring for quite some time and I'm willing to bet that by comparison with Merial its maintenance budget is, well, shall we just say somewhat on the small side?

Martin Shirley has asked, repeatedly as I understand it, for additional funds to repair problems that he knew might pose a potential hazard. His requests appear to have been ignored.

It's the bureaucrat (or polititian) who decided against providing that funding who should be feeling the unwelcome warmth of the spotlight today, not Professor Shirley.

And a final word on big business for those who were convinced from the off that Merial was the source: how could it possibly be in any company's commercial interests to hit the headlines for starting a disease outbreak among its own client base?


Mind you, in retrospect, (wonderful thing retrospect; ditto hindsight) I suppose Merial might be pondering the wisdom of disputing paying for repairs to the infamous pipe, even if the pipe in question isn't actually their responsibility.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Stopping the race that stops a nation? Say it ain't so!

Equine influenza is, obviously, never good news.

Distressing for animals. Distressing for owners. Taxing for veterinarians.

Troubling for everyone involved in equine industries.

But the news that Australia has detected the virus in recent days was more painful than tidings of your average outbreak.

The position of the Melbourne Cup in the psyche and the hearts of Australians is hard to convey to non-Aussies. "The race that stops a nation" is the accepted cliche. But, in common with most cliches, it's a truism.

On the first Tuesday of every November in every workplace, school and college, all productive activity ceases for the duration of the race itself and in most, a "Melbourne Cup lunch" ensures that little, if anything, actually gets done all day.

The Australian who hasn't got a stake in at least one Melbourne Cup sweepstake is a rare bird indeed. Betting shops routinely have queues out of the front door on the preceding Monday, mostly once-a-year punters who never have a flutter on anything else - but never fail to have their $1 on the Melbourne Cup.

It's more than a decade since I lived in Australia but one of my two tiny annual wagers is placed on whatever takes my fancy in the Melbourne Cup. And I have even been known to bake Lamingtons for my staff on Cup day...

To the best of my knowledge, the race has never previously been cancelled. To do so now is almost unthinkable.


In the face of a burgeoning equine 'flu outbreak, it's the only sensible course of action.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Foot-and-mouth? Or something else altogether?

For an (ex)journalist, I'm surprisingly moderate when it comes to conspiracy theories and hypotheses that are a bit out of the mainstream. I've come up with one or two in my time (anthrax killing Scottish heroin addicts a few years back springs to mind!) but only one or two. Well, three or four maybe. Tops.

If you number any journos among your social circle you will appreciate that this is a very modest number indeed, possibly because I'm also rather a skeptic by nature.

So, I am not going to expound at great length the thought that crossed my mind when I saw the location of the latest suspected case of foot-and-mouth in the UK - Romney Marsh on the far east coast.

I am simply going to share two things with you.

The first is a map. Roughly in the centre is Romney Marsh, to the left Pirbright, Surrey and to the right, well, Belgium, basically.

And the second is the fact that among the first clinical signs of both foot-and-mouth and bluetongue are "slobbering" and/or "excessive salivation".

Wonder which way the wind's blowing?