VEGA News Item

Tracing, Tracing, Tracing.. Bovine, Ovine.. What next? - 18/07/2005
Sheep and goats are now being implicated in the consequences of BSE, new CJD, and foot-and-mouth disease. "Ethnic cleansing" of ovine genotypes susceptible to insidious transmissible encephalopathies is being carried out. Extermination of the whole British flock of over 15 million sheep is being entertained as an awful possibility if sheep and goats become innocent carriers or reservoirs of new plagues, some of them "jumping" speceis. VEGA comments on a DEFRA consultation, available on DEFRA's closed consultations after the 25th July 2005.
Blue virus is spreading northwards, bird flu remains a threat beyond the terrorists present evils, and West Nile virus lingers menancingly. Tracing sheep by clipping tags into their ears is the crude method the EU and DEFRA are toying with. It's not good enough. Sheep and goats suffer enough already; mutilations that no pet- or horse-owner would brook for their animals in transit should not be routine for millions of ovines. We argue the animals' case in consultation with DEFRA. No pulling wool over VEGA's eyes.

Re: European Council Regulation (EC) 21/2004 Regarding the Identification of Sheep and Goats

Our website gives indications of our interest and status in the present subject, especially as regards stresses on farm animals in rearing, movements, transport, collection, and slaughter. Customers buying and using meat and milk, and by-products and co-products such as wool and skins are accomplices in a farming industry that inflicts enough stresses on sheep and goats already without the practices for identification of individual animals proposed for these animals, for whom individual care is a remote possibility coming nowhere near to the veterinarians’ professional vows to strive to the utmost to ensure the wellbeing of the animals.

1. The farmers’ callous remark that “a sheep’s main objective in life is finding ways to die” illustrates and affirms our criticism of the industry. Statements in the DEFRA publication product code PB10771a, 2005 (page 3, para 2.3.5), for example, reinforce fundamental objections to a form of livestock trading in urgent need of curtailment and reform. Round up for sheep for bouts of inoculations, treatments with drugs, and in transport, markets, lairages, and slaughterhouses present many opportunities for transmission of infections and from septic injuries caused by obstacles in the animal’s path, as well as from the original act of tagging (which is tricky with the small ears of lambs and goat-kids). All the wheeling and dealing revealed in the latest foot-and-mouth disaster seems likely to continue, as do present opportunities for injuries, cruelty and fraud. Objectors to food miles (until recently, it must be admitted, coy over the years of sea miles for sheep meat shipped from the Antipodes) have further cause to complain of the hoof miles sheep are subjected to, with consequent risk of injuries associated with ear-tags. The DEFRA material offers no assurance that the proposed means and changes of identification affect the animals’ sense of being and perception and thus enhanced risk of injury and clumsiness, loss of balance, and means of defence and escape.

2. The “ethnic cleansing” of sheep and goats culled as genotypes likely to be implicated in outbreaks of BSE masquerading as scrapie raises doubts that impairments of some sort may emerge in animals lacking the specific SNPs. Susceptibility to infection from injuries to the ears may thus increase.

3. Extension of means of identifications and traceability must be considered widely with possibilities of hitherto unconsidered zoonotic transmissions in mind. Movements and migrations in wildlife, possibly as a result of climate change and the spread of cheap travel by human animals, set reinforced standards for tracing viruses, bacteria, and prions in the environment. Needs for quarantining, containment, and culling are occurring on a great scale and cross-infections and mutations throw greater emphasis on the evils of the stresses of crowding, intensification, and transport in species including non-ruminant livestock, especially pigs. Common methods of identification must be devised. In the farming contexts in the UK we include consideration of the following species, in kept, feral, and wild conditions, as well as cattle, sheep, and goats (and humans).

• Deer
• Swine
• Ostrich
• Buffalo/bison
• Reindeer
• Camelids (e.g. llamas)
• Equines
• Collections (which may include exotics) in zoos, circuses, and the pet trade, and centres for rescued and convalescent animals and for rehoming or release to the wild.

4. Methods other than ear-tagging are under investigation now as feasible alternatives, e.g. for the identification and veterinary control in the international traffic in domestic pets. Equines also attract similar means of identification, which are being further developed for ID in humans, for whom genomic methods show promise and possibilities for other animals. Microchips may be unreliable owing to movement within the body and would entail much more care and supervision than is presently accorded to sheep and goats which, however, deserve attention equal to that expended on pets. “Bullets” (i.e. boluses) of marker products seem worthy of trial. (“Slugs” of cobalt-containing materials are used as insertions into the gastrointestinal tracts of ruminants likely to suffer from vitamin B12 deficiency). Application of methods of humane and unobtrusive identification for research on wild animals, including birds and fish, may seem to be developments worthier than festooning and mutilating animals with identifications at least of the crude pressures of the market, rather than marks of good husbandry. At the moment even the labelling of the meat and its origins fails to achieve standards set by the FAWC and other welfare organizations (e.g. to indicate methods of slaughter).

5. Until better means of identification have been established for all livestock reforms for the husbandry of sheep and goats must, in harmony with changes in the CAP and with good husbandry practice, assure the animals of care and supervision on a daily basis at close quarters. All invasive and mutilating procedures should be done by vets. Hoof miles should be kept to a minimum, and no livestock be transhipped. Direct transfer from farm to slaughter, avoiding intermediate marketing and dealing must be established.

6. All efforts at treating farm animals as individuals are welcome, but fundamental reforms based on welfare and interactions among species – domesticated and wild – together with more rigorous long-term efforts at policing and countering terrorism must be manifest while attempts, possible short-term and temporary, are rushed through and are likely to be modified or superseded.

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