VEGA News Item

BSE, foot-and-mouth..... Avian Flu Next? - 11/08/2005
These are zoonoses, but only one - FMD - excludes people from its pathogenic circle. But they can and could all - with some other global scourges - enter the UK, lodge in reservoirs mutating into insidiously augmented powers of mischief and resistance. More massacres of suspect livestock could ensue. We join in consultation with DEFRA on precautions and landing the expences on producers and vendors and their customers - rather than squandering them as yet more subsidies to the live/deadstock industry and its evil workings.
VEGA commetns on a DEFRA consultation

Re: Consultation on Proposed EC Directive on Controls for Avian Influenza

The messages and expense generated within recent years of BSE and foot-and-mouth disease are inadequately appreciated by the public, still oblivious of the real costs of cheap food (especially meat), transport, and holidays abroad. Bird flu poses the extra threat to us of the animal species that we are certainly involved in this zoonotic connexion; therefore, lessons learnt from the post-WW1 flu epidemic need rehearsing and reinterpretation. Books have been published on the subject and are rich pickings for meals of objective importance that journalists should be encouraged to review and digest. Zoonosis is still a word unfamiliar to the public complacent in the delusion that most viral diseases in nonhuman animals do not, like foot-and-mouth disease, cross into humans (although rabies, orf, and cow pox would be known to competent farmers). Bird flu is not the only looming zoonotic threat: west Nile virus is another.

Bird flu, like many other zoonotic diseases, has other unvoiced considerations in terms of animal welfare (human and non-human) with consequent implications of stress and disease among the prime factors of illfare. Marketing of livestock, whether at auction markets, in international travel and termini, or in rush-hour Tube trains are conditions that would be obvious opportunities to a novitiate terrorist. Animal welfarists are provoked into inadequate remonstrations and action over the massacres of livestock sacrificed in the greed for cheap food (which elicit feeble protests from what purports to be a Food Standards Agency), and spectacles and festivities involving crowded animals of various species, such as bull fights, the Pamplona run, and the Muslim hajj celebrations are avoidable hazards that almost certainly belittle the dangers of global movements and migrations of wildlife.

DEFRA’s urgency on these matters, together with EU initiatives, are praiseworthy, but the vast sums of money allocated for precautions, prevention of harm, vaccination programs, quaranting, and slaughtering out should be recouped from the industries (and ultimately their customers) that have precipitated the need for what can be regarded as follies and crimes more predictable than Acts of God. Outpourings of government moneys to repair some of the damage wrought by farming and food-production malpractice taxed the government to limits that it said it would no longer bear as a form of ill-deserved subsidy. The industry would thus have to pay for its own policing and indemnification; this would entail reforms and cost that ultimately the customer would have to bear, even at some loss of convenience and consumption (of foods that are anyway novelties dispensable in the excesses of factory-made mass production of what were once no more than seasonal treats and farmer’s wife sidelines).

Therefore we regret DEFRA’s apparently uncomplaining expenditure over bird flu, without strong signs that the polluter is going to pay. This should galvanize the industry into its own policing and restraints and towards research into less objectionable and dangerous practices. To this end we urge DEFRA to stimulate the FSA into a much sharpened interpretation to the consumer of the consequences, particularly in the exercise of the self-discipline of consumership. Both agencies have now an opportunity to express recognition and respect for organizations professing and acting on principles imbued with the inseparable good of animals, non-human as well as human. Any food standards must not ignore them.

Specific actions we advocate are:
• By levies, embargos, tariffs and barriers to restrict the entry into the EU, and particularly the UK, of poultry products. Much of the content of manufactured commodities now comes from suspect sources – the UK is no longer self-sufficient in poultry products. Such a well-grounded health precaution overcomes the unfettered marketing practices of free trade. A recent outbreak of Newcastle disease in the British bird population has prompted a voluntary export ban on all poultry products, in what seems to represent an apt precedent.
• All poultry products and ingredients on the British market should at least be labelled with the country of origin.
• Similarly, entrants into the UK need redoubled warnings on meat in all forms that they may be bringing in. Port authorities and Customs officials need similar and widely publicized warnings.

Supplies brought in for the catering in ships on aircraft should be similarly controlled and, if necessary, confiscated.

The foregoing measures may prove, unnecessary and precautionary stocks of vaccines may prove ineffective. Costly efforts in biotechnology may be needed in a hurry to produce vaccines to match mutations in the virus; and the public must be assured that British producers have the ability to meet this challenge and the requirements of other European countries and globally lacking such facilities. The British food industry must be prepared to share the cost of indemnifying the government for the appropriate cost of these precautions. The preparations may already be too late – the viral terrorists and their genetic equipment may already be at large and mutating in unknown reservoirs of potentially deadly pathogens.

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