Snags for Deniers that H5N1 Poses no Threat. Global Warnings.
Last Tuesday morning, the 30th January, 71 dead birds were found on the Bernard Matthews farm at Holton in Suffolk. It is near Halesworth, and not far from Southwold, which is farmed for Adnams brewery and for its delights for tourists and foodies. The next day there were 186 deaths and on Thursday, 860 birds had died. By the time vets from DEFRA called for assistance by a private practitioner arrived the toll had mounted to 2,600 deaths. Blood from the corpses was sent to the labs, where it was found on the Friday night that avian flu had struck and just before Saturday, the 3rd February, confirmation that it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 variant was established. These events ensued shortly after an emergency exercise, Winter Willow, to prepare civil servants, government agencies, and the emergency services for a large-scale pandemic scenario. The second phase of this exercise was due later this month; it was intended to test the effect that rapid spread of a potentially deadly mutated strain of the H5N1 virus would have on the country's services, economy and society. The outbreak at Holton may provide a foretaste or worse of such a catastrophe.
The turkeys at Holton had been kept in 22 houses each containing about 7,000 birds. The premises are like many others in East Anglia and built along now-unused WW2 runways on airfields used by British and American aircraft and by other Allied air forces. On Saturday the 3rd February DEFRA and the police declared a surveillance zone in a 10km (6 mile) radius around the affected farm, within which other poultry farmers were ordered to keep all their stock indoors and away from wild birds. Movement of birds was also restricted, except for slaughter. Wild flocks were being watched for signs of avian flu and clues on their movements. DEFRA was about to announce similar restrictions to a much wider area covering east Suffolk and southeast Norfolk. Anyone finding wild gulls, waders, ducks, geese, or swans within that zone has been requested to phone DEFRA on 08459 335577. All but essential movement in and out of the farm at Holton has been stopped. Visitors are being disinfected. Anyone with poultry within the restriction zone of 800 sq miles has been told to keep them inside and out of the way of wild birds, ensuring that they weren't sharing water supplies. Birdwatchers at a wetland area close to
the farm were replaced by DEFRA officials on the look out. Up to about 60 staff at Holton have been offered the antiviral drug Tamiflu at an emergency clinic in the nearby market town of Halesworth. Vaccination is not being resorted to. Pigeon racing, bird shows and, we presume, shoots in the restricted areas will be banned (the season for pheasant shooting has just ended). Schools may have to be closed and their catering modified. Keepers of ornamental and hobby flocks will also be affected. Cats carry disease, but pet owners are not at the moment receiving any warnings.
Vets garbed in protective suits and wearing masks have been making preparations for the slaughter of the remaining 159,000 birds on the farm. They will be collected in crates and transferred into a newly-designed mobile gas chamber to be suffocated by argon gas. The carcases will be incinerated. (We note that poultry "waste" is used in the furnaces of electricity generators - biofuel - in East Anglia). These events and probably sequels demonstrate challenges to animal welfarists, "organics", foodies, and environmentalists, and they throw special responsibilities on advocates of free range systems and owners of backyard flocks. The birds at Holton were 56 days old and housed in an enclosed environment. They were a month away from slaughter. Stores of feeds and bedding (poultry - litter) may be contaminated (clothing and footwear may be contaminated with dried faeces and fomites).
The major supermarkets and DEFRA and Matthews' officials are assuring the public that the danger has been contained. However, they fear a collapse of the poultry market on the basis of comparable events in other EU countries. Poultry exports from the UK to the rest of the EU may still proceed, but other countries may jib at imports of British meats, arguing that the UK's Biosecurity has failed again. Waterfowl are suspected as the likeliest carries of infection. Ducks and geese carry the infection with little sign of disease; domestic birds are much more vulnerable.
Charlotte's Web is a film, to be released next Friday, the 9th February, in the UK. It is a forerunner come lately of the film Babe, which attracted a lot of attention at its launch a few years ago and will continue in repeats for a long time.
Whereas Babe concentrated on one pig and his relationships with a range of other animals (including the human sort), Charlotte's Web contrives a more intimate study of a pig and a spider.
The trailers and advertorial explain: "The picture tells the story of a young girl, Fern, who rescues a piglet named Wilbur from slaughter. Charlotte, a spider who lives in the same barn as Wilbur, then takes up his cause, conspiring to keep the wee porker from the frying pan by spinning rave reviews about him in her web." She spins and spells out a thesaurus of descriptions surpassing even the most adept doctors of the genre. To make the idea work, the film makers had to prove that theirs was an oeuvre "in which you grow to love a character that is initially repulsive" (and so much so that he doesn't rate a pronominal who). The film "is refreshingly straight with its young audiences about what exactly the spider does." Wilbur gasps: "You eat flies?" The spider replies: "I just drink their blood."
The animal trainer comments on his tasks: "There's a whole methodology that's similar to teaching children: you need love, understanding and discipline. And it's important to look at a situation and put yourself in the animal's position." Anthropocentrisms still surface and arise again with record of "the wait for 7 or 8 hours for a cow to lift its head in the right direction."
This second instalment of busy activities in September 2006 requires a special bulletin on our week's attendance at the Festival of Science; in particular, one whole day, doing Africa, needs special consideration.
The Africa Day of the Science Festival in Norwich was preceded by a week or two by the Second Africa Nutritional Epidemiology Conference hosted by the University of Ghana and held at the Executive Conference Centre in the country. The Nutrition Society's Gazette (December 2006, Issue 31) rated it a "very successful conference, which attracted delegates from Africa, Europe, South America, the Indian subcontinent, and the USA."
Africa now faces a double burden of disease, having recently experienced a rapid nutritional transition following the demographic change that started about 3 decades ago. The current burden of non-communicable disease in developing countries is about 78%, compared with 21% in industrialized countries. This burden adds to the increasing rates of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and morbidity and mortality, plus childhood malnutrition and mortality due to diseases actually preventable by vaccination that are "a direct result of increasing poverty and civil instability in a number of countries". Debt, corruption, and the ravaging of natural resources (e.g. of forests) add to the problems; and the demographic challenges are amplified by the ill-treatment of women, who are in many areas both child producers and farmers, Given that a human female enters her fecund years at the age of 15, and reaches her menopause at 50 years old and that the "calving cycle" (as farmers of bovine livestock would put it) is about 3 years - 9 months' gestation and 2 years of breast-feeding and, accordingly, moderate contraception - she is able to produce 11 or 12 offspring - or more if they arrive as twins or triplets - in her lifetime.
Website stats for 2005 and 2006 show that the VEGA website enjoyed a doubling of visitor numbers over the past year.
Total sessions served (i.e. visits) was 123,336 last year, up from 54,893 in 2005. Total pages served was 166,927 last year, up from 86,605 in 2005. The average visit duration, however, was down slightly.