Playing political games with spatchcocked policies and the wobbly statistics of bouncing polls serve the public ill when the environment is threatened with the severe consequences of zoonotic diseases and the food chain with the repercussions of global economics in the availability, distribution, and prices of staple crops.
During all the recent political frenzy a new and not altogether unexpected threat has emerged to worry farmers, environmentalists, animal welfarists, and consumers: the bird flu virus H5N1 has mutated in Europe and Africa to a form that makes it more infectious to people and raises the risks in a pandemic.
More than 30 countries have reported outbreaks of H5N1 in the last year. The disease is carried by movements of animals, especially seasonally, and by migrations of birds such as ducks and swans. The virus has infected 329 people since 2003, when the spread from Asia began, of whom 201 have died. In the UK the outbreak on Bernard Matthews' turkey farm in Suffolk, which entailed the killing of more than 100,000 birds, gave a warning. The disease was probably brought in by imports from his enterprises in Hungary. However, no human cases have been reported - yet - in the UK or Europe.
Recent samples of virus taken from birds in Europe and Africa all carry the mutation, which makes it likelier to grow in the nose and throat of humans, who have a lower body temperature than birds: the unmutated virus finds it difficult to grow in the cooler conditions in the human throat, so its transmissibility is reduced. The mutated forms can be regarded in this respect as closer to human-like flu. All flu viruses are evolving constantly, so further mutations in H5N1 are likely, with consequent warnings of outbreaks. However, in the last 4 years H5N1 has not broken out on a pandemic scale, but the threat of lethal strain lingers.
The Anti-Hunting Act Must Survive Elections Unscathed
The House of Lords will be ruling this Wednesday, 10th October on a human rights claim on the ban in the UK on fox hunting (which actually extends to other species included in “blood sports”). This will be an appeal in the long-running legal battle against the ban. Several legal challenges will be made under European human rights and trade laws.
The ban came into force in February 2005. Supporters of hunting claim that the Hunting Act breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. They base their case on Article 8: the right to respect for private and family life; Article 11: freedom of assembly and association; and Article 14: prohibition of discrimination. A legal challenge is also being made on the grounds that the Act may be in breach of European laws on the “free movement of goods and services”. The cases have already been rejected by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
The legal battle is being waged by the Countryside Alliance and the Union of Country Sports Workers, and by various individuals who claim their livelihoods have been affected by the hunting laws. The RSPCA has dismissed attempts at overturning the Act in the courts, claiming that it “has a legitimate aim and is proportionate and justified under European human rights law.” The future of the Act remains at risk. If the appeal is successful on human rights grounds the Countryside Alliance claims that the Court could declare the Act incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, although it would remain in force. However, if the ruling confirms a breach of European laws on free trade then it could be removed from the statute book. Pro-hunting campaigners would welcome such a decision.
Government officials give objectors’ chances of success little hope, in view of the failure of the Alliance’s previous failed challenges to the validity of the Parliament Act 1949, which established the procedures under which the Hunting Act was passed. The Lords will make their ruling after the appeal ends on Thursday, 18th October. The Countryside Alliance may still be able to pursue the case in the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights, if they fail in their appeal in the House of Lords. Animal welfare groups have heavy costs to bear in this litigation and in their pursuit of stricter enforcement of the Hunting Act, citing their concerns over allegations of continuing violations and avoidance of laws protecting the welfare of some wildlife species...
Read the full article here.
Daughter of Gummer Family Friend Dies from vCJD
Elizabeth Smith died on 4th October, aged 23. She was a victim – the 162nd – to die from vCJD, most of whom died as a result of eating infected meat in the 1980s. The BSE epidemic in dairy cows reached its peak in the early 1990s and John Major’s government tardily admitted a connexion between eating beef and vCJD in 1996. Elizabeth’s parents said that they discovered that she had vCJD on her 21st birthday.
Elizabeth had been studying at Birmingham University when CJD was diagnosed in March 2005. The symptoms were originally diagnosed as depression, but a likelier explanation for the numbness in her face was at that time multiple sclerosis (MS). Short-term memory loss developed, but she was able to continue at the university. However, by the time she was able to return home she had trouble swallowing and then she couldn’t swallow at all, so for her last 2 ½ years she was fitted with a gastro-tube. Elizabeth’s parents, Roger and Molly Smith, had to “watch the remorseless way that it killed her off”, in Molly’s words, echoed by Roger, who said that Elizabeth had been “clever, bright and intelligent… She wanted to do primary school teaching and had a place on a post-graduate training course at Birmingham… She had a very active life and loved being outdoors”.
Roger Smith is a retired vicar and a personal friend of John Gummer, who had been one of his parishioners. John Gummer is notorious as an Agriculture Minister pilloried in 1990 for trying to feed his daughter, Cordelia, a burger in front of TV cameras. “She shrank away from the burger, but he took a large bite himself, pronouncing it ‘absolutely delicious’” (The Times 12th October 2007). He is notorious for ridiculing parents and school governors who took beef off menus for children in their care and for dismissing vegetarianism and its advocates with contempt.
John Gummer has emerged recently as a co-author of a 500-word review of Defra-style policies rushed out for David Cameron as part of the stunt to pitch the country into turmoil of a sudden General Election. Nonetheless, the Smiths defended John Gummer, saying that “he had been unfairly treated in the press”, who lives nearby in Debenham, Sussex and was “unavailable for comment”...
"Chickens made a bid for freedom yesterday when a lorry they were travelling in crashed on the A80. No casualties were reported." Guardian, 12 October 2007
"Hundreds of chickens escaped from their coops yesterday after the lorry carrying them jack-knifed on the A80 near Haggs in Scotland, causing traffic chaos. Many of the chickens, which were on their way to a slaughterhouse, were killed in the crash." The Independent, 12 October 2007
"At 4.30am 3000 of the birds were being transported from farm to slaughterhouse when the lorry carrying overturned. The driver sustained serious back injuries, 400 birds died in the impact – or later from their injuries – but as dawn broke and the lorry lay on its side, thousands of chickens escaped from their crates and swarmed on the road… to dodge the dinner table and bring gridlock to Scotland." The Times, 12 October 2007
The Times report includes a statement from a passer-by at the scene: “There were dead chickens all over the road, live chickens running about everywhere, and policemen and chicken containers. The air was thick with feathers…”
Vets began to arrive at 7am. At 9.30am the operation to recapture the chickens was stepped up, with the arrival of specialist chicken handlers from Noble Foods in Glenrothes. “By now many of the chickens appeared to have lost the will to keep running,” reported The Times. Catriona Ewan, a vet involved in the clear-up, said: “Most of them were huddling together: they’re not used to being out of doors”. She estimated that she had “put down” up to 80 birds with broken wings or legs. “She had hoped to minimize the suffering, although she could not help feeling that this was superfluous considering the life expectancy of the chickens – broilers that are slaughtered while still young and tender” observed Catriona Ewan: “They don’t have the best life as a result of being farmed and were on their way to be killed, anyway”.
The survivors were eventually put back in the crates and transported to a processing plant in Gainsborough. Sympathy with the birds’ plight and respect for the vets’ professional vow to do their utmost for the welfare of the animals in his/her care apparently failed to take a few of the stray chickens to the nursery of the local veterinary hospital nor to forswear any further consumption of poultry...
Danger Lurking in School Meals. Children Poisoned. Guilty Butcher Sentenced
A long-established family butcher who was responsible for food-poisoning that killed a 5-year-old boy and infected 100 other children was sentenced on 07 September 2007 to jail for 12 months. The outbreak left some victims with long-term kidney problems. William Tudor, managing director of the firm that supplied school lunches across South Wales, had failed to observe “basic food hygiene precautions”...
A Lancashire Methodist Church may be entering a new incarnation in the planning department bestows its benediction. The church is at Catforth in Lancashire and Michael Clarke, who has bought it, is awaiting approval for his application to use the church for meat processing and offices...