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Scottish stakeholders meeting on bluetongue
vaccination Monday 23rd June:
Teviot Scientific, Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie, Perthshire
Filed 25 Jun 08
So, as expected, no order has yet been placed for Bluetongue serotype 8 vaccine (BTV8) for Scotland.
Scottish livestock farmers were led to believe that an order for 12 million doses was imminent following the decisions made at the stakeholders meeting on 7th March (1). We were not told then that the tendering process would take over three and a half months, and it is still not complete. We still have no clear idea as to when the vaccine will be available, but it looks like not until December (with some 2 million doses at some undefined point in time in case Bluetongue v8 disease crops up in Scotland before then.
It took just over a month, from the time it was agreed that 12 million doses would be ordered for Scotland to the time when the order went out for tender. All that could have been done in advance of March 7th. We have known Scotland was at risk for getting Bluetongue disease this summer and through to late autumn for over a year.
What ever vaccine manufacturer it is that is going to get the order seems to have done trials that give assurance that BTV8 vaccination can be done alongside other treatments. It would appear that this was not thought through previously. But what "other treatments" does this actually cover? Other vaccines for example, or just worming and fluke prevention?
We do not really expect new cases of Bluetongue disease until July or August, so it is no great deal to say that there have been no new cases this year so far. The cases detected in 2008 were all infected in 2007, which in itself is worrying.
Is the EPIC epidemiological modelling study, commissioned by the Scottish Government, available in the public domain? It should be. It was supposed to have been ready by the end of April, then the end of May and it is now nearly the end of June. Where actually is it? Where can it be read? It is understood that the study was commissioned in December 2007, but that on account of contractual problems (agreeing costs) the contract was not placed until a month later.
The key outcomes of the Scottish EPIC Report are alleged to be
a. A minimum of 50% vaccine coverage over the whole of Scotland would significantly reduce virus incidence and spread.
b. The biggest direct cost are restrictions to cattle movements.
c. BTV8 break down would be severe on the cattle industry.
It would be interesting to read the evidence on which the remarkable statement is based that significant disease control is achieved with only 50% vaccination. It looks as though it is a smokescreen to cover the eventuality that the 2 million doses that may be available before December 2008 are not going to be enough to control Bluetongue disease if it arrives in Scotland before the winter. It sounds very odd to me.
While the biggest direct costs may well be in relation to the restriction of cattle movements, what about the massive costs that would be inflicted on livestock farmers should Bluetongue disease get a hold in Scotland? The £3m contribution from the Scottish Government would pale into insignificance, as the industry is lost, or at best severely damaged.
Without sight of the report itself one is left wondering what it has to say about the sheep industry.
I have been unable to find the Scottish EPIC Report on the Scottish Government's Animal Health website.
Of the three points listed above represent an accurate summary of the Scottish EPIC Report, one would have to conclude that the first point is gives a seriously wrong message, and livestock farmer has been well aware of the other two for a long time
There is, as ever, too much emphasis on trade considerations - rather than primarily concentrating on disease control to protect trade.
We see yet again the Scottish CVO using EC procurement regulations to create further delays and lack of communication with stakeholders. Stakeholders are just going to be told, with no say in the choice of tender, although they are paying a substantial part of the cost. I understand that there is plenty precedent for stakeholders being involved in Bluetongue vaccine purchase in England and Wales, and perhaps elsewhere on the continent of Europe. Yet again we see political correctness being counter productive and carried to extreme. If cost sharing between livestock farmers and the Government means anything it means sharing in decisions as to what is purchased and at what cost.
It is reported that the stakeholders were told at the meeting that If there is an earlier incursion of the disease, i.e. virus is declared to be circulating in Scotland before the Vector Free Period (VFP), the smallest possible Protection Zone (PZ)and Surveillance Zone (SZ) will be established in the first instance with a PZ expansion when the VFP is closer. This seems distinctly odd. Is it proposed because there is likely to be only 2 million doses of vaccine available, if any, before the Vector Free Period? The consequences for those affected would be dire. But are those farmers caught up in such a situation merely dismissed as 'losers'? It must be a very worrying time for livestock farmers in the Borders.
What Scotland needs is a better distribution of abattoirs so that beasts can be slaughtered locally and value added. Not only would they promote local food consumption but would greatly reduce the cost of movement restrictions. But the numbers of cattle in Scotland are probably reducing too fast for that to be a practical solution. Small abattoirs have been closing on account of the huge costs involved in running them through regulation.
The continuing uncertainty as to the availability of Bluetongue v8 vaccine in Scotland, and when it will be available, is not helping confidence in the industry, leading to further decline in livestock numbers. Livestock numbers are already threatening to fall below the critical number to maintain the industry. Obfuscation in the procurement of essential bluetongue vaccine is the last thing we need. Vaccination is the only effective weapon available to control BLuetongue disease, but it must be used properly to achieve that potential.
The livestock farming industry, and businesses in general, are for ever being told to consider risk assessment. Farmers have been doing that for generations. When the consequences of the risk going wrong are dire (as with Bluetongue disease) strenuous steps should be taken to avoid that risk. The fact is that, on account of inappropriate bureaucracy such as illogical EC rules on vaccination in disease-free countries (2), Scottish livestock farmers are being forced to accept serious risk that they would much like to avoid. Sadly, the means for them to do so are being unnecessarily compromised.
1. Irvine, James (2008). Scotland agrees at stakeholders meeting to order Bluetongue vaccine without further delay for all its cattle and sheep
See HOMEPAGE, filed 07 Mar 08, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View
2. Irvine, James (2008). The need for the NBA Scotland Petition for a change in EC rules regarding Bluetongue vaccination
See HOMEPAGE, filed 06 Apr 08, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View