FMD 2007 – does Defra need more natureheads?

2007 © Jason P Ball

Might Defra benefit from a bit more ecological thinking? Defra’s culture seems to be much more bureaucratic than scientific. And as such the department lacks a bit of leeway for the ‘nature doesn’t read the textbook’ factor.

FMD is still out there. Farming’s being shut down again. Reading the latest worried comments from farmers and blogs like Sheepdrove Organic Farm – it’s as if farming is being sidelined while the dedicated department gets on with dealing with something else completely.

So I can’t help but think there’s a few cogs missing from the Cobra thinktank. A highly efficient planning machine brought out for emergencies to help Defra ride roughshod over rural communities – closing down rights of way, culling animals, calling a halt to farm trade.

And when all’s quiet, they stop worrying, and let the countryside get on with things again. But obviously their faith in FMD’s disappearing trick was false. Just as their confidence in old pipework led to this outbreak… now leaky thinking seems to be letting them down. Are they too eager to please?

Nobody likes the ‘cull first, ask questions later’ attitude to animals, nor the countryside closures, and Defra desperately try to please different sides, the media, the NFU, the landowners and the big british meat traders, and the voters. So Defra’s chiefs are too keen to see the ‘all clear’ when they should be thinking more flexibly.

It was obvious that THE VIRUS COULD STILL BE OUT THERE. And it was. You just have to know a bit about how the virus gets about… in cloven-hoofed animals and through the industrialised meat trade. Yes, transport is the biggest spreader of Foot and Mouth Disease. But back to cloven footprints crossing the countryside. I’m talking about the wild deer of Surrey. Did Defra forget about those? They seem to have assumed that if farm animals were healthy for a few weeks, that all was well. (Like, Hilary dude, if you can’t see a pipe leaking, it’s probably OK. Don’t fix it if it ain’t — oh sh*t.)

Ecological thinking often doesn’t give you neat answers, or the sort of answers that some people want. In the same way, vaccination doesn’t fit their thinking. The strict boxes of meat trade bureaucracy is like an antique fitted kitchen that they can’t use properly, but can’t be bothered to change.

Vaccines against FMD are effective, monitoring test methods are internationally recognised, why doesn’t the UK get on with it? No, because it takes years to change trade rules, and immunised animals living in the UK would force us to do just that. Generates the wrong type of paperwork! Let’s keep things as they are.

Let’s not.

2007 © Jason P Ball


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