In sickness and in health

In sickness and in health

Not quite plagues of Biblical proportions, but getting far too close for many farmers. Perhaps Summer 2008 will see locusts feasting across East Anglia…

We have had a year of disease after disease. Bird flu, foot and mouth, bluetongue, TB – all threaten the future viability of the UK livestock sector, farming livelihoods and organic production.

And unlike in the Bible, too many of these looming plagues are man-made. Bird flu in its most virulent form – H5N1 – is a product of over intensive poultry farming in the Far East jammed alongside wildfowl. Bluetongue has arrived in the UK due to man-made global warming; foot and mouth this summer escaped from a laboratory.
So what, as a nation, are we doing to clean up the mess and the threat we have so efficiently created? Too often our responses are staggeringly primitive – devoid of science, technology and imagination.

Take for example the current debate about controlling TB. We are told that the simple choice is between slaughtering badgers and slaughtering cattle. What barbaric people we have become.

A far more civilised approach is to explore natural immunity to TB in cattle – a trait thought to be expressed in African cattle bos indicus to a far greater degree than European cattle bos taurus.

Consideration urgently needs to be given to how individual livestock which have developed natural immunity to TB can be retained to build-up resistance in the national herd. Since the 1930s in the UK the slaughtering of all TB reactors has prevented this.

Of 68 recent TB research projects listed by Defra, not a single one has explored the question of cattle natural immunity. In its 2005 TB strategic framework document the Government never mentioned the term.

There is another way. Positive health lies at the heart of organic philosophy. And that’s why The Organic Research Centre is convening an Animal Health Summit, to devise a survival route through our storm of diseases – prevention, not cure.

Richard Sanders

Posted in EFRC, News and events