Does the UK Government have plan for how to avoid a future pandemic?
The government’s principal public guidance on influenza pandemic risks fails to mention the zoonotic links of influenza A and the possibilities of reducing transfer of influenza A viruses from animals to humans in the first place. No mention ANYWHERE of trying to prevent a pandemic by reducing the number of factory farms.
The Government’s guidance to an influenza pandemic does recognise the need for a plan
“Inter-pandemic years provide a very important opportunity to develop and strengthen our preparations for the potentially devastating impact of an influenza pandemic, and the government will continue to take every practical step to prepare for and mitigate its health and wider socioeconomic effects.”
“The Department of Health (DH) is the lead department for planning for a human influenza pandemic. However, given the wide impacts of a pandemic all government departments are involved in planning to mitigate its impacts.”
🔗 Source: 🇬🇧 UK Government Guidance on Pandemic Flu
The UK government claim to be ‘preventing biological risks’ - but factory farming is never mentioned.
What the UK Biological Security Strategy has to say
“ ..we have well developed systems for knowing about and assessing risks on the animal/human interface, both national and international. We have embedded a strong ‘One Health’ 8 approach, including through regular meetings of UK Government and Devolved Administration experts at groups such as the Veterinary Risk Group, the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance Group and the United Kingdom Zoonoses, Animal Diseases and Infections Group. These forums consider emerging risks and identify, discuss and assess infections with the potential for interspecies transfer. We have also established a UK Government international health response network, which is responsible for scanning, preparing and responding to major international disease risks, on a One Health basis.”
This doesn’t sound like prevention
“The risk of high impact infectious disease is constantly changing. The continuing global trends of migration towards urban centres, and the expansion of international travel, increase the potential for diseases to spread. Other drivers such as changes in diets in urban populations and the rapidly rising demand for animal-sourced foods will increase the interactions between humans, domestic livestock and wildlife, changing the nature of the risk of new zoonotic outbreaks.”
Still not prevention
“In the UK For natural diseases (whether human, animal or plant), significant work is undertaken to address the factors that can make the emergence of natural disease outbreaks more likely. This includes public awareness campaigns about the importance of effective hygiene in disease prevention, comprehensive public vaccination programmes, and guidance on biological security for farmers and other growers. Alongside this is a focus on detecting outbreaks early (see next section) so that they can be swiftly addressed and their spread prevented.”
Again not prevention
Apparently DEFRA has responsibility for safeguarding but
“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has responsibility for safeguarding the natural environment against animal and plant diseases, flooding and other hazards, supporting the world leading food and farming industry in England, and sustaining its thriving rural economy. For deliberate animal and plant disease threats Defra is responsible for co-ordinating the national recovery effort.”
🔗 Source: UK Biological Security Strategy
What the UK Government Animal Health Act 1981 does to “Control Zoonoses”
Section 29 of the Animal Health Act 1981 (“the 1981 Act”) is entitled ‘Control of zoonoses’. It provides that with a view to reduce the risk to human health posed by diseases in animals Ministers may make Orders designating specific diseases as notifiable and to require information be provided; allows for inspections (supported by s.30 of the same Act); and measures to be taken in infected places. It does not concern measures to prevent zoonotic occurrences, but to require the reporting with a view to reactive control measures being taken once an infection occurs and has been identified
🔗 Source: The Zoonoses Order
APHA Animal and Plant Health Agency has an expensive strategic plan with prevention missing.
Received £1.4 billion of taxpayers money for one laboratory with no responsibility for prevention pandemics and doesn’t mention factory farming.
The 2020 - 2021 Responsibilities of APHA Animal and Plant Health Agency
- Identifying and controlling endemic and exotic diseases and pests in animals, plants and bees, and surveillance of new and emerging pests and diseases
- Scientific research in areas such as bacterial, viral, prion and parasitic diseases and vaccines, and food safety; and act as an international reference laboratory for many farm animal diseases
- Facilitating international trade in animals, products of animal origin, and plants
- Protecting endangered wildlife through licensing and registration
- Managing a programme of apiary (bee) inspections, diagnostics, research and development, and training and advice
- Regulating the safe disposal of animal by-products to reduce the risk of potentially dangerous substances entering the food chain
🔗 Source: We work to safeguard animal and plant health for the benefit of people, the environment and the economy.
🔗 Source: The Animal and Plant Health Agency receives £1.4 billion budget boost for world-leading Weybridge Laboratory
UK DEFRA has a transition plan called “The Path to Sustainable farming” but it only briefly mentions zoonotic disease risk.
In the forward, Rt Hon George Eustice Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says “So, as we contemplate the biggest change in agricultural policy in half a century, [he is referring to the end of the EU CAP ]we must design one that is not only right for the farmers of today but is also right for the farmers of tomorrow. In this moment of change, where, for the first time in fifty years, we have a chance to do things differently, we should think through from first principles what a coherent policy actually looks like and chart an orderly course towards it.”
Illusive Brexit Benefit found?
With the CAP out of the way,
In this moment of change, where, for the first time in fifty years, we have a chance to do things differently, we should think through from first principles what a coherent policy actually looks like and chart an orderly course towards it.
Over the last century, much of our wildlife-rich habitat has been lost, and many species are in long-term decline. I know that many farmers feel this loss keenly and are taking measures to reverse this decline; but we cannot deny that the intensification of agriculture and the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy have taken their toll on wildlife. To address this, we need to rediscover some of the agronomic techniques that my Great Grandfather might have deployed.
So what does the Path to Sustainable Farming amount to?
Barely mention zoonotic risk
“ Improving biosecurity on-farm and delivering better veterinary advice will help protect farmed animals from diseases, including zoonotic diseases which put human health at risk. This is part of the government’s sustained effort to take 'One-Health' approaches across humans, animals, the environment and food”
Avoid mentioning poultry or avian flu risk at all
In correspondence DEFRA stated the poultry sector “chose not to participate” at least in the first phase of the Pathway and expressed a hope that the poultry sector will be included within the pathway “in due course”.
The diseases specified are NOT zoonotic ones. This pathway seems to have been motivated by biggest cost to the industry, NOT biggest risk to human health or largest number of animals suffering. And as if to underline the point in the annex to the plan we read
of an intention to “Start by improving the way we manage within the existing rules and processes. From 2024 … We want to start talking to more people about: “
And what can we look forward to come 2024? when there may be a different government, and certainly a new minister, there have been 7 since 2016
🥱 Building trust and confidence in the regulatory system
🥱 Providing better advice and support
🥱 Working in partnership with industry
🥱 Creating a coherent way of working
A litany of vague uninspiring promises with prevention of course nowhere to be seen so much for a responding to an imminent risk and so much for a path to sustainable farming or
🔗 Source: The Path to Sustainable Farming: An Agricultural Transition Plan 2021 to 2024