Caroline Allen

Caroline Allen

Friday, 7 November 2014

Letter to the Prime Minister on bTB and the Badger Cull.

The Rt Hon David Cameron MP
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

6  November 2014

Dear Prime Minister

Bovine tuberculosis control

We are concerned that whilst Wales has nearly halved the number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) over the last five years, there has been little change to the levels of bTB in England during this time.

Wales has reduced the number of cattle slaughtered per annum from 11,671 in 2009 to 6,102 in 2013 and the decline is continuing.  Similarly the number of new herd incidents in Wales since 2008/09 has reduced by approximately 36%.

The Welsh Assembly Government has achieved this reduction by undertaking a) a TB Health Check in 2008/09 which established with accuracy the level of infection across all the cattle in Wales in the shortest period of time; b) imposing strict annual testing and mandatory pre-movement testing across the whole of Wales since 2010 and c) enforcing robust biosecurity, among other cattle-focussed measures.

By contrast, the UK Government and Defra have expended considerable time, effort and resources on the promotion and implementation of badger culling, as a means of controlling bTB in England.  Furthermore, the modus operandi for badger culling adopted by Defra is markedly different from the protocol used in the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT). From the information available so far it is not clear whether the forecast net reduction of 12-16% in new herd incidence of bTB over the next nine years will be achieved or how this will be measured.  

While Defra has been steadily increasing the areas under annual and pre-movement testing in the South West and West of England since 2009, these measures were only extended across all the counties in the High Risk and Edge Areas in 2013.  It is important to note that in the West Region of England, which has been under annual and pre-movement testing since 2010/11, the number of cattle slaughtered due to bTB fell by 12% between 2012 and 2013 and this decline is continuing in 2014.                                                                                           

However, unlike Wales, England still has substantial parts of the country, with significant cattle populations, under a four yearly testing interval and not subject to mandatory premovement testing in what is termed the Low Risk Area.  Under this testing regime there is no way of accurately knowing what the disease status of the so called Low Risk Area actually is and there is a high probability of onward transmission of undetected disease

In addition, the high profile and significant resources directed at the badger cull by Defra appears to have led to a belief among many in the livestock industry, the NFU and farmers that such strict cattle measures are not necessary to control bTB.

If we are to control bTB in England, as Wales is showing it is able to do, we consider that a fundamental change in emphasis and direction is needed.  The time, effort and resources directed at the badger cull should be re-directed into a) a TB Health Check for England to establish the true extent and distribution of the disease in our cattle herds; b) considerably more testing in the Low Risk Area with the implementation of nationwide annual testing and c) the introduction of mandatory pre-movement testing and risk-based trading across the whole country.

At the same time the livestock industry, NFU and farmers must be made aware that such cattle controls are essential if bTB control is to be achieved. 

We therefore urge that no further badger culling takes place and that Defra now moves swiftly to implement an intensive cattle testing programme, as detailed above, across the whole of England.  Only then will the UK begin to achieve the substantial reduction in bTB that we all wish to see.  If it would be of any assistance to discuss these matters further representatives from the signatories would very much welcome the opportunity to do so.

We enclose with this letter an Appendix setting out the information and data submitted in support of the matters raised above.

Yours sincerely

List of signatories:

Marc Abraham  BVM&S MRCVS CEVA Special Recognition Award for Animal Welfare 2012. Grove Lodge Veterinary Group, 21 Southwick Street, Southwick, Brighton BN42 4AD

Caroline Allen  MA VetMB CertSAM MRCVS. 226-228 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 3AP

Heather Bacon BSc (Hons) BVSc CertZooMed MRCVS. 20/3 St Peters Place, Edinburgh EH3 9PQ Professor

Tim Blackburn, Department of Genetics, Evolution & Environment, Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, Darwin Building Room 118, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

Jan Bayley, Animal Welfare Group, Ashmead House, 3 The Common, Siddington, Cirencester, Glos, GL7 6EY

Chris Cheeseman BSc (Hons), PhD, St Annes, Brownshill, Stroud, Glos. GL6 8AP

Tim Coulson, PhD, BSc, Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK

Fiona Dalzell  BVSc BA (Hons) MRCVS. P.O. Box 36714, Merivale 8146, Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dr Sarah M Durant, Theme leader People, Wildlife and Ecosystems, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London, NW1 4RY, UK

Bronwen Eastwood  BSc (hons) BVetMed CertGP (SAP) MRCVS. Wilbury Veterinary Surgery, 20 Wilbury Avenue, Hove BN3 6HR

Richard Edwards MSc, MA, VetMB, MRCVS. Foxfield, Slindon Bottom Road, Fontwell, West Sussex BN18 0SN

Phill Elliott  BVM&S MSc MRCVS. 9 Hunt Rd, Earls Colne, Essex CO6 2NX Nigel Finch FIAgrE, Farmer, Vice President CRAG, Woodlands, Chedworth, Cheltenham, GL34 4NT

Tim Hounsome  BSc (Hons), MRes, PhD., MBOU, MCIEEM. 3 Lower Swainswick Cottages, Gloucester Road, Bath, BA1 7AR

Mark Jones  BVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS   Born Free Foundation, Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road, Horsham, W Sussex RH12 4QP

Andrew Knight  BSc (Vet Biol) BVMS Cert AW DipECAWBM (AWSEL) PhD MRCVS FOCAE. 189 Liberty Place, Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8JZ

Jo Lewis  BSc BVMS (Hons) MRCVS. 138 Chobham Rd, Sunningdale, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 0HU

Iain McGill BSc (hons) BVetMed MRCVS. 81 Stanmer Park Road, Brighton, BN1 7JL

Alastair MacMillan   BVSc MSc PhD FRCPath MRCVS, former RSPCA Chief Scientific Officer. Pointers, West Chiltington Rd, Pulborough, W Sussex RH20 2EE

Andre Menache   BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS. Flat 5, 49 Granville Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 1HB

Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY

Timothy J.Roper  MA PhD. Emeritus Professor of Biology, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QG.

Richard Saunders  BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS CertZooMed DZooMed (Mammalian) CBiol MSB. 33 Cleeve Road, Bristol BS4 2JR

Peter Southgate  BVetMed MSc MRCVS. 61 Ferry Road, Sudbourne, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 2BJ

Paul Torgerson  PhD DECVPH VetMB MRCVS, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology, University of Zurich. Section of Epidemiology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, Winterthurestrasse, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland

Prof Rosie Woodroffe, Institute of Zoology, Regent's Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

Monday, 20 October 2014

Stop This Pointless Killing.

As the badger culls come to an end for the second year the Green Party has again condemned the government for pursuing this cruel and completely unnecessary policy. We call for an immediate end to the killing.

The Green Party has been opposed to the badger cull from the beginning on grounds that it is unscientific, unethical and will cause great suffering. Yet even after we were proved correct last year -when the Independent Assessment Panel confirmed that the culls had been ineffective and caused suffering- this government has inextricably ploughed on, throwing good money after bad. This year there has not even been proper independent assessment.

Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, proposed the motion in parliament that called for the cull to be abandoned and has been one of the most passionate speakers in Parliament against the cull. Once again Greens have led the way in opposing animal’s cruelty and others have followed.

I've been very active along with other vets in campaigning against the cull on scientific and ethical grounds and Greens for Animal Protection are active across the country in marches and demos.

It is unbelievable that this Government are continuing to fund animal suffering after the shambles of last year’s pilot culls, the news so far suggest this year is just as bad. In the meantime Wales have been doing what we suggested, concentrating on cattle. The results in Wales are impressive, they have reduced the number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered as a result of TB testing by more than 50 per cent since 2009, without killing a single badger. Data on new herd incidents in Wales for the 12 months to the end of March this year showed a 22 per cent reduction on the previous 12 months, with the number of cattle slaughtered down by a third over the same period. 

When will Defra and this Government end its ridiculous and deeply damaging obsession with killing badgers?


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Political Priorities Gone Wrong in Islington

Last Thursday evening I attended what turned out to be a depressing meeting of my local council, Islington. Already a good example of our democracy gone wrong; where 98% of the councillors are Labour and yet only 57% of residents voted Labour. The sole opposition is a Green, Caroline Russell. 

On Thursday Caroline was proposing her first motion asking the Council to support the ‘Renter’s Manifesto’ of the campaigning group Generation Rent.  Caroline spoke passionately about the issues facing renters in the Borough, of insecurity - eviction by landlords who want to raise rent, fear of eviction if health and safety breaches are raised and poorly insulated, inadequately heated accommodation.

This is the motion:
SUPPORTING THE ‘RENTERS MANIFESTO’
Proposer: Cllr Caroline Russell
This Council notes - The 'Renters manifesto' published by Generation Rent, which would bring considerable improvements to the lives of private tenants in Islington. Council supports measures such as longer tenancy agreements, rent stabilisation policies, longer notice periods for tenants and a ban on letting agent fees charged to tenants, which would need to be brought in through national legislation. Council also supports measures that could be implemented locally, such as greater support for Community Land Trusts, targeted incentives for landlords, a not-for-profit letting agency and the promotion of model tenancy agreements through planning agreements.

This Council resolves – To ask the Executive Member for Housing & Development to set out his response to the manifesto and plans to develop its proposals; and to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government requesting that the Government consider implementing the manifesto in full.
Ends

This motion surely ought to be uncontroversial to a Labour Council. Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson proposed the same motion to the London Assembly, it was supported unamended by the Labour Assembly Members.

But in a perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with party politics the council decided that rather than be seen to support a Green motion about renters they would take time and effort to turn it in to a glorified Labour press release. 
We don’t deny that the council are doing some good work on this issue, but in rejecting the Generation Rent manifesto because of party politics they have left out some key points; such as 5 year tenancies and Community Land Trusts. Not only that but their cynical refusal to work with the sole Green councillor is exactly the sort of behaviour that is turning people off politics completely.

The Leader of the Council actually walked out during Caroline’s speech, her maiden one, in what appeared very like a snub not only to Caroline but to the renters she was speaking about. And when problems with the microphone meant the volume was a little high one councillor (with in my experience a history of interrupting and condescension, particularly to women) heckled that his ear was bleeding. He was curiously silent when the same misfortune befell one of his own councillors.

Rather than a mature body making important decisions affecting a Borough the council chamber felt like a playground where the bullies have taken over.

I was really proud when Caroline called out their behaviour in a passionate speech asking why the Council had to make this issue all about them, rather than the people they were elected to serve.

The Labour councillors then wasted about 20mins reading off long grandstanding speeches about the threat to Islington from a possible ‘underground motorway’, one of the Mayors hare brained schemes. When Caroline, a transport expert, said she supported their motion but  suggested the tunnel was extremely unlikely to happen and perhaps their energy should be focused on real transport issue, Mr Condescension decided to accuse her of supporting the tunnel! 

There has been a lot of discussion about the distance between people and politicians recently, people are sick of distant politicians who have never had a proper job and don’t understand the real issues. With Islington Council having a reputation for developing significant number of future Labour MPs the culture in the chamber last night does not bode well for that party.

This is the Labour motion below. Caroline supported it because this is an important issue but she did so ‘feeling sick to my stomach that fellow councillors have chosen to use their time and energy for political point scoring rather than on making things better for people’. I couldn’t agree more.

Amendment to Supporting the ‘Renters Manifesto’ Motion
Moved by Cllr James Murray
Seconded by Cllr Osh Gantly
Amend motion to read -
This Council notes:
- The 'Renters manifesto' published by Generation Rent, which shares many of
the Council's concerns about the private rented sector.
- That the Executive Member for Housing and Development has been in
discussions and meetings with Generation Rent to begin working together on
common goals.
This Council further notes:
- That the Council is leading the way on tackling issues affecting residents in
the private rented sector by developing plans for a not-for-profit lettings
agency that will offer private tenants and landlords a trusted and affordable
alternative to expensive or rogue lettings agents.
- The Council has supported private tenants in the borough in setting up
Islington Private Tenants to provide advice and to campaign for decency,
affordability and security in the private rented sector.
- The Council is collecting evidence to potentially establish one of the first
landlord licensing zones in Central London and has taken enforcement action
against private rented properties that were in breach of planning permission or
were in a poor condition.
- That alongside the Council's action to help those residents living in the private
rented sector, the Council is delivering the biggest building programme in a
generation of affordable homes and homes for social rent, and is committed to
protecting social rents for Islington's council tenants and to fighting to keep
rents genuinely affordable for housing association tenants.
- The Council's support for measures such as longer tenancy agreements, rent
stabilisation policies, longer notice periods for tenants and a ban on letting
agents' fees charged to tenants. These measures, and others, have been
called for by the Administration since 2010, featured in a Private Members Bill
tabled by the Member of Parliament for Islington North in 2013 and have been
adopted by the Labour Party as policies which will be implemented by the
next Labour Government.
This Council resolves to:
- Continue making a difference for private tenants in Islington with innovative
policies and to work with Islington Private Tenants to campaign for a fairer
deal for residents.- To welcome and support the Member of Parliament for Islington North’s
Regulation of the Private Rented Sector Bill 2012-13.
- To continue to make representations to both political parties, the Mayor of
London, and future Mayoral candidates, for more radical action to tackle the

housing crisis in London across tenures.

Friday, 26 September 2014

An exciting time for London Green Party

This Sunday is the deadline for London Green Party members to vote in the election for the London Officer positions. 

I am standing, as a job share with Tom Chance, to be Coordinator of London Green Party (more properly know as London Federation of Green Parties to reflect our role in supporting local Green Parties).

This is an exciting time for the Greens with our membership growing rapidly and the media finally starting to show signs of sitting up and taking notice. It is vitally important that London Greens are ready to make the most of these opportunities and that is why we are standing. 

This is our statement that has been sent out to all eligible voters: Please vote for us and give us a strong mandate for change and improvement within London Green Party.

'We believe that with more effective and strategic co-ordination, the London Fed could run much more powerful elections campaigns, and work with local parties and our elected members to make the Green Party in London a formidable campaigning organisation. At the moment we are under-performing due to unfocussed and uninspiring meetings, and un-coordinated efforts of officers and enthusiastic activists. We hope to harness the skills and energy in the party, building our capacity to win three London Assembly seats in 2016.

Caroline lives and works in Islington where she has been very active in the local party, working as part of the team that saw Caroline Russell elected as Councillor this year. Caroline was also the number two candidate for the Euro elections, so was heavily involved in the campaign to re-elect Jean Lambert MEP. Caroline works as a vet and Clinical Director and believes that she can ensure better organisation, communication and support for activists within London Fed.

Tom currently co-ordinates the team supporting Jenny and Darren at City Hall, and is an experienced manger and strategist. He lives in Bromley, has been Chair of Southwark Green Party for several years, wrote our 2012 GLA manifesto, and has visited many local branches in recent years in the Fed's Local Party Support and Policy positions.'

Please vote for us and give us a strong mandate for change and improvement within London Green Party.
Members can find out more about the AGM here: https://my.greenparty.org.uk/node/5717



Thursday, 24 July 2014

Badger Culling- Not In My Name.

Today the British Veterinary Association has come out in favour of ongoing badger culling. This is in spite of a damning report by the IEP (Independent Expert Panel) in to the culls last year, that found them to be both inhumane and ineffective. The BVA had said its support depended on the culls being shown to be humane.

I am extremely disappointed by this decision, as to me it flies in the face of what it means to be a vet- to avoid and prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals.



Firstly I would like to make it clear that the BVA does not represent the opinion of many vets on this subject. The BVA is a membership organisation of which I am not a member and nor are many of my colleagues. It claims to represent its members but no ballot has been taken over its position on the badger culls, with the decisions made by a number of committees.

It appears that the BVA has been placated by Defra's claims that it will all be different this time; that the killers will be better trained, that more badgers will be observed (60 is the figure mentioned), that there will be an independent auditor- although who it will be and the terms of reference are not known.
Sadly these promises sound empty to those of us who said last time that animals would suffer and this policy was doomed to failure and were proved right. We have no faith in Defra and their promises.

But the fundamental issue remains why Defra and the BVA are determined to push forward with this policy, that will undoubtedly cause suffering and waste more money when the evidence for it having any impact on bTB is so tenuous and weakening with every paper published. Is it pride, or politics, I honestly don't know.

The BVA policy paper goes further and claims if the culling stops now it will worsen bTB in the pilot zones, there is no evidence for this claim.
The BVA also state that it is the failure to tackle wildlife sources of infection that is prolonging the presence of bTB. There is no convincing evidence for these claims.
Meanwhile in Wales, where no culling is taking place but stronger cattle measures are in place, they are seeing dramatic and sustained reductions in the number of cases of bTB, far in excess of anything we are seeing in the UK.

I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that the suffering of badgers caused by culling can in no way be justified, especially given the nature of the evidence put forward by the BVA and Defra. Evidence that is extremely disputed and very far from convincing.

We once again call for the badger cull to cease based on ethical, humaneness and scientific concerns.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Another Day, Another Food Scandal.

Chicken is in the spotlight again after an investigation by the Guardian showed that food safety rules were being blatantly disregarded both on farms and in processing plants, increasing the risk from the potentially fatal food poisoning bug Campylobacter.

I strongly suspect this story will play just like the horse meat scandal did and the many food scandals that have gone before.
There will be the initial shock, the denials and investigations- yet  anyone who really know anything about the unregulated chaos that is our food chain won't be surprised at all. They'll just be annoyed that you are finding out about it.

People might avoid chicken for a bit, a few fines might be handed out, a few protocols changed and then it will all die down and everything will get back to normal. Until the next time.

The unfortunate reality is that behind these scandals is a food chain that is fundamentally broken, a powerful global food industry that is out of control and a food production system that is damaging our health, causing untold suffering to billions of animals and trashing the environment.

This Government is in thrall to this industry; it has cut the Food Standards Agency to the bone so that it can't seem to manage even its basic remit on food safety remit. The FSA itself also seems to be far too close to the industry it is supposed to be monitoring.
The good work that was going on; around areas such as nutrition, healthy eating and labelling ended with the Government's cuts.

It is surely time for a wider debate about our food system. Food prices are on the up and we are at the mercy of increasingly stormy global markets. Climate change is already impacting food production and across the globe meat consumption is increasing.

Intensification no longer looks anything like an answer. Terrible animal welfare leads to stressed animals, more susceptible to these infections. Massive inputs of energy and crops required to feed farmed animals. The overuse of antibiotics is driving resistance to these most crucial of drugs. Animal waste is a terrible pollutant. And the end product when consumed to excess, as we are encouraged to do, is shown to increase our risks of many life shortening diseases and is costing the NHS billions.

We need a Government that is willing to stand up to the food lobby and to start promoting food as it should be-affordable, healthy and of good quality. They have massive power through procurement and also education. Unfortunately as we have seen time and time again with this Government they will go with the money, not the good of the people of this country.

See you for the next scandal.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Vets Against The Badger Cull- lets end this scorched earth policy.

This letter, to which I am a signatory, was published in this week's Vet Record.

Dear editor
 
We note with interest Neil Howie’s call for reasoned alternatives to culling badgers and the current farming status quo (May 12th issue).
 
For the record, with the exception of our previously stated opposition to the badger cull, we do not sign up to any of the other views that he seems to believe we might have.
 
We wholeheartedly agree with him that as scientists campaigning on this issue we should provide reasoned alternatives to current practice, and we are happy to continue to do so through consideration of scientific evidence, and with concern for welfare and ethics.
 
BSE, FMDV and bTB have all caused serious problems for cattle over the past 25 years, and it is surely incumbent upon us to examine whether there might be underlying flaws in the farming systems which have precipitated or contributed to these problems.
 
Taking bTB in the dairy industry as an example. we have previously published our view that the extensive use of artificial insemination (AI) in the dairy herd has adversely affected herd immunity (McGill et al 2012) due to inevitable flattening of the gene pool (Goldmann et al 1990), with consequent loss of natural genetic variation and hybrid vigour.  Recent evidence has confirmed that there is genetic variation present in the bovine genome in respect of immune resistance to bTB (Bermingham et al 2014).  Sadly, in our headlong rush to squeeze just a few more thousand litres of milk per year out of each cow, we seem to have overlooked immunity as an aim.
 
Such immunogenetic incompetence, coupled with severe target-driven metabolic stress might be more appropriate aspects of TB susceptibility in cattle on which to focus, in order to effect change, rather than foolishly persevering with a scorched earth policy in an attempt to rid the environment of an organism which now occurs widely in nature precisely as a result of the cattle industry’s activities.
 
In the 1950s, using AI to increase milk yield must have seemed just the ticket, with austerity, rationing and under-production all prevalent at that time.  Human bTB was a priority too as people were still dying from it in their hundreds.  We are faced with an entirely different set of problems and priorities today.  bTB in the human population is no longer a major problem, whereas the pressure to produce food and milk at ever decreasing cost is resulting in increasing pressure on our cattle and our farmers.  One of us (PT) has published a detailed analysis of bTB control which calls into question current spending priorities, and describes an alternative paradigm for managing the disease based on current evidence rather than historic habit (Torgerson and Torgerson, 2009).  There is a seminar by two of us (MJ and IM) available at www.thewebinarvet.com/webinar/badger-culling-a-veterinary-perspective/, which elaborates both the science behind our opposition to the badger cull, and also provides an alternative view of the dairy industry, using the simple but novel approach of contemplating how a dairy cow might perceive the industry she works for.
 
We do not think that the over-riding priority for the countryside should be any one industry, practice or species, and certainly should not be the maintenance at all costs of cattle-related industries as currently practiced. We should be looking at ways to enable farmers to operate less intensive, more localised and more compassionate livestock production systems, perhaps by protecting British milk suppliers with a move from an open market based on cheapest price, to one based on higher quality and higher price - a system that actually reflects the production costs in a humane dairy system.

These changes are not easy, but they are possible - with a will, and with an openness to change.
 
We would point out to Mr Howie that if his wish is to feed 9 billion people (there are only 7 billion people currently) then dairy and cattle based food certainly isn’t going to be the answer. At a population of 9 billion, humans are just going to have to learn to eat a little lower down the food chain, and consume more protein and energy at source, rather than getting cattle to process it for them, wasting nutritional energy in the process.
 
A system more humane, more empathetic, and with a good deal less of the scorched earth about it is something we could perhaps all work towards formulating. 
 
Yours sincerely

etc
 
References
M L Bermingham, S C Bishop, J A Woolliams, R Pong-Wong, A R Allen, S H McBride, J J Ryder, D M Wright, R A Skuce, S WJ McDowell and E J Glass (2014) Genome-wide association study identifies novel loci associated with resistance to bovine tuberculosis. Heredity (2014) 112, 543–551
 
Goldman W, Hunter N, Martin T, Dawson M and Hope J (1991)
Different Forms of the Bovine PrP Gene have Five or Six Copies of a Short, G-C-rich Element within the Protein-coding Exon.
J Gen Virol 72 (1) 201-204
 
McGill IS, Menache A, Knight A, Allen C, Hill S and Eastwood B (2012) Bovine TB and badger culling. Veterinary Record 2012 171, 353-354
 
Torgerson PR and Torgerson DJ (2009) Public health and bovine tuberculosis: what’s all the fuss about?   Trends in Microbiology 18 (2) 67-72