Shambo: Part 3
Shambo & the sanctity of life – June 2007
There are a range of tests available and we hope that the Welsh Assembly; appreciating the sensitivity of the subject, will engage positively to enable these tests to take place.
It is important to understand that the animals at Skanda Vale are not farmed. The community is a unique place, because for us the sanctity of life is paramount and fundamental to our way of life and our pilgrims. As a major point of pilgrimage for people of all faiths, the community has a duty to uphold the highest human values and to show by example that all life is sacred.
Sorry to keep you all waiting, this update is long overdue. Shambo’s story is still travelling far and wide. On Wednesday, New Delhi television came out, and today Shambo was broadcast all over India. He also featured in the Spectator this week and has appeared on some of the more intelligent and informed websites.
The intention to slaughter Shambo, just in case he has Bovine TB, still remains. Thankfully Jane Davidson, the new minister for sustainability and rural affairs has now been appointed to the National assembly Government for Wales. We now anticipate the minister will acknowledge the aspiration of the Assembly Government to not only reflect but promote Wales as a truly multicultural society.
A clear indication of the governments commitment to all members of society would be a decision to use her discretion not to slaughter Shambo but to recognise that a simple, systematic and rational solution is available to accurately diagnose and if necessary treat him, thus respecting the sanctity of life and the religious values of Hindus and all those for whom life is sacred.
Some of the information released by the Welsh Assembly Government suggests that Shambo’s current condition poses a grave risk to public health and that he is suffering with disease. This is not true. There is no evidence that he is infectious and shedding TB bacteria and our vet has confirmed he is in excellent health. It is important that people are informed with accurate not hypothetical information concerning the law, public health and animal welfare issues.
Probably the most important way to help is for the community to personally lobby the Welsh Assembly and DEFRA to raise awareness of the negative impact a decision to cull Shambo would have on the ethnic Communities and the freedom to practice religion. A solution needs political will and the capacity to think outside the narrow constraints of set policy. There is always room for constructive dialogue and a solution for all parties can be easily reached without the need to kill or compromise animal welfare or public health. A precedent is not set because Shambo is not part of the farming model for which the current legislation was intended.
Ministry vets have visited Skanda Vale today and yesterday to carry out a routine bTB skin retest of the remainder of our herd of 52 cattle and water buffalo. We took the precautionary measure of recording all the testing on film. Its seems remarkable that a decision on whether or not to kill an animal is based on a vet gauging a fold of skin in millimetres with a calliper on an animal that is often nervous and moving around. Moreover, the result of the test is determined by in effect measuring the difference between two sets of separate measurements with one set being read 72 hours after the other, supposedly with the vet gauging exactly the same fold of skin.
Some of the cattle were nicked by the vet’s scissors, others scratched the injection site because of obvious irritation, immediately causing noticeable small swellings and cuts in the skin… Sometimes when the animals were nervous and moved or jerked slightly it was not entirely clear if the vet injected once or twice to make sure the injection went in the skin. From a lay person’s perspective we cannot see how a reliable result can be derived from such a procedure.
We have been tremendously encouraged by the immense support shown by Hindu organisations across the UK, including Hindu Forum Britain, The Hindu Council UK and the World Council of Hindus. All have expressed their grave concern about the proposed slaughter of Shambo to the new minister Jane Davidson. We have also received huge support not only from people living in Wales and the rest of the UK but also from aboard. This has come from people from all walks of life, all religions, races and cultures.
Our position is that there are accurate diagnostics available which should be used and TB is a treatable condition. Often in situations such as this it takes considerable political courage to make the first step in the right direction. We hope the new minister, coming from a background of championing social justice and equality, will rise to the challenge and actively engage with the Temple, the Hindu Community and all those for whom the value of life cannot be equated in purely economic terms, in order to find a solution which does not involve killing.
Part of the Temple discourse given today;
To obey the will of God is one the most difficult things for people to do in the pressure of today’s society but that is why we are doing what we are with Shambo. We have no choice. We can never allow any life entrusted to our care to be killed. He is a member of our family. There is a very simple solution here and that solution is for Jane Davidson, who is the minister in charge of making this decision to realise that Skanda Vale is a place of worship, it is a temple and that Shambo’s life is sacred here.
We are not a commercial farm. We never kill any animal. No animal leaves here. He was born here, he will die here naturally. If an animal is sick, we never put that animal down. We work with our vets and we are committed to spending as much money and as much time to care for life. We know what caring for life means. We have cattle here who are over twenty years old. We have cows that have not been able to stand up for over a year. We know how to care for them, to turn them over, to treat them like you would a person who is terminally ill.
We run a hospice eight miles from here, looking after people who are terminally ill. Our job is serving God in life, and the people in government need to realise that that is a world of difference from a commercial farm whose job is to kill to make money. It’s quite a clear difference. There are many advanced tests and diagnostics available for bovine TB, as there are for TB in human beings. Tuberculosis is treatable in animals, it can be treated in elephants, it can be treated in cows, it can be treated in gorillas, it can be treated in any animal. If you can treat it in a human being you can treat it in an animal. There just has to be the will to do this.”
How can you help us? You can help us by sending an email to Jane Davidson because she’ll be making a decision in the next few days. Express your reasons why Shambo should not be killed. It will be a desecration of life, a desecration of Hinduism and Sanathana Dharma and a desecration of a place of worship. There is no reason at all to take his life.
We have received a letter from The Welsh Assembly Govt legal department setting out their reasons why they have rejected our proposals for further tests. We have until friday to make further representations after which time a final decision will be made. It appears that economics and political pressure have once again usurped common sense and pragmatism. This decision should be based on actual risk assessed through testing and observation, not upon a hypothetical fiction that bears no relationship to the empirical evidence.
Some of you, who have written to Jane Davidson, will have had a reply with a link to “Shambo Frequently asked Questions” on the Welsh government website. (No longer available online). We would like to respond to the Assembly’s FAQ’s on Shambo:
Why does the Welsh Assembly Government believe Shambo should be killed?
Further to detailed representations via our solicitors Jane Davidson and her advisors have not made their final decision on Friday 29th as advised last Monday. Perhaps the realisation that their action to impose slaughter on Shambo is unlawful under ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) legislation has finally come. We are very conscious of the pain this issue is causing in the derrières of Government officials, but ministers are elected and paid to understand circumstances which do not fit into the present legislative framework and exercise discretion accordingly.
The TB skin test is widely acknowledged by experts to be badly flawed. We have asked WAG for the statistics to back up their claim of 99.9% accuracy and have not received it. The reality is this test relies on an operator measuring the difference in thickness of two folds of skin at 72 hour intervals, measured with a pair of callipers. It assumes that the operator pinches the same amount of skin on each measurement and in the same location and that the operator can take accurate readings even when the animal is stressed and moving about, or if the head is moving from side to side and thus altering the tension of the skin in the neck area.
Additionally false positives can occur as a result of cross reaction to other micro bacteria including avian tb and johns disease, allergic skin reaction can also occur. the relevant supporting evidence can be found on DEFRA’s website dealing with bTB in your herd. The skin test is cheap and for decades was the only test available. Slaughter is not necessary to prove the presence of bTB. The same culture tests can be carried out on an animal without slaughter to establish the presence of M Bovis. PCR is an accurate rapid diagnostic tool that can also be used to inform whether an animal is shedding bacteria. It would not be economical to do so in the context of a commercial farm, but we have offered to pay for all these tests.
Is Shambo the only animal in Skanda Vale that might have TB?
The three inconclusive reactors identified following retesting of the Skanda Vale herd included one buffalo calf, one highland cow and one jersey bullock. These animals have never been housed or herded with each other or with Shambo. If TB was confirmed in these animals it clearly was not as a result of cross infection between cattle but from infection due to TB endemic in wildlife. In common with the experience of many farms, our entire herd could be killed without resulting in any reduced risk of TB infection. Killing Shambo will not eliminate the risk.
Why won’t you use the new TB gamma-interferon test to check the results of the skin test on Shambo?
If WAG is so confident in its skin test why doesn’t it authorise a gamma-interferon test just to give confidence to the rest of us. We’ll pay for it if that’s an issue.
If Shambo isn’t showing clinical signs of having TB, how can he be a risk of passing the disease to other animals or people?
That is why we are requesting permission to give Shambo antibiotic therapy as a precaution to ensure that he does not become infectious.
Can’t you use a test to show whether Shambo is shedding TB bacteria or not?
The development of TB infection in cattle progresses slowly. A fortnightly test would give a very good indication of potential infection. Risk of transmission to humans is largely through drinking unpasteurised milk. Obviously not a problem for Shambo (don’t try to milk a bull).
Why can’t Shambo be kept alive in isolation as Skanda Vale want?
Let’s put this in perspective. Since 1990 there has been one confirmed case of Mbovis to human zoonosis, the other 34 cases relate to a latent Mtb infection from drinking unpastuerised milk during youth and a reoccurrence or the infection resulting from reduced immune response in later life. The occurrence of Mtb in cattle however has been steadily increasing over the last fifteen years.
According to accepted NHS guidelines for human TB infection a patient may be isolated in a separate hospital room for up to two weeks whilst given anti TB drugs, after which the patient usually returns to the ward.
During treatment hospital staff are not required to wear face masks or gowns. The majority of humans are infected with TB in a latent form which can manifest when the immune system is lowered. To suggest that Shambo needs a category 3 isolation facility such as might be appropriate for ebola or anthrax infection is absurd.
Why can’t you allow the Community to use antibiotics to treat Shambo?
There are no recognised treatments for Mbovis infection because there has never been a commercial incentive to develop them. In these situations the normal (and lawful) veterinary practice is to use what is called the “cascade” system of treatment whereby a drug licensed for human or veterinary use can be used for an animal outside its licence terms when a licensed product is not available. Dosages are adjusted according to the animal’s size. Our veterinary consultant has successfully used this method on many different species in various countries to treat bTB. If one applies WAG’s reasoning here every human being who has been successfully treated for TB should remain in isolation for the rest of their lives.
Has the Welsh Assembly Government met the Community to discuss Shambo?
Yes we had a meeting. Nice day out in sunny Cardiff, lots of hot air.
Further representations on their way. Exciting isn’t it!
Congratulations to the Welsh Assembly to finally call Shambo by his name and not just a ‘TB reactor’. We have received tremendous support from all the major Hindu representative organisations across the UK, as well as over 18,000 signatories on our petition. The most recent support has come from the Hindu Cultural Association of Wales (whose membership consists of many members of the medical profession). All these organisations have made strong representations to the minister. Do not desecrate our religion, the sanctity of life and our place of worship.