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Why the UK government’s badger cull infringes the #BernConvention

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Bovine TB is a major problem for the UK dairy and beef livestock industries. Since 2010, approximately 300,000 test-positive cattle and their direct contacts have been removed in England under the statutory test-and-slaughter scheme introduced in 1950. The cost to the taxpayer was estimated at £44 million for 2017-18, and the financial and emotional impacts on affected farmers are very significant, write the Badger Trust, Bornfree Foundation and Eurogroup for Animals. 

In December 2011, the UK government published its controversial policy on Bovine TB and Badger Control in England.  The policy laid out conditions under which farmer-led culling of badgers would take place under licence, as part of the UK government’s strategy for controlling bovine TB in cattle. Culling began in the first two zones to be licenced in September 2013. ​By the end of 2019, more than 100,000 badgers were reported to have been killed across 43 licenced zones in England​. According to ​leaked information​ believed to have emerged from the licencing authority Natural England, the government intends to grant four-year licences for an additional 11 new culling zones in 2020, bringing the total to 54 zones across 15 counties, covering an area in the order of 8,000 square kilometres​. This could see in excess of 60,000 additional badgers being targeted by the end of 2020.

Badgers are a protected species under UK law, and are listed on Appendix III of the Bern Convention ​(a binding international legal instrument in the field of nature conservation). ​Under Article 7, Parties to the Convention are therefore committed to taking appropriate and necessary legislative and administrative measures to ensure their protection, and to regulate any exploitation in order to keep badger populations out of danger. Article 9 permits contracting parties to make exceptions to the requirements in Article 7 to, ​inter alia ​ , “prevent serious damage to livestock”, albeit only when there is no other satisfactory solution and where the action will not be detrimental to the survival of the population.

The UK government has thus far relied on this exception in Article 9 to justify its policy of badger culling.

The grounds for complaint

In August 2019, Born Free Foundation, The Badger Trust, and Eurogroup for Animals jointly submitted a complaint to the Bern Convention against the UK government, on the following grounds:

Breach of Article 7:

● There is clear evidence to show that the measures undertaken by the UK government for the exploitation of badgers jeopardizes the population concerned.
● There is clear evidence to show that the exploitation is not adequately monitored by the UK government.
● The exploitation of badgers has a negative impact on other species that are protected by the Convention.

Breach of Article 8:

● The exploitation of badgers is indiscriminate, and capable of causing local disappearance of the population.

Breach of Article 9:

● The UK government has failed to choose the most appropriate alternative, among possible alternatives, and has failed to be objective and verifiable in its reasoning for this decision.
● The UK government has failed to base the policy on current data on the state of the population, including its size, distribution, state of habitat and future prospects.
● The UK government has failed to demonstrate that the measures undertaken involving the exploitation of badgers is in place to prevent serious damage to livestock.
● The UK government has failed to submit biennial reports to the Secretariat in connection with the exceptions The complaint documents can be found on the Council of Europe ​website​.

Additional evidence

Born Free Foundation, The Badger Trust, and Eurogroup for Animals provided additional evidence in support of the complaint in March 2020, and again in July 2020.

This included:

Evidence refuting the UK government’s consistent claim that badger culling is resulting in significant disease control benefits.
Evidence demonstrating the likely scale of undetected infection among cattle, resulting from the poor sensitivity of the current testing regime and the impact of increased cattle testing intensity on reported bovine TB incidence and prevalence in cattle, which is currently being blamed on wildlife.
Evidence for concerns over badger population viability resulting from the continued use of ‘controlled shooting’ as the primary method of culling.
● Strong evidence that the current system of risk pathway identification and reporting, which identifies badgers as the default likely source of infection for cattle herd breakdowns in the absence of other evidence, is deeply flawed and biased towards justifying the current policy.
Evidence of serious biosecurity breaches on cattle farms and Approved Finishing Units, which could be exacerbating the spread of bovine TB among cattle, and could place some farms in breach of badger cull licencing criteria.
The failure of government to promote badger vaccination as a viable, non-lethal, and effective alternative to badger culling, in spite of its promises to phase out badger culling in favour of vaccination in its response to the Godfray Review published in March 2020. ​

coronavirus

EAPM and ESMO bring innovations to health policymakers

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For the eighth year in succession, the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) has held a high-level conference series alongside the annual ESMO Congress, writes EAPM Executive Director Denis Horgan.

The EAPM conference was opened with the announcement that the following article was published and contributed to by more than 40 experts across the EU on how to bring Greater Accuracy to Europe’s Healthcare Systems: The Unexploited Potential of Biomarker Testing in Oncology.  Please click here to have access.

Sessions include: Session I: Tumor Agnostic, Session II: Biomarkers and Molecular Diagnostics, and Session III: Utilising Real-World Evidence in a health-care setting.  The conference runs from 08.00 – 16.00. Here is the link to the agenda. The conference aims to bring  key recommendations to the EU level, so as to shape the EU Beating Cancer Plan, EU health Data Space, the updating EU Pharmaceutical Strategy as well as the EU Health Union. 

The conference is held following the first State of the Union address by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (16 September) – in her first annual address, von der Leyen said the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation, stressing that people were “still suffering”.

For me, it is crystal clear – we need to build a stronger European Health Union,” she said. “And we need to strengthen our crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.” Von der Leyen said her commission would try to reinforce the European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

And she also raised the importance of the European Beating Cancer Plan as well as European Health Data Space. “This will show Europeans that our Union is there to protect all,” she said.

Fabrice Barlesi, medical director of Gustave Roussy, said: “RCTs are no longer the way to go. A way ahead could be EU support for trialing a new drug and delivering data to a centralised registry, which could give good consolidated data from across Europe.”

Divided into three sessions, the EAPM conference at the ESMO Congress, as mentioned,  dealt with such diverse issues as tumour agnostics, biomarkers and molecular diagnostics and real-world evidence in a health-care setting. Concerning cancer, specifically tumours, the congress stated that  tissue-agnostic cancer drugs are antineoplastic medicines that treat cancers based on the mutations that they display, instead of the tissue type in which they appear.

These drugs include, for example, Entrectinib, Pembrolizumab and Larotrectinib. Former Spanish health minister and MEP Dolors Moseratt highlighted her support for the work of EAPM and looks forward to getting the recommendations of the outcomes from the conference.  “The European added value of health is obvious. It would avoid duplication and enable a better allocation of resources. And it will minimize the risk of fragmented access to therapy across member states.”

And the EAPM conference is at pains to seek the best ways forward for the implementation of Real-World Evidence (RWE) into health care in Europe – looking to find consensus with key decision makers, including at member state level, not least with representatives in the European Parliament, on how to proceed in this area. RWE for health care is a simple concept – harnessing various health data in real time to help make faster and better medical decisions.

Real-World Evidence is an umbrella term for different types of health-care data that are not collected in conventional randomised controlled trials, including patient data, data from clinicians, hospital data, data from payers and social data.

Rosa Giuliani, consultant in medical oncology at the Clatterbridge Cancer Center, said: “Key elements to advance the use of TACs is to conduct dialogue that transcends silos, and to explore re-engineering of the development pathway.” And, as far as biomarkers and molecular diagnostics are concerned, a lot has been said about testing, and often the lack of it, in terms of the COVID-19 outbreak, with different countries adopting different strategies and, also, having different resources when it comes to acquiring necessary kits.

The key focus in the ESMO session was on better and more equitable access to biomarkers and molecular diagnostics across Europe.  This is a must, but, as the attendees acknowledged, we’re a long way short of it. Access to personalised medicine and new diagnostic technologies can help resolve many inefficiencies, such as trial-and-error dosing, the potential for increased hospitalisation time due to adverse drug reactions and the problem of late diagnoses. It may also enhance the effectiveness of therapies through better tailored treatment administration.

In conclusion for the morning session, Giuseppe Curigliano, associate professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Milano, and head of the division of Early Drug Development, at the European Institute of Oncology said: “A real challenge to overcome is the different endpoints between investigators and payers. Policy frameworks and co-operation is essential.” The session in the afternoon will focus on utilizing real-world evidence in a health-care setting.

A report will be available next week. 

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EU's Barnier still hopes trade deal with Britain possible, sources say

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The European Union’s Brexit negotiator told the bloc’s 27 national envoys to Brussels that he still hoped a trade deal with Britain was possible, stressing that the coming days would be decisive, diplomatic sources with the bloc told Reuters, write and

Michel Barnier addressed the gathering on Wednesday (16 September) and the three sources either participated in the discussion behind closed doors or were briefed on its content.

“Barnier still believes a deal is possible though the next days are key,” said one of the EU diplomatic sources.

A second diplomat, asked what Barnier said on Wednesday and whether there was still a chance for a new agreement with the UK, said: “The hope is still there.”

The first source said tentative concessions offered by the UK on fisheries - a key point of discord that has so far prevented agreement on a new EU-UK trade deal to kick in from 2021 - were “a glimmer of hope”.

Reuters reported exclusively on Tuesday (15 September) that Britain has moved to break the deadlock despite that fact that publicly London has been threatening to breach the terms of its earlier divorce deal with the bloc.

A third source, a senior EU diplomat, confirmed the UK offer but stressed it was not going far enough for the bloc to accept.

Brexit talks descended into fresh turmoil this month over Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to pass new domestic laws that would undercut London’s earlier EU divorce deal, which is also aimed at protecting peace on the island of Ireland.

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned Britain that it must honour the Northern Irish peace deal as it extracts itself from the EU or there would be no US trade deal for the United Kingdom.

The third EU source, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that the bloc would take a more rigid line in demanding a solid dispute settlement mechanism in any new UK trade deal should Johnson press ahead with the Internal Market Bill.

“There is unease about what Britain is doing but Barnier has stressed he will keep negotiating until his last breath,” said a fourth EU diplomat, highlighting the bloc’s wariness about being assigned blame should the troubled process eventually fail.

Asked about an estimate by Societe Generale bank, which put at 80% the probability of the most damaging economic split at the end of the year without a new deal to carry forward trade and business ties between the EU and the UK, the person said:

“I would put it around the same mark.”

Barnier is due to meet his UK counterpart, David Frost, around 1400 GMT in Brussels on Thursday.

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Biden warns UK on #Brexit - No trade deal unless you respect Northern Irish peace deal

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US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned the United Kingdom that it must honour the Northern Irish peace deal as it extracts itself from the European Union or there would be no US trade deal, write and

“We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit,” Biden said in a tweet.

“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”

Johnson unveiled legislation that would break parts of the Brexit divorce treaty relating to Northern Ireland, blaming the EU for putting a revolver on the table in trade talks and trying to divide up the United Kingdom.

He says the United Kingdom has to have the ability to break parts of the 2020 Brexit treaty he signed to uphold London’s commitments under the 1998 peace deal which ended three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between pro-British Protestant unionists and Irish Catholic nationalists.

The EU says any breach of the Brexit treaty could sink trade talks, propel the United Kingdom towards a messy exit when it finally leaves informal membership at the end of the year and thus complicate the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU’s Brexit negotiator told the bloc’s 27 national envoys that he still hoped a trade deal with Britain was possible, stressing that the coming days would be decisive, three diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Michel Barnier addressed the gathering on Wednesday and the three sources either participated in the discussion behind closed doors or were briefed on its content.

“Barnier still believes a deal is possible though the next days are key,” said one of the EU diplomatic sources.

Johnson told The Sun that the EU was being “abusive” to Britain and risking four decades of partnership.

He said the UK must “ring-fence” the Brexit deal “to put in watertight bulkheads that will stop friends and partners making abusive or extreme interpretations of the provisions.”

Societe Generale analysts said on Thursday they now see an 80% chance that Britain and the EU will fail to strike a trade deal before the end of the year.

Biden, who has talked about the importance of his Irish heritage, retweeted a letter from Eliot Engel, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, to Johnson calling on the British leader to honour the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.

Engel urged Johnson to “abandon any and all legally questionable and unfair efforts to flout the Northern Ireland protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement.”

He called on Johnson to “ensure that Brexit negotiations do not undermine the decades of progress to bring peace to Northern Ireland and future options for the bilateral relationship between our two countries.”

Engel said Congress would not support a free trade agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom if Britain failed to uphold its commitments with Northern Ireland.

The letter was signed by Representatives Richard Neal, William Keating and Peter King.

Johnson is pushing ahead with his plan.

His government reached a deal on Wednesday (16 September) to avert a rebellion in his own party, giving parliament a say over the use of post-Brexit powers within its proposed Internal Market Bill that breaks international law.

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