re Brussels - some notes from Helen O'Hare
The importance of having open discussions with key players and experts in specific fields was made very clear at the recent meeting of the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss the UK foot and mouth epidemic. At last some of the myths can be laid to rest.
It was enlightening to hear Mr Brown's reasons for not vaccinating.
- Slaughtermen claiming to have caught the disease
7 One would suppose that blisters on hands might be an obvious consequence of the job, especially if you are paid per head
7 Lucky they weren't cows!
7 Does government always allow mass hysteria to drive decision making- perhaps yes if close to an election
- Supermarkets might view vaccinated products as inferior
- but the consumer already buys fmd vaccinated meat
- and there was eu money available to offset any losses
3. NFU driving policy ... but
- they do not represent the majority of farmers
- they are not experts on disease management and control
Mr Brown's strange explanations for not vaccinating were quickly shot down by Dr Keith Sumption of Edinburgh University who told the meeting that
- There were enough vaccines available
- Had blanket vaccination been used this would have eliminated the disease within one month. (The disease had already spread too far to have controlled it in an efficient manner by culling alone)
- Two on-farm test kits were available and although these had not been officially verified had been used successfully by farmers opposing the contiguous cull. Ms.Alayne Addy, an agricultural lawyer, pointed out that all the farmers she represented in their appeals against culling are still disease free. (over 200)
- There is no scientific reason for a 12-month ban on exports following vaccination.
- The EU could end all financial penalties of using vaccination at a stroke.
It was clear that Mr Brown did not know his subject nor, it would seem, did his advisors.
With regard to sampling of suspect animals by MAFF/DEFRA: From my attendance at the Northumberland enquiry I found that the public appeared to believe what they had been told - that just because the results were negative that this did not mean absence of disease.
There is in reality, no problem with the test itself but there can be problems with the people taking the samples, for instance if the instructions are not followed and e.g. had disinfectant on their hands. This would obviously kill the virus in a tissue sample.
The fact is that test results were interpreted to suit. Farmers were told that although their sample results were negative this did not mean they did not have the disease. But the test results for zone clearance if negative was regarded as meaning "no disease".)
But perhaps now, at last, some of the myths can be laid to rest.
Again we hear that it was the farmers who spread the disease by resisting the contiguous cull- a cull policy based on models unsupported by science.
The available evidence does NOT support this and I am unaware of any farmer who refused to co-operate where there was definite disease on the premises.
All the evidence so far suggests that the disease was spread to a large extent because MAFF/DEFRA failed to stop animal movements immediately and also by failure of basic biosecurity precautions. While there were a very few rogue farmer/dealers guilty of this MAFF/DEFRA would do well to look at their own performance....a few examples of which are:
- -leaking lorries driving along public roads to disposal sites.
- -live animals transported to mass burial sites breathing out live virus
- -slaughter teams-there are many reports about their lack of biosecurity measures including the spread of fmd to the Berwick area.
- -a senior member of the biosecurity team, an experienced South African banana plantation manager who on his first day out visited a number of infected premises without changing his clothes. Eventually someone plucked up courage and suggested to him that basic biosecurity measures should be observed.
- -a few members of staff driving on and off infected premises without disinfecting.
- -the staff who thought they should bring all there dirty gear to be washed back at base- what a nice way to spread virus.
- -and the vet with the infected tongues in the back of his car.
The video eventually produced by MAFF missed the point. It showed a person cleaning his clean wellies. It did not demonstrate the important fact that wellies were usually covered in thick organic matter and that this must first be removed before thoroughly disinfecting-otherwise the disinfectant is inactivated by the muck. and as such matter is a good transporter of virus....
-so I am afraid that farmers who were worried about the spread of disease by MAFF personnel may have been justified.
But to say that the spread the disease was all down to the farmers is a blatant lie.
One appeal case against the contiguous cull that I remember was by a part time farmer with a few pedigree cattle. There had been weeks of isolation on farm with only phone contact with neighbours. The cattle were still indoors. All the neighbours were killed out. There was nothing left to catch the disease should this small group have turned out to be infected. I was the first visitor in weeks, and as usual was greeted with hospitality and a willingness to help. I blood tested the animals and returned 28 days later to retest. The results were negative, the animals spared. The feelings of joy were mixed with sadness for their neighbours. Had they also been disease free? The memory of the large white cloud of sheep that had moved down the hill opposite the kitchen window one month before on their way to be killed was still fresh in their minds. The view now was one of emptiness, No sound or sight of newborn lambs as they leaped about full of the joys of spring, just an eerie silence. and the worry was not over yet. There was still the fear that maybe they would still pick up infection from the surrounding fields or from the air or from unwanted visitors especially if or when the cattle were turned out. The isolation continued. I am extremely pleased to say that they survived amidst all the destruction and I hope to take up the open invitation to visit them later this year.
The case that most upset me occurred at the end of August. It involved a farm that I had visited on a report case (suspect FMD), with a colleague some 3 months previously. The farmer was very worried about anyone visiting the farm and bringing disease onto the premises. Biosecurity was strictly observed. He had had a couple of scares and had phoned MAFF immediately. These were correctly diagnosed as non fmd, traumatic/chemical burn type lesions in sheep. As the Allendale cases grew in number and the blue box enlarged, I watched and hoped that this farm would be spared. Unfortunately a routine visit by an inexperienced vet picked up a few sheep with suspect lesions. A second opinion was called for. There was doubt as the farmer had been spreading fertiliser and this could have accounted for the blisters, which were the only clinical signs seen. Page St, London demanded an instant decision. whereas a 24 hour wait and see approach would have provided an answer. The premises were declared infected. 4 thousand sheep and approx. 150 cattle were killed. All samples were negative.
The contiguous premises and dangerous contacts were also killed-another 10 thousand animals. One neighbour appealed to keep some of his animals, pedigree sheep. The appeal was upheld. They remain disease free.
Another neighbour with a few pet sheep appealed. Surveillance visits over the next week resulted in no FMD detected, all animals bright and well. The blood test results arrived-negative-and the sheep were killed the next day. Why? Neighbour pressure with the aid of MAFF.
The last time I drove through this area there were no animals in sight. I remembered the beautiful day we had spent there. How we were driven over the land; the hills, the moorland, the cattle and sheep. We stopped briefly to gaze over this triple SI, listened to the birdsong and felt privileged to be there. I don't think anyone can fully appreciate the full extent of the suffering involved in this whole business unless they were there. The real tragedy is that much of it was totally unnecessary.
I saw and met some wonderful people, animals and countryside. The American vets were amazed at how co-operative the British farmers were. In their country, in such a situation, they would have been met by shotguns and marched off the premises. It was shameful to see how these same British farmers were bullied by those in authority. And have any lessons been learnt so far?
DEFRA's interim contingency FMD plan
MAFF/DEFRA's interim FMD plan, just released, unlike the Animal Health Bill, does include some veterinary risk assessments. Unfortunately it still includes the contiguous cull.
-The rabies contingency plan is unavailable because it is being updated and even if it were available it would only be available to DEFRA staff.
I think their ability to deal with further outbreaks will not be limited by lack of power due to the failure in getting the animal health bill passed by the House of Lords but by their own lack of forward planning.
They have more than enough power and have blatantly abused it and broken the law repeatedly during this epidemic.