Foot and Mouth. Nothing much of value has changed in policy since 2001
The Contingency Plan fails to recognise that FMD is a very tricky disease to diagnose - as we saw in 2001 when many animals were misdiagnosed.
Yet for ten years the UK has avoided any mention on the Contingency plans of the portable on-site rapid diagnostic tests that can determine on site whether an animal is infected or not - and before clinical signs are even apparent. Is Defra depending on an army of vets, experienced in the disease, who will somehow appear on cue - and this at a time of austerity when even bTB testing is going out to tender?
Is it not more advisable to use state of the art diagnostic technology?
At the most recent International FMD conference in Melbourne in April 2010 there was a presentation and demonstration of one of them - BioSeeq Portable Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory (Carmelo Volpe's description of one example of on-site rapid diagnosis here of a field deployable Rapid Testing and Instant Reporting system is manufactured by Smith's Detection)
DEFRA could be (and is not) aiming to make use of equipment that could prevent all the trauma of misdiagnosis, save lives and livelihoods - and thousands upon thousands of pounds.
Even without vaccination, most infected animals actually recover and, as far as sheep are concerned, most sheep show no clinical signs at all. In 2001 we saw animals with orf or who had chewed brambles causing their premises to be termed an "IP" - which then caused all contiguous animals to be killed too. Not one was infected.
Can the UK realistically go on putting the responsibility for non vaccination at the feet of the OIE trade rules?
In view of the OIE's own statements
"..the OIE aspires to offer alternative recommendations to stamping out as a means of disease control wherever possible. The use of vaccination is more and more relevant thanks to the scientific progress in vaccinology and diagnostic methods..trade standards have proven to be effective in halting the international spread of FMD through trade...these standards are not mandatory and cannot be imposed by the OIE. It is up to the sovereign rights of each Member to determine which measure and how they will be applied."" Is it not time to lobby that such rules be changed? In view of the gradually changing mindset
(A presentation by Alejandro Thiermann "To cull or let live: an OIE perspective for international trade" will be given at the international FMD conference in March. The mindset elsewhere is changing. Will DEFRA be there in Wiesbaden?)
It would seem that the Chief Veterinary Officer, Mr Nigel Gibbens, and DEFRA are not aware of the need to validate DIVA vaccines and tests.
(The tests go hand in hand with vaccines to establish that the tested vaccinated animal has produced antibodies only to vaccine not to active virus.)
Illustration of DIVA technology ( The presentation of Australia's Janine Muller at last April's international FMD conference in Melbourne.)
Many have been waiting a long time for an explanation as to why these diva tests have not been validated. Once used, they would quickly show successful vaccination as opposed to active virus. Without diva vaccination and tests, how can one be sure that the virus is not lurking in roaming wildlife – as is currently feared in Bulgaria and the part of Turkey nearest to Greece
An objection given on "Farming Today" from Mr Nigel Gibbens was the length of time he said it would take to re-establish our credentials as being FMD free:
If vaccination takes place as soon as the first focus of infection is known and vaccination take place in a wide ring from the outside inwards, far fewer animals would need to be vaccinated? If vaccination does NOT take place as soon as infection is known it is far more difficult to stop the spread even with the stopping of animal movements. (This happened in the UK in 2007 when DEFRA wrongly thought they could easily contain the virus within the area around Pirbright - but it flared up again almost reaching the Queen's herds at Windsor)
Mr Gibbens spoke of :
"… having to wait longer to prove that we’re free again and it’s a minimum of three months that we couldn’t trade internationally and the costs of having to do blood tests and surveillance on all of the animals we vaccinated to prove that they hadn’t been infected while vaccinated." Nigel Gibbens
Mr Gibbens appears to be suggesting we should wait until such large numbers of animals are threatened, and that saving them then with vaccination would somehow counterbalance the loss of time before trading could restart. This is the very gamble that South Korea took – and to its cost and that of the rest of Asia, even with the very belated vaccination, the spread is enormous and has not been stopped.
Decision making on the question of vaccination is taken with the interests of the few - ie the meat export trade - in mind, rather than the many - the ordinary livestock farmers, smallholders and local producers.
This state of affairs was certainly the case in 2001 when the UK meat export trade – worth less than £500 million - was, by the refusal to vaccinate, thought to be protected. The eventual cost to the country was at least £8 billion and, according to the Meat and Livestock commission, the wastage of up to 11 million animals and their young who were largely uninfected, It caused huge financial problems in the rural sectors affected, and trauma that continues to this day and the effects of which were studied by a team from Lancaster University.
Why should such a gamble as not using vaccination be taken? On whose behalf is such a gamble taken? Are the people of South Korea and its surrounding countries grateful that such a gamble was taken - and subsequently changed far too late?
The meat trade's claim that UK consumers would balk at eating the products from vaccinated animals was reported in the Veterinary Record in January as the reason why vaccination was discounted in the recent Silver Birch exercise.
Vaccination leaves no residues (unlike some antibiotics/parasiticides/other chemicals etc etc) We are assured that it does not have to be labelled since there are no safety concerns.
If we eat meat, we eat products from vaccinated animals
If we consume dairy products, we are consuming products from vaccinated animals
It would appear to be simplicity itself to get these messages across to the public and the industry." Can this really have been the reason why vaccination was not used in the exercise? It seems highly unlikely that it was not a mere excuse.
It has never been publicly acknowledged that the premises and assumptions of the Imperial College mathematical model were faulty in almost every possible way - It was, however, the driver for the contiguous cull policy that intended for all susceptible animals in a map-drawn 3 km circle around a supposed IP to be "culled out" - usually without being tested.
Because no such acknowledgement has ever been made, there is no guarantee that such a model will not used in future and that properly qualified scientists and vets will be on hand to advise the government.
The "permanently operational expert group to maintain expertise in order to assist the competent authority in ensuring preparedness against an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease", prescribed by EU Council Directive, has not been set up.
The Directive laid down that such an Expert Group (see Directive ) must be composed of epidemiologists, veterinary scientists and virologists "in a balanced way, to maintain expertise". Such an expert and balanced group does not exist.
Will those whose responsibility it is to solve the next outbreak have a clear idea beforehand of the actual steps to be followed?
- Will technical equipment be in place in sufficient quantities - or have to be ordered?
- Will the decision about vaccination be taken as soon as an outbreak is confirmed?
- Will the chain of command be both understood and respected by all?
- Will the owners of livestock be able to get information quickly from someone who know what is happening?
- Will there be people on standby who know what to do and are ready to roll?
- Will all the communication difficulties suffered in both 2001 and 2007 have been adequately ironed out?
- If the answer to any of these is NO then we need a proper, clear, readable and understandable Contingency Plan - drawn up by those with experience of the disease, and able successfully to manage people and the media as well as money and equipment. Is the identity of this person known - at least to DEFRA?
There are higher principles in question here, questions of legality and human freedoms - not to mention compassion and decency.
Elliot Morley, then Minister for DEFRA, admitted that there was no legal basis to the culling of uninfected animals when he told the EFRA Committee on 6 November 2001 that
"At the present time we do not have powers for a firebreak cull..".Yet of course such extensive culling was widespread in the hotspots
Now we have the amended Animal Health Act of 2002 which gives not only retrospective legality to the killing of animals who have not been in the vicinity of disease, but also allows any animal to be killed if the Minister so decides. This gives power to a Minister compulsorily to remove property from any member of the public even when no public good can be proved – something that would appear wholly contrary to our tradition of fairness and legality. Reading testimony from the ordinary people – such as those at Knowstone to the European Inquiry, we see over and over again the feelings of astonishment at the callousness and refusal to listen to reason and common sense shown by those "obeying orders"
How can ordinary people be sure that we are not going to see again such a betrayal of the traditions of independence and freedom that we have taken for granted as a civilised nation?