"No-one reading these documents can remain under the illusion that sheep cannot be vaccinated, nor that protection is only afforded to 90% of cattle.."

The farmer and Journalist Alan Beat writes: I telephoned the Western Morning News today and spoke with Mark Clough, the reporter responsible for yesterday's article that quoted David Hill, the Devon chairman of the NFU, expressing his caution over vaccination with such statements as "as far as I am aware you can't vaccinate sheep and it is only effective in about 90% of cattle cases".

I quoted from two MAFF documents that were mailed out to every farmer in the UK during April, when it was seriously proposed that cattle should be vaccinated before turn-out. The first, dated April 15th, is entitled "Vaccination against foot and mouth disease: some key facts". This states "cattle require one whole dose of vaccine, sheep one third" and goes on to describe that " if the vaccine now available were given to a herd or flock, on average it would provide protection to 98% of them". The second document, dated 20th April, contains 51 questions asked about vaccination by the NFU, together with MAFF's answers, and this provides a detailed consideration of the scientific and trading implications of the cattle vaccination that was under consideration at that time.

No-one reading these documents can remain under the illusion that sheep cannot be vaccinated, nor that protection is only afforded to 90% of cattle. I pointed this out in the clearest terms to Mark, and suggested to him that it was really quite extraordinary for David Hill to express such remarks, when we all know that these documents have been pushed through his mailbox, quite apart from the fact that he has also sat on numerous committee meetings and briefings at which such details have been discussed. Mark was somewhat taken aback and could only agree. He has no farming knowledge, had naturally interviewed David Hill on an FMD issue and had simply reported what he had said. I explained something of the background; the NFU entrenched opposition to vaccination from the very start, the constant stream of misinformation that it puts forward on this issue, and suggested that David Hill had this NFU agenda when he made remarks that he knew perfectly well were untrue.

We moved on to discuss the effective use of vaccination in Holland and again he was not aware of the broader picture, so I filled him in on a few details here as well. At the end of our conversation, I suggested that next time they mentioned vaccination in the newspaper, perhaps they could interview someone who had knowledge of the issues to contrast with the "dead hand" of the NFU. He asked if he could telephone me and I replied that, while I was no expert, at least I had read the views of those who were and would be pleased to put these forward.

So we'll see.