Countryfile

Transcript by warmwell.com

 

Vaccination Programme in Argentina

programme aired on Sunday 9th September 2001

 

John Craven

"From the empty livestock markets of Britain, we cross the Atlantic to the country of Argentina which returned to mass-vaccination when it too had an outbreak of the disease - and they did it as just a matter of routine. From Argentina, Charlotte Smith has this report."

 

CS: Welcome to beef country , the world's fifth largest producer, Argentina, provides two and a half million tons a year. Beef's been a valuable export earner in a country where the economic situation is as bad as the current weather (shots of rain sleeting down on cattle)

 

This is winter. Coming from Britain it's really difficult to appreciate the scale of beef production here. This area is called the Pampas and it covers a quarter of the country - that's 25 million hectares, around sixty million acres. Now, most of Argentina's 52 million head of cattle are here.

 

Normally, not very much would be happening on the ranch at this time of year but now they're busy gathering all the animals together as part of the national vaccination programme.

 

Argentina is in the midst of a major outbreak with about the same number of cases as Britain. Like us, their exports are halted but unlike us they've decided to vaccinate all the cattle, sheep and pigs - and not for the first time. Vaccination is something farmers are used to.

 

Georgina Pelham (farmer) We have 24 thousand head of cattle here, beef and meat and well all the farm work, you know, the de-horning the castration the vaccination is all part of our life and we take it completely naturally..I mean it's no big deal. We If we don't have foot and mouth it would be better because we don't have to pay for the vaccine and we don't have to work but I mean it's been like this for as long as I can remember.

 

CS But surely it's an awful lot of work gathering together that many animals..?

GP But they have to be gathered together anyway. They are gathered together to go to the field for better food and then they go to the corrals on the way and they get their vaccine and they go in there and they're perfectly happy with it.

CS If you were unlucky enough to get foot and mouth what happens?

GP Then we cure them of their mouth sores and their foot sores if it's a very mild outbreak with one or two applications of the medicine and that's ok, and they recover. If it's worse then all the cows that have got it are put into a kind of sick bay in the field, a special field and they're looked after until they recover. We give them time.

CS So you don't slaughter even infected animals?

GP Never...

CS. wouldn't it be better to stamp it out that way though?

GP It's impossible! It's impossible. If you can imagine slaughtering for one animal 600,000 head - all the farmers would go completely under - the government hasn't got the money to pay compensation. I mean it would never enter our heads. It is not a viable policy.

 

 

 

 

CS Under international rules only disease-free meat can be exported. As it's feared that vaccination could disguise infection carcasses must be treated to kill any virus. The British fear that the cost would make our meat uncompetitive - but the Argentineans have been doing it for years.

 

Hector Salamanco, Argentino Meat Exporters Association

We export more or less 50% - 60% of our export are directed to the European market . We have there a niche market for special cuts, mainly in Germany and a minor proportion to ... to Spain...We export to the United States and Canada and we vaccinate our herd. So the only country where exports are not admitted with vaccination... are Japan, Korea and Mexico.

 

CS Since the outbreak started in February Argentina's lost export markets. It couldn't have come at a worse time. The economy's in crisis, protestors taking to the streets and the International Monetary Fund called in. Vaccination's not just the cheapest way to deal with Foot and Mouth. It seems the fastest way to get Argentinian meat back onto the world markets.

 

Argentina has been here before; they have always vaccinated against foot and mouth. Now ten years ago they decided to use vaccination as a control to try and eradicate the disease and by 1998 were free of foot and mouth. That's when they took the controversial decision to stop vaccinating. Now though, the mass vaccination programme is back with the latest outbreak.

 

That's down to one man, Marcello Regunaga. He was appointed Agriculture Minister in April. He immediately reversed the non-vaccination policy.

 

CS It was your decision to vaccinate. So why?

MR Well, because we feel that it's very risky and it's very difficult and we have already the national experience and Britain, in which when you don't vaccinate and the animals don't have a history of vaccination immediately that you have one outbreak it moves all over the country.

 

CS In an attempt to prevent that, Argentina uses the latest vaccines and has re-employed the man who, ten years ago, was in charge of the mass vaccination which got on top of this virus.

 

Dr Bernardo Cane, Chief Vet of Argentina

All the animals are twice a year vaccinated and protected the virus is going to be live and it is not going to mutate. We have a good experience. We have been working from decades 70, 80s and 90s - we stopped vaccination in 99 which declined the level of protection and one year after that blew up the problem because the challenge from domestic or from foreign virus is very risky.

 

CS Any vaccination policy is only as good as the vaccines. Argentina is confident that its have improved. While limited culling has been used, the government said that mass killing is out.

 

BC If you approach with that system and you see that in two weeks the disease is continuing growing, forget it! Stop killing animals! Do vaccination.

 

CS This is Argentina's vaccine and now, because of the current campaign they are preparing twenty million doses of vaccine every month. That vaccine should protect against four of the twelve strains of foot and mouth - that's the four that are most common here in South America.

 

The foot and mouth virus mutates but as vets will be vaccinating on the country's 300,000 farms twice a year, they hope to be able too track the effectiveness of the vaccine and hone it to tackle future strains.


This is a really busy place and that is all down to the current campaign. This lab is having to work 24 hours a day 7 days a week and it's producing 20 million doses of vaccine every month. In fact, they're making so much that they have run out of space and have had to hire in refrigerated containers. In there (pointing to a container building) are 2 million doses of this vaccine

 

BC One thing to be made clear, the vaccine is completely safe for the animals and for the consumers of the meat and the meat. There is no allergic reaction - nothing at all is related to the vaccines. Not only here. We have been vaccinating from thirty years - 50 million heads a year for thirty years: more than one and a half billion units of vaccine have been done in Argentina. And the cost - of course it is very important for you to understand the cost - the vaccine is around 20cents add 25 cents for the cost of application - each animal costs about half a dollar each time and it's done twice a year so it's one American dollar per animal per year.

 

CS Would you have considered slaughter if you could have afforded it?

BC It's not a problem of the budget, it's a problem of they are not going to stop the disease?

 

CS But is Argentina vaccinating itself into a corner? Foot and mouth is a major problem across South America and the virus doesn't recognise international boundaries, so with the disease endemic in neighbouring countries could Argentineans ever be able to stop vaccinating?

 

Hector Salamanco

 

We have two borders we have two borders with Paraguay, Bolivia and now Uruguay where foot and mouth is present so under these conditions I think we have to go on vaccinating until all of these countries have removed the disease. This is a regional problem not a country problem

 

Dr Bernardo Cane

 

The programme is for the first four years but we are advising to continue protecting not because it exists but because of the risk that is coming form outside. At the moment the thinking is not to stop vaccination for mid term

 

 

Marcello Regunaga

 

We need three years at least showing the world from now that we could be preparing not to vaccinate so this decision could be taken in 2003 or 2004. I would say at that time, if I am the secretary, I wouldn't decide to discontinue vaccination.

 

CS And in Argentina this really isn't a controversial policy. All the farmers we met supported it as the only way to regain the export trade.

 

Farmer 1 I think that if vaccination continues we will eradicate FMD. I was one of the first to use vaccination.

 

Farmer 2 I think it's the only form of control

CS What about slaughter?

Farmer 2 There's about 19 million head of cattle in the province of Buenos Aires alone. How could you possibly think of slaughtering that many cattle?

 

CS What does he (farmer 3) think of what we have done in Britain, slaughtered and killed?

Interpreter He says that a lot of people have made a lot of effort to have the cattle and that to kill them is a crime.

 

CS So in Argentina vaccination continues alongside some restrictions. At this bull sale for instance, only the animals from one ranch are under the hammer, which reduces the risk of the disease spreading. The government is confident that their present outbreak will be under control by next month, and even if foot and mouth isn't eradicated it will be enough for the international community and Argentina will be allowed to resume exports.

 

Marcello Regunaga

We want to export meat - not the disease so if we fulfil a lot of requirements that will be possible to export including having the disease

 

CS So you will be vaccinating and exporting?

 

MR Yes as we did in the past

CS And theres no problem?

MR There's no problem

 

 

Argentinians seem bemused by the UK's antipathy to vaccination but British Ministers are not convinced that vaccinating would control our outbreak. They fear it would jeopardise out meat export business which is worth about the same as Argentina's.

 

Meat exports bring much needed foreign currency into Argentina - they're worth more than 600 million dollars a year. What they have proved over the past years is that vaccination is no barrier to trading with the rest of the world. In fact, here they argue that it's countries that don't vaccinate which are taking the risk both with animal health and with business

 

Marcello Regunaga

The more globalised is the world, the more tourists, the more transit and the more interaction so if you have areas in which you have the disease and areas in which you don't have, the risk of bringing in the disease is very high. It's almost impossible to control a virus - the virus flows through the air...nobody knows how it arrived in Japan or Britain so it's very risky so a lot of technicians today are rethinking their strategy.

 

CS People in Britain are very nervous about vaccination and many people are actually against it. What would you say to them?

MR I would say that only very rich countries would be prepared to spend the money in Europe preparing for this strategy in a disease that does not affect the human people because if you tell me "I want to kill animals that have the Macao" ...this is a serious disease but with the foot and mouth, this is a disease of animals, no problem with people...you need to have a lot of money, too much money I would say, to have a strategy killing millions of animals, hurting the capacity of the country and the just for the strategy which is not supported all over the world

 

CS The way Argentina sees it, before it even considers ending its vaccination programme, Europe will have one of its own

 

ENDS

 

John Craven concludes the item

" So Argentina can export vaccinated beef if it treats it first. The British government says it's much harder with sheep exports - our main market - and then of course there's the vexed question of European policy. In Europe, if animals are vaccinated they must then be killed . That's what happened recently in the Netherlands where an outbreak was contained within two months. But now the Dutch are pushing for a change in European policy so that vaccinated animals can live."

 

Warmwell note: What a pity that the otherwise sensible John Craven should have made such a preposterous final statement. We wonder who fed him this line - and why he did not check its veracity. It is, according to Dr Simon Barteling, Dr Paul Sutmoller and many others, quite untrue.

 

Alan Beat comments:   An interesting programme that tries to tackle a complex
subject in a straightforward manner - and is largely successful.  Shame
about the final comment  "In Europe, if animals are vaccinated they must
then be killed" which is completely false and serves only to perpetuate one
of the main myths about vaccination.  Another glaring error is the earlier
statement that the UK's meat export trade  "is worth about the same as
Argentina's" , when in fact UK imports of meat exceed exports, so there is
no export trade at all, only another myth.  People used to think that the
BBC was responsible in its reporting and that facts would be carefully
cross-checked before being broadcast . . . . . . . . wrong!