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Newsletter no. 58 carried a news report that the Taiwan epidemic of FMD had been started by live pigs smuggled into the country. This prompted Pat Gardiner and Bryn Wayt, both in-depth researchers of such things, to comment that they could trace no evidence of an epidemic of FMD ever being traced back to a source of imported meat.
Certainly there have been claims made to this effect - but proof? We checked, through Alicia Eykyn, with Professor Fred Brown, regarded by many as the world's leading authority on FMD. His reply was inconclusive - that hardly ever has anyone managed to definitely pin-point the source of an outbreak. So while many claims are made, they are nearly always unsubstantiated. This serves to confirm the point that Pat and Bryn are making - and it is a very important one.
Let's face it, openness and honesty have not been particularly strong points on the part of the UK authorities during both the CSF and FMD epidemics. We all know that manipulation, deceit and cover-up have been the order of the day. Now ask yourself, why has so little action been taken against illegal meat imports, when these are claimed to have been the source of the 2001 crisis? It would have been so easy to make a few token gestures to take the pressure off this issue. No government could survive a second disastrous introduction of FMD through inaction - it would be political suicide.
The fact that virtually no action has been taken is telling us clearly that the government knows perfectly well this was not, and is not, a serious threat at all - and that it suits very nicely for the media spotlight to remain where it is, rather than searching elsewhere.
The official "Origins of the FMD epidemic" report identified the initial outbreak amongst Bobby Waugh's pigs at Heddon-on-the-Wall. The disease was then supposed to have jumped five kilometres on the wind to sheep that subsequently passed through Cumbrian markets. The evidence in the report was unconvincing to say the least, and in July we published a highly critical analysis, circulating copies to top DEFRA officials and Elliot Morley among others. To our surprise - no, astonishment - we quickly received a detailed response from DEFRA at the personal instruction of Morley. Astonishment, because the many communications sent to these same officials before had been consistently ignored. We had touched a raw nerve.
Scientifically the level of risk from live animals or their secretions (milk, semen, embryos etc.) is several orders of magnitude greater than any other source. The secretions of an infected animal contain trillions of infective virions, while dead meat contains literally none at all because changes in pH kill the virus within hours. Only bone marrow, lymph glands and outer skin surfaces may harbour live virus for more than a few hours, and that too decreases with time unless very specific conditions are met.
No ham in a rambler's sandwich, cooked or uncooked, can possibly contain live FMD virus by any stretch of the imagination.
If you read the Royal Society inquiry report, it lists a number of new animal diseases that have entered this country for the first time within recent years. All but one have become endemic. All, without exception, were brought in by the movement of live animals or their live products. Why are we expected to believe that CSF or FMD should be any different?
The imports responsible for the CSF and FMD epidemics may even have been legal. No wonder the authorities are keen for illegal meat to continue claiming the undiverted attention of the media.