Letter from Lawrence to Alan Beat

Dear Alan,

 

The informed comments about the source of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK last year in your Editorial to Smallholders Online Newsletter No 60 revived some of our lurking suspicions

- which had already been stirred by two items heard recently on BBC Radio 4. 
 
Firstly there was the "File on Four" programme last week.  I have to apologise that I only heard this in the milking parlour, while concentrating on other things and couldn't go back to check details on "Listen Again" because we have resisted installing the spyware programme which the BBC has espoused - and haven't found a way of hearing their programmes on line without it - so my recollections might not be 100% reliable.  The programme notes dwelt at great length on the "shock, horror" story that Iraqui scientists might be learning how to invent biological warfare agents in British Research Labs.  But the progrogramme itself dealt with standards of containment in research laboratories.  It mentioned the escape of smallpox from a lab in Birmingham - [infection was transmitted to persons outside  the containment lab. through the airconditioning system!!!] - and Health and Safety reports on a lab. in Imperial College, London.  The Imperial College lab. had been experimenting with some horrendous incurable disease of humans - with potential for 'biowarfare' - presumably.  The HSE found that the lab. had no procedures prepared [let alone tested] to cope with accidents.  In the event of an 'escape' inside the lab. operatives would have had to improvise - to enter the lab and hold their breath while cleaning up...  Sterilising equipment [presumably an autoclave] wasn't available in the lab.  Infected material and equipment needing to be sterilised had to be carried through an office before it could be sterilised... All this involving pathogens dangerous to humans! 
 
I couldn't help speculating that if dangerous human pathogens are treated so carelessly in a high profile University lab., the standards applied when the disease involved [like Foot and Mouth] is not dangerous to humans are likely to be even leakier - be it in a high profile University or a financially driven commercial Research Institution.   It suddenly seemed only too likely that last year's Foot and Mouth disease emanated from a mistake or some carelessness in a research Institution.  Did any of the "Independent Inquiries" look at inspection reports on the more likely sources of a lab. escape?  And in any case, who inspects animal disease research labs.?  The HSE? [I was supremely unimpressed by the competence and ability of the HSE when I complained of a spray drift incident onto my farm] MAFF/DEFRA?...
 
The Second item was the report of the bombing in Mombasa - and how the Australian government had issued a warning about this in advance.  The Australians do seem to have a knack of finding out about these things in advance...  I seem to remember how tourists arriving in Australia were rumoured to have been told about our FMD outbreak before it had "officially" happened.  A cheese customer in the market recently asked Karen about our experience of FMD in Devon.  She told Karen that she lives in a village in Yorkshire which "had" FMD.  She said that for about a fortnight before the disease was "found", young men who couldn't or wouldn't explain their presence turned up in the village, ready for the work associated with the mass slaughter.  Several were from Australia.  They said that they had heard the year before [in Australia] that there would be work available here...  It brought back memories of the whispers and hearsay - but why is it that the Australian secret services are more prepared to release intelligence which our Authorities keep from us? - and what will the Intelligence reports show when they are eventually released?
 
Lawrence