Dear Mr Eddy
I write to you from France with queries about the position of the RCVS on present FMD policy in Britain. It would be very kind of you if you could spare the time for a brief reply. I realise how very busy you must be.
I want to raise five points:
a) the stance of FMD experts/scientists who do have veterinary knowledge
b) the measures carried out against pet animals - as in the example below
c) the apparent refusal of Maff to allow any independent testing
d) the power wielded by the NFU executive in refusing vaccination
e) the position (and reputation) of the veterinary service in supporting a policy that seems more and more disquieting.
I have been following the FMD policy in Britain very closely indeed for the past month or more.
The arguments of Dr Donaldson and others in The Veterinary Record for May 12th suggest that the 3km cull policy is ill advised and based on data that leads to "over-simplification" and "inaccurate forecasts". That "animals on contiguous premises should not be at risk from uncontrollable spread, that is from airborne spread, unless a) there are pigs or very large numbers of cattle or sheep on the affected premise with early clinical signs, and b) the concentration of virus in the plume was at the same or higher concentration required to infect them.." and at the end of the article.."The potential benefits of culling all animals on all contiguous premises within 48 hours should be weighed against the likelihood that many of the contiguous premises did not contain infected animals, the impact of having to dispose of the resultant animal carcases and the diversion of very limited veterinary resources and support staff from surveillance activities."
In a leaked memo from Pirbright April 24 I read that Dr Kitching said
The other aspect which is worth noting is that as sheep are the least infective of cattle sheep and pigs, and that by quite a considerable margin, there is a relatively low risk of sheep infecting cattle at this stage in the progression of the disease and that risk can be even further reduced by carrying out a proper Risk Assessment (a concept advocated and developed by the SVS) on farms where sheep and cattle have normally been farmed together. It becomes clear that this strategy of establishing when sheep might have had any dangerous contact and working with an enlightened veterinary surgeon developing an individual farm least risk policy under regular surveillance might provide a sensible means of making progress.
Key findings from the Report of the Committee of Inquiry On Foot-and-Mouth Disease in 1968 (sometimes referred to as the Northampton Report on FMD)
In several places the Committee also reported on the carrier status of animals "the consensus of opinion among our scientific witnesses was that the danger of carrier animals had been exaggerated and that carriers in a susceptible population did not constitute a significant risk". This was supported by the EU Commission for the Control FMD at the time "only in exceptional cases are recovered animals able to transmit.... therefore would seem to play a very small role in the epizootiology of the desease".
Is this view now out of date? It would seem to have relevance for the fear that sheep (in particular) may have contracted the disease and since recovered but now pose a threat. Similarly, Keith Sumption (on the http://www.sheepdrove.com website) made the following point about vaccinated animals who may be carriers:
As mentioned before, carrier animals are considered a low risk in disease spread. Therefore given the ability to screen herds with new tests, detaining animals indefinitely would not accord with the EU Strategy document or would be a position which would be acceptable to farmers. In addition it would not be a necessary restriction given the advanced state of the art of tests for herds containing carrier animals. The strategy document promotes the use of screening tests and removal at herd level of herds that contain infected animals. Risk assessment should be the basis of restrictive practices (World Animal health organisation, Animal health Code 2000), and also the basis for removal of restrictions upon vaccinated animals from herds shown to be clear of infection. Clearly it is logical that herds without evidence of infection are not detained indefinitely when FMD risk is practically zero.
I read elsewhere ( for example at http://www.warmwell.com/inbox.html/ ) some very unpleasant stories of unreasonable harrassment. This one seems particularly worthy of your notice...."(Mr C.-D.) kept his 2 pet goats in strict isolation. He is a vet and obviously knows what to do, and what to look for (he worked in a vet team in the 1967 outbreak). 37 days later he was contacted by SERAD (Scot. Executive Rural Affairs Dept) and told that his animals would have to be slaughtered, because he came within the 3 km zone. He apparently tried to appeal, and had discussions with the Senior Vet of the Dumfries slaughter squad but to no avail. The animals had been tested, and Mr CD's premises were not contiguous, being separated from the pig farm by a housing estate. He expressed his dismay in his letter that a fellow vet could behave in such a way. He apparently told the Senior vet that there was no veterinary reason for slaughtering his animals, that it must have been a political decision. The slaughter went ahead."
This seems to me extraordinary - and I would very much welcome your comments
A contact at Plum Island expressed surprise to me that no sample of the virus of this outbreak had been sent from Pirbright.
There is also an open letter from Colin Fink B.Sc.,MB.,Ph.D.,FRCPath of Warwick Science Park, (my highlighting) which was sent just after MAFF withdrew from its threatened legal action against the Thomas Everards in Dulverton.
Dear A*****, Re F& M matters
Thank you for telephoning me and for giving me the update on the events on the farm near Exmoor. It is a matter of some concern that MAAF have so little understanding of the regulations on which they rely. I can assure you that they have even less understanding of the virology which is so essential for any sensible policy applied to the present problem. I was quite surprised to hear from Mr Fred Landeg at Page Street that he clearly did not know the difference between a protein and nucleic acid. As he seems to be the power at MAAF at least coordinating if not making policy for people in the field his unfortunate failure to grasp the basics is not reassuring.
As you know I started to apply some three weeks ago to MAAF for some fixed ( non infectious) virus or some extracted nucleic acid ( RNA) from the F & M virus currently causing the infection, so that we might develop a rapid, specific and highly sensitive viral assay. This has been of concern for a number of reasons:
1 MAAF and the Vet agency at Pirbright are not routinely using this type of assay (probably not using it at all) to detect infection in the herds. They have not undertaken any survey of the culled animals and so we have no assessment of the extent of the infection nor any understanding of its natural history within an animal measured by this state-of-the-art assay to see viremia in the blood or oro-pharyngeal infection from mouth swabs. This is a catastrophic loss of opportunity to gain basic knowledge and is entirely consistent with their retained medieval approach to the whole problem. As my colleague Professor Fred Brown said "it is an unacceptable loss of animals without justification"
2 We have been approached by many individuals and also several major agencies in the UK who do not trust MAAF and its approach and wish to have access to independent testing of the herds. This is because of a fear of residual low level infection and also to have sound virological information available in case of a cull order.
3 The availability of the exquisitely sensitive assay in independent hands will enable us to undertake some of the field work that MAAF have failed to do and we will latterly be able to supply decent information for epidemiologists to use. Whilst we may be too late for the UK , in this outbreak, the establishment of a good assay will put the UK ahead (at least in the private sector) to offer this service for Europe as required. At the meeting held at the CLA on April 24th Lindsay Harris a MAAF policy spokesman agreed to arrange contacts for me to ensure a supply of fixed virus. No contact on his instigation has taken place. At the meting on the same day under the Chairmanship of the Countess of Mar at the House of Lords, Dr Paul Kitching Head of the Exotic disease Ref. Lab at Pirbright agreed to supply fixed material but indicated that clearance from Fred Landeg at Page Street was required. I have had contact with Fred Landeg who has raised objection under the Specified Animal Pathogen Order 1998. I have made it clear to him that this is not relevant to fixed (uninfectious) nucleic acid or fixed virus to develop our assay. His objection to potential infection of posted specimens also does not stand up because we would supply material to render any sample fixed and also supply safe carriage and packing as we do on a day to day basis for receipt of human pathogenic material.
I do hope that this gives you some useful information. You are most welcome to send this letter to any party. Best wishes, Yours,
Colin G Fink B.Sc.,MB.,Ph.D.,FRCPath Virological Scientist and Physician for the company
I wonder at the attitude of the NFU in all this - I had assumed that at first a natural desire to protect the "FMD-free without vaccination" status was behind their reluctance to vaccinate - but then, in the Farmers Weekly on Friday, I read an article with the title,
"The Ministry plans to Slash the National Herd"
in which a journalist called Alastair Driver says:
"Civil servants are considering plans to ensure that Britain's livestock industry, devastated by foot-and-mouth, is unable to return to pre-crisis levels...
..Official statistics show that more than 4 million animals
have been slaughtered due to foot-and-mouth. But some sources suggest the final
death toll will reach 8m.
To prevent the industry rebuilding, the proposals would see the government buying sheep and suckler cow quota from farmers who leave the industry.
Quota would be stockpiled in a national reserve, guaranteeing that livestock numbers were reduced. It would not be reallocated....
and goes on to say the National Farmers' Union has backed the plans.
NFU deputy director general Ian Gardiner said: "It is
The scheme would provide short-term relief for sheep farmers who had lost 30% of their market because of the foot-and-mouth export ban, he said.
The departure of some farmers after foot-and-mouth could provide other with a golden opportunity to restructure, said Mr Gardiner....Vacated holdings could be combined with neighbouring farms to create bigger, more efficient units, he said.
If the government wishes to merge small farms into larger conglomerates for reasons of efficiency its present contiguous culling policy seems rather timely. The average farmer gives sad but willing cooperation to the cull either for altruistic reasons (to save his neighbour's stock) or because he is so desperate for money that the compensation seems heaven-sent. Those farmers who resist (and pet owners of course) meet with what can only be described as bullying tactics.
As in the case of the vet above - and the publicised horror stories on websites such as Warmwell.com - the veterinary service seems to have become merely a tool of the government. I find this very disquieting.
In the last stages of a run-up to the election there is little to be gained from raising these points with the politicians (although I do). The government are not going to perform a volte-face on this issue for any reason at all at present. I feel I can, however, turn to you. I feel great anxiety about what is happening and know perfectly well that I can myself do so little to influence events. You are in a quite different position. I very much look forward to your reply.