the Countryside Alliance Campaign for Independent Food
PO Box 16141 London SE11 4ZH
Telephone: 020 8740 7194
Response by the Countryside Alliance
to the Government Foot and Mouth Contingency Plans 2003
The Countryside Alliance and Honest Food welcome the fact that the Government has produced Contingency Plans to deal with a possible foot and mouth epidemic and welcome, also, the Government’s assurances that vaccination has been placed at the top of the agenda. The Countryside Alliance believes that, as far as possible, the preferred weapon to deal with a possible epidemic should be targeted vaccination to live. The massive slaughter of healthy animals with the accompanying economic, social and psychological problems, that took place during the 2001 epidemic ought not to be repeated.
The Countryside Alliance and Honest Food are aware that any UK contingency plan has to adopt measures that will be put forward in the proposed EU Directive and will be responding in time to the consultation on the existing draft directive.
The Director of Honest Food has attended a number of meetings with DEFRA and other stakeholders on behalf of the Countryside Alliance. This response will, therefore, take into account discussions that took place during those meetings.
While we welcome the publication of the contingency plans, we find it a little disappointing that, despite assurances, these do not seem to be much of an advance on the previous plans that did not, on the whole, prove to be very effective during the epidemic.
We also find it disappointing that inadequate attention has been paid to recent scientific developments around the world.
In particular, we would like to know whether there are any plans to develop on-farm testing for confirmation of FMD. Containment of a rapidly spreading disease and targeted vaccination or slaughter depend largely on ability to diagnose disease as rapidly as possible. While on-farm diagnosis will have to be confirmed by laboratory testing, it ought to be considered as an important part of the procedure. We understand that various methods of on-farm testing are being validated at the moment but would like some assurance that the validation process is going ahead as rapidly as possible; work done outside the United Kingdom and the European Union is being taken into account seriously; and that the possibility of validation being done by highly regarded private laboratories in parallel to DEFRA tests is being explored. None of this has been made clear either by the published contingency plans or by ongoing discussions of the stakeholders’ group.
Very much the same comments would apply to the surveillance system. While we accept that DEFRA and Pirbright are working on surveillance systems and are, as the stakeholders’ meeting was told, well aware of the newest technology, we are also aware that there were serious faults in the system during the last epidemic. We would like definite assurances that these faults are being dealt with and, again, work outside DEFRA and Pirbright is being taken into account and, when possible, used.
The Countryside Alliance and Honest Food welcome the action plans and decision trees that are part of the contingency plans. However, we find it disturbing that during discussions in the stakeholders’ groups all enquiries about the various structures that have to be put into place were met with a somewhat laid back response. Apparently, these structures are being put into place but there no sense of urgency is apparent. It is quite right that all possible care should be taken as much will depend on these structures, the presence of an adequate number of trained personnel and adequate amount of vaccine etc. However, we should like some indication how far the work has progressed and when will DEFRA be in a position to say that its preparations are coming to an end. It would be catastrophic if another outbreak occurred while leisurely preparations were being carried.
Finally, the Countryside Alliance and Honest Food would like to see in Annex L – Biosecurity Advice and Guidance a reference to the need for biosecurity rules to be strictly obeyed by those who enter farms and other premises in order to carry out tests, to vaccinate or to slaughter.
We hope these ideas will be helpful to further discussion of the contingency plans.
Helen Szamuely (Dr)
Director, Honest Food (a Countryside Alliance campaign)