From the Farmers Guardian Friday January 10th

CRITICS of the foot-and-mouth cull policy, which led to the slaughter of an estimated 10 million animals in 2001, have attacked the decision to award a knighthood to the man behind it, Professor David King.


Tony Blair's Chief Scientific Adviser took charge of the foot-and-mouth control policy in March 2001. His advice to Ministers, based on computer models created by epidemiologists, led to the controversial 3km and contiguous cull policies. The Prime Minister's decision to award him a knighthood in the Queen's New Year Honours List provoked an angry response from opponents of the policy.


In a letter to FG, Pat Walker, secretary of the North Yorkshire Smallholders Society, accused the Government of 'sheer arrogance' in rewarding Prof King 'for the biggest disgrace in recent history'. "They killed 10 million animals, most healthy, and destroyed people's trust in the present Government. Prof King was totally wrong in the advice he gave the Government and if he had any conscience he would refuse his knighthood."


Anthony Gibson, director of the South West NFU, was a fierce critic of the contiguous cull, which he described as 'one of the most bloody, tragic and disgraceful misjudgements made in the name of science'. He told FG that farmers in the region would be unhappy with the award. "If this recognises the work he did during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, there will not be many farmers around here that appreciate the accolade," he said.


He welcomed, however, the award of an OBE to Dr Alex Donaldson, head of the Pirbright Laboratory for the Institute of Animal Health and another central figure in the outbreak. He said Dr Donaldson had been a strong critic of the cull. 


But the FMD Forum, which campaigned for vaccination to take priority over culling from the start of the outbreak, attacked both awards. "It is ironic that Professor David King who several times publicly admitted to knowing nothing about foot-and-mouth disease gets a knighthood for choosing and presiding over a team of vets and scientific 'experts' whose expertise was not foot-and-mouth. Then on top of this Dr Alex Donaldson gets the OBE for being director of the mind boggling inadequacies of Pirbright throughout the outbreak," said the forum's Alicia Eykyn.


It is unclear how many animals were culled during the outbreak. Officially less than seven million animals were culled, but other estimates that take into account new born lambs and calves put the number at nearly 10 million.


The epidemiological models that formed the basis of Prof King's advice to Government in March 2001, formulated by four groups of scientists he brought together in the FMD Science Group, remain controversial. The recent EU Parliament report on the foot-and-mouth crisis notes that the mode of transmission did not play any part in the models that were meant to predict the spread of disease. It said it is 'controversial and doubtful' whether the cull policy was responsible for bringing the disease under control. Dr Iain Anderson's Lessons Learned inquiry was more sympathetic towards the cull, arguing that it was a 'simple formula' that was justified by the 'desperate situation' at the time.


Prof King, who is head of the Office of Science and Technology and a Fellow of the Royal Society, was appointed as Chief Scientific Adviser in October 2000. He is currently chairing the Government's GM Science Review Panel, part of the ongoing debate on the technology.