Jan 1-6 ~ "we did attempt to validate Fred Brown's test and it didn't pass the validation"
said Professor David King on the Today Programme (Dec 18) (See transcript below)
We will remind readers again of what actually happened since Professor King doesn't seem to remember. Here is an extract of the letter sent as evidence to the Royal Society Enquiry
It was also sent to the Lessons Learned Inquiry and given by hand to Lord Whitty
...Our real time PCR assay for foot and mouth disease (W) has been validated in the laboratory: it has proven to be a pre-clinical test for infection in cattle, swine and sheep, it detects all 7 serotypes of FMD virus and differentiates this infection from other viral diseases that cause similar clinical signs. The test is more sensitive than viral culture and will detect as few as 10 virus particles....The research paper with these results appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Some eight months after we had disclosed the existence of our x;h/lD test to Dr. Donaldson, we read in the Veterinary Record that the Pirbright Laboratory had subsequently established a relationship with Cepheid and conducted some experiments with FpvfB reagents supplied by that company (data published by Alex Donaldson and others in the Veterinary Record, 2001).
I have no idea what those reagents were because the paper does not describe them. But I can be sure that these reagents were not those developed by USDA-ARS and Tetracore because Cepheid does not have this proprietary information.
I hope there has been no confusion in Britain between the Cepheid mystery test and the real time PCR test developed at Plum Island...."
For Prof King to continue to suggest that "we did attempt to validate Fred Brown's test" is absurd. There was indeed "confusion in Britain between the Cepheid mystery test and the real time PCR test". In the Veterinary Record on 6 October 2001, "Evaluation of a portable, 'real-time' PCR machine for FMD diagnosis", Alex Donaldson and his team reported poor results, stating that:"The reagents used in the assay were recommended by the manufacturer of the instrument" - but of course they were not recommended by the manufacturer, only by Cepheid - who, of course, didn't know and were guessing. Had the real time PCR test been properly trialled with the correct reagents - in other words, if the US offer had been courteously accepted - the story of FMD in 2001 would be very different. But Professor King told the EFRA Committee that "there are very serious questions to be asked about the use of that machine in the field, in particular the problem of cross-contamination". If one studies the letter and compares it with what Professor King and Dr Donaldson were saying in March 2001 at that EFRA Committee meeting one is struck by a feeling of great regret at what may well have been a genuine but tragic mistake.
The Today Programme Radio Four
Date & time
Wednesday, 18th December 2002 0837
Subject / interviewee
European Parliament Report on Foot and Mouth Crisis – Professor David King
James Naughtie: The Government’s handling of the Foot and Mouth crisis last year was pretty slow and bureaucratic, that’s the official line taken in a new report from a Committee of the European Parliament.
Professor David King’s the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. He was Head of the scientific team that had to deal with Foot and Mouse crisis. We’re also going to talk about one or two other subjects in his briefcase.
But Professor King good morning. Let’s start with Foot and Mouth. Do you think that the criticism that we got it wrong, that it was slow and it was cumbersome and in many respects the wrong policies were adopted is fair?
Professor David King: No I don’t. Let me start by saying that one of the celebrations that we had this year was the declaration that we were once more a Foot and Mouth Disease free country on January the 20th. That means that emerging from probably the biggest epidemic the world has seen in that short space of time was really quite an achievement and I think a magnificent record.
JN: Except that what the European Parliament Committee concluded was that the contiguous cull policy was in some respects apart from being very distressing to many of the farmers involved unnecessarily it concludes that many animals were killed in a pretty awful way, didn’t do the job as well as some other methods would have done if they’d been adopted.
DK: Well let me first of all take the positive things that, that we all agree on coming out of those recommendations and that is the work on improved vaccines, the work on better testing. What we had at our disposal at that time left us with the cull policy to control the epidemic.
JN: Because you still argue that the policy of vaccination discriminating between diseased and vaccinated animals wasn’t, good enough tests weren’t available to make that …
DK: Absolutely right. There were no validated tests. As we sit here now there are no validated tests and of course we’re all working hard towards that objective. So I, I think that that’s the major message, that in future we hope to have these validated tests that would make that distinction and then we can see a different control measure coming in to force.
JN: There is a dispute about that though isn’t there, because there are some authorities, isn’t Professor Fred Brown one of those who says that there is a test which exists, could have been used and vaccination could have been brought in?
DK: Well I don’t think there’s any dispute there because we had, we did attempt to validate Fred Brown’s test and it didn’t pass the validation.
JN: If Foot and Mouth happened again, God forbid, in the way that it did last time, isn’t it true that many things would have to be different? That lessons were painfully learned, that some of the ways in which the inspectors operated on the ground quite apart from anything else some of the ways that the farmers were treated in the midst of the most awful, you know, disaster for them, really were unacceptable?
DK: Well I, I think the most important lesson that has been learnt is that the, the epidemic of that proportion should never happen again and the, the way to prevent it is to cut down on animal movements. And as, as you know we have instituted a twenty day standstill so that if a farmer brings fresh animals on to his or her farm land animals should not be moved off within twenty days.
JN: Because one of the things we’re …
DK: With that restriction in place I believe if, if it ever happens in Britain again we will have an outbreak but we won’t have an epidemic.
JN: Because the key mistake surely looking back was not restricting movements more effectively earlier.
DK: Well we, restrictions were introduced by MAFF. Once they had fully checked the tests on the animals that were discovered, but by that time there was something like one hundred and twenty locations for the disease around the country. It was already too late.
JN: Let me ask you about some of the other things that are occupying your mind.
DK: I’d be very happy to answer other things.
JN: On the question of nuclear power, you said a few things earlier this year about nuclear power which are interesting because you had been a sceptic and you seemed to be changing your view.
JN: Looking at what you see as necessary for the reduction of greenhouse gases you seem to believe that renewable sources simply won’t do the job. Does that mean that you’re warming again, if that’s not an inappropriate word, to nuclear power?
DK: You’re almost there on my views. I, I’m first of all …
JN: I want you to give your views, not me.
DK: I’m very keen to see that, that we work on energy efficiency gains. We’re, we’re using energy very inefficiently in this country and I think enormous benefits can be obtained from that. I’m very keen to see that we work hard on all forms of renewables and we, we are instigating a new national energy research centre that will be focused on these activities. But even if we manage to achieve twenty per cent renewables on our grid by 2020 …
JN: And that’s a big thing.
DK: That would be a big thing, it would be a major achievement and I think it’s an excellent target, but even if we achieve that and energy efficiency gains I think that we will need to depend on nuclear power to avoid carbon dioxide emissions. And, and …
JN: Do you think that’s accepted by the Government?
DK: Well we will see because there will be a White Paper emerging next year. Action will need to be taken over the next five years I would think on, on this. And it may be that people will wish to wait and see but, but certainly my view is that nuclear is something that we can learn to live with. Carbon dioxide we can not.
JN: You see many people on the environmentalist side of the argument if I can oversimplify it in that way, believed, have believed recently, that they may be close to coming to the end of nuclear power being seen as the solution. That Governments, this Government might finally accept that this wasn’t going to be the answer. You seem to be seeing that if we regard the cleaning up of the atmosphere as overwhelmingly important you can’t do without nuclear power.
DK: I think we’re all agreed that cleaning up the atmosphere is overwhelmingly important and the only disagreement is to the extent to which we can deal with that without nuclear power and that is the, I think the critical question.
JN: Quick word about GM foods, crops. We’re going to get the report that the, the, the great investigation in to all this, but we won’t have the results of the Government’s trials. Doesn’t that invalidate the whole thing?
DK: What we’re proceeding on is the following. There is a public debate being launched by the Chairman of the AEBC, well at arm’s length from the Government. There is a review of the financial aspects of this from within Number Ten and I’m leading a science review.
In addition we will have the results from these trials within the UK. Those results will probably not be published until next summer, possibly late next summer, and it is true that our science review will be reporting before then. But no Government decisions will be made until all three debates and reviews are completed and the trial results are in.
JN: We have to leave it there for now. Professor David King, Chief Scientific Adviser, thanks very much indeed.