False assumptions - made in all sincerity by the modellers - led to disastrous overkill and possibly even slowed the containment of the epidemic
 
The mathematical modellers' advice in March 2001 was to kill animals in firebreak rings to prevent spread.  The Pirbright FMD experts disagreed, saying that tried and tested methods of efficient 24 hour slaughter on IPs and testing and monitoring ( and, only if necessary, killing within 48 hours) elsewhere was all that was required.  Yet other experts of international renown advocated the use of the new effective vacccines.  However, only Professor David King's Science Group and  its team of mathematical modellers were heeded by the Blair government. We - and they - now know that the assumptions they made as a result of the data they had, was disastrously wrong.  
 
Because of these false assumptions - understandable in view of the fact that the data available at the time was incomplete and inaccurate - the modellers appear sincerely to have thought that draconian measures were needed.  Since spread appeared to be leaping from farm to farm unaccountably it seemed logical and sensible to create the firebreak by taking out all animals in a wide circle around the Infected Premises.  Of course, any farmer resisting the killing of his animals seemed to be threatening all the rest with  selfish ignorance.  All possible means were employed to enforce compliance of the pre-emptive culling.

'However, most, if not all, of the few blood tests taken came back negative .  There must have been some who quickly realised that the policy was utterly misguided after all.  But how could they admit this?  Already, literally millions of animals had been killed, possibly for no good reason and at truly enormous cost  - and there were appalling political as well as social implications in making any public admission of error. 

In addition there must have been the underlying uneasy awareness that the 1981 Animal Health Act did not - whatever was asserted -  confer a legal right on the Minister to kill animals which had not been in contact with the virus.  A U turn was unthinkable politically.  Far too many reputations were at stake. No.  The policy must rumble on like the juggernaut it had become in order to end things as quickly as possible. Any dissenting voices, from whatever quarter, must be ridiculed and ignored.

Many farmers who knew that their stock was uninfected raised objections.  Hobby farmers and pet owners were even more upset.  Nevertheless, they were browbeaten, cajoled, blackmailed or - as a last resort -  threatened with court injunctions.  Here, however, the Ministry knew full well that it was on sticky ground.  Although threats of legal action in the courts were made, actual court cases were avoided as far as possible unless the Ministry felt itself to be unassailable.  When the Upton case  - a "Dangerous Contact" case DEFRA felt it could not possibly lose - showed that one High Court judge at least had been made aware of the relevance of new scientific research into the transmission of the current strain of the virus and gave his judgement in favour of Mrs Upton with costs to be paid by DEFRA,  there were no more court cases.. All the same, the policy of bluff, official-sounding coercion and early morning raids by the slaughter teams continued. The distress and trauma caused by the pre-emptive culling policy and by the way it was forced on people who did not know their rights will remain one of the most disgraceful episodes in recent history - the more so because the media were not prepared to publicise the quite desperate misery and lonely bafflement of so many of the people concerned, preferring to follow the spin emanating for Number 10 about fat cat farmers getting "millions in compensation"..

An understanding of the transmission of  the virus is the key to the truth of the 2001 UK foot and mouth crisis.  8226 premises  were pre-emptively culled ( that is, animals summarily killed on contiguous and dangerous contact premises)  We do not know how many of them were killed in spite of NOT having been "in any way exposed to the disease"  and  - since only animals "in any way exposed to the disease" could be killed lawfully - we do not yet know how many were killed illegally.

In order to find out and learn genuine lessons for the future, we need to know how the disease really spread.
 
None of the "Independent" Inquiries has tackled the question of how the FMD virus really spread.  Each appears to have accepted without question DEFRA's assertion that 78% of Infected Premises became infected as a result of "Local Spread", 10%  are "under investigation" and the remainder  "infected by animals, vehicles, people, windborne or other" (source: DEFRA's epidemiology report of 21 Oct 2001).
 
DEFRA   - in spite of the fact that it alone holds the key to this information - has not revealed the precise method or methods of spread for 88% of premises.  Pirbright doesn't know.  Pirbright was never permitted to interrogate the DEFRA database and there were problems with the computer link between Page Street and Pirbright throughout the entire crisis. 
 
DEFRA does not want this information about disease spread to get into the public domain for very obvious reasons.  If people realise just how many farms were misdiagnosed and how many pre-emptive culls took place around farms that did not have the disease at all,  they will realise that the true scale of the epidemic may have been far smaller than that assumed.  What is more, if the data showing the reality of the spread is revealed it could become crystal clear that the contiguous cull was not appropriate and resulted in enormous waste in terms of irreplaceable stock, healthy animals and money.  Far from ending the epidemic effectively, the modellers' policy may have seriously prolonged it.
 
The following information from Nicola Morris explains in detail what needs to be understood.
 
Mary Critchley