Royal Society of Edinburgh 

Report Summary

(For whole report as .pdf file click here)

 

1. Foot and Mouth is a highly infectious disease and the 2001 outbreak was the worst ever in Britain. The consequences for agriculture were serious and the measures taken to bring the outbreak under control had consequences no less serious for many other industries, particularly those operating in the countryside and most notably tourism. This report, commissioned by the RSE, investigates the outbreak in Scotland and, drawing on the evidence presented to it, concentrates on the lessons which can be learned to avoid some of the costs and much of the trauma in fighting any future outbreak.

 

2. The report discusses the cost to agriculture in Scotland from the loss of livestock slaughtered in pursuit of the stamping out policy; compensation for this stock came to £171m. This did not however meet loss of income while farms were without stock nor did it extend to farms which were not culled but where farming was disrupted by movement restrictions; these additional losses are estimated at £60m. We go on to consider the costs to the wider economy in Scotland and look at the effect on tourism, accounting as it does for 5% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)-compared with 1.4% for agriculture. The effects for tourism were not evenly felt and there were even some gains for urban tourism. But overall there were losses and  VisitScotland estimates a loss in gross revenue of £200m- £250m for Scotland as a whole.

 

3. The conclusion which the report draws from these foregoing figures is that in formulating policy to deal with a livestock epidemic it is inadequate to treat it as purely an agricultural problem. A somewhat similar point is made in commenting on the serious social and psychological effects of coping with large-scale slaughter of susceptible animals in the countryside. Whole communities, not least children, were affected and contingency planning must take account of these consequences.

 

4. The disease and its diagnosis are discussed. The Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) (a test which takes 4 hours) was the laboratory assay used for detecting the virus; where that produced a negative result, a virus isolation test was used, taking up to 4 days, for a negative result to be assured. In the early days of the outbreak, diagnostic capacity at Pirbright Laboratory of the Institute of Animal Health was overloaded, with consequential delays in obtaining results in Scotland.

The Reverse Transcriptase -Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) technology, which can be used in laboratory tests where a different level of biosecurity is acceptable, has, however, been available for some years.

We therefore make twoimportant recommendations:

1) that there should be a regional laboratory in Scotland to carry out Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) testing; and

2) that a high priority should be given to further development of the RT-PCR test for FMD as well as to the development of other on-farm tests for FMD.

 

5. In controlling the outbreak the first action should be a ban on all movement as soon as an FMD case is confirmed. In 2001 this was not done until the third day after confirmation and evidence to the Inquiry suggests that an immediate ban could have saved from a third to a half of subsequent slaughterings.

 

6. The use of modelling techniques in decision-making is questioned. In particular, the transparency of the process was lacking and only a fraction of the considerable relevant scientific expertise in Scotland was  called on to aid in the process.

 

7. Vaccination is discussed and major advances in research and development described. Although it was considered, vaccination was not called upon during the 2001 outbreak, since animals would have had to be slaughtered to ensure rapid resumption of exports.

Recent experience of vaccination in Uruguay and in the  Netherlands is described. The progress in developing serological tests to discriminate between vaccinated and naturally infected animals is described; with modern purified vaccines, tests can now discriminate between vaccinated animals and those with the disease.

This powerfully supports the case for emergency  protective vaccination without subsequent slaughter, except for infected animals. The report notes the  case for prophylactic vaccination in a world where the global threat of FMD is a continuing one, but  concludes that such vaccination is not an immediate priority.

It does however recommend that future contingency plans should incorporate emergency barrier or ring vaccination as an adjunct to slaughter of clinical cases, as this would lead to a considerable reduction in the number of animals requiring to be slaughtered.

8. The report considers that any reservations there may be about the consumption of meat and milk from vaccinated animals are unjustified and recommends that the Food Standards Agency take early steps to reassure the public.

 It is noted that the OIE have reduced to 6 months the period required to regain FMD free status after vaccination and recommends that the Government should press the EU to clarify its policy on the export of vaccinated meat between member states.

9. FMD only breaks out in the UK because it is brought in from other countries. The report makes recommendations about import controls which need EU wide support to be effective. The importance of surveillance is stressed and particularly the need for it on entry to the UK and at markets, abattoirs and farms. Biosecurity is an important issue at all times, not just at the time of an outbreak, and one where the responsibility lies throughout the agricultural industry. We think that SEERAD should take a lead in establishing the standards to be applied at the start of an outbreak as well as in normal times.

10. The report recognises that there were many dedicated people who worked extremely long hours in very difficult conditions and undertook tasks well beyond their normal responsibilities and who contributed very significantly in bringing the outbreak in Scotland under control.

However, it also recognises that there are lessons to be learned for the future management of a disease outbreak and has suggested ways in which improvement may be brought about.

11. We believe that the role of the Scottish Minister responsible for animal health should be integral to GB decision making and further recommend that the post of Chief Veterinary Officer (Scotland) should be created with direct responsibility for all aspects of veterinary matters. To assist him at times of crisis we propose that there should be a "Territorial Veterinary Army" drawn from veterinarians in private practice and others qualified, who would be available to be called on when needed.

12. The disposal of carcasses resulting from a slaughter policy raises practical difficulties. There are three options: rendering, burning or burial. Initial advice in 2001 was that after rendering where possible, burning was to be preferred because of the threat burial presented to aquifers in Dumfries and Galloway.

This advice was later amended to relegate burning to the third option because of the toxic threat from dioxins released into the air as well as the growing public revulsion to the sight and smell of burning pyres.

The report accepts that burial should be preferred over burning unless there are risks to the water supply.

The role of SEPA is discussed with the recommendation that they should have a clear role in contingencyplanning and in management of any future emergency.

13. The large scale killing of livestock in field conditions and the restriction on animal movements both raise Animal Welfare concerns. We support the Farm Animal Welfare Council recommendation for operational guidelines for slaughtermen and for the need to take account of the dispersed nature of many holdings in formulating movement restriction.

14. Compensation for slaughtered animals was an issue of some controversy during and after the outbreak. The rules changed several times and charges of inconsistency were made. We recommend that there should be a clear strategy for dealing with valuation and the strategy should be adhered to throughout any outbreak.

15. The main problem in dealing with access was that it was easy enough – and we agree necessary – to close the countryside down at the beginning of the outbreak but much more difficult in practice to reopen it. In our view this could be avoided by closing the country down initially for no more than three weeks and reopening in non-affected areas as soon as the threat receded.

16. Finally we attach great importance to Contingency Planning to meet future challenges from FMD and any other animal diseases. We make our own detailed suggestions as to what should be covered but in particular stress the need for regular exercises to test the plans and back that up with the recommendation for the setting up of an independent standing committee to monitor the maintenance of effective planning.