THE NATIONAL FOOT & MOUTH GROUP

An affiliation of organisations affected by 2001 UK epidemic

 

Co-ordinating Office:              3 The Common, Siddington, Cirencester, Glos  GL7 6EY

Tel: 01285 644319 / 01285 656812

 

 

 

PRESENTATION TO EU TEMPORARY COMMITTEE INTO FMD

 

VISIT TO THE FOREST OF DEAN, GLOUCESTERSHIRE

 

22 June 2002

 

 

Good Morning Chairman and MEPs

 

Firstly, can I thank the European Union Temporary Committee for extending their schedule of visits to include Gloucestershire and express our gratitude to you for coming to the Forest of Dean to hear our accounts of the FMD epidemic at first hand.  Your visit is greatly appreciated.

 

The experiences in the Forest of Dean were unique – because this is the only region in the UK where public concern and protest succeeded in halting the slaughter due to FMD and resulted in the UK Government abandoning its policy of contiguous cull.

 

So great was the concern of the public and rural community, about the way the disease was being handled, that many were prepared to mount peaceable farm gate protests to demonstrate against the sheer scale and barbarity of the culling going on around them. They also wanted to ensure that farmers were not intimidated and threatened into giving up their animals; without the due processes being followed and without farmers being allowed to appeal. 

 

The action started with the stance taken by Oaklands Park Community Farm, who were not prepared to let their healthy animals be slaughtered without blood testing to determine whether their stock had been exposed to Foot and Mouth.

 

It was then thanks to Carole Youngs and Siobhan Spivack, two local women with determined principles, that similar protests were then taken at farm gates within the Forest.   They formed the Forest of Dean FMD Action Group and set up a helpline – within hours they had been inundated with requests for help and offers of support.

 

Within 5 days a public meeting was arranged and 350 local people from all walks of life packed Drybrook Village Hall to voice their concerns and deep distrust at the handling of the disease.

 

The Divisional Vet Manager for Gloucester, Mr David Parker, attended the meeting and within 45 minutes had told us that he wished to blood test and not proceed with the Contiguous Cull – but that the UK Govt would not allow this.

 

However, he agreed to halt the cull and support us in lobbying the Govt to agree to blood test.  3 weeks later – with the cull still suspended – the Govt agreed to test.

 

All 34 of the Contiguous Culls that had been directed in the Forest of Dean gave negative results when lab tested.

 

At the time there was a general feeling that the incidence of disease was far less than was being reported.  Again with the support of the DVM, Mr Parker, we wrote to Govt to ask how many of the ‘Infected’ Premises had been tested and how many were positive?

 

9 months later we have finally ascertained the results.

 

Not only had very few premises been laboratory tested to confirm the disease, but, most importantly, very few premises had actually had the disease confirmed.

 

In Gloucestershire 326 farms were culled, but only 46 were tested, and of these only 13 gave positive results.

 

Furthermore the same low level of disease was apparent in the neighbouring counties of Hereford and Worcestershire:

 

Heref/Worcs:   394 farms culled,   49  tested       15 lab positives

 

Shropshire:       131 farms culled,   8 tested           5 lab positives

 

Nor was this pattern of very few positives being confirmed in lab tests particular to this region.

 

In Wales, only 60 lab test positives were confirmed – but 806 farms were culled.

 

On Anglesey  only 5 farms proved positive in the lab – but 244 farms were culled.

 

In the county of Wigtownshire only 2 farms proved positive in the lab – but 218 farms were culled.

 

At the Great Orton burial pits, the site that you visited in Cumbria, from the = million (481,000)  sheep that were sent for slaughter and buried there only 1 farm was definitely identified to have had the disease.  

 

Sheep from 115 farms were tested, 5786 animals in total, between the 7th and 23rd of April 2001.

 

One farm had a positive test on 9 sheep

 

One farm had what the DVM for Cumbria, Andrew Hayward, termed “mild” positive with 2 sheep testing positive.

 

Three farms were inconclusive and the rest, 110 farms had negative test results.

 

 

These results are truly shocking.  The experiences of last year were devastating enough – to then discover that the misery and suffering which people went through in seeing their animals, and in many cases their life’s work, wiped out before them had not been in any way necessary, makes all the trauma even harder to bear and deal with.  In addition these measures have also resulted in massive financial costs.

 

 

 

2 Lessons are clear:

 

1            Diagnosis must be accurate and reliable

 

2            Clinical diagnosis should be supported and confirmed by lab/test analysis.

 

There is far too much at stake, not just to farmers and their animals, but to all other sectors of the rural economy and to its society and communities, for such vagaries and inaccuracies in diagnosis ever to be allowed again.

 

However, perhaps the most important issues arising from these results is that they conclusively demonstrate that Contiguous culls, pre-emptive slaughter and Firebreak Culls, as means of controlling FMD, just cannot be justified.

 

These means of control have resulted in a huge amount of animal and human suffering, major financial costs to individuals, the UK Govt, and now to the EU Parliament, with massive compensation claims and the costs of slaughter and disposal, and also resulted in widespread disruption and disaster right across the rural areas of the UK.

 

Furthermore, these measures were neither required or necessary to control the disease.

 

In Cumbria the firebreak cull to slaughter all the sheep in the County was introduced on the 15 March - without any scientific justification.  It was totally contrary to the science of  FMD and the way the disease moves through sheep .  Dr Sheila Crispin eloquently spoke last night of the lack of scientific rationale, and the Great Orton figures demonstrably show this.

 

At the end of March the Contiguous Cull policy was introduced – based on models which have subsequently been discredited by no lesser FMD expert than Dr Paul Kitching, the former head of the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright – who had undertaken many years of research into the Pan Asia ‘O’ strain of FMD.

 

However, from the lab test results it is now clear that only about 4% of the Contiguous Culls, Slaughter on Suspicion and Dangerous Contacts were subsequently shown to be infected.

 

Furthermore, the key action which should have been taken, and which was even recommended way back in 1967 by the Northumberland Report, which was to impose animal movement restrictions as soon as the disease was confirmed, was not done.

 

The failure to impose national movement restrictions resulted in a massive dispersal of the disease as markets and animal movements continued – further bolstered by those animals which had been caught up in the ban on exports, then entering the auction marts.

 

This delay increased the epidemic by 1/3 to a = in the number of animals affected and the impact of the disease – and this comes from Prof Mark Woolhouse, one of the Govt’s own advisers.   (See EFRA Sel Cttee report – 7 Nov 2001)

 

By the time the Contiguous Cull was introduced, the 28 March 2001, the epidemic had already peaked and was in decline. 

 

The accepted methods of control of animal standstill, enforced bio-security, effective farm quarantine, monitoring and surveillance were working.  But the pre-emptive and contiguous culls meant so many more animals had to be culled and disposed of that the 24 hour slaughter of Infected Premises could not be achieved.

 

The EU Directive on FMD 85/511 makes no reference to the role of Contiguous, pre-emptive or Firebreak Culls as a means of controlling disease – nor should it ever be allowed to do so.

 

What was needed was a clear, understood and agreed Contingency Plan – but it appeared decisions were being made on the hoof, without reason or justification, and in an increasing atmosphere of panic and chaos.

 

No doubt the Committee has heard a great deal about Contingency Plans – or the lack of them – so I will just make reference to 6 key points which demonstrate that despite the increasing and recognised likelihood of an FMD outbreak, no action appears to have been taken:

 

1          The UK did not appear to have developed Contingency Plans in line with the EU Contingency Plan drawn up and adopted in 1993 – which detailed responses at national, regional and local level.

 

2          On 17 September 1998 MAFF wrote to all swill feed pig farmers asking them to be extra vigilant as there was an increasing risk of FMD importation – but no update of contingency plans appeared to deal with this risk.

 

3          In March 1999 the EU adopted The Strategy for Emergency Vaccination against FMD, but again its recommendations, which included that National Contingency Plans should make provision for the possible use of emergency vaccination –  was not taken up in the UK.

 

4          In March 2000 the EU FMD Conference considered the increasing spread of the Pan Asia ‘O’ Strain of FMD and concluded and recommended that Member states “note the deteriorating FMD situation …and strengthen and heighten their preparedness and awareness of the risks of FMD”.    Again no action appears to have been taken.

 

(I would like to add here that there seems little point in having EU adopted policies and meetings of the EU FMD conference, if the provisions of the policies and the warnings and recommendations of the EU FMD conference go totally unheeded or are not taken up by Member states – there is a need to ensure that they are acted upon. )

 

5          And only yesterday it was revealed in the National Audit Office report that the Chief Vet had written to Ministers in 1999 to say that if there was a major outbreak of the disease the existing Contingency Plans would not be adequate to deal with the disease.   But again no action followed this.

 

6          Finally we understand that scenario planning was undertaken by several MAFF offices at differing times.  And that these demonstrated that existing provisions would not be able to cope.  In one of these, by day 3 all vets had been used up and by day 5 the disease was out of control and vaccination provided the only sensible means of bringing the disease under control.   But again no revision or update of contingency plans was undertaken.

 

 

The apparent lack of a clear strategy to deal with the disease further compounded the anxiety and distrust of many caught up in the maelstrom which engulfed rural areas in the spring and summer of 2001.

 

In a modern, humane, developed society the control of animal diseases must have regard to ethical, social and moral obligations.

 

This organisation felt that never again must we endure the devastation and trauma of the past 12 months.

 

In addition, with ever expanding global trade and the increasing movement of people, animals, carcasses and food it is not realistic or achievable to develop fortress Europe.  

 

The risk of FMD importation is far more likely to increase,  than diminish – and to be honest it is impossible to impose adequate border controls either around the EU or from importing countries – so great is the sheer magnitude of goods and products and people that are being transported.

 

It is not bush meat or ‘illegal’ imports which pose the threat – but far more likely to come from areas of the world where FMD endemic areas and FMD free areas have inadequate boundary surveillance and enforcement, resulting in the contamination of  legal imports with infected animals or carcasses.

 

We have discussed this with Tony Garland, formerly of IAH Pirbright, who was involved in border inspection surveillance and he concurred that it was impossible to check and scrutinise every movement and shipment across frontiers and borders, so great is the sheer volume of people, vehicles and containers involved.

 

It may well be better and more sensible for the EU to consider a move towards a more risk orientated policy to respond to the disease rather than impose exhaustive, but ineffectual measures, to prevent the disease from entering the EU.

 

It was for all these reasons that we submitted evidence to the Royal Society Scientific Inquiry and with Vets for Vaccination sought to ensure that the use of vaccination, to respond to all these concerns, was fully researched and investigated by the Inquiry.

 

We presented to the Inquiry the current position on modern vaccines and the appropriate tests which could be used as part of a vaccination program.  We also endeavoured to ensure that the Inquiry took evidence from many of the leading FMD scientists who had not been consulted by the UK during the epidemic.

 

We are extremely grateful that your Committee, Chairman, has also heard evidence from these scientists.

 

As a result of our meeting with the Royal Society we liaised with Dr Keith Sumption of Edinburgh University and Paul van Aarle of Intervet, one of the pharmaceutical companies which had developed a marker test for FMD, to produce a workable, implementable programme for the use of vaccination.

 

We also consulted with Dr Paul Sutmoller and Dr Simon Barteling of the Netherlands and had regard to their papers and various presentations.

 

 

The result was our Draft Programme for the Containment, Control and Eradication of FMD incorporating the Use of Emergency Protective Vaccination.

 

A copy of this and the supporting papers has been supplied to your Committee.

 

 

The programme seeks to overcome the various objections that have been raised in relation to vaccination in the UK, namely:

 

the issue of carrier animals,

 

the use of vaccinated meat and milk, etc

 

and that vaccination would hinder or compromise a national eradication programme and return to disease free status.

 

The key principles of the programme are based on the use of Non Structural Protein Free Vaccines and the subsequent use of FMD marker tests to differentiate between animals which have responded to vaccination and those which respond to viral challenge.

 

The approach we have adopted is to apply this protocol on a herd and flock basis so that it is possible to determine those animals which have not been exposed to the virus and can continue to live out their normal economic life, and those which have been exposed to infection and will therefore need to be slaughtered.

 

The Vaccination Programme has been submitted to both the Royal Society of London and Edinburgh Inquiries and to the Lessons Learned Inquiry.

 

I am very pleased to report that it has been well received and was discussed at length by the Edinburgh Inquiry with Dr Sutmoller who has endorsed it 100%.

 

The greatest development has been the change in policy by the OIE – who have now endorsed this approach at their recent conference 2 weeks ago.   And this marks a great step forward in making science based risk assessment the key consideration in returning to disease free status and export markets – as opposed to the use of arbitrary time scales.

 

However, perhaps the most welcome news we have had, which marks a move towards the use of vaccination, was only yesterday.  When, in response to the suspected outbreak of FMD in Leicestershire, it was announced that Jim Scudamore, the Chief Vet, stood ready to vaccinate if the disease was confirmed.

 

This marks a seismic shift in UK policy towards vaccination and one that we can only welcome and are relieved to hear.

 

Chairman, you and your Committee heard in Brussels on Monday the views of many eminent scientists that such vaccines and tests have been available for six years.   What we cannot understand is why such vaccines and tests have not been validated and authorised for use in the UK or Europe – it seems that the political will  and funding has not been made available to ensure that these become the leading tools to deal with FMD.

 

 

 

We urge, Chairman, that having heard so many of the truly dreadful and unacceptable experiences in the UK in 2001 that your Committee now urges that modern diagnostic procedures, vaccines and tests are validated for use with all urgency.

 

What happened in the UK FMD epidemic of 2001 must never happen again - either in the UK, or Europe, or to any other country.

 

At our meeting in Drybrook, way back in April 2001, with the disaster raging around us,  we agreed that, if necessary, we would take our case to Europe – we never envisaged that it would be you who came to us – but you have come - and to hear our case – and we are truly grateful. 

 

 

Janet Bayley

NFMG

22 June 2002