From the Letters Pages of the Veterinary Record, The Scotsman , The Times, Sunday Times and others.


(More recent letters have been put on the relevant newspaper page itself)

Aug 12 From the Sunday Times Farmers have lost enough

THE scandal is not the compensation payments to farmers who have been forced to have all their animals killed but the government's incompetence and stupidity

in allowing the foot and mouth virus into the country and then failing to exterminate it immediately (News and Focus, last week).

The French, Dutch and Irish farms were infected but they quickly and efficiently eradicated it. If the Treasury had spent more at the beginning it would have saved billions.

As a pig farmer I see little point in carrying on when the virus is eliminated unless every effort is made to prevent reinfection (eg port inspections and restrictions) and affordable insurance is available.

Fred Henley
Seaton Ross, York

SMOKESCREEN: Your headline seems designed to inflame resentment of farmers struggling through this crisis. Farming may be an industry but it is like no other.

Most farmers work long hours, seven days a week. Their overheads are affected by the weather, oil prices and currency fluctuations. They compete against European and American producers who receive greater subsidies. If they go under, they lose their home.

It is quite convenient for the government that information on the amount paid to certain farmers should come out now. This deflects criticism from the ministers and civil servants who have managed the outbreak and can now hide behind a change of department name or languish on the back benches.

If the government insists that farmers should insure against foot and mouth then it should stop allowing imports from infected countries.

Marianne Hinton
London

RISKS: The MPs criticising Jim Goldie should perhaps have been using their positions on the agriculture select committee to oversee government policy and practice during the crisis.

Goldie's only fault was that, through hard work, he had built a family operation to the level where it was one of the largest businesses to be hit by this disease. Anybody with his record and reputation in pedigree cattle breeding was a prime example of the standards that the rest of the industry should aspire to.

As for the comments about farmers taking out insurance, let's set this one to rest. I have an insurance policy that covers me for a variety of critical ailments. On checking the small print, I find I am not covered for smallpox, bubonic plague or diphtheria. All serious diseases in their own right, all absent from the United Kingdom for a long time. As was foot and mouth. That is why farmers don't insure against it.

If I contracted any of these diseases, I am sure I would be able to turn to the NHS, at the taxpayers' expense.

Alan Armstrong
Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh

QUITE FAIR: The government has compulsorily purchased cattle from farmers and paid them the market price.

Hence a farmer who has been given a cheque for £1m has merely exchanged a million- pound herd for a million pounds in cash.

He has been given no compensation for the fact that he is not allowed to restock for two years. The herd in question will have been built up over many years of hard work.

If a businessman's factory is compulsorily purchased to make way for a motorway, everybody accepts that he should get the market value. Why should farmers be different?

The outrageous cost of the current policy is the fault of the government which has obstinately refused to accept any alternative to the slaughter policy. They are now, of course trying to blame everyone else. Incidentally, I am not a farmer.

Mark Pitman
Doynton, Bristol

Letters to: The Sunday Times, 35-38 St Stephen's Green, Dublin 2 or e-mail: ireland@sunday-times.co.uk Fax 01- 602 8816. Letters should arrive by Thursday and include day and evening telephone numbers. Please quote date, section and page number of any articles to which you refer.

Aug 6 The Times from Dr Richard North and Christopher Booker

Mr G Vennall -- Wednesday, 11 July 2001, at 7:46 a.m. July 12 Western Daily Press: Power of change is in farmers hands..." The cancer of complacency and vindictiveness inside the NFU and FFA must not be allowed to cloud the important problems that face agriculture. Foot-and-mouth has brought to a head underlying concerns about the countryside, its management and viability. I dont think any one person or group has the answer; we must work together. The sight of one farmers organisation fighting another is sickening. Forget the power struggles and egotism within the industry, lets turn our brains and experience to relieving the pressures that government, supermarkets and high quality but cheap food policies have brought us. It seems to me the word unity is often used but not meant. I feel its up to everyone who is interested in agriculture to make their views heard..."

June 29th 14 letters on the same day to the Craven Herald in the Yorkshire Dales - they deserve a wider audience

June 26th The Times
Life after scourge of foot-and-mouth
FROM LORD INGLEWOOD, MEP FOR NORTH WEST ENGLAND (CONSERVATIVE)

Sir,

The efforts of those, including Magnus Linklater (Comment, June 15), calling passionately for a thorough inquiry into the nations response to the current foot-and-mouth outbreak are timely now the general election is over. Nonetheless, as someone whose own farming business has been more or less wiped out, and as a representative of the worst affected area in Britain, there are, in my view, two distinct aspects which should be kept separate although they are connected.

First, for many in Cumbria the evidence points to a mishandling of the outbreak which, if it had occurred for example in a hospital, would lead to an inquiry and then possible disciplinary measures, changes in procedures, and compensation for those affected. In my view such an inquiry should be conducted into this outbreak on that basis.

Secondly we, that is to say the UK and the EU as a whole, must conduct a thorough review into the proper response to the threat, and possible future outbreaks of the disease. For my part I do not think the issues are quite as straightforward as sometimes is suggested. That is why plans by the EU, supported I believe by the UK Government, to start this process should be welcomed.

Yours,
INGLEWOOD
(Group of the European Peoples Party (Christian Democrat) and European Democrats),
Hutton-in-the-Forest,
Penrith, Cumbria CA11 9TH.
June 18.


Public Enquiry desperately needed

Letters to the Editor
The Journal
Newcastle upon Tyne

15th June 2001 Dear Sir

The foot and mouth virus may at present be dormant in Northumberland, but it is still devastating surrounding counties. Some of these recent outbreaks are in previously 'clean' areas, which only goes to show that it is quite possible this area could see further outbreaks in the near future.

At a meeting in London on 24th April Professor Brown and Doctor Barteling, two highly respected scientists, both of whom have an intimate knowledge of the foot and mouth virus, and both disgusted at the barbaric attitude adopted by the British government concerning this outbreak, strongly recommended swab testing, blood testing and vaccination. The excuses they were given by the British government's science group for not following this advice were on the grounds of the apparent inability of vets and farmers, to handle the farm animals in their care efficiently enough to carry out swab or blood sampling and/or vaccination, and so, because of this perceived skill deficiency renders the testing process 'uneconomic', making culling cheaper and easier! The culling policy however, is not getting rid of the virus.

Many businesses have had no option but to close down. Employees have had to face redundancy, and several men have been driven to suicide. Surely this calls for a public enquiry as to the incompetence in which this crisis has been handled by the present government.

Lynne Thompson
2 West Cottages
Doxford
NE67 5DR

THE CUMBERLAND & WESTMORLAND HERALD 16th. June 2001

Sir, So the carnage goes on! Just as we thought that foot and mouth had possibly left us, back it comes to our area with a vengeance. Strange isn't it?

Are we really still naive enough to think that this 'outbreak" was the result of an infected lump of meat from South America, pig swill, or even Chinese takeaway on that farm at Ponteland? (What a wonderful scapegoat he has made.)

Few people believe this nonsense any more, and many suggest other more sinister motives behind this horrendous blow to local agriculture. The foot and mouth virus will have joined other highly infectious diseases in the arsenal of terrorists, political or otherwise. It is thought widely to now be a 'marketable" product and available to those desperate or committed enough to use it.

We elected a new government last week, but who are our 'real" rulers. Could it be that a committee in Brussels has decreed that the British livestock industry must, be devalued by at least 50 per cent. If that is the case, there is an awful long way to go.

In my previous letter some weeks ago, I listed a few questions. Most have been answered by either stony silence, or subsequent events. But where indeed have the RSPCA, World Compassion in farming or Animal Rights people been while some of the most brutal and inhumane incidents of cruelty have been perpetrated in our valley during the course of this infamous cull? They have been strangely toothless, inactive and voiceless. I wonder why?

But I urge farming families who have been unfortunate enough to witness these incidents in their fields, paddocks and farm yards to record and report.- Or if they would prefer I would be willing to collate it all and make sure it reached the right people. Like the incident that took place in the village of Bolton on Wednesday, get our second vote of thanks. 6th June. Some terrified cattle had escaped from fields near the village as a cull progressed not too far away. They were found wandering through Bolton in the early hours. Somebody corralled them in the only place that was considered to be "safe", the newly established childrens area behind the village hall. At least for the time being they were secure, safe and at peace. But before long a team of MAFF officials, followed by the inevitable slaughterers, arrived on scene. Had it not been for the determined resistance of 80-year-old retired farmer and local parish councillor Harry Bell, these people would have shot those hapless animals in amongst the swings and slides!

It doesn't take much imagination to conjure up the full horror of such a scene and the incredible insensitivity displayed by some of these people.

Maybe one day the truth will come out and the guilty be held to account. May our valley once more return to some sort of normality. But it will never be the same again!

Yours etc,

B.N. S. LAMONT
BOLTON
APPLEBY

LETTER in Veterinary Record June 9th

FMD controls: RCVS advice on signing Form A

SIR, - It appears that confusion has arisen among some veterinary surgeons currently working for MAFF as temporary veterinary inspectors (TVIs) regarding the use of Form A and whether it should be signed in circumstances where preemptive culling is to take place.

When appending a signature to any document, a veterinary surgeon is signing with authority and the principles of certification will apply. This will apply to all forms, licences or certificates that veterinary surgeons are asked to sign within the current foot-and-mouth-disease (FMD) outbreak, whether these are movement licences or the forms used in the control of the disease such as Forms A, C or D.

Article 5(1) of the Foot and Mouth Disease Order 1983 states 'Where notification under Article 4(1) (a) above is given to a constable or to an inspector or to the DVO, or where through any other cause a constable or an inspector or the DVO has reasonable grounds for supposing that disease exists or has within 56 days existed on any premises, he shall serve a notice in Form A on the occupier of the said premises declaring them to be an infected place'.

Thus, an infected place is defined in the Order. Before signing Form A, which declares the premises to be an infected place, the veterinary surgeon needs to have reasonable grounds for supposing that disease exists or has existed within the past 56 days. In most situations, such as premises where disease has been confirmed or is suspected, and dangerous contact or contiguous farms, there will be reasonable grounds for supposing disease exists or has existed within the past 56 days.

On farms where the 'pre-emptive cull' policy is to be actioned, the TVI is usually instructed to inspect all susceptible animals to assure freedom from signs of FMD and then to sign Form A, after which slaughter can commence. In many cases the farm will have received patrol visits from TVIs in the intervening weeks at which no evidence of FMD has been detected.

The full knowledge of the FMD situation in any area is with the divisional veterinary manager (DVM), and TVIs may not be in possession of all the facts and therefore would not necessarily know to what extent there are grounds for supposing disease exists or has existed within the past 56 days.

Therefore, veterinary surgeons should not sign Form A unless they can be satisfied that the definition of an infected place as defined in the Order applies, that is, there are reasonable grounds for supposing the disease exists or has existed in the past 56 days.

This guidance is based on the general principles set out in the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct, and any veterinary surgeon who is uncertain about how these general principles should be applied in particular circumstances is advised to seek advice from the Royal College.

R. C. Eddy, President, RCVS,

Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road, London SW1P2AF

From: Zac Goldsmith, Editor, The Ecologist, London SW7
Re: Devon facing post-election slaughter Date: 31 May 2001

SIR - Although there are fresh outbreaks in the North (report, May 30), the evidence suggests that the crisis has passed in Devon. Yet if you talk to virtually anyone involved in the rural economy, you will be furnished with yet more evidence that the Government is being dishonest over foot and mouth.

A local chartered surveyor tells me that he has been ordered by Maff to stay working and in Devon between June 8 and Aug 4. At Hatherleigh market, residents are watching with alarm as machinery and trucks are being stockpiled for an unspecified use. In Launceston, warehouses have been taken over by Maff and are being packed with thousands of tons of wooden sleepers.

In Ashmoor, near the village of Meath, a vast pyre has been built, at great expense, and remains ready for use. Not surprisingly, the rumour treadmill is moving fast, with undenied reports that police have been denied leave in some parts of Devon between June 8 and early August, and that vets have been told to remain on standby for Maff.

There seems little doubt that the Government is planning the elimination of vast numbers of animals immediately after the election, and expects strong resistance from a thoroughly worn-out farming community.

Given that foot and mouth is drawing to a close, and the countryside is beginning to recover, what possible reason could the Government have for such plans? Could it be something to do with Tony Blair's vision of the countryside that involves, by his own admission, the migration of more than a quarter of our farmers from their land, and a countryside made up of ever larger more intensive units of production for export?

This, incidentally, would not, in Mr Blair's view, be a sorry consequence of current events, but rather a valiant goal to be pursued with subsidies and even, it seems, with force.

Letter in the Cumbrian local press - June 9-10

VACCINATION THE ONLY ANSWER TO THE OBSCENE SLAUGHTER AND WANTON WASTE

Sir, MAFF now culls "on suspicion". In the police it is called "zero tolerance". Either way, it is political.

Four days before MAFF began that infamous cull, Professor Brown, a leading world expert on foot and mouth disease and working in the United States, offered a system developed in his laboratory that would give an accurate result within two hours - effective, cheap and precise. It left the British method standing. But MAFF turned it down; they were "too busy .

There is only one answer - vaccination, costing about #5 per head. The myths about vaccination should be laid to rest. There is no reason to slaughter after vaccination. Professor Brown has stated that should a vaccinated animal become a carrier trials have shown it is highly unlikely the virus would be passed on.

Let there be no doubt, it is the taxpayer who will pick up the costs of the Governments mistakes - all the expenditure on slaughter and on compensation to the farmers, small businesses and the tourist industry. This has been a short-sighted policy, ignoring past experience and the Northumberland report of 1969 and throwing away billions, to save an export industry worth some #300 million.

But is it unexpected? Take a look at the record of MAFF. Fifteen years ago MAFF let it be understood a vaccine to combat bovine TB was being developed. However, it is understood this work has only recently begun. In the meantime, MAFF is engaged in another flawed experiment; one on a par with their cull to eradicate foot and mouth disease.

Briefly, Brock the Badger has been made a scapegoat for the spread of bovine TB. Yet after 30 years' research there is no conclusive evidence.

Brock is non-migratory and badgers have occupied the same setts for hundreds of years. Nevertheless, 20,000 will be culled over seven years in England, and the Government has confirmed that 2,000 badgers have been culled at a cost of #6.9 millions, or #3,450 per badger.

Like foot and mouth disease TB will "jump" miles to start a new outbreak, and the disease has even cropped up on islands uninhabited by Brock. MAFF has recently had to cull a heard of deer with bovine TB. That should make you think, as will the fact that Brock is a protected animal. MAFF`s actions breach the Berne Convention.

In its wisdom, MAFF has hounded the real cheese industry to near extinction and when the BSE crisis loomed up, all but brought the beef industry to its knees. Today, MAFF is softly, softly introducing GM crops and to hell with the consequences, the environment and you and me.

Unfortunately, you and I are the mugs who pick up the bill for this obscene slaughter and wanton waste. Please write to your MP.

Yours etc. JOHN GREAVES

Greenlees Kelso

Letter in the Cumbrian local press - June 9-10

Shootings an Absolute disgrace

Sir, 1 am writing to you concerning the barbaric slaughter by MAFF of the bull, cows and calves on land next to ours on Wednesday, 30th May.

It took the best part of four hours to kill them from a window of a Land Rover. Two cows were shot and then got up again to be shot once more.

The calves were run up and down two very large fields to finally be shot near the stream. The wonder is that they didn't drop with exhaustion or heart failure.

MAFF didn't try to corral them and chased them with a quad bike. It beggars belief that such a thing can happen today in this country. It was an absolute disgrace.

By the way, I am not a farmer and have no axe to grind with MAFF.

Yours etc,

C. HINDLE

Gillses House, South Staininore. CUMBRIA

Letter in the Cumbrian local press - June 9-10

CUMBRIANS LIVING IN A WAR ZONE

Sir, I am a country woman fiercely proud of my farming and country background. Over the last few months I have watched our farming industry at war with a disease that has, for political reasons, been allowed to ravage and destroy the livelihood and passion of hundreds of people, the biggest percentage of whom live and breathe with their animals, not because they have to but because they want to.

We're living in a war zone because of the devastating effect felt by every section of our community; nobody has escaped. The county has been brought to its knees, led by incapable leaders and controlled by an unseen enemy.

I cannot begin to understand that in the 21st Century in a so-called enlightened country with a wealth of scientific knowledge we have allowed the the unforgivable cruelty to man and beast to go on.

We as individuals are powerless and have to stand by and watch pontificating politicians shame our industry for political gains.

By not admitting to a state of emergency early on in the foot and mouth crisis, it has obviously from the outset been a cynical ploy by the Govermnent to down size a large section of the farming community.

We all know that in the eyes of the rest of the world British farming is a dirty word, not due in the most part to farming practices but because of political dictator-ship. I, for one, am proud of my farming roots but at present not proud to be British.

Yours etc,

SUSAN WHEELER Meadow bank Kings Meaburn

Letter : Foot-and-mouth - The Times MAY 25

FROM PROFESSOR JOHN BLAXTER

Sir, I must be one of countless members of the electorate who are filled with anger and deep depression at the continuing mismanagement of the foot-and-mouth crisis (report and Comment, May 23). The lack of leadership from the politicians, the lack of contingency planning and general unpreparedness of MAFF, and the greed of the NFU and the big farmers are once again brought to our notice. Why has there been so little good science in the decision-making?

The killing of hundreds of thousands of healthy animals, often by totally unacceptable means, is a national disgrace. Why is so little heard about animal welfare from this nation of animal lovers? I hope that one of the first actions of the new government will be to set up an inquiry to ensure that we never repeat the folly of the past months.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN BLAXTER (Honorary Professor of Biology, University of Stirling),
Dems Lodge,
Barcaldine, Oban, Argyll PA37 1SF.
john@barcaldine.freeserve.co.uk
May 23.

Some Letters from the latest - 19 May - edition of the Vet Record.

Archie Hunter is a Senior Lecturer at the CTVM, Edinburgh.

Prof Bob Michell is a past President of the RCVS, and held senior positions at the Royal Veterinary College and the Animal Health Trust.

Dr Alex Donaldson heads the Pirbright Lab, DR Paul Kitching has very recently left Pirbright to take up a new appointment in Canada.

.... letters

FMD control strategies

SIR, Recent correspondence in The Veterinary Record from Bob Ward and from David Wardope and Roger Windsor (VR, April 28, pp 546, 547) has indicated growing disquiet within the profession concerning the politicisation of the current foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis. I can only support the misgivings stated in these letters. This is my eighth week as a temporary veterinary inspector (tvi) at the Carlisle centre, and since the beginning of April, I have specifically been involved in training TVIs on FMD procedures. We have trained over 150 TVIs and the most difficult training topics have been the conflicting policies concerning livestock culls. The cull of sheep in the conjoined 3 km zones surrounding infected premises in the Cumbria focus has been switched from compulsory to voluntary to the present voluntary/compulsory scheme, in which farmers have been invited to surrender their sheep for removal to a central place for slaughter. Farmers can appeal, but if their appeals are turned down or if they fail to accept the invitation to surrender their livestock, then the cull will go ahead though possibly on the farm. The Voluntary' aspect, therefore, has a strong 'compulsory' veneer. Within both the farming and veterinary communities, these switches in policy have caused great confusion as to which policy was in place at any one time. Adding to this confusion was the recent and much publicised Downing Street policy switch concerning the cull of livestock on premises contiguous to infected premises. This turned out to be no more than a modification of the policy concerning cattle which can now be excluded from the cull, subject to an assessment of the disease biosecurity arrangements.

The crisis combined with insufficient resources within the State Veterinary Service (svs) has resulted in political intervention at the highest level. At times it has felt that the leadership has come, not from MAFF and the Chief Veterinary Officer, but directly from Downing Street and the Chief Scientific Adviser, resulting in the types of confusion mentioned above. This is to say nothing of the scale of the cull that many of us feel has been excessive. Targets beloved by politicians have been forced upon the vets working in the field, despite the fact that there is not a single vet worth his/her salt who does not appreciate the necessity of rapid detection and slaughter of clinical cases combined with prompt but judicious culling of susceptible livestock considered as dangerous contacts. We knew this long before the 1967/68 epidemic, and certainly know it now.

What this epidemic has exposed in the cruellest way imaginable is that the SVS is seriously under-resourced. After BSE and the outbreak of classical swine fever, it would be nice to think that the Government will now realise that the country needs a fully resourced SVS with the authority to implement whatever disease control measures are appropriate and necessary at the time. Politicians seem to be greatly influenced by the predictions that mathematical disease models can provide, and in this day and age of political correctness, if we need a model to work to, then lets give our whole-hearted support to Bob Ward's LIVE model.

Archie Hunter,

Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Easter Bush Veterinary Centre, Roslin, Midlothian KH25 9RG

SIR, - Much of the current public perception of the controversies surrounding the foot-and-mouth (FMD) outbreak is derived from instant experts with country cottages. There is no doubt that in controlling an outbreak of such a highly infectious disease, there is a real need to cull healthy animals; not least because, in farm animal medicine, an individual showing signs represents a much larger group at risk and that group constitutes the focus for action. Moreover, unless clinical diagnosis is 100 per cent reliable, it is essential to have a high index of suspicion and expect a number of clinical suspects to subsequently test negative. This is not, as the media imply, some sort of defective diagnostic competence, but the use of a screening test (clinical examination) at high sensitivity, that is, maximising the likelihood that all positives are detected, minimising false negatives. But in the confirmatory test, specificity becomes at least as important, that is, minimisation of false positives. Clearly, the appropriate use of a high index of suspicion implies an obligation to await confirmatory tests unless the circumstances are extremely exceptional; not least because it otherwise places a terrible responsibility on veterinary surgeons dutifully erring of the side of caution, and especially if the consequences extend well beyond the group immediately at genuine risk. Those with undiminished enthusiasm for the contiguous cull claim that it brought the outbreak under control, a claim which requires rigorous impartial statistical scrutiny. The predictive graph 'C (see VR, May 12, p 582) is compatible with the claim but in no way proves it. The rate of decline also looks remarkably similar to that for the 1967 outbreak. Granted that the decline began in the last week of March, the question is whether, allowing for incubation and regional variation, contiguous culling was the key factor; it almost seems to require a psychic effect to have such instantaneous impact. It is also hard to understand the significance of 'the number of new cases arising from each outbreak falling to less than one', when, unlike a human epidemic, many of the potential new cases have been pre-emptively added to the death toll: in terms of cost and misery they might as well have got it (and, in some instances, they may have had it). If the Geological Museum fell victim to an uncontrollable fire, would it be a reasonable precaution to pull down all contiguous museums? A huge number of animals have been killed compared with 1967, many without contact with infected premises. The exact reasons require independent scrutiny, and particularly whether minimisation of animals culled, and therefore of cost, was the primary objective or whether it was speed, and if so why? A powerful independent inquiry is therefore essential, once the outbreak is genuinely over. A. R. Michell,

The Mill Barn, Mill Lane, Exning, Suffolk CBS 7JW

FMD diagnosis SIR, We share the concern expressed by K. M. Wood (VR, May 12, p 607) about the large discrepancy between the field and laboratory diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), particularly, but not exclusively, in sheep. FMD in sheep is frequently difficult to diagnose clinically as the signs in adult animals are often very mild and transient or even absent. The death of lambs maybe an indication of the underlying condition, as is a rapidly spreading lameness accompanied by pyrexia. Not surprisingly, the rate of spread of lameness is likely to be faster in sheep under intensive conditions where the opportunity for contact will be greater than under extensive conditions. There are many causes for lameness and mouth lesions in sheep and so, in the absence of vesicular lesions and the signs mentioned above, suspected cases of FMD can only be definitively confirmed by laboratory investigation. The reliability of those will depend on correct samples being submitted under appropriate conditions. Some of the discrepancy may have been due to poor samples, particularly as it is difficult to collect sufficient epithelium from the small lesions usually encountered in sheep. However, blood samples have been submitted from many of the suspect sheep, and together with any epithelium, they provide good diagnostic material. On epithelial samples we carry out an ELISA and virus isolation using sensitive tissue culture, while in blood samples we look for viraemia and antibody. The viraemia starts before clinical signs and is replaced around three to four days later by high antibody litres, so animals with FMD have either virus or antibody or both in their blood. We are also comparing the sensitivity of virus isolation with direct PCR on the epithelium samples, and so far we have a very strong correlation in the results - close to 100 per cent. Pirbright has more than 70 years' experience with FMD diagnosis, providing, as we do, a diagnostic service for countries around the world. We regularly receive samples from cases of FMD in sheep from parts of the world where it is prevalent, for example, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. Samples submitted include epithelium, heart tissue and sera. No particular difficulties or problems have been encountered with the laboratory investigations. While it is never the intention that laboratory diagnosis would replace clinical diagnosis, we believe that laboratory support for a diagnosis of FMD in sheep, in particular, is essential. For samples collected in the UK and submitted as recommended, we would expect a very high success rate and certainly above 90 per cent. The extreme difficulty of making a clinical diagnosis of FMD in sheep is, in our opinion, the explanation for the discrepancy between the field and laboratory diagnoses. Staff here, both those normally involved in FMD diagnosis and those redeployed from other parts of the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright and Compton, along with volunteers who have come to our assistance from other laboratories in the UK and overseas, are currently fully occupied with the processing of FMD specimens, in some cases working around the clock. We regret that we do not have the spare capacity to investigate the aetiology of the range of conditions which are possibly being confused with FMD.

Alex I. Donaldson, Paul Kitching,

Institute for Animal Health, Pirbright, Waking, Surrey GU24 ONF

From Farmers Weekly Interactive

18 April 2001 Bungled slaughter must be stopped

AS a senior animal welfare inspector for over 21 years, I am disgusted at the way some stock have been destroyed.

I can only go by what I see on the TV, as we have not been present when the slaughter takes place.

No, I am not as some farmers call "one of the pussy people"; I have worked in the farming community most of my life, and I am a trained slaughterman.

In fact in the last outbreak in 1967, my cows were slaughtered.

I know that this slaughtering is an emergency, but that is no excuse not to do the job properly. There is no hurry when carcases are left for days.

Even on the farm, all animals should be pithed; the captive bolt only stuns.

I would ask MAFF to get their act together and ensure that these animals are killed correctly with as little stress as possible.

Remember the slaughter regulations, they are there for a reason.

If some of these so called slaughtermen were killing my stock, I know where I would be pointing the gun, and it wouldn't be at the sheep.

The Scotsman May 17th

Stunning victory

Mossend Animal Sanctuary is saved (your report, 16 May), a small but quite stunning victory for the people against the gross abuse of state power. Now we should proceed to exercise retribution against the imbeciles who ordered and exercised the act of state terror at Glasserton when a widow woman was forced by troops and police to allow so-called vets to enter her home and kill her pets.

ALAN CLAYTON

Strathlachlan

Loch Fyne, Argyll

Letter in Galloway News MAY 17

You should have forgotten the election for now

Sir - Last month we heard that the Ministry had sent out their `hit squad' to slaughter 300 lambs and 200 ewes and they had then phoned the farmer to apologise for being 100 miles off target; they had slaughtered all his healthy sheep!

Then on Radio 4's Farming News at 0545 on Wednesday, April 26, a spokesman for the American Agricultural Department told that, in March, they had offered the British government a much improved vaccine for foot and mouth which did not have the drawbacks associated with the UK's current vaccine. However, the Ministry and the NFU presidents, Messrs Walker and Gyll, did not accept this offer.

Why not?

During the first three weeks of the start of this foot and mouth outbreak it was estimated that it was going to cost the UK taxpayer #9.5 billion. The current estimate, from the same source, is now #20 billion. I hope that Gordon Brown listens to all this and starts to wonder, as we all do, where the money is to be found! The inhabitants of a village, I believe it is Oakhampton, found they had half a million carcasses buried in an open grave whose bottom was lower than the level of the local water table. The residents where fires were burning were being made sick from the smoke; the government says that it is not harmful.

However, Newton Stewart had a proposed waste incinerator with filters built into its chimney, which was to provide some electric power to the town, rejected, on the grounds that the emissions would not be acceptable. Where is our Department of the Environment now?

During the 1967 outbreak only farms where the outbreak of foot and mouth was confirmed had their livestock slaughtered. With the present system out of control not only are infected animals slaughtered but also healthy animals within a 3km radius of an infected farm. So that a farm with only 100 affected animals can result in a 1000 or more, healthy animals being destroyed in order to create a so-called `fire break', the sledgehammer approach! The NFU hierarchy were adamant that we must maintain this modus operandi to keep our export trade alive. By now this must be a sick joke because both Tory and Labour governments have been allowing supermarkets to import cheap meat from countries where foot and mouth is endemic. The foot and mouth problems have emanated from greed and `slack Alice' hygiene, possibly from pigswill.

In a similar manner, greed and the way in which bone meat and bone meal was produced and fed to cattle, introduced BSE into the food chain. It might be worth bearing in mind that with the current rate of slaughter there will be precious little meat to export.

We, the citizens of the UK would suggest to the politicians that they stop scoring points over each other concerning the current serious problems, forget the general election and begin to apply themselves jointly and assiduously to the intense problems created by foot and mouth. They should have forgotten the election until the citizens were assured that these alarming salient points are dealt with. As I write this the Chief Vet Officer with the Ministry of Agriculture at Purbright has announced his resignation, saying he intends to accept a similar post in Canada. I wonder why?

A Ross EvansCairnfield Whauphill Newton Stewart

LETTER PUBLISHED IN DUMFRIES STANDARD (May 11 2001)

Embarrassed to be human

The mere presence of the Scottish Executives teams of vets, officers, cullers, disinfectors ] lorries, loaders and army, would have been quite intimidating enough but I confess that I pro-longed the exercise quite considerably by refusing entry because their action was totally unnecessary and according to my solicitors possibly illegal.

I would like to thank all the friends and family who have phoned, written or e-mailed, to offer support or help.

I would also like to thank those shepherds who, when asked by the Executive to come and herd up my sheep against my wishes, became too busy or declined.

They could probably remember that I was the first to back the pre-emptive cull as necessary back on March 15th so long as it was done quickly and would fight foot-and-mouth, Common sense tells us now it was ridiculously unnecessary and far too late.

I would also like to thank my employees -- Sandy McKerlie who has been at Kirkwood for 50 years, looking after the sheep. He was very brave. Andy Ashley was very helpful and Paul and Debbie Whitehead were amazingly suppor-tive. My wife Kirsteen Was tremendous, despite the pressure.

My solicitors advised that the Scottish Execu-tive have the right to enter a property to kill animals where they have reasonable grounds to believe that foot-and-mouth exists.

In this case the only grounds were that back in March, Kirkwood was just within 3km of infected premises. Since then the incubation period passed, and with no contiguous neigh-bours and my few cattle running in among the sheep (yet they did not kill the cattle!) it was highly unlikely that anything had foot-and-mouth.

I had repeatedly suggested the vets take blood tests, they declined. By Sunday morning when they forced entry to kill the breeding ewes, the Ministry vet has spent two-and-a-half days on site and had killed over 1,000 hogs, and had still not found a shred of evidence of foot-and-mouth.

Yet they went on to kill 150 ewes while some lambed in the entrance to the culling pens. Youve got to be pretty ruthless to do that when it is necessary, but to do it when it is merely the policy is beyond belief. I am embarrassed to be human.

Anthony Steel Klrkwood

Lockerbie

condemned without trial

Dumfries Standard May 11

SIR - My dear friend, by the time you read this letter, I will be a statistic of the foot-and-mouth crisis, condem-ned to a pyre with my four feet aimed towards the heavens, where hope-fully there win be a little green pas-ture waiting for me.

However, before I meet my fate! would like to relay a story to you and hope that a glint of human compassion will weave a thread of hope for the future health of my fellow creatures.

In Normandy 1386 a pig was dressed in human clothes and formally tried and convicted of murder by the local court.

At Ghent in 1578 judicial sentence of death was pronounced on a cow, her head was struck off and stuck on a gate near the gallows to indicate that she had been capitally punished.

So what had these poor beasts done? Apparently, they had murdered children. Penal prosecution of animals which prevailed in the Middle Ages was by no means peculiar to that period, but was practiced by primitive and savage people for centuries to follow, even it seems to the 21st Century. There was no moral lesson in all this, it was the outcome of an extremely crude, and barbaric sense of justice, a product of a social state, in which ignorance was governed by brute force.

Now call me a cynical old cow, but there appears to be a lack of evidence here for modem science or your penal organisation (MAFF) for their policies and procedures in dealing with the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth, in what must only be described as wanton destruction. So what is the charge? I havent murdered any children. I do have a disease, which can be, in certain cases, pretty nasty, but not life threatening and not contagious to you. There is a vaccine that would alleviate this disease but unfortunately I would no longer be a prized product or be able to hold my head high in the global market without having a disease--free rump.

What all this means is that Im a commodity, no more, no less, a means to an end -- my rear end to be precise as long as I remain undefiled. Unfortunately for me I am defiled, allegedly, not because I have the disease but because I happen to graze in grassland close by a cousin that does have the disease. The only difference between now and the Middle Ages is that you are supposed to be a civilized society, educated of moral standing, but still you use antiquated and utterly irrational methods to justify the mass slaughter of innocent animals.

But I will not get maudlin and sentimental, because after all that cute little lamb and suck-ling calf would have been tomorrow's dinner. What does astonish me though is the treatment we  my friends and I have been subjected to. Frenziedly, our cows, sheep, pigs and their youngsters try to escape the killers guns and injections and nobody hears their bleats and cries of injustice.

We have no speaker, we cannot defend our-selves, resigning simply to the care imparted on us by our human friends. laying our trust in your intelligence and kindness.

Right now, death hangs in the air and I am fearful. Dying is a lonely business especially when everything in the countryside is swelling with life. All this is marred by the light grey smoke that is smouldering and weaving its way down my valley, swirling as a grim reminder of the cas-ualties of a Draconian Government who are so inebriated by their stagnant policies that they lack insight and the forward thinking of a new and enlightened society that could have preven-ted all this unnecessary suffering, but they dont understand, neither do they care and could just as well be trying and sentencing us today as they did back in the Middle Ages.

Who is murdering who now? I just hope its all been worth it, my human friend.

Mrs A Brannock Townhead Crescent, Dairy

The Times ~ May 12th

From: Earl of Dalkeith, Thornhill, Dumfriesshire

Re: Inflexible culling policy is now unjustified

Date: 12 May 2001

SIR - The welcome sunshine that has set the grass growing is cruelly exposing the emptiness of the countryside around Langholm in the south of Scotland. Compounding the current gloom is anxiety that the consensus among our farmers, which has accepted the broad thrust of the foot and mouth slaughter so far, is breaking down. We have seen at first-hand, on the Buccleuch estates, tactics that come close to moral blackmail and menace. It is deeply disturbing that, in implementing government policy, a climate of fear and doubt has set farmer against farmer, neighbour against neighbour.

Across more than 65 holdings, our farm tenants have seen well over 50,000 of their cattle and sheep slaughtered. We have done what we can to help those involved. Only as a last resort did we go alongside one tenant to the brink of court action this week to try to stop a cull.

The Scottish Executive refuses to reflect on the change of circumstances since February. For instance, there is the effect of the prolonged sunny weather on the virus, and the fact that, with lambs now at foot, the hill flocks are far less likely to be concealing infection. Above all, it seems astonishing that, nine weeks after the nearest local outbreak, the Executive should still strike at an apparently healthy flock.

Our view that no cull was necessary, as endorsed by distinguished scientists, met with prickly disdain. Pleas for blood testing and reminders of the rarity of the hefted South Country Cheviots fell on stony ground. The only compromise offered was unworkable. Worn down by the prospect of yet more uncertainty, the farmer understandably agreed to the cull.

I am saddened that the prosecution of a policy that many have supported in principle has become so robotic, so insensitive to actual experience, so deaf to alternative scientific thinking. It is not too late, in the closing stages of the outbreak, to temper this policy in order to seek to regain the consensus that will be badly needed in the battered community as the task of reconstruction begins.

The Scotsman Thursday May 10th

Ruthless prosecution of the slaughtering policy

Further to your editorial, "Caution on foot and mouth" (4 May), I must disagree with part of your statement, "in Scotland, where it is generally accepted that the epidemic has been better, if more ruthlessly handled".

I am not sure on what basis it is "generally accepted", by Scots keen to condone appalling compromise of animal and human welfare perhaps; by those who fail to see the economic imbalance in what the virus has cost the country as a whole as opposed to the export industry the slaughter was supposed to protect; or by Scots who have not learnt the science in favour of vaccination that the rest of the world affected by the disease has known for some time - that it is safe to use and means you can continue to export.

Perhaps it was even seen as that by Scots who have a callous disregard for the health of those unfortunate enough to live in areas where carcass disposal is carried out.

I fail to "generally accept" it, but I agree it has been ruthless, and ruthlessly condoned moreover by the Scottish National Farmers Union, which sees this both as a way of reducing the sheep population by the 30 per cent excess we have as a result of loss of export markets, and speeding up the move to larger farms.

SUSAN STAUNTON Huntly Aberdeenshire

I used the bank holiday for a break in Germany, away from the murderous madness of the "great British cull",

and a few German friends wanted to know why vast areas of civil rights had been easily surrendered to the state in the interests of halting a disease that was far from being the Black Death.

However, on the return flight, on a beautiful sunny day , the funeral pyres in the Border country below me could easily be seen from 12,000 feet. I think for the first time in my life I did not want to return to Scotland, but return I did, hopefully to play some small part in the eventual removal of the incompetents who have done this to both agriculture and to our culture, in particular the agriculture minister, Ross Finnie.

The news, on landing, of the Glasserton sheep alarmed me; it has been established that the state now has the right to enter a private home with the assistance of the police and the army and kill family pets, a vast intrusion into civil liberties if ever there were one.

ALAN CLAYTON Strathlachlan Loch Fyne, Argyll

A retired farmer near Dumfries had a small flock of sheep

. Looking after them was an important part of his life. They had been there when he came and would remain when he departed.

Recently, ministry of agriculture workers paid a visit and shot his sheep. He made no protest, just looked a little numb and withdrawn. Next day when the workers went back to clear up, they found him outside his house, calling for his sheep.

Scenes like these occurred many times during the Clearances of 200 years ago, when another rampage occurred in the interests of economic pro-gress. And now the representatives of the big sheep farmers who are the modern day beneficiaries of those events, seem determined to repeat history.

The NFU leaders and the agriculture minister, Ross Finnie, secure in the backing of the law, say only that the killing has to go ahead, in spite of the extensive evidence that vaccination is the quickest and most humane way of achieving disease-free status.

No wonder John Fish asks (Letters, 4 May), has this country gone mad?

ARTHUR STILL Sprouston Kelso

Many readers will have read your 5 May issue, and felt both diminished and less proud of Britain and being British.

A widow, protecting her five pet sheep in her home, was in-vaded by a team of vets, officials, police and troops who killed her animals. While Phoenix carried sufficient "voter appeal" to earn a reprieve, this apparently did not apply to Mrs Hoffes pets; otherwise, a way would have been found to spare them!

Also in the news, eight heavily-armed IRA Provisionals, after bombing and destroying a pol-ice station, were ambushed by the SAS and killed. The courts have awarded #10,000 to each of the families of these terrorists!

This is a sad reflection on the new millennium!

(SIR) ALAN SMITH Ardgairney, Cleish Kinross-shire

SUNDAY TIMES

CONGRATULATIONS

to Jonathan Miller for his thoughtful and well-researched exposure of the government's crazy, almost criminal reaction to the foot and mouth outbreak (A peasant revolts, News Review, last week).

My husband (who was Harold Wilson's first press secretary, then the government's chief information adviser) and I lived for eight years, until 1998, in the Gers, south-west France.

In that corner of Gascony, many small farmers keep modest herds of cattle as well as tending the Armagnac vines and rearing ducks and geese for foie gras. A farmer friend there expressed bewilderment at our slaughter policy. Over the years she had experienced occasional outbreaks of foot and mouth in one or two of her cows, but never had them killed or even vaccinated. She merely nursed the sick animal back to health and carried on as normal. Rarely would the disease be transmitted to other beasts, even to cows in the same herd. In time, the slaughtered animal was regarded as safe to eat.

I very much doubt whether such simple husbandry is allowed to persist under today's bureaucratic regime (of which, as a former international marketing consultant based in Paris, London and Frankfurt, I have considerable, and sad, experience.) All power to your elbow.

Lady Marie-Jeanne Lloyd-Hughes Grantham, Lincolnshire

TWO-FACED

: Thank you for shedding some light on what is happening vis-`-vis FMD. I do not know which emotion I feel most keenly: shamed because some farmers are capable of engineering the slaughter of their stock in order to obtain compensation; appalled that Maff and the NFU can promote, encourage and wantonly carry out the slaughter; or disgusted that Nick Brown and Tony Blair neither know nor care about what is happening.

Is anybody in authority prepared to accept responsibility for anything? How in God's name (and I choose the expression with care) can Brown state he is opposed to hunting with dogs and permit the wholesale slaughter of not wild animals but domestic animals that depend on man entirely for their wellbeing? What kind of two-faced attitude is that?

Claire Colton Stamford, Lincolnshire

COMPLACENT: The food industry is in total disarray and the public are being kept in the dark

(News, last week). We learn that hundreds of tonnes of rotten chicken meat have been bleached and passed back into the food chain.

One of the problems with our government agencies is that they are too forgiving. They will, for instance, warn a food outlet to clean up its act, rather than close it until it shows that it has earned the right to reopen.

Other countries are not so complacent. I have no connection with farming, food or any of the "anti" organisations, but have begun to worry at the lack of protection from agencies entrusted with just that.

Keith Armstrong Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear

VOTER APATHY:

The current situation has made a lot of people think very hard about whom to vote for and whether to bother voting at all. I have always exercised my democratic right - people died to give me the privilege - but as far as I can see, none of the political parties deserves my vote. Even if people can leave their homes and farms to vote, many will simply not bother.

Rosemary Larcombe Telford, Shropshire

NOT OKAY:

I'm not a farmer, I don't live in the country, but I do care about how we grow, harvest and prepare our food. Your article opened my eyes - and now my attitude has changed. I was hiding behind a loose but comforting thought that it is okay to leave the handling of the foot and mouth outbreak to the experts. I was wrong.

Kirsty Macfarlane Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire

BOTCH-UP:

I agree the whole wretched episode is one big botch-up. The worst of it is that if the slaughter policy had been carried out at the outset with the conviction and resource necessary, that policy would have worked well enough to limit the outbreak. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Robin Malim Woolhope, Hereford

TEARS

: Driving down to Ambleside I was asked to stop the car to allow a small flock of sheep and lambs to cross the road. "They're coming to take them away this morning, it's completely out of our control," said the lady on the verge of tears.

All I could do was express sympathy and save my tears for the road - and my impotent rage, frustration, despair, hopelessness at the seeming inability to be able to do anything about this outrage, this senseless killing. How many more truckloads of bleating lambs and ewes have to go past my window before this is all over?

Your article, although depressing in its exposure of the complete lunacy of this episode, gave me some hope that somebody out there is publishing what many people know.

Tricia Rham Cockermouth, Cumbria

PEOPLE'S PEER: May I nominate Miller to be one of the new People's Peers? What would his chances be?

Jack Wishart Milton of Balgonie, Glenrothes

Examples of two letters in the "Scotsman" May 4th 2001

Only One Course Now Left: Vaccination

Has this country gone mad? Has all common sense and compassion been swept away in a frenzy of blood lust? Millions of animals have been slaughtered allegedly to control foot and mouth disease, but most of them were healthy, nothing was wrong with them. Are we heading for Anarchy? Laws are being broken with impunity, people swept aside, all civil rights ignored. Surely, even the Government is not above the law? Or is it? It is acting as if a state of emergency exists, and using commensurate powers when no such state has been declared.

Now that this disease is in the wild population, certainly deer are ill and dying, and may, despite attempts by the Ministry of Agriculture to play down the idea, be vectors of its spread.

Only one course is left; declare it is endemic and vaccinate while there are some animals left and before the general election.

Dr John Fish Eckford Kelso Roxburghshire

Night after night, over the past two months, television viewers have been shocked and disgusted by newsreels of the barbarous massacre of thousands of cattle, sheep and pigs. We are assured by politicians that this mass destruction is necessary. But what would have happened if horses had the misfortune to be cloven-hoofed? Would the policy of mass killing have been applied in that case?

Can one imagine pyres of valuable racehorses and of the mounts of the fox-hunting gentry? Would the vociferous country lobby have meekly accepted the immolation of their sacred animal? I only ask

David Fergus

St Ninians Way

Linlithgow

TUESDAY APRIL 03 2001 Farming's future following shock of foot-and-mouth FROM THE RIGHT REVEREND DAVID JENKINS Sir, Now that the Archbishop of York and other bishops of rural dioceses have called for a postponement of any general election (report, March 30), perhaps they and other episcopal colleagues could gather resources to issue a call for repentance to all of us, in city, town or countryside.

Agri-business in the marketing of meat has evolved complex feeding practices and distribution systems which enable negligence on the part of a single operator to let loose a plague of apparently continental proportions. The slaughter of animals and the paralysis of the countryside which has followed are deeply shocking and cause depression and misery for many of our neighbours and fellow citizens.

Administrative and financial measures are urgently needed to assuage the misery of the rural communities now. Our marketing pressures have led us into practices which allow such disasters by the abuse of our natural world and irresponsible methods of production and distribution.

Some secular repentance and some political and economic amendment of life are urgently needed. Whether we get on with our election or not, all parties (political, commercial and communal) need to get down to the rethinking and reorganising that are demanded. Has the Church nothing to contribute to this?

Yours faithfully, DAVID E. JENKINS (Bishop of Durham, 1984-94), Ashbourne, Cotherstone, Co Durham DL1 9PR.