Transcript of interview with Dr Paul Kitching from the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright in Surrey from Channel Four News, Saturday 21st April 2001Dr Kitching is in charge of the department testing for foot and mouth. The interviewer is Krishnan Gurumurthy. This transcript is made available on the understanding that any use of quotes will be credited to Channel Four News.
What do you think about the way the (epidemiological) modelling has been used?
DR PAUL KITCHING
I think this aspect of the whole handling of the outbreak is controversial.
The modellers produced some very seductive graphs which would indicate where the virus is going, what the disease outbreak is likely to be in the future. The problem has been that there's been such little epidemiological investigation into the outbreak that the data which the modellers really require to input their model hasn't really been available.
and if there isn't good data going into a model, one has to question the value of the data coming out.
I think we've already seen certain of the modellers producing graphs which show that it's going to peak on May 6th and then when the election day got changed to June it also started to peak on that day as well.
Virtually none of the models have been able to predict what has actually happened,
and I feel this is because there hasn't been the data input available, and there hasn't been the expert advice sought to feed into these models. There hasn't been, for instance, (a) distinction between the different species affected with foot and mouth disease
and how they would influence the model; the fact that the virus has been hidden in sheep for some time and that many farms have been infected for 6 or 7 weeks before they've even been identified. These type of things haven't been addressed by the modellers
and clearly this has had an influence on their output. The alarming thing is how it seems to have influenced policy to such an extent.
If what you're saying is true , how can the government's chief scientific adviser suggest, for example, that the disease appears to be coming under control?
I would say the disease IS becoming under control...the disease is coming under control in spite of (the fact that) some of the control measures which were thought essential by the modellers are not fully in place, and this is what we would expect from what we know about the epidemiology of foot and mouth disease. The disease isn't going to behave differently in Great Britain from the way it behaves anywhere else in the rest of the world, and it's surprising how little input there's been from people with experience of the disease.
What you're saying is the politicians and some of the unions have all been usign some bogus science to back up their arguments?
The science isn't bogus.. modelling is a well-established discipline. It's just that it's essential to have the right inputs to get a satisfactory output.
And it hasn't been there so far?
The investigations were never undertaken at the start of the epidemic, mainly because of resource problems. So much of the resources were actually consumed in tracings and slaughter that very little epidemiology was actually undertaken and therefore the information required by the modellers wasn't available.
If we had had the kind of data you're gathering now earlier on, do you think the measures we're using to tackle the disease might have been different?
It'e easy to look back, but clearly, if we knew more about its behaviour in sheep right at the start, the spread through sheep, the contact , the transmission rate within sheep flocks, I'm sure it would have affected the policy on contiguous slaughter.
How do you think it would have affected that policy?
Well, again, looking at some of the newspapers, it appears that policy has been very much influenced by a paper which appeared last year referring to the outbreak in 1967-68. Now this was a huge outbreak of foot and mouth we had in the United Kingdom, but it mainly affected cattle and pigs, and that time, it was very important to slaughter the infected farms as soon as possible because they were transmitting a large amount of aerosol virus which would affect neighbouring farms. Also in that outbreak, initial infected animals were easily identifiable because foot and mouth is more easily seen in cattle and pigs.
In this outbreak, we've got it predominantly in sheep, and it's been very difficult to identify clinically, so frequently it's been on the farm for some time before we find it. Therefore, it has to raise -- what is the urgency of the 24 hour slaughter if it's already been there 6 weeks?
Also, the amount of production of aerosol virus from this particular virus is considerably reduced. Work carried out here at Pirbright by Alex Donaldson has already shown that aerosol production by this strain is much less from pigs than from previous strains that we've seen. So there's a lot of differences beteween this outbreak and the '67-68 outbreak, and yet it's policy driven by that outbreak that's dominated in this particular control programme.
Are you saying that perhaps we didn't need to kill all these animals?
I mean, certainly there's a lot of perfectly healthy animals that are being killed. I think when this outbreak is investigated in the future, we'll get a clear idea of just how many animals were slaughtered unneccessarily, yes.