Even Newer Muckspreader/12March 2002

Ever more evidence floods in to show why the Beloved Leader was so right not to allow a proper public inquiry into the foot-and-mouth disaster. Even members of his 'pseudo-inquiries' under Dr Iain Anderson and Sir Brian Follett are said to be shocked by some of the stories they have heard as they wander round the country to give the impression they are genuinely seeking independent evidence. One damning document is a submission to the inquiry being held by the Royal Society of Edinburgh from Valerie Lusmore, a consultant who advises international companies on computer modelling.

Her evidence is particularly relevant since the government's catastrophic mishandling of the 2001 epidemic centred on the illegal 'contiguous cull' policy, derived from a computer model set up by Professor Roy Anderson and his team at Imperial College. Her paper opens by describing how, as soon as FMD was identified, MAFF invited three teams of epidemiologists, all with extensive experience in animal diseases, to draw up computer models to predict how the epidemic would develop. In early March, a fourth team suddenly appeared, led by Prof Anderson. On the face of it, Anderson and his colleagues seemed to have little qualification to pronounce on FMD, since their speciality was human diseases. But they did have one enormous advantage, in that Prof Anderson was well known to Blair's new Chief Scientist, Prof.King, and had worked at Oxford with Sir John Krebs of the Food Standards Agency. Thanks to backing from Krebs, Anderson's team was the one chosen by King to run the epidemic and, thanks to its computer model, originally designed to track sexually transmitted diseases in humans, the 'contiguous cull' was launched on its way.

As a specialist in computer modelling, Lusmore began to keep a close eye on what was happening. "Along with many other people" she writes, "I tried to understand the factors behind this model, and found it difficult to understand why this particular approach had been used", particularly since so much information was available via the internet on other methods used elsewhere in the world."
But what caught her attention even more was the quality of the data being fed into Anderson's computer. For a start, it relied on MAFF's notoriously inefficient tracing procedures in the early weeks of the epidemic. It made no allowance for the totally different ways in which FMD affected the various species involved, which any expert in animal diseases could have told them was crucial. Perhaps the worst blunder of all was to assume that the Pan Asian O strain could be carried on the wind up to 3 kilometres, even though Dr Alex Donaldson at the FMD world reference centre at Pirbright had already established that spread was no more than 200 metres. Yet it was on this crashing error that the team based its advice that all animals within 3 kilometres of an infected farm should be'culled', leading to the pointless and ofteb barbaric slaughter of more than 9 million healthy animals.

Much of Lusmore's paper is concerned with showing how the data compiled by Maff was chaotically inadequate, inaccurate and inconsistent. But her main conclusion is that choice of the Anderson computer model was due to "pressure from political sources to come up with a quick solution" and was a grotesque mistake. This may be what many vets, farmers and others have known for a long time, but it is good to have it now confirmed by a specialist in computer modelling. The whole paper can be read on www.warmwell.com . .