If you would be interested to see the reply that Ben Gill sent to Professor Wheelock please send an email to his office
18 July 2001
Open Letter to Mr Ben Gill - President NFU
Dear Mr Gill
Despite all the predictions the FMD outbreak shows no signs of coming to an end. The information published on the DEFRA website shows that over 10,000 animals are being killed every week because infections have been diagnosed on the farm. These figures do not include calves and lambs and of course the public are not given access to the number of animals killed because they are located on contiguous land. However our local knowledge of what has been happening in the Yorkshire Dales indicates that there can be between 5 and 15 contiguous culls for every infected farm.
This means that in total at least 50,000 to 100,000 animals are being killed every week.
Furthermore my examination of the data for the past weeks shows that the numbers being culled are not falling, especially in relation to sheep. For the first week in July over 10,000 sheep were culled on infected farms. Apart from the last week in May this is the highest figure recorded during the past 10 years.
So it is very clear that the policy is not working.
What seems to be happening is that there is intensive activity in selected areas. Here in the Skipton/Settle/Clitheroe location there have already been about 100 infected farms - not to mention the contiguous culls. Subsequently many of the infected farms have proved to be negative, when samples were tested in the laboratory. It really is a scandal that so many healthy animals are being destroyed. The DEFRA and ARMY teams have been extremely active. There are compelling reasons for believing that these teams have been partly responsible for the spread of the disease. We have very good evidence of failure to adhere to bio-security rules.
Then when few animals are left the teams move away. As I am sure you realise infections have been discovered recently in several areas which were clean. Now that there are infections in Thirsk, there is real concern that the FMD will infect the big pig herds in East Yorkshire.
With the warm weather we have experienced recently last month we might have expected the virus to have difficulty in surviving. So it is very worrying that the disease is still rampant. Unless it is brought under control within the next couple of months we will be into another winter and the strong possibility that it will still be present this time next year.
I do not have to spell out in detail to you the heartache, the financial problems and the sheer desperation felt by farmers and their families who have been hit by this disease.
It is common knowledge that the Government was seriously considering the use of vaccines as part of the strategy to control the disease. One of the main reasons this was not adopted, so we are told, is because of opposition from the NFU for reasons which are extremely difficult to understand.
It is beyond credibility to argue that the retailers would not purchase meat from animals which had been vaccinated. The fact is that retailers already purchase such meat and there has never been any suggestion that it represents any kind of hazard to humans whatsoever. If some arrogant buyer from one of the major retailers refused to buy British beef or lamb on the grounds that it came from a vaccinated animal he/she would have been laughed out of court.
In fact, a detailed evaluation of a vaccination strategy has been undertaken by Dr Ruth Watkins who is currently living in Carmarthen where she farms some sheep.
Dr Watkins worked as a virologist at St Marys Hospital in London and is
clearly knowledgeable about all aspects of vaccine. In addition she has
been in contact with some of the worlds experts in the production and use of FMD vaccines, namely:
Dr Fred Brown FRS
Dr Paul Sutmoller
Dr Simon Barteling
Dr Paul Kitchen
Below are key points about the FMD vaccine prepared by Dr Watkins after consultation with the world experts in this field:
7 It is a killed (inactivated) vaccine
7 It induces immunity but does not infect the vaccinated animal
7 This type of vaccine has been used for 40 years and is well tested
7 Virtually 100% of animals respond to the vaccine
7 The vaccine is licensed for use in the UK
7 Protection can be confirmed after one dose
7 The response to vaccination protects against the disease
7 A vaccinated animal will not infect other animals whether vaccinated or not
7 Although a vaccinated animal can be a carrier, such animals have never been shown to spread infection
7 Transmission of the virus is halted by vaccination
7 Vaccinated animals prevent further acute infection after restocking
7 The meat and milk from vaccinated animals is safe to eat and drink
(For more details see www.cullmaff.com/vaccination.htm)
We believe that even now it would be extremely sensible to vaccinate farm animals. Everyone is agreed that the sooner FMD is eliminated the better because then we can start the long process of reconstruction.
If the NFU were to propose to the Government that vaccination be adopted now we are convinced it would take notice. If a decision to vaccinate was taken today, the FMD outbreak would be history by the beginning of September if not sooner!
We believe that it would at least be a step towards regaining some of the respect which you have lost. By contrast if you maintain your current position you leave yourself wide open to being castigated when the inevitable enquiries get down to work eventually. Furthermore when it is eventually recognised that the use of vaccination could have avoided most of the recent culling and all the trauma that goes with it, the Government will be only too keen to look for a scapegoat! Do we need to say any more?
Incidentally, we are convinced that there must be a detailed public enquiry to find out exactly what went wrong and more particularly, to see what lessons must be learned. The NFU is a lone voice in denouncing such an enquiry. Does this mean you have something to hide or fear?
In fact, you would also get the Government off the hook. Now that the election is out of the way it must be obvious to the Prime Minister and his colleagues that every #1m spent on FMD is #1m less to spend on hospitals, schools and transport. On top of this, the business failures caused by FMD will add to the unemployment figures. Finally the loss of visitors from overseas, especially from North America, will result in a loss of foreign exchange. This factor will combine with other bad news from the economy to push us into a recession.
The NFU must try to extract itself from the current bunker mentality which is doing enormous damage to its members, farmers in general and the economy as a whole.
The big hurdle to be overcome is that it means people, including yourself, would have to admit that a fatal error of judgement was made in ruling out vaccination months ago. This is challenge for you. Are you big enough to accept it?
Professor J Verner Wheelock Roger Tempest
Verner Wheelock Associates Broughton Hall Business Park
Simon Foster Peter Harvey
Ex-Livestock Farmer Cattle Dealer
North Yorkshire Berkshire
From: Professor Verner Wheelock
Thank you for putting my letter on your website so quickly!
The thought occurred to me that if other people wanted to lend their support and write to Ben Gill ~ perhaps you could highlight all the necessary contact details somewhere!
Mr Ben Gill
164, Shaftesbury Avenue
Tel: 0207 331 7200
Fax: 0207 331 7313
It is hoped that many people will indeed write similar letters or emails and send them off today!