Richard North (Dr)
Research Director EDD (European Parliament)
26 July 2001

Thrashing about

Update 19, on the machinations of Prof. Roy Anderson, drew an immediate and
sharp response from Dr Alan M. Walfield, Director of Patent and Licensing
Affairs for United Biomedical Inc (UBI). He had received a copy of the
update and wrote that he did not care about the 'rumors and conspiracy
theories that are now in circulation regarding the outbreak of foot-and-mouth
disease (FMD) in the UK'. Except, he added, 'the parts which involve my
company'. 'While your story is speculative rumor, when it names a real
company you cause injury to real people. Please leave UBI out of your

In a further e-mail, Walfield added: 'That a government cover-up may have
occurred is possible, but that would have been motivated by a desire to hide
the failure to detect the virus (i.e, cover-up, incompetence), or simply out
of a desire to protect the UK's FMD-free status'.

He continued:

'I still favor a conventional origin for the outbreak. I would guess that
50,000 people a day enter the UK from abroad, and I have no idea how many
cargo containers enter, many of which contain potentially contaminated
packing materials and raw agricultural products, in addition to the obvious
carriage by meat or livestock. Since the virus was first spread by sheep,
perhaps it entered the country from a shipment of sheep. The FMD virus and
signs of FMD are difficult to detect in sheep.

FMD virus is the most contagious virus that I know of and the UK strain is a
member of the subtype that is currently most prevalent worldwide. There is no
evidence for the involvement of laboratory-derived virus, nor the need to
speculate about laboratory accidents since ordinary PanAsia O has sufficient
natural means of transmission. I have heard some wild rumors ascribing the
outbreak to a laboratory accident, but in the absence of evidence I regard
such stories as rubbish.

Trials of FMD vaccines in which animals are challenged with infectious virus
under high containment are quite routine and have been occurring all the time
for many years on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Such
trials are essential to guarantee the efficacy and safety of vaccines prior
to their release, and for the development of improved vaccines such as ours.
There is no reason to connect the outbreak to any of these trials. In
contrast, tens of thousands of infected animals live outside of high
containment facilities worldwide, subject to at best inadequate controls.

The UK virus is most likely to have originated from these myriad sources and
been carried to the UK by any of the myriad means of transmission I discuss
above. The feeling at the United States Dept of Agriculture is one of fear,
because if the virus entered the UK, the US certainly is not safe.

As to the role of a possible laboratory accident in causing the epidemic of
FMD, Dr Walfield refers to the story which I had used as one of the sources
in my report. This was a 'Newsday' report published in April, and attached
to the UBI web-site. In this, Dr. Chang Yi Wang, president and chief
executive of UBI confirmed that 'vaccine is being tested in Britain by a
pharmaceutical partner she would not identify'.

Dr Walfield attests that the statement is correct but that the report was
posted in April. Prior to that time, we writes, 'no UBI vaccine ever entered
the UK'. Walfield feels I have put two and two together and made five.

Duly 'slapped on the wrist', I was then intrigued by Walfield's further

Of course, the main point I wish to make is that the laboratory origin for
the outbreak is a theory supported by nothing more than rumor and the British
government's stupid preference for secrecy. I believe you should focus on
reducing the barrier of government secrecy, and on updating the outdated
policies of MAFF regarding FMD. It is not useful to seek explanations by
linking unrelated events.

He then adds:

I am curious about the differences between our two countries. Had the
outbreak occurred in the USA there would have been very public
investigations, perhaps Congressional hearings, the origin of the outbreak
would have been discovered and very publically disclosed no matter who was
involved, and the policies used to confront the outbreak would have been the
subject of lively debate and endless litigation (more effective than secrecy
and conspiracy rumors, except for the litigation).

I could not put it better. The one thing of which we are all confidently
assured is that we have not been told the truth about this epidemic, or
anything approaching the truth. It is that secrecy - and the refusal of
Blair to commit to an independent public inquiry - which is fuelling the
conspiracy theories as we all thrash about, with incomplete information,
trying to find out what really happened. Not least of our concerns is the
activity of the malevolent Prof. Anderson, whose intervention has done much
to turn this crisis into a disaster.

However, 'sources close to the front' universally attest that UBI is 'one of
the good guys', producing a highly regarded synthetic vaccine which is safer
and possibly more effective than the existing varieties.

Thus while, with the information I have, I cannot rule out the source of the
FMD epidemic being a laboratory 'escapee', especially in view of the recent
prosecution of Imperial College (home of Prof. Anderson) for its lamentable
safety precautions while dealing with a modified Hepatitis C virus, Dr.
Walfield makes a good case for ruling out the involvement of UBI in any such
possible disaster. There can be no case for arguing otherwise. And when I
have been wrong, I say so. I was wrong to associate UBI with my theories.