WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR INSTITUTIONS?

Roger Windsor's talk, read on his behalf, to the Central Veterinary Society.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 was a disaster: a disaster for farmers, for the rural community and it has not been good for the veterinary profession or the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Today it is not what you do, but the public perception of what you do that is important and the profession in general and the public at large believes that the RCVS did little to stop the horror that went on last year. When it acted it was late. I argued constantly that the College should lead the way in condemning what I called the “postcode slaughter” - the indiscriminate and unnecessary slaughter of animals because of where they were. I tried to prod the College to action, but the response, particularly from the two immediate past Presidents and the Registrar has been that we must not offend MAFF as it then was, DEFRA as it is now. DEFRA however, offended almost everyone: I will turn to them in a minute.

I do not wish to apportion blame for the disaster. However, the CVO must accept the lion’s share of the responsibility: not for his handling of the outbreak, but for his part in the destruction of the State Veterinary Service (SVS). In the mid 1990s, he was the veterinary presence in the Lebrecht Review which slashed the senior management of the SVS and merged divisions thereby reducing the number of managers. In my view it was the lack of and the almost total incompetence of the managers on the ground that allowed this massive outbreak to take the form that it did. Many of those managers that remained after Lebrecht had never been involved in controlling foot and mouth disease and it was their inability to take sensible decisions about allowing the movement to slaughter and the movement of feeding stuffs that caused the greatest resentment among the farming community. To give a personal example, the Centre Manager for the outbreak in Dumfries and Galloway was an “acting” Divisional Veterinary Manager based in Ayr some 75 miles away. In 1967 every centre in which I worked was headed by a Regional Veterinary Officer, then two ranks up from a DVO.

The College and the profession should have refused to act when the direction of the campaign was taken over by politicians, and the Chief Scientist. The CVO stated that he was in control the whole time, but the public perception was that the Chief Scientist and his side-kicks Prof. Roy Anderson and Sir John Krebs had taken over. They decided that killing all animals on neighbouring farms and all animals within three kilometres of an outbreak was the only way to stop the disease, in time for a June General Election. Why anyone should listen to Anderson, a proven liar who was forced to resign his chair at Oxford is beyond me? (Ref for this statement is an article in Private Eye last year) Did he offer the politicians a quick fix ? His mathematical model indicated that a two km kill would be adequate. However, MAFF decided to follow EU advice and stuck to 3 km which more than doubled the number of animals that were killed. Roy Anderson should be called, not the Professor of Epidemiology, but the Professor of Extermination at Imperial College, London. I understand that he subsequently revised his model and came to the conclusion that the virus travelled no more than 500 metres. Too many animals (probably five million) were killed in the name of elections and mathematics. Alan Richardson considers that this was the largest animal experiment ever carried out, and that it was done without a Home Office licence !

From the time that the vets in MAFF allowed the administrators to run the show, their incompetence has become legendary (and I speak as a former member of staff). Can anyone imagine Sir John Ritchie (the last great CVO and the last one to receive a knighthood!) allowing the administrative shambles of 2001. This time the administrators excelled themselves. Ken Tyrell was outspoken, in the “Veterinary Times”, in the condemnation of his former employer. The staff on the ground were badly led by their senior staff - I will quote a few examples:

Animals on two farms, one in Cumbria and one in Settle, were slaughtered in error. I have personal experience of a farm in Galloway that I inspected: two days before my visit the farmer was just completing milking when a collection of army lorries drove down his drive. They had come to slaughter his sheep: they had the correct map reference, but the wrong map!
We have had rodeos on farms, with marksmen shooting animals running round in a field, ewes lambing as they were rounded up for slaughter.

Doors were broken down by police.
On a lesser note it was common for vets to be sent to visit farms where all the animals had been slaughtered.
Vets arrived on farms in time to meet other vets. just leaving.
It is difficult to believe that MAFF were so panicked that they required one vet. to supervise the simultaneous slaughter of animals on ten farms. The vets. in Newcastle refused to do it. It was a great pity that RCVS did not show the same spirit!
Animal welfare was completely ignored - farms with no food, not even straw were not allowed to move anything.

Cattle and sheep had to calve and lamb miles away from the care of the farmer because all movement was prohibited.

As the toll mounted, so did the panic. Because of MAFF action animals were kept in conditions, for which, under normal circumstances, the farmer would have been prosecuted.

“Animal Health - A Centenary” - published in 1965 - MAFF’s own proud history and a testament to its great successes, states that for a successful campaign of disease eradication:-

“The farming community must be willing to co-operate in every aspect of the work.” (page 361)

“It is essential that the official control regulations are simple and readily understood by the farming community. The test of good regulations is that they are observed” (362)

“…veterinary surgeons must be taken into consultation so that they are convinced of the value of any official duties they may have to do.(362).

All this, ladies and gentlemen, was thrown out of the window as the massacre of animals proceeded. However, the incompetence and the mistakes pale into insignificance when compared with the lying, the bullying, the intimidation, and the massive misuse of the police.

The panic in the field reflected the failure to take a decisive and principled stand in London. Decisions were changed and vets were refused permission to take samples. The people in London over-ruled, sometime senior vets in the field. Perhaps the worst was the so-called outbreak in Newcastleton, actually in The Borders, but handled from Dumfries. On day one the vets asked permission to take samples for examination by Pirbright. This was refused by London. On day two with no change in the condition of the sheep, London ordered their slaughter. The vets were now instructed to take samples. In accordance with instructions from the Crazy Gang all stock within three km were slaughtered, this took out almost the whole valley. The Pirbright results showed that the original samples were negative for FMD virus. Incompetence in London plus political interference resulted in the massacre of a large number of healthy animals. Is it any wonder that the farmers have lost confidence in our profession?

The sorry story of vets examining herds and flocks of animals and when finding them free from disease signing the Form A, declaring the farm to be an infected place, will forever be a blot on the reputation of DEFRA. Yet the RCVS still takes no action. Young and inexperienced, or foreign vets were told by senior members of our profession that if they did not sign a Form A, the livestock would be killed anyway, and the farmer would receive no compensation. Lies. Farmers were told that if they did not co-operate in the slaughter of their sheep then their cattle would be taken as well. Doors were broken down by police to tear away pet goats from young girls. A retired vet in Dumfries who lived in the wrong place had his goats killed although there was a large housing estate between him and the infected farm. He had been involved with the ’67 outbreak, knew the disease and volunteered to keep his animals under close observation. The animals were killed. The widow of a veterinary surgeon had the door to her house broken down by the police so that her six sheep could be killed. It was a pity that they broke down the wrong door ! The animals were killed. The Animal Sanctuary at Mossburn had upset people by refusing to have their animals killed. However, after court action it was finally decided that they had to go and so SERAD agreed with her practitioner that he could put her animals to sleep at 10:00 am on the Saturday morning. At 5.50 am. on the morning agreed, police vehicles sealed off the road to the Sanctuary. The main road was also blocked at each end with police vehicles. Two cars and a police van blocked the side road, leading to the Sanctuary. There were ten police officers in the van. Two cars blocked the farm drive and four more police and a solitary constable stood near the house. A total of more than 30 policeman were involved. No one was allowed in or out. Is this how we as a profession wish to be portrayed ? Ross Finnie the Minister of Rural Affairs in Scotland, like Tony Blair, when confronted with Phoenix, decided that, with an election coming, there was just too much bad publicity and the policy was changed. The animals remain alive to this day.

Were all this not bad enough, the incompetence was compounded by a decision on a farm at Moffat that wild goats played no part in the epidemiology of this outbreak and so when the farm went down with FMD, it was decided that the wild goats on the farm would not be killed ! This made a real mockery of the slaughter of the pet goats in the county.

These horror stories refer only to Dumfries, where I had first hand knowledge; they have been repeated in Cumbria, and in Devon, and probably other areas as well. One wonders if MAFF had any idea of the meaning of decency, compassion or even justice. If there is a choice between slaughtering another million animals or vaccinating them, then Sir, it must be vaccination.

As if this were not bad enough, the Government is foistering on the farming community “The Animal Health Bill” which gives their inspectors carte blanche to do what they please and slaughter whatever animals they wish, be it dog, horse or budgerigar. When this abomination was sent back by the House of Lords, the Government retaliated by sliding through Statutory Instrument 843 as the Easter recess beckoned. The Royal College have stood shaking their heads, but our officers will not take action. Were we to say we will have no part in this, it could not happen. Ladies and gentlemen it is up to you.