The Royal Society Inquiry - a report at the half way point.

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SUMMARY

The Inquiry is now roughly at its halfway point. More details of the Inquiry (terms of reference, membership etc) are on our website www.royalsoc.ac.uk/inquiry/index.html

Over 330 responses have been received to our two calls for evidence. The main Committee held its second full meeting on 19 December 2001 at which it received interim reports from each of its three sub-groups, on: Surveillance and Diagnosis; Prediction, Prevention and Epidemiology; and Vaccination. The Committee held a series of discussions with key figures in Government and the farming and veterinary communities on 28 November, 4 and 5 December 2001. The Chairman and Secretary attended the EU International Conference on Foot and Mouth Disease in Brussels on 12/13 December 2001. After its successful visits to Cumbria, and Dumfries and Galloway in November 2001, the Committee plans a further visit to Wales in the early spring 2002. The Inquiry is still on target to submit its report to Government in the summer. All evidence received and agreed notes of meetings will be made publicly available at that time.

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EVIDENCE

We are grateful to all those who have submitted comments to date. Over 310 responses have now been received: from farmers, vets, university scientists, special interest groups, welfare groups, Government Departments and agencies, private sector industry, national and international organisations and others. The deadline for submissions expired on 30 November 2001.

All those who have submitted evidence should have received a personal acknowledgement, and will have been entered into our contact database to receive copies of this and future progress reports, and the final report when published. If you are in any doubt whether your input has been received and/or whether you are on our address list, please contact our administrator Saskia Gretton (contact details below).

All the evidence received is being circulated to all members of the Inquiry. It will be analysed and a complete list, and the evidence itself, will be made publicly available (unless those submitting it have stated otherwise) when the Report is published. All the evidence (including notes of meetings) will therefore be seen together in its full context. All individuals or organisations submitting evidence are of course free to publish their evidence. We are extremely grateful and appreciative of the time that so many people have invested in their evidence. It is most valuable.

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DISCUSSIONS WITH KEY INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANISATIONS

Over the three days 28 November, 4 and 5 December 2001, the Committee met with the following: the Chief Veterinary Officer (Jim Scudamore) and Chief Scientist (Dr David Shannon) of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (Office of Science and Technology), Prof. David King FRS; the Director of the DEFRA Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA), Prof. Steve Edwards; the Director of the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Prof. Chris Bostock and Prof. Alex Donaldson; the retiring Chief Executive of BBSRC, Prof. Ray Baker FRS; Geoff Bateman of the Environment Agency; the President of the National Farmers Union, Ben Gill; the President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Roger Green; the President of the British Veterinary Association, Andrew Scott; the President of the Pig Veterinary Society, Richard Potter; and the President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association, Dick Sibley.

In each case those invited were given the opportunity to make a short presentation on the points that they wished to make to the Inquiry, and then had a full and fairly informal question and answer discussion session with the Committee. We are extremely grateful to all these and their colleaguesfor having given up their time to meet with the Inquiry. Agreed notes of all these meetings, together with any supplementary material supplied will be made publicly available, alongside the written evidence received.

The Inquiry plans to hold a second series of such discussions in late January/February 2002 with international experts and representatives of other interests such as consumer and welfare groups. Our next progress report will give details of those we meet, and again we will in due course make publicly available notes of those meetings. As before those involved will be free to make their own contributions available.

The Inquiry visited the Institute of Animal Health research laboratory at Pirbright on 18 January 2002. The Pirbright Laboratory is the World Reference Laboratory for Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), and played a major role in last year's outbreak.

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COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP

Prof. Jorgen Westergaard has been appointed to the main Committee. A professional veterinarian by training, Prof. Westergaard has many years experience of working with animal disease, in both Denmark and with the Commission of the European Union.

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COMMITTEE MEETING 19 DECEMBER 2001

The Inquiry was grateful to Sir John Skehel FRS, Director of the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) for attending the morning session of this meeting, and to the Royal Society's President - Lord May - for giving us his professional views both as a scientist, whose application of mathematics to biological problems lies behind much of the modern modelling, and as the former Chief Scientist to H.M.Government.

The main part of the meeting was devoted to considering the progress reports of the three sub-groups - see below - and agreeing on the key issues to be pursued. The Committee also reviewed the outcome of the discussions held with key individuals, and agreed on the list of further individuals or organisations to invite for discussions.

The Committee discussed a draft outline structure for its final report, and confirmed its intention to complete its work in time to submit its report in the summer.

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SUB-GROUPS

Sub Group A: Surveillance and Diagnosis;

Membership Prof. Karl Linklater (Principal, Scottish Agricultural Colleges) Chairman; Peter Allen MBE (Chairman of the NFU's Less Favoured Areas Committee); Prof. Fred Brown FRS (US Department of Agriculture - formerly Pirbright), Prof. Robin Weiss FRS (University College London), John Horton (Subgroup Secretary c/o Royal Society). Co-opted members: Dr Gareth Davies (consultant veterinary surgeon); Dr Bill Taylor (consultant virologist).

Progress of the Group

Oral evidence on surveillance for exotic diseases was given to the group by Robin Bell and Fred Landeg (veterinary surgeons, DEFRA).

The sub-group has also convened a focus group on Diagnostic Techniques involving: Dr Soren Alexandersen (IAH, Pirbright); Dr Ulrich Desselberger (Public Health Laboratory Service, Cambridge); Dr Roger Hancock (VLA); Dr David Paton (IAH, Pirbright); Dr Hugh Reid (Moredun Research Institute); Dr Geoffrey Schild (National Institute for Bio-Standards and Controls); Dr Andrew Soldan (VLA) and Prof. Richard Tedder (UCL).

The sub-group has met twice so far on 18 November and 10 December 2001and plans further meetings on 22 January and (if needed) on 26 February 2002. A focus group on surveillance is planned.

 

 

Future Work

Issues under discussion include: standards of enforcement to control the importation, use and disposal of animal products; better use of existing intelligence; and improving awareness among key people such as vets and farmers; and the possibility of adapting techniques from other areas such as narcotics, medicine and food for the detection of illegal import of animal products. In diagnosis, the question is being addressed of more rapid adaptation of experimental techniques for use in diagnostic laboratories or in the field. More recent developments include the use of real-time PCR for viral genetic material and solid-phase ELISA tests for antigens and antibodies. The use of sentinel animals (including the possibility of transgenic mice) is also being addressed.

 

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Sub-Group B Prediction, Prevention and Epidemiology

Membership Prof. Patrick Bateson FRS (Chairman); David Black (practising veterinarian); Sir David Cox FRS (Nuffield College); Prof. Marcus Doherr (University of Bern); Sir Martin Holdgate (President of the Zoological Society); Prof. Valerie Isham (University College London); Prof. Simon Levin (Princeton University, USA); Dr Angela McLean (Oxford University); Dr Keith Root (Subgroup Secretary, Royal Society).

 

Progress of the Group The Group has met three times to date, on 6 November, 5 December 2001 and most recently on 8 January 2002. It has taken evidence from the Imperial College and Cambridge modelling teams, and from Prof. John Wilesmith (VLA) on his use of the 'Interspread' modelling package. The Secretary has made visits to Pirbright on behalf of all three sub-groups; has met with Sir John Skehel FRS (Director, National Institute of Medical Research) and Dr Marion Woolridge head of the VLA risk research department; and held (with the Inquiry Chairman) discussions with the Ministry of Defence, Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) officials (Peter Starkey and Dr Les Ruskell) who organised the operational research support to MAFF/DEFRA during the epidemic. Evidence is being received also from Prof. Mark Woolhouse (Edinburgh).

The sub-group has made most progress to date in considering the place of modelling in: advising on control measures to be incorporated into contingency plans; providing realistic scenarios to test contingency plans and their implementation; and advising during the course of controlling an outbreak.

Other major issues that the sub-group are addressing are the basic biology, prevention and control measures. While there does exist substantial information on the basic biology of the FMD virus, research has not always been undertaken in a systematic way. The paucity of high quality information poses problems for modellers and those preparing risk analyses. The group will bring together what is known and give references to standard and most recent primary sources.

 

Future Work The sub-group is looking at a range of preventative issues including the scientific aspects of: predicting when the UK is particularly at risk from a particular virus or strain; how far changes in husbandry practice might reduce the risk of infection (eg stocking density, intensity of farming; and improvements in health, welfare, and biosecurity on farms); and changes in the movement of animals, including the cost-effectiveness of introducing standstill arrangements after animals have been introduced into a farm. The consideration of some these will require input from the other sub-groups, as will issues such as: biosecurity; culling/emergency vaccination (in terms of speed and coverage); disposal of carcasses; protection of rare breeds and zoo animals; and welfare issues. On the latter a meeting is being arrange with a number of representatives of relevant organisations.

 

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Sub-Group C; Vaccination

Membership Prof. Ian McConnell (Cambridge) Chairman; Prof. Andrew McMichael FRS (Oxford); Dr Jenny Mumford (Director of Science, Animal Health Trust); Roger Eddy (Senior Vice-President Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons); Prof. Peter Beverley (Director Edward Jenner Institute for Vaccine Research); Sir John Skehel FRS (Director, National Institute for Medical Research); and Dr Ivan Morrison (IAH), Dr Malcolm Anderson (subgroup Secretary c/o Royal Society). Dr Gareth Davies, consultant on animal infectious diseases has attended meetings of the group as an adviser.

 

Progress of the Group

The group has met twice, on 31 October and 27 November 2001. Presentations to the group have been made by: Gareth Davies on the identification, containment and rapid eradication of animal disease; Dr Bryan Grenfell and Matt Keeling (Cambridge) on modelling experience during the outbreak; Dr Paul Barnett (IAH) on his joint review (with Helen Carabin, Imperial College) of emergency FMD vaccines, which indicates the indicates the potential improved efficacy of vaccines by use of oil adjuvants. There have been preliminary discussions with representatives of the vaccine industry. Key issues to be addressed by the group now will be in the areas of: emergency vaccination (the record of success to date; speed of action; nature of immune response; emergency vaccine technology); prophylactic vaccination; the economics of vaccine strategies; cost-benefit analysis of emergency and prophylactic vaccination; and legislative issues.

 

Future Work

Future work of the group will include discussion with the industrial vaccine company Merial; taking advice from Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, commissioning studies on the economics of vaccination policies and discussions with Drs Barteling and Sutmoller from the Netherlands including the experience of implementing vaccination strategies in other countries.

 

EU INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON FOOT AND MOUTH DISEASE - 12/13 DECEMBER 2001

The Chairman and Secretary attended this international conference in Brussels convened by the EU Commission, the Belgian Presidency and the UK and Netherlands Governments. Full details and the conference report are on the conference website, www.cmlag.fgov.be/eng/conference.html. Key speakers included the Dutch Minister for Agriculture who reported on the scale of public protest in the Netherlands where a vaccination to kill policy had been used to control the flow of animals to slaughter, and his Government's wishes for changes to current policy.
The UK Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett MP, described the UK experience.
The Director General of the FAO described the global dimension.
Other sessions included discussions on the welfare dimension.
The general consensus to emerge was that in future the public and politicians could not contemplate mass slaughter and culling on the same scale. Alternative strategies involving greater use of vaccination would have to be developed. Future EU legislation would be drafted accordingly.
The Inquiry will take account of the inputs made to, and outcome of the meeting.

 

OTHER DISEASES


The Inquiry will be commissioning short studies on key issues in other important infectious diseases of livestock as a contribution to its work. These will be chosen to reflect the other different sectors of the livestock industry (ie pigs, poultry and horses) and will include diseases capable also of infecting humans.

Chairman: Sir Brian Follett, FRS
Secretary: Dr Geoffrey Findlay
Administrator: Saskia Gretton

The Royal Society Inquiry into Infectious Diseases in Livestock
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