DEFRA claim that the contiguous cull of healthy animals did at least stop the disease, draconian though it is. Many farmers are convinced by this - as are most other people who ever think about FMD at all.

FMD experts do not agree.

Nor, incidentally, many farmers in Yorkshire who are watching in grief as their livelihoods are being destroyed today

EXTRACT: "The claim that the extended cull caused the downturn in the epidemic, rather than coincidentally preceding it, requires strong scrutiny, region-by-region, allowing for incubation periods. The decline of the epidemic in 2001, halving from peak in two weeks and halving again in another two looks very similar to the pattern established in 1967. "
Prof Bob Michell, BVetMed BSc PhD DSc MRCVS Former President of the RCVS : see below

FMD: there must be a proper inquiry

Alan Beat, farmer and journalist also gets exasperated by such claims..

July 12 ~The Western Morning News, carried a letter the other day from a Holsworthy farmer who championed the introduction of the contiguous cull as a turning point in the fight against foot and mouth disease. He admitted that it was tough medicine but maintained that it had proved to work, and that without it, the disease would have continued to spread out of control. He suggested that we should all stop criticising MAFF now because they had done a good job.

Needless to say, Alan sharpened his pen and sent off a reply as follows:

The extended mass slaughter policy introduced by this government is championed by your correspondent Ivor Dennis who claims "foot and mouth was spreading rapidly from farm to farm prior to the introduction of the contiguous culling policy. Within a short time of that policy being implemented, the disease was stopped in its tracks".

The facts are somewhat different. Official statistics show that only 20% of animals slaughtered on contiguous farms have tested positive for FMD virus - so the remaining 80% were healthy and were not incubating the disease. Killing these 80% was a powerfully negative influence on disease control because it diverted resources from dealing with genuine infection, and created huge problems of carcase disposal as an important side-effect. The direct result of killing these large additional numbers was that the crucial target of slaughtering all infected stock within 24 hours became physically impossible to achieve. Here in Devon we saw this result all too clearly in terms of delayed slaughter times while mountains of rotting carcases piled up.

There is a world-wide concensus among veterinary scientists that if slaughter is used to control the disease, two things are crucial to success. The first is to stop movements of livestock, farmers and vehicles, because this is by far the most significant factor in spreading the virus. The second is to kill all animals showing symptoms of disease as quickly as possible, thus reducing the amount of virus given off to spread infection. These are the two key elements that have eliminated many other outbreaks - any additional measures are just tinkering at the edges. The typical pattern is one of steeply -rising numbers of infected animals over the first few weeks to a peak, followed by a steady decline over a longer period to the last case.

In contrast, there is no historical precedent for contiguous culling anywhere in the world. It has never been tried before on any scale, so when the computer modellers made their predictions for its effect, they had no existing data with which to validate their figures. It was all hypothetical. In particular, assumptions were made about the risk of airborne transmission that were deeply flawed.

Our own world-leading experts in foot and mouth disease at Pirbright Laboratory dismissed the contiguous cull as unnecessary. Paul Kitching and Alex Donaldson argued that a veterinary risk assessment of contiguous farms would quickly identify those on which precautionary slaughter was justified, while the rest could be closely monitored with safety. This approach concentrates resources where they are most needed by slaughtering much smaller numbers of animals. But this proven scientific approach was ignored in favour of untried computer predictions made by biomathematicians with no veterinary expertise.

Retrospective analysis of statistics from the early stages of the epidemic now shows that the peak had already passed, and new case numbers were already declining, before the new contiguous cull policy had been implemented. Movement restrictions plus rapid slaughter of infected animals were already taking effect, yet over the following weeks, vast numbers of healthy animals were lost to contiguous culls that, in reality, could make little impact on the declining pattern of disease that was already showing, and indeed were more likely to have been counter-productive, at enormous and unnecessary cost.

It is the contiguous cull itself that has directly caused the "bitterness and resentment" referred to by Mr Dennis, and those of us whose livestock survived it have every reason to ensure that such misguided guesswork is never allowed to devastate our lives again.

Alan Beat


FMD experts - who, Like Professor Fred Brown O.B.E., are world renowned scientists in FMD research - have been saddened by the unnecessary killing of healthy animals.

Back in April, Dr Kitching was saying in a meeting at Pirbright (memo leaked from Pirbright to Sunday Times)

"...a great many of the flocks, which had been infected, would have gone through their period of high infectivity and the only evidence of the fact that they had contracted the disease was that if subjected to a serological test they would show blood antibodies.

In this context it is worth noting that as the standstill order came into place on Friday 23rd February, some 8 weeks ago, (he was speaking in April) and that the number of new infections since that time would have been minimal, the likelihood of cattle meeting viremic sheep at turnout time (say end of April) would be small to say the least. It was clear that there had been a degree of over reaction in this area and the slaughter of such stock had been exacerbated by the contiguous and 3k culls consequent upon an original misdiagnosis."

(continues)..The other aspect which is worth noting is that as sheep are the least infective of cattle sheep and pigs, and that by quite a considerable margin, there is a relatively low risk of sheep infecting cattle at this stage in the progression of the disease and that risk can be even further reduced by carrying out a proper Risk Assessment (a concept advocated and developed by the SVS) on farms where sheep and cattle have normally been farmed together. It becomes clear that this strategy of establishing when sheep might have had any dangerous contact and working with an enlightened veterinary surgeon developing an individual farm least risk policy under regular surveillance might provide a sensible means of making progress.