Vaccination and FMD

From the Veterinary Record Feb 2 2002

Your comment discussing the recent EU Conference on Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) in Brussels (Developing Policy on FMD VR Jan 12 2002 p29) states: " However, the use of emergency vaccination had to be assessed in the context of international trade rules and the attitudes of consumers to meat from vaccinated animals: the importance of this was amply demonstrated by the experiences of the Netherlands of the 2001 outbreak, where emergency vaccination was used but the vaccinated animals had to be slaughtered and destroyed anyway, because there was no market for them."

As a group of independent and professional Dutch veterinarians, we want to express our concern about this statement. It is not a correct analysis of what happened in the Netherlands during the 2001 outbreak to state or imply that the vaccinated animals had to be slaughtered because of consumer resistance. Nor were there any major 'scientific' reasons for doing so. The only reason for culling these animals was related to trade and economics, especially the threat of restrictions on export. "The economy" determined the fate of these vaccinated animals as, according to EU regulations, export from the region would be delayed for one year if vaccinated animals were not slaughtered.

Similarly, because of Office International des Epizooties regulations, farms could only be restocked three months after the last vaccinated cow was culled in the vaccinated area. Only then would export as an FMD-free country be possible. The Ministry of Agriculture therefor decided to have these animals killed within a relatively short time.

There was huge resistance within all layers of Dutch society when it became clear that economic, rather than veterinary, reasoning prevailed in this situation. One of the reasons for this feeling of resistance among farmers, veterinarians and other professionals in this field, as well as consumers and the public in general, was that from 1952 until 1992, annual FMD vaccination was compulsory. During this period, vaccinated animals were consumed in the Netherlands without any problem of consumer or supermarket resistance, or any health issue.

This situation has not changed since. During the many and lengthy discussions in different media during the outbreak, consumer resistance against products from FMD-vaccinated animals was simply not an issue in the Netherlands. We know that this was very different in the UK and in other countries that do not have a long history of vaccination against FMD over the past decades. This statement is easily proven because, in fact, today we are still consuming meat from FMD vaccinated cattle; we simply import it from Argentina! Dutch consumers fear residues and micro-organisms far more than antibodies in the meat and milk.