30th July 2001
We have now had a reply from Ben Gill to my letter of 18th July 2001.
Here are the key points:
1. He contends that we are now in the tail of the epidemic, but accepts that there are some worrying hot spots.
However he considers it critical that outbreaks in these areas are contained and eliminated as soon as possible and certainly before autumn and winter approach.
2. On vaccination, he states that the NFU has never rejected the outright use of vaccination as part of a strategy. The NFU raised a number of questions about Government thinking but received inconclusive, equivocal and sometimes conflicting responses.
The position of food retailers and some consumer groups gave no clear assurances that food from infected areas would find a viable market in the UK.
3. We summarised well-known views of certain individuals on the vaccination issue but Mr Gill points out that there are other views on vaccination.
4. He argues that the experience in the Netherlands is fundamentally different to that in the UK.
5. Finally he concludes that our inference that the NFU has something to hide or fear is entirely baseless and unworthy.
A reply is being drafted and will be made available within the next few days.
Another interesting development is that the meeting in Penrith on Friday, 27th July urged the local NFU representative to arrange for Dr Ruth Watkins to meet with the NFU hierarchy and discuss the various issues calmly and dispassionately. We can only hope that he will be successful.
Professor J Verner Wheelock
1st August 2001
Ben N Gill
164, Shaftesbury Avenue
Dear Mr Gill,
Thank you very much for replying to our letter of 18th July. We remain unconvinced by the arguments you make and wish to make further comments.
1. You are being extremely optimistic if you believe the outbreak can be brought to an end before the end of the summer period.
We have made a comparison of the official figures for the last 2 months and compared them with the corresponding period for 1967/68 outbreak which commenced at the beginning of January 1968.
This shows that there was a rapid decline in the number of cases during January and February. In early March there were 2 weeks with no recorded cases yet it was another 3 months before the disease was finally eliminated. By contrast, the position with the current outbreak is that the number of cases remains remarkably constant. There is no sign that the incidence has declined in recent weeks.
We also need to consider the seasonal factors. In 1968, the approach of summer probably helped to eliminate the disease once the final stages had been reached. With the current outbreak, the incidence is being maintained despite the recent warm weather. It is almost inevitable that FMD will still be with us in October/November, when it will be very much more difficult to control.
* beginning 2nd June 2001
** beginning 4th January 1968
2. On vaccination, we do not advocate this as a stand-alone policy. It would have to be combined with culling infected animals. The Northumberland Committee recommended a policy of ring vaccination, which is one option that could (even now) be adopted in this country.
We appreciate that the Government was preparing for vaccination of cattle in Devon and Cumbria, but there is no doubt that once the principle had been accepted, it would have been virtually impossible to dismiss the inevitable demands for vaccination to be used on a much wider scale.
3. With respect to retailers, you really are being naove in the extreme. Retailers already stock a wide range of products from vaccinated animals. Marks & Spencer are developing vaccines to control Salmonella in poultry. It simply would not be tenable for retailers to refuse to stock products from animals vaccinated against FMD, while selling other products from animals vaccinated against other diseases. We know this is true because some of us have very good links with individual retailers and with the British Retail Consortium.
4. In our earlier letter, we gave names of people who have provided the information to substantiate our position. We must emphasise that these are leading international experts with a proven track record. Our conclusions are based on sound scientific evidence. We do not think you can place equal credence on vets and representatives from farming or organic bodies. With a complex issue like this it is absolutely essential to have the best scientific advice that is available.
5. We really cannot see that there are fundamental differences between the UK and the Netherlands with respect to the outbreaks. In fact there is a clear parallel between the outbreak in Holland and the hotspots which still remain in this country.
It is totally illogical not to allow food from animals vaccinated against FMD to enter the food chain, especially as it is now possible to distinguish a vaccinated animal from one that has been infected.
According to the Office International des Epizooties in Paris, the position with respect to the re-establishment of disease-free status is as follows:
To qualify for disease-free status, where vaccination is not practised routinely, the country must demonstrate that there has been no outbreak and no vaccination for the last 12 months.
This means that as far as the current outbreak is concerned we get our disease-free status back after one year after the last use of the vaccine and after the last outbreak, which ever is the later. So if vaccination curtails the outbreak sooner that the slaughter-only policy, the disease-free status would be re-gained more quickly than if vaccination is not used.
At the meeting in Penrith last week, the NFU representative was urged to arrange a discussion between Dr Ruth Watkins and yourself. We do hope you will respond positively to this proposal.
Professor J Verner Wheelock Roger Tempest
Chairman Broughton Hall Business Park
Verner Wheelock Associates