"Foot and Mouth disease is no longer an epidemic: it is a pandemic across the country with Staffordshire farmers bearing the brunt of the disease in the midlands region", says Michael Fabricant. "Talking with vets, including MAFF veterinary inspectors speaking ‘off the record’, I believe the time has come for a fresh approach to the present ‘scorched earth’ policy.
"Vets simply do not believe that the fire-wall and burn policy has worked or that there is any likelihood that this policy will work. The government’s own scientific advisors have stated that there could be another 3,000 to 4,000 outbreaks, and that up to half the livestock of the country may have to be destroyed. Can this be said to be controlling the disease? Despite repeated statements from Nick Brown, Minister for Agriculture, it is clear that this disease is out of control and unless a new course of action is followed, it will be here until we have literally so few animals left it cannot be perpetuated.
"It is now clear that there is widespread infection in the sheep population. The disease is extremely difficult to diagnose in sheep as the signs are mild and readily overlooked. Due to the tremendously infectious nature of the virus, it is probable that vast numbers of farms are incubating the virus at this very moment. The discovery of clinically healthy sheep in France with antibodies to the disease imported from the UK several weeks before the alleged start of the outbreak, indicates that the disease had already been present undetected for possibly a month or more in our country and so allowed to spread. It was totally wrong of Ministers to blame "dodgy" farmers.
"Compounding this, long delays in the slaughter of infected animals and even longer delays in the disposal of carcasses have rendered MAFF’s control efforts ineffectual. As of yesterday, more than 388,000 animals have already been slaughtered, 227,000 waiting to be killed, and almost 100,000 animals rotting on the ground, unburned.
"I believe that is high time to review this failing approach and make use of vaccines. It is not clear to me that the economic impact of loosing F & M free status would be severe. We have virtually no export market for Cattle at present due to the BSE problem. The reality is that regardless of the success or otherwise of the current eradication programme, it is most unlikely that any foot and mouth disease free Country would accept British sheep or Pigs for many years now.
"Added to this, the export markets that we enjoyed prior to this outbreak will already been taken by competitors. We know from the BSE/beef experience once a market is lost it is almost impossible to regain. The foreign press is already describing us as the Country that gave the World BSE and now foot and mouth disease.
"It is also a worrying fact that in the unlikely event that the cull of healthy animals is successful, the country would be wide open to re-infection. It could all start again in weeks. To be sure that the disease had been eradicated, it will be necessary to blood test every sheep in the country, as it is beyond doubt that many flocks have had F & M and recovered, before diagnosis or inspection and now have the anti-bodies. In the light of this, I cannot understand the basis of the attempt to preserve F&M disease free status at what seems to be at any price.
"It is possible to vaccinate against this O serotype of F & M. Millions of doses are held in stock. I appreciate that vaccination is not 100% efficient and that it is not a long term solution, but surely a ‘ring vaccination’ policy around infected farms would be better, more effective, and more economic than further wholesale and pointless slaughter of millions of animals? This policy could be instigated within days by the Local Veterinary Inspectors with local knowledge of the conditions on the ground.
"Infected animals should be promptly destroyed on clinical diagnosis by the Veterinary Inspector, with no delay waiting for laboratory results, and the carcasses buried immediately. All animals within 20 miles should be vaccinated to act as a ‘fire break’. These animals could be ear clipped and removed from the system as time goes on (as in the current over 30-month cull policy for all cattle) or killed quite safely for human consumption. With respect to cattle, this policy would in fact bear no additional cost to the Government or taxpayer. The Dutch Government has already had such a scheme approved by EU ministers should the outbreak in that country get ‘out of control’.
"The distress that the current policy is causing our already battered farming community cannot be overstated. The damage to other already endangered rural businesses, including tourism , local shops, veterinary practices, and farm suppliers, to name but a few, should not be overlooked.
"Foot and mouth disease has become not only an animal tragedy but a human one as well. Tensions within the farming community are every bit as strong as they were in the mining villages during the eighties. The time to introduce a vaccination policy has arrived".