Foot and mouth cull 'was barbaric'By Robert Uhlig, Farming Correspondent in Brussels
The Government's contiguous cull policy used to fight last year's foot and mouth epidemic was condemned yesterday as "barbaric conduct" and "a disgrace to humanity" as every one of eight scientific expert witnesses told a European Union inquiry that vaccination must be used in any future outbreak.
The experts, some of whom have given evidence to the British foot and mouth inquiries due to report next month, called into question the Government's adherence to the contiguous cull policy and its rejection of vaccination as the disease spiralled out of control in the run-up to the election last year.
All the arguments used by those opposing vaccination were criticised as a meeting in Brussels was told by the scientists and vets from Britain, Europe and America that field tests to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals have been in use for at least six years.
The inquiry, which begins a four-day fact-finding visit to the West Country and Wales today, was also told that the "non-structural protein" test cost 65p per animal and "has been used in Turkey in Bulgaria, and in Macedonia and Albania as long go as 1996".
It was also told that vaccines were fully effective and that sufficient supplies of the correct strain were available last year. Alex Donaldson, a member of the Cabinet Office committee of government advisers that proposed the culling policy, yesterday distanced himself from the contiguous cull policy, which resulted in the deaths of more than 10 million animals, and said that an alternative involving testing would have greatly reduced the number of animals slaughtered.
Mr Donaldson, head of the Institute for Animal Health's laboratory at Pirbright in Surrey, said: "I supported the 3km cull early in the epidemic, but not once we had got a hold on the disease. There was no justification for the 3km or the contiguous cull, which were both novel and untested, once the resources were available to go back to traditional culling and disease control methods.
"Had the cull been restricted to neighbouring and dangerous-contact premises the scale of stamping out could have been massively reduced. If testing had been used more widely we would not have had to stamp out as many sheep."
Mr Donaldson also condemned British supermarkets for adding to the pressure opposing vaccination. He said there was no risk to human health from eating vaccinated meat and milk. "Meat and milk is routinely vaccinated against a host of diseases and there is nothing different about foot and mouth," he said.
Prof Fred Brown, a world expert on foot and mouth, said that prophylactic vaccination, which was used from 1952 until 1989 throughout Europe, had been very effective: "It had a dramatic effect on the elimination of infection". He said vaccination last year would have reduced the number of animals slaughtered because it would have "reduced the amount of virus around and would have bought time". He added: "The barbaric conduct in Britain last year was a disgrace to humanity."
Prof Peter Thein, an expert in vaccination from Munich University, said it was "simply not possible" to control by culling epidemics such as Britain experienced last year, where the "outbreaks were widespread and industrial farming had dramatically extended the spread of the disease".
10 million animals were slaughtered in foot and mouth cullBy Robert Uhlig Farming Correspondent
THE number of animals slaughtered in the foot and mouth outbreak could be as high as 10 million - more than twice as high as official Government figures.
On the day that Britain was officially declared free of the disease by the world animal health organisation, so opening the way for exports to resume, the Meat and Livestock Commission said that more than six million beasts had not been included in the official slaughter toll.
The Government said that 4,068,000 animals were culled between the first case on Feb 20 and the 2,030th and last case detected on Sept 30. But the commission says that the true total is 10,849,000.
The official figures do not include two million animals slaughtered for welfare reasons such as dwindling feed and space. The National Farmers' Union included these in its estimates.
But according to Jane Connor, economic forecaster at the Meat and Livestock Commission, many more animals were overlooked because they were either killed with their mothers - and counted as only one animal - or because they were killed after foot and mouth had closed the market for them, in which case they were not counted at all.
"We will never know exactly how many were culled but it was many more than the official figure," Mrs Connor said.
According to her calculations, at least 1.2 lambs "at foot" were killed with each breeding sheep - amounting to four million lambs slaughtered but not counted.
And the official toll of 595,000 cattle did not include 100,000 calves and 50,000 calves close to birth that were killed with them, the commission said. About 500,000 lambs were killed in the light lamb disposal plan because they were considered unsellable.
Last night, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed the commission's figures as accurate but concentrated on the resumption of exports.
Lord Whitty, the food and farming minister, said: "This is a very encouraging step but we must not lower our guard; there is a great deal of work still to do."
Exports had resumed within minutes of the International Epizootic Office in Paris giving its approval, which had not been expected until May.
Ben Gill, president of the NFU, said: "It's great news that this has happened so quickly and is a testament to everyone who has worked hard to achieve this, including Government, vets and scientists."