Veterinary Record, October 18 2003.
FMD Control Strategies
SIR, - During the UK 2001 foot-and-mouth disease epidemic, colleagues and I at Pirbright voiced our concern about the 48-hour contiguous cull policy and proposed that the benefits claimed for the strategy would have to be weighed against the burden of disposing of hundreds of thousands of carcases, the likelihood that many of the contiguous premises were not infected and the consequences of diverting scarce veterinary resources and support staff from other disease control activities (VR, May 12, 2001,  pp 602-604).  Concern about the efficacy of the contiguous cull was also expressed by many others during and after the epidemic and questioned in a series of letters to this journal (VR, April 12, 2003, p 479; July 12, p 63; September 6, pp 307-308; September 27, p 407).  Several correspondents called for an independent investigation.
The letter from Bob Michell ( VR, April 12, p 479) records that earlier this year the RCVS Council agreed to draw to the attention of the House of Commons Select Committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs the need to seek expert appraisal of the claim that the mathematically justified contiguous cull was the factor that brought the 2001 epidemic under control.  Our profession should encourage the RCVS Council to continue to press the select committee to oversee the task of investigating that claim and the merits - or otherwise - of the contiguous cull policy.
A.I. Donaldson, 290 London Road, Burpham, Guildford, Surrey GU4 7LB


Western Morning News

"Expert says FMD cull went to far"

By Jason Groves London Editor.

THE controversial contiguous cull policy was brought into fresh question yesterday after the Government's leading adviser on foot and mouth disease said there was "no justification" for the slaughtering out of many farms last year.

Dr Alex Donaldson, head of the Institute for Animal Health, said the number of farms culled out during last year's foot and mouth crisis could have been "massively reduced" if Ministers had not stuck to the "novel and untested" contiguous cull policy.

Giving evidence to the European Parliament inquiry into foot and mouth, Dr Donaldson said that although he had gone along with the controversial policy in areas where there was a need to "catch up" with the disease, it had been continued for far too long.

Dr Donaldson, head of the world reference library on foot and mouth, at Pirbright in Surrey, said: "I supported the three-kilometre 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." Official figures now show that around 3,400 farms were slaughtered out as a result of the contiguous cull, although many more of the 8,228 farms now classified as "dangerous contacts" were originally placed in this category. In Devon, 561 farms were slaughtered out under the contiguous cull, together with 12 in Cornwall and 26 in Somerset.

The contiguous cull policy in which farms neighbouring an infected premises were slaughtered out regardless of circumstances was one of the most controversial aspects of the handling of last year's crisis. Despite this, the Government insists the cull was a vital element in bringing the disease under control, and one which would be used again in any future outbreak.

South West MEP Neil Parish said Dr Donaldson's evidence added to the growing weight of scientific opinion that the cull conducted at vast expense had been unjustified.

Mr Parish, Conservative agriculture spokesman in the European Parliament, said: "The Government is not admitting that the contiguous cull was wrong, but it is beginning to feel distinctly uncomfortable about it."

John Burnett, Lib-Dem MP for Torridge and West Devon, said the "illogical" cull had caused untold heartbreak in the Westcountry farming community. "This is further evidence of the complete illogicality of the contiguous cull you could have a cull where the animals were a mile apart yet not have one where the animals were 100 yards apart if there was a strip of land in between. It made no sense at all."

(c) Western Morning News, 2002.