Extract from From the Vernon Harwood show. BBC Gloucestershire Radio, Sunday 24 September 2006
Extract: " I have got the figures for the premises and I think this is absolutely staggering. 346 affected farms in Gloucestershire culled out. Of those, 72 were declared as infected premises. According to the figures we obtained with a Parliamentary Question, only 46 of those were tested and in the whole of Gloucestershire, only 13 positive cases were identified. Yet 346 farms were culled out in 2001.
Vernon Harwood: "....Thousands of animals were killed in the county and their bodies incinerated in huge pyres. The Gloucestershire economy was hit as public events and sporting fixtures were cancelled and visitors steered clear. Although it was five years ago the spectre of foot and mouth disease has returned to the county. In new research that has just been released it has been discovered that more than a third of the sheep farms believed to have been infected with foot and mouth during the outbreak in 2001 were in fact free of the disease.
Veterinary experts looked at samples collected five years ago and found that 38% were misdiagnosed.
Dr David Paton is head of the foot and mouth reference laboratory at the Institute of Animal Health in PIrbright.
Dr David Paton: "The Laboratory tests were taking too long. In order to control FMD you have to get on top of the disease very very quickly. You can't wait and leave animals that are excreting the virus while you make up your mind whether they are positive or not. There was a certain amount of slaughter of animals that probably weren't infected. I don't know whether you would say it was unnecessary because in the circumstances pertaining at the time there was perhaps no alternative."
Vernon Harwood:So how has the latest news gone down here in Gloucestershire? Janet Bayley from Cirencester was the founding member of the National Foot and Mouth Group, an organisation concerned at the scale of the culling.
She was involved in the farm gate protest outside Oaklands Park at Newnham on Severn which eventually led to the halt of the contiguous cull in the Dean - that's the killing of all livestock in the immediate vicinity of an apparent case of foot and mouth. With more than a third of the sheep farms thought to have been infected with foot and mouth revealed as actually being disease-free, Janet Bayley feels vindicated:
Janet Bayley: That very much bears out our own experiences at the time. In the Forest of Dean we really did not think there was that level of disease that was being described and indeed when we took action and asked the Divisional Vet Manager, David Parker, if we could have assistance to deal with the contiguous cull there, he did in fact halt the contiguous cull and it was our firm belief that the level of disease had been over-reported.
When we asked for test results the test results kept coming back negative negative negative. Indeed, even in Infected Premises, many of which had been confirmed on cllinical signs the test results came back negative. And that started us considering that the actual level of disease that was generally being reported was not an accurate reflection of how much disease was actually out there.
Vernon Harwood:We are talking in fact of hundreds of thousands of animals being destroyed - those sickening funeral pyres that so many people remember.
Well in addition to Infected Premises of course the then was the contiguous premises the 3 kilometre cull premises slaughtered on suspicion cases -and the huge tragedy is that many of those now had no Infected Premise in the first place so not only were there a huge amount of ani mals lost in the Infected Premises but then that had a huge knock-on effect for contiguous culling.
Vernon Harwood:How many animals in Gloucestershire actually had foot and mouth disease in 2001? Do we know?
I haven't got the figures for the animals. I have got the figures for the premises and I think this is absolutely staggering. 346 affected farms in Gloucestershire culled out. Of those, 72 were declared as infected premises. According to the figures we obtained with a Parliamentary Question, only 46 of those were tested and in the whole of Gloucestershire, only 13 positive cases were identified. Yet 346 farms were culled out in 2001.
Vernon Harwood:Is this a case then today of you saying "I told you so"?
I would never claim that we "told" them but there was great concern at what happened in 2001 and why modellers were allowed to have such sway over the control policies that were adopted. The science of foot and mouth and the transmission rates which vary between species were not included in those models and that led to a huge distortion in the way the disease was controlled.
Vernon Harwood:Now DEFRA officials and indeed those in Downing Street may well respond by saying, "In 2001, when foot and mouth was evident, we couldn't take any chances."
Well again, what greatly concerned us at the time and greatly concerns us now is that the science of foot and mouth, how the disease was transmitted, the susceptibility which varies from species to species were not factored into these models and indeed many of the leading FMD scientists at the time, indeed Dr Paul Kitching who headed up foot and mouth at the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbirght, advised that the models were flawed. He said that the disease would peak around the end of March - which it duly did. In fact it peaked before contiguous culling was actually introduced - and yet the government went on with this contiguous cull policy.
Vernon Harwood:Did they know though? Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?
The government did have sight of the test results that were coming back and yet there was very little modification to policy. The modification that there was was to bring cattle out of the contiguous cull but by this time the die was cast - a huge amount of animals had been culled.
I think it is fir to say that in Devon and Cumbria there was a much greater incidence of the disease but in those lesser counties like Gloucestershire, Shropshire, Hereford and Worcestershire ...I mean in some of the Scottish border areas 219 farms were culled out and only two positive farms were found. That is the huge discrepancy.
At Great Orton, that huge burial pit, only ONE farm with 9 antibody positive sheep was located and yet half a million sheep are buried there.
Vernon Harwood:Now the figures are out, what recourse is there for farmers who lost their flocks in 2001?
I think they need to take this up with the government because, apart from anything else, the contiguous culling is now included in the Animal Health Act. Before, it was a voluntary provision which farmers were coerced into but there was no legislation to support it. There is now because the Animal Health Act was amended just after 2001.
I think the government will argue that they had to do it at the time but the figures now show that there was massive over-diagnosis that has not been supported.
I think all the farmers can do now is ensure that if we get an outbreak again that contiguous culling and preemptive slaughter is not included in the response.
Vernon Harwood: Janet Bayley from Cirencester, founder of the National Foot and Mouth Group, and that organisation, of course, set up in 2001 after concerns about the scale of the culling and Janet saying that now those views vindicated with the news that's just come out that says that more than a third of sheep farms believed to have been infected with foot and mouth in the outbreak five years ago were in fact free of the disease
I have a sneaking suspicion we are going to be hearing a bit more about foot and mouth in the coming months in reaction to that."
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