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ARCHIVE 2007 ~ August

31 August 2007 ~ Burges Salmon advises caution over FMD compensation claims

    Farming quotes William Neville
      ".... It is understandable that those affected will look for compensation. However, it is basic English law that compensation for financial loss cannot be obtained unless there has also been damage to property. Unlike in 2001, only two farms have been subjected to slaughter. At this stage, there would appear to be no more than a faint possibility of general claims for financial losses, especially as the factual situation at Pirbright remains unclear and no responsibility, by either Merial or the Institute for Animal Health, has been established."
    Although Burges Salmon is advising farmers to keep comprehensive records of any losses and expenditure as a result of restrictions imposed by the Surrey outbreak, William Neville is a lawyer highly experienced in these matters as we saw in 2001 when, as we remember with gratitude, he gave the necessary advice that one must not confuse justice with the law. It is looking rather unlikely that the various reports and investigations (see Farmers Guardian) are going to reach any conclusions about liability - and it is the law, not necessarily justice, that will decide on compensation.

30/31 August 2007 ~ Depending on "vigilance" - Bluetongue

    There was no mention of vaccination, sampling or surveillance when Debby Reynolds spoke today about the Bluetongue threat on Farming Today She said of BTV-8 that
      "..not only has it overwintered, it has started to spread in quite an alarming way ..the risk is low but it has clearly heightened...whilst we can stop imports or test imported animals what we cannot do is prevent the vector, the midge, blowing across the Channel."
    When she was asked about whether her statement about "monitoring the wind carefully" meant that there would be sampling to see if midges were in the air she said,
      "No we're not. We are using the Meteorological Office tracking of wind and we are simply reflecting that as a risk in particular areas. We are clearly depending on what has been the very good vigilance of farmers ..."
    Culling would be appropriate "on a pretty tiny scale if we think we've caught it early enough" and she was at pains to say that culling would not be one of the control measures - rather there would be large "control areas" one or two of which ".. could encompass large tracts of the country".
    Dr Reynolds said that the new plan had been developed in partnership with the "core group of veterinary stakeholders".
    However, she was not even asked about possible future vaccination nor why testing is not happening immediately in the areas of the UK nearest to outbreaks across the Channel. Either the resources are simply not there to carry out adequate surveillance and testing or else the "core group of veterinary stakeholders" do not think such surveillance is necessary. The 'wait and hope' approach would appear to be, as for other disease threats, the first step of our current policy for Bluetongue.

30/31 August 2007 ~ Sheep vaccination for FMD

    We have been reminded that in Uruguay, almost 11 million cattle were vaccinated whilst the 12 million sheep grazing beside them were not - yet this was enough to eradicate the disease (See ) - and this is quite true. It is very common not to vaccinate sheep in countries with more knowledge of FMD than the UK - such as Uruguay - and in those countries whose porous borders make FMD incursions such a depressingly common occurrence. But in the UK the situation is rather different and people still want to know more about the science that DEFRA says "underpins" its approach. Owners of rare sheep and sheep farmers who would very much wish their animals to be protected - especially if the alternative is slaughter - deserve to be told the scientific rationale for excluding sheep from vaccination plans. It is a matter of trust.

30 August 2007 ~ Sheep respond very well to vaccination. So why is DEFRA not including them in any vaccination policy?

    Where sheep are involved in an outbreak of FMD it is well known that they may remain undiagnosed until after the disease has spread. This could have devastating consequences - as it most certainly did in the UK in 2001. We read in Emergency vaccination of sheep against foot-and-mouth disease: protection against disease and reduction in contact transmission Cox et al, Vaccine 17 (1999) 1858 -1868 that ".. highly potent emergency vaccines can reduce virus replication in the oropharynx, consequently decreasing virus excretion, and thereby limiting the transmission of the disease to susceptible non-vaccinated sheep." (Although the chance of vaccinated sheep actually meeting unvaccinated ones is remote in real life, something that seems rarely to be pointed out by researchers. See Notes on Transmission "...People who argue that vaccination does not prevent transmission are not considering the farm based nature of European control..").
    Similarly, in the 2004 paper,Evidence that high potency foot-and-mouth disease vaccine inhibits local virus replication and prevents the 'carrier' state in sheep Barnett et al, Vaccine 22 (2004) 1221 - 1232 the conclusion is that
      "...all of the vaccinated sheep, regardless of antigen payload, were protected against clinical disease and development of viraemia. Virological and serological results confirmed that there had been no local virus replication in the oropharynx of sheep from the high potency vaccine group in contrast to moderate or substantial virus replication in the oropharynx of the low potency vaccinated or unvaccinated sheep respectively....."
    If our information is correct, and DEFRA does not intend to include sheep in any vaccination policy, it is to be hoped that there are those prepared to ask, "Why not?"

Thursday 30 August 2007 ~ "No microbiology lab can be made totally secure"

    The Financial Times yesterday:
      "... Research into dangerous germs is essential if humanity is to defend itself against infectious disease - and that means accepting a small risk that a pathogen will be released accidentally (or even deliberately, by a malicious researcher). No microbiology lab can be made totally secure. And of course the precautions must be ccidentally (or even deliberately, by a malicious researcher). No microbiology lab can be made totally secure. And of course the precautions must be appropriate to the risk - excessive security can stifle research...... The Pirbright biosafety reviews will be judged not only by their technical content but also by their openness. Commercial and scientific interests must not trump transparency..."
    Professor Spratt is expected to deliver his report into the biosecurity arrangements both Pirbright sites very soon. It is already a relief to many, in European areas hit by Bluetongue for example, that Merial says it has been given the green-light to resume the manufacture of vaccine from stored, inactivated antigens.

29/30 August 2007 ~ News round-up. No mention of the v-word at the BBC, Canada foresees mass slaughter for FMD, and the Guardian's irritation at farmers "stealing the show" .

    The Barrie Examiner quotes a regional director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture as saying, "If foot and mouth disease were to show up in Canada, half the country's cattle would be destroyed.." Can he really be unaware that FMD can be controlled with rapid diagnosis and by efficient vaccines as in Uruguay in 2001? Foot and Mouth seems to have become demonised like a sort of mystery disease from outer space against which there can be no hope. Fallacies are refuted here - but still, apparently, go widely unchallenged. (We were therefore encouraged by Jonathan Miller's energetic comments on the FMD entry)
    Peter Hetherington in Wednesday's Guardian , irritated by the fuss over the Surrey FMD outbreak, has much blame to direct at farmers - "a privileged lot" - for diverting money from aid for run-down rural areas. "Farmers like to think they are the saviours of the countryside," he complains, but as Huw Rowlands, a pro-vaccination farmer from Cheshire , wrote during the crisis, a distinction really must be made:
      "Agriculture is family farms firmly based in and contributing to the rural economy. Agri-business means intensive production aimed at producing cheap food for sale by rapacious supermarkets whose overwhelming concern is to maximise profits no matter what the cost to anyone or anything else."
    The BBC's Pallab Ghosh praised Debby Reynolds because "it was her insistence on sticking to the plan and being led by the science that won the confidence of the farming community." One wonders which branch of science he feels led the policy of wait and hope in Surrey. No mention at all was made of FMD vaccination and why it is rejected by the big unions. It is as if the modern technology to deal with disease did not exist - and that journalists who write with such apparent assurance about foot and mouth visit us from a different century - or planet.

Wednesday 29 August 2007 ~ Vaccination a "catastrophe"? Only if looked at through the wrong end of the economic telescope

    The Scottish Farmer this week quotes the technical adviser to the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, Stephen Lomax:
      "With the outbreak apparently controlled, people are consigning all this to the past - but I don't want to do that till we have highlighted the weakness of vaccination policy....Gordon Brown was "within a hair's breadth" of ordering vaccinations ... if he had, it would have meant economic catastrophe..."
    It is important to remember that those like Mr Lomax have little interest in the control of the disease itself but only the effect it has on profits. This is normal and understandable. But the weakness and the catastrophe lie not with vaccination itself. The evidence is now so solid that the vaccines are excellent, the differential tests so good and the ability to detect disease on-site so advanced that no one now attempts seriously to argue with the fact that vaccination can protect an area from foot and mouth. Any suggestion that it "masks the disease", betrays ignorance of the effect of vaccines on animals - as explained here by the expert virologist, Colin Fink. The real weakness is the extra three month penalty that the EU/OIE rules still place on vaccination - making it a disastrously second-best choice for exporters.
    We notice that DEFRA's latest vaccination page fails to explain that the EU makes provision for Member States to apply for derogations which allow vaccinated meat, milk, and products destined for the home market to be treated no differently from non-vaccinated ones after testing has been completed. It implies that vaccinated product cannot be sold as "fresh meat" at all until FMD free status is regained. This is a misleading final paragraph to their explanation of why emergency vaccination was not used in Surrey.
    But it is the out-of-date discrimination against FMD vaccination itself that is the catastrophe that must be challenged - especially when its irrationality is so starkly illustrated by the EU's response to the Bluetongue threat.

Wednesday 29 August 2007 ~ The European commission is willing to fund 50 percent of the costs of a bluetongue vaccination campaign

    We read on ProMed last week some very interesting discussion on BTv vaccination indicating that "... vaccination is a key tool to prevent the virus from spreading into hitherto uninfected areas. It seems that the European commission is willing to fund 50 percent of the costs of a vaccination campaign.."
    Seven years is a long time when globalised movement means animal disease spreads so far and so fast. This Commission document from the year 2000 says,
      "..... The procedure for bluetongue virus vaccine production is similar to that for the production of foot and mouth disease vaccine. European vaccine producers could easily adapt to the production of inactivated bluetongue virus vaccine. The resulting product would be both produced and stored under internationally accredited GLP conditions."
    Seven years ago the situation was such that the authors, having warned that a non-vaccination policy could lead to "the risk that BTV causes considerable economical losses in sheep and that the virus becomes endemic in the area for as long as the climate remains favourable", went on to write, "the market for a recombinant or an inactivated BTV vaccine is likely to be small, and may not be an economic proposition for a commercial company..."
    Now that inactivated BTV8 vaccine is so desperately needed - though safe and developed on a small scale - it is not yet available. Thus the latest DEFRA policy on Bluetongue: " No BTV vaccine currently has a marketing authority from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate for use in the United Kingdom."
    No suggestion of second best here - just dismay. The almost unbearable irony is that excellent FMD vaccines are available - but rejected as "catastrophic" by an ignorance that is as scandalous as it is powerful. And because of such reluctance - research and development of vital new vaccines against such new threats as Bluetongue have not been fast enough - not "an economic proposition". And our German farmer friend - right in the middle of the bluetongue crisis - writes: "21st century and still so much suffering. I can't believe it.". Cases in Germany now stand at 968 and the collection of dead stock cannot keep up.

Wednesday 29 August 2007 ~ An online alternative to supermarkets - ready for producer sign-up.

    The International Herald Tribune gives the bad news: rising prices for milk, bread, potatoes and meat, a situation made worse by the FMD outbreak :
      ".....Financial advisory firm Deloitte said Tuesday that meat prices will have to rise to support the domestic industry, which it suggested was close to "breaking point." "A combination of factors is threatening the survival of the U.K. livestock industry," said Richard Crane, food and agriculture partner at Deloitte. "The rising price of wheat and soft commodities are compounding the negative impact of foot and mouth on the U.K. to a much greater extent."
    There is some good news, however. is about to be operational. It is an online farmers' market, owned by the producer members. 93% of the purchase price goes directly to the producers - far more than anyone gets from the supermarkets. The website is inviting producers, (who need no IT skills), to sign up (pdf) and for potential customers to register in order to find local suppliers. These suppliers will team up for deliveries to save on food miles.

Tuesday 28 August 2007 ~ The EU Commission will be required to detail the risk assessment procedures that it has carried out.

    Neil Parish was recently quoted in "The European Union can break a country into regions when an outbreak occurs to avoid a total ban on the entire country; but this regionalisation policy cannot apply to Brazil because we have no idea whether the beef is being smuggled from one region to another, or even across Brazil's long border."
    The European Parliament recently heard evidence from the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) and the Farmers' Journal, which launched a joint investigation into Brazilian beef. The IFA had visited 42 cattle farms in Brazil and claimed that traceability on the farms was usually "conjured up" just a few days before slaughter. Their report concluded that none of the 15 farms on which an in-depth study was carried out had a full traceability system. An EU Food and Veterinary office report in 2006 highlighted concerns that ear tagging and medicines, banned in the EU, are used in Brazil and the situation had not improved since 2003.
    Today, an article in Independent says that a complaint has been lodged about "Brazil's raging FMD problem" and the EU ombudsman is to investigate the EU Commission "over its failure to act on several Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) reports on the low to non-existent standards prevalent in the Brazilian beef industry."
    The United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea ban Brazilian beef. The President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association ( ICMSA), Jackie Cahill, is quoted: " By allowing the continuation of beef imports from Brazil, the European Commission is breaching, or ignoring, EU law with regard to standards. And, by ignoring well-established and internationally acceptable risk assessment regarding animal health, particularly FMD, the Commission is involved in maladministration....The critical point, as far as ICMSA is concerned, is that the Commission will, for the first time, be required to detail the risk assessment procedures that it has carried out. It will not be able to hide behind WTO rules, because the US and Australian bans are totally compatible with those rules.... we see the Commission demanding a standard of safety from the British government regarding its latest outbreak that they seem to have no intention of applying to Brazil."

Monday August 27 2007 ~ "....with luck, they will today at last be on the road"

    Yesterday's Booker Column in the Sunday Telegraph tells the story of the plight of an English couple and their pedigree goats marooned behind a padlocked fence outside the Bulgarian border - because of the FMD virus escape that happened after they left the UK.
      ".... their situation seemed desperate. They were fast running out of special food for the goats and gas for the cooker and fridge in their motorhome. Daily temperatures in the compound where they had been confined by the Bulgarian authorities were over 100 degrees. No one could tell them when, if ever, they might be allowed to proceed.
      ....On Thursday, just as we were having to contemplate the possibility that the perfectly healthy goats might have to be put down, I heard ...that the Cypriot authorities had the previous day relented. The kids were free to move. Later on Thursday morning Brussels followed suit by lifting its animal movement ban.
      There had to be a final twist to the tale..." Read in full
    DEFRA said it was powerless to help. The Commission "offered little hope" . Imposed regulations were considered far more important than a frightening ordeal - the situation seems only to have been resolved by something happening behind the scenes. Animal Health policy should not be like this.

Monday August 27 2007 ~ "the connection between EU biofuel targets and killing orang-outans"

    An alarming story in Private Eye warns that the EU decision that by 2020 10 percent of all transport fuel in the EU must be sourced from carbon-friendly biofuels, such as wheat, would require the UK to grow 14 million tons of wheat a year, 3 million tons more than we grow now...Even if we derive our biofuel from other crops, this would still take up more farmland than we have currently in production.
      "We would thus have to import 10 million tons a year to meet our food needs, at a time when soaring world demand will have pushed prices through the roof. The only alternative will be to import biofuel from abroad, from countries such as Indonesia, already destroying its rainforest on a colossal scale to make palm oil, leading inter alia to a massacre of orang-outans."
    Private Eye points out the the BBC concentrates on the ending of set-aside "... the listeners don't realise how much of the real story they are not being told."

Monday August 27 2007 ~ Concern about H5N1 and Bluetongue continues to grow

    For those interested, warmwell is now updating the pages on both Bluetongue and Bird Flu as often as possible again (this is time-consuming. Please check back if the update is late). As with FMD, our aim is to keep abreast of the latest developments in vaccines and rapid diagnosis. The wait and kill policies for H5N1 are sickening and we worry that Bluetongue is taking a firm hold in Northern Europe. Both pose a very real threat in the UK and the EU - and we worry that policies to cope with them may be adversly affected by recent events at Pirbright. As Roger Breeze says below,
      "...the long and arduous efforts to build defenses cannot be sustained by popular interest and clamor among the very groups they are designed to protect. They must be built and sustained by vision and leadership - and over the generations.
      Compounding the problems of showing the daily relevance and importance of Pirbright and Plum Island in a cacophony of other competing governmental budgetary demands is the parochial nature of the mission set for these labs by their political masters. They exist to provide an insurance policy that should a dangerous animal disease strike, the country would have the scientific resources to support diagnosis and control by vaccination or other means...."
    Now is NOT the time to further weaken Pirbright and Merial.

Monday August 27 2007 ~ Someone in England is trying to export banned animal feed into Indonesia

    The Jakarta Post reports, "Customs and excise officers at Tanjung Priok Port in Indonesia foiled an attempt Friday to smuggle banned animal feeds into Indonesia from England. Officers accused importer PT TMW of fabricating documents to get the 112 containers of animal feeds past customs..." . Apparently, the importation documents said that the containers contained bird food but when the contents were examined in the laboratory they were found to contain meat and bone meal.
    It is impressive that Indonesia was able to detect and confiscate this material. We note below that the UK is reported to have just 100 staff and 11 sniffer dogs to detect illegal meat products.

August 2007 ~"Will you join me in asking the Prime Minister .. to chart a bold new course and lead the international effort to get rid of this threat"bird food" once and for all? "

    Roger Breeze writes "Will you and your many readers join me in asking the Prime Minister not to live with the threat of foot and mouth disease like all his predecessors, but to chart a bold new course and lead the international effort to get rid of this threat once and for all? " In an article, Foot and Mouth again: Will Gordon Brown rise to the occasion? , pointing out the excellence of Pirbright and making a plea for the future, he says,
      ".... One might naïvely have expected that since 2001 the many would have pressed for increased government resources so that Pirbright could lead efforts to make sure such a debacle never occurred again. ..... But if you don't expect anything you are never disappointed, so it was with a sense of sadness at the predictability of human behavior and the shortness of modern memory, not disappointment, that I have heard those who should have known much much better question whether either the laboratory or the vaccine plant were needed anymore in today's world......self-interest compels most to go for the threat closest at hand. Sadly, the livestock industry trade groups that have the loudest voices are particularly susceptible to prioritizing such diseases of the month. ...... Compounding the problems of showing the daily relevance and importance of Pirbright and Plum Island in a cacophony of other competing governmental budgetary demands is the parochial nature of the mission set for these labs by their political masters....
      .... We can control foot and mouth and the other major transboundary livestock disease threats in our lifetimes. No new technology is needed - just the vision, the will and the resources. .."
    Read the article in full (new window)
    (For a reminder of the way effective technologies to fight FMD have been ignored see this 2005 warmwell posting .)

Saturday August 25 2007 ~ New Zealand's gesture of good will

    Daily Post "New Zealand lamb producers have taken the extraordinary step of suspending UK marketing activities out of sympathy for British farmers. The Kiwis - traditionally fierce rivals - will not undertake any promotional activity until next February to allow the UK lamb sector to recover from the foot-and-mouth outbreak..."

Saturday August 25 2007 ~The UK employs 100 staff and 11 sniffer dogs to detect illegal meat products.

    Australia employs 75 detector dog teams, 64 X-ray machines, on-the-spot fines and stiff prison sentences. In Australia there are some 50 prosecutions each year for smuggling animal products. Last year in the UK there was one. The Yorkshire Post quotes Jim Paice: "....We know there is technology available on trial but the Government won't use it. It allows them to X-ray suitcases at the point of departure and sends the images to the UK. By the time people arrive, the images of illegal meat will have been seen. But that technology is not being tried out."

Friday 24 August 2007 ~ Bluetongue - on the march in Northern Europe. The German Government says, " At the moment culling doesn't take place...nevertheless..."

    Charles Clover in the Telegraph yesterday wrote, "reports of new outbreaks which are coming in at more than 100 cases a day" This confirms what we have heard from other sources. Somewhat alarming too is the update on the German Government's BT website which translated says,
      "At the moment culling of infected animals (except for welfare reasons) doesn't take place, this is agreed upon with the EU and member states as it would not have an impact on the current course of disease. Nevertheless there are, in the long term, considerations about future measures dealing with animals found to be virus positive. .."
    In the UK , a "Revised Bluetongue control strategy" is published by DEFRA, explaining to editors that the ".. Industry working group is comprised of (sic) senior individuals from the following organisations:
    • British Cattle Veterinary Society
    • British Meat Processors Association
    • National Beef Association
    • National Farmers Union
    • National Sheep Association
    • Livestock Auctioneers Association
    • Sheep Veterinary Society"
    The press release speaks of ".. rigorous measures to keep disease out of the UK and contain any outbreaks." It would be reassuring to know that science and veterinary input to the Bluetongue working group is providing information that takes into consideration more than the immediate needs of what Dr Breeze (above) refers to as "the livestock industry trade groups that have the loudest voices". (Belgium has just reported to the OIE 80 dead sheep because of BTV-8)

22 August 2007 ~ The EU should be lobbied to point out that discrimination against vaccination has no justification.

    We note that the National Beef Association, the NBA, today quotes its Director, Kim Heyward:
      ".... government must not sit back and congratulate itself on avoiding a complete disaster and instead address the more difficult task of making sure similar escapes cannot happen again.....Whatever the outcome of a review on developments at the Institute of Animal Health it is abundantly clear that government must either decide, as others in the EU already have done, that it can no longer risk FMD virus manufacture in a livestock producing country that is so dependent on export markets or throw a mountain of money at making sure the premises are escape proof...."
    The NBA would like to see the end of vaccine production in the UK - but it would be a national tragedy if Pirbright, with all its experience and expertise, were further hampered by this latest incident. If swiftly vaccinating animals from the perimeter inwards (it could have been done within 24 hours) had been as acceptable as the "wait and kill" policy, then this small localised outbreak would have been dealt with fast and efficiently, without the killing of Mr Emerson's uninfected animals and without the media circus. (See also Private Eye)
    Few would now doubt that it is the EU imposed extra three month wait that causes the powerful unions such as the BVA, NFU and NPA to reject vaccination. In spite of overwhelming evidence that vaccination is the humane, rapid and effective way to control outbreaks of foot and mouth, the use of emergency vaccination means an end to FMD-free status for six months - whereas the reinstatement of full FMD-free status is permitted within three months if the killing of animals, infected or not, is used to "stamp out" infection.
    It is not the end of vaccine production in the UK that we should be lobbying for. The powerful and the interested should be doing their utmost to point out to the EU Commission that this extra three month wait is threatening the food security of Member States. It has no justification now that the old arguments against vaccination have been so effectively overcome by modern differentiating vaccines and rapid on-site diagnosis.

22 August 2007 ~ ".. Investigations into effluent released onto the site and subsequent contamination of personnel, equipment or vehicles, and other fomite transmission routes off the Pirbright site continue..."

    Epidemiological Report for August 17: Extract : Hypotheses for source
    "...investigations into the potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site are in progress;.... Results are pending but might reveal the origin of the outbreak (research laboratory or vaccine manufacturer) and whether IP2 became infected as a result of spread from IP1 or from a common source......The virus may have reached one or both of the IPs either directly from the Pirbright site or by onward transmission of infection from another source, itself infected either directly or indirectly from the Pirbright site.
    .... Investigations into the possibility of aerosol transmission from the Pirbright site and spread via the sewer to IP 1 have provided little evidence for these means of transmission. Investigations into effluent released onto the site and subsequent contamination of personnel, equipment or vehicles, and other fomite transmission routes off the Pirbright site continue.... 25.....additional investigations have been carried out to identify all holdings where susceptible stock may have had assess to the water downstream of the IPs and the Pirbright site......"
    (Some fear that if, as seems possible, IAH Pirbright is sued for negligence by the NFU, the taxpayer will cover the cost of compensation demanded by the NFU's court case, Pirbright's funding - vital for research - will subsequently be cut even more disastrously, and the small farmers who actually want to protect their animals will be rather worse off than before.)

22 August 2007 ~ "biosecurity issues associated with FMDV strain O1BFS67" - Richard Lissack QC has been chosen by the NFU to fight for a multi-million pound compensation package

    The Farmers Guardian reports, "Legal teams mobilised after the Health and Safety Executive inquiry into the outbreak said that there was a 'strong possibility' that the virus originated from the Government licensed Pirbright research laboratories.
    Experts say that a good case will be developed if is proved that the virus escaped Pirbright through negligent behaviour..."

August 21/ 22 2007 ~ "...costs of vaccination are far less than the cost of slaughter, compensation and disposal."

    We note an excellent, succinct letter in the Telegraph (Monday) from the Co-ordinator of the National Foot and Mouth Group, Janet Bayley. She pointed out a common misconception: "...When faced with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease it is emergency protective vaccination, close to the centres of disease, that is proposed, not year-on-year widespread prophylactic vaccination ." The letter is well worth reading in full.

Tuesday 21 August 2007 ~ "Our aim is to regionalise as soon as the situation allows."

    We read ( e.g. that the UK is hoping that the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) will agree to "regionalise" the EU export ban, as we described here yesterday, so that only the Surrey surveillance and protection zones continue to be regarded as "high risk".
    The veterinary expert panel meets in Brussels on Thursday. If such zoning is agreed to then the rest of the UK will regain its low risk status. Such zoning would mean that meat and dairy produce (but not yet livestock) could be exported again. Yahoo quotes Philip Tod, the spokesman for Markos Kyprianou. Of Thursday's meeting, Mr Tod said, "We expect to discuss the scope of high-risk and low-risk zones. Our aim is to regionalise as soon as the situation allows." See UPDATE below

Tuesday 21 August ~ Patrick Holden and CIWF continue to argue for vaccination

    The Farmers Weekly article is called "Opinion is divided over vaccination dilemma" - but fails to point out that the two opposing opinions are arguing from completely different standpoints. The "farmers' groups" who, says FWi, "do not support the use of vaccination as the first line of defence", are arguing from a purely financial stance. The Tenant Farmers Association spokemen, David Catlow of the BVA and Holstein UK present only arguments that have as their basis the EU export ban.
    It is at least interesting that those who stand to lose money because of the trade rules as they stand, do at least seem no longer to be arguing that there is any scientific or veterinary reason to avoid the use of vaccination.
    The Soil Association and Compassion in World Farming are looking at the issue from a veterinary and ethical standpoint. As we have said before, the arguments of both sides of the "dilemma" might more usefully be directed at the protectionism of the EU trade rules. Such rules rely on people; they are not set in stone. It is time to challenge the out-of-date attitude towards vaccination on which they rest. (See also our latest vaccination page)

Monday, August 20 2007 ~ "area can be treated as an epidemiologically separate zone for international trade purposes"

    The OIE Code, even as it stands, now provides a country suffering a small localised outbreak such as the UK this month, with a let out so that it can continue trading. The Code sets out clearly the sequence of steps to be taken in establishing a zone/compartment and having it recognised for international trade purposes.
      "....there may be benefits to a Member Country in establishing and maintaining a subpopulation with a distinct health status within its territory. ..
      ...Following a disease outbreak, the use of compartmentalisation may allow a Member Country to take advantage of epidemiological links among subpopulations or common practices relating to biosecurity, despite diverse geographical locations, to facilitate disease control and/or the continuation of trade. ." (See the relevant part of the Code.)
    A ProMed moderator today says,
      "...The formulation of specific movement conditions for "bovines around the time of calving (and their calves)" to be applied "throughout England, with the exception of the Protection and Surveillance Zones in Surrey," bestows upon these animals, in fact, a status which is somewhat compatible with a "subpopulation." The definition of "subpopulation" in OIE's Terrestrial Animal Health Code is "a distinct part of a population identifiable according to specific common animal health characteristics." It will be interesting to follow this trend in view of the new concept of compartmentalization in the Code."
    The sub-text of this seems pretty clear; in view of the continuing difficult restrictions forced on the rest of the country, it would indeed be very interesting to know if those driving UK policy this month are considering zoning.

    UPDATE SCoFCAH received unanimous support from all Member States for the Commission's draft decision to limit the restrictions to the surveillance zone in Surrey. DEFRA reported (23 Aug) "Restrictions on exports from Great Britain of meat, meat products and dairy products and certain other animal products (such as genetic material, hides and skins, pharmaceutical products) will be lifted.... Exports of live animals of species that are susceptible to FMD will also be able to resume from Great Britain except from the surveillance zone in Surrey..... The SCoFCAH meeting on 11 September 2007 will review the position."

Monday, August 20 2007 ~ "Farm animals exist for the purpose of trade and if there cannot be trade then they have no value."

    It is for the reasons in the paragraph above that one groans to read articles such as this one by Dick Sibley in the Farmers Guardian. The former president of the British Cattle Veterinary Association - a vet - who says he found the 2001 outbreak "exciting", writes without a trace of irony, "Farm animals exist for the purpose of trade and if there cannot be trade then they have no value. Vaccination would have been futile." (no financial value either) has existed for the past six years in the unquenchable hope of raising awareness. Modern advances in rapid diagnosis and marker vaccines make vaccination the polar opposite of futile for an industry that cannot exist without healthy stock. In the epidemic of 2001, (seven months of it as the slaughter and waste dragged on), unhealthy, actually infected lamb was being consumed in the UK . For some time, unrecognised, acutely infected sheep were passing through abattoirs undetected. Not surprisingly, consumers were not informed about this. One imagines they might have preferred the idea of healthy meat and questioned the notion that vaccination was "futile".

Monday, August 20 2007 ~ Waste "Recycling" - a source of disease?

    For some time now, Robert Persey (see latest email) has been concerned that waste, going to poorly regulated landfill or composting, could pose a far greater danger to health than any theoretical threat from properly prepared pigswill. His email raises questions that should be taken seriously.
    As an example of the worry felt by ordinary people, a recent petition (see Minutes of Council local committee) in Surrey last year, signed by 360 residents of a small village, asked why the GBC Environmental Health had not determined that : ".. steam and foul smells from the site prove that the operations fall outside the scope of activities permitted by the exemption registered, but not effectively controlled, by the Environment Agency". The site in question houses both a supplier of pet food and a company which operates a soil recycling business on land at Strawberry Farm, adjoining Glaziers Lane in Normandy. That particular site, ironically enough, happens to be situated very near Pirbright where soil samples are being analysed for virus contamination and right between the two farms where FMD was confirmed.
    (UPDATE: We read in the Honorary Remembrancer's Report 2007 Guildford (pdf) that ".. The Environment Agency ordered Pathfinder to end the blending and composting of green waste at Strawberry Farm, Normandy, in May and ordered the removal of existing stockpiles by the middle of July. Pathfinder are subcontractors for Surrey Waste Management, who hired them to carry out green waste management at the site in 2005, but by the end of the year local residents were complaining about the volume of lorry traffic, the size of the waste mountain, dust, noise and smell.....some thousands of tons of green waste and soil mix (were removed) from the site by May 1..")

Monday, August 20 2007 ~ Bluetongue ".. if a strict vaccine regime with at least 80 percent coverage of susceptible populations is achieved, vaccination can lead to the eradication of the virus."

    More on warmwell's Bluetongue page about the vaccines for bluetongue. Today on a ProMed posting: "..the vectors respect neither borders nor movement restrictions, vaccination is a key tool to prevent the virus from spreading into hitherto uninfected areas.
    It seems that the European commission is willing to fund 50 percent of the costs of a vaccination campaign.
    The use of inactivated vaccines will provide additional safeguards, preventing the spread of vaccine virus within the susceptible population."

August 18 - 20 ~ Farmers in England will be able to move calving cows and their calves under tight restrictions from today (Saturday) - tests on Pirbright soil imminent

    BBC "...Chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds issued the movement licence "to help resolve animal welfare issues" that had arisen in the dairy sector. Restrictions will remain in place within the protection and surveillance zones around affected farms in Surrey... The government is awaiting the results of independent tests on soil from the outbreak site near Guildford. The Health and Safety Executive said it had received the results of the tests from the Pirbright laboratory site and would report back to ministers once the data had been analysed. .."

August 18 - 20 ~ Animal diseases rage across Europe but "virtually no action to deal with outbreaks in a sensible way"

    Referring to Friday's Farmers Guardian
      - extract: (bluetongue) ".. .will become endemic in northern Europe. It is spread by midges, and veterinary experts believe it will only be a matter of time before it crosses the Channel into the south of England. This, and foot-and-mouth disease, happened as Romania faced the consequences of a swine fever outbreak, while Sweden had its first cases of the pig wasting disease, PPRS, also known as blue ear disease. France has reported fresh cases of the H5N1 strain of avian flu. These were in wild ducks in the Moselle region...." correspondent says, "This just a snapshot of the current situation: diseases everywhere and virtually no action to deal with outbreaks in a sensible way. Looks BT will hit 1000 cases over the weekend (BE 489, NL 249, G 250 (?), F 8, LU 1 ) and many more in the pipeline. What's next ??" We feel that while animal disease control is in the hands of politicians who have far too much on their plate to be able to be experts, things can only get worse. Animal disease control should be back in the hands of the veterinary profession, aided by the blessings of modern science both in rapidly diagnosing and in fighting these pathogens.

August 17 ~ "the ethical way" Sheepdrove Organic Farm is urging vaccination

    Sheepdrove Organic Farm, now famous for its high standards of animal welfare and sustainability projects, is owned by the former publishers, Peter and Juliet Kindersley. They have responded to the Surrey outbreak by renewing their call for FMD vaccination to be adopted. Sheepdrove's campaign line is "Cure not cull. It's time to start caring for animals and stop killing them - start preventing through vaccination and curing those that have it - as we do for any other illness that we or animals get. This is the ethical way." See their Press Release
    Peter Kindersley points out, "Defra's outdated FMD strategies have been a disaster for rural communities."

August 17 ~ Another scare

    We were informed earlier by very brief email (much appreciated) that Carlisle abattoir notified DEFRA because of ..... (update 17.50: Apologies for confusion. The abattoir was "West Scottish Lamb" but it was two cows, not lambs as we reported just now, according to www.whitehaven-news) .....with "lesions" that caused the abattoir to be closed while inspections were going on. ( 1600 Friday - Radio Cumbria - DEFRA have given the all clear at a Carlisle abbattoir. Now 2 farms in Scotland are undergoing tests.)
    There have been many more false alarms in the past days than have reached the media. For example, slaughterhouse staff in Merthyr Tydfil called in Welsh Assembly vets yesterday morning - but blisters in the suspect lamb's mouth turned out to be uninfected sores.
    There are, of course, many things that could have caused lesions apart from FMD. A useful reference - although in Dutch from the Dutch Ministry's website, is this pdf file showing the visual differences between FMD (left side) and Bluetongue(right side)

August 17 ~ "....very disappointed with the response from Defra. It's impossible to get them by telephone."

    We see in the Surrey Advertiser today that DEFRA minister, Jonathan Shaw, ".. came under fire for not producing clearer foot and mouth guidance at a public meeting in Elstead last Friday." When Mr Shaw was challenged all he could do, it seems, was say that the NFU "fully supports" culling of "potentially dangerous contacts". Waverley councillor Bryn Morgan, in expressing his disappointment that DEFRA couldn't even be reached by telephone, said there was "a great deal of confusion.." adding that even horses in the protection zone couldn't be moved outside the zone without a licence
      "and there are no licences, because Defra has not yet decided what the formula for granting licences should be.."
    (see article)
    Mr Shaw's own evident confusion is a measure of the apparent inability of DEFRA to grasp the issues and explain them clearly to Ministers or to those directly involved - without recourse to "support from the NFU". It is now nearly three years since the Royal Society (pdf. page 13) advised DEFRA that:
      "....The UK contingency plan and the EU FMD Directive contain detailed information about the communication arrangements in the event of an outbreak. A chain of command is established to involve all parties in the process to allow information to feed into the system. Developments in advanced telecommunications and enhanced central and regional information management systems should be investigated as part of the evolution of the plans.
    There are many more lessons waiting to be learned from this outbreak to do with what the Royal Society called, "scientific and technological developments" (starting here might help)- but the basic management skill of effective communication also seems high on the list.

August 17 ~ The CVO did say they had some interesting epidemiological information. I haven't heard a squeak as to what this is.

    Ruth Watkins, farmer and expert virologist, has been joining in an off-line discussion about the index case and the manner of spread, "... What has struck me from the start is the number of animals ill at the same time. It seems a considerable proportion were infected and a significant proportion of these were ill... Either there was an index case earlier with a heavy exposure of the rest of the herd, 1 animal infecting 30 for instance, or there is the rather remarkable finding of simultaneous exposure of the 10 or so animals.
    ....I don't know if the results on the two herds point to a possible exposure of one index animal in the first herd to be infected (if indeed both of the herds were not simutaneously exposed) with subsequent cases or whether there is likely to have been a mass exposure event in the first herd. The CVO did say they had some interesting epidemiological information. I haven't heard a squeak as to what this is. As you have pointed out I wonder if there is a missing piece in the jigsaw - a Pirbright (deliberately or accidentally infected) animal. With all the finger-pointing at the labs on the site and the HSE investigation I can only suppose this is not the case. I think that question should be put to the HSE investigators.

August 17 ~"This makes a nonsense of the cost-sharing agreement"

    Lord Rooker said on Tuesday that he felt humbled to hear the experiences those affected had endured and was alarmed that those with diversified enterprises were unable to get business insurance for losses incurred due to foot-and-mouth restrictions. The Fwi quotes Lord Rooker's own words:
      "This makes a nonsense of the cost-sharing agreement"
    The Farmers Guardian now reports that recent events have made "life even more difficult for those Ministers and officials within Defra who are pushing the cost sharing agenda."
    It is self-evident that no industry should be expected to pay its share of control and compensation costs stemming from failure on the government's part. We recently reported on one of the smaller DEFRA stakeholders' meetings (not the "core" stakeholders referred to below) of 28 February 2007. Cost cutting, for DEFRA, appears to have been the one important item on the agenda. In spite of the time for this meeting having been drastically reduced at the last minute, a great deal of it was taken up by a reading aloud of material that participants could have read for themselves - and probably already had. Crucial points about diagnostics and testing were, it seems, cut short by the Chair. A question about treatment of vaccinated meat was deferred. Urgent inquiries about the accessibility of on-site diagnostics were not answered. Communication issues, which have so often been referred to before by these stakeholders, were still not being addressed. DEFRA's answers to urgent and relevant questioning betrayed either a woeful lack of knowledge or else an unwillingness to engage with the subject at all. No company could support such serious inadequacies of management. Again, we quote Dr Roger Breeze in the paper "Industry Cost Sharing" " Industry cannot negotiate meaningfully if its "negotiation" comments are only responses to proposals and goals of the government."
    And now we read in today's that "insurers are failing farmers by not offering insurance cover for the impact of foot and mouth disease....there is little insurance protection for loss following an incidence of foot and mouth..." ( Thanks for this link to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis )

August 17 ~ "....the mistaken belief that isolated incidents of foot-and-mouth disease necessitate the closure of rural England" Commission for Rural Communities

    The Financial Times today reports that Gordon Brown has asked that the impact of the foot-and-mouth outbreak on the rural economy be examined by the government's Commission for Rural Communities. As just a couple of examples of the impact on England as a whole, we read in Cumbria's Times and Star that the Government has said that, although Mitchells in Cockermouth can, from next Thursday, set up a collection point for farm animals to be transported to slaughter houses, Auction marts such as Mitchell's must wait until September 10 until they can operate fully. Since some of their biggest auctions take place in August and September, this is a bitter blow. Even Wigton Motor Club's Cumbria Classic Car Show on Sunday 20th August has been scrapped because of fears that the disease might still spread. They are just not prepared to take the risk. Yet the risk of disease spread from the two farms next to Pirbright is now negligible - as can be seen from DEFRA's own latest epidemiological report e.g. " unusual precision of both the time of infection of IPs and the period of infectiousness of the IPs provides additional reassurance for the estimate of the risk of further cases of FMD...., it is unlikely that FMD is present elsewhere in Great Britain." - a very different situation from the grave situation in China where pigs are dying in their thousands and there are real fears of a global pandemic among domesticated pigs.Vietnam already seems to be affected. The International Herald Tribune quotes Trevor Drew, head of virology at the VLA "This is the most rapidly evolving virus I've ever studied. The Chinese are saying they have definitive proof (i.e.that it is blue-ear 'PPRS'), but as far as I'm concerned the jury is still out on what this disease is."

August 16 ~ "decision-making on movements should have been devolved to a local level"... Instead, we get an "RSPCA Hotline"

    In the notes to Editors at the foot of the DEFRA News Release (261/07) we see:
      " 3. Where farmers are facing acute welfare problems as a result of movement restrictions they can contact the RSPCA Farm Welfare Hotline 0870 7538 333"
    Farmers should surely expect to be helped by the local DEFRA offices to deal with problems directly caused by the restrictions made by DEFRA. One wonders what the RSPCA can do to help a farmer whose animals need to be moved to fresh grazing or who is running out of capacity for animals that would normally have been sold on. Some might even say that, given the concerns recently voiced about the RSPCA , a farmer could easily find himself in Court rather than being assisted.
    Many have deplored the increasing politicisation and the unaccountability of certain elements within the RSPCA. The Political Animal Lobby (Pal) has greatly influenced what was once a decent old-fashioned charity, and financial support to the government appears to have resulted in its being given powers that many would deem inappropriate. To tell farmers to call its Helpline is extraordinary - a complete abrogation of the Department's own responsibilities . We note that the Carlisle vet, David Black, who sat on Prediction, Prevention and Epidemiology sub-group of the Royal Society Inquiry, said this week (Cumberland News) that decision-making on livestock movements should have been devolved to a local level. This, he said, " would have enabled animal movements to be made much sooner and avoided causing suffering to livestock."

August 16 ~ Does even Lord Rooker understand it?

    The Fwi today shows Lord Rooker talking to those who lost their animals in Surrey. One farmer, it seems, as well as pointing out the illogicality of importing meat from Brazil vaccinated with vaccines produced in the UK, also appeared to be under the impression that vaccine itself is responsible for foot and mouth outbreaks. He "...questioned the role of vaccine production for commercial gain if it put domestic livestock at risk."
    Instead of explaining that vaccine production does not put domestic livestock at risk; that it uses killed virus to combat the disease; that vaccinated animals pose no health problems to humans or other animals; that it does not, Ben Bradshaw's assumptions notwithstanding, 'mask disease' ; and that it was an escape of the pathogen itself that caused the crisis in Surrey, the FWi merely reports that Lord Rooker "defended the right to hold live viruses for research purposes." He then went on to defend the non-vaccination policy too - because "I'm keen to resume exports as soon as possible."
    If farmers and the public are getting the impression that it is vaccine and not live-virus that spreads disease then we really are in trouble. Our efforts have been to turn protest away from vaccination - where it is unwarranted - and point it instead towards the unfair and outdated trade policy of the EU which is precisely what causes the problem about resuming exports as quickly as possible. The Royal Society Follow-up report was intended to raise awareness of just this: a lack of understanding in both stakeholders and the general public about vaccination and the UK exit strategies following its use.

August 16 ~ "prevent - not pre-empt"

    When R.P. Kitching, M.V. Thrusfield & N.M. Taylor published their Use and abuse of mathematical models: an illustration from the 2001 foot and mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom last year (Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz., 2006) we read,
      "The epidemic and its control resulted in the death of approximately ten million animals, public disgust with the magnitude of the slaughter, and political resolve to adopt alternative options, notably including vaccination, to control any future epidemics. The UK experience provides a salutary warning of how models can be abused in the interests of scientific opportunism."
    Their conclusion included the aphorism: 'prevent - not pre-empt' . The gamble not to use vaccination to prevent spread in the Surrey outbreak must have astonished many. Much has been said on warmwell's pages about the EU's trade rules concerning FMD (See the Byzantine OIE Health Code, for example) and how, even now, countries who opt for vaccination can be discriminated against. The big players in the livestock industry naturally wish to avoid vaccination on economic grounds - even though no sound scientific, veterinary or health concerns about vaccinated animals remain. (See vaccination page) But, apart from the sound scientific reasons for a better policy, there are other interests to be brought into the equation - those who make their living with the help of livestock, tourism in the country, the tenant farmers, the commercial smallholders and simply people who just keep a few animals for the pleasure it gives them. They are involved too - up to the hilt - and ought to have their views considered.
    We note the membership of what DEFRA calls its "core stakeholders"; i.e. the group first to be consulted on such matters.

August 16 ~ Foot and mouth and bovine TB

    A response from the Welsh Assembly about Shambo, the Skanda Vale bullock, winged its way into many email boxes yesterday. Dated August 9th, the identically worded letter from the Welsh Assembly made no attempt to engage with any of the individual points made. What the "TB Team's" reply to many concerned emails did not say, in addition to its assertion that
      "Post-mortem examination of the animal has revealed visible lesions typical of bovine TB infection, which means that a positive TB breakdown is now confirmed in the herd...."
    was that a positive breakdown cannot be "confirmed" in the herd until further results are obtained. The culture that has been set up (taking about 6 weeks) can confirm the lesions really are due to TB - but that has not yet been definitively shown.
    Two or three other animals in the Skanda Vale herd have tested positive on the severe interpretation of the skin test applied when officials said that Shambo had lesions visible at post mortem. It would be useful to know if there was any independent witness to the post mortem on Shambo.
    One difference between the bTB and FMD at present is that there are proven, effective vaccines ready to be used against foot and mouth.
    If only things were as far advanced to combat the scourge of bovine TB.

August 15 2007 ~" rapid diagnostic technology is available..... the capability for NSP testing post-vaccination is fully ready and operational."

    The newest technology in rapid on-site diagnosis for FMD and up-to-date marker vaccines has been available for some time, and we echo the questions of an informed email to arrive today:
    • To what extent has the government provided the necessary funding and ongoing support?
    • Why has the use of field and region-based tests not been included in current contingency plans?
    The experience of this highly-charged and anxious fortnight, when all samples still have had to go through Pirbright before any action has been taken, lays bare the inadequacies of the UK Contingency Plan. Mary Marshall's email is fully referenced. A particularly apt quotation comes from the paper Implementation of a one-step real-time RT-PCR protocol for diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease. ( J Virol Methods. 2007 Mar 28; : 17397937)
      "This more rapid and economical one-step protocol will play a key role in contingency planning for any future outbreaks of FMD in the United Kingdom (UK)."
    That there is, in fact, still no mention of this protocol in the UK contingency plan should be of great concern to those involved.

August 15 2007 ~ Warmwell Summary

    We can piece together from Defra's epidemiological report dated August 9 and our own notes below, a brief summary of some of the important events up to that date.
    • Commercial vaccine production using O1BFS1967 began at Merial in the week beginning 16 July. In addition to Merial, live virus at the IAH site had been used to provide reagents for diagnostic tests and disinfectant testing "on a continuous basis".
    • It was on July 20th that "drains from the main sewer opened and flooded the field".
    • At the first farm, Woolfords Farm in Elstead, foot and mouth lesions were dated (retrospectively) back to 26th July
    • first clinical signs were noted 3 days later by the farmer and all animals killed by Aug 4th, seven days after clinical signs and one day after tests apparently showed 39 of the Woolfords cattle positive for active disease. P and S zones were put in place. .
    • Although the 75 farms with approximately 750 cattle, 1,500 sheep and 200 pigs in the Protection Zone could, we are told, have all been vaccinated within 24 hours, it was decided that immediate vaccination within the zone to halt the spread of disease was not going to happen. Adequate reasons for this have not, we feel, been given - merely that the decision was, "In line with this decision tree and the emerging conclusions of epidemiology investigations". The science backing the UK policy should be clearly articulated. ( We refer readers to our current vaccination page in the hope that such a missed opportunity won't occur again. Mistaken ideas still abound as if they were fact. However, the real facts are that vaccination does not mask disease; uninfected animals, once vaccinated do not need to be subsequently slaughtered; vaccinated and infected animals can be distinguished on serology testing; authorities are still able to monitor the spread of disease when modern marker vaccines are used.. - in short, the objections to vaccination are economic ones - and it is the outmoded trade rules that should be challenged, not vaccination.).
    • Visual surveillance of livestock and the blood testing of sheep within the protection zones began (clinical signs are difficult to spot in sheep).
    • From the isolation of the strain, revealed by Pirbright, it emerged that the Pirbright site was itself the source of the virus and zones were adjusted accordingly.
    • A routine protection zone surveillance visit (also carried out the day before) noticed first clinical signs on the second farm premises on August 6th, confirmed on the 7th.
    • Lesions on the second site (beef suckler calves) were dated back to July 31st and all animals killed by the evening of the 7th August
    There have been no other confirmed cases - but the "SOS" farm, Hunts Hill farm, had 362 mixed species free-range animals slaughtered "as a precaution" and the grief of Mr Emerson when he discovered that the suspect pig, and all the other animals, had been free of disease was very painful to witness. If an incubation period of 12 days is assumed and if the date of virus escape has been correctly estimated then any animals infected from the initial escape would develop clinical signs by 20th August. If there has been onward spread one can only hope that continuing surveillance will find it quickly.
    (We have still not - by 10.30 am - heard any news of the test results from yesterday nor how those results are to affect the ever-harder to endure movement restrictions. UPDATE "Restrictions on livestock movement will be further eased from midnight on Wednesday to permit farmers to move their animals between different fields on their farm for welfare reasons" )

    UPDATE 13.20 World at One tells us that the initial test results are negative - but that more tests needed for a definitive result.

      The delay in giving us information on the two suspect sites suggest that the official laboratory has not really got a grip on how to use the newer technology. As soon as the testing requirement goes up and results are needed quickly in order to reassure thousands of people, it does seem that they are finding it difficult to cope. Where does this delayed certainty leave the restrictions? When blanket restrictions are not warranted by any real disease risk in areas away from the focus of disease, local vets at least should be able to intervene to prevent unnecessary animal suffering. Up to date information should be on the DEFRA site as soon as possible and not be treated as sometimes seems the case, as if it were in some way "classified". As Michael Greaves says below, DEFRA seems to be behavng as if we were at war.

    UPDATE 13.40 Vaccination Teams to be stood down

    DEFRA news release "..... Based on the overall risk assessment, including the findings of the Epidemiology Report, and provided initial negative tests from the TCZs are confirmed and there is no change in the disease situation, the Chief Veterinary Officer will stand down vaccination teams from their current level of alert. Teams could be stood up again in five days, if needed..."
    An updated . Summary Epidemiology Report gives the Situation up to 16:00 Monday 13th August. Day 10 of the outbreak.

    Finally ..... news came through this evening (Wednesday Aug 15) that the two new Foot and Mouth temporary control zones in Kent and Surrey had been lifted "based on further negative laboratory results for Foot and Mouth Disease"

August 15 ~ The Veterinary Medicines Directorate Report appears to clear Merial

    From DEFRA website: "The VMD have conducted a thorough technical report on Merial's production facilities, in support of the HSE investigation at Pirbright, focussing on the following issues:
    A number of minor deficiencies in biosecurity were found but there was no evidence that they would lead to a breach of biosecurity arrangements Merial have recently begun using new facilities without giving VMD the opportunity to inspect that it is fit for purpose. However the relevant strain was not used in these facilities. The air handling pressures were found to be within specification and the laboratory is fit for purpose. There were no risks to biosecurity found.
    No possible release of virus is envisaged from turning antigen into finished vaccine and therefore there are no potential risks to biosecurity from manufacturing Defra's vaccine for possible use in this outbreak."

August 15 2007 ~ "....the total absence of accurate information (notably from DEFRA who seem to treat this as if we were at war)..."

    Another email from Michael Greaves this morning talks of the problem of getting accurate and up-to-date information
    "... the national and trade press has been disgracefully sloppy in reporting this crisis: one report had it that the first outbreak was miles to the south of where it actually was." We understand there will shortly be a posting by him on
    Professor Brian Spratt's report to Hilary Benn and the CVO, including in their evidence the outcome of the immediate investigation currently being carried out by officials from Defra, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the HSE, was due to report by 13 August and any news of the findings would be gratefully received.

August 15 2007 ~ While we wait for test results in the new cases, we read that, ".. every single sheep in the initial quarantine zone has been tested for foot-and-mouth disease and all have been proved negative."

    The Scotsman, in its reporting on the two new 2 mile exclusion zones set up around Honeychild Farm in Kent and Chessington World of Adventure, quotes Frank Langrish, "who owns 5,000 ewes on Romney Marsh just outside the new exclusion zone and who serves as chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board" and who told the Scotsman that "every single sheep" had been tested in the originial zone around Pirbright.
    On Saturday, an article in the Guardian describes the day to day experience of a woman in the village of Normandy who keeps 10 Kerry Hill sheep in a field behind her bungalow . She recounts the efficient bloodtesting of all her sheep that took place on the Sunday, the visual checks on the Monday -and their bewilderment on Thursday when they had been visited by a DEFRA official
      ".... I was very nervous. They said that a local person had reported sheep in the area that had not been checked. They meant my sheep. I had to fill in a form and sign a document that they were mine. After all the visits and paperwork, how can they not know about them? It's unbelievable."
    The article - from the point of view of one family with just ten rare breed sheep - vividly conveys the anxiety, the sympathy and sense of unreality in the immediate area of Pirbright during the past fortnight.
    The government is also awaiting the results of what the BBC is careful to call " independent tests" on soil taken from the site of the Pirbright laboratories.

August 14 2007 (18.00 pm) ~ Yet Another.....Foot and mouth tests conducted on sheep at a unit in Surrey

    Tests are being carried out on sheep at a holding in Chessington in Surrey just 20 miles from Pirbright. Farming Weekly has the story but no further details yet.
    UPDATE It is Chessington World of Adventure in Surrey. A further 3km temporary control zone has been imposed while a sheep at the wildlife park is being tested.
    As for the original escape of virus and how it reached the infected premises near Pirbright, a correspondent in the latest email for publication gives an informed view as well as a refreshing admission that his first theory was wrong.

August 14 2007 (17.20 pm) ~ "Experts in human medicine are not hidebound by rules - usually out of date and made by large groups of civil servants."

    Today's vaccination page been updated again this afternoon. It now includes some points made about the knock-on effects of the non-vaccination policy on rural tourism and rural business - as well as some trenchant comment about the differences between veterinary and human medicine, long overdue for revision. In outbreaks of serious human disease, for example
      "... knowledge and development of diagnosis and vaccines may be essential a team of medical infection experts - and these are peer reviewed and up to date with their knowledge. They have a clearly explained policy on the international stage.
      Experts in human medicine moreover are also not hidebound by rules - usually out of date and made by large groups of civil servants.
      ...... The imposition of the severe movement restrictions still in place over the whole of England and to some extent is still present in Wales and Scotland...(and) ... is looking disproportionately harsh, with animals suffering and farmers losing money and being pursued for minor infringements. Farming outside the South East and the favoured arable areas is often hard. Farmers are struggling to survive at all. Apart from that given to farmers in the designated zone in Surrey and those whose animals have been culled, there will be no compensation. Rural tourism and business could also be less severely affected if vaccination within a designated zone was carried out. After 10 days there is no reason for footpaths to remain closed..."
    Read in full or see the whole page in which the anti-vaccination arguments have today been refuted by informed comments sent to warmwell.
    As for the suspected new outbreak in Kent, Kent News update tells us that only 3 calves were tested, out of a herd of 250 dairy cattle.They have blisters on their tongues. Whether samples of milk have been collected remains to be seen. (see comment below on th testing of milk for FMD)

August 14 2007 (updated 16.40 pm) ~ The use of the 3ABC test still enables authorities to monitor the spread of disease.

    The marker-test principle is helpfully explained in this pdf file from Intervet about its ready-to-use Chekit-FMD-3ABC marker vaccine. The UK appears to be using Merial and their differentiating marker vaccine would seem to be developed along the same lines. Intervet says the sensitivity is more than 99% . (Page 10 of its 11 page pdf file)
      "...Regional vaccination: if FMD is established in a certain area and the rest of the country is still free, it may be decided to vaccinate all susceptible animals in the region. The use of the 3ABC test still enables authorities to monitor the spread of disease. Slaughter and consumption of vaccinated animals (provided they are from 3ABC-negative farms) is still possible without the risk on further spread."

August 14 2007 (updated 15.20 pm) ~ Those who make their living from livestock need to lobby to change the rules, rather than fight against the march of modern animal disease control.

    (See Kent News) It now appears that the control zone round the new suspected FMD outbreak, centres on Honeychild Manor farm in St Mary- in- the -Marsh, in the Romney Marsh area of Kent. (A glance at their website might suggest cause for alarm if the tests do prove to be positive.)
    Whatever the outcome, questions about the risk taken by the decision not to vaccinate will inevitably be raised. At present in the UK, very few are arguing for the use of prophylactic vaccination - that is, wholescale vaccination throughout the country. (see NFMG letter) Instead it is being pointed out that since emergency vaccination to live is now part of EU and UK policy, the public need to be given some good reasons why emergency vaccination was not used right from the start to stop the virus in its tracks.
    No such good scientific or veterinary reasons have, as far as we know, been given.
    The page referred to below points out the misconceptions in the arguments against vaccination that are still voiced by those wishing - not unnaturally - to protect their industry and their exports. While one has no wish to undermine their efforts to do what they can for their own industry, it is important for union leaders to acknowledge as is said here that those who make their living from livestock need to lobby to change the rules, rather than fight against the march of modern animal disease control.
    Vaccinated meat is perfectly safe. Vaccinated animals - even the rare so-called carriers - have never, after decades of research, been known to spread the disease. The vaccines are very good and getting ever better.
    It is the current EU trade rules, based on the assumption above - that "Carriers are a Danger" - that must be challenged and put right.

August 14 2007 (1 pm) ~ A new suspected case of foot and mouth in Kent (Romney Marsh area)

    Google updates. The BBC reports that a control zone has been set up around the farm, but did not say exactly where it is. Debby Reynolds has said the case is similar to the false alarm at Laurence Mitchell's Manor Farm near Dorking. Test results are not going to be known for sure until later today or even tomorrow.
    One suspects from what is being said that rapid testing may have been done on-site whch quickly suggested the all-clear. As at Manor Farm, test results done at the Institute are always a belt-and-braces reassurance.
    However, if this is not the case and the results show virus then the vaccination arguments are all back on the agenda with a vengeance. We note that the NPA gave out a list of statements to quash argument "in the pub" and elsewhere when ordinary people ask, as they do, "Why on earth not vaccinate for FMD when we vaccinate for so much else?" The big business answer cannot show mere concern about protecting protectionism. Their arguments against vaccination are examined here. Looked at dispassionately, the counter, pro-emergency vaccination arguments sent to us by experts in their field, seem indisputable. (link mended)

August 13 2007 ~ FMD Bioportal - an unrestricted, public web site

    The FMD Bioportal. Once you have been accepted as user, you will be able to search the databases containing FMD epidemiological data, serotype data, and more - and display these data in tables and graphs, or visualize using GIS visualization programs. Our thanks to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis.

August 13 ~ "It would be ludicrous to suggest, on the basis of giving the FMD vaccine suspended in mineral oil as an adjuvant, that the vaccinated animal must then be killed."

    Dr Ruth Watkins this week on the subject of vaccination and its misconceptions. Particularly relevant to those who think that vaccination amounts to a sort of nasty chemical cocktail being pumped,willy-nilly into animals - or that vaccinated meat or milk could be refused by consumers on any sensible grounds:
      "....All our lives we are exposed to viral bacterial and parasitic infections, bitten by insects that inject their saliva and we swallow goodness knows what so that our digestive system is exposed also to a myriad of proteins and other substances. Even in the Stone Age we would have had viruses (herpes, adenoviruses, respiratory viruses, hepatitis B etc) bacteria, commensal and pathogenic, eg M tuberculosis, and also been loaded with worms in the gut and blood- even lungs too. We would have had lice in our hair and fluke in our liver, and been exposed to animal viruses and bacteria when we killed and butchered freshly killed animals to eat (this is believed to be the source of HIV virus infection in humans, HIV-1 from the chimp). The tiny dose of protein given in modern vaccines and the relative freedom from worms and insect bites mean that modern man has a fraction of the exposure of his Stone Age counterpart.
      We do however have exposure to man-made molecules that do not degrade in the environment, and to synthetic hormones such as oestrogens in the water, which is a concern - but they are not in the vaccines used."
    Dr Watkins' note.
    We now read (Monday evening. See North West Evening Mail) that Cumbria's "regional farming union chiefs" have "come out in support of the government's chief vet" because, says the paper, she has "resisted calls to vaccinate British herds" One wonders what exactly the "strength of the very latest scientific advice and thorough risk assessment" consists of and where we can see it - and from where exactly came the calls that Debby Reynolds had to resist.

August 13 ~ "... highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely"

    Prof Hugh Pennington, quoted today at gave his opinion that we can assume the outbreak to be over "... by the end of next week if we've seen no more cases, I think we can say it's highly, highly, highly, highly unlikely that there will be any more cases. Not before then."
    The article tells us that the Welsh have taken unilateral action over movement restrictions. If you are on the Welsh side of the border, you are allowed "movement to accommodate the needs of newly weaned animals; pregnant sows; pregnant cows; animals for breeding; and animals with feeding difficulties as a result of a severe shortage of grazing." - but only within one kilometre. However, if you are on the English side, you can't. (What happens to the needs of newly weaned animals; pregnant sows; pregnant cows; animals for breeding; and animals with feeding difficulties throughout England we simply do not know - and DEFRA's "latest situation"page was this afternoon giving the public news about nothing except horse movements.) The NPA site says that "one week after the start of the foot and mouth outbreak there are 170,000 more pigs on England's pig farms, and producers are rapidly running out of drinkers, feeders and building materials for temporary housing" and says that they are hoping, at least, that "same-holding movements will be approved by Monday"

August 13 ~ "Failure to clarify both the exit strategies and meat treatment protocols will undermine Defra's sterling work.." Royal Society 2002

    After six years of patient work it is disheartening to say the least to read, in papers such as the Telegraph, opinions appearing to be facts and passing unchallenged. We read "....vaccination would more or less ensure that it became permanently endemic. It would be impossible to tell whether the animals were disease-free, so it would become impossible to export meat or milk products.." In fact, as Paul Sutmoller explains below, the particular antibodies that protect vaccinates from developing or passing on disease can indeed show freedom from actual infection. Vaccinated meat and milk products most certainly can be exported again - within far shorter times than in 2001
    It would be reassuring if the media, so responsible for guiding public opinion, were known, like ProMed, to act responsibly in checking the science that underpins FMD vaccination and the practicalities of its use.. Nick Blamey of the BVA on Friday's edition of the World at One was equally mis-informed on vaccination - and was not challenged by anyone. Hardly surprising then that the public - in spite of all the efforts of so many - are still as confused as they were in 2001.
    In their Follow -up Report back in 2002, the Royal Society had this to say:
      "... It is therefore imperative to find approaches whereby emergency vaccination can be employed in situations where pre-emptive action is required. Use of such vaccination procedures must be coupled with arrangements to ensure that the animals subsequently enter the food chain {7.7}. If there are problems associated with a nonslaughter approach then these need to be resolved.
      ....derogations within the EU Directive {7.7}.. ease the exit strategies after the use of emergency vaccination. More work is required to promulgate to stakeholders and the general public the exit strategies. In addition clear explanations of meat treatments required in a FMD outbreak must be provided. The drafting of Defra's recent publication 'The role of vaccination in a future outbreak of FMD' (Defra2004d) was not sufficiently clear in this respect {7.7}. Failure to clarify both the exit strategies and meat treatment protocols will undermine Defra's sterling work in securing these derogations when the Directive was being drafted..."
    The work of the Royal Society Inquiry and its follow-up were intended precisely to avoid the sort of confusion we have been aghast to witness in the past ten days.

August 13 ~ "Sir Brian Follett is wrong when he suggests that vaccinated animals constitute a danger"

    The "green light" we spoke of below has now been received after world expert in the field, Dr Paul Sutmoller's refutation of some of the points in Sir Brian Follett's article, "Tough choice of kill or vaccinate"(Aug 5) . Dr Sutmoller's letter appears in the Sunday Times but can be seen here in its full version. Extract:
      "....Sir Brian Follett is wrong when he suggests that vaccinated animals constitute a danger, because they may be carrying FMD virus. Unfortunately, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the idea that FMD carriers represent a considerable risk of transmission of the disease appears to be persistent and remains up to the present the basis for current rules and regulations for international trade in animals and animal product.....also wrong when he states that vaccinated animals cannot be moved. The EU directive 2003/85/EC allows movement of vaccinated animals within national borders after six months after an outbreak of FMD.
      ... The hypothetical risk of vaccinated carriers can be further reduced by a serological survey for anti-virus antibodies in animals in the non-vaccinated surveillance zone around the vaccination zone. Those results, together with the results of the a-NSP test, would verify the FMD-free status of the area..." read in full
    We would add just two short quotations. The first: "we take the view that food from vaccinated beasts does not need to be labelled" National Consumer Council April 2001 , and the second:
    "There are now no insuperable problems with vaccination, whether technical, scientific, trade or cultural" Sir Brian Follett, chair of the Royal Society Inquiry Report (published on 16 July 2002)
    This page summarises the main findings and recommendations of the RS report.

August 10/13 ~ Dairy herd on the Pirbright estate

    "Samples can be obtained by taking blood, but also non-invasively from the nose and from milk". The email from Mary Marshall below raises the important issue of testing milk. This, as she says, can be done quite easily without the need to inject into the skin.
    We are now wonderering if it was being done as a matter of simple routine on Pirbright animals. It has come to our notice that the milk collection service for the dairy herd on the Pirbright estate was cancelled on Wednesday, August 1st, 24 hours before Mr. Pride on his own farm rang his vet about clinical signs in his catttle.
    No mention has been made of this herd on the Pirbright estate. Is it still alive? Was FMD found in milk samples? Was a candidate animal to test supposedly inert dead vaccine found to be clinically infected, and did that alone stop the routine milk collection?
    We are still wondering which was, in fact, the index case in this outbreak. But even this, interesting as it may to those of a detective bent, is not as important for disease control as the central fact: Testing milk for FMD virus is straightforward. If virus is anywhere where there is a dairy herd it can be pinpointed easily by testing the milk. Is it being done?

August 10/13 ~ "VS recognizes the value of milk as a sample for FMD surveillance, as well as the value of this test in moving milk safely inside of quarantine zones.." The United States Animal Health Association

    but the USAHA document here continues: " ARS and APHIS have done proof-of-concept work using the ARS/Tetracore developed real-time PCR assay for FMDV nucleic acids in milk......Due to the loss of some crucial staff at Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (FADDL), they have not been able to move ahead with the optimization of this assay for milk...By March 2006, FADDL should have in a place a Head for the newly formed Proficiency and Validation Services Section, which will enable them to move forward with the optimization and validation of this assay in milk....."
    So, a familiar story of underfunding and frustrating difficulties. News of progress with this would be gratefully received.
    ( Incidentally, and as many now know, the ARS/Tetracore developed real-time PCR assay was the very machine that Sir David King turned away in 2001. Magnus Linklater when the journalist asked Professor King, UK's Chief Scientific Advisor, why it was not being considered was apparently told "I would need five hours to explain the science to you," he said. "Unfortunately I don't have that time." )

August 10/13 ~ More slaughter imminent - unless movement restrictions can be eased

    Another aspect of the frozen situation in Surrey is the welfare issue. The restrictions on livestock movements are now causing problems of overcrowding. Issues of providing food, drink and temporary housing are becoming critical, particularly on intensive pig farms.
    In 2001, movement restrictions led to scenes of utter misery for animals. So-called "welfare culls" killed healthy animals as much as the panicky contiguous culling did. Literally millions of animals died in horrible conditions; not just those who - in that much repeated phrase - "would have been slaughtered anyway". The loss of breeding stock was terrible but it was grim to see even meat animals consigned to such an end.
    The NPA, alive to any political pressure that can be applied, is asking producers to keep a photographic record of their mounting pig welfare problems and warning that piglets will have to be killed "in-situ". This is a situation that is going to have to change urgently. Scotland and Wales, but not England, are allowing controlled welfare movements.

August 10/13 ~ " the laboratory must move into the field and test animals quickly before irreversible actions are taken." ProMed

    'ProMED' means 'Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases' and is the Internet-based reporting programme of the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID). The moderators are international experts in their field who screen, review, and investigate reports before posting to the network. ProMED-mail is independent and free of political constraints. To read on ProMed that diagnostic testing should now be "out of the laboratory" is very cheering. On Saturday, a ProMED moderator, in the course of a five paragraph comment about the UK situation, (
      "....In the past -- that is, pre-1980 -- when we killed "contact" herds it was not questioned and laboratory techniques then could not have handled the volumes of samples. Today all that is different and thousands of samples are run each day. This brings home the point that the laboratory must move into the field and test animals quickly before irreversible actions are taken..." (More)
    For six years warmwell and others have been asking that the analysis of samples should happen at the place where samples are actually taken, using already available, ever more affordable diagnostic kits, rather than be taken by car, train or air to the reference laboratory. Results can now be obtained in the field within minutes rather than hours and days, can detect FMDv before the onset of clinical disease and the "irreversible actions" such as we saw at Hunts Hill farm can be avoided. The "prototype RT-PCR" mentioned to our correspondent seems not to have been used on the suspect pig there. It is hard for an outsider to discover much - yet we read here for example:
      "...We have performed 5 minimal infectious dose experiments with FMDV type O1 Lausanne using the original "Pirbright set-up" although using updated technology ......Two diagnostic methods for very fast, sensitive and specific detection of FMD virus using real time RT-PCR has been submitted, one of them for UK Patent and the other for international patent protection. DEFRA has naturally been granted unrestricted access to testing of samples from the UK using the new assays..."
    Even on a farm with a lame pig so close to an IP, it seems that precipitate action might have been avoided. Mention of patents does make one consider what the reason might be for the apparent secrecy surrounding the use of rapid diagnosis in the UK . Ironic perhaps then that we were reliably told this week that "the whole portable PCR field will be transformed with very cheap machines that are highly automated within the year".

August 10/13 ~ "The government has a responsibility to use the technologies that can identify disease before signs appear if these technologies are available. They are available, and they are being used in the lab. ."

    Mary Marshall's email suggests that the present practice of testing only sheep in a high risk area is a practice that should be challenged. She asks the question that has evidently occurred to many in addition to ourselves:
      "Why were samples not taken as part of the inspections, from the first day and subsequent days, from ALL of the susceptible animals on a contiguous farm, especially if Defra considers the animals on these farms to be of such high risk? "
    "... If virus is detected outside the surveillance zone, vaccination should then be automatically triggered. If no virus is detected outside the surveillance zone over several days, possibly coupled with more widespread testing of milk, then an easing of movement restrictions in other regions of the UK would be justified." Read in full. Quoting the ProMed comment above, she concludes, " To implement the diagnostic policies that I suggest, the government must be committed to provide a 21st century biocontainment facility as part of a national disease control strategy and ensure that their labs have sufficient resources and funding to function effectively. "

August 10/13 2007 ~ " Whilst hoping for the best, a point source, we should have taken precaution against the worst, a plume."

    Ruth Watkins, MRCP MRCPath (a specialist in Clinical Virology) in the paper written this weekend especially for warmwell and farmtalking, has given ten reasons why she is convinced that vaccination in this outbreak should have been undertaken. She also gives a fascinating insight into her field of expertise: the microscopic world of cells and how vaccine protects them from attack by wild virus. She explains, "All virus families have different characteristics, and to some we may never be able to make protective neutralising antibody at all such as Hepatitis C virus. How lucky we are to have such a good vaccine against FMD - it is theoretically possible to eliminate FMD from the world by vaccination....decades of scientific research has provided us with excellent vaccine to all the major serotypes of FMD virus.".
    As she says, we are lucky too that
      "...that we have these scientific and vaccine establishments in the UK, and we should be ready to take advantage of the benefits they can give us."
    Her email and paper can be read here. She warns, " With global warming we may expect the incursion of a number of exotic viruses into the domestic animals of Northern Europe, which - if they are insect borne or infect a wildlife reservoir - may not be eliminated. May we have diagnostics and vaccines ready to meet them..."

August 10/13 ~ FMD - uncomfortable issues still to answer

    The Lightwater site, at succinctly sets out the issues that are worrying many of us. Underfunding, maladministration, government spinning that they are not to blame - particularly the leaking of information about Merials staff and their operation "aimed at deflecting criticism from Government" Read in full

August 10/13 2007 ~ the role of rapid on-site RT-PCR during this outbreak

    Saturday morning saw confirmation of negative results for the Matthews calves and DEFRA's revocation of the temporary zone around Manor Farm. The Today programme (Saturday) interviewed the free-range farmer whose 362 animals were killed as a precaution. Mr Emerson at Hunts Hill farm revealed that vets had been checking with him every day but on Wednesday, one lame pig with slight lesions just above the hoof (coronary band) gave enough cause for alarm that samples were taken. After lengthy discussions with Page Street it was decided - on the strength of this one pig and because Hunts Hill farm was so close to the other two outbreaks- to kill all the animals on site, of all species, immediately. (The pig was, in fact, clear of disease as were all the other animals. Mr Emerson was quoted: "knowing now that my animals were never infected makes it worse.")
    Pigs can excrete a great deal of virus early on if infected, true - but what of these samples? It would be interesting to know if they were or were not checked by rapid on-site diagnosis. We should very much like to know more about the role for all speciesof the rapid on-site RT-PCR being used by the UK as an indicator of disease in its various phases. Which species are being tested by rapid diagnosis and how often - in short, exactly how is the new technology being applied during this outbreak? Or is this - for reasons one can only guess at - information that must be kept secret? There are many others who want to know about rapid testing. One of the most recent emails to warmwell, from the Chairman of Mitchell's Auction Company in Cumbria, reminds us yet again of the UK refusal to contemplate testing real time RT-PCR back in 2001.

August 10/13 2007 ~ We fear a bad end and a wrong answer to the question of ultimate responsibility.

    Our summary of the situation so far before we collapse into the weekend: Pirbright is a 'government' laboratory but it has no government power to control events. It survives at the whim of the Government and of the Treasury. It cannot criticise its paymasters. Like so much else whose usefulness ought to be taken for granted and isn't, Pirbright has been starved of funding, equipment and staffing and has suffered a loss of morale. Yet the expertise we need is still based at Pirbright. It is not Pirbright's fault if commercial considerations, including its close relationship with Merial, have had to take the place of its former "public service" ethos - and it is not Pirbright that is shaping policy; it is the politics that needs big business as its life blood. Farmers across the country are suffering for what happened in Surrey and a lot has been said about the irony that the crisis came from the very Institute set up to avert it. Perhaps live virus in a vaccine being tested somewhere on the Pirbright site failed fully to be attenuated or got out by human means. As in all walks of life, this sort of thing can happen. But we fear a bad end and a wrong answer to the question of the ultimate responsibility for what happened at Pirbright.
    The jackals are gathering. Reputations and careers may be made sacrifices in the financial storm that's coming. It is, as always, the big players who will battle over big money. The drama of "who was to blame" will unfold like something on reality TV. Throughout this whole crisis mainstream journalists have missed by miles the key question, which is this:
      Is it right that our disease control policy is based wholly on unfair and out-of-date "health" regulations, forcing those decent small farmers, who also need to make a profit, to fight the Goliath of the non-vaccination policy?
    It is the EU's protectionist policy, enshrined in the OIE regulations that discriminate against vaccination in returning disease free status, that constantly postpones a more sane, more humane, science-based animal health policy in the UK. The Pirbright virus escape would - in a less crazy world - have been a small local irritation, quickly solved by the ability of available modern technology to cure and protect.

August 10 2007 ~" If the present policy is successful, it will be a measure of good luck in ignoring these two variables..."

    Email received this afternoon from Dr Colin Fink (Clinical Virologist & Hon. Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences University of Warwick) He says, in brief, that Debby Reynold's latest briefing was "reasonably coherent" but that the present 'no vaccination' strategy , makes no acknowledgment of the possibility of wild life vectors. (See also below) Dr Fink says
      " the present policy assumes one distribution of virus by primary intent only ( ? accident ? sabotage ). Vaccination around the present areas, as I suggested earlier would prevent any further environmental virus distribution from having much clinical effect and would lower any re-excretion rates of virus into the environment. - a basic tenet of vaccination.
      If the present policy is successful, it will be a measure of good luck in ignoring these two variables.
      One of the more worrying aspects of the clinical presentation of the second affected animal group in this outbreak, was the profound onset of the illness simultaneously in a number of animals. This strongly suggests a high viral load within the environment that infected this group all together. That to my mind would be one reason why vaccine for this outbreak should be used sooner rather than later."
    Read in full

August 10 2007 ~ Miserable news. We got so used to this in 2001...

    Livestock culled on Hunts Hill farm did not have foot and mouth disease. DEFRA says that tests on the 362 cows, sheep, pigs and goats slaughtered on Wednesday, (some of which may have appeared to have initial clinical symptoms of foot and mouth), show that none of these animals were, in fact, carrying the foot and mouth virus.
    Horrible news. See first paragraphs of the Telegraph article. And it casts doubt on our assumption below that they would not have been culled unless an on-site rapid diagnosis, rather than mere clinical inspection, had indicated disease. Ironically, these negative results will be seen as good news - and of course in a way, it is. But failure of rapid diagnosis - reliance on a clinical diagnosis that turns out to be wrong - this is shameful when we have access both to excellent diagnostic equipment giving results within a fraction of the time it takes in the lab and vaccines that will, as Dr Fink says above, "prevent any further environmental virus distribution from having much clinical effect and would lower any re-excretion rates of virus into the environment." Killing first and checking afterwards is something we had hoped could never happen again in a modern civilised country - and it does nothing at all to protect others.
    So much for our optimism about the possible efficient deployment of on-site rapid testing. The question must remain: why were these animals killed? What machine is being used for on-site testing? What was the reason to keep paths open near infected farms? Nick Green got some distinctly odd replies to his questions today.

August 10 2007 ~ "..we could still find ourselves in the bizarre situation where the meat on the shelves is imported from countries where Foot and Mouth Disease is prevalent "

    In the Scotsman, Dan Bugloss says of Brazil, "...the Irish party confirmed suspicions that the vaccination regime was haphazard at best and sometimes completely non-existent. Meanwhile, the EU continued to import Brazilian beef, allegedly from regions declared clear of the disease....
    Yorkshire Dales Country News today quotes Dr Charles Trotman, CLA's Rural Economy Adviser: " "understanding between parties in the food chain is essential .... I hope that the chief executives who control the big supermarkets will instruct their meat buyers to... avoid the temptation to try and make a quick profit at the expense of those who have had to shoulder the economic burden of this disease."
    Douglas Chalmers, Director CLA North told the paper that " we could still find ourselves in the bizarre situation where the meat on the shelves is imported from countries where Foot and Mouth Disease is prevalent. Not only would this compound the agony for home producers, but it would have had a longer term effect for British farmers and processors. With home produced meat now available again, it is to be hoped that no one will try to take advantage of the situation..."

August 10- 13 2007 ~ Suspect animals were to be monitored, not immediately culled on suspicion

    The latest available DEFRA interim epidemiology report can be found at [PDF] (500 KB) (apologies. Link mended - but it is slow) or here. It shows the situation as at 10:00 am yesterday and tells us that since 3rd August 2007 suspicion of FMD has been reported on 37 holdings, in the counties shown in the table it shows.
    "Five holdings are still under investigation; disease has been ruled out on the remainder."
    Movements from Surrey have been traced: "para 23. Investigations have confirmed that no sheep from Surrey or from the surveillance zone that overlapped into the neighbouring county of Hampshire were moved to or sold through Bicester sheep fair at Thame market on 3rd August. 24. In summary, the risk of spread of infection out of Surrey through movements of silently infected sheep during the risk period is very low."
    Within the zones, testing seems (to us) to have been very efficiently carried out.
    A "dangerous contact" had been identified next to the second outbreak; a single holding that is "highly likely to have been exposed to infection through a personnel contact ... Additionally, stock on the DC premises are adjacent to the IP and only separated from it by a farm track and a lane."
    However, these animals were, according to the Aug 9 report (10.00 am) , to be carefully monitored every day rather than culled on suspicion. "target=new> Read report (pdf)
    All this suggests to us that a rapid on-site portable PCR test may well have found evidence of disease on the free range farm where the 362 animals were killed yesterday. However, we still wait for news of the lab test results.
    UPDATE: As we say above and the Telegraph very brefly reports, all the cows, pigs, sheep and goats at Hunts Hill Farm turned out to be free of infection.

August 10 2007 ~ " it has been decided not to vaccinate at this time."

    A new DEFRA statement has appeared "....In line with this decision tree and the emerging conclusions of epidemiology investigations it has been decided not to vaccinate at this time. However, this approach will be kept under constant review as the disease situation develops and the Forward Vaccination Centre will be kept in place.
    As part of the evidence base for this decision Defra has today published an interim epidemiology report into the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Surrey...."

August 10 2007 ~ Information about differentiation tests needs to be clearer. (Boring but very important)

    Yesterday's Farmers Weekly article "Vaccine best for foot-and-mouth?" reported that Dr Tony Andrews "... believes there would be difficulty in acknowledging the difference between a vaccinated animal or infected animal and, therefore, stresses the need for clearer answers...." but Anthony Gibson of the NFU (and we remember his sense and humanity in 2001 with gratitude) said the NFU was confident there was a validated test.
    Dr Andrews is right that things need to made clearer. We begin to understand his stance on vaccination (even though we do not share it). The OIE Code Commission have accepted the principle of herd based NSP serosurveillance as a basis for countries regaining FMD free status. In other words, while tests to distinguish vaccinated from unvaccinated animals are accepted in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code
      ("... a serological survey is conducted to demonstrate that antibodies to the disease are as result of vaccination and not natural infection.")
    - there is STILL not yet an internationally accepted NSP (non-structural protein) test for individual use in any species. The test shows whether antibodies, produced when the animal tried to fight off real live virus, are present in the blood. Such antibodies are NOT produced as a result of vaccination so differentiation can be made. Even though tests - such as those assessed in 2004 by Bruderer et al - are shown to be effective, the OIE will, at present, only accept whole herd tests for the purposes of international trade. Full validation for individual tests requires panels of seven FMD serotypes in at least three target species. Testing has to be carried out in high security accommodation - and needs to be carried out where both vaccination and exposure to virus can occur. We speculate that work has been going on recently at Pirbright. It seems to warmwell more than likely that this testing may be significant in the present crisis. Meanwhile, it is a dreadful irony that such work cannot continue. Once it is done then the last (non trade) obstacle to vaccination will be removed. And as page 37 Version 1.2 - ( Volume 2 Foot and mouth disease) of DEFRA's Exotic Animal Disease Generic Contingency Plan (Consultation Version- July 2006) makes clear:
      Public opinion - Public are likely to support a vaccinate to live policy and this would be in line with FMD Inquiry recommendations. Food Standards Agency advice is that labelling of products from vaccinated animals would not be required. A shared statement (i.e:here) on the use of vaccination as part of FMD control strategies has been produced in partnership with consumer organisations.
    In April we wrote about the question of "Validation" (only when it suits) "... It needs to be pointed out and repeated that the mathematical modelling that drove that discredited 2001 policy was not validated and no validation was ever attempted. As Dr Martin Hugh-Jones commented: "Any model is only as good as its ability to be validated....One of the criticisms of the Anderson FMD model was that it could not be validated. Nor, for that matter, was validation ever attempted with the very expensive result that we all witnessed."

August 10 2007 ~ NFU moves towards court case "South West firm Thring Townsend was instructed yesterday (9 August) by the National Farmers Union (NFU) in relation to a potential action for losses suffered by farmers as a result of last week's foot and mouth outbreak."

August 10 2007 ~ New Case is NOT foot and mouth "I just wanted to be 100% sure"

    The farmer involved, Laurence Matthews, at Manor Farm, says that he had called DEFRA as a precaution when he noticed a possible problem with some of his calves - especially since it was his land that was involved in the second outbreak; John Gunner's animals. He says there has been "no traffic" between his farm (calves only) in Wotton and the second outbreak site at Normandy. The calves (3 - 5 weeks old) are all housed in the same building and any infection can spread easily. Mr Matthews is reassured that the suspect calves are now looking a lot better. Confirmatory tests will be known this afternoon - but one assumes that rapid diagnostic on-site PCR was used to ensure such confidence this morning..
    There is no news yet about the test results from the 362 animals killed yesterday. 576 animals have been destroyed so far and the human misery this causes is examined by the Telegraph today. "Every animal has its own unique value to us," said the free range farmer yesterday. "We were absolutely devastated."

August 10 2007 ~ A new possible case. A New Temporary Control Zone

    Late last night an announcement was made that a new control zone has been placed on a site in Surrey outside present areas. There was frustration as no further details emerged. The new 3km zone is now known to be east of the existing surveillance zone and southwest of Dorking. DEFRA's emergency response centre at Reigate is not far away. The Times is raising the spectre of sabotage again. All DEFRA would say is: "This precautionary measure follows an inconclusive assessment of clinical symptoms by Animal Health veterinary staff. The national movement ban remains in place. In addition, in the Temporary Control Zone, general licences will not apply for the movement of animals to slaughter and collection of dead animals from farms." but fears that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease had spread from the initial control zone is going to send shivers through the farming community. More as soon as we know.
    There are those who have the time and interest to wait in front of television, radio and the internet for news. Farmers, whose stomachs are turning, many of whom have no representation, have to get on with the farming day. They - unlike the officials working hard in Surrey - are not able to earn overtime. Open information, given as soon as it is known, is important and we cannot see any "public good" reason why it should be withheld.
    UPDATE - see above.

August 10 2007 ~ Defra can find the time and money to send us all pointless bumph that we don't need, let alone have time to read, but when the countryside is hit with something like FMD we get absolutely nothing

    An ironic query sent by a farmer needs no further comment.
    The NPA site too had included, just before its jokey footnote about painting pigs black and white, the sentence
      "There is also a desire among the vets for an improved cascade of information from Defra in London. ..."
    but we note that this sentence has now been removed.

August 9 ~ The Ministry knows best....

    More on the subject of getting the science wrong, non-admission of Government mistakes, official ignorance, compensation claims side-stepped...but this is a different problem and one that spans 30 years. A document Sheep dipping - Advice for farmers and others involved in dipping sheep has appeared on the Health and Safety Executive website. It contains grim warnings about sheep dipping.
    Sheep dips, (designated 'veterinary medicines') were found to eradicate scab in sheep, thirty years ago, if they contained organophospherous compounds. These had actually been developed as chemical warfare agents. Farmers themselves, such as the doughty campaigning Lancashire farmer, Brenda Sutcliffe, became aware that OPs were causing depression, brain damage and premature death and demanded their total ban. But the Ministry knew best. Until 1989, the law required compulsory dipping twice a year. By 1992, dipping for scab at last ceased to be compulsory but MAFF (now DEFRA) announced instead that it would not hesitate to prosecute sheep farmers who did not deal promptly and satisfactorily with an outbreak of scab.
    Fear of compensation demands have, as often before and since, made the government very chary about any admission of responsibility. The wording of the HSE document is careful. Warnings are general and apply to all dips. However, the sentence,"Some agricultural pesticides contain OP or SP active ingredients. These products are not authorised for use as veterinary medicines and must never be used for this purpose" would seem to be incontrovertible. (The FWi article today brought our attention to the existence of the booklet.)

August 9 ~ Bad news that can't be buried

    Unfortunately, the Fallen Stock relaxation is hardly making much of an improvement. For those who remember The Good Life, this is the Margo Leadbetter method of collection; picking one runner bean at a time and carrying it delicately across the garden to a sack. The Fallen Stock vehicle can go to one farm for collection - but then it must return to base for Cleaning and Disinfection (C&D). So instead of maybe 30 - 40 carcasses per day, they will be lucky to collect 4. There will be a problem with leakage and smell. A bit of a stink.
    Scotland, we hear, have allowed on-farm burial at least in the short term. As one emailer writes today, "Pity the fallen stock aren't a bit closer to the minions in Page St." Yes, and pity the Fallen Stock scheme, has been clung to for fear of admitting it was a piece of "legislative madness" ( as Dan Buglass in the Scotsman put it) to begin with.

August 9 ~ "the worker bees at the local Defra office do try to be helpful, despite the insane orders they receive from headquarters..."

    Jonathan Miller's top ten are now up. For the jaded, they are as refreshing as a cold beer pressed to one's forehead. Others may not be quite so refreshed. His list of the good, the bad and the ugly begins; "Never mind the disinfectant, send the whitewash..." However, as our choice for a paragraph title shows, he is very happy to give credit where it is due, and from others we have heard, the DEFRA footsoldiers in Surrey do indeed seem to have been human and kindly. Sad agreement too with the following on the subject of the internet:
      "....while the networks are activating quickly, frankly we lack real political clout. We do not have a clunking great fist. The challenge is to convert our command of the facts and superb intelligence into meaningful pressure. I admit this is a tough problem when our democracy is so intangible, and note that it is a problem not unique to this issue..."
    Read in full
    UPDATE Even so, and although Jonathan Miller is undoubtedly right, the bloggers are uniting...( Alas, this cartoon will have to self destruct very soon)
    Here, back in the fray, is the famous organic centre Sheepdrove,: "Join us in calling for the right to vaccinate now...Why not let the farmers decide? We could use our own risk assessments and make a decision on whether or not to protect our stock against FMD."

August 9 ~ Another twist - of the knife

    HSE are investigating a case of Legionnaires' Disease at IAH Pirbright, thought to predate the problems with virus escape ( the escape estimated to have been in the third week of July according to Fred Landeg ( pdf . We discover from the IAH annual report dated 2004, that the ISO10 building at Pirbright, where the person with Legionnaires disease had been working, had been built the previous year to replace SAPO-4/ACDP-2 containment level accommodation
      "for work on exotic viral diseases and vaccine development."
    In other words, the lab where exotic viral diseases and vaccine development has been taking place was an environment where a worker could have caught a disease. According to this HSE account of a tragedy in 2002, that case was caused the failure of biological monitoring of the ventilation system. "...Vacancies in management posts were blamed for the shortage of risk assessments and absence of in-house monitoring." Underfunding perhaps.
    The BBC report tells us " Legionnaires' Disease is caused by a bacterium that causes problems if it is converted into aerosol form from a water - for instance, in showers or spas - and then inhaled."

August 9 ~ Updated questions and answers at DEFRA

    Click here for Tuesday's updated "FMD disease emergency vaccination - question and answer brief" from the DEFRA site. See also DEFRA's general Question and Answer page Aug 2007 - section on vaccination Extract:
      "Suppressive vaccination (to kill) might be considered where the number of animals to be culled is likely to exceed the immediately available disposal capacity. In those instances, animals in defined areas would be vaccinated first and slaughtered only as disposal capacity became available. It could also be used where there is an urgent need to reduce the amount of virus circulating in an area and reduce the risk of spread beyond that area."
    This is just "stamping out" by another name. The worst of all possible worlds for the animals and for the farmer.
    Killing vaccinates rather than keeping them together would seem to make no sense. Anyone who has understood Notes on Vaccination and Transmission will see why. We are depressed to see mention of "suppressive" vaccination in the brief.
    We notice too from Fred Landeg's presentation to the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), ( pdf in Brussels yesterday made no mention of vaccination in the presentation but did give further details - for example that the first lesions were dated 26th July and the clinical symptoms- first noticed on the sick animals on 29th July- were reported the following Thursday 2nd August. FMD was confirmed the next day and it became public knowledge that Friday night.
    As we know, Member States are allowed to proceed straight away with emergency vaccination. No permission needs to be sought from the EU. The updated brief may be possibly be preparing us for something.

August 9 ~ Dutch Socialist Party MP backs vaccination and calls for EU policy to be changed to make vaccination compulsory

    Krista van Velzen wants to see preventative vaccination against Foot-and-Mouth Disease made compulsory. She was quoted (Tuesday) in the online edition of the SP (Dutch Socialist Party) newspaper: "The outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Great Britain has once again made it clear that the current EU policy is wrong" adding that there is no support in the Netherlands for such animal-unfriendly policies. The Dutch MP is calling on agriculture minister Gerta Verburg to put the argument at European level for compulsory vaccination. (Many thanks to Brent for this link)
    It may be remembered that Dutch farmers, having been promised that their vaccination policy in 2001 was to allow animals to live, were then appalled to learn that all vaccinates were going to be slaughtered after all. An eminent Dutch vet from Utrecht, Peter Poll, said at the Bristol Conference in England in 2001 that he thought it very likely that the Dutch veterinary associations themselves " will no longer cooperate in an eradication programme as carried out in Spring 2001" .

August 9 ~ "Some days I've taken 12 showers" says Dr. John Copps, deputy director of the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Winnepeg

    From ".....Dr. Copps..... who is monitoring the outbreak in Britain that may have been caused by a lab breach.... "Anything they learn, we'll try learn from them." .... says the federal lab near downtown Winnipeg, which houses the only live foot-and-mouth virus in Canada, has the advantage of being much newer and farther from farms than the British lab under investigation. "Some days I've taken 12 showers," he says, as evidence of the multi-layered safety procedures at the Manitoba lab, home to some of the nastiest diseases on earth."

August 9 ~ New cull involves "suspected"cows - but also sheep, pigs and goats at a farm advertised as "free range"

    From the moderator (AS) at ProMed today. "We are informed by ProMED-mail rapporteur Joe Dudley that according to local media reports, the new culling operation involves cows, sheep, pigs and goats at a farm in the village of Normandy, Surrey. The farm is advertised on the web as a producer and vendor of "free range" pork/bacon, beef/veal, lamb, and mutton products.
    Culling of other susceptible species on suspected or confirmed-infected premises does not necessarily mean that these animals have been found infected; possibly, the suspicion involves bovines. Details are expected to be included in UK's follow-up report to the OIE.
    All 3 outbreaks so far -- including the new one, which at this stage is regarded as suspected -- are located in the village of Normandy. An additional cattle herd was culled in Elstead, about 7 km south of Normandy, in a 2nd farm property of the owner of the index farm. There are, thus, 2 protection zones.." Read in full
    Feeling sickened, we await test results. One wonders if all the susceptible animals have been killed or just the cows.

August 9 ~ EU says restrictions are to stay in place at least until 25 August.

    Brussels says that the situation has not yet "stabilised" since culling at a third farm was ordered yesterday afternoon. A European Commission spokesman said it would be "premature" to alter the EU measures and EU vets will gather in Brussels on Thursday 23rd August to assess the situation. See EUobserver
    It should be remembered that at this stage we do not know how the virus got into the country around the Pirbright labs and we do not even know which was the index case. We will post the results of the tests on yesterday's culled animals as soon as we can find them.

August 9 ~ Cracked Mirror

    A very unpleasant article in the Mirror this morning is an example of how some journalists are tarring all farmers with the same old smear of being heartless and greedy. The Mirror is read by around one and a half million people. Yet again one feels great concern that the decent, hard-working family farmers - those that are hanging on despite terrible economic hardship - are, on top of all their other worries - being reviled as well. An extract from a private email today gives an example of a farmer who can only keep going by working at another part time job as well. And this is common now; (another reason why the RPA situation is so scandalous) :
      "...tired - trying to make some hay with very tired equipment and old tractor - nothing 10 or 15 k wouldn't fix quite quickly but.... fed up with farm, fmd, overtime at work to pay for farm eqpt - most days it all seems worthwhile, others -well, lets not dwell on those. Yesterday was one of those.."
    Particularly disgraceful in the article was the suggestion that the grief of the Surrey farmers was not genuine. In spite of its evident support for vaccination, we found the whole piece one of the nastiest attempts to deepen the chasm between town and country that we have seen since 2001. As Huw Rowlands, a Cheshire farmer, wrote yesterday, it is time a distinction was made in the public mind between the powerful agri-business interests who are not representative of all farmers and the real farmers who often have no representation at all.

August 8 ~ Of course vaccination should have been the immediate reaction for all susceptible animals considered to be at risk.

    The EU FMD vaccine bank contained (and stilll contains?) some 5 million doses of O1 BFS 67 vaccine in the form of highly concentrated inactivated antigen stored over liquid nitrogen. In this case the vaccine has to be formulated and bottled by Merial, which will take a couple of days only. The much respected Hugh Pennington notwithstanding, talk of not using vaccination "yet" or "until things get out of control" may one day be looked back on with utter incomprehension. The CVO in her very brief press conference today did not allow the V-word to pass her lips - and nor was she asked by any of those press who could get a word in. But vaccination should have started at the perimeter of the Surveillance zone and quickly worked inwards. The first round could have been completed on day one. Contemplating the days passing without it is a bitter frustration.
    Meanwhile, television shows us shimmering pictures of marksmen with their rifles (humane slaughter or medieval butchery?) walking away away from the infected area still wearing their 'protective' suits. So much for biosecurity.
    It is very apparent that DEFRA is being advised and negotiated with by the big players. Their reasons for not wanting vaccination are well known and well described today by the Scotsman - but union leaders know little about infectious disease or what needs to be done to eradicate the disease beyond the crude term "stamping out". Policy is created by a powerful group at DEFRA's shoulder, while DEFRA chooses to interpret good diagnostic information from the Vet labs without using the expertise within these labs for shaping their policy.

August 8 ~ There's more at stake than paying compensation to farmers if Pirbright is found to be responsible for the leak

    Part of our very wobbly translation of this Swiss report account from Tagesschau this afternoon is as follows:
      "..... Veterinary experts from the 27 Member States of the European Union have met in Brussels to discuss the UK's foot and mouth situation. With EU Commission experts they discussed whether preventative measures should be intensified or eased. Independent British invsetigators ...warned of hasty assumptions. "There is no definitive answer to the question of where the virus came from" - but the likely probablity is that it came from one of two laboratories in Pirbright 60 kilometres from London.
      The point whether Pirbright will be able to remain a reference laboratory of the European Union for all FMD work, bluetongue illness and vesicular illnesses, has not yet been discussed. This year the British laboratory has received (the equivalent of ) approximately 773 thousand euros towards its work."
    Could we be seeing the end of Pirbright as a World Reference Laboratory? (No wonder everyone in Government circles wants Merial - whose safety report in February was satisfactory - to turn out to have been the party at fault.)
    We notice today that New Zealand's director of MAF's investigation and diagnostic centres, Hugh Davies, has said that no foot-and-mouth samples are kept in New Zealand because there are kits which can diagnose the virus in other ways." And it may well be that the days of Pirbright's monopoly for FMD diagnosis is drawing to an end anyway.

August 8 ~ Restrictions eased for movement to slaughter and for fallen stock for "certain parts of the country"

    We know no more detail at 3.30 pm. It sounds as though farmers may need to go on line to get the general licence but at 3.30 there were no news releases on the DEFRA site for today and nothing we could find about this - although we'd welcome information from those luckier in their searches. It has been disappointing in this crisis that mainstream reporters have often seemed favoured with information before so many people who are directly involved - very many of whom are not the sort of farmers who are represented by the agri-business unions. These unions - and especially the NFU are certainly in the loop if not actually directing the loop's curve. But there are many very anxious tenant farmers, smallholders and animal owners who are not getting official information and are not being consulted. There is a lot of speculation that this movement easing is because DEFRA has suddenly realised that farmers are going to break the regulations out of sheer necessity - so, like the footpath question - they have seen the wisdom of changing a decision that may have been ill advised. However the CVO insisted the change was due to her own veterinary assessment.
    UPDATE: Debby Reynolds (with the NFU's Kevin Pearce there too ) has just given a press conference. Eased movements for everywhere outside the two zones. More bad news Slaughter on suspicion , a phrase we'd hoped never to hear again, is about to take place on "an adjacent farm" and " I cannot rule out that disease is developing on the premises." The CVO would not tell reporters any more and could not give any details of the animals that will now die. No mention of any test result for them. She referred people to the website for more information. (Which finally updated with brief notes of today's news at 5.04)

August 8 ~ Allotment is out of the picture

    The Merial staff member who accompanied investigators to his allotment is said by a Merial statement to be uninvolved in any leak. There is no evidence at all to link that member of staff to any leak, they say. They add that media attention (and we can all picture what they mean) camped outside the person's house is "unhelpful". So we are left with the following possibilities.
    • The wind transfer suggestion has no evidence to support it (The 1981outbreak was that was supposedly windborn was certainly an individual carrying it on the Ferry to the Isle of Wight - not windborne).
    • Flood from a storm drain with material not heat inactivated before disposal is possible. - bad lab. practice
    • Sabotage : indeed possible -for a variety of possible reasons

August 8 ~ Continued reliance on the NFU as an authority is perverting coverage

    When one listens to such broadcasts as this (Sky) on vaccination one has to take a few deep breaths. Hugh Pennington pops up yet again saying that we'd vaccinate if the outbreak got "out of control" - whereas ring vaccination is precisely what prevents this. We are reminded again of Jonathan Miller's exasperation today
      "....Another crime scene is the newsrooms of the national media who are blundering about oaf-like on this story. The word "vaccination" was banned from the BBC 6 o'clock national news program yesterday. Sky has a very pretty girl outside Pirbright who knows the square root of fuck all about FMD and would struggle to define or even spell epizootic. Sky has a medical correspondent who seems to be getting around this, but their continued reliance on the NFU as an authority is perverting their coverage and making them look ever more naive and stupid. ..."
    It is time that our pundits understood one basic fact at least. That is that an animal that has been vaccinated cannot become a "carrier" (misnomer) unless it has already been be exposed to wild, live FMD virus. That is why vaccination should have begun at once, starting from the outside of the zone and working in. There has been no evidence anywhere of outbreaks having been caused by vaccinated animals acting as "carriers". (I have the authority to say this because I have been working on this subject, unpaid and unswayed by any interest, every single day for the last six years.) No vaccinated animal has ever hampered any FMD eradication efforts anywhere in the world.
    As for the general chorus of praise for DEFRA one must just point out that information for local people has been very much lacking, ring vaccination is not being openly and authoritatively debated, information on the infectivity of the strain and its characteristics are woefully lacking, and secrecy seems to pervade the department even now. The usual David King response of waiting for animals to develop symptoms and then killing them has been in evidence ever since Saturday. The NFU appears next to the chief vet at Defra news conferences, and no pronouncement that would not get NFU approval seems ever to be aired except on websites such as this. We hate to say it when we'd had such hopes - but something is still rotten in the state of Defra.

August 8 ~ Culling is solely to protect our beef export industry, whilst supermarkets happily continue importing beef from FMD endemic countries

    Huw Rowlands, a Cheshire farmer writes to make the distinction between agri business (represented by the NFU) and the agriculture of family farms firmly based in and contributing to the rural economy.
      "....Culling infected animals is intended solely to protect our beef export industry, whilst supermarkets happily continue importing beef from countries such as Brazil, where foot-and-mouth disease is endemic. Can anyone explain the sense in this? And what about the contribution towards climate change of needlessly shipping vast quantities of meat around the globe?.." Read in full

August 8 ~ No punches pulled

    The journalist, Jonathan Miller, has an outspoken (and blessedly funny) blog whose illustrations alone are worth a visit. However, he has some pungent remarks today on the opaque nature of the HSE report (which he deconstructs for us), speculation about the desk upon which the buck should finally stop, remarks that we would never have dared to make about the quality of reporting in the mainstream media, and - this is the most worrying of all perhaps - the extraordinary article written by Sir Brian Follett in the Sunday Times. It seems almost incredible that Sir Brian, who heard, in the course of the RS Inquiry, all the most pertinent remarks concerning the 2001 epidemic and was privy to the carefully reasoned arguments of the real scientists, should have written such an article unless pressure was applied. Jonathan Miller says,
      ".....the suspicion of spin always too close.... I am working on a list of the 10 top things about FMD..... An early candidate for the top most stupid thing is from Sir Brian Follett in The Sunday Times who sagely declares: "the reason we slaughter animals is because, in island countries, it works. We can keep the virus out."
      This is pretty delusional, isn't it Sir Brian? "
    As for Sir Brian's arguments, they have all been convincingly refuted and we will publish this as soon as we get the green light.

August 8 ~ " I stopped eating my cornflakes and wondered how Catlow would respond.."

    On the subject of the Talking Heads wheeled in by the media, Nick Green, the Cumbrian hero of 2001, has just been watching the interview this morning with David Catlow, the BVA vet: "The BBC presenter then asked Catlow, "Why do we conduct the research into FMD vaccine in this country when that is clearly a threat to the local farming community and when we never use the FMD vaccines here in the UK?"
    An excellent question. I stopped eating my cornflakes and wondered how Catlow would respond...." Read in full

August 8 ~ Vets and government officials were last night debating whether to start vaccinating

    The Guardian reveals that vaccination may be a little closer. This would be emergency vaccination (to live, we hope and assume) of cattle in the exclusion area rather than contiguous culling. (Although we have seen no official report anywhere, the killing of the animals on the smallholding, see below, later showed no virus present.) The Guardian:"The consensus is that vaccination is the most effective way of halting infection if the disease spreads to other areas. This becomes more likely the more outbreaks there are."
    If these outbreak really can be isolated, if rapid on-site testing really is finally being used by the government (albeit very quietly), if vaccination is going to be used at last to protect animals and farmers from the utter misery we have seen this week, warmwell can fold its tents and have a rest at last.

August 8 ~ No news is good news

    In spite of a rumour that had reached our ears yesterday, there are no reports of new cases anywhere yet. Interest still focuses on how the virus could have escaped. Who actually owns the Pirbright land now seems important, particularly if drains were responsible. If Merial only rents their part then it does look as though legally the IAH - for whom we have a lot of sympathy in view of the way they have been starved of funds - may find itself responsible since Merial has said it does not release water from the shared Pirbright site. "We ensure that the water we use in our virus production is treated. We then transfer it to the IAH who treat it further and release it." (See BBC)
    There is speculation too that a worker at the Pirbright site may have released virus into the countryside via his allotment. The map does show a stream passing from the allotments, through the paddock, by the nursery/compost/animal feed farm toward Willey Green and then north toward Pirbright.

August 7/8 2007 ~ A prototype on-site rapid diagnostic machine is being used in Surrey

    Extraordinary news. Certainly not generally known. A very impressed Bryn Wayt has sent this email to many contacts. "... a very nice and helpful lady vet and phoned and confirmed that, "a prototype RT-PCR unit had been used on the first IP, and the VO on the second site would be using it." His email is worth reading in full. We feel the manufacturer is irrelevant - as long as rapid test results can be obtained before the long wait for lab confirmation.
    As for the question about whether the strain would have been needed in order to test the cattle at Woolfords farm with a portable machine - we are told that it does not matter what sort of FMD virus is involved. One test detects them all. It appears that Pirbright has been doing quite a bit behind the scenes with portable devices. And the very good news is that the whole portable PCR field will be transformed with very cheap machines that are highly automated within the year.
    We find this news exciting - but once again, it has to be teased out and we are very grateful indeed both to those who ask the searching questions - and those who give the answers.

August 7/8 ~ Was it Bill or was it Ben?

    HSE initial report
      ".... large scale production at the Merial site (10 000 litres) and a series of small scale experiments (less than 10 millilitres in each case) at the IAH site.....We have initiated further studies intended to provide additional molecular information on the virus types in use at both organisations. ... detailed technical analysis... results are ...expected within a week.
    There would have been differences between the viruses used in the two different labs. (Virus for vaccine production is modified compared to the "field virus") With recent technology it should be possible to determine the lab of origin. And the choice of lab to investigate - because of IAH's monopoly - looks likely to be limited to one. Stranger than any fiction is that the key suspect should be the only one able to carry out the forensic investigation. (The HSE have served five notices on the Institute's two labs Pirbright and Compton, for breaching safety rules in the past four years.)

August 7 2007 ~ The two farms' cleansing and disinfection is to be paid for, says Hilary Benn, "due to the exceptional circumstances"

    Gordon Brown has been careful to apologise to the farmers and promise help - and to thank everyone for their cooperation. But no word at all on vaccination. No question asked on that. The revised zones can be found at DEFRA's announcement

August 7 2007 ~ HSE initial report statement released - accidental or deliberate human activity suspected

    Neither lab has been pinpointed as the culprit but the balance tips towards IAH. Initial report points: Merial and IAH experiments have been mentioned. No evidence that there were breakdowns in the filters. They are still pursuing "lines of enquiry"...pipework and structure. Potential for virus to have escaped via humans, contaminated material might have travelled between the site and the farm. Very much an interim report - They have found no major gap in security. Unfortunately the SKY presenter does not realise that the Merial production of vaccine will not be posing any risk sine no live virus is used in the making of the 300,000 doses of vaccine ordered for possible use. Wind and flooding apparently virtually ruled out. The Sun this morning made rather more definite remarks claiming that decontamination rules were flouted regularly. The presence of builders on the site was not mentioned.
    Peter Kendall (NFU) has appeared on television and duly made the expected angry remarks - although Pirbright does not make the bureaucratic difficulties for farmers and one feels a sympathy for the underfunded Institute, once such a hugely respected centre of excellence for foot and mouth.

August 7 ~ The Netherlands order vaccine - and are inspecting every imported animal (Translation) 6.44 pm " The Dutch minister has ordered 265,000 doses of vaccines. And has asked the Food Safety Authority to stand by for a possible vaccination campaign. It does not however mean that a decision to start vaccinating has been taken."
    No signs of FMD have yet been found in the Netherlands, "according to a spokesperson for the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. The VWA has been busy since Saturday carrying out checks of livestock at the 150 companies that have been involved in about 380 livestock transports between the Netherlands and Great Britain since the beginning of June. The VWA spokesperson expects that the last inspections will be carried out on Wednesday. The VWA has commissioned veterinarians to carry out the checks. The doctors are examining every animal for symptoms of the disease. They are also taking random blood tests. No symptoms of FMD have been found in the past few days." ( Source. Thanks for this link to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis )

August 7 ~ Media concentration on 'who is to blame' and mention of "compensation" is a red herring for decent farmers

    There is controlled anger as well as the much mentioned"nervousness". Here is a West Country sheep farmer all too aware of the bitter paradoxes of the non-vaccination policy:
      "As a livestock farmer myself, with cattle, sheep and goats on my farm, I am angry to find myself trapped between two contradictory policies relating to FMD.  On the one hand, I am barred by the State from protecting my animals by vaccinating them against this unpleasant but non fatal disease that only affects cloven hoofed animals (not humans).  I am allowed, even encouraged, to vaccinate my animals against a wide range of other diseases.
      If my animals contract FMD, this non fatal disease, or if the livestock on a nearby farm are even suspected of having contracted this non fatal disease, they will be killed by DEFRA slaughter men, probably in circumstances far from humane.
      My only defence against my animals suffering this fate is to 'exercise bio security measures'; primarily to prevent any contact with my animals from the world outside.  On the other my animals from the world outside.  On the other hand, I am told by the State, that the rural tourist industry is much more valuable than my activities as a livestock farmer; and that consequently I must not prevent persons from the outside from walking along the footpaths through my fields...." Read in full
    DEFRA now (6.08 pm) finally announces that footpaths in the immediate area will now be closed off.

August 7 2007 ~ Brigadier Birtwhistle can only cite "consumer confidence" as an argument against vaccination

    Regular readers will be sharing our dismay and disillusionment at the recurrence of arguments that were soundly put to rest in 2001, especially in the mouth of the respected Brigadier Birtwhistle on BBC News 24 this evening.He said vaccination would be difficult because consumers would not want to eat vaccinated products. It is simply not true.
    Even in 2001, research from Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) showed that eight out of ten people in the UK, or 83% to be precise, said that they were not any less likely to consider buying and eating British produced meat as a result of the FMD crisis. That was then. Now we have seen far more good sense spoken about the eating of vaccinated meat - something most of us do all the time. Even Sir John Krebs is an ally here:
      "The Food Standards Agency was unambiguous in its view that vaccination would not pose a food safety risk and that, since farm animals are regularly vaccinated against numerous diseases, there was no need to label products. If the industry was correct in assuming that people would not want meat and milk from vaccinated animals, there does seem to me to be a bit of a paradox." Wooldridge Lecture 2003

August 7 2007 ~ "authorities will indeed find it easier to avoid massive stamping-out strategies." Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE

    Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE itself, is in favour of vaccination to treat animal disease. In his Preface to the Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz., 2002, 21 (3), 417-123 he writes of the OIE's "...recognition of new diagnostic tests capable of distinguishing infected animals from those that have been vaccinated (particularly when emergency ring vaccination is used to prevent the disease from spreading within a country or zone), that can be used for mass epidemiological screening of animal populations.....
    The amendments to the FMD chapter in the Code ... provide alternatives to stamping-out without vaccination ....considerably reducing the period of embargo on countries that resort to emergency vaccination but do not slaughter vaccinated animals,
    by using the new diagnostic tests on the herds involved, (proving) that the virus is not in circulation, means that authorities will indeed find it easier to avoid massive stamping-out strategies. "
    His views - unlike ours - can hardly be discounted. Protection zones have again been extended this afternoon. We, like Director General Vallat, can only hope that there will be enough calm and reasoned arguments to overwhelm the old "cure by killing" mindset, here in the UK. The sight of weeping farmers is something we just cannot bear when the alternatives are so patently there.

August 7 2007 ~ "... the classical scenario to use vaccination successfully without, in the long term, compromising the export status of the whole of the UK."

    Email today from a farmer whose experience is extensive both with livestock and with animal health matters. She is also one of the few who has a full grasp of the EU Directive. She, too, has been alarmed by the article in the Farmers Weekly mentioned below in which a vet, rather oddly dubbed "independent", claims he is "adamant the government should still refrain from vaccination". This article will have been highly influential and there were no counter-arguments made. Our correspondent points out:
      "The products of vaccinated animals could easily be marketed within the area - and besides saving animals from being destroyed, the risk of transmitting the virus out of the restricted zones could be minimized.
      This is still to be considered a localized outbreak and if this outbreak should spread beyond the boundaries of the protection zones it might be only controllable by measures that were already scandalous in 2001. Every additional animal that gets infected enhances the risk and by the time clinical signs are obvious the virus is already on the move to claim the next victim.
      The Government should stop listening to useless "consultants" and use vaccination before it is too late.
    These are arguments that should be in the public domain - especially for farmers who may be hearing only the views of the anti-vaccination talking heads.

August 7 2007 ~" These cattle do not benefit at all from all the work on FMD vaccines done on their doorstep..."

    Anne Bosanquet has sent us the letter she has written to Abigail Woods, following Dr Woods' Guardian article today
      Extract of her letter: "....surely the point is, these cattle, in the immediate area under threat of contracting this highly infectious disease, do not benefit at all from all the work on FMD vaccines done on their doorstep. Although they are at risk from escaped pathogens, the vaccines produced here are for the benefit of foreign beasts and not our own. I thought the improvements in the latest FMD vaccines was that tests could now discriminate between infected and vaccinated cattle -so why cannot our own cattle be afforded this protection now?"
    Mrs Bosanquet very kindly writes to warmwell: "Part of the reason that vaccination is being contemplated at all, (in the teeth of economic pressures from the usual suspects) is the sheer pressure and reasoned quality of your own website. We all know that what happened last time was absolutely intolerable and that needs to be articulated to politicians again and again and again. If ever there was a case for vaccination it's this one."

August 7 2007 ~ Disposal -best scientific analysis deems it necessary to carry carcases 90 miles on roads?

    Dr Iain Anderson, (Lessons Learned report) who opined on BBC 24 today that we were "in very much better shape" than last time, gave it as his view that the "best scientific analysis" must have decided the solution of taking the killed animals 90 miles by public road. He appeared somewhat surprised by the interviewer's suggestion that perhaps it was a political decision to avoid the repetition of easily photographed pyres, recalling the horrors of 2001.
    On-farm burial has been asked for in the Protection Zone. It would be reassuring to know that all alternatives have been considered as per Article of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Standards Commission (Unofficial version of the Meeting in Paris 2-13 October 2006 Report)
      "Decision makers, in addition to biosecurity considerations, need to understand the economic, social and aesthetic impact of various disposal technologies....A disposal option hierarchy may be incapable of fully capturing and systematizing the relevant dimensions at stake, and decision makers may be forced to consider the least preferred means. It therefore requires a comprehensive understanding of any array of dead animal disposal technologies and must reflect a balance between the scientific, economic, and social issues at stake."
    (Still no mention of vaccination in the past few hours, no emails or texts are mentioning vaccination, it would seem. No interviews with vaccination experts.)
UPDATE: We now hear that the closest incineration plant to the protection zone (Harry Hawkins) was unavailable because there were animals still on site "posing another disease risk, and logistical problems"; the second nearest shut down for repairs (Canterbury Mills); next closest actually was the Wessex plant in Frome. It would have been helpful if this had been made public.

August 7 2007 ~ Report by Health and Safety on Pirbright due very soon

    It has, we understand, been handed to the Ministers concerned (Correction. It was still being compiled at 5.00 pm) - and we wait to hear what its findings are. In spite of some degree of improvement in openness ( as described here) what are described as "the legal and political implications" may, it is feared, prevent details of the findings of the report being made public.
    The report has been "delayed" - not altogether unexpected but this delay is "for no particular reason" we were told at about 5.00 pm.
    It seems highly unfair to IAH Pirbright to be pre-empting the findings by suggesting in the media how "angry" everyone is likely to be. The Institute has been consistently deprived of funding in recent years - partly because of the RPA debacle. Neither security nor morale can be high in such circumstances. (Like many others, we find it unfortunate that journalists must sell news by finding the most dramatic way of presenting it rather than giving balanced information at such times. The BBC used to be cherished for its fair and balanced reporting.)

August 7 2007 ~ There are 75 farms with 750 cattle, 1,500 sheep and 200 pigs in the Protection Zone - they could all be vaccinated within 24 hours

    We are reliably told that it should be possible to get the most-at-risk animals vaccinated within 24 hours using just 3 or 4 vaccination teams.. However, there is no debate on vaccination at the moment on BBC News 24. It may be felt odd, by many readers, that Prof. Pennington, an undoubted expert in his own field, is considered an authority in this field. He has apparently said that they might not have the right vaccine, as it is an imported virus. And to suggest that "we don't know which animals to vaccinate" is bizarre. We are astonished too by the words of "independent vet consultant Tony Andrews" quoted - without challenge- by the usually excellent Farmers' Weekly. The Uruguay experience in 2001 speaks for itself - but that was six years ago and things have moved on even further. Why are the newspapers not asking the real experts with practical experience in the field?
    It is unthinkable that this is because no one knowledgeable is talking urgently about it.
    It should not be forgotten that the still unlevel playing field rules that make vaccination the poor relation as far as the resumption of exports are concerned (six month wait as opposed to three months without vaccination) apply only to the carefully delineated region that has made use of emergency vaccination. It would not apply to the whole country. Does anyone dispute this? The grief and misery of both farmers involved in Surrey is very real - and the infection of this too is horribly likely to spread unless humane measure are put in place right away.
    We really do hope that DEFRA is taking blood samples regularly. In the Netherlands, blood samples of 19,000 animals have already been taken - and of course it goes without saying that this is done responsibly with precautions taken to make sure that any possible virus is not carried to the next clean farm. There are less than 3,000 animals in the most-at-risk area in Surrey.

August 7 2007 ~ Consternation that Trading Standards in the Protection Zone have told farmers they may not close footpaths

    Farmers in the Protection Zone immediately around the outbreaks have "begged" Hilary Benn and Gordon Brown to close paths - but according to the landowner, Lawrence Matthews, on whose grazed land the second outbreak has been confirmed told BBC News that there is no sign of closure at all. As he says, we don't even know which is the index case. Chris Huhne told News 24 that both he and Menzies Campbell had asked Gordon Brown on Saturday to close paths. He expressed himself "very concerned".

August 7 2007 ~ ".... if a veterinary risk assessment shows that measures additional to the basic slaughter policy were required...."

    One wonders who is giving the veterinary risk assessment here. The line above is taken from the stock reply received by those begging the CVO to begin vaccinating Here. Can the mind-set really still the same as that in 2001? After six long years of patient argument? The case for vaccinating now is so evident - and if it were done properly and swiftly there would be no need for further talk of culling on non-infected premises. Once again, we urge a thorough and patient look at the paper vaccination and transmission which was written by a world expert now at EU FMD.

August 7 2007 ~ "Who would notice the infection in deer? Does DEFRA have a plan?"

    An emailer asks some urgent questions about the effect of flooding at the Pirbright site and the likelihood that wild deer will indeed have been exposed to infection. (see also below) He asks what clearly identifiable symptoms they have - or do they, like sheep in 2001, fight off the disease without anyone noticing?
    (We understand that clinical disease is mild or inapparent in the red and fallow deer but more severe in the roe deer. The appearance and distribution of the lesions are similar to those in sheep - but see the paper cited below)
    "Who does DEFRA expect to inspect wild deer and report symptoms and to whom? What is their plan for containing the spread of FMD in deer?" Like many others, he expresses a wish for far more information to come from DEFRA. Many smaller farmers are starved of news and feel unrepresented - and are anyway are doing vital work on the farm and are far too busy taking advantage of the weather to be glued to the internet (if they even have it).

August 6/7 2007 ~ Not good news. Clinical signs found in another herd.
            NOW will you vaccinate?

    Another herd has been identified with clinical signs within the larger protection zone. Debby Reynolds has ordered that the herd be culled as soon as practicable. As an emailer comments , if as many as 39 of the Woolfords cattle really tested positive for disease "it may be that this has rumbled around longer than a week or so. That is not good news, if this small farm is not the index case."
    This is the very moment that emergency ring vaccination of all susceptible animals starting from the outside of the surveillance zone should begin. The 67 strain, now designated FMDV-O1 BFS 1860/UK/67, was particularly prone to air-borne spread and could even still be air-borne. (Rounding up the now possibly infected roe deer that roam freely in the Protection Zone and killing them all in a pen would not prove easy, either. Vaccination is now urgent and essential.)
    UPDATE: Last night about fifty cows were killed at the second farm. This brings the total already slaughtered to about 150. Samples have been "taken to a laboratory" for testing.
    We have had six years to get, validate and refine on-site rapid diagnostic tests. It has not been done. Clinical examination - even where symptoms are apparent - is no substitute for an efficient swift testing of all animals in the protection zone.
    On the theory of spread by flooding, a map-reading emailer queries whether the virus could have been carried uphill by flood water...

August 6/7 2007 ~ CNN presenter says Vaccination hides disease -

    A CNN World News Europe presenter, in covering the latest news about the FMD outbreak in the UK gave some "background information" about FMD: "the only way to stop an outbreak is by culling. Vaccination is not popular because it hides the disease". Hearing this does rather deprive one of the will to live. .. Unfortunately it is often people who direct public opinion who spout such things with such apparent authority. (Ben Bradshaw too apparently clings to this belief) - yet its repetition cannot make it any less misleading. We can only, yet again, refer to the experts on virology. When a few months ago the Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton also unwisely told the Countess of Mar (Hansard) that vaccination "could spread the disease further and thus be dangerous", Dr Colin Fink wrote
      " Mary, As I am sure that you know, this is complete and utter rubbish and shows that all the 'Virologists' invented by Fred Landeg in Page Street, in answer to a question from the Countess of Mar are a myth. DEFRA cannot be allowed to go on peddling this mis-information with such arrogance and insularity. They cannot even advise their representatives properly and know nothing of how vaccines work. You may publish this comment if you wish - I am angry about this."
    Read Dr Fink's email in full. It is important that an expert practising virologist's understanding about vaccination is seen. We also refer people again to the very important paper written for warmwell in 2001 on vaccination and transmission

August 6/7 2007 ~ Bio-security was "fairly relaxed"

    On the question of what Professor Brian Spratt may discover at Pirbright, this extract from The Dairy Farmer of August 2001 is relevant - if the same situation still exists:
      "..... Ex-Pirbright employees visited pubs at weekends, and used farm footpaths, despite a requirement of quarantine after handling viruses. They described bio-security as 'fairly relaxed'. ...
      Pirbright was experimenting with FMD virus last year. Three trials were at Level 2, and considered "mainly safe", but also listed was 'Genetic Manipulation of Foot and Mouth disease', (Ref. 53trans/1) at Levels 3 & 4. (Note the Ref numbers were the same for the two projects)
      I understand level 4 work is bio-weapons. .... "
    while a page that has been on warmwell for five years now adds authority to the extract above.
    The Western Morning News (Monday): "It seems ironic that the very institution designed to protect animal health appears to be at the centre of the latest outbreak of foot and mouth disease. We should be concerned that what has until now been seen as a world-class institution could possibly have undermined its own work. .... Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle, who was at the heart of the 2001 FMD epidemic, was right when he said that if the Government didn't get to the heart of the problem promptly 'the country will never forgive them twice'."

August 6 2007 ~ As part of Defra's contingency plan and in order to ensure full preparedness, 300,000 doses of strain-specific vaccine have been ordered from the UK's vaccine bank, to be made up from antigen. No decision has been taken on whether or not to use the vaccine.

    The Defra website gives Key points set out by Debby Reynolds Vaccination teams are to move into the area but the CVO stresses that " this is not an indication that a decision has been taken to vaccinate. It has not."
    Professor Brian Spratt will begin his review into biosecurity arrangements at the Pirbright site tomorrow. Included in the evidence will be the outcome of the immediate investigation currently being carried out by officials from the HSE, Defra, and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Production of vaccine will be carried out at the Merial laboratory "..obviously we would not be doing this without careful consideration and assessment of the risks. Producing vaccine from antigen does not involve use of live virus."

August 6 2007 ~" I am so fed up with the B...idiots who sent the FMD carcasses by road, 90 miles, when the rest of us have been told no movement."

    "Somehow they don't associate risk of spread with driving 90 miles through farmland with livestock in the fields." This comment has just arrived and will, no doubt, be being echoed up and down the country - particularly along the 90 mile route from Elstead to Frome. (The Farmers' Guardian report by Alastair Driver confirmed today that the slaughtered cows had indeed been sent off to the Wessex Incineration plant, at Frome. ) Another FG report today tells us that despite varying reports on the minimum length of time the movement restrictions will be in place - no timeframe has been put in place for any lifting of them.

August 6 2007 ~ "Because the animals were infected with the very vaccine strain itself, the vaccine should be the absolute perfect match."

    icWales (link mended, apologies) quotes Dr Ruth Watkins speaking today outside the Pirbright laboratory
      "..Because the animals were infected with the very vaccine strain itself, the vaccine should be the absolute perfect match. The vaccine should work as well or better than any could work."
      She said vaccination is "very important", and works as well as culling.
      "I think the world was disgusted with us last time to see us kill so many animals and incinerate them (vaccination) is a way of controlling the infection and eliminating it while minimising the number of animals that have to be culled." And "If you get to economics it must be cheaper," she added.

August 6 2007 ~ 104 redundancies since 2005 - " a risk that we will lose critical expertise"

    (Correction: This may have been misleading. The 104 redundancies were in the IAH as a whole, so this presumably included Compton and Edinburgh - but the cuts are no less damaging for that)
    "Year on year, we are able to do less science or we are able to employ less people and this is an area of work that spans from foot an"d mouth through to bluetongue virus, ....We are forced to look at this whole of our activity to see where we can juggle the research, so there is a risk that we will lose critical expertise. ..." Professor Martin Shirley of Pirbright.
    In November last year, Professor Shirley was answering questions about the effect of the cuts at the Institute. Thanks again to Jo Rider who draws our attention to this extract from the Research Council Institute's Fourth Report.

August 6 2007 ~ Still much to be revealed on virus escape

    Although both Merial and Pirbright have been very definite in their horrified denials of possible breaches of security, such an escape is , as we say below, not unprecedented. A ProMed moderator in the Aug 3 posting (and an informed reader was able to give detail) recalled the 1960 virus escape from Pirbright which was the presumed cause of FMD infection on a farm one mile from Pirbright.
      "Following this incident, disease security measures were improved and air filtration was introduced to the isolation units." (Source: Animal Health, A Centenary 1865-1965, pp 149-150.)
    Rumour has also reached warmwell of air conditioning/bio security breakdowns at Merial - we think in late June this year. Depending on the ambient temperature of the facility, any 'escaped' spores would plume if it was colder outside, and could then blow miles in the wind. Anxiety remains. As for the presence of builders at the Pirbright site, Dr Paul Sutmoller, chair Animal Health Committee, ELA - European Livestock Association, has just sent us the following:
      "If I remember well, the last bio-security break at Plum Island, infecting cattle in the holding area outside the laboratory occurred during a period of major constructions going on at the main laboratory. Jack Hyde may be able to comment."

August 6 ~ Fallen stock

    Again, thanks to the NPA website and Pat Gardner's ever eagle eyes. This is their advice to pig producers in the light of the movement restrictions
      "NPA will continue to press for burial rather than fallen stock collection. In the meantime:
    • If you can delay a collection, if only until Tuesday or Wednesday, please do. The issue may be clearer by then.
    • If you have someone who can pick up from an off-site collection area, this may not pose much risk - but the decision is yours.
    • Don't allow collection if the collector has to come on the farm. Make whatever disposal arrangements you deem most sensible given the current need for the best possible biosecurity.

August 6 ~ Start date 29/07/2007? The Saturday before the Thursday?

    There is at last a report on the OIE site Debby Reynolds has apparently reported that the "Start date" was 29/07/2007. The 29th of July? But that was the Saturday before the Thursday evening when "symptoms were reported to the local Animal Health office". Is this a mistake - or were symptoms actually noticed five days earlier? It matters.
    (Update. It has been suggested that the "start date" could be an estimate based on the assumed age of the lesions. The BBC today reports that "an investigation of the cuts on the mouths of the cows suggested that they were infected sometime between 18 and 22 July")

August 6 ~ "We need to know much, much more about Pirbright."

    The journalist Jonathan Miller, much in justifiably pugnacious evidence in 2001: "... If the questions are being asked at all, they are not being answered in public. .... It seems clear there were warnings - ignored - of an inherently unsatisfactory biosecurity environment. There seem to me also some commercial questions to consider ..... What exactly are these relationships? All these contracts are doubtless marked "commercially confidential". They will not want us to know....." Read in full
    And an email just arrived about the cuts in funding at Pirbright suggests that builders are - or were -working on the main laboratory complex. . One wonders if they too were asked to follow rules about showering and having no contact of any kind with susceptible animals for 3/5 days.
    UPDATE: We have received the following from Dr Paul Sutmoller: "If I remember well, the last bio-security break at Plum Island, infecting cattle in the holding area outside the laboratory occurred during a period of major constructions going on at the main laboratory. Jack Hyde may be able to comment. Dr Paul Sutmoller, chair Animal Health Committee, ELA - European Livestock Association"

August 6 2007 ~ "The UBI peptide-based vaccine/diagnostic system will be particularly attractive to FMD-free countries for defensive serosurveillance and for contingency plans for emergency vaccination in the event of an outbreak."

    Pirbright/Merial are not alone, of course, in producing vaccines. UBI's most advanced foot and mouth vaccine for pigs is described as having "clear-cut distinction of vaccinated from unvaccinated animals (VPI tests) and clear differentiation of vaccinated from convalescent animals". Moreover, they claim "absolute safety from biohazard risk, both during manufacture and use." (See UBI site) A similar vaccine for cattle is also under development.
    Intervet too produces modern inactivated FMD vaccines for cattle, buffalo, pigs, sheep and goats. Their vaccines of sufficient potency start to generate the first degree of protection after 2-3 days. More information - and useful, simply-expressed technical explanation is available from various pages on the Intervet website.
    We were concerned to hear that David Drew, Vice Chairman, no less, of the EFRA Select Committee was heard saying on Radio Gloucester that FMD vaccines "needed to be developed". Perhaps he was misreported but it hardly helps to give the impression that there are not already highly developed vaccines. Even those vaccines available in 2001 successfully eradicated in Uruguay an epidemic as extensive as our own when just vaccinating cattle alone led to the extinction of virus spread.
    UBI says "This growing worldwide market for FMD vaccines gives our peptide-based product potential blockbuster status" . (The suspicion is inescapable that 'potential blockbuster status' may be so coveted by UK commercial hunger that postponing UK FMD vaccination - even at a time of crisis - seems preferable to making use of a rival product.)

August 6 2007 ~ Did they shower? Did they ignore 3 or 5 day ruling?

    Within minutes of each other, two separate warmwell readers raise queries about the possibility that stringent security rules may have been ignored - or not enforced - at the Pirbright site. Email forum latest. "Surely, if it is dangerous for one of them to visit a farm within 5 days, wouldn't it also be dangerous to mingle with local farmers at a pub, or in a shop?...."

August 6 2007 ~ " the case for a humane, civilised and scientifically sound policy has strengthened over the past few years to the point where it is beginning to look unassailable"

    Magnus Linklater has kindly sent warmwell his article written for today's Times. He looks back shudderingly to six years ago when the "farming establishment closed ranks against any suggestion that there might be a more humane approach." On the question of vaccination, many readers will share our reaction to this gem:
      " I remember asking the government's chief scientist, Sir David King, to explain to me why it was not being considered. "I would need five hours to explain the science to you," he said. "Unfortunately I don't have that time." ...."
    But, " Let us not go back there, however. The fact is that there has been, since then, a sea change in attitudes within the Department ....the realisation that the science on which so many of those decisions in 2001 were based, was less sound than we were told..
    ..Again, there is no point in going back into that debate. What is important now is to record how far science has advanced in the meantime. There are accepted tests which can distinguish between infected and vaccinated animals....We know, too, that FMD "carriers" do not infect other animals... "pen-side" tests .. allow a vet to carry out on-the-spot checks to determine whether a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep have been infected, rather than having to send samples back to a laboratory. Rapid diagnosis of this kind means that biosecurity measures can be imposed immediately rather having to wait for the results of tests.
    ... vaccination can begin within that area as soon as it is available ...
    .... I cannot, hand on heart, say that the battle for the vaccine has been won. There are still those in Defra and elsewhere, who will argue for slaughter as the only effective response to this disease. But the case for a humane, civilised and scientifically sound policy has strengthened over the past few years to the point where it is beginning to look unassailable..." Read in full (or on Times website)

August 6 2007 ~ "Good that the Chair took soundings from different sectors. Less good was their reluctance to elucidate clearly the position re vaccination and on-site diagnostic testing..."

    Comment from a first hand report to warmwell from a key stakeholder who takes part in the telephone conferencing that has been going on behind the scenes. He spoke of a "far greater degree of openness and transparency" and is relieved that a formally constituted Expert Group (as opposed to an informal coincidental meeting of acquaintances) has minuted meetings available for public scrutiny - "all in large part due to the campaigning efforts of people who are likely to be reading this, whether in the UK, Brussels or further afield.." He adds that questions do remain unanswered, for example
      1. "Where it started (ok probably Merial) or when.
      2. How far it has spread by wind, water, fomites, wildlife etc
      3. Whether it was an accidental escape or other - if other, then where else?
      4. Vaccine efficacy presently unknown - as this has come from a vaccine escape, precisely what will best work against it? If a vaccine is used will NSP testing still be possible? If a suitable match can be found, how much of it is there?"
    He commented that we are heading towards the autumn at the end of a generally very wet summer - a bad time for the disease to strike. We may be in for a long haul; encouraging noises should be regarded with some scepticism - in 2001 everything was rosy until it wasn't... However, he felt that DEFRA was to be congratulated on their speedy and appropriate responses to date. "However, these may be early days...."

August 6 2007 ~ What is the difference between surveillance and protection zones

    Emails from the public now include a question from a concerned and supportive dairy farmer in the US about the difference between surveillance and protection zones. We reply that DEFRA's definition is that a "Protection Zone extends for at least 3km around the infected premises and a Surveillance Zone extends for at least 10 km around the infected premises. Within the Protection Zone all premises containing livestock will be inspected by veterinary inspectors and will be subject to restrictions. This reduces the chance of potentially infected material leaving the premises until the disease status can be determined. Within the Surveillance Zone all premises containing livestock will be subject to movement restrictions."

August 6 2007 ~ 39 animals only found positive so far. Contiguous culling instead of buffer zone vaccination is taking place

    At least 80 uninfected animals have been killed. The questions being asked everywhere - about vaccination and about why contiguous culling is already going on - do not seem to be getting clear answers. Why no buffer zone vaccination? The strain is known. Appropriate vaccine has - we assume - been produced at Merial since only the Pirbright site can be the source of the strain having escaped. Creating a buffer zone - as advised by David Holden and the Soil Association, for example (see also Peter Melchett in today's Guardian - seems the obvious and urgent thing to have done as soon as the strain was known. We are not hearing in the media any valid reasons for not doing so. Again and again we hear that emergency vaccination is being "considered". Brian Follett, interviewed on Saturday morning, said that the most important thing is "to do everything we can to stop it turning into a epidemic" and that knowing the strain was very important for a vaccination to live policy Many will be wondering why "everything we can" has not yet included vaccination since we now know only too well what the strain is.
    In the Farming Today interview with Debby Reynolds this morning we heard the good news that there are no new cases reported at present. The main thrust of the programme was to report the denials by both Merial and IAH Pirbright that the virus could have escaped because of any breach of security. Hardly the most burning question for farmers, one would have thought. Choosing not to vaccinate is a gamble. The public ought to be being told the economic and trade reasons why - even this time - pre-emptive contiguous culling is happening. Test results - that have to travel to the lab instead of being done on-site - are looked at only after the cattle are dead. Vaccination followed by differential tests would avoid this. We would again appreciate informed comment.

August 6 2007 ~"It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to note that terrorists of various sorts would be quick to try to take advantage of any faults or lapses in standards "

    From a Leading Article in today's Independent "..... The investigations that Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, has ordered into conditions at Pirbright and Merial will, we hope, establish whether the virus escaped from one or the other laboratory and if so, how. Possibly they will conclude that it was a freakish accident. But if they uncover lapses, the Government must act quickly to ensure that levels of biosecurity in these establishments are upgraded, and that uniform high standards are seen to prevail throughout the public and private sector. It doesn't take a conspiracy theorist to note that terrorists of various sorts would be quick to try to take advantage of any faults or lapses in standards in this field.
    Updating these facilities may take extra investment from the Government as well as from the commercial sector. So be it.."

August 5 2007 ~ This strain shows clinical signs quickly

    Latest information - not from DEFRA but from the NPA site again, following a conference call to "key stakeholders" by Hilary Benn . Extract: "01 BFS67-like virus is virulent. It has an incubation period of two to 14 days. So if any more animals are infected the clinical signs should show very soon after infection" and "Scotland has introduced a derogation allowing livestock keepers to bury fallen stock during the current crisis. NPA has urged Defra today to introduce a derogation where necessary in England......Ian Campbell told Hilary Benn today that fallen stock collection poses an unacceptable risk, but in this hot weather fallen stock will have to be disposed of quickly."

August 5 2007 ~ "Who is actually deciding what happens?"

    An email from a worried reader who evidently remembers the 1967 outbreak asks the pertinent question; "Who is actually deciding what happens?" and is confused by what seem to be conflicting media reports about vaccination and who decides. Our tentative answer can be seen here- but we welcome further informed comment.

August 5 2007 ~ New on DEFRA

    There is now an amended Declaration and new amoeba-shaped map with its second nucleus to take in Pirbright - "making a new Protection Zone and extending the Surveillance Zone. The previous declaration (made at 22.00 last night) also remains in force." A news release tells us that at Woolfords farm the killing was completed yesterday. 38 of the unfortunate cattle are described as infected, and of the cattle killed on the 2 additional sites of Woolfords Farm, one gave a positive result. The release gives news of the other animals we reported yesterday as having been killed as 'dangerous contacts'
    The language of the Declaration seems unfortunate - something we have mentioned before. Instead of offering clarity and support, the tone is officious: "Failure to comply with this Declaration may be an offence under section 72 or 73 of the Animal Health Act 1981". As many of us are all too aware, sections 72 and 73 of the revised Animal Health Act threaten " imprisonment for any term not exceeding 2 months" for failure to cooperate with any one deemed by DEFRA to be an "official". Rather grim. We shall be shortly posting up what you are now compelled to do if the worst happens on your farm.

August 5 2007 ~ "Competence means more than ministerial dashes and urgent meetings..lessons also include being ready to vaccinate"

    A leading article in the Sunday Times: "The inquiry that followed the 2001 outbreak, chaired by Dr Iain Anderson, catalogued the government's lack of preparedness and eventual panic. Those lessons include some of the measures that have already been taken: an immediate restriction on animal movements and the closure of events where the disease could be passed on. They also include being ready to vaccinate to prevent the spread of the disease, whatever the residual objections from the farm lobby.
    Farming is a tiny part of Britain's economy, just 1%. We should nurture our farmers ..."

August 5 2007 ~ Confusion about the virus strain

    A strain called "O1/BFS 1860/UK/67" - which appears to be an amalgam of the two names we have heard from The DEFRA site and the IAH site that links to it - appears on this 2005 Molecular Epidemiology Report Form from Pirbright. Is this then the strain of the virus that caused the 1967 outbreak in the UK? Or is it that the 67 virus is used for comparison? Can anyone enlighten us?
    UPDATE: The FMD virus which caused the 1967-8 outbreak in the UK was designated FMDV-O1 BFS 1860/UK/67; its detailed sequencing data and references are available in the table "Foot-and-Mouth Disease Virus O" at IAH's website

August 5 2007 ~ "What is the function of a World Reference Laboratory... if not to advance the detection of virus infection and management of FMD epidemics?"

    . The closeness - in all senses of the word - between Merial and Pirbright has suddenly been thrust into the light of day. In her Submission to the Royal Society of Edinburgh FMD EnquiryDr Ruth Watkins said, " Though funding may have delimited the equipment at Pirbright, the failure to modernise is likely to arise from the outlook in the laboratory- Pirbright has an unchallenged monopoly on FMD work in both research and diagnosis in Britain.....The normal role of a reference laboratory is to provide control materials and facilitate the setting up of routine screening and diagnostic tests in other laboratories..another important role is the validation of diagnostic tests including commercial tests and publishing the results with the collaboration of the commercial companies.
    Pirbright has confined itself to in-house tests, producing the materials and developing its own protocols. It has refused to undertake validation of commercial FMD tests ..... There is no other laboratory in Britain that is allowed or could undertake to validate FMD tests.."
    If Pirbright - once a public service laboratory - has been forced by its financial strait-jacket into throwing in its commercial lot with Merial this raises questions about unfair competition and the suppression of other technologies and products that could be of enormous value in UK disease control. We should welcome comments.

August 5 2007 ~ Pirbright: "... limited use of the strain at the Institute in recent weeks."

    At a press conference IAH director Martin Shirley said that "...there had also been limited use of the strain at the institute in recent weeks." (BBC)
    A correspondent notes that IAH conducted an experiment in 2003 where the O1 BFS 1860 strain was inoculated into 4 Standard Compton steers. This strain, he points out, is that identified by the IAH as the exact strain responsible for the Surrey outbreak.
    After giving the reference for the experiment he asks, "Could this kind of experimentation be classified as "limited use"? He adds, "Unfortunately this kind of question hasn't been asked yet.."

August 5 2007 ~ Accidents Happen - Security Breaches at Biocontainment Facilities

    There have been documented instances of escaping dangerous pathogens in the past few years. One remembers too the May 2001 prosecution of Imperial College (home of Prof. Roy Anderson) for its lapses in safety precautions while dealing with a modified Hepatitis C virus. Even the most "secure" biocontainment may not be as secure as all that. It is easy for complacency to creep in - and when funding is cut by those who do not understand the risks, people of lesser calibre have to be promoted to responsible positions. Low morale and sloppy procedures can easily be the result. How ironic then that, when in 2001 Dr Colin Fink offered his molecular diagnostic systems to help relieve pressure on government labs, DEFRA and the VLA refused to supply his team with the non-infectious FMD material needed to calibrate his assay. The excuse was that FMD was a Category 4 organism and therefore only to handled in absolutely bio-secure facilities. . In fact, as Dr Fink points out in a recent letter to warmwell, he did not need any infectious virus. "...this was nonsense. Once the RNA is extracted the organism has no infectious risk....The confusion was because of out-moded thinking aligning a risk in growing up organisms within the laboratory with that wrongly perceived to be similar in molecular diagnostics..."
    It was a lost opportunity for rapid diagnosis during the outbreak - and the irony of yesterday's news will not have escaped those whose who felt such frustration at the time.

August 5 2007 ~ Humane slaughter?

    In 2001 there were scenes of slaughter that made the farmer's grief - already terrible in many cases - far worse. Incidences of chaos and stress during the gathering, penning, and slaughter of animals are disturbing. There was 'barbaric conduct [which] was a disgrace to humanity', as one of the EU inquiries has been told (Carnage by Computer: The Blackboard Economics of the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic by Professors David Campbell and Robert Lee)
    That was then; this is now - but the Hendersons in Brecon are not the only people to have wondered about the slaughter of the 64 cattle at Woolford Farm. " far as I can work it out, that they could have been killed is to be shot at by people standing outside the pen....surely that does not constitute humane slaughter?"
    The public is right to be concerned and want to be reassured that the Terrestrial Animal Health Code - 2006 guidelines (Appendix 3.7.6. Guidelines for the killing of animals for disease control purposes) really are are being followed to the letter.

August 5 2007 ~ Lawrence Wright notices an anomaly

    A West country sheepfarmer makes a startling point - and one that we had noticed only subconsciously. See emails sent to warmwell.

August 5 2007 ~ Deer do not obey movement bans - and roe deer move between Pirbright and local farms.

    "Roe deer occur widely on Surrey's commons, and were even recorded on quite small sites in relatively built-up areas": (DEFRA funded wildlife project pdf) . The A31, inside the 3km exclusion zone, had to be disinfected yesterday because a deer was hit by a car. Woolford farm is separated from Pirbright by an arable farm, a wood and a golf course. It does not take much imagination to predict that any escape of the O1 BFS 1860 virus from IAH Pirbright or the Merial laboratory could now be infecting these deer.
    In their paper "Foot-and-Mouth Disease in Deer: implications for the policy of control and eradication of the disease" Paul Sutmoller and Paul Gibbs suggest that if deer are infected then
      " all livestock in the area should be vaccinated or re-vaccinated, preferably within three months to obtain an optimum population immunity. Re-population of the area with vaccinated livestock does not need to wait for the infection to peter out in deer. d) The official opinion that FMD infected roe deer constitute a low risk, because sick animals hide and probably die, is not valid. Like cattle or sheep, susceptible deer are very infectious prior to the development of lesions while they still actively move and graze. Also deer with sub-clinical or minor lesions will still roam around."
    In considering their next move it is to be hoped that the relevant authorites are aware of such expert advice. This paper too, written for warmwell during the last outbreak by a scientist who soon afterwards rose to a high position in the FAO, should be essential reading for those who want to know the real facts about vaccination and transmission of virus.

August 4 2007 10.26 p.m. ~ It is a vaccine strain 01 BFS 67 (Correction:it is in fact O1 BFS 1860) - one that was being used at Pirbright in July

    Professor Hugh Pennington interviewed on BBC News 24 gives as his opinion that the source virus is identical to that in vaccine work being done at Pirbright and very possibly excaped from there. The latest statement by DEFRA :
      "The FMD strain found in Surrey is not one currently known to be recently found in animals. It is most similar to strains used in international diagnostic laboratories and in vaccine production, including at the Pirbright site shared by the Institute of Animal Health (IAH) and Merial Animal Health Ltd, a pharmaceutical company. The present indications are that this strain is a 01 BFS67 - like virus, isolated in the 1967 Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak in Great Britain.
      This strain is present at the IAH and was used in a batch manufactured in July 2007 by the Merial facility. On a precautionary basis Merial has agreed to voluntarily halt vaccine production.
      In response to this new information Debby Reynolds, Chief Veterinary Officer has instructed that a new single Protection Zone be created encompassing both the infected farm premises and the Pirbright site, with a single 10km radius Surveillance Zone. ..." DEFRA site
    This does rather appear to want to point the finger at Merial (see below) rather than the Government Laboratory at Pirbright as the source of the leak. ( We can only hope that this extraordinary news may allow farmers further afield to breathe a little more easily - but this is little comfort for those directly affected by what looks like an embarrassing lapse of security.)

August 4 2007 9.45 p.m. ~ "no plans for contiguous culling at present but any dangerous contacts will be dealt with robustly". Pigs, sheep and goats on an adjacent smallholding have been slaughtered as "dangerous contacts"

    There is still no more news on the DEFRA site. However, NPA's Digby Scott on the news page of the NPA website: ".....NPA, BPEX and Defra will be helping me communicate all the available news that might be of use to the pig sector.
      "....The infection in the beef herd at the centre of the alert is almost certainly recent. The last movement onto the farm was in early July and the last movement off was on July 10 when two animals went for slaughter....Pigs may be implicated. Next to the farm - divided only by a barbed wire fence - is a smallholding with sheep, goats and pigs. These animals have been killed as dangerous contacts...Defra is keen to free up movement when it is sensible. If no further infection is found it is possible some movements under licence will be allowed from Tuesday or Wednesday...
      ..There are no plans for contiguous culling at present but any dangerous contacts will be dealt with robustly."
    (While we are grateful for this to the NPA, who are evidently privy to DEFRA's latest news, we do feel concern for the smallholders and others who appear to have no official source of information at this nerve-racking time. We now know that there was no FMD found on these "dangerous contact" animals on the smallholding and they were killed purely as a "precaution". Whether this was necessary or not is perhaps a matter of opinion.)

August 4 2007 9.20 p.m. ~ Intervet UK: " If requested, we will provide the government with any necessary assistance to bring the outbreak under control."

    A link provided by FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis is this from United Business Media.
      Jim Hungerford, General Manager at Intervet UK, comments on the foot and mouth outbreak in Surrey: "We support the government's rapid response and hope that this prompt action will quickly quell the current outbreak. Defra has acted swiftly in identifying the disease and establishing the required restrictions, which will help to prevent any further spread of the virus. If requested, we will provide the government with any necessary assistance to bring the outbreak under control... we believe vaccination should be used if the outbreak develops further."
    (It may be remembered that Jim Henderson very kindly answered warmwell's questions about bird flu vaccines a short while ago.)

August 4 2007 (5.50 pm) ~ " I must say, interviewing the chief vet I had a distinct sense of deja vu.." - Snowmail

    " In 2001, they all started off telling us it was too soon to vaccinate. Then after a few days they told us it was too late. They claim the same won't happen again..." Krishnan Guru-Murthy Channel 4
    The DEFRA foot and mouth page is disappointingly short of news today when so many people across the country are anxious for information about possible vaccination and answers to questions such as those below. We understand that rumours are rife that the infected cows may have come from Cumbria - and that disinfectant supplies have been sold out in Penrith - and it is precisely for such reasons that hard news should be being shared as soon as it is available.

August 4 2007 (4.50 pm) ~ Debby Reynolds has confirmed that the biosecurity arrangements at the Pirbright Laboratory are being investigated as a possible source of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

    A relief that it was no less a person than the CVO who mentioned this possibility.
    The Farmers Guardian: "...At a Defra briefing at 3.15pm today (Saturday), Mrs Reynolds said it was too early to favour any hypothesis of where the disease might have come from over another. But she said: "Pirbright has been asked to review its biosecurity arrangements."
    (Not mentioned by the FG is the fact that Merial, the pharmaceutical company whose research work into FMD etc also requires biocontainment facilities, is very close.)

August 4 2007 ~ " We are really hoping that supermarkets make sure that their buyers and supplier processors act more responsibly this time...

    This is truly not a time for exploitation." An email from a sheep farmer - far from optimistic. Comments welcome.

August 4 2007 ~ The UK's refusal to use vaccination for FMD has been on economic rather than on scientific or veterinary grounds.

    That vaccination and rapid on-site diagnosis works so effectively was proved in Uruguay in 2001 where an outbreak as extensive as in the UK was - without massive stamping-out - quickly brought under control. But the OIE's International Animal Health Code, adopted by the WTO as the basis for protectionism under the guise of disease control, gives countries without FMD and choosing not to vaccinate - i.e.European and North American farmers - a huge trading advantage over poorer countries. A historic reluctance in the UK to vaccinate animals against FMD was thus solidified.( page 15 of "The Foot and Mouth Outbreak 2001:Lessons Not Learned pdf by - Professor David Campbell and Professor Bob Lee explains this clearly.) The decision in 2001 to hold fast to this led to the immense costs of the mass killing policy and the knock-on effects that it entailed - all in order to protect meat exports. It is interesting then that Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE, has now come out so strongly in favour of vaccination.

August 4 2007 ~ EU Directive "It may be decided to introduce emergency vaccination where at least one of the following conditions applies"

    The latest EU Directive specifies that vaccination is to be used as front-line tool against the disease. The language of the Directive, in the manner of these things, is hardly comprehensible. However, it is worth looking again at Annex X of the "EU COUNCIL DIRECTIVE 2003/85/EC of 29 September 2003 on Community measures for the control of foot-and-mouth disease (repealing Directive 85/511/EEC and Decisions 89/531/EEC and 91/665/EEC and amending Directive 92/46/EEC )" where, for once, the table set out is simple and clear enough for anyone in DEFRA to understand.
    Where "Public reaction to total stamping out policy" is "strong", the Directive advises vaccination.

August 4 2007 3.40 pm ~ More quotes "We would not stand in any way to object to vaccination.."

    Peter Kendall, president of NFU : "Certainly as an industry we would not stand in any way to object to vaccination if the scientists deem it the right way of moving forward." (Today Programme)
    Chris Huhne( Liberal Democrat environment spokesman): "The Government deserves congratulation for learning the lessons of its shambolic response to the devastating 2001 crisis by stopping all animal movements and preparing for vaccination of surrounding herds as soon as the virus is identified. A clear lesson of the last outbreak was the need for speedy vaccination, so the isolation of the virus and a potential matching with banks of vaccine will be key."
    Philip Lymbery, Compassion In World Farming's Chief Executive, " The Government must consider emergency vaccination of animals in affected areas to help control the disease and prevent healthy animals being slaughtered needlessly" (CIWF)
    Jackie Ballard : "Everything must be done to make sure we do not see a return to the appalling mass slaughter of farm animals that occurred during the last outbreak. There was widespread public revulsion at the funeral pyres and mass killing, and animal welfare seemed to be the lowest priority for the authorities. That must not be allowed to happen again." (See The Argus)
    Bernard Vallat, Director General of the OIE :"....profitability should not be a priority when vaccination policies are established. Vaccination, when available, is undoubtedly the most cost-effective means of preventing and controlling, and even eradicating, infectious diseases. .... Unfortunately, there are several barriers to the development of new vaccines: economic barriers such as ... regulatory hurdles due the stringent and non-harmonised regulations in place for vaccine registration .." (below)

August 4 2007 4.00 pm ~ EU member countries have imposed a ban on animals and animal products imported from the UK.

    There is an automatically imposed ban on exports within the European Union following the discovery of FMD. In a statement, the European Commission said it would adopt an emergency decision on Monday "concerning restrictions on the movement of animals and the dispatch of products from the U.K." EU veterinary experts will meet next Wednesday to evaluate the UK foot and mouth outbreak.
    The Farmers Guardian reports that Eblex head of marketing Andrew Garvey said that shipments on this side of the Channel had been recalled, but the situation was less clear for those already in transit across the water.
      "It depends on the recipient country. Some may return the shipment, others may accept it," said Mr Garvey, who added there had also been live animal shipments in the past few weeks of calves and sheep and that these were now being traced to their destination country. "The action to be taken on these is not clear at the current time." The ban on exports will last for a minimum of three months from the time the UK is declared free of the disease, although Mr Garvey said it was possible that, if the outbreak at Wanborough, Surrey, proved to be an isolated incident, that the ban may be treated regionally, as had happened with the classical swine fever outbreak in 2000."

August 4 (2.20 p.m.) ~ The FMD infected carcases will be travelling to Somerset - even though there are incineration plants nearer to Guildford.

    The Farmers Guardian was told on this morning that culled animals were due to be shipped to Wessex Incinerators in Frome, despite the fact there were incineration plants nearer to the Guildford Farm.
    "Somerset NFU Council delegate Derek Mead said he had also heard the rumour and that it was an 'absolute disgrace' if the diseased carcases were going to be travelling across the country.' "Is Defra trying to spread the disease?," he asked. Wessex incinerators refused to confirm or deny the claim."

August 4 2007 (2.15 pm) ~ 3,000 sheep are stranded at Thame Auction Mart - precisely where the rapid on-site diagnostic kit would be so invaluable.

    There are, inevitably, animals stranded at shows. All the same, executive secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, Chris Dodds, has praised DEFRA's rapid response compared to last time. The Farmers Guardian: "3,000 sheep are stranded at Thame Auction Mart ... ... vets were starting to inspect the sheep this morning, ready for them to be moved off the site...." But, as we remember from last time, clinical examination is useless in most cases with sheep.
    This is, as we have been trying to point out for six years now, precisely where the rapid on-site diagnostic kit would be so invaluable.
    A number of shows around the country have also been caught up in the movement ban, with showing animals which arrived last night now being held for inspection. Perth Show has some Charolais cattle on site
    Garstang Show, Lancashire also has beef animals being held for inspection.
    Dumfries and Turriff shows are both going ahead but without ruminants or pigs.
    Cockermouth and District Show, due to have been held today, has been cancelled.
    Brecon Show had some sheep and cattle on site, but these have now been cleared and removed from the site.
    Tockwith Show, which had moved to the Great Yorkshire Showground at Harrogate, was due to have sheep and goats present.
    For stock being held for inspection, a movement licence must be issued before the stock can be removed, and the animals must then be returned to their holding and placed in quarantine." See Farmers Guardian

August 4 2007 (1.15pm) ~ "The 1.7 million tonnes of waste food that before 2001 was being recycled by swill feeders was diverted to landfill..."

    Robert Persey wonders, "....Has this disease outbreak come from a landfill site or from one of the meat composting sites that the State Veterinary Service is supposed to be monitoring? The Government is diverting large amounts of category three meat into composting sites even though the risk assessment it commissioned identified that there was a risk of disease escaping from these sites. ..."

August 4 2007 (1.15pm) ~ "Once the strain has been identified, experts will check to see whether relevant vaccines are available in the British or European vaccine banks."Guardian

    Some quotations today:
    ".....Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: "It is essential the Gov-ernment acts quickly to contain this and considers all possible options, including vaccination." ..." Belfast Telegraph
    Sir Menzies Campbell: "Alternatives, like vaccination, to the terrible pyres of smoke which stained the countryside last time must be actively explored, but in the end the government will have to follow the best scientific advice." BBC
    Neil Parish MEP: "....Defra needs to be sure that the farmers in the area do know what's happening ..." BBC
    Debby Reynolds CVO: "our response to this disease is in animal health terms, it's in farming terms..." BBC
    Peter Kindersley: "Obviously we believe very strongly in vaccination. Individual farms should have the right to decide what measures to take after assessing the situation on the ground. The Government took control of the situation last time and created an absolute disaster. ...Foot-and-mouth isn't necessarily the disaster it's made out ot be - most animals recover. The Government wants to 'stamp it out' because once the last animal is slaughtered, international trade can resume. With vaccination, there's a six month delay....It's mainly spread by people who trade animals up and down the country." Newbury Today

August 4 2007 (12 .15 am) ~ Slightly revised email from CA Coordination Action

    Our bare summary of the MAIN POINTS: - (but see email)
    • Shouldn't Defra have a targetted alert system in place?
    • Identification of the origin and of the index case, and investigation of spread urgent and vital - all the possibilities must be considered and drive the surveillance strategy.
    • Can we have more details of who saw the first symptoms, when and why - routine inspection or suspicion? How old were the blisters on the sick cows?
    • Farmers are being asked to inspect their animals for signs of infection. To what extent, if any, are animals being tested for virus? Can we have more details of how, when and where such testing will be taking place?
    • Why are we still waiting for implementation of rapid diagnostic capability?
    • Vaccination: Preparation must begin as soon as the strain has been identified. This preparation must be done even if evidence later emerges that it will not be necessary.
    Read in full

August 4 2007 (10.30 am) ~ "Farmers are being asked to inspect their animals for signs of infection. To what extent, if any, are animals being tested for virus?"

    CSF/FMD Coordination Action email just sent to warmwell. While remaining largely positive about DEFRA's initial actions, the email does raise important points and should be read in full (While the CA website is down comments about anything posted on our holding page for them are invited - either here at warmwell or with a request that they be forwarded to the CA site.)

August 4 2007 (10.00 am) ~ Ring Vaccination and on-site diagnosis.

    Given the present policy, DEFRA's actions have been efficient.
    The movement history of this beef-fattening unit in the past weeks (it sends its finished stock direct to the abattoir) is not known and finding out from the records of auctions and dealers will be a priority. If it turns out that this is not, (as has occurred to many), a highly localised case of virus escape and if the virus is on the move, even the swiftly imposed animal movement bans cannot be wholly effective.
    On-site rapid diagnostic testing - even with Pirbright's laboratory just up the road - would have been faster than yesterday's long wait and over optimistic assumptions. Old fashioned methods of testing are laborious and keep waiting in an agony of suspense people whose farms are around the index case - but these farms are being tested and not summarily slaughtered out. Movement bans have been swiftly imposed (as long as farmers were listening to the news) - but they do not, unfortunately, stop the movement of those roaming animals not specified - including humans. Immediate ring vaccination would be effective now, right from the start. The exact strain needs to be known of course but one hopes that preparations for ring vaccination are well under way. It would be heartbreaking to see any repetition of the mistakes of the past: ignorance of the veterinary science and available technology, lack of efficient communication with people on the ground, bureaucratic bullying by impertinent officialdom. However, we are assured that lessons have been learned, and we hope to be able to report on a swift ending to this crisis..

August 3/4 2007 ~ "Number 10 insisted contingency plans being put into place were based on lessons learnt from the 2001 outbreak..."

    The Telegraph report on the present outbreak recalls the horrors of 2001, mentioning the 10 million animals killed and saying, "The aftermath of the 2001 outbreak led to huge recriminations over how the outbreak was handled, with some experts arguing for vaccination of stock to prevent the disease's spread as opposed to large-scale culling." but that in 2001 " the Government attempted to tackle it with a contiguous cull, which led to the deaths of millions of healthy animals."
    We are pleased of course to hear that Number 10 insists that lessons were learnt from 2001. It would be both helpful and reassuring if DEFRA could spell out to people who fear a repeat of the nightmarish scenes of 2001 what exactly they are doing differently from 2001. For example
    • How is the presence of the virus in Surrey being investigated? ( Pirbright is less than 20 kilometres from Elstead and comes under the 10 km surveillance zone)
    • Does the UK now have more effective border security - an intrinsically governmental responsibility that farmers and those impacted by FMD cannot do themselves?
    • Is DEFRA better positioned in terms of disease surveillance, reporting and response than it was in 2001?
    • Does DEFRA have bovine and porcine vaccines for this subtype of FMD virus in its stockpile sufficient for 1 million animals?
    • How well is the emergency response working compared to 2001? Are infected animals being killed and disposed of quickly and humanely?
    • Have DEFRA communications improved? Will people with the requisite knowledge be available to communicate clearly and simply to those who need to know - for example - details of the emergency regulations?
    • Will the independent FMD Expert Group be effective ?
    ( We note that a General Licence [PDF] (20 KB) has been issued to allow the movement of cows along a public highway for milking purposes - "this licence allows movements of cows along a public highway from one part of a premises to another part of the same premises, for the purposes of milking only.")

August 3 2007 ~ FMD confirmed in Surrey

    In spite of David Paton's hopeful words below, it now emerges that FMD has indeed been found in the cows in Elstead. This news is grim. DEFRA says
      "......In accordance with the legislation and contingency planning arrangements all the cattle on the premises will be culled. A Protection Zone of three kilometres radius and a Surveillance Zone of 10 kilometres has been placed around the premises, and a GB wide national movement ban of all ruminants and pigs has been imposed.
      Nationally no animal movements are allowed except under licence, controls are in place on movement of animal carcasses, animal gatherings, shearing and dipping are restricted, and all farms must increase levels of biosecurity. In both the Protection and Surveillance Zones, there will be requirements for increased levels of biosecurity on farms, movement controls, controls on transportation of dung/manure and treatment of animal products to ensure destruction of the FMD virus.
      The farm itself has been under restrictions since late on Thursday evening when symptoms were reported to the local Animal Health office. A 1km temporary restriction zone was placed around the premises earlier today whilst investigations and testing were completed, in line with domestic and EU legislation.
      The European Commission has been informed."
    The BBC now reports "Gordon Brown has taken part by telephone in a Cobra meeting, involving top staff at the Cabinet Office. He is returning to London on Saturday from his holiday in Dorset and Environment Secretary Hilary Benn is to break off from his vacation in Italy...."

August 3 2007 ~ Undiagnosed bovine vesicular disease in Surrey. Update "The lesions are in their mouth and this could just be something they have eaten"

    According to the Surrey Advertiser (many thanks to Pat Gardner for this link) the farm in Surrey being checked for FMD and other diseases is in Elstead. David Paton of Pirbright is quoted as saying that the three cows from the unknown farm are showing symptoms that, although "somewhat suggestive" of FMD, are not likely to be foot and mouth. " ..... but they would not be the most suggestive. At this stage it's hopefully about ruling it [foot and mouth] out," he said. "The lesions are in their mouth and this could just be something they have eaten." Pirbright gets about six false alarms for FMD a year - but we await further news. (During foot and mouth in 2001, it will be remembered some unfortunate animals were diagnosed with FMD when they had merely eaten thistles and never got the benefit of a Pirbright test - so, in this case, we hope for the best.)

August 3 2007 ~ Undiagnosed bovine vesicular disease in Surrey. "No timescale for results" Could this be bluetongue?

    (We can only hope it is not foot and mouth.) A 1km movement standstill zone of all ruminants has been imposed following a suspect case of vesicular disease in cattle in n only hope it is not foot and mouth.) A 1km movement standstill zone of all ruminants has been imposed following a suspect case of vesicular disease in cattle in Surrey. The DEFRA site says little more than that "samples have been submitted to the laboratory for testing " and "At the present time there is no timescale for results."
    As a moderator points out in today's ProMed posting about this, "the differential diagnosis of a vesicular disease in cattle in the UK should include, in addition to foot and mouth disease (FMD), several other viral diseases such as bluetongue, vesicular stomatitis, bovine papular stomatitis, bovine virus diarrhoea/mucosal disease, malignant catarrhal fever and rinderpest. If -- hopefully -- FMD is excluded, bluetongue virus serotype 8 becomes a main suspect"

August 3 2007 ~ FMD vaccine "could be commercially viable and remove some of the hurdles in advance of any outbreak"

    It is encouraging to see such news from America and to think that the US may at last be contemplating pre-emptive vaccination instead of pre-emptive slaughter. In February, the US the Department of Homeland Security signed a three-year, potential 15 million dollar contract with the pharmaceutical company GenVec to support the development and manufacture of an improved foot and mouth vaccine. Details of this can be found at (for which link many thanks to FMD News - a service provided by the FMD Surveillance and Modeling Laboratory, University of California at Davis ) However, it is still distressing to see in articles such as this the often repeated nonsense that the UK outbreak in 2001 "necessitated the slaughter of about 4 million animals".
    As we know, the outbreak necessitated no such thing - but at least 10 million animals were slaughtered as a result of the UK's mass culling policies, policies that were based on political and economic rather than veterinary or science-based reasons. ( At this very time, Uruguay was successfully eradicating FMD with vaccines administered by its own farmers, in an outbreak of very similar proportions.)
    The UK Government has never acknowledged its tragic errors. It has been left to experts such as Dr Mike Thrusfield to point out, in relation to Dumfries and Galloway, "No evidence of infection was found on any pre-emptively contiguously culled premises" Indeed, in the entire country, fewer than 1500 of 2030 so-called infected premises (IPs) were confirmed as being infected on laboratory results - as this letter in the Vet Record last August by Adrian Wingfield, Hugh Miller, and Nick Honhold explained with such authority. (Their own papers are referred to in the pdf version of the letter) Luckily, some journalists are better informed than others - the Scotsman's Fordyce Maxwell, for example. Last October he wrote,
      "....much research into data accumulated in 2001 has been published, including the work of Dr Michael Thrusfield at Edinburgh University and Dr Paul Kitching at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Canada. Their work confirms that the 2001 epidemic was handled in an impractical, unscientific and inhumane way. In the words of the late Professor Fred Brown, it was "a disgrace to humanity".
    Until this is properly acknowledged there seems a very real danger that it could happen again. Slaughter as a political quick fix for animal disease is still very much in evidence - and unfortunately retrospective legitimacy given by the Animal Health Act of 2002 to the wider culling policies of 2001 have given even more power to central government.
    One can only hope that if the US does go for vaccination as a preventative measure the UK will at last opt for protecting animals instead of protectionism.

August 1 2007 ~ £11.5M of new research. More money. More scientific research. More progress?

    A year ago, the The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) sought proposals for "innovative multidisciplinary research that would exploit recent scientific developments" to investigate animal disease. Details of all the projects funded by the new initiative, Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability (CEDFAS) are available in this pdf file.
      ".....The initiative will improve the sustainability of UK farming by ultimately reducing the cost of treating diseases and the loss of affected livestock." pdf file
    Diseases to be researched include bovine TB - which is
      "estimated to cost the UK economy £31M.
      The reasons for the inexorable rise in bTB are complex. One possibility is that new forms of Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), the bacterium that causes bTB, have evolved in the UK that are able to thwart current control measures.
      Researchers at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) and the Institute for Animal Health (IAH) will be investigating M. bovis using genomic technologies to determine whether these new strains are able to manipulate the bovine immune response to their advantage and hence be more successful bovine pathogens.
      Scientists at the Roslin Institute and Queen's University Belfast will be using novel approaches to identify cattle with increased bTB resistance. DNA will be collected from 1000 bTB cases and controls, and genotyped for 50,000 gene variants"

Warmwell Archives 2001 - 2008 ~ here (new window)