Summary of evidence to the EU Inquiry on 21st June in Devon, UK

 

by Alan Beat                                     (e-mail:  alan.beat@talk21.com)

 

 Smallholder and founder of Smallholders Online www.smallholders.org

 

 

INTRODUCTION

My name is Alan Beat and I live with my family on a smallholding of 16 acres called The Bridge Mill at Bridgerule, near Holsworthy in Devon.  I hold a Batchelor of Science honours degree.  I have informed myself of the various issues surrounding foot and mouth disease, using the Internet and e-mail to make contacts across the UK, and beyond into the Netherlands, Europe and the USA.  I have gathered information and opinion from leading veterinary scientists in this specialised field. 

I believe that I have a comprehensive overview of FMD and of the disastrous mistakes that caused the UK epidemic to spiral into a human rights and animal welfare tragedy of enormous scale.

 

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

We keep a small flock of speciality sheep, selectively home-bred over thirteen years for natural colour and high quality fleece.  We regard these as irreplaceable.

From the start we took sensible precautions on the smallholding, keeping the sheep housed for as long as possible, then later restricting their grazing to leave empty field barriers at boundaries.  Strict biosecurity isolated the smallholding from vehicle or personnel movements.

On 13th April our neighbouring farm reported clinical signs of FMD in one cow of their dairy herd, housed several fields away beyond our common boundary.  We had inspected our sheep daily, seen no clinical signs and believed them to be healthy.  So when MAFF telephoned to arrange their slaughter under the contiguous cull policy, we refused access except for veterinary inspection and blood testing.  Only evidence of disease could justify slaughter, in our view, under EU law.  We also made clear that our gates were locked, and that any attempt to force entry would be met by peaceful protest accompanied by full media coverage.

The next day a second telephone call was rebuffed in the same manner.  On 15th April, access for veterinary inspection was agreed.  The vet examined a number of ewes and lambs to find no clinical signs.  Further visits followed at intervals, all finding no clinical signs.  We were told that blood samples would only be taken after slaughter, but not from our live animals!

 We made no appeal against slaughter, as we refused to accept legality of the contiguous cull.  Nevertheless, a letter dated 25th April from MAFF in Exeter refused our “appeal” against slaughter, even though none of the published appeals procedure had been carried out.  Blood samples were finally taken from our flock during clearance testing for the area and results came back negative on 4th July.  Many of the livestock slaughtered on other contiguous farms to this IP were located much further away from the source cattle than our own sheep, some more than one kilometre distant, so these were almost certainly disease-free and slaughtered without need.

I highlight the following points from our family experience:

7        The personal trauma that we suffered was immense and continues to affect us to this day

7        The neighbouring IP, a family farm with dairy cattle and sheep, lies 7 km upwind of the nearest previous IP, around which all contiguous premises had been culled.

THE BROADER  EXPERIENCE

7        We repeatedly saw, across the UK, this typical pattern of long-distance jumps between IPs of several kilometres irrespective of wind direction, which is inconsistent with airborne spread, and impossible to influence by contiguous culling.

7        A further notable feature of such spread was that cattle herds were predominantly involved rather than premises with sheep only

7        Highampton was the original focus of infection in Devon in late February, before the contiguous cull policy was introduced.  12 out of 26 farms in the parish retained healthy livestock which the later contiguous cull would have killed

7        Alayne Addy, the Exeter-based solicitor, gave advice and assistance to some 200 farms across Devon that successfully resisted the contiguous cull in one way or another, including mine.  None of these resisting farms subsequently developed FMD.

7        Compare this to the total for dangerous contact and contiguous premises slaughtered across Devon of 801.  In round figures, of the Devon non IPs threatened with slaughter, 20% resisted and not one of those developed the disease.

 

THE ANIMAL COST

The contiguous culling policy hugely increased the numbers of animals slaughtered for no benefit.  In fact, it was highly counter-productive by diverting scarce resources from the central task of culling diseased stock quickly on IPs.  Official government figures (1) show that for the first 9 weeks of the epidemic, only 24% of IPs were slaughtered within the crucial target of 24 hours, and just 2% of contiguous farms within 4 days.

I remind you that 4 days is the average incubation period for FMD, at which point the virus becomes detectable in the blood by laboratory test.  Yet according to government figures for the whole of the UK (2), out of 2,960 farms slaughtered as "contiguous premises", only 120 (4%) tested positive; while out of 4,218 farms slaughtered as additional "dangerous contacts", only 101 (2%) tested positive

This provides the clearest possible scientific evidence that the overwhelming majority of contiguous farms slaughtered were not infected and posed no risk of spreading the disease.  All other considerations apart, this was a staggering waste of money.

Jane Connor, of the UK Meat and Livestock Commission, has calculated an overall slaughter total for the epidemic of 11 million animals.  Many died in appalling conditions as a result of movement restrictions applied without commonsense; or were killed by cruel and illegal methods.  Many other witnesses will document these to the inquiry.  Overall, the mass slaughter was such a barbaric transgression of animal welfare that we are all diminished by it. 

 

THE HUMAN COST

The FMD crisis was also a human tragedy for the many thousands of people caught up in the vicious whirlpool of destruction.  Words are inadequate to describe the trauma of the ordeal that was inflicted upon so many.  It was compounded by a near-total lack of communication between those in authority and those whose lives were directly affected.  It was nigh-on impossible to obtain meaningful information from, or to conduct constructive dialogue with, those who ordered the destruction of your livestock.  People were often treated, not with the courtesy and compassion that they deserved, but instead with arrogance and intimidation.

I will supply videotape to the Inquiry of interviews recorded with some Devon livestock owners who were mistreated in various ways.  Among these, Matthew Knight resisted the contiguous cull, only to eventually discover that his neighbouring IP had tested negative at the laboratory; yet even knowing this, MAFF continued to press for the slaughter of his healthy organic cattle.  Peter and Betty Howarth at first resisted the contiguous cull, but yielded to pressure from MAFF for the slaughter of their two retired pet house cows in exchange for a promise that disposal would be prompt.  In fact the bodies lay beside the house for fifteen days, oozing pools of noxious liquid to the back door amid indescribable stench.  No-one should be treated like this. 

This crisis saw the abuse of human rights on a massive scale.  It must never be repeated.  We will not stand for it, ever again.

VACCINATION

The Inquiry has seen detailed evidence on vaccination, but here I give just one example to dispel the myth, so often peddled during this crisis, that vaccination does not work.

Uruguay is a country of similar size to the UK, with a comparable livestock population of 10 million cattle and 12 million sheep.  In 2001 Uruguay suffered a widespread FMD epidemic, involving 2057 IPs, by dispersal of infected cattle through a market.    In the first week, nearly 7,000 animals were culled.  But as soon as the wide spread was recognized, slaughter was halted and a mass vaccination programme was introduced for cattle only – but not sheep.  The first round of vaccination was completed, and movement restrictions were lifted, within six weeks.  The last case was recorded within four months of the first.  Exports to the EU and other countries recommenced two months after that.  The total cost of eradicating the epidemic was just 13.6 million US$.

It requires the most prejudiced anti-vaccination mindset to deny the convincing success of the Uruguay control policy.  Note that both slaughter and costs were minimal, and insignificant by comparison to the UK.  Note that unvaccinated sheep played no part in the epidemic.  Finally, note that even IPs were not slaughtered out after the first week!  Quarantine, vaccination and movement restriction were sufficient measures.

If Uruguay can do it, then so can we.

 

REFERENCES

1        -  given in answer to written parliamentary question no 5479 (Hansard)

2        -  given in answer to written parliamentary question no 2164 (Hansard)