Email from Roger Breeze September 26 2007
Earlier this week I was contacted by a major UK Media organization that wanted to know if I was willing to comment on the failure to use vaccine or rapid tests in the current UK FMD debacle. This was my reply. I thought these comments might be of interest to your readers who are also asked for responses.
"Can I suggest that 6 years after the debacle of 2001 and with renewed attention stimulated by avian influenza, the recent small FMD outbreak and first discovery of Bluetongue it is time for a serious conversation with UK farmers and the public about the realities of infectious diseases in today's world of rapid global travel and trade? I am happy to talk to you about rapid FMD testing for UK but this would be a conversation about whether the Titanic's deck chairs should be stored deep in the hold or close to the sun deck whilst sailing in iceberg-filled waters.
I attach a recent paper (1) that I wrote for the International Office of Epizootics (the World Trade Organization-like body that regulates international trade in animals and animal products). This sets out my views and how to pay for them. You will also find various letters of mine on www.warmwell.com.
I know you are busy so let me summarize. The current issue is not should the government use rapid FMD tests or should it vaccinate animals. The issue is that 6 years after 2001 the UK still does not have any rational concept of how to control highly-infectious livestock diseases that quickly spread across national borders.
Sadly many livestock owners are laughably uninformed about issues critical for their own survival. For example, on September 23, BBC ran a story about a diary kept by Mr. Angus Stovold, a cattle owner in Surrey. He stated that he would never be able to sell his pure bred cattle if they were vaccinated against FMD. Utter nonsense! I would have been very inspired - and you would be having a very different public debate in UK - had Mr. Stovold's diary read as follows:
- UK is not the island it was until the mid-1900s - the Channel and distance from infected countries are no longer barriers to introduction of dangerous diseases. Unless the national policy is to wait like a deer in the headlights until the next introduction (Bluetongue!), Gordon Brown should trigger and lead an EU and international effort to remove these diseases at their sources in the developing world. Pirbright and UK science and business would play significant roles in this effort.
This goal is quite achievable in our lifetimes. In 1880, Louis Pasteur vaccinated the fist child against rabies. At that time he would never have believed that by 1980 we would be vaccinating the wild animals of the forests of Europe and today can contemplate eradication of a disease that has terrified people for centuries. Rinderpest, once the world's most feared cattle disease that killed many more animals in Europe than the Black Death killed people, has now been globally eradicated and for tens of millions of dollars only.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s there were 40,000 to 50,000 FMD outbreaks per year in Europe (40,000 to 50,000) yet by 1990 the disease was eradicated, even with the technologies of the time.
- UK should also have effective processes to keep these diseases out through screening of travelers and imports - these costs should be paid by a levy on international travelers and trade. Farmers and livestock owners cannot do this task, it is an essentially governmental undertaking.
- UK should adopt policies on countering these epidemic diseases that minimize costs to the UK economy as a whole, not just to livestock owners. These policies should be implemented with the best available technologies that will support close to real time disease surveillance, reporting, detection and response.
- Livestock owners reporting the first cases of foot and mouth or other diseases of concern should be rewarded handsomely. Those farms that are infected in the next week or two should also receive public funds to encourage reporting. But after that livestock owners would have to rely on private insurance not the public purse - I do not believe it is the responsibility of the public to compensate them for a business risk, just as it is not public policy to buy someone a new computer when they have downloaded a malicious virus.
- I fully support the right of UK livestock owners to choose their foot and mouth control policy and to pay for that policy and its consequences. Nothing is more clarifying than to put one's money where one's mouth is. Such a policy would keenly focus the UK livestock industry on the scientific facts and serious discussion.
"a. September 2007 - an FMD outbreak again close by. Why has the government not invested in a new Pirbright facility and programs to combat these dangerous animal diseases that are increasingly lurking off-shore? Why did my National Farmer's Union not press for this investment in the past 6 years? If 2001 was not a wake up call for all of us, what will be?I do hope your organization decides to look at the bigger picture and not just soundbites.
b. In 2001 the UK government was told of a new American test that detects animals that are infected with FMD 2 or 3 days before they show any signs of disease and since that time Pirbright has claimed to have an even better test. Why is DEFRA not using either of these tests, particularly since the Pirbright lab is next door to the infected farms and apparently vets have trouble recognizing signs of FMD disease in some animals? Are DEFRA and Pirbright so busy inventing new mouse traps that they have forgotten that someone has to catch the mice?
c. Why am I being told that if I vaccinate my pedigree cattle I will not be able to sell them when a test that discriminates FMD vaccinated cattle from those that were previously infected was invented in the US in 1994 and is marketed by several companies? Even worse, one of these tests is endorsed by Pirbright and cites that lab's role in validating the test! (See www.foot-and-mouth-disease.com/Product_information/Checkit_FMD_test.asp) Goodness, there is even a FMD vaccine specifically designed to be used with that test to meet the needs of people just like me (same website)! Why was I not told of this before I wrote nonsense for the BBC?
d. It keeps me awake at night that pedigree cattle owners lose their lifetime's work (and often that of their parents and grandparents too) when a pedigree herd is slaughtered because it is infected with FMD or just happens to be within a 5 km radius of an infected herd. Why do we have to lose this valuable genetic material? Is there no way to save semen and embryos from these cattle even in the face of disease? Over 15 years ago, US scientists demonstrated that you could recover embryos from the uterus of cattle at the height of FMD infection, wash these embryos and then transfer them to clean uninfected cattle, where they grew to term without transmitting FMD. The US has been using this discovery for years to import embryos of genetically-valuable cattle from countries infected with FMD. Why should I risk losing my herd? Why has NFU not pressed for this technology to be available in UK so that pure bred breeders could save their genetic lines? Why did we not use this in 2001? This procedure does not even need OIE approval so there is no one that DEFRA can blame for its inaction!
e. I just found out that the practice of responding to foot and mouth and other animal epidemics by quarantine and mass slaughter of all the animals on the infected farms and in the vicinity dates back to the Pope's physician in 1711 before the existence of viruses and bacteria was even suspected! Why that was at the time of our Queen Anne! Has Science done nothing to combat FMD in the past 300 years other than invent the telephone and fax machine? Is there any other part of the human struggle against human or animal diseases that is still stuck in the 18th century?"
1. Technology, pubic policy and control of transboundary animal diseases in our lifetimes. R. G. Breeze. Res. sci. tech.Off.int.Epiz. 2006, 25 (1) 271-292 (available at http://www.oie.int/eng/publicat/rt/2501/A_R2501_BREEZE.htm)." Regards, Roger Breeze
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