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Sent by Roger Breeze to warmwell September 21 2007

DEFRA: The Triumph of Hope over Experience

We can now add DEFRA to the list of those who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
That opportunity was to use something other than the human eye, the gold standard technology established for such purposes in the reign of Queen Anne, to detect animals that might be infected with foot and mouth disease virus on the farm.

In 2002 Callahan and colleagues (1) described a real time PCR test that could be performed within an hour on or close to premises where there were animals that might be infected with foot and mouth disease virus (or even in a World Reference Center for Foot and Mouth Disease should one be convenient to the outbreak).

This test was more sensitive than traditional foot and mouth virus isolation and had the added advantage of detecting virus in non- optimal samples in which the virus was dead and not detectable at all by cell culture.

But Callahan and his colleagues also demonstrated something remarkable and previously unsuspected - that this PCR test could detect foot and mouth infected animals 2 or 3 days before they showed any outward signs of disease and before virus could be identified by any other means.

Had this rapid PCR test been performed on a few nasal swabs collected from each farm examined by animal health officers in Surrey in recent weeks there is no question but that infections would have been detected long ago even though lesions were not recognized.

The British veterinary authorities and the government's Chief Scientist, David King, have known about this technology since 2001 - they were told in advance long before the paper was published so they could get a head start on adding this to Britain's list of foot and mouth counter-measures.

As a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons of almost 40 years, I am astounded and baffled as to why the government is allowed to continue to practise obsolete veterinary medicine that is clearly contrary to the welfare of animals that the government has decided shall be solely in its care.

There can be no other branch of veterinary medicine where modern science is totally ignored yet veterinary surgeons retain their licences to practice.

I also read that the Countess of Mar was told in the House of Lords that "tests have to be validated by the OIE"... This is not true. A country can use any means it wishes to control foot and mouth disease whether or not OIE approves. What it must then do is use tests approved by OIE to resume international trade in animals and animal products. So the UK would have been perfectly within its rights, far better off and further on its way to eliminating foot and mouth and resuming trade if it had used a PCR test that works yet is not approved by OIE rather than visual inspection, which manifestly does not work, despite its hallowed origins in the dawn of the veterinary profession and its celebration in the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


1. Callahan J.D., Brown F., Osorio F.J., Sur J.H., Kramer E., Long G.W., Lubroth J. and others (2002) Use of a portable real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction assay for rapid detection of foot-and-mouth disease virus. J. med. Assoc. 220, (11) 1636-1642.

























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