The editorial on the Brussels Conference (Vet Record Jan 12) was an interesting record of the eventWe also attended the conference and would like to offer our interpretation of some of the points made.
While it was true to say issues went further than vaccination, vaccination was without doubt the centre around which all other measures circled. What was very apparent was the difference between the attitude of the UK speakers and the others in their emphasis on the necessity for change.
It was clear that a great deal more notice had been taken of public opinion throughout the world, than by the authorities in the UK. Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, the Belgian Minister in charge of Agriculture in her opening speech, referred to the huge number of signatures
on a petition deliveredto her office only the afternoon before the Conference, against the culling policy. Such occurrences, although happening regularly in our country, have been studiously ignored by both press and ministers, from the Prime Minister down.
Many speakers both in the main hall and in the discussion groups alluded to the appalling cruelty metered out in seeing through a policy, which most agreed was completely unworkable on humane grounds, both from the point of view of slaughter and movement restrictions imposed just as if modern science did not exist.
Unscientific, barbaric, inhumane and wasteful were some of the adjectives used to describe what had been happening.
Where reference is made in the Veterinary Record editorial, and again on the Today programme by Mr Ben Gill on behalf of the NFU in their evidence to to Lessons Learnt Inquiry as to the ultimate slaughter of the vaccinated animals in the Netherlands, some further clarification is needed:
The Dutch were not obliged to slaughter all their vaccinated animals. On the 23 March they were granted suppressive vaccination (where slaughter would follow) in a 2 km area round confirmed outbreaks. In addition, on 3 April they obtained permission for protective vaccination, (vaccinated animals could live but would be prohibited from movement for at least one year). The farmers, many of them dairy, were led to believe their animals would be allowed to live and thus agreed to the protective vaccination area being much wider than was truly necessary for control of the disease. After vaccination was completed, their Government changed its mind and insisted on slaughtering the animals in a bid to qualify for normal trading after three months. That was the main reason why their vaccination strategy created such a high number of animal deaths. Not that vaccinating proportionately caused more slaughter, a myth now being freely peddled in this country, as witnessed by Ben Gill this morning, and whenever vaccination in the Netherlands is mentioned. Many Dutch farmers attempted to fight the slaughter in the courts and there was further public outcry.
In fact Dr Frits Pluimers CVO of the Netherlands made an impassioned speech at the conference, stating that he could not in the future ignore the will of the Dutch people and that vaccination would certainly be used should they be unfortunate enough to have another outbreak. However, they would never again follow a policy that slaughtered vaccinated animals, proved by tests to be uninfected. They would press for such tests, which he insisted do already exist, to be internationally validated, and trading rules brought up to date with the science.
A certain amount was said about international co-operation and control of the disease - and again the wasteful element of the Western throw-away society through the Uk's policy was brought firmly into focus by the Director General of FAO, Monsieur Jacques Diouf.
Mr Ben Gill voiced his concern from the floor at the lax border controls. With the exception of the nodding agreement of Alun Michaels, Minister of State for Rural Affairs, (standing in for Lord Whitty) who, however, pointed out that the likely borders involved were beyond Uk's shores, Mr Gill's remarks met with a lacklustre response. It was generally agreed that although import and border controls were an important part in the control of the spread of the disease, it would be extremely difficult to carry out or verify any degree of success.
In spite of the attitude of the UK speakers, we felt it was a forward thinking and upbeat conference. The final conclusion was that funds should be made available and pressure brought to bear on the international laboratories to give priority to the validation of the existing rapid diagnostic tests and also to bring the OIE trading rules up to date with modern science. As to consumer confidence, it was pointed out that as there was absolutely no danger to human health there was no logical reason why FMD vaccinated meat should have to show any specific identity any more than meat vaccinated for any other reason.
We have no recollection of anyone talking about 'strengthening existing controls,' but the challenge is certainly to convert the will of the Conference into action and it is up to us all to coax it along into happening.
Alicia Eykyn FMD Forum
Dr Ruth Watkins FMD Forum BScHons MBBS MSC MRCP MRCPath(Clinical Virologist)
Sabine Zentis Castleview FMD Forum Pedigree English Longhorns Gbr
Mechthild Oertel FMD Forum Galloways vom Bebensee Gbr
enc. The Vet Record Editorial