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CLOSE UP - BBC" 7.30pm Thursday 4th October 2001

 

Kill Not Cure

 

Introduction

 

Voice Over - Vaccination is a powerful tool to control and wipe out disease in people and in animals. It can be used against the foot & mouth virus yet not a single dose has been delivered in the worlds worst outbreak, here in Britain,

 

Professor Fred Brown - We're in a serious situation in this country. They've allowed the disease to go out yet vaccination has been put on one side, barely considered.

 

Anthony Gibson (NFU) - I think we, like most people in this country did not regard vaccination as being on the agenda at all.

 

V/O - Were we wrong?

 

A.G. - With the benefit of hindsight I think, almost certainly, we were wrong.

 

V/O - But many experts think its right to try and stamp out foot and mouth with slaughter. Is vaccination a shot in the dark or the modern alternative to mass culling?

 

Opening Titles

 

.... this shed here. This is where it all happened, most of them went down. It was just terrible. I don't think I'll ever forget it really.

 

.... I don't think you can.

 

V/O - George Thomas and his friend Derek recall the slaughter of 130 cattle at Greenacre farm at Highhampton. The animals belonged to his neighbour, Willy Cleave, the dealer who unwittingly brought foot & mouth to Devon.

When George spotted the first symptoms he immediately alerted the authorities but the disease spread quickly.

 

G.T. - .... but even the vets, the ministry vets couldn't believe what they saw, I think it was the first case they'd really seen of a ... went down there..

 

.... one side of the shed where all the cows were, mainly. They was all right. It was the other side of the shed what was affected with em in that it was just like a battle field. There was cows everywhere and they was just grovelling on the ground .. and there was all sort ... you could .. wah . I nearly, well, I said I was gonna shoot the cows myself.

 

V/O - It was the ministry of agricultures job to destroy the animals. But four days passed with no action, every hour increasing the risk of infection spreading.

At one point George said a ministry official even suggested he go on a shopping trip for disinfectant.

 

G.T. - No one knew what was going on. Then I had a phone call back from someone at the office said it wasn't up to them to get the disinfectant, I had to get it. I had to go to Barnstaple myself when I was penned in here, to go and get disinfectant. Wasn't up to them. It was up to Mr. Cleave to get it but Mr Cleave couldn't get it down from his place cos he was shut in up there. As far as I knew I was here on my own with the police on the gate I couldn't go anywhere.

 

V/O - when the cull finally got under way George became increasingly distraught. The police took his guns and he was advised by his doctor to leave the farm because of the stress.

 

 

G.T. - That's one thing I didn't want to see. All these cows all ... you know. It was ..it was terrible. I flipped my lid. I come back up here and I said to the police I want witnesses I said to the driver I want witnesses, I said I want the television cameras to come back here. I said I want something to sort this out .. its enough .. its finished me now.

 

V/O - The pyres were finally ready to be lit. Even at this stage in the outbreak with just a handful of cases Maff was overwhelmed! Failing to slaughter animals within the 24 hour time limit considered vital to stamp out the disease.

 

A.G.? - All of our contingency planning was based on a completely different type of outbreak, on farms of a completely different scale. I mean farms have doubled, tripled in size since 1967-68. The resources available are vastly smaller now in terms of vets, than they were then. It became patently obvious within about three days after the outbreak here in Devon that the system wasn't working, it was breaking down. The vets were incapable of constructing pyres 400m long to dispose of a 1000 cattle and 3000 sheep. It just wasn't happening and this, of course allowed the disease to spread but nobody thought of vaccination really until it was too late.

 

V/O - For many of the farmers and their vets the situation was intolerable.

 

Wendy Vere (Vet) - Utterly tragic. It has completely, it has unravelled people, it has made people very suspicious, wary of anybody in authority, they feel they can't trust people anymore. They feel to a certain extent that the veterinary profession has let them down because many were asking me why can't we use vaccination. We vaccinate our cows, our sheep against all these other diseases. What's so different about FMD? What makes it so special that we as animal keepers aren't, are not allowed to use vaccination to protect them against this disease?

 

V/O - By slaughtering rather than vaccinating the ministry was sticking to an 80 year old policy and one that's always worked. Eradicating the disease every time it's turned up.

Research into vaccination was stepped up around World War 2 but mainly because of fears that foot & mouth could be used as a biological weapon.

Its never been used against the disease in Britain. Even in 1967 the year of our last big outbreak

 

Abigail Woods (Foot & mouth historian) - Vaccination has been something MAFF have never wanted to do. In fact they never even wanted to vaccinate in the first place because in Britain they always used to think that slaughter would work. It was 192???? before research even began into foot & mouth disease in Britain. MAFF was virtually saying we don't need research; we don't need to know anything more about this disease because we already know how to get rid of it.

 

V/O - But from the start of this outbreak there were vets and scientists calling for vaccination. One of the most eminent was professor Fred Brown, the former deputy director of Britain foot & mouth research lab and regarded as the leading authority on the disease. He now works as an advisor to the U.S. government. Had he been consulted by Britain, he would have proposed what is called ring vaccination.

 

Fred Brown - I would have vaccinated whatever size of circle you want to draw and I would have vaccinated, working from the outside, working inwards and you could.. These vaccines, present day vaccines, are very effective. You can get immunity within four or five days.

 

V/O - Namibia 1962, British vets, Ken Tyrell, and his colleague carry out trials of foot & mouth vaccine. It was timely work, less than a year later, at the eastern edge of Europe; they would use vaccination to bring to a halt a huge outbreak which swept through Africa and the Middle East. (vision shows Turkish border sign).

Ken was also at the forefront of Britain's 1967 outbreak. Today he's in no doubt vaccination should have been used this time.

 

Ken Tyrell (Retired vet) - After, shall we say, day seven of the outbreaks, it was obvious to anybody with any experience that this disease was NOT going to be controlled by the slaughter policy, easily! So that was the time to start ring vaccination. And as the periods have gone on and the slaughter policy has failed miserably then that was the time to do in a firewall, perhaps 10 miles wide round place like Cumbria. This contains it.

 

V/O - It wasn't just experts on the sidelines questioning policy but people on the front line too.

Cyril and Marilyn Parishes cattle never got foot & mouth but the ministry wanted to kill them anyway as part of its so-called contiguous cull.

It should have been done within 48 hours of the neighbour's farm becoming infected but again there were delays. MAFF waiting a full month before contacting the Parishes.

They successfully challenged the ministry with vet Wendy Vere and saved the cattle.

 

(Vision of the Parishes with W.V discussing cattle etc.)

 

Wendy Vere (vet) - They look wonderful don't they? Absolutely cracking, you must be so pleased. For all your hard work Cyril and Marilyn you've done a marvellous job considering that the ministry wanted to kill them all. I think this is a testament to how ridiculous the whole policy was. (Speech becomes voice-over)

Your have to go back to how it all started really which was, there seemed to be such a delay identifying infected animals, slaughtering them and then disposing of the bodies that you then got an enormous dispersal of virus anyway in that area and it just seemed to me, well if all you were going to do is dispersing the virus by the slaughter policy, you must adopt a better policy and that's when I started reading into vaccination and discovered that vaccination have been used quite successfully in many other countries to do exactly this to control outbreaks of foot & mouth disease.

 

V/O - Countries, like Wendy discovered, like Argentina. Nearly 15 million cattle are being vaccinated to control a foot & mouth outbreak at the moment. For now exports are banned but the disease doesn't have to be eradicated for them to resume, it just has to be brought under control.

But in Britain the situation is different. Some of our most important exports are of live animals and under EU law those would be banned for a year after vaccination.

The reason is a complex scientific one. The standard blood test for foot & mouth, the one being used to check Britain's flock at the moment, can't tell the difference between an infected and a vaccinated animal. This is a problem because vaccinated animals can still harbour the virus. They don't show symptoms but they can pass on the infection, potentially sparking another outbreak.

 

Professor Chris Bostock (Institute of Animal Welfare) - Even if an animal is vaccinated, that doesn't guarantee that it won't become infected. It won't necessarily show clinical signs of the disease but it can replicate the virus, become persistently infected and still act as a source of infection for susceptible animals that are unprotected through vaccination.

 

V/O - The result would be that you could never eradicate foot & mouth. The only way of stopping a new outbreak would be to vaccinate every animal and its offspring.

But for several years new tests have been available which CAN tell if a vaccinated animal is infected. They are not officially approved but some scientists believe they already make current policies out of date.

 

Prof. F.B. - They prove that I advised of this (?), a small laboratory in New York State got a test ... they tried out their tests with thousands of animals and they came up with very good results, greater than 99% sensitivity and selectivity. That's one test. Clearly you would like other people to take on .. say "Does it really work?"

 

Prof. Chris Bostock - There are a number of tests that are under development, if you like, that, with a high probability, can distinguished between vaccinated and convalescent animals but they're not 100% accurate and so I think it would be difficult to persuade the international authorities, at the moment, to accept the tests for err individual animals.

 

V/O - But its argued that this sort of science rarely achieves 100% accuracy and that what's really stopping the technology moving forward is governments clinging on to the historic certainty of slaughter.

 

Abigail Woods - It almost seems that what they're asking for is scientifically unobtainable. No vaccine is ever going to be absolutely 100% in all cases and that seems to be what they're demanding. The fact that so much progress has been made over the past 40 years doesn't seem to be mentioned. They just keep on moving the goal posts making it more and more difficult to achieve. and it's sort of ironic that. You know, scientific discovery works by taking things out of the lab and applying them on a wider scale, applying them in the field and MAFF doesn't want these vaccines out of the lab. They're trying to keep them in there, all the time. Its just doesn't want them out of the laboratory and in the field in it keeps finding reasons to keep them there.

 

V/O - Most experts agree that even if an inoculated animal is carrying virus, there is little evidence that it would pass it on. But however small the risk its one that some are not prepared to take.

 

Richard Sibley (President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association). - Its small, but its real and I think we should all ask ourselves if we should buy and animal from Cumbria, bring it to Devon and stick it in the middles of our dairy herds. I don't think we would and this was the issue at the time that the NFU argued that these animals would be de-valued. Even if we removed the legislative restriction that would be put on their movement, who would buy them, who would want them?

 

V/O - The scientific argument may change with time. As new tests with vaccines are approved, some of the opposition to vaccination is likely to drop away.

But another factor is at work, which has little to do with science. It's the way vaccination is used as a global bargaining tool.

At the beginning of April, the number of foot & mouth cases was soaring. With an election looming, Tony Blair took charge and suddenly vaccination was on the cards.

At Chequers, the Prime Minister met with experts, ministers, key players in the food industry and pro-vaccination groups like the Soil Association. The farmers' leader, Ben Gill, was not invited.

The plan was to vaccinate up to 180,000 dairy cattle in Cumbria and Devon.

 

Patrick Holden (Soil Association) - At the start of the meeting he simply said "Look, I've got you all here, as you probably know, we believe that there should be a change in policy and we would like to implement a vaccination program and we've been unable to do that because of opposition, mainly from the National Farmers' Union and some of the other farming groups too".

So he then went to the retailers and food manufacturers and he said, "Well, you've heard our position. What are your views?" and there was a short silence and then Terry Lehee??, the M.D. of ... chief executive of Tescos said, "Yes, I think we'll go along with this. The arguments seem reasonable to me." And the others fell into line.

There was one voice of concern, and that was in relation to the dairy sector and the Nestle company who had a creamery and a milk field in Cumbria and they were worried about whether there would be an international impact on trade because of the perception of dairy products and vaccinated animals and also logistical problems. But the overwhelming mood at the end of the meeting was that the industry was on side, that the government would deal with the opposition from Ben Gill, Jim Walker and others and that vaccination would probably take place within a few days.

 

Archive footage of BBC 10 o'clock News - Good evening. The government looks set to order a mass vaccination program to control the spread of foot & mouth disease. The decision is expected within 48 hours ...

 

V/O But it was not to be. Crucially ministers failed to secure the cooperation of farmers.

 

Elliott Morley M.P. (Animal Health Minister) - It was clear to me that the majority of farmers were always against it. I'm sure that when the food industry had concerns didn't help but the farmers on the ground, both in Devon and in Cumbria, were, at that time, the majority against.

 

V/O - The National Farmers Union disagree. It says farmers were evenly split over vaccination until the food industry raised its objection

 

A.G. (NFU). - It was partly this prejudice against vaccination and partly perfectly justifiable fears that, if we could eradicate it with slaughter then it would ... that would leave no lasting legacy, no lasting blight, if you like, while vaccination might very well leave that blight but what turned it in the end, farming opinion was divided almost 50:50 what turned it, farming opinion against vaccination was the noises coming from the food industry that the would either not buy at all or they would pay less for meat and milk from animals that had been vaccinated. That, as far as the farmers were concerned, put the tin lid on the argument for vaccination. It just wasn't on.

Interviewer - But given there is no rational basis for not using vaccinated milk or meat, why didn't the NFU just turn round and say "That's completely illogical, come to your senses, take our product.!"

A.G. - Well people like me did say that but of course farmers felt that, well, we may say that but we know actually how the food industry actually behaves, they are a law unto themselves and if they've got an excuse for paying less for meat or milk they will use that excuse. It was that fear, that cynicism, if you like, which tipped the scales.

 

V/O - Products from vaccinated animals pose no risk to people but if infected they can spread the virus (visions of bursting suitcases of meat products at airport customs inspections) so milk products have to be heat treated and meat deboned. The food industry says this can be hard to do and could dent consumer confidence. Arguments though which hold little sway with those fighting foot & mouth.

 

Prof F.B. - I can understand the NFU and the people that export material, if the rules say "You've vaccinated so we're not going to have your material, not going to have your animals." I can understand them saying that "if we vaccinate we can't sell our products. Why should we vaccinate? We may as well have our animals killed because the compensation would be better than nothing". So I can see all these arguments but this is not about getting rid of the disease, they're about trading, they're about money. It's not about the disease at all, not about getting rid of the disease.

 

V/O - It was issues of trade that ultimately dictated how other European handled their outbreaks this year.

In Holland they vaccinated but then slaughtered the animals so they could export again quickly. It will never be known whether vaccination rather than the subsequent cull that helped the problem. But the pattern of their disease was very similar to the pattern here in Britain now with just a few clearly identified hot spots and some believe we should try vaccination even at this stage.

 

Prof F.B. - I think it's an ideal time to vaccinate. The number of outbreaks now is so much smaller you could cope with it. Before, maybe there were so many outbreaks it would have been difficult to draw the rings around, we talked about earlier, draw the rings around an infection, and work inwards there were probably so many it would have been very, very difficult to do it. Now the small number of outbreaks can you, say, do, if you wish an experiment in Northumberland, say, we've now got 17 outbreaks was the last I heard, can't we make certain we don't get any more or we can contain it so it doesn't keep on going and that is probably a very good time to do it.

 

V/O - While it appears the southwest is over foot & mouth, the region may not be out of the woods yet. The fear is that, as autumn sets in, the cold, damp weather favoured by the virus could spark resurgence.

 

P.H. ( SoilAss.) - The question is how long does the current outbreak have go on before it is finally accepted that this is a case too many, an animal too many to be slaughtered and that we could change our treatment, our control strategy for the before the end of this one. Let's hope the few cases we're seeing in Northumberland and Cumbria are the last spots. But supposing we're still them in a months time, or two months time, what then? Its a matter of huge public importance that pressure is put on the government now, to change the policy during the current outbreak even at this late stage.

 

V/O - The government's advisors, though, are still arguing against..

 

Richard Sibley (President of the British Cattle Veterinary Association) - We're very supportive of the idea that vaccination is the route to go for sustainable controlling of disease. But in the case of foot & mouth disease and some other diseases, vaccines and the nature of the disease are such that I don't think it's a viable control policy on a national level. The major losers in foot & mouth disease have not just been those people that have had the disease and been slaughtered out. The major losers are the people that haven't had the disease but their normal farming practice and their normal trade has been totally disrupted by the movement restrictions that have been out upon them and if we'd created a vaccine zone in Devon, they'd still be locked up in that way. Now we have optimism that, as long as we complete the blood testing in Devon, that the south west region will be declared free of foot & mouth disease and we will get back some semblance of normality in trading of animals, which is essential for the region.

 

V/O - But a rethink of policy is underway. In December there will be a major EU conference in Brussels looking at all aspects of foot & mouth.

The Dutch want vaccination without subsequent slaughter to become an easier option. Britain is looking for changes too.

 

Elliott Morley M.P - I don't think that anyone would want to see those kind of funeral pyres again in this country and, if we can find alternatives to dealing with animals and dealing with disease control than that, then we should take every step to do so.

Interviewer - But as of today the vaccination policy is the same as it was in January this year.

E. M. - Well as of today we're in the end stages of the epidemic and um really to use vaccinations now would give very little benefit and very little benefit in terms of control of the disease but would give you all the disadvantages.

Interviewer - And if it flared up again, perhaps in Devon?

E.M. - We don't rule anything out and if the situation changes, and I hope that it doesn't, but if the situation changes but then, of course, we don't rule anything out, but whether or not we use vaccinations would depend on the advice that we get. But if we were advised that vaccination was an essential part of disease control, then we would certainly use it.

 

V/O - Those who saw the impact of slaughter on farmers and the rural economy believe there HAS to be a new policy. If not now but then certainly for next time.

 

W.V (vet) - I doubt we will ever see the slaughter policy implemented again. I mean when you actually look at the facts and figures its one of terrible human suffering. Its a completely farcical policy and I really think that the .. if they have any brain in their heads at all the EU agriculture departments and veterinary experts will sit around the table and reorganise the policy so vaccination will be used in the future to control outbreaks.

 

A.G. (N.F.U.) - Almost more damaging than the actual arguments for and against vaccination was the impression that was created that, you know, the farming community was prepared to almost see every animal from Lands End to John O'Groats slaughtered if that was the case, if that was what was necessary to eliminate the disease at a time when people were getting sickened, almost physically sickened by the slaughter. They wanted it to stop. There was a great groundswell of public opinion which felt that vaccination was the right way forward. And, OK, you can say we've got to look at this scientifically but we also have to look at it in terms of how our customers look at it and that is certainly something that has to be taken into account in determining future policy for foot and mouth disease.

 

V/O - Also to be considered is the impact on the global food economy. What's needed, its argued, is a global vaccination policy.

 

Prof. F.B. - There's so much trading and so much illegal trading that you're always going to be at risk. Whilst the virus is present in any country in the world and the disease is present in any country in the world. The rest of the world is at risk. I would like to see every animal in the world vaccinated.

Maybe I'm a dreamer but I don't see why, and I've raised this many times too, why with a disease that can be so devastating, not only to the livestock, but to world trade and to the humans involved, I don't see why this shouldn't be taken on by an international body like the food and agricultural organisations. We're a civilisation. We've got rid of smallpox. Poliomyelitis (?) is almost in the same position, a devastating disease. Measles is the next target. Why shouldn't we do this with foot & mouth?

 

V/O - For now it seems vaccination offers a way of controlling foot & mouth rather than a guarantee of eradicating it. For some that makes it unacceptable. What many find equally unacceptable is how their feelings and opinions were ignored.

 

G.T. (farmer) - Well I still sleep, I wake up at night, I still see these, you know, these cows laying on the ground grovelling around it was this, you know. We told them right from day one that they was fighting a losing battle. Nobody wanted to know.

 

V/O - The economic and scientific arguments are complex but vaccination is the only alternative to slaughter and the devastating human cost of a kill not cure policy.

 

Reporter, V/O and interviewer - Samantha Smith.

Warmest thanks to Adrian from warmwell for making this transcript - and to the BBC for making the programme