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Anthony Gibson on Farming Today January 31st 2011-01-31 asked about the effect of FMD on rural communities ane whether he thinks the UK is properly prepared for a future outbreak.

"Well it was a cataclysm. It shook the rural community to their foundations. We'd never known anything like it. On the first few days even the streets of cities like Exeter and towns like Taunton were deserted, such was the state of shock that descended upon the whole of Devon.

After we'd got over that of course then the nightmare began - and that was the fires. the stench, the prevailing chaos, the incessant telephone calls the desperate search for information all conducted against the backdrop of the most appalling weather. It was honestly like living a nightmare.

Q: Do you think we'd be better prepared for it now than we seemed to be in 2001?

Yes, much better prepared. In 2001 foot and mouth seemed like yesterday's problem. It was as if we'd been faced with an outbreak of bubonic plague. Now we know that it's a real and present danger. We've had an outbreak since 2001, there's a lot of foot and mouth disease elsewhere in the world at the moment. We've got a contingency plan now I think which is very much more fit for purpose, flexible.

I think the one lesson we haven't learned is that we're not in any better position now to use vaccination as against slaughter to deal with an outbreak than we were in 2001.

The penalties in terms of our meat and livestock exports are still exactly the same: it takes twice as long to get the export ban on meat lifted or three times as long if you vaccinate as it does if you slaughter so any government anywhere in the world will tend to regard vaccination as a last resort when it ought really to be considered as one of the first resorts.

Q: And yet it was the NFU leadership, wasn't it that was very much against the use of vaccination back in 2001

I disagreed with that at the time because I felt that after about the first two or three weeks the public had had enough of seeing images of vast numbers of animals being incinerated on huge pyres; they were sickened by it. They knew that vaccination was available as an alternative and they couldn't understand why the farming community wasn't using that - or why the government rather wasn't using that. And don't forget that animals were slaughtered at a cost of billions of pounds in that outbreak - and most of that could have been avoided had we used vaccination.

Q.As you point out, foot and mouth outbreaks are ongoing at the moment' Turkey, Bulgaria and South Korea, so it seems a long way away but how well protected is the UK against foot and mouth arriving here?

Well I don't think we're any better protected than we were ten years ago.

Of course we don't know how it got here ten years ago but you've got two million British tourists, for example, visiting Turkey every year. There are parts of Turkey where Foot and Mouth is endemic - that's how it spread into Bulgaria, there's an obvious danger that it might come back here. You know, the more virus there is circulating anywhere in the world, the greater the risk to everywhere in the world, the UK included and I think when there is as much virus around in the rest of the world as there is at the moment, I think DEFRA ought to be looking very, very hard at the precautions we have in place and thinking about - for example - requiring travellers on flights from Turkey to dip their feet in disinfectant baths when they arrive in airports in this country. It may be unnecessarily severe but the one lesson that 2001 ought to have taught us is that it's better to be safe than sorry.

Q. Is the risk really that great to warrant that sort of action?

I don't know. But the pattern of disease around the world over the last few months has been actually very similar to the pattern of disease in the run-up to the 2001 outbreak. And as long as you've got the disease in Europe and in South East Asia

I think DEFRA would be wise at the very least to look at the precautions we've got in place at the moment and saying "Are we doing enough to protect ourselves from what is clearly a heightened risk?"