Transcript from BBC Farming Today Sept 5th. This is a word for word transcript without any gaps or additions. warmwell.com.
Miriam O'Reilly:...it is claimed that the government's own vets aren't practising what they preach. the National Foot and Mouth Group, an organisation with scientists as members, say they have video footage of Defra vets examining livestock without taking enough precautions.The Association was brought about in order to establish a greater understanding the science involved in combating the spread of the disease. Its spokesman, Jon Dobson, claims the vets were taking unacceptable risks.
Jon Dobson: I watched a vet team gathering sheep in biosecurity suits that were not zipped up, wearing jumpers that were wrapped around the outside of the suit and then, during the whole of the bloodtesting procedure, while touching the sheep, not wearing gloves, headgear or hepa-filta masks.
Miriam O'Reilly: Do you know whether these people were then going to go on and be in contact with other animals at other farms?
Jon: No I don't and I don't know where the vets came from either but my opinion is that should they be there doing such testing then the highest bio-security should be maintained.
M.O: This could just be a one-off incident.
Jon:No, I don't think so because I have witnessed other events where blood testing has been performed and other culls and at other times where the same biosecurity was being followed...ie. no gloves, no filters, no masks and no headgear
M.O.: Well if you don't know where these officials were before the incident or where they were going afterwards, surely that weakens your case if those were the only animals they were coming into contact with?
Jon: It might do but then, should the virus be present, which no one would know, then there is a risk that the virus could then be contracted by the vet and no one even with the greatest experience could know that unless at the point after the blood tests have been confirmed.
M.O.:These could have been perfectly healthy animals. we don't know if they were carrying the disease...
Jon: Absolutely, they could have been healthy in which case there would of course have been no risk but no one was to know that at the time.
M.O.: So what are you saying here? That bio-security isn't being kept up within DEFRA itself?
Jon: Yes. The DEFRA guidelines I'm aware of say that common sense says the vets wear gloves, there are no guidelines around the use of headgear or the use of masks and it is knowledge with most of the experts that a mask should be worn because the virus, if it is taken into the throat, can exist in the throat of the vet for up to 96 hours from the time when the vet was there with the animal.
Miriam O'Reilly: The majority of National Farmers Union members in Cumbria are now in favour of vaccination but without slaughter. Cumbria is the county worst hit by the disease with 878 cases confirmed. NFU official Will Cockbain said at the start of the crisis most farmers were firmly against vaccination but now they realise that some rare breeds could be lost for ever, they have changed their minds.
Will Cockbain: There was a majority within the NFU executive the other night. I don't know whether there's an overall majority in Cumbria but certainly there's a significant amount of farmers now who are actively looking at the benefits of vaccination.
MO: What percentage?
WC: They said in the meeting the other night it was probably 60% for, 40 % against - but what we all need is some more information.
MO: What type of vaccination programme do they want?
WC: Well, I don't think anyone wants to see their animals slaughtered afterwards so it would have to be "protective vaccination" and certainly in the case of the hefted hill breeds, the Swaledales, Herdwicks and Rough Fells which are of such environmental value, these breeds have already lost between 40 and 50 % of the total numbers so they're perilously close to the edge if the disease flares up this back end.
MO: This is a bit of a turn around isn't it by the NFU? Because you were dead set against vaccination.
WC: Well the NFU nationally, early on in April were against the proposals that the government came out with for vaccinating cattle in North Cumbria because the government didn't put in the necessary assurances but, as I'm sure you're well aware, the disease has come a long way since April, we're now looking at a winter scenario with everything going back in the disease's favour, whereas in the spring it was looking as if we might get on top of it and the Summer was going to favour disease eradication but that hasn't happened.
MO: The scientists were saying that we would have seen the "tail end" of it by now and that's not happening. Are you worried that it's still ongoing?
WC: Well I mean the tail we had for the two, three outbreaks a day in Cumbria since the end of May remained fairly constant although you'll find there were actually more cases in August than there were in July so from Cumbria's point of view it has never really been a " tail" because when you take into consideration the amount of contiguous and "dangerous contact" culls we have been losing thousands of animals, literally thousands of animals every week all summer.
MO: we have been given information from Imperial College that the scientists there are now saying that we may not see the disease tail out until the next christmas, Christmas 2002. what's your reaction to that?
WC:Well, I wouldn't disbelieve that certainly. Some of the epidemiologists that are working on the ground have said that if we didn't see the end of the disease by early September, which is where we are now, then it was certainly going to run into 2002 and it wouldn't take much of a higher percentage of incidence for it to run a very long time, so yes i can quite see that being a possibility but it must not be allowed to happen.
MO: What do farmers in Cumbria want from the government now?
WC: What we specifically want from the government is for Jim Scudamore or David King or people like that to come to Cumbria and spell out exactly what their contingency plans are. if the disease flares up and starts to get more out of control,- and lets face it it's never been under control, not properly under control - we want to know what their plans are. If those plans involve vaccination then tell everybody exactly what it will mean, what sort of strategy you are going to use, what's the mid term impact and what's the exit strategy. We need to know all the facts.
MO: If the government decide not to vaccinate now, what's that going to mean to farmers like yourself in Cumbria?
WC: Well if th government decide not to vaccinate now and just carry on with the policy that they're doing it looks to me , where I'm farming and lots of other people like me, that they're prepared to see the total slaughter of the native hill breeds of the North of England - with all the environmental, cultural and social impact of that. WC:
Miriam O'Reilly: Speculation has been rife for days that scientists advising the government are now in favour of a vaccination programme and that there could be an announcement soon. As we reported last week, one of the arguments against ha been that people wouldn't buy milk or meat from animals which had been vaccinated. Later today the minister for Food and Farming, Lord Whitty, will be meeting Safeway executives to gauge opinion. I put it to Lord Whitty that there appeared to be a groundswell in favour of vaccination and asked for his reaction to the turnabout in opinion on farms in Cumbria...
LW:I think there is a misconception here. People point to the netherlands and say "The Netherlands vaccinated" but of course the Netherlands vaccinated with slaughter. In fact, in terms of the number of cases they slaughtered more animals per new case...per individual case ...than we did. So vaccination with slaughter did work in the Netherlands. Vaccination without slaughter is a much more difficult option, and whilst it might slow down the disease in certain instances, in most instances it would be quicker to engage in the kind of culling..er..that we're doing now in Northumberland to contain the disease there.
MO: Are you looking at vaccination as an option currently?
LW: As a support to the existing policy it is possible that ..er..we might use vaccination, you know, that has always been the situation....
MO: Is that yes....so yes you are, is that what you're saying?
LW: Yes, the policy hasn't changed we have always said vaccination in a number of circumstances.... we did come to the point, or my predecessors came to the point several months ago that we were considering vaccination in Cumbria ....of course vaccination does require virtually 100%£ cooperation from the farmers. At that point that was clearly not there. Your previous contributor did indicate that there's a change of mood..er..in Cumbria but it certainly isn't a 100% ..er..change of mood.
MO: Is the government about to make an announcement on that? We understand in the next six weeks there will be an announcement about some form of vaccination programme.
LW: No.. I think that understanding is completely misplaced. I don't know where the six weeks came from . We have always said that we will consider vaccination. There is no ..er..six week deadline...er.. day to day considering the options with the disease as it develops and as we...we face new cases or reduced cases..er...so that is not the position at the moment and I'd like to make that quite clear.
MO: But we do understand that your own scientists are proposing a separate vaccination package for each of the English regions and we have been told, by good sources, that Ministers are preparing to authorise that limited vaccination programme. Farmers need to know this. Some of them feel that they can't take any more. They've got to know what the government's contingency plan is.
LW: The main issue is that the government is now proposing - not so much a vaccination programme..that is always there....and would be available, nothing has changed in relation to that and farmers should know that...that in certain circumstances we might be prepared to use vaccination, but the main way forward is the .. culling . What..er.. the situation that changes, as your previous contributor from Cumbria also indicated was that over the next few weeks there will be very substantial movements ..in doing that, of course we've got to "de-couple" the level of movements from an increase in the disease, because it was movements that spread the disease in the first place, both local and long distance, and we've got to avoid that and that is why we're insisting on much much tighter bio-security arrangements, strict licensing and inspection and testing programme for movements. Farmers of course find this difficult and we understand that .....
MO:....they're finding it's difficult because it is just not working....
LW: There have been breaches in bio-security some of which have got nothing to do with the farmers er...
MO: But we do understand that DEFRA 's own people.....
LW: Well we have (couldn't catch this word) that but we have said that where that happens we'd take action against those people whether they're direct employees of DEFRA or contractors of DEFRA and we'll examine all those cases very closely . There's responsibility on all contractors going ...whether they're working for defra or not, there's also a responsibility on the farmers and the more those..er.. tight bio-security obligations are observed the better chance we have of ..er..controlling the disease.
MO: We've been told that scientists from Imperial College have given some dates for when the disease might finally peter out and their "best case scenario" they have come up with is December or January; the second is July, the worst case scenario is that the disease will be around in Autumn 2002. It's not good enough, Minister, they might say, to talk about "bio-security" and culling. There has to be a contingency plan. There must be a contingency plan. Can you tell us what that is?
LW: The contingency plan is to..er..have a more effective culling process, supported in particular circumstances, if necessary, by vaccination. That has by and large worked; two thirds of the country that has been under restriction is now no longer under restriction because we have cleared out the disease from the vast majority of farms within England and Wales and Scotland. It has therefore been a success in the majority of the country....those two areas where the disease is still alive ..where there have been cases over the last couple of weeks are now subject to the strictest bio-security arrangements and the heaviest culling programmes....
MO: ..You say that vaccination is still there as an option? Under what circumstances will the government authorise vaccination?
LW: Where vaccination...maybe vaccination to kill...but where vaccination could actually support ....er.... the stopping of the spread of the disease.....
MO: Could we just clarify? You have said that vaccination is still an option, we've known that but it does seem that there is a groundswell of opinion both from the scientists who are advising the government and farmers themselves that we need vaccination.
LW: Well, I have to say that there's been no change in the advice ..er.. to government from the scientists ..er..on the appropriateness of vaccination in these circumstances....
MO; So vaccination isn't imminent then, Lord Whitty? It's not imminent?
LW: The circumstances could change overnight er ...and therefore I cannot say that it's not imminent. What I'm saying is that our advice has not changed and the policy has therefore not changed....
MO; But everyone is saying that this seems to be a political decision, that the government does not want to be seen to be making a U-turn on vaccination...
LW: No that's not the case. we've always been prepared to adopt..er.. a new approach if that would seem to be more effective. There's no ..er.. pride in what we've done..er..previously..um...that we have to defend everything we've done in the cause of this disease. There were obviously some mistakes that have been made and some things that we can learn.
MO: So what's stopping the government from making the decision now to vaccinate?
LW: Well we do not have the scientific advice to suggest that ... nor...in the "close to 100%" sense do we have the support of the farmers.
MO: Some of the reasons against vaccination at the beginning were a) exports and b) that the public would not like to eat meat from animals which had been vaccinated against foot and mouth. Are they still important issues for the government?
LW: They are still issues. They are not the most important issue. The most important issue for the government is would it be more effective than the current policy ..of stamping out the disease in these remaining hotspots....
MO; It does seem as if supermarkets also are coming also round to vaccination. I know that you're meeting Safeway executives. are you going to be bringing this up with them? are you going to be discussing...?
LW; I'll be discussing with the trade as a whole their view on vaccination. Hitherto, they have been pretty equivocal....but as I say, that's not the main issue. The main issue in front of us is how we stamp out the disease in these hotspots and if vaccination is seen to be the best way then, irrespective of the view of the trade, we would take the route of vaccination ...that is not the case...
MO: But you are asking them whether they would stock milk from vaccinated cows against foot and mouth, or meat. You are going to be asking them that?
LW: We have asked them throughout the disease and we are asking them again now, yes.