Foot and Mouth Disease – Control Strategies: (World) conference in Lyons organized by the Merieux Foundation, the International Association for Biologicals and the Office International des Epizooties.
From Sunday 2nd until Wednesday 5th of June, I had the privilege and the pleasure to attend this global gathering of the eponymous ‘FMD community’, primarily composed of Chief Veterinary Officers, National Policy makers and Vaccinologists . An otherwise exhausting schedule was ameliorated by excellent food, a carefully constructed ‘Mystery Tour of Lyons’ social life (discovering the City mandatory), and the universal (‘stamp collectors ’)joy of meeting with a bunch of people sharing the same obsession.
Obsession apart, this group headed by the O.I.E., effectively create the international policy on F.M.D. (and other animal diseases), which the W.T.O. then endorse. It was therefore wonderful that I was able to cite Rio and Agenda 21, speak as a stakeholder, contribute to global policy making on the hoof, and be invited, both from the Platform and by numerous individuals, to continue so to do.
Briefly then, what developments? Firstly, the week prior to the Conference the O.I.E. agreed to halve the penalty-time for use of vaccination prior to regaining full F.M.D.-free status. This small but significant step is an indicator of a much greater review taking place behind the scenes, whereby Governments are analysing the costs and benefits of the present Policy in the light of the barely stated but oft-recognised reality of the ‘thermometer disease’ nature of F.M.D.. Indeed vets from Africa stated as clearly as they could that F.M.D. is not a major disease (per se), but only the human (trade-driven) response to it, a fact confirmed by vets from all over the world where it is endemic (and quietly recognized by those from where it is not to be found).
Following questions from F.M.D. Forum members to the DEFRA representative (the U.K. C.V.O. sent a proxy), who was stating all-up cull figures of 4 million, the Global Policy makers were able to realize both accurate figures (11 million casualties conservatively estimated by the Meat and Livestock Commission and approved by a DEFRA official) permitting informed Debate and realistic costings, and the socially corrupting nature of a policy which comes close to creating a (Civil) war in countries badly affected – the first casualty being seen to be Truth! Indeed the language of war arose quite often, as in ‘waging war on this virus’, or’ you can only change the policy during ‘peacetime’’. The recurrent and ongoing hatred of the policy (in Mexico in the 1950’s, once culling reached half a million, the rural populace started killing vets) – was brought into the rarified atmosphere of the Policy makers VIP existence, for which most were very grateful.
Encouragingly, many countries expressed revulsion at the cull .The Dutch stated that they felt that the cull was socially unacceptable, the French position was that two more outbreaks and they would have vaccinated, albeit vaccination (at that time) to cull. The pressure is very much on to validate (three) potential tests to determine whether anti-bodies are derived from vaccine or virus; U.K. objections that this still leaves unresolved the question of the ‘carrier’ in pursuit of absolute zero risk were countered from the floor by considerations of the risk from unvaccinated carriers, in addition to the fact, as was generally agreed, that carriers have never, even under experimental laboratory conditions when researchers tried to induce such, been shown to infect naove stock. Additional evidence was cited of Pirbright’s (actual, practical) confidence in the non-infectivity of vaccinated stock, in contradiction to their stated reservations.
Thus each country is scrambling to develop their own rational, achievable, socially acceptable and economic policy. No ‘one size fits all’ solution obtains. The Americans will follow a decision tree, culling in the first instance but moving to whatever best suits, including vaccination, regionalisation, who knows, possibly even cure if that is in their national interest depending on all the variables of the Epidemiology – how widespread, how caused, needs at the time etc.. Pressure is very much on for further research, development and validation of the above-mentioned marker vaccines, rapid-diagnosis technology such as the Cepheid ‘Smart Cycler’ (as shown on BBC’s ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in April 2001) and similar, for further improvements in Vaccinology and for statistical analysis of the risks the ‘carrier’ animal presents to enable logical decision and Policy making. In a nutshell, I would say that all present understood that we stand at a cross-roads:- either regulate FMD in a sane way, or accept that pressure will grow for it to be disregarded as no more than a phyto-sanitary barrier to free trade, raising questions as to whether the W.T.O. can endorse such. Realistically, so much time and effort has been expended on F.M.D. to date that the latter proposal would receive a very rough ride indeed; efforts are therefore being focused on both how to reduce the damage incurred (as above), and how to reduce its incidence, namely by aiming for an F.M.D.-free world. To achieve the latter, the better-off nations will serve their own financial best interests by assisting their worse-off neighbours to control their F.M.D. problems. In this way, ironically, F.M.D. could be made to work for a better world!
Did I manage to express the Biodynamic position, that we should try and evolve new ways of looking at and treating the disease – no, sadly; nor did I manage to state officially my observation that we all understand our responsibilities for our livestock but have we begun to consider our responsibilities to them? However I did refer to such and similar whenever appropriate in private conversations, and basically as a ‘new boy’ to the proceedings felt constrained to settle for my ‘maiden speech’, and establishing a network of colleagues with whom I can liaise.
Finally, I am very glad to be able to report that Dr. Keith Sumption, of Edinburgh University Tropical Diseases department and an F.M.D. Forum member, has been appointed Permanent Secretary to the European Union F.M.D. Committee (comprising one Representative from each country), through whom all approaches to that Committee can be made. Thanks to the B.D.A.A. for sponsoring my trip and assisting with the costs.