Foot and Mouth out of Control; what a Shambles.


Those of us who were involved in the 1967/68 out break can only watch the dreadful mistakes appearing on our TV s every day with a mixture of absolute horror and dismay.  The Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Foot and Mouth Disease 1968 (Part one Reference Cmnd 3999 and Part two Reference Cmnd 4225 ) laid down many conclusions and recommendations and if these had been followed from day one of the outbreak then the disease would not have spread so widely, so many of our valuable flocks and herds would still be alive and the rural economy would not be destroyed.


After the very first diagnosis or strong suspicion that FMD was in the country and with a link between Essex and Northumberland the Controlled area restriction should have been imposed immediately. After the Devon involvement became obvious and slaughterhouses were possible infected to have allowed suspect stock to remain alive whilst Pirbright results were awaited was nothing short of culpable negligence during which time, of course the virus escaped into the neighbourhood with further spread. After all they had gone there to be slaughtered!

On farms; to allow confirmation to depend on Pirbright, then to allow animals with clinical symptoms to stay alive pending valuation instead of farmer /veterinary officer valuation with immediate slaughter by the VO using a MAFF issued Webley Scot .32 as in 67/68, to postpone slaughter, for example, till a portable toilet was delivered to the farm and to incinerate the carcases in every case with the consequent delays of destruction of the carcases makes any veterinarian of my generation see red. Then to cap it all, to rule out completely on-farm burial was the ultimate mistake. Speed is the essence in diagnosis, valuation and burial and preliminary disinfection to control FMD


Why has MAFF gone down this particular road?  Firstly there was a “culling” exercise on the State Veterinary Service engineered by the CVO at the dictates of his political masters so the SVS became short handed for emergencies. Training on FMD became minimal and preparations were negligible so inexperience came to the fore.

Bureaucracy has been allowed to take over and other government agencies to get involved e.g. Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Agency. Then we have an election in the near future so Downing Street gets involved and then Brussels.  The Report said that burial (on farm) was the preferred method.

In 67/68 we buried on the farms except close to a water abstraction point or a river or if there was an unsuitable ground structure and if we had to burn no delay was tolerated.  At none of the burial sites, which were agreed with the local river and water authority, whose representative was in the office for an instantaneous decision was there ever a subsequent pollution problem.  The head of the Environment agency can take the blame for a lot of the spread of FMD.

To relieve the senior vets of the day to day running of the FMD centres Civil Services Managers have been drafted in thus weakening veterinary control yet the Report said categorically that the regional veterinary officer should be in charge. (The Devon areas is under non-veterinary management and see the result!)

The insidious hand of Brussels is also behind this draconian cull of 3kms; are we veterinary surgeons or are we filled with this MAFF blood lust?  We should stop it and deal at once with infection on farms and dangerous contacts if indeed they are dangerous and not just contiguous.

How has the veterinary profession performed during this outbreak?  Well of course, as is always the case the frontline troops have behaved magnificently but what about the leaders?  At the beginning when Brown and Gill both in a state of near hysteria pleaded for cessation of movement of people outside of towns where were the professional heads to stop the paranoia that ensued and continues to this day. Do any vets think that ladies playing bridge in the village hall spread FMD; one would think so as the BVA didn’t say a word about such nonsense or if they did it was muted.  Misinformation by MAFF has not been speedily put right e.g. where has this idea of 6 months without stock come from as all restrictions should be removed 28 days after completion of cleansing and disinfection with the proviso that with a cluster of outbreaks the period is related to the latest.  Why are farmers under such ideas e.g. that their hay can be made but will then have to be destroyed? Isn’t virology taught at vet school any more? Are our recent graduates suffering from the FMD paranoia too?


Welfare is another facet where the profession has not appeared in a good light.  We have all seen these lambs kept under deplorable conditions yet we seem to have accepted it.  Should not the RCVS take disciplinary cases against those who countenanced either actively or passively such appalling cruelty? To move animals a short distance across a road to dry and/or new pasture is not spreading disease taken under reasonable precautions and this was always speedily done in previous outbreaks.  Why has this practice stopped; is it application of rules to the letter of the law by lay personnel who have no appreciation of welfare or even how the disease is spread?


History repeats itself but MAFF does not apparently think so.  They waffle about “farms are bigger, high water tables etc, etc but if they would only follow the tried and trusted methods of FMD control honed to a fine art by past years of experience then this disease might yet be brought under control without any more damage to our hard hit agricultural industry.