A further comparison of government spin and the FACTS!

 

Presented by Nick Green

 

 

GOVERNMENT SUBMISSION TO THE LESSONS LEARNT COMMITTEE

 

Why didn`t we vaccinate?

 

Vaccination could only ever have played a limited role. It was seriously considered for some areas but the conditions recommended by veterinary and scientific advisors were never fully met.

 

Vaccination has never successfully been used to respond to an outbreak of this scale anywhere in the world. (Nonsense! N.G.) If used widely it would have been a vast logistical exercise, and would have required greater stocks of vaccine than were in fact available. (A complete lie! N.G.) It would not have obviated the need to cull animals, given that some parts of the industry were not prepared to put vaccinated produce into the food chain. (Very debatable! We import thousands of tonnes of vaccinated meat at the moment! N.G.) Farmers unions were strongly opposed throughout. (Only one Union and only that Unions hierarchy, The NFU! N.G.)

 

However, at all stages of the outbreak the Government kept continually under review with its veterinary and scientific advisors whether vaccination could play a role in slowing or curtailing disease spread in particular parts of the country. And contingency plans were put in place to enable a limited vaccination policy to be implemented quickly if the Government so decided. In late March the Chief Veterinary Officer recommended vaccination of cattle in north Cumbria in the light of the intensity of infection and forthcoming turnout of cattle from indoor housing to outdoor grazing. (See notes below! N.G.) But their recommendation was contingent upon support from a substantial proportion of the farming community, local veterinarians, the food industry and consumers. These conditions were not met, and the vaccination option was in fact consistently opposed by core groups, including many within the farming industry and some parts of the food industry. As the epidemic waned, the arguments for vaccination became less compelling.

 

Vaccination was also considered in August for pigs in the East Riding as a preventative measure had the Thirsk outbreak spread in the direction of the large scale pig production units, but in the event the threat was contained without

vaccination.

 

Having read this absolute nonsense from the government, I feel that it is timely to remind ourselves of the following meeting, tirelessly convened by Alicia Eykyn, Executive Director, FMD Forum.

 

 

Summary of points and conclusions of meeting in the House of Lords 24th April 2001:

 

Ref: Meeting held in the House of Lords on Tuesday 24 April 2001 at 4.0 pm convened by Alicia Eykyn at the invitation of the Countess of Mar, to follow the press conference in Westminster Central Hall.

Present: Members of the government's science group for foot and mouth and others.

Purpose: To hear the opinions and advice on the subject of the foot and mouth crisis in this country, from the acknowledged world expert , Professor Fred Brown OBE, FRS, Visiting Scientist to Plum Island  the US equivalent to Pirbright  and former Dept Director at Pirbright. Professor Brown's views on the eradication of the disease had not previously been sought by the British Government. Dr Simon Barteling from Holland, formally head of the European Community Coordinating Institute for Foot and Mouth Vaccines, with particular knowledge of this virus, also in attendance, supporting Professor Brown.

 

 

 

 

Probably the most surprising thing to come out of the meeting was the disclosure by John Wilesmith, that it had previously been unanimously agreed by the science group that the vaccination route should have been adopted by the government. Why was it that, none of you had the guts to stick to you guns, either collectively or individually, and stand up for what you clearly thought was right, on a point of conscience if nothing else?

 

This route of vaccination was overruled by of all people the Chief Veterinary Officer, MAFF and NFU leaders. Lord Plumb who was also present at the meeting, went out of his way to point out he did NOT represent the NFU now, (he was a past President), but he did not think the NFU's decision had been swayed on economic grounds. What were the grounds then?

 

No other farmers (and this includes rank and file NFU subscription paying members), farming bodies, tourist organisations, or animal welfare groups have been given any proper information, other than the myths spread, both by MAFF and their Veterinary representatives and the board of the NFU. (Even the help' line set up by MAFF, has, I see today in the paper, been exposed as a downright fraud, being manned by uninformed job seekers with a mandate to say whatever comes into their heads. This could explain the information I was given on ringing Reading, when I asked about buying-in hay. that I could give it to the animals, provided I had sprayed it with disinfectant first.)

 

Professor Brown and Dr Barteling questioned much of the government policy and asked, for example, why had Pirbright turned down the possible use of the PCR device? Why was it taking such an interminable time to come up with results of blood tests? Paul Kitching said that they were basically overwhelmed at Pirbright and could not cope  to which there was no dissent in the room. Colin Fink of Warwick Science Park reminded them that he had offered the services of his laboratory and had been ignored.[1] (Since then I have heard of other establishments offering their assistance and they, too, have been ignored.)

 

In order to put the matter right with Colin Fink, it was agreed there and then at the meeting to make arrangements to avail him of the fixed virus necessary for him to start to help. Also, that day at an earlier meeting, Lindsay Harris  a policy advisor to MAFF  had agreed to do the same. That meeting, hosted by the CLA was attended by a broad spectrum of interested parties ranging from tourism to agriculture.

 

Both Professor Brown and Dr Simon Barteling were united in their dismay and disgust at the ruthless attitude adopted by the government to this outbreak; they considered the blanket culling policy the unnecessary slaughter of innocent animals.' No one could describe these men as the cuddly bunny brigade of animal defenders'. They are highly respected scientists with an intimate knowledge of this devastating virus and the first to say that infected animals must be culled. Where they disagree wholeheartedly with the current UK policy is over the contiguous farm and all that follows from there. They recommend swab testing, blood testing and of course vaccination. Testing and vaccination is the key to the control of this disease. On this matter they are quite specific.

 

A lot of time was spent by others around the table, (vets I discovered afterwards to my amazement,) excusing the slaughter policy on the grounds of the apparent inability of vets and farmers, to handle the farm animals in their care efficiently enough to carry out swab or blood sampling and/or vaccination. This perceived skill deficiency renders the testing process uneconomic', making culling cheaper and easier! If this skill deficiency' charge were proved to be true, it would be an appalling indictment of the suitability and professionalism of our veterinary practitioners and farmers. Such testing and vaccination schemes are successfully carried out in other countries, where animals range over vast uncultivated areas - including those of the third world with whom we compare our farming abilities as so infinitely superior.

 

Earlier at the CLA meeting Professor Brown pointed out that 80% vaccination of the national flock would be more than adequate for the curbing of the virus. Given that at least 50% of our national flock are already handled for many reasons such as vaccinating against

other diseases, the effort required to sort out another 30% is trivial compared with the appalling devastation of the present situation.

 

You may recall your own comment, to the effect that when methods for tackling the crisis were first considered, vaccination was precluded on the basis that there was, apparently, insufficient vaccine available. Dr Barteling pointed out that he was in charge of the European body that put together the European vaccine bank. He confirmed in the meeting that not only was there more than enough vaccine available but that these vaccines were of high potency/standard. Professor Brown confirmed that there were also plenty of vaccine commercially available in the USA.

 

Disease free status was inevitably mentioned. The value of the export market pales into insignificance alongside the cost of the current disaster. (Some time ago the cost to the country was estimated in the order of 20 billion  what must it be by now?) Indeed some economists are talking of the mishandling of the FMD outbreak as a potential for tipping the country into recession, let us hope not.

 

On the positive side:

 

Were Professor Brown and Dr Barteling's suggestions to be adopted, the problem of slaughter and the long term environmental impact of the disposal of millions of uninfected animals would be avoided. Perhaps even at this stage you, in discussion with Professor Brown, could let us have an epidemic curve using vaccination rather than slaughter.

 

With their strategy the extremely valuable industry, tourism, would have hardly been affected  and even now could recover very quickly were such sensible measures adopted.

 

Last, but surely not least, with proper testing and vaccination, this government would have avoided going down in history, as unnecessarily causing the worst peace time misery and suffering to a great raft of its people directly and indirectly involved in this crisis.

 

 



[1] See letter from Micropathology Ltd dated 8 May 2001