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Professor David King at Brussels May 30 2002

(The structure of the hearings is so frustrating - far too many people giving evidence, and there is not enough time to cross-examine what they say. Fellow modeller Prof. Mark Woolhouse from Edinburgh was with Professor King.)

It needs to be remembered that while most of those who criticise the policy have already lost so much these scientists and mathematicians and politicians still have much to lose. Farmers have lost their animals certainly and in some cases irreplaceable breeding stock or rare breeds, but they have also lost the last remnants of their faith in the underlying benevolence of the Ministry, their peace of mind, their confidence and joie de vivre. Those responsible for their loss are doing everything they possibly can - finding every possible argument - to save their reputations. They have unlimited funds and spin merchants to help them
It may occur to the Temporary Committee to wonder why there are still so many ordinary men and women still pouring their own energy, time and money into trying to uncover the truth long after the disease has gone. They have no financial nor indeed any sort of official help from anyone. Why do they do it? They do it because what happened was wrong and a disastrous error of judgement - or worse. They feel that men such as Professor King should indeed be cross-examined.)

 
The point was made that the model was flawed. Prof Donaldson's paper from the Veterinary Record of 12 May "Relative Risks of the uncontrollable (airborne) spread of FMD by different species."  was quoted from.

Professor King was dismissive, and said that since they had used more than one computer model criticism of one wasn't significant.

However, the flaws in the model cannot be dismissed so lightly. All the models used a hypothetical animal to predict spread. But it was FMD infected sheep that were spread around the country. Once the movement ban was in place any infected sheep were in stationary flocks and the disease was quietly rippling through the flock - not spreading like wildfire on any airborne plume. There were no "virus factories". These sheep were not moving around the country socially rubbing noses with neighbouring animals in the way that spreads human diseases. There is so little spread from sheep that the contiguous cull was an utter nonsense.
In addition, the data about locations that was fed into the computer models was of very poor quality. Farmhouses rather than holdings were shown. The modellers didn't realise the nature of agricultural holdings these days - so failed to understand that what appeared from their faulty mapping to be "contiguous" could in fact have been miles away from an IP.


In answer to the question about the justification for the contiguous cull, Professor King said that since the greatest single risk factor was proximity to an IP, there was obviously a need for the contiguous cull.

But again, this wholly ignores the wise words of the Northumberland Committee in 1968 who spent a great deal of time and care in preparing for the next outbreak. The Northumberland Committee, even without the knowledge gained from the latest understanding about transmission, did not think that a contiguous cull was necessary. The policy was to kill within 24 hours where disease was confirmed and then to monitor and test on dangerous contact premises unless they were of particular "high risk" There was no notion of sending in teams of slaughterers to take out anything with cloven hoofs within a certain radius of the IP - and as for a three kilometre cull there would never have been any notion that such a barbaric policy was called for. The Northumberland Report - even in 1969 - recommended vaccination.

It was suggested that since an IP hadn't been laboratory tested it might well not even have had the disease. Professor King countered this by saying that if you isolated only those that had been blood tested, the correlation was even higher i e that local spread was even more marked
(This point is incomprehensible to us. We can only assume this was one of those "Emperor's New Clothes" answers. Questioners are so taken aback by the complexity of the reply that they assume that it must be logical when it is in fact gobbledegook. The contiguous cull in most parts of the country killed hundreds of farms around an IP that turned out not to have been infected. How can this ever be thought justifiable? How much real disease was there outside Cumbria and the lesser hotspots? But the policy was viciously applied throughout the country and there was no flexibility - except where, finally, the people of the Forest of Dean, so sickened by the contiguous cull, finally convinced DVM Parker that it must be stopped. By all accounts he agreed with relief. )

The large number of blood tests from contiguous farms coming back showing negative results was mentioned.

He said that wasn't in the slightest bit surprising, because you wouldn't expect blood tests to show up an early incubating pre-clinical FMD.

The modellers have made much of the negative blood tests. We can only remind them that Pirbright do not make mistakes on this. If there is disease it will show up in over 90% of cases. The answer is tantamount to saying "They were healthy yes - but who knows whether they would have got the disease or not? Luckily we killed them - so they didn't. See Nicola Morris' paper Understanding the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic

The point was made that killing on contiguous farms presupposed that aerosol transmission was a greater factor than it was (ie that if a contiguous farm wasn't a DC, monitoring and testing was better than culling)

Professor King simply said the evidence showed that the disease was spreading in a localised way, and if it wasn't aerosol transmission, it must have been something else. He declined to say what, but added that just because we don't know what caused it, doesn't mean it wasn't happening.

Local spread has already been shown to have been a result of movement from farm to farm of the very people involved in trying to stop the spread. Vets became "bio-happy" and there is a large body of witness evidence describing lack of protective clothing, understandable but potentially disastrous casualness about going from farm to farm without adequate disinfection procedures. Although it was known that a clean vet attending at an IP must then wait three days before moving onto another farm, the surveillance vets were not so advised. Slaughter and disposal teams were moving between farms all the time and we have seen the slovenly way in which many of them approached the question of "bio-security". The government made the shameful accusation that farmers were spreading the disease - but the farmers were isolated on their farms. It was not the farmers who were responsible for local spread. Nor was it the animals on farms.

He is referring too to the early and misleading data appearing to show a large number of outbreaks during the first month. They seemed to be rising fast.

What the modellers and policy makers did not realise was twofold.

One that the "new" cases were not new at all. Sheep are slow to show any signs of FMD disease and when a flock was found it was unlikely to have caught the disease from another farm. The disease, caught by one of their number in the usual way of this strain - animal to animal contact before the movement ban - was gradually being passed around.

This wasn't new disease. It was disease that was incubating on the farm itself.

Secondly, they didn't realise either just how slow the slaughter on IPsa was. An example is the farmer in Cumbria who waited over four days between reporting and slaughter. Maff prevaricated and no one came until his MP got involved - and by that time his cows - since cows behave quite differently - were ALL infected and in a terrible state. In such cases, the virus would have been a huge plume. Once lesions develop virus production increases 100,00 - 500,000 times. The same thing was happening in Devon.

Professor King still refutes the 11 million figure for total animals slaughtered it seems in spite of DEFRA's agreeing to this when the Meat and Livestock Commission confirmed - as a conservative estimate - the figure of just under 11 million. Estimates from official sources seem to show around 6 million now that some concession has been made towards including the slaughtered young.

See also summary of what went wrong