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The misunderstanding

- if that is what it should be called - involves the reluctance of government and the NFU either to try to understand the science (which is not as hard as all that) nor to believe that anyone else is capable of doing so. A more sinister interpretation is that government "spin", (which used to be called "propaganda" ) by being given continual credance in the major newspapers, is designed to give an appearance of a sound scientific basis for the calamity that is facing the traditional countryside. Its aim is to make all dissent look ill-informed and obstructive. A well-timed smear campaign against farmers, such as we see in the Guardian, in parts of the BBC reporting and especially today's Sunday Times (Aug 5), is designed to harness the envy and dislike for farmers so latent in many people. And so the killing can continue with not much more than a thin bleat of protest.

The NFU and Defra spokesmen are presenting a united front on the FMD crisis. Before we deal with the heated arguments about vaccination and the risk of "carrier" animals we should remind ourselves of the cold reality of what a "cull" actually is.

The NFU and the government maintain that vaccination won't work - and yet, incredibly, every single public statement from them always contains the face-saving proviso that vaccination is still an option - just in case the day comes when massive public opinion forces them to relent. Elliot Morley said very sincerely to the microphone, "Vaccination is a problem in sheep. I'm not aware of any country that does vaccinate sheep in relationship to foot and mouth"

Vaccination does work. And perhaps our Agriculture Minister ought really to "be aware" if so many of the rest of us do that sheep are indeed successfully vaccinated in other countries. Dr H|seyin Sungur, General Director of Protection and Control, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Ankara reported the end of the outbreak in his country, Turkey, on July 30th."A total of 7,547 cattle and 7,020 sheep and goats in 12 villages around the outbreak have been vaccinated with trivalent foot and mouth disease vaccine. In KAZAKHSTAN we see another "end of outbreak" report from from Dr Shakhaidar Tursunkulov, Director, Veterinary Surveillance Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Astana on 23rd July 2001. After 934,647 Cattle had been vaccinated and 804,856 sheep and goats Kazakhstan declares freedom from foot and mouth disease in livestock.
Ref : http://www.oie.int/eng/info/hebdo/a_current.htm

What IS being tested in Cumbria?

The penning up and subsequent slaughter of 6,700 sheep on the Beacons (by August 4) is to be followed by more tests in an exercise described as "robust". Dr Ruth Watkins, who has submitted to the Welsh Assembly the limited vaccination scheme to control the disease in the hefted flocks said "We could go on ad infinitum testing the hefts only to find yet more and more have been partially exposed to the disease. Resulting in yet more and more flocks being culled until there are none left. The only certain way to halt chains of acute infections moving through the flocks is to vaccinate. This would then prevent any further onward transmission of the disease through the sheep of the flock or from flock to flock."

"Carriers"

Bizarre statements about the inaccurately named "carriers" confuse the issue even further. The NFU: However, the NFU does not choose to listen to the true "expert epidemiologists and virologists", deliberately sidelined by government, who maintain that so-called "carrier" (actually simply a way of saying they carry the virus within the confines of their own body after recovery) animals, whether vaccinates or recovered animals, cannot be shown to re-infect other animals however hard you try in experimental conditions.

What is not being tested?

In Brecon, the blood tests are widely reported as being proof of the disease "raging out of control" etc. In fact the serological tests do NOT detect active virus. Their only function is to detect the presence of antibodies. Anything else is pure speculation. Left alone, the disease is not self-sustaining within the flocks, that is, it dies out naturally after passing through a small to middling precentage of the animals. Thereafter the recovered sheep do not infect any other animals of any species.

There is a terrible illogicality about DEFRA's behaviour in Brecon.

On the one hand they maintain that seropositive and therefore "carrier" animals pose an unacceptable risk. Yet on the other, the serological testing that is being carried out - for which incidentally there is no legal justification -risks not detecting some epidemiological groups with a prevalence of seropositive animals in excess of 5% and stands a good chance of failing to detect flocks with a prevalance of less than 5% seropositive animals - and leaving these immune animals alive. They must know this - and yet their justification for such extensive killing is apparently to stamp out the virus by means of killing "carriers". They really can't have it both ways. If sero-positive sheep really spread the virus as they claim then their measures are allowing carriers to carry on doing just that. Their "robust" measures of killing , following such tests are effective in reducing drastically the sheep on the hills but NOT effective at all in eradicating 100% of seropositive sheep, as Dr. Ruth Watkins explains above.

What is really going on?

Christopher Booker puts it better than we can. It is worth mentioning as a footnote that this eradication of the hefted hill flocks could not be happening without the permission of the graziers. Why are they thus agreeing to the slaughter of their flocks? Can it be true that they are being offered as a starting point in the negotiations over valueation £ 180 per breeding ewe? Can it be true that this offer is conditional upon their signing the Official Secrets Act? A little while ago in Britain we should never have believed such a thing.

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The reality of "culling" is never in the papers for several reasons

- not least because normal readers are repelled by the actual facts of violent death. But for their owners and for people too close to turn away the truth is that thousands upon thousands of warm, living animals have been terrified and then slaughtered in conditions no one in their right mind would want to contemplate. Some have been "lucky" in having conscientious vets nearby but a truly vast number have not. In Cumbria accounts are being sent every day of animals trying to protect their young, of the screams of an inefficiently killed pet goat, the terrified bellowing of cattle, and of so many animals' vain scrambling attempts to evade death. The slaughter teams in their white coats are, after five months, now utterly impervious to anything except "getting the job done".

While the decision makers spin the arguments we read

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Re legal base for serological testing

From the veterinary scientist in Alan Beat's newsletter yesterday (Aug 4) " I don't believe there is any EU legislation that demands that UK should undertake serosurveillance and follow up action in the form that DEFRA has adopted. Instead I believe they - DEFRA/Govt - merely hope that if they undertake this testing etc. then the EU might accept that the UK is FMD-free. I'm not aware of any set of tests/rules from the EU that says to the UK 'if you do this then your FMD-free status will be restored' ;it's just wishful thinking on DEFRA's part I think - much the same as Ross Finnie's now apparently thwarted wishful thinking with regard to Scotland being allowed to re-start exports any time soon under some regionalisation scheme.

Dr Richard North provides this information about the legal base for serological testing.

Council Decision 2001/257/EC (which sets out export resumption clearance after vaccination) refers to Article 16 of Directive 85/511 which I take to be the operative article. This refers to the role and powers of the SVC. In particular, it states: The Commission shall adopt such measures and shall implement them immediately where they are in accordance with the opinion of the committee.. Loosely translated, this means that the resumption criteria are those which the SVC decides, with the committee having basically open-ended powers. back