30 Sep 2002 16:27
EU states urged to adopt emergency FMD vaccination


By Jeremy Smith

BRUSSELS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - EU member states should apply emergency
vaccination as a matter of course rather than a last resort if faced by the
risk of highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, a draft European
Parliament report showed on Monday.

In a working paper obtained by Reuters, the long-awaited document said the
decision to vaccinate was a political one, while mass culling of livestock
and the subsequent destruction of meat could only be justified on
socio-economic grounds.

Guidelines on compensation to farmers whose animals died as a result of a
foot-and-mouth (FMD) outbreak needed to be updated, with a limit on amounts
to be paid from public funds.

"Emergency vaccination with the aim of allowing animals to live for normal
further use should no longer be regarded only as a last resort for
controlling FMD but must be considered as a first-choice option from the
outset when an outbreak occurs," said the draft, submitted to the
Parliament's FMD Committee.

"Decisions must be taken in a transparent manner: otherwise it will be
difficult to persuade those sections of the population who suffer most from
a non-vaccination policy to provide the necessary cooperation during a
future FMD outbreak."

Britain, for example, slaughtered and burned millions of animals during its
foot-and-mouth crisis last year, turning much of the countryside into a
no-go zone rather than use vaccines -- out of fear that it would wreck
export prospects.

The nation's top scientific body, the Royal Society, issued a report in July
also saying that Britain should use emergency vaccination to help deal
quickly with future FMD outbreaks.

Britain was declared FMD-free in January of this year.

"The disease-control objective, motivated by trade considerations, of
eradicating the disease as quickly as possible while culling the minimum
number of animals should not entail an absolute non-vaccination policy," the
report said.


Rules on farmer compensation needed to be revised as the current practice
was unjust, said the report, whose findings are likely to be adjusted in
coming months as EU deputies debate and amend its content before subjecting
the text to a vote.

"It is not clear why only farmers whose animals have been culled should
receive compensation, while none is paid to farmers who have been unable to
market animals or animal products properly because of the ban on transport,"
it said.

Compensation for FMD-inspired losses should generally cover less than 100
percent of losses, while no more than 80 percent of losses eligible for
compensation should be paid from public funds.

The report analysed Britain's record in handling its FMD crisis -- also
looking at its progress and handling in Ireland, France and the
Netherlands -- and found several areas where UK authorities could have
reduced the disease's scope and spread.

Britain tackled the foot-and-mouth crisis on the assumption that the spread
of disease would remain localised, with the number of outbreaks not expected
to exceed 10.

But there were already between 50 and 70 outbreaks at the time of the
disease's confirmation, which then multiplied into a series of
mini-epidemics -- far exceeded the presumed scale on which the national and
regional contingency plans were based.

"In retrospect the contingency plan ought to have included a scenario for a
serious and extensive outbreak, including options for action if the reality
were to prove even worse than the assumed 'worst-case' scenario," the report

An immediate nationwide ban on transporting FMD-susceptible animals would
also have been appropriate when the first case was detected, it said, adding
that large sections of the population would have considered this
disproportionate at the time.

Britain's handling of the crisis was not helped by low numbers of full-time
veterinary staff and closures of local veterinary centres, it said. Britain
had to deploy hundreds of foreign vets, sowing confusion and uncertainty
among farmers.